Rewriting the Sacred Text describes an activity undertaken by the faithful since the time that the words that would become Scripture were first written down. Scholars use the term “Rewritten Scripture” to indicate literature that is based on Scripture but not identical with it. This means that the “Sacred Text”— and more precisely, the canonical biblical text—lies at the base of the rewritten text. The deuterocanonical books (or apocryphal books) have also been subject to rewriting. Calling a text rewritten sets up a dichotomy between biblical and non-biblical texts, between the texts which are being rewritten—the source texts—and the rewritten texts themselves—the (new) final product. This is, in my opinion, a false dichotomy, for the biblical text is often nothing other than a rewritten text itself.
The biblical text is the result of a continuous process of redactional activity. Literature produced by one person, group, or school was reread and rewritten by later readers and writers. Take for instance the Book of Isaiah.1 It is common knowledge that the “extensive redactional activity … expanded the earliest forms of the oracles of Isaiah ben Amoz into a sixty-six-chapter book that contains the work of prophetic writers from the preexilic, exilic and postexilic periods, and presents a theological interpretation of some four hundred years of Judean historical experience and expectations for the future.”2 Viewpoints offered by one person or by a group of people may or may not have been shared by later writers and readers, and thus they were reinterpreted and transmitted anew.3 Marvin Sweeney, for instance, states that the Josianic edition of the book of Isaiah “represents a combination of materials that stem from the eighthcentury prophet Isaiah ben Amoz and materials that were composed specifically
1 For this example and section, I rely heavily on the work of my colleague and friend
Marvin Sweeney from the Claremont School of Theology and the School of Religion at
the Claremont Graduate University.
2 Marvin Sweeney, King Josiah of Judah: The Lost Messiah of Israel (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2001), 234.