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

Rom-Shiloni, Dalit, God in Times of Destruction and Exiles: Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) Theology (Jerusalem: Hebrew University, Magnes Press, 2009; in Hebrew). Pp. xiv + 684, Hardcover. $ 43.00, ISBN 978-965-493-421-3.

The Mishnah in tractate Yoma describes the work of the High Priest on Yom Kippur. As a part of the portrayal of the incense offering, the properties of the incense used on Yom Kippur are described as different from those of the incense burnt the rest of the year round. While the standard incense was a fine powder (daqqâ), the incense of the Yom Kippur was to be extremely refined (daqqâ min hadaqqâ). Not unlike that, the task of researchers who wish to find the words of a specific prophet themselves (ipsissima verba), or those of a poet, and extract from these words their philosophical and theological teachings, is without a doubt a delicate job. The task which Dalit Rom-Shiloni took upon herself, not only examining and investigating the beliefs of those prophets and poets that operated around the time of the destruction of the Temple, but also all the voices surrounding them, voices expressing a broad spectrum of theological approaches to the subject of God in Times of Destruction and Exiles and the questions that arise in such times, should not be considered as anything other than daqqâ min hadaqqâ.

God in Times of Destruction and Exiles is a revision of the author's 2001 doctoral dissertation, completed at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem under the direction of Sarah Japhet. The book includes seven chapters and four appendices. It examines the different prophetic and poetic voices concerning God, the destruction of the first Temple and the relations between these two, around the first half of the sixth century b.c.e.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part, titled “Methods of Theological Research,” consists of three chapters and roughly corresponds to the opening chapters of the author's dissertation. In this part the author inquires into the history of scholarship and lays the theoretical foundations for the third part of the book, which focuses on the main discussion regarding “God in Times of Destruction and Exiles.”

The first chapter (pp. 7–24) consists of a methodological discussion concerning the possibility of Biblical Theology and the history of its research. One of the most interesting notions in this chapter is the clear-cut division of scholars into two groups based on their religious affiliation. Rom-Shiloni distinguishes between the positions of Jewish and Christian scholars regarding the context in which Biblical Theology should be understood. While the Jewish scholars naturally tend to examine the Hebrew Bible in conjunction with post-biblical Jewish theology, Christian scholars study Old Testament theology through the prism of the New Testament. The chapter also includes a survey of different terms given to this theological discipline by the different researchers. The different terms occupy a broad spectrum, including the field of “Biblical Theology,” “Old Testament Theology,” and “Hebrew Bible Theology,” as well as what seem to be her two favorites: “Tanakh Theology” (תיאולוגיה תנכית) and “Jewish Biblical Theology.” Rom-Shiloni's approach does not attempt to mediate between the two mentioned above, but rather to let the text of the Hebrew Bible speak for itself, in line with the Israeli stream of scholarship exemplified in David Ben Gurion's well-known distinction of the biblical sources from their later postbiblical Wirkungsgeschichte: “the Tanakh shines in its own light.”[1]

The second chapter (pp. 25–57) discusses the various biblical sources which were reviewed in order to uncover the various perspectives contemporary with the events: i.e., Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Lamentations, and the following Psalms—9–10, 42–43, 44, 74, 77, 79, 80, 89, 90, 94, 102, 103, 106, 123 and 137—which in the author's opinion were written during that period. Those sources are categorized by genre and book. Rom-Shiloni prefers the poetic and prophetic sources over the historiographic ones for two reasons: according to Shiloni, “prophecy and poetry express the technicolorism and the debate between viewpoints in religious theology, whereas historiography expresses an official and monotonous viewpoint” (p. 25). Moreover “prophecy and poetry differ from historiography in their perspective, the former more likely to give an ad hoc and almost contemporary testimonial, whereas the latter provides a retrospective account of occurrences” (p. 27).

The third chapter (pp. 58–85) elaborates on ways to “harvest” these variegated opinions and voices, those of prophets, poets, as well as “other voices.” This chapter presents the method by which the authenticity of the different voices is determined. She suggests that this is achieved with the help of several criteria such as textual criticism, repetitions of a statement or an idea, and concordance with other voices or general positions known to us from other scriptures.

The second part of the book is equivalent to the second volume of the author's dissertation, and focuses on providing the data that will be evaluated in the third part of the book (the two additional appendices at the end of the book also list such information).

Appendix 1 (pp. 86–87) offers a reference list of all statements referring to God in the books of the prophets. Appendix 2 (pp. 88–132) consists of two parts. The first is a detailed list of those statements referring to God from the corpus described above (i.e., Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Lamentations and Psalms) according to the type of the statement, the function of the statement in its context, and the underlying theological point of view. The second part is essentially a set of charts summarizing and sorting the information drawn from those statements.

After laying the theoretical foundation in the first part and the concrete evidence in the second, the third part of the book deals with “the conceptions of God.”

The fourth chapter (pp. 135–61), “The LORD as a King: the Anthropomorphic Metaphor and the Conception of God,” concentrates on the various aspects of God as a king. This chapter also contains a concise discussion regarding the tension between the prohibition of using a physical representation of the divine, that is, the making of an idol or a mask, and the most prevalent use of anthropomorphism in biblical imagery. The two key functions filled by kings in the ancient Near East (and for that matter, in most other cultures as well) are the deity leading his people in the battlefield and judging them. Thus, it is only natural that the two following chapters deal with these aspects of God and their conceptions as understood by different “voices.”

The fifth chapter (pp. 162–267), “God's Part in the Destruction: the LORD as a Ruler and a Warrior,” deals with the various reactions to God's part in the destruction of the Temple. Especially interesting is the author's model which analyzes different conceptions of God's role in this destruction in light of the biblical tension between human and divine actions. Her model suggests three levels of divine involvement. In the first God is depicted as a warrior himself; in the second God summons humans to make war in his name; and the third model presents warfare as human-initiated action without any divine intervention. Each of the above options is then subdivided into two alternatives: God can be either the enemy of his people or their savior. Rom-Shiloni uses this model to organize the various reactions found in prophecy and poetry, which allows her to categorize the different approaches to God as a warrior in general, and specifically addresses the question of God's role in the destruction of the Temple.

The sixth chapter (pp. 268–319), entitled “The Destruction and the Attribute/Quality of Justice: the LORD as a Judge,” discusses the question of theodicy in regard to God as righteous judge. The author presents different approaches to the relationship between the sins of the nation and the destruction of Temple. This section also deals with the biblical conception of divine justice in this world.

The seventh chapter (pp. 323–413) is titled “The Bond Between the LORD and His People: the Covenant and Providence” and discusses a variety of statements on the subject of the covenantal relationship and the different metaphors incorporated in it—e.g. those of marriage, family, and king-vassal relations.

This is a well-written book, and its ideas are clearly expressed and quite detailed. It is apparent that it was composed through meticulous, thorough scientific work. Its rational arrangement and the orderly discussion of the various aspects of the metaphorical representation of God as a king in the relevant sources prove helpful. In addition, the combination of a discussion about methodological principles of Biblical Theology together with collecting material and analyzing it in one volume is noteworthy. This combination offers readers the opportunity to enjoy both the the theoretical world of methodological reflection in Biblical Theology and the actual implementation of these principles presented in the first section in a study concerning a specific topic. This study bears a significant contribution to the discussion of theology in the first half of the sixth century, and frequently contributes innovative insights to the discussion, making it worthwhile for students in theology in general. However, as a revised dissertation, the presentation is at times quite complex.

Netanel Y. Barak, Hebrew University Jerusalem

[1] David Ben-Gurion, “The TANAKH Shines the Light of Itself: a Letter to Yitzhak Dmaiel-Swiger, September 1953,” in David Ben-Gurion, Bible Studies (Tel Aviv: Am Oved and The Israel Society for Biblical study, 1976), 47–49. reference