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

Peterson, Brian N., The Authors of the Deuteronomistic History: Locating a Tradition in Ancient Israel (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2014). Pp 395. Paperback. US$34.00. ISBN: 978-1-45146-996-7.

This monograph seeks to resolve one of the more contested and polarizing issues in the study of the Hebrew Bible: the authorship of the Deuteronomistic History. Framing his search as an attempt to solve the self-proclaimed biblical “Whodunit,” Brian Peterson attempts to locate and reveal the previously unseen fingerprints of those responsible for the composition and redaction of Deuteronomy–2 Kings. The work is divided into two relatively equal parts. The first section, comprising chapters 1–4, provides an overview of scholarship within the field concerning Deuteronomistic authorship, touching only lightly on those who doubt the existence of the Deuteronomistic History, and delivers Peterson's thesis: that subsequent to the creation of a largely Mosaic Deuteronomy, tenth-century priest Abiathar of Anathoth employed earlier source material to edit and compile the book of Joshua, was responsible for lightly editing Deuteronomy, and served as the author outright for Judges–Samuel (although Peterson contends that there was earlier source material in this case as well). After its formation, this work was supposedly passed down over the centuries through the priestly faction at Anathoth; this culminated with revision and editing by the prophet Jeremiah, who Peterson claims also finished the history by adding the book of Kings.

The second section, comprising chapters 5–10, involves Peterson taking his readers through each book of the Deuteronomistic history as he outlines the evidence for his claims. After again asserting Mosaic authorship for “proto”-Deuteronomy, the process of redaction and authorship at the hand of Abiathar is explained in greater detail. Although Peterson proposes positions that many would deem attractive, drafting into his service P. Kyle McCarter's idea that a large portion of Samuel exists as a form of Davidic apology,[1] the results of such usage are less than satisfying. Does Peterson believe that if a large swath of text existed as an apology for David, then an individual who personally knew the king must have been responsible for its creation? Certainly later writers outside of the priestly lineage of Anathoth would have valid reasons for positive characterization of the king. Additionally, Peterson dismisses the use of “diverse formulae in Kings as a means of identifying the different eras when certain religio-political concerns may have prevailed” (p. 262). Yet, later in the same paragraph, he praises the idea of a Hezekian edition of DtrH proposed by Baruch Halpern and David Vanderhooft, an idea which they reached using the very methodology the author dismissed.[2]

Peterson appears to engage with a wide array of scholarship on the topic of Deuteronomistic authorship. This is more apparent in some portions of his work, such as the in-depth literature review provided in the book's first section, as opposed to later sections. In the introduction to his work, Peterson cites Richard E. Friedman's assertion, in the first edition of Who Wrote the Bible?,[3] that the prophet Jeremiah could possibly be identified as the Deuteronomistic Historian in an attempt to establish scholarly consensus. Yet while Friedman did indeed entertain this idea in the first edition of his book, it is an idea that he later strongly recanted in the subsequent edition, calling the possibility an extremely unlikely speculation.[4] At several points Peterson cites scholars who have posited a pre-seventh century date for Deuteronomy and portions of the Deuteronomistic History, yet readers should be aware that his methods and ultimate conclusions differ from those he cites quite markedly. Additionally, there are many prominent viewpoints, such as the rolling corpus model of Andre Lemaire,[5] with which Peterson fails to contend, leaving the reader with a well-researched (yet ultimately incomplete) product.

It is apparent for obvious reasons that many scholars in the field will remain unconvinced by the claims made by Peterson in this work while others will refuse to even entertain his assertions. However, this is a possibility that the author admits from the beginning. Peterson writes from an unapologetically conservative viewpoint; yet rather than attempting to upend traditional scholarly claims, he attempts to find a suitable middle path. Although Peterson's thesis does not necessarily echo the views of the scholarly majority, there is certainly a place within the wider community for such a work. Peterson brings a unique perspective and works tirelessly throughout his project to provide clearly organized evidence for his readers.

Raleigh C. Heth, University of Notre Dame

[1] P. Kyle McCarter, “The Apology of David,” JBL 99 (1980), 489–504. idem, 1 Samuel (AB, 8; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), 27–30. reference

[2] B. Halpern and D. Vanderhooft, “The Editions of Kings in the 7th–6th Centuries BCE,” HUCA 62 (1992), 179–244. reference

[3] R.E. Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible? (1st ed.; New York, NY: Summit Books, 1987), 146–49. reference

[4] R.E. Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible? (2nd ed.; New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1997), 147. reference

[5] A. Lemaire, “Vers L'histoire de la Rédaction des Livres des Rois,” ZAW 98 (1986), 221–36. reference