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

Bons, Eberhard, ed. Der eine Gott und die fremden Kulte: Exklusive und inklusive Tendenzen in den biblischen Gottesvorstellungen (Biblisch-Theologische Studien, 102; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 2009). Pp. 256. Paperback. € 22.90. ISBN 978 3 7887 2364 4.

This collection of essays is the second volume to result from a series of annual conferences on monotheism originating in the New Testament group of the German Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft für Theologie. The first volume was published in 2008 as L. Bormann (ed.), Schöpfung, Monotheismus und fremde Religionen: Studien zu Inklusion und Exklusion in den biblischen Schöpfungsvorstellungen. This present volume shifts the focus away from creation to the ideas of deity and how these relate to questions of inclusivity and exclusivity. Recent and future conferences deal with Der eine Gott und die vielen Mahlgemeinschaften and Der eine Gott und die Geschichte der Völker.

Readers of this journal will be most interested in the first two essays in this volume: Bons on the Old Testament's critique of idolatry, and Eynikel on non-Israelites in the book of Jonah. The wider focus of the volume, with essays on the New Testament, Joseph and Aseneth, and early Christian texts, is characteristic of the monotheism discussion in recent years which has cast its net more widely than was the case in the past. (See, for example, recent edited volumes in the Forschungen zum Alten Testament series). I shall concentrate more attention on the essays by Bons and Eynikel, and only briefly summarize the remaining essays.

In the first essay Eberhard Bons (Strasbourg) re-evaluates von Rad's emphasis on the vehement intolerance of Israelite religion through an analysis of biblical texts that speak about divine images: Isa 41:21–29; 44:9–20; Jer 10:1–16; Psalms 115; 135. Drawing upon recent work on the theology of image production in Mesopotamia, Bons shows how each of these texts speaks about idols as the work of human hands, whilst Mesopotamian texts emphasize the dual origin of divine images. Images are produced by human actors, but the initiative, blueprint, and production are divinely superintended. Bons rightly observes that many of the texts do not explicitly deny the existence of other gods, but do address the question of the claim to be ‘a god.’ The questions raised by Jan Assmann about modern violent intolerance and its origin in biblical monotheism hover in the background of the paper. Bons rightly demonstrates that the intolerance towards idols is for inner-communal consumption, rather than a programme to be realized beyond the Jewish community. Nevertheless, some of the texts do raise the issue of whether other peoples can participate in the honour and fear of God.

This latter question is taken up in the essay by Erik Eynikel (Nijmegen), which examines the question of whether foreigners can participate in the cult of Yhwh through a reading of the book of Jonah. Eynikel reviews the standard introductory questions and suggests reading the book as a parable. He then offers a cursory reading of the book giving particular attention to the appearance of non-Israelites. In Eynikel's view the prophet represents Israel, and the Ninevites represent Israel's neighbours, especially the Samaritans. God attempts to educate Jonah on the question of the participation of non-Israelites in the cult of Yhwh. With their sacrifices and oaths the sailors become effectively Israelites, albeit without covenant or circumcision. The willingness of the sailors and Ninevites to seek after God contrasts with Jonah's behaviour. In Eynikel's reading Jonah is protest literature, rejecting the practices and politics of Ezra-Nehemiah.

Eynikel's essay appears strangely unaware of the sustained criticism that such a reading of the text has received in the last ten years particularly in Anglo-American scholarship. He offers, with no defence, the universalistic God pitted against the particularistic Jewish prophet. In addition, the idea of ‘cult participation’ needs much more careful consideration. Neither Ninevites nor sailors clearly participate in the cult of Yhwh. It is possible that the writer envisaged that the sailors' vows would be fulfilled in Jerusalem, but we might be reluctant to assume Deuteronomic theology for these sailors are happy to offer sacrifices onboard a ship (!). All in all Eynikel's essay is a missed opportunity. There is much to discuss about the questions of inclusion and exclusion in relation to Jonah, but such discussion would be better pursued through a hermeneutical and critical analysis of different ways of reading the book.

In the remaining essays Werner Kahl (Frankfurt-am-Main) considers how Paul's monotheistic beliefs are expressed to his Athenian audience on the Areopagus and how that differs from the way those same beliefs are presented to the early Christian communities in the genuine Pauline letters. Daniel Gerber (Strasbourg) writes on the problematic issues that faced the Christian community in Corinth as it members sought to live in a polytheistic society (1 Cor 8:1–11:1). Jürgen Zangenberg (Leiden) considers one of the rare Jewish reflections upon conversion: Joseph and Aseneth. Zangenberg rightly considers questions of the audience and concludes that it was composed for internal consumption. Karen Piepenbrink (Mannheim) also considers conversion, but from the post-Constantinian period and from the perspective of the outsider. She analyses the conversation between Ausonius and his former student Paulinus of Nola about the latter's ascetic conversion. Finally Emmanuel Prinzivalli (Rome) considers how pagans viewed Christians in the first three centuries.

The volume has been well produced with few errors (e.g. p. 42 “Mehr” for “Meer”). In the essay by Bons please note that the author of the essay “Man-made Gods: Idolatry in the Old Testament” is Stuart Weeks, not Meeks. The Old Testament essays do not break fresh ground and scholars will find little here to detain them. The essay by Bons will be a helpful resource for students and pastors, but they should read Eynikel's essay with a critical eye.

Nathan MacDonald, Georg-August Universität Göttingen, Germany/ University of St Andrews, Scotland, UK