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

Shectman, Sarah and Baden, Joel S. (eds), The Strata of the Priestly Writings: Contemporary Debate and Future Directions (ATANT, 95; Zurich: Theologischer Verlag, 2009). Pp. 215. Hardcover. € 42.00, ISBN 978-3-290-17536-8.

This volume represents the fruits of the European Association of Biblical Studies meeting organized by Baruch Schwartz and Saul Olyan and held in conjunction with SBL International meeting 2007 in Vienna. The eleven contributions (all in English) by scholars from Europe, Israel, and the United States present the great diversity of opinion that still exists on the matter of the Priestly writings. A special weight is laid on the discussion of the Holiness material.

Baruch Schwartz (pp. 1–12) provides a concise introduction to the history of research, especially addressing the relationship of P to H. Most of the following contributions attempt to delineate this relationship more precisely. Joel Baden (13–29: “Identifying the Original Stratum of P: Theoretical and Practical Considerations”) investigates Exod 12 and proposes an original P narrative strand instructing the Israelites on how to perform the Passover in Egypt, and a second layer (H) containing legal instructions for future performance of this ritual. Tamar Kamionkowski (73–86: “Leviticus 24:10–13 in Light of H's Concept of Holiness”) examines H's unique name theology: In contrast to P and D, God is transcendent, but still accessible to “all Israel” through the name. Sarah Shectman (175–86: “Women in the Priestly Narrative”) differentiates the P and the H information about women, revealing a high degree of coherence within the Priestly source. Jeffrey Stackert (187–204: “The Holiness Legislation and Its Pentateuchal Sources: Revision, Supplementation and Replacement”) argues that H's distinctive voice supplements and even reconciles itself with P, but displaces CC (Covenant Code) and D.

A further group of contributions address the role of H within the redactional process of the Pentateuch. Christophe Nihan (87–134: “The Priestly Covenant, Its Reinterpretations, and the Composition of ‘P’”) makes H responsible for the combination of non-P and P. The opposite opinion is represented by Stackert (mentioned above) and by William Gilders (57–72: “Sacrifice before Sinai and the Priestly Narratives”). Eckart Otto (135–56: “The Holiness Code in Diachrony and Synchrony in the Legal Hermeneutics of the Pentateuch”) posits originally separate accounts of Israel's origins in P and D, which were joined first in a Hexateuch. A later Pentateuch redaction was responsible for the postexilic additions of considerable legal material at the hands of the Holiness tradents. This unique tradition is given only to Moses, Aaron and the priests, and is not transmitted to the rest of the Israelites (note the contrast with Kamionkowski's position).

The remaining contributions address a wide variety of questions. Erhard Blum (31–44: “Issues and Problems in the Contemporary Debate Regarding the Priestly Writings”) dismisses traditional arguments for the differences between P and H and argues that Pg often is not a coherent text without H. For Thomas Römer (157–74: “The Exodus Narrative According to the Priestly Document”) P was probably the first biblical author to connect the ancestral and exodus narratives, thereby providing a theological vision that appealed to the Israelites of the Diaspora as well as those living in Persian Yehud. Finally, Simeon Chavel (45–55: “Numbers 15:32–36—A Microcosm of the Living Priesthood and Its Literacy Production”) identifies evidence that the passage about the Sabbath wood-gatherer was originally composed separately from, although it was dependent upon, the Priestly narrative.

This volume demonstrates the pluriformity of the contemporary debate, but unfortunately without keeping the subtitle's promise of providing “Future Directions.” Too many fundamental questions about the character and the conditions of the Priestly tradition remain unsolved—and a burden for future scholarly work. Is the Priestly material a source, a redaction, both or neither? How many layers are there, and at what periods in biblical history did they appear? What is the relationship between the legal and the narrative material, between P and other pentateuchal law texts? None of these questions (cited from the forward of the book) finds a convincing answer. One suggestion might be to revise the presuppositions of our research and the underlying conceptions of our own literary production that often are transferred uncritically to reconstructions of the biblical period. As long as scholars take modern conditions of academic literary production as models for investigating "redactional processes" within the biblical texts, the results will remain unsatisfying.

Edgar Kellenberger, Oberwil, Switzerland