Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 20 (2020) - Review
The two-part volume contains a brief introduction by the editor, six papers that were presented at the International SBL Meeting in Auckland in 2008 at a session on “Historiography and Identity,” and four invited responses intended to generate dialogue and discussion.
In Part I, in “Identities and Empire: Historiographic Questions for the Deuteronomistic History in the Persian Period,” Jon L. Berquist argues the texts in the History were written in the Persian period because the Jewish community in Babylon probably did not have access to the means of authorship, while, in contrast, the Persian Empire sponsored writing, and the textual themes of the incapability of self-governance and the central role of Jerusalem fit their agenda and use of writing stored in archives, in this case the temple in Jerusalem, to document their rule and legitimacy. Later in the Persian period, the texts came to be read as a myth of origins, not as historiography, and were used to create an alternative world about how life could be in a non-empire context. They offered conflicting opportunities for identity, imperial or colonial, but did not produce identity. This essay is quite speculative and needs filling out with concrete examples to back up its many suggestions. It seems to try to stitch together a number of existing models and theories into a patchwork whose needlework can be unraveled easily.
In “The Book of Judges as a Late Construct,” Klaas Spronk uses the differences in the versions of the books in the MT tradition and primarily the LXX tradition to argue that Judges was a late composition designed to connect the Hexateuch to the newer history in Samuel and Kings. He also musters a number of examples he thinks were intended to link incidents in Judges to pre-existing texts, especially in Joshua and Samuel, to create an authoritative version of the history of Israel from creation to restoration in the Hellenistic period. The story of Samson was meant to be an introduction to the history in Samuel. There are a number of details here that warrant further consideration and investigation; many have been used to argue for other interpretations. The Hellenistic date for the creation of the entire book hinges on an assumption that the Samson story was an original, integral element of the book, which could be disputed.
Mark G. Brett, in “National Identity as Commentary and as Metacommentary,” notes that there were multiple models of horizontal solidarity (i.e., nationalism) in the Persian period and that Ezra’s “egalitarian” impulse in the “holy seed” discourse is similar to what is found in the Holiness Code and Deuteronomy, except that the HC sees nothing defiling about strangers living in the midst of the community. Since questions of identity only are conceivable under conditions of social disembeddedness, premodern sacred traditions do not facilitate social identity. Even with historical revisions, the biblical texts are still attached to the divine and so do not show a fully justifiable analogy with modern nationalism. This is a nuanced engagement with modern theory about the making of national identity, with much food for thought. The assumption that Deuteronomy was written or edited in the 7th century BCE remains disputed but is not essential to the larger line of investigation.
In “Coming to Terms with Ezra's Many Identities in Ezra-Nehemiah,” Mark Leuchter examines how Ezra's portrayal as a Zadokite, on the one hand, and as a Levite on the other, produces a new social identity in both books, in which the covenantal community accepts the compatibility of Zadokite and levitical leadership. Effectively, the community accepts both the sanctity of priestly, temple-based authority and the authority of the levitical scribes working in the Persian administration as exegetes of YHWH’s Torah. The identification of a compromise being depicted as an important, if not central, message of these books is intriguing. Whether this is a deliberate rhetorical strategy of the creators of the books or only something that developed secondarily through the work of redactors, the latter of which seems to be Leuchter's view, needs further elucidation. He might be using the term “redactor” to describe the original creators, since he assumes they were working with earlier materials. He seems reluctant to talk about the creator as a writer or even an author.
In the penultimate essay, “David's Officials according to the Chronicler (1 Chronicles 23–27): A Reflection of Second Temple Self-Categorization?” Louis Jonker applies self- categorization theory from social psychology to examine why the narrative world in which the list is situated was constructed and why it was necessary in the time of the Chronicler to portray David's reign as a time of significant change. This offers another potentially promising application of interdisciplinary theory within biblical studies.
In the final essay, “Otherness and Historiography in Chronicles,” Christine Mitchell argues that in Mesopotamian and Greek historiography, native identity is constructed over against the Other. She then notes that the same principle is present to a lesser degree in Chronicles, making it hard even to identify the Other. Nevertheless, she suggests it might be Edom, even though this group appears infrequently. She then wonders if Chronicles might not represent the genre of historiography after all, but rather, political philosophy, and if not, suggests it is modified historiography, written when use of the Other to establish in-group identity no longer was a dominant principle. Otherness in Mesopotamian royal annals is necessary in battle accounts and may not be an intentional strategy used to define Us. The Other in Greek historiography includes, at times, a type of anthropological curiosity that goes beyond the sole desire to define Us, but more importantly, the question must be asked why it should set the standard for defining a biblical genre, whether or not the Other was a deliberate, dominant Greek theme for establishing Us.
There are four responses offered. Raymond Person (“Identity (Re)formation as the Historical Circumstances Required”) sketches his own work on the creation and purposes of the Deuteronomistic History, Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah and then proceeds to review how the papers agree or disagree with his views and what he might need to rethink. Armin Siedlecki summarizes the papers with little substantive input or critique (“Persian Period Studies Have Come of Age”). Gerrie Snyman (“Identity, Power, and the World of Ancient [Biblical] Text Production”) offers a useful contextualization of the first six papers, linking them to a set of larger relevant issues. Finally, Jacob Wright (“Continuing These Conversations”) offers a substantive, critical engagement with the essays in Part 1.
The final product indicates how biblical scholarship is engaging more and more with interdisciplinary theories, while demonstrating the need for caution when using such approaches. One should become aware of critiques from within the originating field as well as the need for theories applicable to current culture to be modified, as necessary, when dealing with the ancient Levant and incomplete data. The essays stimulate reflection on a range of texts and issues.