Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 17 (2017) - Review

Knafl, Anne K., Forming God: Divine Anthropomorphism in the Pentateuch (Siphrut, 12; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2014). Pp. xiv + 311. Hardback. US$54.00. ISBN 978-1-57506-316-4.

Anne K. Knafl provides a welcome addition to the Neo-Documentarian school with this volume, a revision of her dissertation, which focuses on divine anthropomorphism within the Pentateuch. In contrast to other studies, Knafl sees divine anthropomorphism as a literary-contextual phenomenon, as opposed to associating it within a theological system of polemic. In her use of this methodological framework, Knafl is then able to draw theological and historical arguments from these literary-contextual typologies of individual sources. Knafl regards interpretations of divine anthropomorphisms as vestiges of past religious ideologies, and/or metaphors, as incorrect because they do not reference cultural realities. Thus, she does not see anthropomorphism as a central component of a singular author or genre. Rather, these literary depictions may represent an author's literal conception of YHWH's body. Important to her argument is the location of Israelite religion within the larger framework of the ancient world, thus showing that divine anthropomorphism does not simply reflect a characteristic of polytheism vs. monotheism. In addition, Knafl does not see divine anthropomorphism as a function of an evolutionary development of Israelite theology like many source critics before her. Knafl's argument is based upon her analysis of human-like portrayals of God's body which she breaks down into body, location, and interaction. In this separation, Knafl seeks to show that the presence of divine anthropomorphism, or lack thereof, is not a valid criterion for source division.

Knafl's methodology is clearly portrayed through her analysis of the popular test case of Gen 1:1–2:4a. In choosing this well-known example, Knafl is able to show how her methodology differs from other approaches, specifically in her clear break down of her selection of text, her analysis of the genre and its effects upon anthropomorphism, the problems and usefulness of modern categories, the use of polemic, and types and functions of anthropomorphism within this text. At the core of her analysis is her definition of anthropomorphism as “any description that applies human characteristics, actions, abilities, or feelings to a deity, specifically the Israelite God” (p. 35). The expansion of this definition past common associations to the physical body, which she admits is broad, expands the lens of divine anthropomorphism within source criticism to include anthropopathism, anthropopraxis, and divine location. The primary purpose of this broad definition is to yield a larger set of data with the goal of determining authorial intent. Knafl's approach is diachronic, as she eventually proposes certain relationships and dating between source texts. Aside from her definition of divine anthropomorphism, perhaps the most important facet of her methodology is her discussion of modern categories and terminology, specifically “metaphorical” and “literal.” Knafl's issue with the use of these terms is the implication that the author did not sincerely mean to attribute these human characteristics to God. Although she states that anthropomorphism is similar to metaphor, Knafl does not see anthropomorphism as inherently false or non-realistic.

Knafl's chapter on the divine body is an important expansion to the topic as she does not strongly differentiate between anthropomorphism and anthropopathism within this analysis, seeing this dichotomy as native to Western thought and not the biblical texts. Thus, her definition of body is broad like her definition of anthropomorphism: “the physical or material frame of some being” (p. 72). Another important facet to her analysis is the differentiation between full- and small-scale manifestations of God. This is primarily a distinction between the sources' representations of God at Sinai/Horeb as a full-scale manifestation, and then all other instances of divine anthropomorphism as small-scale manifestations. Her most important conclusion from this analysis is that J is not necessarily more anthropomorphic than E due to her inclusion of multiple small-scale manifestations which fall within her expanded definitions. Also included within her examination of the body is what Knafl describes as “the internal life of the deity.” While her discussion of elements particular to each individual sources is not new, such as D's compassion and vengeance and P's memory, her inclusion of these particularities under the category of anthropomorphism is an important step.

Knafl's focus on divine location focuses on the themes of theophany and divine mobility. She defines theophany as “any narration of God appearing to an individual or a group, in which there is an explicit or implicit description of seeing and interacting with God that requires a physical presence, however conceived” (p. 158). To continue, her definition of divine mobility is “the location, or presence, of the deity with regard to a person of group while traveling (p. 158). In comparing the sources, Knafl examines their accounts of Jacob at Bethel. Knafl concludes that the accounts of J, E, and P all contain an anthropomorphic deity, albeit one clearly more powerful than humans. In showing the similarities between these sources, she argues that later and earlier sources all contain elements of an anthropomorphic deity. Thus, she states that anthropomorphism can no longer be used as a means to date sources in relation to each other, while also arguing that P does not require a postexilic dating. Knafl's further analysis within this section related to divine mobility is indeed interesting, but does not offer any groundbreaking conclusions, while her examination of the sustained presence of God is interesting from a ritual and cultic perspective but, again, contains little new analysis in regard to source criticism.

Knafl's final section on divine action and interaction focuses on “action that can be characterized as interaction (due to proximate presence), or action that attempts to influence the world outside the body or allows it to influence the body” (p. 216–7). As in the previous section, Knafl concludes that the sources are extremely similar in this aspect, more importantly distinguishing between how God acts when he is present as opposed to when he is absent. Thus, this section is useful for a literary analysis of individual texts, while also showing that this method of analysis does not prove helpful for dating the texts.

Knafl's conclusion provides an important typology of divine anthropomorphism within the Pentateuch with an overview of each set of data, as well as a definition of each type, which comprises Corporeal, Proximate, Interactive, Characteristic, Social, and Mediated, all which include specific subfields. Knafl then provides an extremely brief overview of each source, determining that each contain divine anthropomorphism, but that it is presented differently in regard to authorial intent. Knafl is not entirely convincing on this last point, as it should encompass a more central role within her analysis instead of being relegated to a few brief statements at the conclusion of her study. However, Knafl does succeed in her overall goal of showing the presence of divine anthropomorphism within all Pentateuchal sources, rather than as an evolutionary phenomenon. This has allowed her to subsequently show that divine anthropomorphism is not a valid criterion for source division, dating, and comparison, but rather that scholars should continue to pursue avenues of source division in their study of language and narrative flow. Knafl's book is a welcome addition to the field of source criticism, while also providing additional tools for scholars of literary criticism.

Shane M. Thompson, Brown University