Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 11 (2011) - Review

Hagedorn, Anselm C. and Henrik Pfeiffer (eds.), Die Erzväter in der biblischen Tradition: Festschrift für Matthias Köckert (BZAW, 400; Berlin, de Gruyter, 2009). Pp. x + 379. Hardcover. €112.00, US$157.00. ISBN 978-3-11-020979-2.

This book is a collection of essays dedicated to Matthias Köckert on the occasion of his 65th birthday. Most essays deal with the traditions associated with the patriarchs in the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple literature, an area in which Köckert himself has published many important studies, starting with his Vätergott und Väterverheißung from 1988. Accordingly, the order of the contributions contained in that volume tends to follow the literary arrangement of the patriarchal traditions in Genesis. Overall, the resulting book is significantly more coherent, from a topical perspective, than is usually the case with volumes belonging to the Festschrift genre.

The first text is a short essay by Volkert Haas (1–7) dealing with Hittite and Akkadian traditions about cities and other places that have been destroyed and lie in ruin. Haas points out, in particular, the way in which such ruins occur in various ancient ritual texts. Jan Christian Gertz (9–34) devotes a long study to the narrative about the tower of Babel (Gen 11:1–9) from a redaction-critical perspective. After reviewing the recent discussion about the literary origins of Gen 1–11, Gertz argues in detail that the tower of Babel narrative is a well-unified literary composition (with the possible exception of v. 4ab). According to Gertz this story never existed as an independent tradition but was originally composed for its present literary context as a conclusion (or “epilogue”) to the narrative about the origins of humankind. This is a valuable contribution to the study of the composition of Gen 11:1–9 (and even of Gen 1–11 in general), but the discussion tends to remain on the literary level and leaves aside broader historical issues. The much-discussed question of possible allusions to imperial policies in the East during the first millennium bce, for instance, be that those of the Neo-Assyrian king Sargon II (C. Uehlinger) or of Alexander the Great (M. Witte), is not really addressed. Bob Becking (35–47) discusses the story of Abraham's sojourn in Egypt in Gen 12:10–20. He argues, in particular, that the story reflects a long process of traditio lasting over several centuries during which it gradually acquired its main traits. These traits, according to Becking, could then function as “identity markers” for Judeans in various periods of their history down to the Babylonian exile (and beyond). The essay is interesting for its attempt to relate tradition history and the development of identity markers, but the analysis of the origins of this account and its place in the composition of the Abraham cycle is rather remains somewhat imprecise, and does not really address the recent scholarly discussion.

The following essay, by Eckart Otto (49–65), addresses the issue of the use of different divine names (YHWH and Elohim) in the pentateuchal narratives, especially in Gen 20–22. He argues that although these differences are not unrelated to the Pentateuch's literary genesis, from a methodological perspective they cannot be used as a redactional criterion in order to isolate different sources. The use of different divine names can also be found in very late texts—such as Gen 22, which Otto holds to be later than Chronicles (!)—and needs therefore to be assessed from the perspective of the general hermeneutics of the Pentateuch. Konrad Schmid (67–92) discusses the notion of an Abrahamite “ecumenism” in the Hebrew Bible on the basis of a close study of YHWH's bĕrît with Abraham and his offspring in Gen 17. He argues—convincingly, in this reviewer's opinion—that Gen 17 implies the existence of an “Abraham circle” (Abrahamkreis) comprising the descendants of both Isaac and Ishmael. These ethnic groups, according to the Priestly writer who composed Gen 17, stand under the same Abrahamite bĕrît and may practice intermarriages; the only privilege granted to Isaac and his offspring is a greater proximity to the deity (Gottesnähe), a point which anticipates the story about the building of the sanctuary at Mount Sinai in Exodus. Karin Schöpflin (93–113) devotes a detailed analysis to the dialogue between YHWH and Abraham in Gen 18:16b–33. While she discusses various aspects of this episode—such as its relationship with Ezek 14:12–20 and 18—she devotes special attention to the literary and theological construction of the Abraham figure in that passage. She concludes that the episode is a scribal composition of “late postexilic” times (“ein schriftgelehrtes Produkt aus spätnacheexilischer Zeit,” p. 111).

In an interesting essay Reinhard G. Kratz (115–36) compares the use of the title “friend of God” applied to Abraham in Qumran and in the Hebrew Bible (Isa 41:8 and 2 Chr 20:7). Kratz shows, in particular, that both in Qumran and in the Hebrew Bible the title emphasizes Abraham's justice and his observance of the law. In this respect the reception of this aspect of the Abraham figure in Qumran develops a theme already manifest in the inner-biblical reception of Abraham. In the third and final part of the essay, this analysis is completed by two further examples: the traditions about Abraham's wife in Gen 12 and 20 and in the Genesis Apocryphon, and the evolution of the motif of the promises made to Abraham in Gen 12, 15, and 17 and in two texts from Qumran, 4Q225 and 4Q252. In both cases, Kratz argues, the reception of the Abraham figure in the writings of Qumran can be viewed as a direct continuation of the inner-biblical development of the traditions associated with Abraham.

Anselm C. Hagedorn (137–57) offers a detailed analysis of the opening of the story of Jacob and Esau (Gen 25:19–34) from the perspective of cultural anthropology and cultural history. Drawing on numerous parallels, Hagedorn convincingly shows how that story is rooted in the social and cultural world of the ancient Mediterranean; he also demonstrates how a correct assessment of that dimension leads to a more complex interpretation of the figures of Esau and Jacob. One may regret, however, that the author remains rather vague as regards the date of composition of Gen 25:19–34, as well as the place and function of this account in the Jacob cycle. Uwe Becker (159–85) analyzes the stories of Jacob's stay at Bethel and Shechem (Gen 28:11–22, 35:1–16, 33:18–20, and 32:23–33) from a redaction-critical perspective. According to his analysis, the references to Bethel are not part of an ancient core of traditions about Jacob but were introduced at a late stage, between the 6th–5th century bce, and reflect the importance of Bethel at that time both as a cultic and a political center. The polemical reference to Shechem in 35:2–4 then reflects, for its part, the concurrence between Bethel and Shechem as northern sanctuaries. A final redaction of the Jacob cycle, which is characterized by a more “diplomatic” perspective, sought to ease these various tensions, so as to acknowledge the (relative) legitimacy of these various cultic sites. There are certainly correct insights behind Becker's analysis, especially as regards the polemical dimension of Gen 35:2–4 vis-à-vis Bethel. However, if the Jacob traditions have their origins in the North, as is commonly assumed, it seems unlikely that one needs to wait until the Persian period to witness the emergence of a pro-Bethel perspective in these traditions; the presence of Neo-Assyrian and/or Neo-Babylonian astral motifs in Gen 28:11–22 likewise suggests a slightly earlier dating for this development.

The following essay, by John Barton (187–95), is devoted to the story of Jacob's fight at the river Jabbok in Gen 32:23–33. Addressing the classical issue of the identity of the man struggling with Jacob, Barton develops various considerations on the relationship between the specificity of the narrative (especially from a formal-structuralist perspective) and the distinctiveness of Israel's monotheism. Taking up an earlier suggestion by Erich Auerbach, Barton eventually suggests that monotheism is not the reason for the distinctive character of the narrative, but rather a consequence of it. This is an intriguing theory, which, however, rests on a remarkably thin basis, as Barton himself acknowledges. In addition, his case is all the more problematic because he assumes from the start that the man struggling with Jacob can be none other than God himself because of the “monotheistic flavour of the Old Testament” (p. 190), thus making the whole argument rather circular. Steven L. McKenzie (197–208) offers a short but incisive analysis of the story about Judah and Tamar in Gen 38. He shows that the story is a late, post-Priestly addition with no traditional background, which, by highlighting the “Canaanite” origins of the tribe of Judah, was intended as “a forceful counter to the exclusivist, endogamous demands of the post-exilic leaders, Ezra and Nehemiah” (p. 204). Hermann-Josef Stipp (209–40) tackles the much-disputed issue of the use of the Hebrew term qdš to refer to a certain category of persons. After a thorough and very detailed discussion of the evidence, Stipp concludes that the recent trend to regard the terms qādēš and qĕdēšāh as referring to male and female ritual specialists respectively, and to deny them any association with cultic prostitution, is mistaken. The usage attested by the Hebrew Bible is more ambivalent: some texts imply that they form a guild of cultic specialists yet do not refer to sexual services (1 Kgs 14:24, 15:12), whereas others, such as Gen 38, Deut 23:18, and Job 36:14, point without question to prostitutes, although not necessarily with cultic connections. The author concludes by suggesting that this ambivalence reflects a historical development in the use of that term (p. 235). Although some issues—especially the possible import of comparative evidence—still need to be clarified, this is a valuable contribution to the scholarly debate on this notion. Hans-Christophe Schmitt (241–66) offers a critical discussion of the recent hypothesis suggesting that the traditions associated with the patriarchs and those associated with the exodus initially comprised two distinct, and even two competing, “legends of origin” (A. de Pury, T. Römer, K. Schmid). The author regards this model as a “scholarly dead end” (Irrweg der Forschung). Instead, he seeks to return to the classical view according to which these two sets of traditions were already unified in the preexilic period. Whether this contribution will put an end to the contemporary debate remains to be seen. Schmitt's argument is detailed and addresses several important issues. However, his own analysis tends to harmonize some important tensions—for instance in his discussion of the references to the patriarchs and the exodus in the prophetic literature (242–45). Furthermore some of his literary-critical reconstructions are subject to criticism; e.g. for his view that Exod 2:23* was followed not by Ex 4:19, as commonly assumed, but by an earlier form of Exod 3* that was restricted to Exod 3:1–6* (!).

Henrik Pfeiffer (267–89) analyzes the baroque story of the Levite's concubine in Judg 19. He identifies several literary connections between the earliest form of that narrative and passages that can be found in the Hexateuch (Genesis–Joshua) and in Samuel–Kings. On the basis of these and other observations Pfeiffer rejects the hypothesis of a pre-Dtr origin for the story (which is certainly correct). Nonetheless, he also holds that it was inserted in its present literary context before the stories of judges now found in 2:6–16:31. According to this view, then, Judg 19 would represent the earliest connection between the “story of the people” (Exodus–Joshua*) and the “story of kingship” (Samuel–Kings*). This, however, seems more debatable. Pfeiffer's case is largely based on a dubious argument of Tendenzkritik: Judg 19 should be earlier than Judg 2:6–16:31 because it is pro-Davidic and not anti-royal (p. 285). However, there are pro-Davidic passages in Samuel that clearly belong to a late, post-Deuteronomistic redaction of these books, and one cannot develop the chronology of the various ideologies so easily. Also, the notion that the general function of this story in ch. 19 was to establish as a transition between Exodus–Josh and Samuel–Kings is possible, but not especially compelling. Finally, Pfeiffer's argument also implies that the remainder of Judg 17–21 (i.e., chs. 17–18 and 20–21) is later than ch. 19, which is equally debatable. The alternative possibility, namely that Judg 19, like all of chs. 17–21, is a late, post–Dtr supplement to the book of Judges, might have deserved more consideration. In a long, detailed essay, Erhard Blum (291–321) offers a comprehensive discussion of Hos 12 from the perspective of the text's compositional history and the pentateuchal traditions that it reflects. Blum makes some important observations that support a date for the first version of Hos 12* “in the last decade of the northern kingdom” (p. 307); according to him, this text would therefore be a literary creation by the prophet Hosea himself. The author of Hos 12* presupposes that his audience knew a collection of northern traditions about Jacob (basically corresponding to the stories now found in Gen 25* and 27–33*), as well as a tradition about Moses and the exodus, which probably also originated in the North. Blum concludes by arguing that, in his view, it is not possible to decide the form in which these two traditions were transmitted or to what extent they were already associated (or in the process of being associated) with one another. M. Witte (323–45) devotes an interesting study to the figure of Jacob in the Wisdom of Solomon (Wis 10:10–12). He shows in particular that the construction in that portrayal of Jacob as a righteous man who enjoyed divine, even mystical revelations is part of a broader trend, especially in the Jewish literature written in Greek, that takes up and develops various motifs contained in the stories of Gen 25–50. Finally, Rudolf Smend (347–66) discusses the life and work of Franz Delitzsch, whereas Otto Kaiser (367–71) offers a sermon on a passage of Sirach (Sir 3:1–6, 11–16).

Overall, this is a worthy volume, with many interesting contributions. It will be especially useful for all scholars working on patriarchal traditions and figures in the Hebrew Bible and ancient Jewish literature, although some articles address other, broader issues as well. The volume concludes with a index of all biblical and non-biblical passages.

Christophe Nihan, University of Lausanne, Switzerland