Review of “The Exegetical Terminology of Akkadian Commentaries” by Uri Gabbay

Uri Gabbay. The Exegetical Terminology of Akkadian Commentaries. In Culture and History of the Ancient Near East, Vol. 82. Leiden: Brill, 2016.

Uri Gabbay is a Senior Lecturer in Department of Archaeology/Ancient Near East and School of Philosophy and Religions at Hebrew University. Since 2009, much of his work has been in the area of Akkadian commentaries. This volume, though, is the first attempt to write a comprehensive description of the terminology used in Akkadian commentaries and how they function.

Like any volume, the Introduction offers a brief introduction to what Mesopotamian commentaries are and how to approach them, for which he suggests three steps: identify the base text (i.e. subject of the commentary), identify motivations behind comments (i.e. textual difficulties), and identify the technical terminology. Gabbay focuses on the third step, which enables one to better understand the hermeneutical process of Akkadian commentators. Subsequently, he offers a brief discussion of important terms: canonical (i.e. attributed to divine authority), hermeneutical technique versus hermeneutical motivation (i.e. methods employed versus solving problems in the base text), and exegetical terminology (i.e. reasoning and exegetical terminology employed in the comment).

One of the greatest strengths of the Introduction is the framing of commentaries not as speculation or expansion; rather, commentaries “respond to a problem in the base text,” both minor lemma problems and more extensive context problems (9). In other words, although signs are polysemous, polysemy is primarily employed to make a text more coherent.

One point of possible contention, though, is Gabbay’s employment of the category “canon,” which he essentially defines as a text which has “an interpretive and study tradition” (4). While “canon” can be productive in some cases, particularly for later commentaries, it seems reasonable to assume that the status of a “canon” would have functioned with various nuances, depending on the period and region. To draw from Biblical Studies, the Hebrew Bible was technically a “Canon” in the 5th century BCE (compilation with subsequent expansion in the DSS and Second Temple Period literature), 2nd century BCE (list of the “official” books in Sirach), and 2nd century CE (Rabbinic period). In each period of the Hebrew Bible’s canonicity, though, “Canon” had very different valencies. By analogy, one would expect the “canonical” texts of Mesopotamia to have similar valencies throughout various periods (Neo-Assyrian, Late Babylonian, etc.). Therefore, “Canon” may be used to describe the base text of commentaries; however, nuances of particular periods must be considered. For focus on these nuances may impact how we interpret the exegetical terminology and comments without commentary texts.

Furthermore, Gabbay’s categorizations of “Canon,” terms like coherence, discussion of hermeneutics, etc., would have been strengthened by including matters of literary theory. By not considering the relationship between his claims and literary theory, a wide gap is left in his introductory material.

Chapter One examines exegetical terminology reflective of the Sitz im Leben. Such terminology, suggests Gabbay, points to a scribal context wherein oral lessons were written by students, to be later combined with written sources. Many exegetical terms employed in oral lessons and student responses reflect the Sitz im Leben as a learning environment lead by the teacher-scholar. The terminology itself is divided amongst four sections: Sitz im Leben of study process, learning environment (i.e. the lesson), 2nd person references, and Sitz im Leben of commentary compilation. Together, his description of terminology related to the Sitz im Leben is helpful for reconstructing a hypothetical learning environment.

Problematic is that Gabbay suggests a hypothetical learning environment on the basis of terminology alone. As he notes later, though, Babylonian, Late Babylonian, late Achemenid and early Hellenistic, and Neo-Assyrian exegetical terminology function similarly in various contexts, different densities of terminology are present in their respect periods and geographic regions (269-274). Therefore, Gabbay’s hypothetical learning environment is an oversimplified model. A nuanced model based on (a) terminology and (b) region/period would have been more precise and useful for future historical reconstructions.

Chapter Two presents exegetical terminology which addresses the meaning individual words and phrases via definition. Such definitions are either equations or descriptions. Gabbay asserts that equations are reflective of the lexical genre, whereas descriptions are reflective of lexical texts and the descriptive genre in texts like abnu šikinšu and šammu šikinšu. Overall, the presentation is helpful, especially for future studies on Akkadian commentaries and hermeneutical methods.

There is, though, one issue. Gabbay’s description of the Glossenkeil is over simplified. He claims in Chapter One that “textual variants are often indicated by Glossenkeil” (75). Then, in Chapter Two, he suggests two interpretations of the Glossenkeil: it separates two equated words or “corresponds to a verbal formula that was pronounced during lessons to indicate the relationship between the terms in a lexical equation” (85). Although convenient for his overall focus on exegetical terminology, the claim is problematic, inasmuch as it fails to provide any evidence or argument for his understanding of how a Glossenkeil functions within the texts. It may be preferable to interpret the Glossenkeil as a disjunctive marker. For, it can function syntactically in such a variety of manners that limiting the Glossenkeil to a single function is may be problematic. For example, he discusses a commentary on Sagig, wherein part of the text reads: “A = water, GUR = return; thirdly: (agurru, “baked brick,” refers to) a pregnant woman” (pp. 182-183;  [A : me-e] : GUR : ta-a-ra šal-šiš MUNUS.PEŠ4). In the commentary of Sagig, there is a Glossenkeil between A and , and GUR and târa. There is also a Glossenkeil between and GUR, though. While it may function to mark some sort of relationship between A: and GUR:târa, it is equally plausible that it simply functions as a disjunctive marker, distinguishing between the two lexical equivalences. This reading is preferable simply due to the ambiguity of Glossenkeilen. For, this reading takes into account the ambiguity of the Glossenkeil and forces one to carefully consider the function of it in its respective context.

Having described terminology which defines individual words and phrases, Chapter Three addresses terminology of contextualization terminology: “a process of discovering or constructing a context that will allow the interpreter to make sense of a lemma that is difficult to understand in isolation or in its immediate context, or to harmonize contradictory texts” (127). Such interpretation takes three forms: specification (clarification o the base text), changing the literal meaning of a lemma, and reasoning (“the process of identifying premises and drawing conclusions” (127)). Terminology employed, then, are primarily “prepositions and conjunctions that indicate the logical relationships between various signifiers” (128). Essentially, Gabbay categorizes the terminology which serves to makes sense of the base text by re-framing it.

As with Chapter Two, Gabbay’s cataloguing of exegetical terminology will be helpful for other studies. And considering the ambiguity of Akkadian commentary series, it would not be particularly surprising to find divergent interpretations of texts and how terminology functions within the texts. Even so, his arrangement is helpful nonetheless.

Although more of a cursory concern, there is an absence to any modern literary theory. Discussion this subject may be helpful in arranging the exegetical terminology and its uses. For example, while discussing the term libbū with textual citations, he references a Sagig commentary, wherein the commentator employs an omen from Šumma-ālu. In doing so, Gabbay suggests that the commentator reinterprets asirtu (concubine) in terms of esēru (to confine), inasmuch as the commentator claims asirtu actually refers the confining of a patient in his bed (p. 133). This method of interpretation is reflective of intertextuality. Closer attention to valencies of intertextuality (i.e. awareness of how a scholar cites material for interpretation) may have enabled Gabbay to analyze exegetical terminology in such a way that allowed one to more clearly see how various scribes themselves conceptualized authoritative texts and their relationship to them.

Chapter Four presents techniques and terminology which reflect awareness of “the nature and character of the text….  The action of interpretation itself and the commentator himself” (169). It is not entirely clear, though, how Gabbay decided what belonged to this category and what did not.

For example, he claims that the terminology kakku sakku (“sealed and shut”) in an explanatory text indicates a relationship between the comb/mirror of a goddess and the Corpse star. Said relationship is supposedly based on a “general ancient scholarly tradition” (179; 180n48). If this is the case, perhaps the terminology kakku sakku should fall under its own category. For, the relationship between elements A and B is suggested to be a general scholarly tradition. So, employing of kakku sakku is more of a reference to previous scholarly tradition than simply a comment on the nature or character of said text. If this is the case, Gabbay should work to expand his descriptive categories in the future, so that phrases like kakku sakku may be more adequately presented.

Chapter Five presents the variety of phrase with the verb qabû which function hermeneutically. Through this description, he suggests that the Mesopotamian worldview understood divine utterances to be present in the form of texts or “canon.” In a sense, this was the “divine word,” began commenting upon in the NA period.

Although the notion of a Mesopotamian “logos” is intriguing and may be a good course of research for future scholars, Gabbay’s treatment of the topic is not substantiated well. First, having focused primarily on qabû in Akkadian commentaries, briefly touching on its use outside of commentaries, any claim for a Mesopotamian “logos” must be substantiated by a systematic analysis of qabû in all Mesopotamian literature. Second, in attempting to paint a broad brushstroke of what constitutes a Mesopotamian “logos,” he does not distinguish between time period and region. As previously mentioned, further analysis in these regards would benefit all of his conclusions.

Finally, the Conclusion reflects on why his analyses matter. First, he suggests that the exegetical terminology points to a strong culture of scholasticism amongst scribes. Second, he carefully notes that, while exegetical terminology illustrate the hermeneutical process, the hermeneutical process may still occur within the exegetical terminology. Thus, Gabbay’s outline of exegetical terminology, and therefore the hermeneutical process, will be helpful for interpreting texts, especially commentaries, inasmuch we now have a better sense of a Mesopotamian hermeneutical framework. Finally, he briefly reflects on the spread of exegetical terminology. In doing so, he provides a summary of how Akkadian exegetical terminology may have developed.

Although intriguing, such analysis of the spread of exegetical terminology via geography, time period, and colophon should have played a bigger part in Gabbay’s analysis. For example, rather than dividing between the chapters as he did, it may have been more productive to categorize terminology by region and time period, subsequently considering the extent to which they informed each other or overlap.

Overall, The Exegetical Terminology of Akkadian Commentaries is a helpful volume for scholars, particularly those interested in Akkadian commentaries. And while he does offer thorough coverage of Akkadian exegetical terminology, this reviewer is left wondering if more substantive conclusions may have been achieved by arranging terminology on the basis of region, period, and attentiveness to intertextuality. Even so, there is no doubt that this will be a valuable volume for the future, especially as studies on Akkadian commentaries are on the rise. For, it also includes two concise and useful appendices on exegetical terminology in divinatory literature and early Hebrew literature.

*The publisher provided a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

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Review of “From Prophet to Priest: The Characterization of Aaron in the Pentateuch” by James Findlay

James D. Findlay. From Prophet to Priest: The Characterization of Aaron in the Pentateuch. CBET 77 (Bristol, CT: Peeters). Pp. 423.

The goal of Findlay’s book is straight-forward: he seeks to offer a thorough analysis of Aaron’s characterization in the Pentateuch. In what follows, I offer a summary of his analyses. For each chapter, I raise criticisms regarding his analyses.

Chapter one discusses standard issues for any monograph. First, he reviews the state of scholarship and issues of methodology. He contends that (1) no comprehensive analysis of Aaron’s literary character, (2) with multiple methodological approaches, has been written. So he sets out his literary-critical and form-critical approaches. By using multiple methods for multiple readings, he suggests it is more in line with the Hebrew Bible itself.

While his attempt to utilize multiple methodologies is reasonable, his method is still unclear. For, literary-critical and form-critical approaches are good methods; however, they are only a portion of what should be covered in method. For example, Findlay does not consider the categories “prophet” and “priest” in the HB and ANE. Similarly, he does not engage with the documentary hypothesis. Even if Findlay does not agree with much within the documentary hypothesis, he should at least engage with it, offering a defense and argument as to why it does not play a large role in his methodology.

Additionally, Findlay seemingly offers no reason for texts he chose to examine (Ex. 7-11, 32-34; Lev. 8-10; Num. 12, 16-17; Deut. 9-10). Instead, he briefly comments that “an examination of this set of texts is useful because they represent a range of genres, including narrative, exhortation, and liturgies of priestly ordination, among others” (31). Even if these passages represent a range of genres, there is seemingly no reason or rhyme to what distinguishes these passages from any other appearance of Aaron in the Pentateuch.

Chapter two offers a structural and literary analysis of Exodus 7-11. Notably, Findlay approaches Ex. 7-11 as a united narrative. He justifies this by viewing the phrase wy’mer yhwy mshh as a marker for various sections. So, he reads 12 plagues, not 10. After laying out the structure of these 12 divisions, he highlights various phrases which may demonstrate the unity of Ex. 7-11. Within the text, he characterizes Aaron as acting sporadically. He calls it a ‘sign-cycle’ or ‘narrative’ or ‘prophetic legend’ narrative. He then asserts a cultic setting in the pre-exilic or post-exilic period; however, he offers no arguments or interaction with other scholarship, likewise with his assertion for the texts intention. He concludes that Aaron functions as a “prophet” to Moses, namely as his brother, partner, and associate. So, he is essentially parallel to Moses.

Like any reading, he offers an alternative to something like the documentary hypothesis; however, he does not engage at all with JEDP source. Although he makes reference to the “Priestly writer(s)” (98), he never seems to entirely engage; rather, Findlay only utilizes JEDP divisions when it is helpful to strengthening his own argument. Additionally, and similar to a previous criticism, Findlay does not define or offer sustained discussion about the categories of “priest” and “prophet.” For this reason, it is difficult to fully consider his argument when he offers no framework or discussions of what these roles mean in the HB and ANE. So, although there are some interesting observations tucked within his analyses, the lack of methodological strength severely destabilizes the majority of his conclusions.

Chapter three offers a structural and literary analysis of Ex. 32-34, focusing on Aaron’s role in the narrative. Based on the structure, Findlay argues that Aaron endangered the community through his actions. Although not held responsible for the sin of the people, Aaron does become subordinate to Moses. In other words, he is ‘demoted.’ So, while Aaron is originally ‘almost equal’ to Moses, he now recedes into the text’s background. In his literary-analysis, he reaches a similar conclusion. Whereas in Ex. 32 Aaron is independent, he is absent in 33 and not at the forefront of 34. Because Aaron is not honest about the incident in 33:21 and the narrator notes Aaron’s guilt, the role of Aaron is demoted in the text. For, now he is only referenced with other characters.

 

Like the other chapters, there are interesting observations tucked away. The negative critiques of his analysis, though, strongly out-weight the positive. First, in all his discussion about Aaron’s role in the calf incident as a priest, he does not consider how Aaron’s actions reflect other broader priestly concerns in the HB and ANE. Put another way, what is a ‘priest’ and what does a ‘priest’ do? How did priests in the HB and ANE relate to the people? Again, his argument regarding the characterization of Aaron is weak because it does not address a basic, yet primary, methodological concern.

Second, although small, one comment may reflect a problem with Findlay’s attentiveness to the text. Speaking of the Levites slaying those who sacrificed to the calf, he notes that the Levites had been blessed “due both to their loyalty to Moses and their willingness to kill man of their Israelite kin” (117). First, they were not “loyal” to Moses; rather, the Levites were dedicated to Yahweh. Similarly, the notion of “willingness to kill many of their Israelite kin” carries an almost moral weight. Yet, again, though, he failed to consider the category of “priest” in the HB and ANE, which would have clarified the actions of slaying the people. This issue of defining priest is further present in his conclusion about the characterization of Aaron: “Whether or not he is a priest is unclear; however, we might conclude that Aaron no longer has the status of prophet, with his unfortunate behavior during the incident with the Golden Calf being the likely reason” (126). If Findlay is unclear whether or not Aaron is a priest at this point, perhaps he should begin by expanding his analysis to consider the conceptual world of the scribe of Exodus. This would include considering what a priest is within the Pentateuch, HB, and ANE. This issue with defining ‘priest’ is a problem through all of this book.

Third, he lacks attention to the nuances of words, which raises concerns for all of his readings. For example, his discussion of Exodus 32:6b suggests that “the description contains no judgmental statement from the narrator that the actions are lurid or abominable… Thus, the object and character of the people’s actions, at this point in the narrative, remain uncertain” (141). A brief look at the BDB entry for the root tsch-k suggests otherwise (books contain typo with h instead of ch). BDB defines the verb as “to laugh.” Each appearance of the root is in a somewhat negative context (i.e. laughing at Yahweh’s promise to Abraham, what the Philistines have Samson do between the pillars, Joseph “making sport” of his master’s wife, etc. In other words, the root is typically used in negative situations. So, use of the root tsch-k does, in fact, indicate that the narrator is commenting on the people’s actions to some degree. Unfortunately, Findlay fails to address this obvious nuance of the root.

Chapter four discusses Aasron’s characterization in Lev. 8-10. Within his structural analysis, Findlay illustrates a shift from chapter 8 to 9. Whereas Aaron is the recipient of Moses’ acts in chapter 8, he shifts into the role of primary ritual actor in chapter 9. Chapter 10, though, shifts Aaron into another role: he now becomes an independent speaker. With these shifts, Aaron’s “role as prophet [has] apparently almost completely receded, but his function as priest is in full view” (195). Consequently, he describes the genre of Lev. 8-10 as a narrative of priestly consecration, ordination, and installation (19) on the basis of structure and comparison with the NIN.DINGIR priestess at Emar. Additionally, on the basis of a post-exilic setting, he suggests that the text’s intention is to characterize Aaron a priest accountable to Moses. Shifting to literary analysis, Findlay highlights Aaron’s role as the primary object in Lev. 8, suggesting his role as an ideal priest: “Aaron is presented to the readers of Lev. 8 as obedient to commands, receptive of enrobement and anointment, and immediately capable of ritual action once he is consecrated… he stands before us as the ideal priest, newly installed in office” (208). 

Findlay’s division of Lev. 9, Aaron is characterized as a priestly hero and flawless liturgical functionary: the perfect priest. As for Lev. 10, Findlay asserts that Aaron, though no longer the perfect priest, is an “effective community leader.” He bases this on an assertion that “we can sense, by the content and tone of his speech which closes the unit, that Aaron is not just a priest, but a responsible, responsive human being, possessed of both eloquence and emotion” (226).

Again, there are some interesting observations tucked away; however, none are necessarily worth noting. Instead, I will focus on a few serious issues. First of all, he does not engage with questions of ritual errors in the HB and Akkadian literature. This is problematic because Leviticus 8-10 revolves around ritual and, eventually, ritual error. If Findlay is considering Aaron’s role as a priest, it must also take into consideration other rituals and ritual errors. This would help to clarify what is happening in Lev. 8-10 and Aaron’s role within it. Yet, he does not do this.

Second, Findlay’s characterization of Aaron in Lev. 9 is so elevated that it is almost humorous. Essentially, because Aaron “proceeds without error or uncertainty, and asks no questions of either Moses or YHWH to clarify how he ought to act during the ritual procedures” (215), Findlay determines that Aaron is a “priestly hero”, “perfect priest”, and “flawless liturgical functionary.” In other words, Findlay is so fixated on Aaron’s characterization that he seems to elevate Aaron significantly beyond what the text itself expresses. This points to a consistent problem with this book. Although it is a book about Aaron’s characterization, it is so fixated on Aaron that everything not directly related to Aaron becomes fuzzy, sloppy, and not thorough (see my other critiques throughout this review).

Third, and dovetailing off of the previous critique, many of his arguments lack attention to syntax, simply resorting to a basic, undeveloped reading of a text. For example, the reason he emphasizes the “perfectly obedient character of Aaron” by noting that Yahweh commanded Moses, who subsequently commanded Aaron. Therefore, Aaron is a great priest for listening. Yet, this is not particularly surprising in priestly literature. For, it is normal for any priest to perform the ritual duties correctly. In other words, Findlay unnecessarily over-emphasizes the “obedience,” when Aaron simply functioned ritually how he was supposed to function. A similar problem occurs in his discussion of chapter 5: “though [Aaron] is the object of devine speech, he is also a perfectly obedient servant of that divine power, going forth to the tent, alongside Miriam, just as they are commanded” (288; italic added for emphasis). So, again, he fails to recognize the sematic range of commands and their syntax. After all, in Hebrew Letters, an imperative is sometimes directed towards a person in a higher social standing. Does this mean the person in a higher social standing will be “obedient” to the person sending the letter? No. For, volitives do not always function to express “perfect obedience” in a religious sense, as Findlay seems to suggest.

In chapter five, Findlay analyzes Numbers 12. In his form-critical analysis, he first highlights 5 commonly accepted factors in Numbers 12. He then divides it into four sections, without offering argumentation for the division. Working through the text, he concludes that “Aaron is characterized as a community leader who needs and receives correction, is able to plead effectively for others, and is accountable to appropriate human and divine authority” (255), with ambiguity regarding his role as priest/prophet. In the literary analysis, Findlay illustrates that the grammar points to the important literary and communal role of Miriam. Then, Miriam and Aaron are equated. Both, he argues, are prophets. Aaron’s role shifts in vs. 9 where he becomes an interceding figure between Moses and Miriam. So, he is illustrated to be linked to Miriam and subordinate to Moses, a priest and prophet in relation to others.

Unlike the previous chapters, chapter five does contain some interesting observations with fewer criticism. For, in his linking Miriam and Aaron, he made a convincing argument based primarily in the grammar. Although there are many assertions, none overwhelmingly detracts from his argument, save for the point I previously made about “perfect obedience.” The primary criticism is reflective of problems throughout the book. Regarding Aaron’s intercession for Miriam, he comments that “here, it seems, his compassion and care exceed those of both Israel’s God and Moses” (281). A statement like this, while possibly true within a Western framework of religion and social interactions, does not take seriously the conceptual world of the HB. This is one of the biggest problems of this book. It never really takes seriously the conceptual world of the HB and ANE, unless it conveniently supports his argument.

 

Chapter six discusses Numbers 16-17. Regarding his form-critical analysis, he concludes that Aaron is presented as a proper priestly practitioner. For, those who oppose Aaron are opposed by Yahweh. The date of the text, he contends, is late in the Persian period, with a setting of the temple circles. As for the intention of the text, he writes that “the depiction of Aaron as the object of Levitical attack, as the liturgical actor who saves the community from plague, and the one chosen by the deity to approach the holy place safely, is central to the text’s intentions. The leadership of his descendants at the Temple and in the community is affirmed” (310). In terms of literary analysis, Aaron functions as a companion to Moses, representative of Yahweh, and opponent of Korah; however, in the midst of Aaron’s silence, Findlay asserts that “he is a power present in the narrative. In Chapter 17:1-5, Aaron is apparently “a triumphant priest, who now has no rivals for any aspect of his activities or community leadership role” (328). In the remained of Chapter 17, Aaron is apparently portrayed as “the sole legitimate priestly actor in Israel… as the best possible priest… [and] as the one who can safely and powerfully represent them [the people]” (338).

Like previously mentioned, Findlay praises priests too much. The function of a priest in antiquity was similar to how Aaron is represented. Instead, Findlay seems to ignore the widespread phenomena of priests and their cult function, focusing solely on the text. Without discussion of the notion of priesthood, he makes claims which so ever emphasize Aaron’s significance that they seem somewhat silly, such as the claim that “Aaron acts as the best possible priest.” In reality, it seems that Aaron is just doing what any priest is supposed to do, albeit with the nuances of ancient Judean cult practices as represented by literature.

Chapter 7 addresses Aaron’s role in Deuteronomy 9-10:11. Within the form-critical approach, Aaron is addressed thrice. First, Aaron is specifically addressed as one with whom Yahweh was angry, viewed as a distinct character from the community. He determines that it should be deemed as the genre of “Address of Exhortation and Paranesis,” which seems to simply combine older scholarly views. Aaron, though, is understood as a “warning sign” that people may anger the deity, namely how Aaron is represented in the text. Like every other appearance, he claims the ‘setting’ is for public gathers. As for the literary critical analysis, he claims that Aaron is simply referenced to highlight past sins against Yahweh. He also also depicted in 9:20a as without agency. So, Findlay concludes “his characterization her is a decidedly negative one. Aaron is weak, dependent, powerless, and unable to speak or act” (367). Concerning Aaron’s death itinerary, Findlay goes as far as to say that the “entire content of Aaron’s life is unimportant to the author(s) of the biblical book… Aaron is presented, then, as an example of what the people are not… Aaron is an Israelite actor who perishes before receiving the land and other blessings which are promised” (383).

Regarding this Chapter, I have three major criticisms. First, he discusses Deuteronomy 9:20a, even noting that it specifically links with other texts like Exodus 32. Yet, he does not even consider the possibility of utilizing inner-biblical exegesis. For something like this, where Aaron is said to have sinned in one and not in the other, inner-biblical exegesis would potentially help to clarify either Deuteronomy 9:20a and/or Exodus 32. For, tracing how the scribe understood one tradition in light of the other (assuming one could establish the use of one in the other) would be valuable.

Second, his argument that Aaron is powerless and weak is silly. For, he bases this argument upon the extent to which Aaron has agency in the text. Agency, though, does not necessarily express ones power, especially in a narrative, literary text! If he wants to interpret positive or negative characterization of Aaron on the basis of agency, he needs to prove that agency of a character functions as a tool by which the scribe attempts to characterizes characters. This must be demonstrated as a consistent pattern in the Pentateuch, which he does not do.

Third, his argument for setting is extremely problematic. For, it indicates that his methodology is, in fact, not very critical. He suggests the setting is a public gather on the following basis: Nehemiah 8 describes communal worship associated with reading the sepher; the reading lasts several hours, with people weeping after hearing the reading; because Deuteronomy 5-11 has a “sharp and challenging tone” (356), it would be a fitting setting, namely the post-exilic period. In his own words, “reminder of past sins contained in Deut. 9:1-10:11, spoken by a voice with “Mosaic authority,” would serve extremely well to admonish returning exiles regarding past failures and the need to avoid them in the future” (356). Such a claim is baseless. It seemingly ignores any and all scholarship about Nehemiah, makes ridiculous attempts to connect the texts on the basis that “people wept,” and fails to take into account any consideration about historical studies. In short, it is a poor, unfortunate conclusion. In light of the various other issues, though, it is not a surprising conclusion.

In conclusion, this is a poorly argued volume. It utilizes a poor methodology and fails to address many issues critical to the research. While there are a few interesting observations in the book, it is, overall, not worth reading.

Review of “Biblica Hebraica Stuttgartensia: A Reader’s Edition”

The increasing popularity and usage of Bible software is both beneficial and problematic. On the one hand, it enables students and scholars to search biblical material quickly. Subsequently, they can more quickly observe complex and nuanced aspects of Biblical Hebrew (henceforth BH) grammar. On the other hand, it seemingly stunts ones ability to cold read a biblical text, parse verb forms only by recognition, and experience searching through pages and entries within BDB or HALOT. Subsequently, BH has substantially less opportunity to become “normalized” within ones mind. So, a grey space exists between reading straight from the BHS with a BDB and reading straight from Bible software. The reader’s edition of BHS (henceforth BHSRE) arguably fills the grey space.

BHSRE is, essentially, what it sounds like: a BHS for readers still working to attain a full understanding of BH grammar, vocabulary, and syntax. Instead of the standard textual notes found in the BHS, BHSRE contains lexical notes. So, for every word which occurs less than 70 times, a lexical notes is present. Each lexical note offers the parsing and relevant data, depending on whether the word is a PN, GN, Noun/Adjective, or Verb. Relevant parsing data is expressed via a numbering system.

For those who were taught grammar with the binyamin  Qal, Niphal, Hiphil, etc., understanding lexical notes may initially be difficult. BHSRE uses the standard base stem titles for comparative grammar, such as G, N, and D. Notably, though, the sigla for Hiphil remains H, instead of Š. While this choice is understandable in terms of students, it may have been a better choice to mark the causative with an Š or C.

The binyamin aside, the parsing numbers may be a bit much to memorize; however, this is a good. For, students are able to reference the lexical notes, and subsequently parsing for particular words, without becoming overly dependent on the lexical notes. In other words, it finds middle ground between no parsing support (BHS) and full parsing support (Bible Software).

Another feature of BHSRE is paradigm charts. Quick access to the charts enable students to review verbal forms for which they may have had difficult recognizing. For example, a student may be reading through Psalm 119:43. In it, the student does not recognize the word taṣṣēl. After looking at the lexical notes, the student realizes it is a Hiphil 2MS Jussive. If the student wishes so, he/she can easily turn to the paradigm and review the form in context of other verbal patterns. Such a capabilities are important because they enable an intermediate level student to read a text without worrying about figuring out why a form is what it is.

The last major feature of BHSRE is a concise glossary. Although it is not adequate for thoroughly working through a text, the glossary enables intermediate students to quickly figure out the basic translation value of a word. Consequently, students able to spend more time engaging with the text and less time digging through BDB or HALOT.

In conclusion, I highly recommend BHSRE, particularly for students in intermediate Hebrew. For, even with the lexical notes, one needs a relatively strong grasp of BH. While students should also experience BHS, they should also utilize BHSRE in order to increase their proficiency in BH without becoming overly dependent upon Bible Software. I would go as far as to suggest that students would be better off abandoning Bible Software programs until they’ve become extremely comfortable reading BHSRE. At that point, a student is proficient enough in reading BH in order to use Bible software as a tool, rather than a security blanket.

*I’d like to express my gratitude to the publisher for providing a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

“From Adapa to Enoch” by Seth Sanders

Seth Sanders. From Adapa to Enoch. Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism 167. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2017, 280 pp..

Summary: 

From Adapa to Enoch places the scribal cultures of Judah and Babylon into dialogue, focusing both on their distinctive elements and their shared Aramaic culture. So, he begins by offering an over of the seminal studies of scribal culture by Carr, Van der Toorn, and Milstein. He contends that these major studies do not capitalize on dated cuneiform literature. Such literature shows not only how literary texts were edited, “but for what their editors and users thought about their material, evidence for how they were used and what they meant to people” (p. 10). Following, Sanders illustrates how Heinrich Zimmern’s claim about the importance of Enmeduranki for Enoch is not based in comparison of the two texts. Zimmern’s conclusions, though, are still a staple of how people tend to construe Judean and Babylonian scribal cultures. So, noting the development in how we have come to understand Babylonian apocalyptic thought, provides his base claim: he argues for a Judean scribal culture of reinvention and a Babylonian scribal culture of continuity, and how comparison of these scribal cultures help “illuminate the historically specific creativity of each culture” (23).

Chapter One begins by freshly analyzing “the Mesopotamian evidence on ascent to heaven from the earliest to latest sources, placing both texts and images in historical context” (27). These figures he analyzes are Etana, Dumuzi, and Adapa. Of these three, Dumuzi, he concludes, is relatively insignificant. Similarly, Etana is am important figure; however, literary and culture value of Etana fades after the OB period. Adapa, though, thrives and changes from OB Sumerian texts to Seleucid texts. Such developments occur within a variety of historical contexts. Notably, the texts upon which he draw are not only literary texts; rather, they include ritual and historical texts. So, Sander’s analysis is particularly strong because it draws on a variety of genres. Based on this evidence, he offers an outline of how ancient traditions were developed and transformed into new genres by scribes. Succinctly put, the figure of Adapa began as an ideal moderl for ritual performance/exorcism in the OB period, and he developed into the an important figure for scribal families by the Hellenistic period.

Expanding on the issue of how sages and scribes could claim to have “been” Adapa, Chapter Two explores ancient scribal ontology and epistemology. It considers how scribes/scholars defined themselves in relation to the cosmos. Notably, he comments on European metaphysical assumptions: “To understand Mesopotamian ritual attitudes it will help to bracket European metaphysical assumptions about supernatural presence, and instead attend more precisely to the claims of Mesopotamian texts using the tools of linguistics and anthropology”(72). So, starting with Adapa as a phenomenological starting point in exorcist ritual, he notes that the figure Adapa is donned as a ritual mask. Because this 2,000-year-old idea is evidence for how Mesopotamians talked about themselves, Sanders engages with it. For, in doing so, “it is possible to detail the positions that a ritual participant took in interacting with tradition, and the sense of his place in the cosmos from which the participant spoke and acted in religious contexts” (74). And the question being asked is of divine presence. Consequently, he briefly notes that the tangibility of divine presence (or lack thereof) is our own problem. Ancient scribal ontology was more semiotic. On this basis, (1) the phrase “I am Adapa” by exorcists in Etukū Lemnūtu and (2) the physicality of essence (ME; melammu) indicate the ‘mask’ of Adapa expressed a real, physical essence. By wearing this mask, the exorcist was anabled to animate the principle. He spoke, then, with the principals power and authority without being responsible for the words.

To address how the exorcist met with the divine assembly in the ritual framework, he exames the formula mannam lušpur (“Whom shall I send?”). In an OB incantation, it closes the divide between the divine helper and victim. Yet, when re-arranged in the 1st millenium Maqlû ritual, the exorcist becomes the one who speaks “in a role of divine knowledge and power such that he can elicit cosmic judgement against this evil force and set the universe back in order” (89). Sanders then relates this back to the issue of the divine assembly. Similar to how an exorcist bears a mask in order to suppress his authorship, a divine invites the council to earth. Subsequently, he acts as the judge, even though authority is diverted to Šamaš/Adad.

From a historical angle, this personae was carried by the king; however, scribes assumed the prerogative after native kingship fell. So, scribes became the new royalty with regard to the location of the divine assembly. Sanders notes that divination texts only place such assembly in the proximity of the person doing divination. This, though, is the norm: most divine assemblies meet in Nippur or Babylon. So, by recognizing Mesopotamian ontology and how the universe was structured linguistically, Sanders note two major historical shifts regarding the figure of Adapa. First, while Adapa is first understood as a kingly figure, he comes to be understood as a scribal figure after the fall of native kingship. Second, the theme of ascent to heaven (i.e. Adapa) shifts from generic myth to more personal forms. Even with the unique historical developments, each shift still recognized the “revelation” was normal for the ritualists. A similar development is found within Judean literature during the Persian period.

Shifting from Babylon to Judah, Chapter Three examines how Judean scribes of Ezekiel created new ways of divine transmission of knowledge. This new way was divine knowledge via measurements, a consequence of the hand of the lord seizing Ezekiel. Unlike pre-exilic literature, Ezekiel is the only book to describe the process, or experience, of seeing God. The scribe, though, is careful not to talk about actually seeing God. So, by noting the development of the phrase ‘word of Yahweh’ in Jeremiah from a dramatic event to an open-quote marker (Ezekiel), Sanders suggests this shift can “provide us with a window on an emerging scribal technique, and the attitude toward divine speech it implies” (112). After re-asserting the necessity of a non-Western ontology, he argues that Ezekiel’s language itself may be a way of mediating God’s presence. He argues that this is precisely what the text is designed to do.

Having established that the ‘word of Yahweh’ is more or less not pragmatic in Ezekiel, he consider the role of “the hand of the Lord.” Of the seven appearances of the phrase, each case “is a way of talking about physical events in the world – a world that includes Ezekiel’s person but extends out from it” (123). He concludes this on the basis of the usages and medical background of the phrase qāt ili  or qāt DN “hand of a god/god X.” Notably, the final usage of the phrase ‘hand of the Lord’, Ezekiel is given a new way to transmit knowledge. Rather than communicate visions, he communicates acts of measurements, which subsequently express torah via the temple. Thus, ‘exact knowledge, transmitted through measuring, will allow the Temple and the law to be revealed to Israel” (126). Such a development is important because it represents a movement towards heavenly measurement found in later Judean literature like the Astronomical Book of Enoch, the Temple Scroll, and Songs of the Sabbath  Sacrifice. So, in short, Ezekiel mediates divine presence through numerical measurements and “the hand of the Lord.”

Having established how Ezekiel mediates the presence of Yahweh, and so a sort of early Judean science, Chapter Four shifts into how that plays out in Enoch. In particular , he focuses on how Judean science, namely systematic exact knowledge of the physical world, came to be in the Astronomical Book of Enoch. While texts like Deuteronomy reflect a key assumption of Mesopotamian astral sciences, Aramaic literature breaks with this tradition. Enoch, which is Aramaic literatures, illustrates this shift. The shift incorporates Babylonian astral sciences, where science is “a system of exact knowledge of the physical world” (137). Such a shift in Judean literature, though, has a biblical precedent. In priestly literature, Sanders notes three major division: cosmos, tabernacle, and body. In these divisions, only the tabernacle and body are framed as being revealed. So, Sander’s argues that Enoch is continuous with early priestly literature because it focuses primarily on the revelation of temple and body.

Furthermore, just like how temple and body are revealed in priestly literature, Enoch, frames the revelations with the passive of a causative verb. This indicates that mode of knowledge was based on “God revealed X.” So, revelation is equivalent to scientific knowledge in Enoch. This further suggests that Enoch stands in continuity with biblical traditions and that it should be understand as a new Judean science: revealed science.

His analyses make more evident shared things between Judean and Babylonian scribes. First, although Judeans practiced differently, both groups understood knowledge of the physical world on the basis of a cosmos made of signs. Second, the movement to associate scholars with legendary figures for both scribal cultures occurred during the 6th century BCE, with the death of native kingship around 587 and 539. So, just as Babylonian scribal culture shifted towards cosmic numbers, so did Judean scribal culture. The remaining question, though, is how Aramaic scribal culture functioned as a medium between Babylon and the southern Levant. Chapter Five seeks to answer this question.

In Chapter Five, Sanders traces the historical relation between Babylonian and Judean writers. In particular, he does this through a detailed survey of Aramaic as “a major medium of East Semitic-West Semitic exchange from the Iron Age onward” (156). Prior to analysis and implications of each piece of empirical evidence for West-Semitic adaptation of Mesopotamian texts in Judah, he notes the most evident and commonly recognized examples of textual adaptation. These texts, he notes, reframe something into a narrative. Likewise, Second Temple period Aramaic is typically numerical, which is found in Judean texts. Third, he notes points of literary adaptation between late Judean Aramaic scribes and Mesopotamian scribes.

He then shifts to the first survey of plausible instances exemplifying Mesopotamian tropes and texts adapted into West Semitic contexts. He offers 8 dateable texts which illustrate contact between people within Mesopotamian and West-Semitic contexts. These texts, he argues, indicate the spread of Mesopotamian context to West-Semitic contexts (via Aramaic) in three main channels of communication: “court chanceries, the oral performance of political and legal rituals, and the widespread use of documentary scribes” (188). Through a set of colophons in late scholarly texts, and analysis of relevant data, Sanders suggests that, amongst Aramaic scribes, Mesopotamian scholarly texts on parchment were considered valid, original literary documents. This suggests that Mesopotamian science documents were circulated on parchment by the Seleucid period. Consequently, this exemplifies a clear process by which Mesopotamian elements may have been translated from Aramaic and then into Hebrew.

This allows Sanders to make some important observations about Aramaic scribal culture. First, Aramaic literature of the Persian and Hellenistic periods celebrates a wide variety of cultures and exploits. In other words, it is more cosmopolitan than ethnic because it primarily recalls historical memories as far back as the NA and Egyptian empires. Second, the medium of Aramaic writing replaced the historically predominant medium, namely clay cuneiform. The result of these factors was the explosion of Aramaic scribal culture, which circulated freely, with no material markers of Babylonian identity. In other words, it functioned as scholarly language between Judean and Babylonian scribes.

Having clearly demonstrated the relationship between Judean, Aramaic, and Babylonian scribal cultures, Chapter Six focuses primarily on Judean scribal culture. It asks how Judean scribes expressed their values. That is to say, he examines how Judean scribes oriented themselves to the cosmos. Often times, this was expressed through ‘being god-like’. So, he applies the models of exact evidence of the world (i.e. Judean science) to early Judean literature, focusing on how Judean literary texts provided ritual models for readers and writers. In light of his previous analyses, a productive approach to texts like the Qumran “Self-Glorification Hymn” may be accomplished via tracing its historical relationship to texts with the myth of ascent. Texts like the Hadayot, Sanders notes, utilize the same strategy as Enoch: people are caused to see. So, at Qumran, one studies in order to prepare himself to receive revealed science. This divine role within the Qumran “Self-Glorification Hymn” was underwritten by two major myths. First was the adoption of Moses’ shining face, namely the transformed state of an enlightened sage which parallels the Mesopotamian notion of melammu, and of the term maskilim (from Daniel) in Qumran texts as normative. The second myth is that of light-bearing being who attempt to usurp God’s throne (found in the Epic of Baal; Is. 14:12-14; Ez. 28:6-9); however, the Qumran text reverse the myth: rather than restric proximity to Yahweh, the rhetoric suggests that it was now possible for humans to be in the proximity of God.

Subsequently, he explores how those underwritten myths reflect a broader, dualistic, and concrete understanding of the cosmos, which was essentially a form of Judean science. Notably, these interpretations of earlier myths and texts developed into institutionalized roles. Likewise, language was “part of the ontological framework by which the universe was built” (225). Such realities like divine-light only needed to be realized in religious practice.

In summary, Sanders sets out clear evidence for the relationship between Adapa and Enoch as the scribal heroes of their respective scribal communities; however, he is careful to consider how each scribal hero was unique to their culture. This idea of a scribal hero shared between Babylonian and Judean scribes was likely a result of shared Aramaic scribal culture. Furthermore, the notions of divine presence likely spread to Judean scribes via the “parchment period,” a period during which Aramaic was a primary, common means of knowledge. So, Judean scribes began to explore this issue as a result of the exile. This result in ideas which eventually culminated into a focus on specific measurements, a form of Judean, apocalyptic science. So, by the end of the 1st millennium, Judean scribes shared with Babylonian scribes the notion of a “semiotic ontology in which the universe was shaped by God in language-like ways” (235). For Judeans, this was expressed as narratives, while Babylonians expressed this via cuneiform collections.

Comments: 

Sanders work move forward scholarship about Babylonian and Judean scribal culture in a substantial way, particularly, how the geographically distinct scribal cultures exchanged ideas. Although previous scholars have commented on the role of Aramaic scribal culture, Sanders offers a thorough and convincing argument for the physical means of transmission from Babylon to Aramaic to Judean. Especially in this regard, his analyses will be a primary reference for many years to come.

Furthermore, his ability to connect major theoretical issues with philological rigor is particularly skillful. I refer to his discussion regarding divine presence. Divine presence in Judah and Mesopotamia are both illustrated thoroughly and convincingly. His model is a starting point for any future work on divine presence.

Ultimately, the book is excellent. He is thorough, rigorous, and engages with the texts and theories well. That said, there were a two minor points on which he did not capitalize. These will be brief. First, during his discussion about melammu and the mask of light, there was not reference to Shawn Zelig Aster’s Unbeatable Light (AOAT 384, 2012). To not engage with a text like that is surprising because Aster’s volume is so important.

Second, in Chapter 3 Sanders discusses the role of the “hand of the Lord” in Ezekiel. One thing which he does not capitalize on, though, is variations of the phrase. For example, in Ezekiel 39:21 says: “I set my kbwd among the nations and they shall see my judgement, which I established, and my hand, which I established among you.” It may have be productive to explore how variations of the phrase are applied to figures other than Ezekiel, something I will be doing for a presentation on Psalm 29. This, though, is not too significant of an issue.

Overall, though, Sanders’ arguments pack a punch because they are dripping in philological inquiry, solid theoretical foundation, close textual analyses, and a creative mind. I highly recommend this book to anybody doing any work in Hebrew Bible and Judean literature.

 

 

“The Routledge Encyclopedia of Ancient Mediterranean Religions”

Routledge Encyclopedia of Mediterranean Religions. General editor Eric Orlin. NY, New York: Routledge, 2016, pp. 1054.Religion

In a day and age when new encyclopedias seem to be published every other day, The Routledge Encyclopedia of Ancient Mediterranean Religions (henceforth referenced to as REAMR) is a breath a fresh air. Unlike many specialized encyclopedias, REAMR attempts to offer a general overview of a wide variety of cultures and practices relevant to the Mediterranean. These entries provide a cross-cultural perspective, noting unique and distinct elements of particular topics. Similarly, authors for entries were instructed to focus on writing for the Religious Studies field who did not share that specialty. In other words, a scholars writing an entry about the Hebrew Bible would assume the reader is within the field of Religious Studies; however, it should be oriented to a non-specialist in that particular field, such as a scholar of Islamic Studies.

This was, I think, successful for the most part. Although there were a few problematic entries, they generally presented the information in a clear and concise manner. Because the academic environment encourages inter-disciplinary scholarship, this volume offers an entry point into sub-fields distinct from ones own. Furthermore, the volume covers from the Bronze Age up to Late Antiquity. In terms of the traditions, it attempts to be as comprehensive as possible. So, the volume includes, though is not limited to, Judaism, Roman religion, Greek religion, Persian religion, Ugaritic religion, Canaanite religion, Egyptian religion, South Arabian religion, Zoroastrianism, and Islam. Thus, in terms of its diversity of represented religious traditions, this REAMR is distinguished from other encyclopedias.

Before I offer notes on particular encyclopedia entries, I have one primary criticism of the volume. The beginning of the volume comments on the issue of defining the category of religion: “The term religion is itself disputed, as a number of recent discussions have highlighted. Because we realized early on that we would need to include many headwords to provide cultural background that might not be strictly religious (such as Hellenistic Age), we decided that it was not necessary to offer a specific definition of “religion” in order to exclude material felt to be “non-religious”. (xvii)” They continue by noting that religion was often times not seen as a distinct category from social or cultural. In principle, this decision makes sense.

Even though it is difficult to define religion, the editors of REAMR missed an opportunity. For an entry titled “Religion” could have at least offered a succinct overview of the history of scholarship, problems, and various ways of defining ‘religion.’ This criticism, though, is minor. Even so, the volume is incredibly valuable as a whole. While individuals probably will not purchase this volume, there are two groups in particular for which is will be helpful: small organizations in need of a thorough dictionary on ancient Mediterranean religions [1] and universities with a small library budget. Regarding the latter, the volume is $285 as an eBook (Hardback $408). Because REAMR covers such a wide range of traditions and time periods, though, it is well worth the investment. As far as I am aware, few encyclopedias offer such a comprehensive overview of Mediterranean religious traditions at that price.

Following, I will offer notes on specifics within the volume:

  • Some contributions were unnecessarily lengthy. For example, the entry on ‘Conversion’ is about four pages. So, it seems more like a lengthy argument regarding the topic of Christianity and conversion than an overview/succinct explanation of conversion. Similarly, the following are too lengthy, each for differing reasons: ‘Gnosticism’, ‘Imperial Cult’, ‘Jerusalem’, ‘Jupiter’, ‘Sacred Law’ (6 pages), ‘Mithraeum’, ‘Orphism’, ‘Revelation of John’, and ‘Women’.
  • One contribution is particularly exemplary in terms of providing a broad overview of a major religion topic: ‘Cult Statue’. Although three pages long, it does an excellent job at offering an overview of cult statues in Mesopotamia, Egypt/Northwest Semitic areas, and Greece/Rome (See also the entries on ‘Domestic Religion’, ‘Myth’)
  • The entry on ‘Figurines’ is far too lengthy as an entry. More problematic, though, is that it seems hyper-focused on Greek figurines. It only briefly mentions ancient Near Eastern figures.
  • The entry on ‘Purity’ is far too focused on the Hebrew Bible and ancient Near East. Purity in other contexts is ignored.
  • The beginning of the volume has a series of maps and a chronology. The chronology places the following side-by-side: Near East, Judea, Egypt and North Africa, Greece and Asia Minor, and Italy. Both the maps and chronology are particularly helpful for understanding the broader world events within specific time periods.

Even with these critiques, the volume is excellent. REAMR offers a broad overview of many religious traditions and cultures. Because of this, it is a valuable addition to libraries, in particular to small schools with low budgets. The value of REAMR is well worth the cost.

Typos: pg. 321: “… resemble AGNES” martyrdom.”; pg. 87 “… The Arabization of the Near East let to a decline…” (presumably “led” to a decline); p. 334, ‘Ezra, Vision of’ (the caps formatting is funky).

[1] I make this comment based off my experience visiting a local NPR station. At it, a few encyclopedias were sitting around. I suspect that the were used as general references for reporting on any relevant issues.

“Leadership, Social Memory and Judean Discourse in the Fifth-Second Centuries BCE”

The topic of this volume is fairly straight forward: leadership, social memory, and Judean discourse in the 5th to 2nd centuries BCE. Notably, all the essays assume (1) a living audience and (2) historicity is not an issue. So, I’ll dive right into the contributions.

Ehud Ben Zvi considers how Judeans explored political thought through the understanding(s) of an ideological Israel and memories of the past. These two elements served as a sort of “playground to explore concepts related to political thought in the early Second Temple period” (23). He carefully contextualizes this conceptual playground within an imperial, Persian context. As a Persian satrapy, their king was technically the Persian king; however, this was not compatible with Judean thought. Consequently, their communal memories tend to problematize monarchy. Such problematization was a result of “the historically contingent circumstances of Yehud” (25) within a large satrapy. This contribution is particularly intriguing because it both (1) focuses on Judean thought during the Persian period and (2) engages with the Hebrew Bible as a reflection of political though from that period. With regard to the approach and method, I appreciate the contribution; however, it lacks any focused discussion of particular texts, or even a small group of texts. Likewise, Zvi references the Judeans as “a community.” I wonder, though, to what extent it truly was a unified community. If we view the Hebrew Bible as an example of how Judeans engaged in political thought, it may be beneficial to focus on how various forms of political though reflect various communities of Judeans.

James M. Bos offers an overview of the Hebrew Bible through propaganda theory. In order to deal with the reality that propaganda did not exist prior to WWI, at least as a theory, he works through the characteristics of propaganda in order to offer a definition of ancient propaganda. Finally, he offers a broad-overview of how the collective memory written in the Hebrew Bible can be read, viewed, and analyzed as a form of ancient propaganda. In terms of the approach, I enjoy Bos’ idea. In some ways, it seems obvious that the Hebrew Bible may contain some sort of propaganda. Yet, his definition is problematic. His definition of ancient propaganda does not seem to engage with the broader Near Eastern world. In other words, if he is going to offer a definition for ancient propaganda, it would be better to define it within the spectrum of ancient propaganda in broader cultural and social patterns.

Furthermore, while it may seem obvious that the Hebrew Bible may contain ancient propaganda, further textual analysis in absolutely necessary. For the most part, his analysis consists of referencing themes in various books and offering conjectural comments. For example, after discussing Josiah’s reform as a sort of ancient propaganda, he notes that “negative consequences for competing sacred sites would also have been measurable.” Although this may be true, he offers no further justification for this conjecture. He also comments with statements such as “in Haggai, it is suggested”; however, he does nothing to engage with the text directly. Because the article is full of these types of unsubstantiated conjectures, there are many holes within his thesis. Thus, while I do appreciate his idea of utilizing propaganda theory in viewing the Hebrew Bible, much works needs to be done with regard (1) defining ancient propaganda and (2) substantiating claims about ancient propaganda in the Hebrew Bible.

Kåre Berge examines how biblical books may have possibly legitmated leadership authority. The paper, though, is quite unclear. From the beginning, she claims that the study is about how some biblical books could legitimate leadership authority. She attempts to substantiate this through discussion of scrolls which were “lost” in the Hebrew Bible (Ez. 2-3; Jer. 36; 2 Kgs 22-23). These “lost books” supposedly “legitimize the written ones, giving them a “canonical” authority” (46). Unfortunately, the remainder of the contribution is convoluted and lacks critical analysis of the text itself. Likewise, the contribution is so full of unsubstantiated states beginning with “if”, “would”, “could”, etc. Because the statements are unsubstantiated, her proposal that biblical texts function as a legitimating device for post-exilic Yehud is more of an undeveloped idea than an argument. For example, the notion that “lost books” give “canonical authority” is far-fetched. There is no discussion as to why this is so. This sort of thing occurs throughout the contribution: there are many ideas without any discussion about the text itself. In conclusion, I found this contribution to be lacking in clarity, purpose, and argumentation.

Reinhard Müller analyzes Deuteronomy’s law on kingship, their divergence from traditional Near Eastern/Israel/Judah concepts of kingship, and their meaning (i.e. literary and historical contexts). First, Müller argues that Israelite monarchy is not prominent in the literary context of Deut. 17. Then, he focuses on Deut. 17:14-20 and argues that vss. 18-19 were a later addition. Third, after a lengthy philological discussion, Müller convincingly argues that notions of kingship in Deut. 17 may have developed in light of 1 Sam. 8. Consequently, the lack of monarchic functions in Deuteronomic law may be a reaction to the failed monarchy within 1 Samuel. Returning to the late additions, namely, vss. 18-19, Müller relates the textual elements about following Torah in Deut. 5:32-6:2 and Deut. 31:12-13. Because the two aforementioned verses are about how the general public engage with Torah, he suggests that the king’s relationship with Torah is meant to be more intimate than the common people. In light of this textual analysis, he suggests that Deut. 17 is an implicit etiology for the downfall of the monarchy because historical kingship failed. Deut. 17 also indicates that kingship is not necessary for Israel’s identity, at least theoretically.  Furthermore, he suggests that the centrality of writing and reading Torah for the kings may reflect how scribes perceived themselves in Persian period Yehud.

Without a doubt, this is the best contribution in this volume. Unlike the others, it offers a thorough philological analysis of the text. Likewise, the analysis is substantiated and offers a new way to understand how the notion of kingship developed in Judean literature. I highly recommend this article for anybody researching kingship in Yehud/Judah.

Viewing Genesis to 2 Kings as a literary experiment (via narrative) of political theory, Geoffrey P. Miller briefly examines 6 narratives. In these narratives, the theory of theocracy is explored; however, as the narrative demonstrates, theocracy tends to fail throughout the biblical narrative. This article begins with an excellent premise. I am in full favor of reading Genesis to 2 Kings as a sort of literary experiment of political theory; however, Miller offers no discussion texts. Rather, he offers general themes of texts in order to demonstrate how it is explores political theory. In each of the six examples, he fails to explicitly engage with the Hebrew Bible. Were Miller to engage with the text, he would have a strong article. His premise is a great approach to the text. Yet, the lack of critical analysis of the text and unsubstantiated claims is highly problematic.

Christophe Nihan analyzes and compares various discussion regarding Davidic kingship in Ezekiel (esp. Ez. 4-24 , 37/37, and 40-48). For each representation of utopian Davidic kingship, Nihan thoroughly works through the respective texts. After this analysis, he concludes that each representation in Ezekiel expresses a distinct, royal utopia. First, the early texts (Ez. 4-24) tend to represent the Davidic ruler as an administrator for the deity. Then, in Ez. 34/37, the Davidic ruler is removed from military leadership; rather, he is simply the agent of the deity with respect to political and cult issues. Finally, in Ezk. 40-48, the Davidic leader is primarily a cult leader. Flexibility in Ezekiel’s portrayal of the Davidic leader is important because it demonstrates how Ezekiel “seeks not so much to de-emphasize or criticize royalty but to reinterpret it significantly from a distinctive, utopian perspective” (103). Nihan’s quality of argumentation and philological reasoning are thorough and, consequently, construct a solid argument regarding Davidic kingship in Ezekiel. This contribution is, arguably, next to Reinhard Müller’s contribution in terms of scholarly rigor.

Terje Stordalen  argues that Job 29-30 reflects a rhetoric which reflects the natural of social discourse is local formation. Thus, the chapters may reflect expectation about local leaders in the Southern Levant. Like other contributions, this chapter is a good idea; however, it is problematic. First of all, Stordalen attempts to establish Job 29-30 as filling “a role in the second part of the dialogue that is somehow comparable to the role played by Job’s curse and lament (ch. 3) in the first part” (114). This framework, though, makes broad claims about the entire structure of Job. Stordalen’s division, though, lacks any substantial argumentation as to why Job is structured the way argued for. Thus, this first part of the article is unnecessary and weak. The second part of the contribution, though, is much stronger. First, he argues for the presentation of Job as an elder in Job 29-30. Then, by drawing on an anthropological of late traditional Chinese society as a possible framework, he suggests that Job’s speech in 30:32-8 reflects typical speech by top leaders in a society. Consequently, this role of a leader speaking down the societal latter is reversed through rhetoric. Within this reversal, Stordalen argues that the only “leader” quality which Job does not lose is rhetorical excellence. In short, I think Stordalen has tapped into an intriguing thing, namely understanding the notions of elders in the Southern Levant via the social expectation of one in a text. Unfortunately, he lacks focus on the text itself.

Drawing on the social memory of foreign kings from the Persian and Hellenistic periods, Thomas M. Bolin utilizes archaeology and textual evidence in order to reconstruct a world view of possible Judean readers. In particular, he focuses on how people remembered kings. Regarding pre-Persian and Hellenistic texts, Bolin offers an overview, noting that “the default portrayal of Yahweh’s attitude toward foreign rulers… is that he views them as instruments of his will regarding Israel” (136). Then, he utilizes the Chroniclers account of 2 Kings 23 in order to illustrate how Persian/Hellenistic social memory has maintained the belief of kings as Yahweh’s unwitting servants; however, Chronicles expands this attitude by further intensifying these attitudes. Notably, Bolin acknowledges that a source-critical approach may suggest these changes by the Chronicler as intentional; however, he cautions that the intentionality is not necessary because “memories are shaped over long periods of time and change can often be seen as organic” (138). Social memory of kingship is more complex with regard to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel, wherein his relationship with God is reimagined. It is reimagined by focusing on a more positive memory of Yahweh towards Nebuchadnezzar, and negative memory of his son, Belshazzar. These varying reflections on kingship reflect various social locations of different groups of scribes and elite males, argues Bolin. While this may be true, it isn’t necessarily the case. For, it may be that one scribe or elite group reflected on kingship in a variety of ways. Thus, while it is true that people constructed memories of kingship in different ways, Bolin doesn’t contributes anything substantial in terms of what it actually means and why it is significant.

Beate Ego examines the crossroads of Persian/Hellenistic ideology and the book of Esther as a political theology. Notably, her contribution is explicitly a summary of her forthcoming series in Biblischer Kommmentar. Therefore, there is much argumentation and data which is missing from the piece. In short, though, she first establishes that Esther is structured as a reversal structure. Following, she contextualizes the importance of prostrating in Esther to the broader cultural scheme, namely the issue of Greeks prostrating to Persians. Likewise, the dat of the Persians, Ego notes, comes into conflict with the Torah of the Jews. A brief criticism, though: we should be careful when noting the Torah as the dat of the Jewish people, for we don’t know exactly what constitutes Torah for Esther. Next, she highlights a few terms which may highlight the historico-theological dimension of Esther, or the idea of Israel’s redemption. With this established, she suggests that Esther should be dated to a period in which somebody would have known both Persian and Greek culture. Finally, she suggests that Purim functions as a communal expectation of future salvation. In general, this contribution was solid; however, it seems to have overstated the argument for Esther and Purim as “expectations of salvation.” I confess, though, that this is difficult to judge or critique, for this contribution is merely a summary of a 463 page study.

Anne Fitzpatrick-McKinley’s contribution reconstructs a highly plausible historical situation of the Nehemiah Memoir. She does so by examining the dynamics between various parties in NM and by comparing those dynamics with other group dynamics from the Persian period. Following this analysis, she compares the presentation of Nehemiah’s leadership in NM with its later reception in Maccabees and Ecclesiasticus. This contribution is particularly valuable. Her comparison of NM political leadership with forms of political leadership in other regions, such as Tayma, Paphlygonia, Mysia, and Lycia, contextualize social and political dynamics of NM within the broader picture of the Persian empire. I highly recommend this article for those seeking to understand the history of the post-exilic Judah.

Lynette Mitchell examines three Greek constitutions from the 5th century BCE. She then consideres how these constitutions were used and why they were important. To be completely honest, I have no experience in studying classics. Thus, I am unable to comment on the quality of the contribution. I can say, though, that it seems very out of place. In a volume about Judean social memory in the 5th century BCE, a contribution on Greek political thought is an odd addition.

Wolfgang Oswald compares 1 Samuel 8 with the “Constitutional Debate” in Herodotus’s Histories. In particular he compares how each text explore alternative forms of government. On the bases of 1 Samuel 8 and all of the DH, he suggests that, perhaps, 1 Sam 8 was the first treatise on political theory of state. While this contribution is interesting, it makes no significant observations. Nor does it introduce any challenging ideas. In the comparison of Histories with 1 Samuel 8, he paints with large strokes. These strokes, though, seem more like generic musings than actual arguments. In short, this contribution was well-written with some interesting thoughts, such as a suggestion that 1 Samuel 8 should be read as the first political theory of state. Besides that, though, the contribution lacked strong arguments and grounds for comparison of the texts.

Diana V. Edelman analyzes Judges 13-16 (the Samson narrative) in light of Herakles and Alexander. In doing so, she makes a strong argument for the possibility of how Hellenistic Jews may have understood Samson. Notably, she has strong grounds for the comparison, such as the tendency to associate ancestry with Herakles, coins bearing the image of Herakles, and late comparisons between Samson and Herakles (Church Fathers, Middle Ages). Through comparison of Samson and Herakles, Edelman notes 11 characteristics of Herakles and Samson. If those features were known about Herakles in a Jewish context, they may have influenced the understanding. She furthers this by comparing Samson with Alexander, who was said to have been from the bloodline of Herakles. This portion of the argument, though, is much weaker. Because Samson may have been understood as a leader who misuses power against the Philistines, she claims that Alexander may have helped to inform that, though. In claiming this, though, she fails to demonstrate any Hellenistic Jewish link between Alexander/Herakles and Samson. Thus, while this is all an interesting theory, it remains a possibility and nothing more.

Ann-Mareike Schol-Wetter compares how Judith and 1 Maccabees create an image of Israel, namely of its enemies, organization, and ideal population. In Judith, she concludes that there are not “good” Jews and “bad” Jews; rather, “zeal” in the book of Judith is used to construct an in-and an out-group. On the other hand, the “zeal” in 1 Maccabees focuses more on the “enemy within.” Furthermore, biblical predecessors of Judith includes the young version of David (i.e. the David (1) who is not in office and (2) is a model of faith and initiative). On the other hand, 1 Maccabees focuses on the priestly and military office of David. Finally, based on the previous analyses, she notes that Israel’s organization is a dynastic government in 1 Maccabees; however, Israel’s organization in the book of Judith is more like that of a strong, “antidynastic figure” who operates on her own strength and will-power. Thus, through comparison of the biblical predecessors,  understandings of “zeal”, and broader notions of social organization in 1 Maccabees and Judith, Schol-Wetter makes a strong argument for Judith simply as a different understanding of Judean identity. Whereas 1 Maccabees is concerned with the internal aspect of Judean identity, Judith is more focused on the issue of Jew vs. non-Jew. This article is a wonderful contribution. Her examination of the texts are thorough and nuanced, unlike many of the contributions throughout this volume. This contribution is a must for people interested in early Jewish constructions of identity.

In conclusion, this volume is a mixed bag. It contains a select few articles which make convincing and thorough arguments. For the most part, though, many of the contributions are not based in strong analysis of the literature at hand and weak argumentation for both conclusions and comparative methods.

 

 

“A History of Biblical Israel” by Ernst Axel Knauf and Philippe Guillaume

Ernst Axel Knauf and Philippe Guillaume. A History of Biblical Israel: The fate of the tribe and kingdoms from Merenptah to Bar Kochba. Bristol, CT: Equinox Publishing, 2016, pp. 266.

Grappling with and reconstructing a history of ancient Israel and Judah is a particularly difficult task. The data is challenging to work through due to things like the scarcity of relevant inscriptions and the redaction of biblical traditions and literature. Knauf and Guillaume, though, attempt such a reconstruction. They do so by framing the history within a timespan: Merenptah to Bar Kochba. Thus, they reconstruct a history between c. 1208 BCE and 136 CE. Guillaume and Knauf break up the timeframe by dividing it into three segments: pre-history of biblical Israel, formation of biblical Israel in the Persian period, and fragmentation of biblical Israel (Hellenistic and Roman periods).

Furthermore, Knauf and Guillaume continue by defining terminology for significant words: Israel (covers realities from various time periods), history, and history of Israel. On the point of history, they offer a helpful introduction to how the discipline of history can function. To explain one aspect of it, they choose for focus on conjonctures, “a French word meaning circumstances used mainly in economics” (4). So, in their reconstruction of ancient Israel, one major focus is the wave of circumstances especially in relation to the resources and wealth of the region. Additionally, regarding history of Israel, Guillaume and Knauf are careful to note the issue of bias with primary texts, whether the Hebrew Bible or Babylonian Chronicles. Consequently, they choose to position themselves between minimalists and maximalists. This positioning, though, does not offer a method for delineating between what may be a more accurate representation of the past and what may be narrative flourishes written by the texts editors.

Guillaume and Knauf then define four more notions: time (especially chronology); space (i.e. topography, altitude, geography, etc.); peasants, urbanites, and nomads (dependent on the conjoncture, time, and space); toponyms; and epochs/conjonctures. Regarding the fifth notion, the periods tended to be constructed by the elite class and do “not reflect socio-political phenomena, which are characterized by continuity rather than by clear-cut period” (22). As a solution, they suggest organizing history into century categories, each reflecting about a 100 year period. For Israel, 796 BCE – 734 BCE is a “short” eight century, while 734 BCE – 609 BC is a “long” seventh century. This way to categorize periods, though, is somewhat convoluted. It lacks explanation and does not offer further evidence for why such categorization is valuable. Additionally, they choose to place Israel’s history within the “macron-history of the Mediterranean systems through  braudel’s economic conjonctures” (23). In other words, they utilize trade and economy within the Mediterranean world in order to draw on the conjonctures of each period. This is one of the strongest points of the method, namely utilizing economic patterns throughout the Mediterranean as a broader economic framework for the history of Israel.

In Chapter One, Knauf and Guillaume argues that ancient Israel emerged in a context of shasu and ‘apiru who began to display more formal clan organization. With the climate change in the LB Age, a power vacuum enabled various tribal units to form, such as the Philistines. Furthermore, they suggest that the cultural memory of Exodus may be derived from a tendency of Canaanite groups to be captured on Egyptian “slave-hunting” expedition or to migrates to Egypt in times of famine. Chapter Two works through the rise of proto-Israelite tribes. After offering a theoretical approach that “rural and urban populations adapted to economic and politic changes by alternating between one mode and the other” (43), namely between more nomads and urban. They support this theory by considering the small tribes in Palestine in context of the Pax Aegytptiaca, in which economic development of the region was encouraged through trade networks with Egypt. They further attempt to figure out from where various tribes may have emerged; however, this portion lacks substantive arguments and is highly conjectural. Finally, they offer some thoughts on the religious background of Israel.

Chapter Three situates the successful rise of Saul and state formation in the copper production and trade routes of Midean, Edom, and various other iron or copper centers. Although highly conjectural and only based on possible correlation between biblical texts and the ‘Arabah copper mines, they claim that Saul’s son, Eshbaal, was the one who expanded the wealth and power of the tribe of Benjamin. This entire argument, though, is based on a particular reading Samuel. It lacks any real argument of substance. David, father of the tribal state of Judah, may have attempted to destabilize Saul’s rule. Uprisings by Absolom illustrate the fragility of David’s rule, though. For the remainder of the chapter, Knauf and Guillaume work through the biblical representation of Solomon, Jereboam I, the revival of Egyptian influence, and religion and literature of the period. Again, though, the use of the Hebrew Bible is problematic. Many references to it seems to function more as a way to support a pre-constructed thesis. This goes back to an earlier point that the book lacks any sort of method, or actual examples, or working critical through texts in the Hebrew Bible.

Chapter Four considers the consolidation of Levantine kingdoms as a consequence of shifting economic and power structures. Judah, Knauf and Guillaume suggest, was drawn into  the “revival of Mediterranean trade” through peace with Israel and marriage to the daughter of an Aramean (possibly) king, namely Omri. Omri vied for power via a military coup. Now in power, Assyrians considered Omri to be the founder of the kingdom of Israel. Within this dynasty, the Omrides may have placed the Canaanites into forced labour (Judges 1:27-28). Throughout Chapter Four, they outline the victories of losses of various leaders up to Jereboam II. Notably, Hazael is given a special place in the chapter for how he shook off the Assyrian hold. Finally, they review religion in the 9th century BCE, religious expansion by Jereboam II, and religion in the 8th century BCE. Like previous chapters, there are many interesting tidbits; however, for the most part, the writing in convoluted, difficult to follow, and does not thoroughly engage with the primary source material. If one is to be between a minimalist and maximalist, one must also explain how to decide what reflects the past and what does not.

Chapter Five highlights the climax as Judah and it ideology in Deuteronomistic literature by considering the integration of Judah and Israel into the Neo-Assyrian empire. Contextually, Phoenician  trade between Tyre and Sidon decreased, while Philistine trade increase. Consequently, Judah strengthened, while Israel declined. They further detail the how the Neo-Assyrian military functioned and how the military incorporated Israel and Judah into the empire. Finally, they outline important religious developments and literature in the late 8th and early 7th century. While the history reconstructed is helpful, there are many claims which are not substantiated. For example, Knauf and Guillaume use Ps. 82 as evidence that Yahweh was replacing Ashur as the highest deity; however, Ps. 82 references El, not Ashur. In other words, they use a support text without explaining why it supports their point. Likewise, they suggest that Manasseh’s shedding of innocent blood may “reflect the suppression of an opposition group that held the kind of anti-Assyrian ideas that inspired the… politics of the last kings of Judah” (120). While this may be the case, they offer no convincing  explanation for how or why this may be the case, save for the Chroniclers revision of Manasseh. In short, they often reference the Hebrew Bible; however, there tends too be little to no critical discussion of the texts.

Chapter Six discuses Judah during the Neo-Babylonian Empire. He focuses on the three deportations of the elite from Judah to Babylon. From these deportations, he suggests that they produced four rivaling Judean groups: an ultra-conservative group focused on the absence of Yahweh (Ezekiel in Babylon), a group focused on the legitimacy of the Davidic dynasty (Books of Samuel-Kings), the prophet-poetic tradition (Second-Isaiah), and the Jeremiah group which remained in Yehud (Jeremiah). The traditions from each of these groups “reflect the controversy over the correct policy under Babylonian rule regarding the concrete political demands of the Judean elite towards their Babylonian overlords” (141). This division is a valuable division of traditions. Thus, it is helpful for making sense of how the Judean population dealt with the new rule of the Neo-Babylonians. Chapter Six is, I think, one of the stronger chapters in the work. It offers the most thorough discussion of texts and draws from a variety of textual records.

Chapter Seven focuses on how the shift to the Persian Empire impacted Judean identity. The religious conflict which occurred during the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar II and Nabonidus, they argue, contributed to the movement towards monotheism. This was further reinforced by Cyrus’ capture of Babylon. Whether worshippers of Marduk, Sin, Ahuramazda, or Yahweh, they construct a history in which a supreme deity is becoming the norm. Between 582-525 BCE, Judean population decreased, they argue, because commerce shifted away from the Philistine controlled coast. Thus, many people migrated in order to find more favorable economies. Although a diverse group ideologically, Knauf and Guillaume suggest that Cyrus’ capture of Babylon may have reinforced the idea that Marduk and Ahuramazda “were other names for YHWH” (155). While one may claim that those were names for deities below YHWH, it seems far-fetched to claim that they were other names for Yahweh. Following, working through the period in which Jerusalem exiles returned to Yehud, they suggest that the re-establishment of Jerusalem may have been a strategic move. This move would enable the Persians to defend the Palestinian land bridge. This movement enabled Darius I to organizes the Persian Empire. This government, religious, and social organization is briefly explored in relation to the broader historical conjoncutres and Yehud. One difficult with Chapter Seven was clarity. The majority of it is convoluted. And it is oftentimes difficult to follow a single train of thought or logic.

Chapter Eight works through how conditions in the Persian Empire and Yehud may have given rise to an identity based on biblical Israel. Drawing primarily from Ezra-Nehemiah, Knauf and Guillaume reconstruct the conflict between Nehemiah and other groups. They are careful to note that the importance of these conflicts should not be exaggerated. Based on the social unrest represented in Nehemiah, they suggest that the Persian Empire may have desired returnees to Yehud in order to strengthen the economy. By strengthening the economy, the region would be enabled to supply Persian troops moving towards Egypt. This would only occur through increased manpower, which would come from the elite returnees. South of Yehud, the colony at Elephantine exemplifies the similarities and differences as Judean immigrants. In an awkward shift, they discuss the economic and political situations of Arabia and Idumea. Returning to Yehud, they offer a brief overview of the conflict between Samaria and Yehud, a conflict which reinforced an identity as biblical Israel. Regarding Ezra, they claim that the Torah, a collection of traditional material, was (1) serving to legitimate every Jew across the empire and (2) endorsed by the Persian administration as a sort of “Imperial Religious Police Department.” While point two is valuable, I doubt that the Torah necessarily legitimated every Jew. After all, to what extent can we view Ezra as an accurate representation of the past? Following, Knauf and Guillaume briefly illustrates how Torah’s demand for sacrifice served to strengthen Judean identity, both in terms of ritual practice and language. It seems, though, like they assume that all Torah traditions are rooted in the Persian period, which is not necessarily true. Their discussion of the role of Torah in forming Judean identity is, I think, almost too convenient and also convoluted. Finally, the discuss the other literary developments, the legacy of Bethel, and the newfound rule of Alexander. This chapter, like others, is often time convoluted. It is not always clear what Knauf and Guillaume are trying to do or where they are trying to take the reader.

Part III conclude works from the Ptolemaic administration in Alexandria, Egypt until the end of the Bar Kochba revolt. Chapter 9 briefly describes how Greek rulers only permitted Jerusalemite elite to act as tax collectors. Then, it briefly describes the various Hellenistic biblical texts. Chapter 10 outlines how Antiochus III of the Seleucid Empire permitted more autonomy to Yehud and how books like Tobit and the Books of Sirach exemplify Hellenistic influence upon Judeans. Based upon this autonomy granted to Yehud, they construct a history of the Maccabean revolt as a type of Jewish civil war. After the Seleucid empire collapsed, John Hyrcanus, Aristobulus I, and Salome Alexandra led the new nation of Judah. Throughout Chapter 10, though, Knauf and Guillaume offer a few places where a book “may” have been composed (i.e. Maccabees in the court of John Hyrcanus, Esther during the reign of Queen Salome, etc.). These possibilities, though, are not substantiated. Less conjectural thoughts and more substantial arguments would strengthen this chapter. Finally, Chapter 11 outlines the social, political, and economic conditions which led to the eventual rebellions and formation of Rabbinic Judaism.

As a text attempting to reconstruct a history, I had one major issue: it never attempts to offer a critical readings of the multitude of texts from which it draws. Particularly with regard to biblical texts, Knauf and Guillaume rarely took the time to work through the text which purportedly supported, or contributed to, their construction of history. Time and time again, they reference biblical texts without any discussion of the particular text. For example, they suggest that Marduk makes a veilded appearance in Gen 1:1-8 via the appearance of Tehom (Tiamat) (p. 148). Whether or not tehom references Tiamat, though, is not conclusive or agreed upon within scholarship. In other words, they utilize the text without approaching it critically.

Additionally, the book was somewhat convoluted. While the flow of some arguments was sometimes clear, it was sometimes difficult to follow the logic of the text. For example, Section 8.3 (p. 177-78) discusses the role of the Elephantine colony. In particular, the difference between biblical social standards and those of Elephantine is being addressed. Section 8.4 (p. 178), though, suddenly shifts to the impact of the Egyptian rebellion upon Persian rule in Arabia. The lack of continuity between 8.3 and 8.4 is obvious, as the ideas fail to connect in any logical way. This problem occurs consistently throughout the work. As a result, it is very difficult to understand what they are trying express.

On a more positive note, I did appreciate how they approach their reconstruction with particular regard to the conjonctures. Were the book primarily concerned with that, I may have enjoyed it more. Unfortunately, its aims and scope may have been too broad for its own good.

In conclusion, I do not recommend this book for research purposes. As an introduction, I tentatively recommend it. As a basic outline of ancient Israelite history and development of religious thought, there are some little tidbits which are valuable. For the most part, though, it is intertwined with unsupported claims and uncritically examined ideas. Thus, an inexperienced reader may fail to recognize the differences between substantiated claims and conjectures with no support.

UPDATE (6/26/2017): I forgot to mention one important detail. Throughout the book, Knauf and Guillaume make reference to various images, iconography. They fail, though, to engage with the iconography as things which need to be interpreted. Just as the Hebrew Bible requires a interpretation, so do the image from the ancient world. Thus, discussion of iconography would have strengthened their arguments.