Reviews of

The Formation of the Pentateuch

In Bernard M. Levinson, Dalit Rom-Shiloni, HB/OT, Jan C. Gertz, Konrad SCHMID, Mohr Siebeck, Pentateuch, Uncategorized, William L. Kelly on June 27, 2017 at 11:54 pm


2017.06.12 | Gertz, Jan C., Bernard M. Levinson, Dalit Rom-Shiloni, and Konrad Schmid. The Formation of the Pentateuch: Bridging the Academic Cultures of Europe, Israel, and North America. Forschungen zum Alten Testament 111. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2016. pp. xi + 1204. ISBN: 978-3-16-153883-4.

Review by William L. Kelly, University of Edinburgh.

The Pentateuch, as the editors of this volume rightly point out, is one of the foundational texts in the humanities. For critical scholarship on the Hebrew Bible, few areas of research could claim to be as foundational, and equally few involve such a tremendous range of critical issues, methods, and approaches. Where did this literature come from? How was it written and from what sources did its writers draw? When did it become ‘scripture’ and what does that designation mean? And, considering the various paradigms and hypotheses to have emerged in the last century of scholarship, how can a diverse field build toward consensus? Addressing questions such as these with fifty-six peer-reviewed essays and more than twelve-hundred pages, The Formation of the Pentateuch is a substantial and valuable contribution to a vital area of study.

As explained by the editors in the volume’s introduction (‘Convergence and Divergence in Pentateuchal Theory – The Genesis and Goals of This Volume’ [pp. 1–7]), the starting point for these essays was an international research group, ‘Convergence and Divergence in Pentateuchal Theory: Bridging the Academic Cultures of Israel, North America, and Europe’, which was formed at the Israel Institute for Advanced Studies (IIAS) in Jerusalem. This group was comprised of Jan Christian Gertz, Shimon Gesundheit, Sara Japhet, Bernard M. Levinson, Konrad Schmid, Baruch J. Schwartz, Dalit Rom-Shiloni, and Benjamin D. Sommer, and it included contributions from Joel S. Baden and Jeffrey Stackert as short term guests and Ariel Kopilovitz as research assistant. After a period of collaboration and intensive study, which included contributions from other guests, colleauges, and doctoral students, the group hosted an international conference by the same name at the IIAS from 12–13 May 2013, a second conference called ‘The Pentateuch within Biblical Literature: Formation and Interaction’ at the IIAS from 25–29 May 2014, and panels at the World Congress of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem (30 July–1 Aug 2013) and the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting (17–20 Nov 2013).

Pentateuchal scholarship, according to the editors, faces serious challenges as a critical discipline. Since the Documentary Hypothesis, as associated with Julius Wellhausen, has lost its position as the dominant model for pentateuchal criticism, a ‘fragmentation of discourse’ has made it increasingly difficult to find points of consensus shared by ‘the three main research centres of Israel, Europe, and North America’ (p. 2). Over time these research centres have developed their own sets of scholarly assumptions and have worked within somewhat independent intellectual frameworks. As the editors are right to point out, a ‘lack of shared intellectual discourse hampers what might otherwise be a moment of opportunity in the creative development of the discipline’ (p. 3). Hence one of the primary goals of the research group at the IIAS was to attempt to ‘break free of the intellectual impasse, foster meaningful communication, and permit new knowledge to develop’ (p. 4). The aim of the volume is, then, ‘less to provide a set of final answers than to open a dialogue that includes proponents of multiple positions, creating a shared conversation and inviting further participation and response’ (p. 6).

The scope of this volume is remarkable, its breadth is impressive, and the calibre of the essays is high. One of its most valuable features, however, is that it is a truly international work of scholarship. Forty-nine scholars affiliated with thirty-nine institutions in nine countries have contributed to the volume, the majority of whom are from institutions in the United States (17) and Israel (13), with Germany (8), Switzerland (3), Austria (2), Italy (2), Canada (2), France (1), and the United Kingdom (1) represented as well. 

The volume is organised according to ten thematic parts, each of which is designed to ‘reframe conventional approaches to the question of the formation of the Pentateuch’ by focusing on such innovative or traditionally under-utilised themes as ‘historical linguistics, material culture, geography, and the literature of the Second Temple period’ (p. 6). There is an introduction for each part which explains the theme and the key elements of the discussion. At the end of the volume are a list of contributors, indexes of ancient sources cited, and an index of modern authors. Here I will list the contents of the book according to each of its ten parts, and conclude by providing a short critical engagement with some aspects of the volume.

Part One – Empirical Perspectives on the Composition of the Pentateuch: Jan Christian Gertz, ‘Introduction’ (pp. 11–13); Christopher A. Rollston, ‘Inscriptional Evidence for the Writing of the Earliest Texts of the Bible – Intellectual Infrastructure in Tenth- and Ninth-Century Israel, Judah, and the Southern Levant’ (pp. 15–45); David P. Wright, ‘The Covenant Code Appendix (Exodus 23:20–33), Neo-Assyrian Sources, and Implications for Pentateuchal Study’ (pp. 47–85); David M. Carr, ‘Data to Inform Ongoing Debates about the Formation of the Pentateuch – From Documented Cases of Transmission History to a Survey of Rabbinic Exegesis’ (pp. 87–106); Molly M. Zahn, ‘Innerbiblical Exegesis – The View from Beyond the Bible’ (pp. 107–20); Armin Lange, ‘From Many to One – Some Thoughts on the Hebrew Textual History of the Torah’ (pp. 121–95).

Part Two – Can the Pentateuch Be Read in Its Present Form? – Narrative Continuity in the Pentateuch in Comparative Perspective: Jeffrey Stackert, ‘Introduction’ (pp. 199–200); Jean Louis Ska, ‘What Do We Mean by Plot and by Narrative Continuity?’ (pp. 201–22); Yairah Amit, ‘Travel Narratives and the Message of Genesis’ (pp. 223–42); Joel S. Baden, ‘Why Is the Pentateuch Unreadable? – Or, Why Are We Doing This Anyway? (pp. 243–51); Jeffrey Stackert, ‘Pentateuchal Coherence and the Science of Reading’ (pp. 253–68); Jean-Pierre Sonnet, ‘Does the Pentateuch Tell of Its Redactional Genesis? – The Characters of YHWH and Moses as Agents of Fortschreibung in the Pentateuch’s Narrated World’ (pp. 269–82); Joel S. Baden, ‘Continuity between the Gaps – The Pentateuch and the Kirta Epic’ (pp. 283–92).

Part Three – The Role of Historical Linguistics in the Dating of Biblical Texts: Shimon Gesundheit, ‘Introduction – The Strengths and Weaknesses of Linguistic Dating’ (pp. 295–302); Erhard Blum, ‘The Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts – An Approach with Methodological Limitations’ (pp. 303–25); Jan Joosten, ‘Diachronic Linguistics and the Date of the Pentateuch’ (pp. 327–44); William M. Schniedewind, ‘Linguistic Dating, Writing Systems, and the Pentateuchal Sources’ (pp. 345–56); Thomas Römer, ‘How to Date Pentateuchal Texts – Some Case Studies’ (pp. 357–70); Noam Mizrahi, ‘The Numeral 11 and the Linguistic Dating of P’ (pp. 371–89); Jakob Wöhrle, ‘There’s No Master Key! – The Literary Character of the Priestly Stratum and the Formation of the Pentateuch’ (pp. 391–403); Frank H. Polak, ‘Oral Platform and Language Usage in the Abraham Narrative’ (pp. 405–41); Frank H. Polak, ‘Storytelling and Redaction – Varieties of Language Usage in the Exodus Narrative’ (pp. 443–75).

Part Four – The Significance of Second Temple Literature and the Dead Sea Scrolls for the Formation of the Pentateuch: Bernard M. Levinson, ‘Introduction’ (pp. 479–81); Sidnie White Crawford, ‘What Constitutes a Scriptural Text? – The History of Scholarship on Qumran Manuscript 4Q158’ (pp. 483–89); Molly M. Zahn, ‘Scribal Revision and the Composition of the Pentateuch – Methodological Issues’ (pp. 491–500); Reinhard G. Kratz, ‘Reworked Pentateuch and Pentateuchal Theory’ (pp. 501–24); Richard J. Bautch, ‘Holy Seed – Ezra 9–10 and the Formation of the Pentateuch’ (pp. 525–42); Sara Japhet, ‘What May Be Learned from Ezra–Nehemiah about the Composition of the Pentateuch?’ (pp. 543–60).

Part Five – Evidence for Redactional Activity in the Pentateuch: Konrad Schmid, ‘Introduction’ (pp. 563–66); Jean Louis Ska, ‘Some Empirical Evidence in Favor of Redaction Criticism’ (pp. 567–77); Christoph Levin, ‘The Pentateuch – A Compilation by Redactors’ (pp. 579–87); Konrad Schmid, ‘Post-Priestly Additions in the Pentateuch – A Survey of Scholarship’ (pp. 589–604).

Part Six – The Integration of Preexisting Literary Material in the Pentateuch and the Impact upon Its Final Shape: Joel S. Baden, ‘Introduction’ (pp. 607–8); Rainer Albertz, ‘Noncontinuous Literary Sources Taken Up in the Book of Exodus’ (pp. 609–17); Itamar Kislev, ‘The Story of the Gadites and the Reubenites (Numbers 32) – A Case Study for an Approach to a Pentateuchal Text’ (pp. 619–29); Karin Finsterbusch, ‘Integrating the Song of Moses into Deuteronomy and Reshaping the Narrative – Different Solutions in MT Deut 31:1–32:47 and (the Hebrew Vorlage of) LXX Deut 31:1–32:47’ (pp. 631–50); David P. Wright, ‘Source Dependence and the Development of the Pentateuch – The Case of Leviticus 24’ (pp. 651–82).

Part Seven – Historical Geography of the Pentateuch and Archaeological Perspectives: Jan Christian Gertz, ‘Introduction’ (pp. 685–86); David Ben-Gad HaCohen, ‘Biblical Criticism from a Geographer’s Perspective – “Transjordan” as a Test Case’ (pp. 687–709); Israel Finkelstein and Thomas Römer, ‘Early North Israelite “Memories” of Moab’ (pp. 711–27); Thomas B. Dozeman, ‘The Historical Geography of the Pentateuch and Archaeological Perspectives’ (pp. 729–44); Jan Christian Gertz, ‘Hezekiah, Moses, and the Nehushtan – A Case Study for a Correlation between the History of Religion in the Monarchic Period and the History of the Formation of the Hebrew Bible’ (pp. 745–60); Angela Roskop Erisman, ‘For the Border of the Ammonites Was … Where? – Historical Geography and Biblical Interpretation in Numbers 21’ (pp. 761–76).

Part Eight – Do the Pentateuchal Sources Extend into the Former Prophets?: Konrad Schmid, ‘Introduction’ (pp. 779–82); Baruch J. Schwartz, ‘The Pentateuchal Sources and the Former Prophets – A Neo-Documentarian’s Perspective’ (pp. 783–93); Cynthia Edenburg, ‘Do the Pentateuchal Sources Extend into the Former Prophets? – Joshua 1 and the Relation of the Former Prophets to the Pentateuch’ (pp. 795–812); Thomas Römer, ‘The Problem of the Hexateuch’ (pp. 813–27).

Part Nine – Rethinking the Relationship between the Law and the Prophets: Dalit Rom-Shiloni, ‘Introduction’ (pp. 831–39); Konrad Schmid, ‘The Prophets after the Law or the Law after the Prophets? – Terminological, Biblical, and Historical Perspectives’ (pp. 841–50); Marvin A. Sweeney, ‘Hosea’s Reading of Pentateuchal Narratives – A Window for a Foundational E Stratum’ (pp. 851–71); Reinhard Achenbach, ‘The Sermon on the Sabbath in Jeremiah 17:19–27 and the Torah’ (pp. 873–90); Georg Fischer, ‘ותפשי התורה לא ידעוניThe Relationship of the Book of Jeremiah to the Torah’ (pp. 891–911); Dalit Rom-Shiloni, ‘Compositional Harmonization – Priestly and Deuteronomic References in the Book of Jeremiah – An Earlier Stage of a Recognized Interpretive Technique’ (pp. 913–41); John Kessler, ‘Patterns of Descriptive Curse Formulae in the Hebrew Bible, with Special Attention to Leviticus 26 and Amos 4:6–12’ (pp. 943–84); Mark J. Boda, ‘Reading Zechariah 9–14 with the Law and the Prophets – Sibling Rivalry and Prophetic Crisis’ (pp. 985–96); Jakob Wöhrle, ‘Jacob, Moses, Levi – Pentateuchal Figures in the Book of the Twelve’ (pp. 997–1014); Christophe L. Nihan, ‘Ezekiel and the Holiness Legislation – A Plea for Nonlinear Models’ (pp. 1015–39); Ariel Kopilovitz, ‘What Kind of Priestly Writings Did Ezekiel Know?’ (pp. 1041–54); Michael A. Lyons, ‘How Have We Changed? – Older and Newer Arguments about the Relationship between Ezekiel and the Holiness Code’ (pp. 1055–74); Tova Ganzel and Risa Levitt Kohn, ‘Ezekiel’s Prophetic Message in Light of Leviticus 26’ (pp. 1075–84).

Part Ten – Reading for Unity, Reading for Multiplicity – Theological Implications of the Study of the Pentateuch’s Composition: Benjamin D. Sommer, ‘Introduction’ (pp. 1087–89); Benjamin D. Sommer, ‘Book or Anthology? – The Pentateuch as Jewish Scripture’ (pp. 1091–1108); Markus Witte, ‘Methodological Reflections on a Theology of the Pentateuch’ (pp. 1109–20); Jean-Pierre Sonnet, ‘The Dynamic Closure in the Pentateuch’ (pp. 1121–34); James W. Watts, ‘Narratives, Lists, Rhetoric, Ritual, and the Pentateuch as a Scripture’ (pp. 1135–45).

As a reviewer, my reactions to the volume are overwhelmingly positive. The individual papers range in their focus, from very detailed readings of individual texts to macro-level discussions of method. Taken together, they are an excellent contribution to scholarship, especially due to the volume’s commitment to fostering international dialogue. The temptation to parochialism is ever present in the discipline, and this contribution should serve as an example for how this temptation should be resisted in other areas of Hebrew Bible scholarship. 

It would be uncharitable to single out ‘gaps’ in such an ambitious work with such strong merits. Generally speaking, not every essay is equally compelling or persuasive, though they are all written at a very high academic standard. Considering that this is quite normal for reviews of essay volumes, and in view of the sheer number of papers included here, this issue is very minor. Several essays stood out as especially strong or interesting contributions to the volume. In the ‘empirical perspectives’ of part one, Christopher A. Rollston’s essay marshals the available epigraphic data to show ‘that the intellectual scribal infrastructure was already present in these regions [Israel, judah, Moab, and Ammon] for the production of literature in (at least) the ninth century’ (p. 19). Rollston’s attention to scribal infrastructure provides a welcome stimulating contribution. David M. Carr helpfully discusses the issues of ‘empirical evidence’ for the Pentateuch’s formation; certain arguments, like those for ‘potential continuity’ (i.e. finding a more coherent text by identifying interruptions) which note the ‘gaps’ in P, for example, miss the fact that ancient scribes regularly omitted parts of their source materials. His call for methodological modesty is notable. Armin Lange’s substantial essay is a detailed discussion of all Hebrew manuscript witnesses for the Pentateuch, discussing text typologies, scribal orthography, rabbinic commentary, and the stabilisation of the Masoretic text. He concludes that the ‘final redactional stage of the Torah should be dated closer to the beginning of the fourth century BCE than its end, if not earlier’ (p. 195). This contribution is exceptionally rich in its documentation and detail. The essays in part four by Molly M. Zahn and Reinhard G. Kratz focus on the ‘Reworked Pentateuch’ texts from Qumran, and both authors point to the significance of these manuscripts as models for scribal techniques. The exegetical nature of scribal interventions in these manuscripts provides further support for supplementary models of the Pentateuch’s formation (i.e. Fortschreibungshypothese). The essays in part seven make interesting use of historical geography in pentateuchal criticism. David Ben-Gad HaCohen’s notes the correspondences between travel routes and the E source, and Israel Finkelstein and Thomas Römer show ‘traces of early traditions that go back to at least the early days of the Northern Kingdom in the early ninth century BCE’ in pentateuchal texts concerned with Moab (p. 727). Part nine, which concerns the relationship between the two corpora of law and prophets, is a highly interesting, if uneven, part of the volume. It further illustrates the sheer scope of complex issues involved in discussing the formation of the Pentateuch. As Dalit Rom-Shiloni suggests in the introduction to this section, the prophetic literature may provide a window through which scholars may see the Sitz im Leben of pentateuchal texts ‘in the “real life” of Israel and Judah in the preexilic and exilic/postexilic eras’ in contrast to ‘a scholarly trend to portray the evolution of pentateuchal literature as an isolated literary discussion among circles of scribes in the late Persian period’ (p. 839). So in her essay, Rom-Shiloni suggests that Jeremiah’s familiarity with both Deuteronomic and Priestly (P/HL) language suggests that these ‘traditions were available either orally or in some written form and were part of the prophet’s repertoire’ and that in the late seventh and early sixth centuries BCE ‘are a period when pentateuchal materials in oral and/or written traditional form were already at hand’ (p. 940–41). Evidence for these traditions before this period, according to Jakob Wöhrle, are absent in the Book of the Twelve. In his essay he assesses references to pentateuchal figures in the Book of the Twelve and concludes that since his examples (Hos 12; Mic 6; Mal 2) ‘are late, post-Deuteronomic, post-Priestly, and even postpentateuchal … the references to pentateuchal traditions documented in the Book of the Twelve cannot bear the burden of proof for an early date of the pentateuchal traditions’ (p. 1013). Among several essays related to Lev 26 and the prophetic literature, Christophe L. Nihan argues that only ‘complex, nonlinear models’ in the case of Ezekiel and the Holiness legislation can account for the scribal process involved in both corpus’ formation and transmission (p. 1039).

Despite the impressive range of institutions and countries counted among the contributors, Scandinavian and British scholarship is not represented well (or at all). Essay volumes often do not include a bibliography, though they still would be useful to have, and in this case readers simply will have to mine the footnotes for their riches. Finally, given its importance for the volume’s themes overall, the idea of a research culture could have been addressed more directly. Many essays address this idea in part, whether in terms of an analysis of intellectual frameworks or history of research, but it may have deserved more explicit attention on its own.

In sum, this volume is a serious and valuable addition to any research library. Specialists who work in the area of pentateuchal scholarship surely will regard it as necessary reading. The scope and breadth of the volume make it a helpful resource for scholars and researchers in other disciplines as well; for example, part three will be of interest to those working on historical linguistics, and parts eight and nine will be of interest to those working in the historical and prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible. A variety of methods and approaches are discussed throughout, such as innerbiblical exegesis, redaction criticism, and literary criticism (plot, narrative, etc.). Since many of the essays survey trends in pentateuchal scholarship or focus on fundamental questions of approach, often with careful attention paid to methods and history of research, the volume will also have pedagogical value for graduate level or advanced instruction. There is truly something for everyone here. The editors should be thanked and congratulated for such an achievement.

William L. Kelly
University of Edinburgh
will.kelly [ at ]

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