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

Achenbach, Reinhard and Martin Arneth (eds.), "Gerechtigkeit und Recht zu üben" (Gen. 18:19): Festschrift für Eckart Otto zum 65. Geburtstag (Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für Altorientalische and Biblische Rechtsgeschichte, 13; Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2009). Pp. ix + 541. Hardcover, €98.00. ISBN 978-3-447-06105-6.

This collection of 36 studies, 30 in German, ranges over fields of study corresponding to the fields the honoree wrote in: ancient Near Eastern legal history, ancient Israelite legal history, formation of the Pentateuch, history of Israel, history of Israelite religion, theology of the Psalms, and the study of Max Weber's sociology of religion.

One of the curious features of the volume is how little we learn about Otto's work itself: there is no intellectual biography or bibliography of his writings. There is a short forward and an interesting story of Otto's contribution to South African biblical scholarship. Otto visited the University of Pretoria in 2000 and returned annually for the next decade, receiving an honorary doctorate in 2007.

The author of this story, J. Le Roux, notes that South African OT scholarship had emphasized literary and synchronic approaches, not historical ones. Otto championed an appealing humanistic style of historical criticism. According to Otto's understanding of the Pentateuch, each era that contributed to its formation responded to a particular exigency. The task of OT scholarship is to discover the exigency, the “question,” to which the text is the answer.

This reviewer is sympathetic to the literary approaches of which Le Roux is critical; I find a number of the source-critical arguments among the studies of this volume tedious and unrewarding. Not that I would ignore historical study, but I seek to subordinate it to literary ends.

The dissatisfaction I have with contemporary source criticism does not pertain to the studies of ancient Near Eastern law. The first of these, by H. Neumann, identifies statements in judicial documents setting forth “court costs.” The next, by W. Sallaberger, examines the prologue of Lipit-Ishtar, the last of the Sumerian legal codes to precede the Code of Hammurabi (CH), for its establishment of royal authority and preparation for a social reform. CH seems to have adopted some of these rhetorical strategies.

Bruce Wells follows up a suggestion by E. Otto that judicial recourse to cultic rituals and ordeals declined in Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian law. Wells finds a number of court documents that leave decisions open until further testimonial evidence is supplied; from this Wells argues that testimony increased in importance while techniques of eliciting a divine decision withered.

There are other interesting studies in the ancient Near Eastern section: M. Krebernik studies relative clauses in curse formulae of royal inscriptions, and R. Haase seeks to determine the duties, saḫḫan and luzzi-, specified in Hittite land contracts.

The next set of studies aroused my antagonism to recent source criticism. E.-J. Waschke examines the relationship of rest and work in Gen 1–3; his analysis is premised on Otto's thesis that chapters 2–3 are a product of postexilic wisdom. J. C. Gertz writes on Ham's sin that resulted in the curse of Canaan (Gen 9). Ch. Levin analyzes the narrative of Abraham's purchase of a burial cave (Gen 23). K. Schmid reconstructs the non-Priestly materials buried in the Priestly parts of the Sinai narrative, Th. Römer the origin of Exod 18–24, and H.-Ch. Schmitt the redactions of Exod 19–20. I find this line of critical study to be a dead end (close in Britain, cul de sac in France).

What is wrong with such studies? We all agree many pentateuchal narratives are composite. However, they have been assembled to be read as one text, and that is the most productive and subtle way to read them. When the text refers to an event or practice, it refers to the time and place in the narrative, not of the “author” or “redactor.” Even if Gen 2–3 were written by a postexilic wise man, the teaching of the story is about primordial times and therefore about the characteristics and conditions of men and women wherever and whenever they live.

Source analysis also tends to make bad readers of the critics. I find Levin's breakdown of Gen 23 outrageous; the chapter is an artful work, as can be shown using the method exemplified by Meir Sternberg. Biblical scholarship should adhere to the rule that one will “break down” a narrative only when it is too obvious to ignore.

I did find Gertz's study of Ham's “sin” and the curse of Canaan worth my effort. The unit at the end of Gen 9 is filled with contradictions and tensions. Gertz argues that 9:20–29 is an expansion of verses 18–19 by a post-P reader who wanted to include the curse of Canaan. Ham's sin is a lack of honor for a parent; the inheritance of the consequences for it seems to have been acceptable within the culture.

Next are essays on biblical law. D. Wright's study of the structure of the “Final Apodictic Laws” of the Covenant Code follows up a thesis he has been arguing for several years, namely, that the Covenant Code is a Yahwistic revision of the Code of Hammurabi. He discerns a chiastic structure in Exod 22:20–23:19 parallel to CH, cols. 47:59–49:17. The problem I find with his analysis is that the organizational scheme Wright finds in Exod 20:22–23:19 is not as evident as another one.

B. Becking offers an alternative construal of “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18, 34), proposing “love your neighbor/sojourner as you hope he will love you.”

H. Seebass goes through several attempts to understand the ordeal set out in Num 5:11–31. The passage shows evidence of a composite origin, but Seebass thinks it can be read as a coherent unit. The rite is designed to calm a jealous husband; punishment is left up to fate (i.e., the action of God).

G. Braulik devotes his article to determining the references of hadebbarim (“the words”) in Deut 1–11. The term refers to either Moses' or the YHWH's discourse; the content depends upon context.

U. Rüterswörden offers a story of how two texts, Deut 12:20–28 and Lev 17, might have grown up together. The study recalls the methodology of M. Fishbane's early work. In general, Leviticus responds to the core of Deut 12, but Deut 12:20–28 responds to Lev 17, which prohibits profane slaughter. Deut 12:20–28 restricts this exclusion to the wilderness, permitting it in the promised land. To answer objections, the Deuteronomic passage provides for disposal of the blood in accordance with the rule in Lev 17 for disposing of the blood of wild animals.

W. Morrow develops a position proposed by Otto: Deut 13 is an adaptation to Yahwistic faith of an Assyrian oath of loyalty. This makes the study an exercise in “post-colonialism.” Deuteronomy, according to Morrow, has both absorbed and rejected the values and practices of the Assyrian empire. In my opinion, Otto and Morrow are engaged in historical speculation. The actual text of Deut 13 should be read within its literary and theological context. Its rhetoric intends to persuade the audience to resist the blandishments to defect from the God that Israel has always known. Punishments in the chapter are typical of all capital crimes.

R. Achenbach argues that Deut 29:10–12 indicates the sojourner has been incorporated into the covenant in the book of Deuteronomy. In the Covenant Code, sojourners are outsiders and personae miserae are on the margins of society.

Several studies trace the origin of the idea that Moses transcribed the Pentateuch. Ch. Dohmen seeks the origin of the representation within the canon. Deuteronomy 31:9 commands Moses write down the book of Deuteronomy, corresponding to statements in Exod 24 and 34. This had hermeneutical implications for later interpreters of the law. Is there evidence that he wrote down narratives? Dohmen sees Num 33:2 as the best candidate.

S. Paganini also traces the idea that Moses transcribed the Pentateuch. In Deuteronomy, Moses interprets the laws given at Sinai, whereas Jubilees ascribes the interpretation to God through an angel. The Temple Scroll from Qumran goes further: the body of the teaching was dictated to Moses at Sinai. The author concludes that Jubilees and the Temple Scroll seek to be equal in authority to Deuteronomy.

G. Fischer studies the references to Deut 26–34 in the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah refers to Deuteronomy more than any other book of Torah. After a text-by-text analysis, he concludes that a) Deuteronomy sets forth and Jeremiah takes over, and b) Jeremiah alters what he appropriates.

J.-L. Ska's study does not quite fit any category of the book. He proposes an interpretation of Josh 8:30–35 that the reviewer is well disposed to. The unit seems out of place in the present textual location or any proposed one. The ritual of building an altar is, according to Ska, a way of taking possession of the land. This reviewer proposed this very idea in a paper to the Law section at an Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature over a decade ago. Inscribing stones would have the same symbolic import. Ironically, Ska regards the unit as late, though the idea fits the era before Deuteronomic centralization.

One section of the Festschrift presents studies of Psalms and their religious meaning. F. Hartenstein seeks to discern the meaning of creation in five Psalms (73, 105, 106, 135, and 136) that review Israel's sacred history. He distinguishes between creation as a theogonic event and as an ongoing process. Most of the Psalms under consideration recite divine interventions in nature to provide for the people.

E. Zenger examines the structure of Ps 33. The concluding request for continuing steadfast love (v. 22) picks up the use of ḥesed in vv. 5, 18–19. The expression “sing to the Lord a new song” echoes eschatological praise, though the Psalm does not evoke an eschatological situation. The “glory” theology of v. 5 has undergone reconstruction with the adoption of steadfast love.

B. Janowski argues that justice and judgment are more often understood as salvation than as doom in the Psalms. He begins with a set of ancient Near Eastern texts and then goes on to expound Ps 82 under the rubric of the God of justice. Then he turns to Ps 7, noting that the supplicant insists on his innocence and seeks God's protection. Psalm 145 celebrates YHWH's kingship; he upholds those who need protection. Justice and mercy are correlates.

There are several other studies of Psalms and four essays on the work of Max Weber and the sociology of religion.

Dale Patrick, Drake University