Review: “Paradigm Change in Pentateuchal Research” edited by Matthias Armgardt

Paradigm changeMatthias Armgardt, Benjamin Kilchör, and Markus Zehnder (eds.). Paradigm Change in Pentateuchal Research. Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für altorientalische und biblische Rechtsgeschichte. Vol. 22. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2019. Pp. XXIV + 366.

Since the revolutionary work of Julius Wellhausen, itself a relatively old and complex paradigm, his paradigm has become problematic on many fronts. Within this volume, a diverse set of scholars attempt to “analyze the roots of the problems in the exegesis of the Torah” and “to offer alternatives for looking at its texts” (VIII). Each section of the volume deals with Pentateuchal studies from different perspectives: introduction and methodology, legal history, Torah and prophets, and dating issues. In what follows, I will provide a brief summary of each contribution and indicate the relative success of each contribution’s aim. When necessary, I will more closely engage particular points within contributions. Towards the end, I will state the collective quality of the volume.

Georg Fischer, after noting positive and negative developments in Pentateuchal research, suggests a new paradigm for Pentateuchal research should be developed, one which is more attentive to the Pentateuch as a unified document. Importantly, many of his criticisms are well-pointed and valid – scholars following in the footsteps of Wellhausen should consider his criticism; however, the ‘new paradigm’ he suggests is unclear and underdeveloped. Drawing analogy for his ‘new paradigm,’ he looks towards visual arts, music, and architecture in order to argue that the Pentateuch as a text is “primarily a single entity” (17), noting that the Latin root textus indicates a mesh or netting, several threads and fabrics woven together. This framework, though, is nothing new. Rather, it can be connected to a wide variety of literary and critical theorists, such as Kristeva, Laurent Jenny, and others. Moreover, drawing analogy between text and music is nothing new within literary studies. As such, Fischer’s approach seems, for the most part, outdated and undeveloped. What his contribution indicates to me, though, is that Pentateuchal scholars must be more conversant and engaged with literary and critical theory.

Suggesting that Neo-Documentarian and redaction paradigms are insufficient for sound readings of the Pentateuch, Richard Averbeck argues that analogues from ethnographic studies are more helpful for understanding the compositional history of texts like Gen 12-50. Though his approach to the Pentateuch is intriguing, namely drawing from ethnographic materials for a framework, this approach has a serious methodological flaw. He claims not to be putting a Western framework of literary culture onto the Hebrew Bible; instead he suggests responsibly using ethnographic cultural analogues to “help us better understand the real world and oral background of what we find in the patriarchal narrative” (32). The issue of Genesis’ historical value aside, he ironically does precisely what he attempts to not to: he frames his discussion in terms of the Great Divide between orality and literacy (cf. Vayntrub 2019). Put another way, his method still applies a Western framework.

Joshua Berman highlights what he sees as nine methodological flaws in source criticism, an article shortened from his book Inconsistency in the Torah: Ancient Literary Convention and the Limits of Source Criticism (OUP, 2017). As such, one is better off finding and reading reviews of that volume as opposed to a shortened version of a lengthier chapter.

Koert van Bekkum examines Exodus 3 and 6, as well as scholarship around the texts concerning Yahweh’s name. van Bekkum also provides methodological reflections. Even so, this contribution is unclear and underdeveloped.

Matthias Armgardt attempts to show how scholars should have more critical methods. As such, he points to how texts in the Torah are more similar to and fit better within the 2nd millennium. On account of his discussing EST and Deut 28 without reference to the debates and discussion between Berman and Stackert/Levinson, mention of Maul’s essential volume on comparative studies, consideration of David Wright’s volume, and generally unsound approach on the Hebrew Bible as reflective of social economic needs, his discussion and reflection is, as a whole, unimpressive.

Guido Pfeifer reports on paradigms changes within legal history and ancient Near Eastern history as a counterpoint to the Pentateuch, considering especially the function of law in ancient Mesopotamia and its relation to other genres. It isn’t clear what Pfeifer argues for or how his contribution is helpful for developing a new paradigm.

Benjamin Kilchör analyzes the Wellhausen notion that D dates to the 7th century and P dates to the 6th/5th century. Through his analysis, he attempts to show how Wellhausen doesn’t deals with the issue of P drawing from D. In this way, the framework assumed by many about dating P and D is problematized by Kilchör. Some of his claims, though, are questionable. He claims that Deut 12 draws from Lev 17; however, his presentation of the relationship between the texts and their ideologies assumes too much about how texts relate to each other and how they are re-used. His arguments, even so, are worth addressing and considering.

Markus Zehnder examines Lev 26 and Deut 28 in order to describe their relationship. His analysis is particularly thorough. In his view, the lexical and phraseological connections are rare, meaning that there is not literary dependency. Connections to other biblical texts, though, indicate that Lev 26 and Deut 28 pre-date the NA milieu, being pre-exilic. Though many arguments and comment on text relations can and should be clarified and more precise, this contribution is nonetheless thoughtful, thorough, and valuable.

Eckart Otto attempts to identify the placement and function of Deuteronomy. He argues that the end of Deuteronomy is closely connected to the emerging canon and points to salvation. His approach to a new paradigm is interesting, namely shifting focus to the role of the Pentateuch, and its compositional history, as part of the Hebrew Bible’s serialization process. This approach is well worth consideration.

Kenneth Bergland argues that Jer 34 is a sophisticated blend of Lev 25and Deut 15, thereby complicating and challenging “Wellhausen’s romantic idea of the originality of the prophets” (191). A more systematic approach for identifying and describing the relationship between texts would strengthen the contribution and bolster the arguments. Moreover, to my surprise, he did not engage with Stackert’s conversation about the issue of prophecy with regard to Wellhausen. Nonetheless, Bergland’s ideas are worth at least addressing when dealing with issues of Lev 25, Deut 15, Jer 34, and the relationship between the legal and the prophetic.

Examining the King’s Law in Deut 17, Carsten Vang argues that the text does not have a prophetic background and is not related to Solomon’s abundance; rather, it reflects a pre-monarchic background. Though I am in agreement with the initial claim that Deut 17 is not related to anti-cooperation themes present in prophetic texts, the way in which and degree to which he correlates Deut 17 with a “pre-monarchic” period is uncritical and a poor use of literary texts.

Hendrik Koorevaar’s contribution claims to be addressing issues of paradigm change for the Pentateuch. It is so generic and broad, though, that it is unclear what the purpose of the contribution is. After all, it simply paints broad brush strokes about text’s relationships without details or critical analysis.

Lina Peterson presents some conclusions from her forthcoming dissertation. Frankly, one would be better off reading her dissertation because her presentation of the conclusion lacks any analysis, only commenting on the method and conclusions.

Jan Retsö describes the literary depiction of the mishkan and paroket and compares it with the paroket-canopy in Near Eastern literature and archaeology. In connecting the paroket with a Levantine sanctuary type, he suggests that P’s sanctuary is independent from the 1st temple in Jerusalem. As such, he suggests that P should be dated to the pre-6th century. An interesting article, and worth considering for ancient Mediterranean cult practices, the data that he draws from may be dated well into the Persian, Roman, and Hellenistic periods. As such, it is disingenuous to date P to a pre-6th century period on the basis of the Holiness code being oriented against the hammanim, the sanctuary which he claims is equivalent to the paroket-canopy. Moreover, his dating is dependent on how he dates the Holiness Code, indicating a degree of circular thinking. Overall, though he presents some interesting data points for comparison and analysis, his analysis should be more thorough.

John S. Bergsma points to the Northern bias of the Pentateuch in order to show how the Pentateuch, in being predominately a Northern document, “shows no unambiguous evidence of an awareness of the controversy between these groups at all” (297), namely Judeans and Samarians. Overall, this contribution is worth further consideration. More specifically, fined tuned analysis through philology and close literary reading would substantially strengthen his argument. Moreover, though he still functions within a framework of North vs. South, his conclusions suggest that more productive analysis requires moving away from this polemic framework and towards a new paradigm.  

Examining what she calls the economic assumptions of Deuteronomy, Sandra Richter suggests that the most likely social situation of Deuteronomy is the Iron I and IIA transition period. She draws primarily from archaeological excavations to sustain he theory. Though an interesting suggestion, the method is problematic from the outset. She speaks primarily about economic assumptions. In reality, the world of a text is a literary construction. As such, her claim that Deut constructs a utopian imagination as being unlikely fails to acknowledge a basic function of literature: world construction.

Finally, Pekka Pitkänen attempts to show at least a plausible social context for Priestly materials and Deut without recourse to a Wellhausen approach. On account of the many assumptions and conjectural statements, his conclusions are nothing more than what he claims: a set of possible, tough not well argued, ideas about the text’s social context.

Overall, this volume is mediocre. Though some contributions offer intriguing avenues for future research, the majority of contributions are either (a) methodologically problematic, (b) seriously underdeveloped, or (c) generally unclear. The most notable contributions are by Eckart Otto and John S. Bergsma. As a volume, it fails to provides substantial contributions which will leads to a new paradigm for Pentateuchal studies. Therefore, I do not recommend this volume for individuals or libraries.


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