Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 17 (2017) - Review

Edenburg, Cynthia, Dismembering the Whole: Composition and Purpose of Judges 19–21 (Ancient Israel and Its Literature, 24; Atlanta: SBL, 2016). Pp. 424. Paperback. US$45.64. ISBN: 9781628371246.

In this volume of Ancient Israel and Its Literature, Edenburg sets out to establish the date and purpose of the strange, violent narrative of the outrage at Gibeah in Judges 19–21. She concludes that the story reflects the political concerns of the early post-exilic period; specifically, it addresses the “threat of factitiousness and the dissolution of the unity of an ideal post-exilic ‘Israel’” (p. 321).

Edenburg clearly sets out her methodology, so that the reader has the definite advantage of being able to evaluate the quality of her conclusions. In a series of sections, she analyzes the compositional history and structure of Judg 19–21, considers the geographical setting and historical reliability of the events, examines the language for evidence of Late Biblical Hebrew, and compares the narrative with intertexts in other biblical books in order to determine purpose as it is suggested by modification.

In the first section, Textual Artifact and Literary Stratification, Edenburg sets out to determine how the overwriting and layering in the narrative, including inconsistencies and breaks, reveal the stages of its development. She is aware of the dangers inherent in this process, and recommends caution in determining and applying criteria, but nevertheless concludes: “Narrative breaks and internal contradictions may present strong evidence of editorial stratification, especially when it is possible to reconstruct a supposed original continuity within the text and explain the motives for editorial interference” (p. 11, italics added). The numerous occurrences of lexis such as “seems to,” “may indicate,” and “suggests,” however, indicate to readers that this method retains a good deal of subjectivity, and reminds them that other theories of development are possible. For example, Edenburg states, “Nonetheless, verse 48 appears overloaded and may have been expanded by the addition of the clauses emphasizing the totality of Benjamin's destruction” (p. 53), without explaining what the term “overloaded” means and how this condition was determined. Edenburg also identifies some of the “doublets, breaks, and inconsistencies” that, she argues, indicate a composite narrative without fully considering the role of literary techniques such as resumptive repetition and proleptic summary in a seemingly disjointed narrative, techniques which often structure what is, in fact, a unified one (pp. 37–38). Edenburg is nevertheless to be commended for striving to make her methodology transparent and consistent. She ultimately concludes that the reconstructed primary narrative strand, which she terms N1, but which also underwent a limited revision of some sections (p. 76), was supplemented by a single layer with “unity of style and outlook,” which she designates R2 (p. 25).

In the second section, Virtual Space and Real Geography, Edenburg uses historical and archaeological data to evaluate whether the biblical narrative actually represents the premonarchic period in which it is set, or a later historical situation. The author finds that the bulk of the evidence points to the historical reality of the sixth century BCE, with most of the events occurring in the territory of Benjamin. Thus, she concludes that the geographical setting of the story reflects the concerns of N1 and R2, who created the narrative from “plots, motifs, and verbal formulations that they extracted from the stock of received literature” (p. 324). She identifies the purpose of the narrative as an attempt to “prejudice the reader against Saul and in favor of David even before the reader encounters them” (p. 112).

In Language and Style: Diachronic and Synchronic Aspects, Edenburg analyses various characteristics of Hebrew in order to determine whether the narrative was originated, redacted, or both, earlier or later in the history of Israel. Here, once again, she gives a clear and detailed overview of her methodology, which shows an awareness of both its strengths and limitations. Her summary of potential methodological problems on pp. 116–23 is a helpful overview of the issues involved. She concludes that both N1 and R2 attempted to use language characteristic of classical Hebrew in order to align with their sources and the setting, but their ineptitude resulted in language that is characteristic of Late Biblical Hebrew. She also determines that their literary efforts were probably only separated by a short period of time (p. 157). She does not think that the presence of LBH is simply the result of a much later redactor, R2, since she argues that there is no evidence of redaction in ch. 19, which nevertheless contains LBH usage (pp. 156–57, 323–24). However, if one doubts her idea of a single late redactor, based on the apparent subjectivity of the conclusions in the section entitled Textual Artifact and Literary Stratification, noted above, a late redactor of an earlier work would still be a viable possibility. Edenburg, however, concludes that the language of chs. 19–21 is “transitional LBH” and may be located in the early post-exilic period.

The final section of Dismembering the Whole, Text, Subtext, and Intertextual Mosaic, is an extended and detailed comparison of Judg 19–21 with other biblical texts with which it interacts. Once again, Edenburg gives a succinct and insightful overview of theories of intertextuality on pp. 162–74 that provides a helpful introduction to the uninitiated. She analyzes a number of texts that suggest literary dependency in order to help determine the dating and purpose of the Gibeah narrative. A significant instance of intertextuality that has often been the focus of comment is the relationship between Judg 19:15–25 and the story of Abraham and Lot in Gen 19:1–13. Edenburg examines the structure, motifs, and formulations in order to understand the relationship between the two pericopae, and then proceeds to compare the role of each within its own wider context (Judg 19–21; Gen 18–19), considering both structural analogies and verbal analogies. She concludes that the Gibeah narrative is dependent on the Abraham-Lot narrative, and that the purpose of N1 and R2 was to deliberately suggest parallels between Sodom and Gibeah, and in so doing condemn not only Gibeah in the eyes of the reader, but also the tribe of Benjamin (p. 186). Whether or not one totally agrees with Edenburg's conclusions about dating and redaction, her study provides interesting and worthwhile insights into the relationship between the content and ideologies of the two narratives. A number of other intertextual relationships, some more extensive than others, are treated in a similar manner.

In her conclusion, Edenburg claims that “the story seems to extol an ideal view of a leaderless society capable of acting to enforce the social norms and values” (p. 325) and that it does not argue for the necessity of a monarchy. Whether the society in Judg 19–21 is ideal in any sense, however, is debatable. She also determines that although the narrative is not a specific polemic against Saul, “there can be no doubt that the Gibeah story was conceived as an anti-Benjaminite polemic” (p. 327). The fact that the tribe of Benjamin survives in the end—although Edenburg admits that the “author probably wanted to kill off Benjamin” (p. 327)—is explained by its purpose: the story was conceived as a means to promote the wholeness of Israel in its post-exilic situation. Thus, the purposes of the final redactor as she conceives them seem to stand in some tension. Edenburg attempts to address this tension, and concludes that “it seems preferable to view the story as a reflection of conflicting interests between rival groups within Yehud” (p. 330).

Overall, Edenburg is to be credited for a methodology that is clear and that she attempts to apply consistently to the text. She provides many valuable insights into the narrative and its function. The numerous qualifiers—“might,” “may,” “possibly,” “seems,” “questionable,” etc.—that remain even in her final chapter, however, indicate that definitive conclusions are elusive.

Mary L. Conway, McMaster Divinity College