Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 16 (2016) - Review

Awabdy, Mark A., Immigrants and Innovative Law (FAT, 2/67; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014). Pp. 278. Paperback. €70.00. ISBN 978-3-16-152835-4.

Mark Awabdy has produced the first book-length study of the gēr in a single book of the Hebrew Bible, namely the book of Deuteronomy. The stated purpose of the monograph is “to provide a more nuanced and exhaustive understanding of the noun [גר] in the book of Deuteronomy” (p. 11). Given that the noun גר occurs twenty-two times in Deuteronomy, this extensive study is warranted.

The introductory chapter defines the term גר and then describes the methodology, the aim, and the structure of the book. Awabdy translates גר as “immigrant.” Following Ramírez Kidd, Awabdy suggests that the term גר cites the legal status of outsiders who reside within Israelite settlements (p. 4[1]). Four methodologies are described, namely lexico-syntagmatic (Awabdy's most developed approach), sociological, “sociohistorical referential” (Awabdy rarely adopts this approach), and “theological and related approaches” (developed especially in chapter 6).

In chapter 2 the history of research on the גר in Deuteronomy is structured according to three loci: historical and social provenance, compositional strata, and ANE comparative study. The three dominant views of historical and social location of the גר are described: namely, the גר as northerners seeking refuge in Judah after the Assyrian destruction of Samaria (e.g., D. Kellermann[2]), the גר as displaced Judahites during the seventh century (e.g., Christoph Bultmann[3]), and the גר as non-Israelite/non-Judahite. The latter view is the dominant view presently (see, e.g., Christiana van Houten[4]), and is also Awabdy's own view. Awabdy describes various diachronic reconstructions of the גר in Deuteronomy, including those of Van Houton and Kidd, though he omits the rather more robust reconstruction of Reinhard Achenbach.[5] Significantly, Awabdy signals his intention to inquire into an ethic of inclusion for the גר, flagging the interest of this monograph in biblical ethics.

The third chapter, the longest in the book, investigates the occurrences of the singular form of גר in Deuteronomy. This comprises the majority of references to the גר. Key to Awabdy's analysis is that the prologue-epilogue (hereafter “P-E”) of Deuteronomy features a pronominal suffix, “your gēr,” that is present only once in the Deuteronomic law corpus (hereafter “DC”), namely, in Deut 24:14. Via this literary trope the P-E is characterized by a deeper integration for the גר into the community. While in the DC the גר was integrated socially, in the P-E the גר was integrated both socially and religiously (pp. 122–23). Awabdy suggests that the laws of admission (Deut 23:2–9) are an interpretative key explaining this difference. Here foreigners who have demonstrated commitment to Yahweh and to his people for three generations are admitted into the assembly. Thus, 23:2–9 provides a “religious and social transition from the DC to the P-E” (pp. 66–83, 123–25, 242). Awabdy explains the enhanced inclusion of the גר in the P-E vis-à-vis the DC on the basis that the P-E is referring to immigrants who have been admitted into the assembly by virtue of their satisfying the requirements of the laws of admission. At the end of this chapter Awabdy argues that the גר in Deuteronomy is a non-Judahite and non-Israelite who is residing within Israelite settlements (pp. 110–116). Awabdy argues this in part on the basis of his definition of “brother,” which Awabdy translates as “fellow countryman.”

Chapter 4 examines the “slave in Egypt” and “gēr in Egypt” formulas, concluding that these formulas have different provenances and also different functions in Deuteronomy. The careful analysis in this chapter will serve as a useful resource for future scholarship. The more common עבד-Egypt formula has its origins in the Moses narratives. “[T]oilsome labor to build store cities for Pharaoh to hoard food was to be inverted by Israel's landowners when they give away their food surplus to those who have not earned it” (p. 162). The גר-Egypt formula has its origin in the “Genesis narrative.” It recalls the blessing of Egyptian hospitality in order to nourish compassion and empathy toward the gēr. An attempt to apply this exegesis to discourse on the composition history of the Pentateuch is flawed by a surprising misconstruction of where these texts fit within the literary development of Deuteronomy, at least according to majority scholarly opinion (pp. 157–61).

The association of the DC with the other law corpuses of the Pentateuch is the theme of chapter 5. A methodology for studying literary dependence in the HB opens the chapter. Awabdy uses the term “inner-biblical revision.” The DC is a revision of the Covenant Code (hereafter “CC”). There is no literary dependence between the Holiness Code (hereafter “HC”) and the DC regarding treatment of the גר. The HC offers a “distinct conceptuality” from the DC (p. 225). A selection of texts that were investigated in chapter 3 are here re-examined, now in terms of their relation to the CC and to the HC: Deut 5:12–15; 12:11–19; 14:21, 22–29; 16:1–17. Among Awabdy's observations are that the Sabbath law and festive meals provide for the גר a vicarious experience of Yahweh's redemption of Israel. Other laws provide for an enhanced material provision for the גר. It is puzzling that the extensive investigation of the Sabbath command focuses only upon the relation with the Exodus Decalogue, omitting the source text for the Sabbath command of both Decalogues, Exod 23:12.

Awabdy queries the paradigm of Ludger Schwienhorst-Schönberger and others that the inclusive ethics of the Pentateuch deepen over time.[6] For texts that are commonly dated to the postexilic period project both equality between the גר and the countryman and also inequality.

A study of analogues to the גר in ANE texts forms the first half of chapter 6. The triad of the vulnerable, the גר, the orphan, and the widow is examined. Following Thomas Krapf, Awabdy observes that the widow-orphan dyad was a common ANE trope.[7] On the basis of the omission of the foreigner from this trope in ANE texts, Awabdy suggests that ANE society was a “closed societal system” in relation to foreigners. The CC attaches the גר to the dyad, demonstrating a uniquely Israelite concern to protect the immigrant (p. 229). “Deuteronomy inverts the CC's order of members two and three and conjoins all three members into its own distinctive triad” (p. 229). ANE texts that provide protection for foreigners are then examined (pp. 231–37). A text from Anatolia stipulates protection for foreign merchants. Another stipulates the non-return for the Luwian man who seeks to enter the land of Hatti. The prologue to the laws of King Ur-Namma declares that the king has established freedom for foreigners. An Ugaritic cultic text (RS 1.002; KTU 1.40) seeks expiation of sin in regards to relations with foreigners, along with other relationships. Finally, the widow and the stranger appear together in the Instructions of Amenemope.

Awabdy states that a similar dynamic may be observed in the DC as in these texts, whereby “only certain non-Israelites, gērim not nokrim, were extended legal prerogatives. In contrast to the non-Israelite inhabitants of Canaan (Deuteronomy 7, 12, et al.), the גר in the DC was a non-threatening non-Israelite who lived within the parameters of Deuteronomic Yahwism” (p. 237). The DC fosters social inclusion for the גר that includes provision for their welfare and for their judicial rights.

The second half of chapter 6 discerns the nature and the limits of Deuteronomy's ethic of inclusion for the gēr. In the DC, an immigrant's faithful participation in the cultus is secondary to their material nourishment. The P-E, however, opens the possibility of the religious inclusion for the גר. Inclusion at a covenant ratification ritual (29:10) and at the seventh year reading of the law (31:12) ushers the גר into the covenant community. “D's criterion for the Israelite, and by inference for the YHWH-worshiping גר, is spiritual circumcision” (p. 242). The P-E then has a dual focus regarding the גר: “the גר was an embodied accountability to Israel's landowners to observe tôrâ, the Deuteronomic legal core, by protecting and providing for him, and the גר in the P-E was fully accountable to the terms of the covenant” (p. 244).

Awabdy is to be applauded for producing the first book-length study of the gēr in Deuteronomy. Commendable is the comprehension of the secondary literature in a range of languages, the text-critical work, the analysis of the differences between the DC and the P-E, and a thematic discussion in the final chapter. Structurally, the author would have done well to integrate chapter 3, an exegesis of texts concerning the gēr, with chapter 5, on inner-biblical interpretation. Having granted that the DC is a revision of the CC, it is surprising that this is not an element of the exegesis of all of the relevant texts, rather than just a select few. In various regards, the way in which the DC has developed upon the ethic and kerygma of the CC is key to its interpretation.

The author's thesis that the gēr is a non-Judahite/non-Israelite resident will continue to be debated, and indeed this reviewer concludes differently. Readers would do well to reflect upon the assertion of Walter Houston, among others, that “[i]n a lineage-based agrarian society the immigrant from another tribe or even the next village is just as much of an outsider.”[8] In many ways, the author's conception of identity, kinship, and ethnicity in Deuteronomy seems overly simplistic. There is little analysis of these concepts at a theoretical or even at an exegetical level. For example, the author consistently translates the term אָח, “brother-sister,” as “countryman,” projecting a simple binary opposition between an Israelite and a non-Israelite gēr. However, Perlitt has demonstrated that אָח in Deuteronomy varies in its reference, signifying kinship connection at a variety of social levels, including at the clan level.[9] This observation opens up the possibility not only that kinship may at times be defined at a local level as well as a “national” level, but that displacement also may be defined at a more local level. To state it simply: if my sister-brother is my clansperson, then the gēr may simply be someone who is not my clansperson.

Also, one of the author's key conclusions should be challenged, namely that the laws of admission (Deut 23:2–9) are an interpretative key that explain the level of integration of the gēr in the P-E vis-à-vis the DC. Certainly, the gēr is included within the covenant community in the P-E (e.g., 29:9–14). However, Awabdy's view that the gēr is included in the religious life of Israel only in the P-E underestimates the religious significance of the gēr appearing in the feasting texts of the DC: פְּנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ (see 16:16, etc.). This so called “cultic formula” is the expression for worship at the chosen place in the DC—there is no other. So if the gēr is not included in the religious life of the nation in the DC via the cultic formula, it is difficult to see how the DC includes anyone in the religious life of the nation. The view that the P-E alone offers religious inclusion for the גר fails to recognize this religious inclusivism within the DC. The author has failed to discern that the distinctive treatment of the gēr in the P-E is due to the distinctive focus of that material upon “all-Israel,” and upon all-Israel's covenant with Yahweh. It is this distinctive focus of the P-E that produces the unique expressions of the inclusion of the גר within the covenant. Thus, Awabdy's assertion that the laws of admission are an interpretive key that explains the alleged difference between the inclusion of the gēr in the DC and in the P-E is unnecessary. This corrective has enormous implications for the present study. For there are not two groups of גר as the author suggests, one group that is admitted into the assembly and another group that is not admitted and that merely receives material sustenance. Rather, there is simply the gēr—and all of these displaced people are welcome into the family of Yahweh.

Mark R. Glanville, Trinity College, Bristol

[1] Ramírez Kidd, Alterity and Identity in Israel (BZAW, 283; Berlin: de Gruyter, 1999). reference

[2] D. Kellerman, “גּוּרTDOT 2:439–440 reference

[3] Christoph Bultmann, Der Fremde im antiken Juda: Eine Untersuchung zum sozialen Typenbegriff >ger< und seinem Bedeutungswandel in der alttestamentlichen Gesetzgebung (FRLANT, 153; Gottingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1992). reference

[4] Reinhard Achenbach, “Der Eintritt der Schutzbürger in den Bund (Dtn 29, 10–12): Distinktion und Integration von Fremden im Deuteronomium,” in “Gerechtigkeit und Recht zu üben” (Gen 18,19): Studien zur altorientalischen und biblischen Rechtsgeschichte, zur Religionsgeschichte Israels und zur Religionssoziologie (ed. Reinhard Achenbach and Martin Arneth; FS E. Otto; BZAR, 13; Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2009), 240–55. reference

[5] Christiana van Houten, The Alien in Israelite Law: A Study of the Changing Legal Status of Strangers in Ancient Israel (JSOTS, 107; Sheffield: Sheffield University Press, 1991). reference

[6] Ludger Schwienhorst-Schönberger, “‘…den Fremde seid ihr gewesen im Land Ägypten.’ Zur sozialen und rechtlichen Stellung von Fremden und Ausländern im alten Israel,” Bibel und Liturgie 63 (1990), 108–17; also van Houten (see above). reference

[7] Thomas Krapf, “Traditionsgeschichtliches zum deuteronomischen Fremdling-Waise-Witwe-Gebot,” VT 24 (1984), 87–91. reference

[8] Walter Houston, Contending for Justice: Ideologies and Theologies of Social Justice in the Old Testament (London: T&T Clark, 2006), 108. reference

[9] Lothar Perlitt, “‘Ein einzig Volk von Brüdern’. Zur deuteronomistischen Herkunft der biblischen Bezeichnung ‘Bruder’,” in Deuteronomium-Studien (FAT 8; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1994), 50–73. reference