"This Is the manner of the remission": Implicit legal exegesis in 11QMelchizedek as a response to the formation of the Torah

Michael Bartos, Bernard M. Levinson

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4 Scopus citations


This article sheds light on the debates that took place in ancient Judaism between sectarian and early rabbinic interpretation of Scripture. Scholarship on 11QMelchizedek (11QMelch; 11Q13) has largely taken the scroll's harmonization of Deuteronomy's Sabbatical debt release (Deut 15:2) with the Jubilee (Lev 25:13) for granted, without examining its rationale. We provide an analysis of the hermeneutics that triggered the synthesis and argue that it was generated in part as a response to a legal-exegetical question: The Jubilee of Leviticus releases slaves, but does it require debt remission? When the separate sources of the Pentateuch were redacted into a single corpus, the compilation of originally inconsistent material into a single Torah must have posed interpretive problems for postexilic readers. After the promulgation of the Torah, Deuteronomy's Sabbatical debt law and the Jubilee were read synchronically, now for the first time as part of a unified literary composition. This had to raise the issue of their relationship. Among the questions that emerged for Second Temple readers was whether the Jubilee of Leviticus requires debt release, as Deuteronomy commands. But the absence of an explicit demand for debt release in Leviticus left the door open to argue that the Jubilee does not release debts (the position maintained in the halakic exegesis of the Sipre Deuteronomy and Sipra Leviticus). Taking a contrary stance, the author of 11QMelchizedek responded to that absence by identifying Leviticus's Jubilee with Deuteronomy's Sabbatical debt release. His synthesis of the two laws demonstrates that the often presumed opposition of legal and eschatological exegesis does not hold in the case of 11QMelchizedek.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)351-371
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Biblical Literature
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2013


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