Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 14 (2014) - Review

Hwang, Jerry, The Rhetoric of Remembrance: An Investigation of the “Fathers” in Deuteronomy (Siphrut, 8; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2012). Pp. xiv + 290. Hardcover. US$39.50. ISBN 978-1-57506-238-9.

Hwang focuses on the 50-odd Deuteronomic references to the “fathers” that refer either to “the wandering Aramean” who sojourned in Egypt or to the “seventy persons in all” who resided in Egypt. While diachronic research presupposes two separate traditions behind the double “fathers” reference, Hwang holds that such postulate results in a “false dichotomy” (p. 5) that violates the holistic theology of Deuteronomy. Instead, he argues that “the fathers” should be understood as a rhetorical device that blends traditions so that present and future generations might contemporaneously actualize YHWH's ancient promise. In developing his reading, Hwang's ambitious dissertation presents a synchronic, final-form reassessment of key received-view positions that repeatedly date biblical passages according to the terminus of Deuteronomy, “caricaturize” Deuteronomic theology as conditional and quid pro quo, link Deuteronomy's covenant theology to Sinai (thereby divorcing it from the unconditional Abrahamic covenant), and piecemeal the text into disparate sources or traditions.

Hwang arranges his reading in three parts, each structured with an in-depth history of research and method followed by an analysis of texts. Part One surveys semantic fields related to “the fathers,” unpacking variations in verbal action (divine and human) and unraveling multiple recipients to the land promise. Hwang then investigates five case studies where land is promised to the “fathers” (Deut 1–3, 6, 26, 30, 34). Hwang highlights Deut 1:8 as a “lexical reservoir” from which later reiterations “draw selectively and creatively according to their rhetorical situation” (p. 79), resulting in a rhetorical performance that climaxes in Deut 30. Throughout Part One, Hwang labours steadily to refute diachronic positions, requiring the reader to wait some time before delivering on his synchronic promise. When that delivery arrives, the results are wrapped thick in theological garb: “the fathers” rhetoric progresses across “generational horizons” (p. 55), from the distant patriarchs through the recent Horeb generation to the present Moab group, cementing a single collective blessed with YHWH's sovereign grace.

Part Two investigates the phrase “God of the fathers,” one of several appositional epithets associated with the divine name. Hwang groups his investigation into three categories (population increase, land, and covenant) and in the process addresses most of the key issues in Deuteromomic scholarship: Urdeuteronomium, Numeruswechsel, Name-theology, centralization, DtrH versus Tetrateuch, ANE covenant. Hwang concludes that Deuteronomy's YHWH is personal and cosmic, immanent and transcendent, localized and omnipresent, sovereign and intimate. Such theological description has greater affinity to the Tetrateuch than to the Deuteronomistic History, in Hwang's view.

Part Three utilizes speech-act theory (in particular, such concepts as declarative and imaginative speech acts, and institutional facts) to round out the unfinished business of the seven references linking “the fathers” with covenant. Having read thus far, the reader already anticipates a “both/and” theological coherence. Thus, the “irreducible relationship between divine initiative and human responsibility” is harmonized, the “dichotomy between unconditionality and conditionality” is abridged, and the relational (rather than merely legal) dimension of ANE treaty forms is revalorized (p. 156).

Hwang's dissertation is well written, with the occasional flourish spicing up the thickly descriptive read. His research demonstrates a comprehensive grasp of key issues and players in biblical studies; it also reflects the bifurcated diachronic-synchronic dynamic that persists in the field. Positioned squarely among synchronists, Hwang's work is a sustained disputation that sings obstinately off-key to tunes of the diachronists. For readers attuned to discussions of this sort, Hwang's work will impress. Others will be nonplussed, wondering why Hwang concedes (on rare occasion) the probability of disparate sources and a complex editorial history behind the Pentateuch (pp. 83, 95, 234). Such conciliation is largely silenced by the general perspective adopted by a work better suited, some might argue, to OT theology.

In squaring off against diachronic “theological reductionism” (p. 156), Hwang bends final-form methods to support his particular theological reading. Hwang underplays the implications of voice structures, ontological hierarchy, implied reader situation, and book-within-a-book framing, likely to the chagrin of those preferring a stricter application of narrative or rhetorical theory. For such readers, the theo-rhetoric uncovered in Deuteronomy is (at best) little more than the ideological claim of a mere mortal living within Deuteronomy's represented world. Narratologists in particular will likely challenge Hwang's assumption that Deuteronomy represents itself, or that Moses equals Deuteronomy. Rhetorical specialists in turn will ask: What exigency motivates Moses's ideology of “the fathers”? What is the narrator's position on Moses's rhetorical flourish? And what does the divine character himself think about Moses's imaginative transhistorical claim of (un)conditional covenantal promise?

Hwang's book contributes to a contested field that is frequently polarized by champions of the biblical canon and critics of the same, between harmonizers of its final form and atomizers, between advocates of its ideology and opponents. Within this arena, The Rhetoric of Remembrance is likely to provoke renewed entrenchments.

David Bergen, University of Calgary