Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 18 (2018) - Review

Yoo, Philip Y., Ezra and the Second Wilderness (Oxford Theology and Religion Monographs; Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2017). Pp. 240. Hardcover. US$95.00. ISBN: 9780198791423.

Philip Yoo's book, Ezra and the Second Wilderness, focuses on the Ezra memoir in Ezra 7–10 and Neh 8, which has been the focus of many investigations in the last two decades. Stemming from the question “did Ezra promulgate and publish the Pentateuch?” (p. 202), Yoo seeks to tackle the complicated relationship between the Ezra memoir and the Pentateuch. The book discusses how pentateuchal texts were used and interpreted in the author's Second Temple context. As the book's name implies, the Ezra memoir presents Ezra as a second Moses who leads the Israelites through the wilderness to the promised land. According to Yoo, it is difficult to know whether the events are historical or fictional. The portrayal of Ezra as a second Moses effectively buries any historical person that may lie behind the story. He justifiably concludes that regardless of the historical events, the story's main contribution is its evidence for “the social, political, and religious realities of Achaemenid Yehud” (p. 202). The book is structured according to topics in the Ezra memoir, it is easy to follow, and the main points are clearly stated at the beginning of each chapter. A reconstruction of the redactional layers is presented as an appendix; regrettably, however, the text is printed so small that it makes it difficult to differentiate between the various layers.

Yoo is well acquainted with the recent discussion on Ezra-Nehemiah, and he recurrently engages in lengthy discussions with diachronic approaches that reconstruct complicated redaction histories. He has rightly seen that the historical problems cannot be solved without an argued position on the textual history. With many others, Yoo argues that Neh 8 was originally located between Ezra 8 and 9. The relationship between the Masoretic text and First Esdras is discussed only briefly (p. 5), and the latter is assumed to be secondary. In his redaction-critical reconstruction, the original Ezra memoir takes up most of the final text. The two later literary layers are connected to redactors who mainly attempted to tie the Ezra memoir to the composition's other units, the Nehemiah memoir and Ezra 1–6. Because the later redactions are minimal—mostly individual sentences—their impact on the story and the questions discussed in the investigation are limited. Most of the results thus relate to the original Ezra memoir.

Although Yoo's analysis of the text's diachronic development is well argued and informed, it is apparent that he has an inclination to see the text as coherent. One example will suffice: Yoo notes the problems in Neh 8:3–5: Ezra reads the scroll in v. 3 before he even ascends the platform or opens the scroll in v. 4–5. The book is read again, as if for the first time in v. 8. Ezra's title, “scribe,” is reintroduced in v. 4, although he was called a “priest” in v. 2. The different terms for the book should also be noted. On the basis of these and other peculiarities some critics have argued that the text cannot derive from one author only. Yoo explains the apparent incoherence of v. 3 by assuming that it is “a summary statement” (pp. 136–7), but many of the other problems are not addressed. It also needs to be asked whether such a short text would have needed a summary statement, while the passage otherwise develops in chronological order. Although differences in detail of diachronic analysis would not impact most of the investigation's general conclusions, the possibility that priestly conceptions mainly stem from later redactions, as assumed by some critics, should have been addressed. Overall, Yoo assumes that despite the many peculiar digressions, many of which are priestly in character, Ezra 8 is almost completely coherent.

Yoo argues that the Ezra memoir “does not have access to the latest layers of the Pentateuch,” and thus it does not presuppose “its final form.” Instead, the Ezra memoir would have used pentateuchal texts as independent sources (p. 210). This is a significant conclusion as such, as it provides evidence for a still developing Pentateuch. Yoo discusses the pentateuchal source theories rather extensively (p. 17–31), but a position in favor of the J and E sources is perhaps unnecessary, especially since their existence is increasingly questioned. Nevertheless, a very important contribution of Yoo's study is its analysis of how the Ezra memoir uses and interprets the pentateuchal sources in its Achaemenid sources. His exegetical analysis is careful and the differences between the Pentateuch and the Ezra memoir are used to draw important and original conclusions: The differences do not necessarily derive from variant versions of the source texts but could also be occasioned by attempts to harmonize the different pentateuchal sources. For example, according to Yoo, the author of Neh 8 had to “incorporate all of the Pentateuchal Sukkoth laws and…to arrive at a ritually acceptable solution” (p. 152). This would explain some of the differences between Neh 8 and the pentateuchal source. In this respect, the introduction would have benefited from a more extensive discussion on how the Ezra memoir uses, alludes to, and quotes the Pentateuch.

Yoo's book may be the most up-to-date investigation on the Ezra Memoir. It is particularly welcome that the book takes diachronic approaches into consideration, although Yoo often arrives at a view of the text as a fairly coherent composition. The book provides important insights into the use and interpretation of the Pentateuch in the Achaemenid period. Among other results, it is a noteworthy conclusion that the differences between the Ezra memoir and the pentateuchal sources may also derive from an attempt to harmonize the partly competing pentateuchal traditions.

Juha Pakkala, University of Helsinki