Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 10 (2010) - Review

Blum, Erhard, Textgestalt und Komposition: Exegetische Beitrüge zu Tora und Vordere Propheten (ed. Wolfgang Oswald; FAT, 69; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010). Pp. 416. Softcover, €99.00. ISBN 978-3-16-150306-1.

This volume represents a collection of the bulk of Erhard Blum's essay-length publications on the formation of the Pentateuch and books of the former prophets: sixteen essays in all, published from 1980 to 2007. The editor, Erhard Blum's assistant at Tübingen, Wolfgang Oswald, has standardized the citation style of the essays, corrected and indexed them (with a Bible citation index), standardized all quotes of Hebrew in square script, and added indicators of the original pagination of each essay. Most importantly, Oswald's work facilitated the publication of these essays in one volume, making this portion of Blum's work far more accessible to most readers than it otherwise would be. This is the major contribution of the volume to biblical studies.

Given the highly disparate character of the essays, one can understand the challenge of how to arrange them. Oswald ended up organizing them in the canonical order of their primary text focus, thus beginning with a powerful exegesis of Gen 2:4–3:24 in its present form (“Von Gottesunmittelbarkeit zu Gottähnlichkeit: Überlegungen zur theologischen Anthropologie der Paradieserzählung,” 1–19) and concluding with an important essay on how one might recognize a literary work within the Enneateuch (“Pentateuch—Hexateuch—Enneateuch? Oder: Woran erkennt man ein literarisches Werk in der Hebräischen Bibel?” 375–404). Unfortunately, this canonical orientation obscures the lines of chronological development across some essays, e.g. from “Das sog. ‘Privilegrecht’ in Exodus 34,11–26: Ein Fixpunkt der Komposition des Exodusbuches?” (1996, here on 157–76) and “Der kompositionelle Knoten am Übergang von Josua zu Richter: Ein Entflechtungsvorschlag” (1997, published here on 249–280) to “Die literarische Verbindung von Erzvätern und Exodus: Ein Gespräch mit neueren Endredektionshypothesen” (2002, published here on 85–121) to “Pentateuch—Hexateuch—Enneateuch? Oder: Woran erkennt man ein literarisches Werk in der Hebräischen Bibel?” (2007, published here on 375–404). These particular studies develop ideas arising from Blum's Studien zur Komposition des Pentateuch (BZAW, 189; Berlin: de Gruyter, 1990), as do also his 1989 IOSOT lecture discussing the concept of “final redaction” (“Gibt es die Endgestalt des Pentateuch?” 207–17) and his further development of ideas surrounding the Priestly layer and Persian governmental authorization (“Ezra, die Mosetora und die persische Politik,” 2002, here 177–205). I also should note that the canonical ordering works just fine with several other essays that mainly exegete specific texts, including an essay co-authored with Blum's wife, Ruth Blum, on Exod 4:24–26 as a story processing the issue of the foreignness of Moses's wife and son (“Zippora und ihr חתן דמים,” in pp. 125–36), Blum's interpretation of the “pillar of fire” motif in Exod 13–14 and engagement with conflationary models for that portion of Exodus (“Die Feuersäule in Ex 13–14—eine Spur der ‘Endredaktion’?” (137–56), his discussion of the character of early Israelite history-writing and critique of recent revisionary treatments of the Succession Narrative (“Ein Anfang der Geschichtschreibung? Anmerkungen zur sog. Thronfolgegeschichte und zum Umgang mit Geschichte im alten Israel,” 281–318), and some preliminary examinations of the composition of the latter part of the book of 1 Kings (“Die Lüge des Propheten: Ein Lesevorschlag zu einer befremdlichen Geschichte [1 Reg 13],” [2000], here 319–38; “Der Prophet und das Verderben Israels: Eine ganzheitliche, historisch-kritische Lektüre von 1 Kön 17–19,” [1997], here 339–53; and “Die Nabotüberlieferungen und die Kompositionsgeschichte der Vorderen Propheten,” [2000], here 355–74).

If one does proceed chronologically, the first of the essays is a methodologically-focused essay on Gen 32:23–33 dedicated to Claus Westermann on his seventieth birthday and published as “Die Komplexität der Überlieferung: Zur diachronen und synchronen Auslegung von Gen 32,23–33” in DBAT in 1980. Thus preceding the 1982 completion of Blum's dissertation (published as Die Komposition der Vätergeschichte [WMANT, 57; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1984]), this essay provides a valuable glimpse into Blum's methodology and a balance to his analysis of the Gen 28 Bethel story, which so dominates the early pages of Komposition and many readers' impressions of that work. As in his analysis of the Gen 28 Bethel story, Blum begins his analysis of Gen 32:23–33 in “Komplexität” with a reproduction of the text (including an alternative numbering of its elements, pp. 45–46) and synchronic analysis. Unlike that case (where Blum posited a semi-reconstructable earlier independent Bethel story), Blum contradicts earlier scholarship on Gen 32:23-33 in maintaining that this pericope is so thoroughly interwoven with its surrounding context that it is impossible to find sufficient grounds to reconstruct an earlier narrative precursor to it. Blum does think that Gen 32:23-33 may have been based in part on an etymology for "Israel" as "God wrestler" that preceded the text in some unknown form, but he argues against theories by Gunkel and others that Gen 32:23–33 was preceded by some kind of complete, independent story, say, about a fight between Jacob and a river-demon. All this analysis, however, in some ways serves as a precursor to an extended, eleven page methodological discussion where Blum argues that synchronic and diachronic methodologies are not separate, nor complementary, but instead necessarily interdependent and mutually informative (pp. 73–84). Whether one agrees with Blum's thesis about Gen 32:23–33 or not, this latter discussion does such an excellent job of raising central issues that it should be required reading for any graduate program in biblical studies.

One of the things that emerges through review of this essay and others in the volume is Blum's openness to revision of his hypotheses in light of further scholarly dialogue and reflection on the data. In contrast to some scholars past and present, he does not appear in this volume as a dogmatic evangelist for any particular broader system, but instead as an exegete focused on the particular problems presented by various biblical texts. This too may explain the gradual movement in his career toward more fragmented analyses of texts and problems: from the relatively unified, though massive Komposition der Vätergeschichte (WMANT, 57; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1984), to the less unified but still monograph-like Studien (1990; retracting on p. 214 [note 35] part of Vätergeschichte), to the republication of the diverse essays in Textgestalt in 2010 that in turn further revise and develop his work. For example, his essay “Noch Einmal: Jakobs Traum in Bethel—Genesis 28,10–22" (originally published in Rethinking the Foundations [Festschrift Van Seters, 2000]) joins a dialogue between the honoree of the Festschrift (John Van Seters) and this reviewer (David Carr) and revises Blum's earlier conclusion in Vätergeschichte that the early Jacob story featured a silent appearance of Yhwh. In this essay, partly in response to arguments of Van Seters, Blum favors a new hypothesis that the preexilic form of the Jacob story probably included some form of the promise of protection found in Gen 28:15, a promise that is then reflected in Hos 12:7. Similarly, his essay on “Die literarische Verbindung von Erzvätern und Exodus” (2002) revises the picture of his “(K)D” layer developed in preliminary form in Vätergeschichte and then revised in Studien. Now Blum argues that the KD layer was confined to the Moses story and that the texts he had once assigned to it in Genesis (e.g. Gen 15; 50:24–25) likely were post-Priestly compositions. As in the above-mentioned cases, Blum modifies his position in “Verbindung” in response to work by other scholars, in this case Konrad Schmid (Erzväter und Exodus: Untersuchungen zur doppelten Begründung der Ursprünge Israels innerhalb der Geschichtsbücher des Alten Testaments [WMANT, Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1999]) and Jan Gertz (Tradition und Redaktion in der Exoduserzählung: Untersuchungen zur Endredaktion des Pentateuch [FRLANT, 186; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2000]), even as he resists Gertz and Schmid's assignment of significant portions of Exod 3 to post-Priestly layer(s) of composition (pp. 90–93).

These essays well illustrate ways that Blum's work shares some, though not all, of the propensity of German-language scholarship of 1990s and 2000s toward the assignment of significant portions of the Hexateuch to an increasing variety of post-Priestly layers. In his Vätergeschichte (1984) he still worked with a concept of a pre-Priestly “D” layer that included texts leading up to and including Josh 24. In Studien (1990) and essays from the late 1980s to mid-1990s he developed a picture of multiple post-Priestly pentateuchal compositional layers, including a “Josua 24 Bearbeitung” and a post-Priestly “Malaak Bearbeitung” (see especially his 1991 [original 1989] “Gibt es die Endgestalt des Pentateuch?” in Textgestalt, 207–17, a contribution to the 1995 Leuven Colloquium, “Das sog. ‘Privilegrecht’ in Exodus 34,11–26” in Textgestalt, 157–76, and “Kompositionelle Knoten” [1997] in Textgestalt, 249–80). With the 2002 “Verbindung” essay he clearly distinguishes between the Josh 24 post-Priestly layer and two potentially related groups of additional post-Priestly material, one of which includes texts linked to motifs exhibited above-all in Exod 4:1–17, 27ff. (e.g. Exod 12:21–27; 14:31b; 18:1–12; 19:9) and the other a set of texts associated with Gen 15 (e.g. Gen 22:15–18; 26:3b–5). In a 2003 Festschrift article for Frank Crüsemann (“Beschneidung und Passa in Kanaan: Beobachtungen und Mutmassungen zu Jos 5,” Textgestalt, 219–48) Blum explores the possibility of yet other post-Priestly layers in Josh 5, one of which (Josh 5:10–12) shows marked Priestly features while the others (5:2–9, 10–13, possibly also 5:1 as part of a “Joshua 2 layer”) share the tendency of many post-Priestly additions to be oriented toward non-Priestly pentateuchal texts (see on this especially “Verbindung,” Textgestalt, 121).

Sometimes Blum's own method and presuppositions may contribute to the growing complexity of the transmission-historical picture in the later essays. For example, in a strategic passage in “Verbindung” (pp. 118–19) Blum contradicts Schmid and decisively distinguishes the layer found in Gen 15 and related texts on the one hand from Josh 24 and related texts on the other. Blum finds strange the lack of overlap between Gen 15 and Josh 24, e.g. the lack of mention in Gen 15 of Abraham giving up the gods that his fathers worshipped in Mesopotamia (a major theme in Josh 24:2, 15). Apparently, for Blum to see two texts in the same tradition-historical layer they must exhibit a high level of homogeneity, one illustrated most clearly by a number of Priestly pentateuchal texts. This assumption is not untypical of much biblical scholarship, but it may well be that some authors of biblical texts (e.g. some Priestly authors) were more consistent in their rehearsal of themes than others. Or, in another example, Blum's essay on Josh 5 (pp. 239, 248) similarly contrasts the Hexateuch-wide development of motifs found in Josh 24 with the lack of such preparation for the distinctive perspective on the pentateuchal narrative presented in Josh 5:4–7, a phenomenon which he sees as significant both in distinguishing these strata from one another and their overall perspective on boundaries of the works to which they relate (Pentateuch/Hexateuch). Yet, despite some preparation of motifs occurring in Josh 24 (e.g. Gen 33:19; 35:1–7*; 48:21–22; 50:24–26; Exod 13:19), other motifs found in Josh 24 are not introduced into the text of biblical Genesis (e.g. the worshipping of foreign gods by Abraham's ancestors, cf. Jubilees). Thus the author of Josh 24 did not consistently prepare for motifs featured in surveys of the sort found in Josh 24:2–13 or 5:4–7. Whether the perspectives found in Josh 24 and 5:2–9 are compatible with each other brings us back to the question of authorial consistency raised above with respect to Gen 15 and Josh 24.

One final issue has to do with the question of post-Priestly (relative) dating of non-Priestly material in general. On this point Blum often exercises a noteworthy amount of caution. For example, he raises important points that would militate against a hasty association of discussion of circumcision in Josh 5:2–9 with the Gen 17 Priestly covenant text (pp. 232, 235), and he rightly questions the hypothesis of a special Priestly “idiolect” identifiable through use of expressions such as נפש חיה (Gen 2:7 along with Gen 1, 9; Lev 11 and Ezek 47:9; pp. 7–8 of the 2004 essay on Gen 2–3). Nevertheless, in an earlier (1991 [original 1989]) essay (p. 216, note 27) he uses the plural of תוֹרה occurring in lists of “commandments and decrees” in Exod 15:26 [?]; 16:28; 18:16, 20 as an indicator of the post-Priestly origins of a series of law-oriented insertions/compositions in Exod 15–18. Moreover, despite his clear awareness of the text-critical complexity of Josh 24 (pp. 262–63), he nevertheless takes the whole chapter as post-Priestly based particularly on an isolated potential echo of Priestly reed-sea materials in Josh 24:6 (264, note 28). This post-Priestly positioning of Joshua 24 and associated materials then leads to a complicated hypothesis appearing in several of these essays (e.g. 117–21, 239, 262–79) where the Pentateuch/Hexateuch was revised back-and-forth by multiple Priestly and post/non-Priestly hands, also changing its character from a Pentateuch to a Hexateuch and back again in successive phases. Such a picture cannot be ruled out. Nevertheless, this reviewer is skeptical about the plausibility of a text being able to undergo successive authoritative modifications by such distinct groups (passing the text back and forth to each other repeatedly). I suspect that our current generation of biblical scholars has been overly swayed toward post-Priestly dating of a number of passages by a combination of probable post-Priestly harmonizations (e.g. Josh 24:6 with Exod 14:9, et. al.) and over/misinterpretation of the occurrence of certain linguistic expressions in both Priestly and non-Priestly materials (e.g. נפשׁ חיה or תורות). In this sense, Blum's cautious methodological formulations on these issues across several of these essays may end up being more helpful in the long run than his picture of growing numbers of post-Priestly strata (Josh 24 redaction, Malaak redaction, Exod 4 and Genesis 15 groups, etc.).

In the end, whether in the exegetically-focused essays or the broader, more programmatic ones Blum shows a marked tendency (all-too-rare among biblical scholars) to leave options of dating and stratigraphy relatively open. Time and again (e.g. 239–41 on Josh 5:2–9 or the exploration of two approaches to Exod 4:24–26 on 127–33), he discusses the advantages and disadvantages of different models without decisively preferring one over the other. In this sense he shares Wellhausen's oft-overlooked exegetical acumen and restraint before the data (or lack thereof) presented by the text. Nevertheless, the Blum of these essays is not as oriented as Wellhausen was toward grand syntheses. In this sense the title of the earliest essay in the volume “Die Komplexität der Überlieferung” would have been an apt title for this worthy collection of essays as well.

David M. Carr, Union Theological Seminary in New York