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ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 56, 2008

GARY N. KNOPPERS AND BERNARD M. LEVINSON (eds), The Pentateuch as Torah: New Models for Understanding Its Promulgation and Acceptance (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2007). Pp. xvi + 352. Hardback $US49.50.

This collection of 14 substantive essays aims to account for the reception of the Pentateuch as a uniquely authoritative document in the Persian and Hellenistic periods. The distinguished contributors to this erudite volume propose different models for how, when, why and where this took place. Readers will appreciate the introductory essay by the editors that surveys the complex and contested field explored, for the essayists present a bewildering array of theories. Most of the essays interact with the theory of a “Persian imperial authorisation” of the Torah, and this book represents the most sustained discussion of that theory since Persia and Torah (2001), edited by James W. Watts.

Konrad Schmid provides some important clarifications of the much criticised theory of “Persian imperial authorisation.” Though Ezra 7 might seem to provide some support, the theory does not explain the origin of the Torah nor why the Jews accepted it as the supreme religious authority. As well, Ezra 7:25 is explicit that the Torah is an already known and acknowledged law code before Ezra returns. David M. Carr sees the Torah as originating in the Persian period as an educational text for the Jewish elite, but that does not explain how the Torah achieved the unparalleled cultic and legal significance that it did for the nation as a whole, which is the picture provided by the book of Ezra-Nehemiah. The problem for this theory, as well as for some others in this volume, is that having posited that the Torah began as a text for scribal exercises (an analogy with what was done with cultural texts in Mesopotamia) it becomes difficult if not impossible to explain how the Pentateuch became the normative text for an entire religious community. Perhaps the time is ripe to revisit the issue of the formation and acceptance of the Pentateuch, taking seriously the biblical presentation of Moses as its implied author.

Anselm Hagedorn views the Torah as reflecting the voluntary accommodation of Jewish colonists to their Persian overlords, so that the Torah was never officially sanctioned by the Persian administration. This theory views Ezra 7 as a fiction. Such a move discounts rather than integrates the evidence provided by Scripture. Reinhard Kratz, though viewing Ezra 7–10 and Nehemiah 8 as “the Ezra legend,” notes that these passages already presuppose the general acceptance of the Torah. He prefers, however, to make use of documents from Elephantine and Qumran to formulate his theory of the rapprochement of Torah and temple in Hellenistic Palestine.

Gary Knoppers and Paul B. Harvey Jr discuss the promulgation of the Pentateuch as an authoritative text in the wider context of contemporaneous Mediterranean law codes. They argue that an indirect knowledge of wider trends may have influenced what happened in Judah. Jean-Louis Ska links the birth of the Torah to the antiquarian interest of scribes and the formation of a library in the postexilic Jerusalem temple. Such a library (if its existence could be demonstrated) would seem to have more relevance to the issue of the inclusion of other OT books in the developing canon than to that of the production and acceptance of the Pentateuch as the core of Israel’s Scriptures.

Eckart Otto seeks to demonstrate that the scribes responsible for the final form of the book of Jeremiah influenced the formation of the Pentateuch and indeed carried on a lively controversy with the priestly authors of the Pentateuch. Christophe Nihan argues that Samarians had a role in the creation of the Pentateuch and that it was written for them as well as for those in the Persian province of Yehud. This joint effort aimed to bring about a new national unity between Judeans and Samarians. Nihan sees references to Shechem (Deuteronomy 27; Joshua 8, 24) as supporting his theory. In a similar vein, Reinhard Pummer presents an up-to-date survey of Samaritan studies, trying to show that Pentateuchal traditions were the common property of Samaritans and Judeans.

Joachim Schaper explores the publishing of legal texts in ancient Judah, viewing Deut 1:5 as meaning “to give legal force to this Torah.” The law became legally binding by being written down and read in public, which the Bible itself depicts as happening at an early stage of Israelite history (Joshua 8). Sebastian Grätz investigates the hermeneutics of the Torah in Ruth and Ezra 9–10, though his view that Ruth criticises the Law of the Assembly in Deuteronomy 23 is unproven and, in the opinion of this reviewer, unlikely. In a judicious paper, Arie van der Kooij comes to the negative conclusion that since the translation of the Pentateuch into Greek arose from scholarly interests in Alexandria, it does not throw light on the promulgation of the Torah in Persian times. Sidnie White Crawford studies Essene exegesis of the Pentateuch using the Temple Scroll and the Damascus Document.

An essay by James W. Watts completes the volume. Watts argues that the original function of the Pentateuch was to legitimate the political claim of Aaronic priestly dynasties, though Watts admits that this is heavily disguised rhetoric. Aaronic hierarchies in Jerusalem and Samaria promoted (for their own interests?) the authority of the Torah. This is a useful volume for anyone who wants to come up to speed with what is happening in Pentateuchal studies. It shows the field is in flux, indeed it appears to be in crisis, with no theory able to secure a scholarly consensus.

Review by
Gregory Goswell
Lecturer in Biblical Studies (OT and Hebrew)
Presbyterian Theological College
Box Hill North VIC 3129