Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 11 (2011) - Review

Knoppers, Gary N., and Kenneth A. Ristau, eds., Community Identity in Judean Historiography: Biblical and Comparative Perspectives (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2009). Pp. x+272. Cloth. US$44.50. ISBN 978-1-57506-165-8.

Community Identity in Judean Historiography: Biblical and Comparative Perspectives consists of eleven essays, mostly growing out of presentations made in 2007 at the Ancient Historiography Seminar of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies/Société canadienne des études bibliques, by Hebrew Bible scholars on issues of identity formation and ethnicity in various texts.

Kenton Sparks (pp. 9–26: “Israel and the Nomads of Ancient Palestine”) surveys the depiction of nomadic groups in the Hebrew Bible: Midianites, Ishmaelites, Amalekites, Qenites, Rechabites. Sparks concludes that the evidence for how the Israelites describe and relate to these nomadic groups suggests that the they themselves were of nomadic origin, that they neither embraced a romantic view of nomadic life nor cared for most nomads unless they economically or technologically benefited the Israelites. In addition, the Israelites seem to have conflated and confused various nomadic groups with one another. Sparks suggests that this situation indicates that the Israelites themselves may have been of mixed nomadic decent instead of from a singular nomadic line. Sparks' essay is well-written and the data he assembles provide the pertinent information to be considered in either affirming or rejecting his conclusions.

John Van Seters (pp. 27–39: “David: Messianic King of Mercenary Ruler?”) presents a discussion of David's rise to kingship and the presentation of his later use of military forces in the book of Samuel, which summarizes some of the arguments in his recent book on the topic (The Biblical Saga of King David [Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2009]). Van Seters contends that the conflicting images of David's rise (DtrH's understanding of David's rise within Saul's armies and leading them versus the depiction of David as a mercenary in the “David Saga” added during the exile) are attributable to two authors who convey different views of David and the value of his kingship. Van Seters argues that the “David Saga” is written as an attempt “to subvert the messianic utopianism that the older tradition [DtrH] fosters” (p. 39).

Katherine Stott (pp. 41–58: “A Comparative Study of the Exilic Gap in Ancient Israelite, Messenian, and Zionist Collective Memory”) addresses the recognition that the literature composed during or just after the Babylonian Exile mentions little to nothing about the state of the people as they lived in exile. Stott provides a comparative analysis with helpful detail of the exile of Messenia recorded in the fourth book of Pausanias' Description of Greece and the nineteenth-century Zionist movement. With this comparative evidence, Stott argues that the “traumatic repression” view for the marginalization of the exile in biblical literature is insufficient to explain both what is present and what is absent in the literature (p. 52). Stott points to the need in the community for continuity with a golden age in the past that “provides a model for the future” for communities existing in a state of exile as a possible explanation for what is contained in the exilic literature of the Hebrew Bible (pp. 54–55).

Ehud Ben Zvi (pp. 59–86: “Are There Any Bridges Out There? How Wide Was the Conceptual Gap between the Deuteronomistic History and Chronicles?”) carefully surveys themes and topics that have been identified as key ones in Chronicles, but that also appear in DtrH. Rather than paint these texts as dissimilar, Ben Zvi correctly explores the similarity of the presentation in the two works, often noting that the Chronicler has expanded or nuanced something in DtrH, but that the two works are not as radically opposed as is commonly held by many scholars. His careful analysis includes such topics as: judgment and agency, prophecy, David and the Davidic line, the Torah, “all Israel,” the “Other” and inclusivity and exclusivity, the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and historiographic methods.

James Bowick (pp. 87–117: “Characters in Stone: Royal Ideology and Yehudite Identity in the Behistun Inscription and the Book of Haggai”) provides a comparison between the Behistun Inscription's description of Darius and his relationship to Ahuramazda and the depiction of Zerubbabel and YHWH in Haggai. After a detailed and helpful introduction to the Behistun Inscription and its contents, Bowick addresses Haggai's presentation, which shares much in common with the Inscription while still being distinct. Bowick concludes that the important though limited role of Zerubbabel as governor and the proclamation of YHWH as king in Haggai can be seen with greater focus when compared to the Behistun Inscription's ideology.

John Kessler (pp. 119–145: “The Diaspora in Zechariah 1–8 and Ezra-Nehemiah: The Role of History, Social Location, and Tradition in the Formulation of Identity”) compares and contrasts the presentation of the Exile in two postexilic texts. In Zechariah 1–8, the Exile is understood as a “visible manifestation of the people's rebellion and Yahweh's judgment” (p. 127) and the hope for future returns is expressed. Ezra-Nehemiah, however, views the Diaspora as “the locus and repository of orthodox Yahwism” (p. 137), and there is no corresponding hope for future returns. Perhaps obviously, Kessler concludes that this reflects different historical situations and social locations.

Gary Knoppers (pp. 147–171: “Ethnicity, Genealogy, Geography, and Change: The Judean Communities of Babylon and Jerusalem in the Story of Ezra”) addresses two presentations of identity in Ezra: one “trans-temporal and international in scope” and one that is intergenerational in scope based on “mores developed and cultivated in the Diaspora” (p. 149). In his typical care with complex data, Knoppers examines Ezra's genealogy, the teaching and practices of Torah, and the ethnic and identity markers for the community in the narrative. Knoppers concludes that the key practices and behaviors promoted were new creations from the exilic and postexilic periods rather than descending from the monarchic era.

Mark Leuchter (pp. 173–195: “Ezra's Mission and the Levites of Casiphia”) explores the implications of Ezra (who has a Zadokite genealogy) operating somewhat removed from the hierarchy of the Zadokite priests in contrast to the repeated links to Levitical families mentioned in describing Ezra's mission. Leuchter's insightful and creative analysis suggests that Ezra's narrative was redacted to promote pro-Levitical interests, similar to what is found in the book of Nehemiah, which shares a similar distancing from the Zadokite priesthood. The arguments Leuchter presents are provocative, opening new questions about the interrelationship of these texts as well as the Pentateuch and other writings, and are worth much further exploration.

Louis Jonker (pp. 197–217: “Textual Identities in the Books of Chronicles: The Case of Jehoram's History”) employs the methodology of “textual identities” derived from social psychology in reading the Chronicler's depiction of Jehoram in 2 Chron 21:2–22:1. After an introduction to the method, Jonker applies it to the Jehoram account. While none of the conclusions are new, they reinforce insights gained from other methodological approaches to the material. Jonker affirms that cultic-religious purity is the key to faithfulness and that the Chronicler's account reveals more about the present need for self-categorization than for a representation of the past by the preservation of traditions. Jonker concludes that the Jehoram narrative illustrates “a community coming to terms with their provincial existence under Persian imperial dominion” (p. 215).

Kenneth Ristau (pp. 219–247: “Reading and Rereading Josiah: The Chronicler's Representation of Josiah for the Postexilic Community”) provides a revised excerpt from his MA thesis at the University of Alberta (2005). Ristau presents a detailed literary analysis of the Josiah narrative and concludes that the Chronicler is not attempting to idealize the kingship or to promote the restoration of the Davidic dynasty as a result of Josiah's presentation, but to use the kings as illustrations or examples in the service of the temple and the Torah.

Mark Boda (pp. 249–272: “Identity and Empire, Reality and Hope in the Chronicler's Perspective”) contends in his essay that the Chronicler “not only justifies present reality but also projects future hope” (p. 251). In recent years, many scholars have affirmed this future-orientation of Chronicles, and Boda provides additional support for this perspective from his overviews of the narrative between Solomon and Josiah. Boda contends that Chronicles promotes “the constitution (golah), activities (temple building), and polity (colony) of the Persian-period Yehudite community” (p. 270), and yet this polity remains only a temporary state. Rather, Boda contends that the ideal of Hezekiah's independence presents the hope for a different reality than Persian domination. The scholarly debates over whether the Chronicler envisions a restored Davidic king or not will certainly continue.

All eleven essays are well-written and footnoted, use data judiciously, and present coherent arguments. Readers interested in the formation of identity—and especially during the postexilic period—will do well to not ignore any of these essays in their research on the topic, regardless of the text or period being studied.

Steven J. Schweitzer, Bethany Theological Seminary