Reviews of

Contours in the Text

In Bloomsbury, Garrick V. Allen, Hebrew Bible, Jonathan D. H. NORTON, Josephus, Manuscripts, New Testament, Paul, Qumran, Romans, Scribal habits, Scripture, Second Temple, Septuagint, Textual Criticism on December 19, 2013 at 9:01 am


2013.12.23 | Jonathan D. H. Norton. Contours in the Text: Textual Variation in the Writings of Paul, Josephus and the Yahad. Library of New Testament Studies 430; London: T&T Clark, 2011. xiii + 210 pages (PB). ISBN 9780567521996.

Review by Garrick V. Allen, University of St Andrews.

Many thanks to Bloomsbury for providing a review copy.

In this volume, Norton explores Paul’s reuse and awareness of multiple antecedent scriptural traditions in the textually pluriform environment of first century Palestine. His approach blends text-critical acumen and an awareness of exegetical issues in the contemporary discussion. His study “questions Paul’s awareness and encounter with textual plurality in Jewish scripture” (p. 1).

Norton commences by examining the modern scholarly discussion regarding Paul’s reuse of scripture. He explores questions relating to Paul’s familiarity with multiple textual forms, his purported access to written copies, his knowledge of multiple languages, and questions of citation from memory. Norton analyses streams of scholarship on these issues represented by D.-A. Koch and E. E. Ellis. He concludes the chapter by arguing that Paul’s reuse of scripture is best understood within the context of Jewish exegetical practices operative in the Second Temple period (p. 37).

In chapter two, “Paul and Textual Criticism,” Norton argues that other ancient Jewish and Christian authors “capitalized on the variability of textual readings” (p. 43). He offers a sophisticated review of the textual situation in antiquity and suggests that Jewish exegetes encountered traditional material in a multivalent fashion as they often perceived numerous “sense contours” within a single textual tradition (pp. 52-53). Norton concludes that “Paul did not distinguish among ‘text-types’ in the modern sense” and that “we need to establish the sense contours [of a text] that [ancient exegetes] themselves identified” (p. 56).

Next, Norton seeks to establish “whether Josephus ever made conscious use of multiple forms of a passage of Jewish scripture” (p. 57). For Norton, Josephus’ use of Greek technical terms to understand Hebrew measurement lexemes in the Pentateuch suggests that he is aware of both Hebrew and Greek textual traditions and that this awareness “is no abstract textual exercise, but a choice that reflects the concerns of his daily life” (p. 81).

Norton then analyses the awareness of textual plurality among the Dead Sea Sectarians. Norton proffers numerous examples including the use of Hab 2.16 in 1QHabp, Amos 5.26-27 in CDa 7.14-15, and the rewriting of Gen 49.10 in 4Q252. He concludes that “some Jewish exegetes in Hellenistic and Roman Palestine, working within a Hebrew linguistic milieu, negotiated multiple semantic forms of a traditional passage…The distinct sense contours they produce echo known textual traditions, showing that they are working with known alternatives” (p. 103).

Based on the preceding discussion, Norton explores issues related to “Scribes and Textual Plurality” suggesting that “evidence that the Sectarians made use of textual variation, as did Josephus, shows that this practice belongs to Paul’s world” (p. 104). Norton explores a common heritage of exegetical rewriting in the Second Temple period and the oral performance of traditional literature. He concludes that, while most modern studies approach the issue of textual variation in terms of fixed literary objects, much of the shared exegetical heritage of which Paul takes part was “discursive and oral” (p. 119-120). Orality shapes the form of chirographic scriptural traditions.

In response to the previous analysis, Norton locates “Paul’s writing and use of traditional works within this oral environment, showing the ways in which his engagement with literature shares a common ethos with the Yahad” (p. 121). He argues that Paul’s letters are “orally structured” and that Paul’s appeal to scriptural texts is rhetorically organised. For Norton, Paul’s “explicit marking of citations is part of demonstrations of personal charisma and authority, characteristic of oral discussions” (p. 131).

In his final main chapter, Norton discusses the role of citations in Paul’s rhetoric and strongly argues against, what he coins, the “suitability argument:” the notion that Paul’s failure to cite a specific textual form that is more suitable to his argument suggests that he is not familiar with textual variation. He also distinguishes between citations which structure Paul’s arguments and those which play a subordinate role. He explores numerous texts which scholars offer as support for the sustainability argument. More, he concludes that Paul is rarely concerned with lexical fidelity to source texts and that “Paul’s practice reflects erudite exegetical familiarity with Israel’s scriptures” (p. 178).

Overall, Norton interacts with the numerous textual, exegetical, historical, and social issues related to his primary question in a capable manner. The discussion is sophisticated and he is careful to distinguish between concerns that are often conflated in similar studies. Also, his textual acumen and attention to detail are impressive and necessary for a study of this complexity. Norton is also careful to define terms in a way that allows the reader to follow his complex textual reasoning. He is successful in articulating his primary argument and leading his reader through the voluminous textual data that he has accumulated. The coherence of this volume in the face of its complexity is admirable. The most valuable contribution of this volume, however, is Norton’s ability to interact with the textual data while, simultaneously, taking account of the scholarly discussion of Paul’s reuse of scriptural traditions that often minimizes this essential facet.

This volume retains some minor drawbacks. First, Norton regularly uses the term “plurality” to describe the textual situation of the first century. This use may represent his desire to move the conversation away from “text-critical expediencies” as textual plurality implies a broader sense than the commonly used phrase “textual pluriformity” which denotes an interest in textual forms alone. However, Norton uses plurality in a way that is interchangeable with pluriformity and it is unclear what advantage plurality holds. Second, Norton, perhaps, places too much emphasis on the Middot (pp. 108-110). Fishbane has demonstrated that exegetical moves present in these rabbinic lists are present within the literature of Second Temple Judaism, but their reference in this case is anachronistic; although, Norton utilizes the lists merely as an entry point into the discussion of “a shared exegetical heritage.”

Overall, the monograph is an important work for specialists interested in Pauline letters, the text of the Hebrew Bible in nascent Christianity, or the reuse of scriptural traditions in the late Second Temple period. Norton’s technical ability and his aptitude at extracting conclusions from dense textual data give this volume broad appeal to specialists. I strongly recommend this volume.

Garrick V. Allen
University of St Andrews
ga22 [ at ]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: