“In Defense of the Liberal in the Study of Religion” by Jeffrey Stackert


University of Chicago Divinity School, Swift Hall

Jeffrey Stackert teaches Biblical Studies at the University of Chicago Divinity School. In this very short article, he makes some important points about the relationship between the study of religion, conservatives, and liberals. I encourage non-specialists [1], whether liberal or conservative, to read this because it is very straightforward and easy to grasp.

Click here to read.

[1] Non-specialist simply means you don’t study this stuff for a living; it is not intended to be pejorative or a demeaning term.


Ritual Applications of Salt in Mesopotamian Texts

SaltI’m primarily posting this article from a book published in 2010 for my own records. Though, I do hope that somebody will find use of the article. I have a few ideas percolating in my brain involving salt and ritual.

“In addition to its various utilitarian functions , literary evidence confirms that salt served several purposes in ritual activities across the ancient Near East. For example, Mesopotamian texts describe the use of salt in animal and vegetable sacrifices, incense offerings, various magical rites, and ritual curses. Salt is cited also in the analogies of Mesopotamian omen literature.”
– Jeffrey Stackert (Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible; Associate Faculty in the  Department of Classics and the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago)
Read the complete article here:

“A Prophet Like Moses” by Jeffrey Stackert

A Prophet Like Moses: Prophecy, Law, and Israelite Religion by Jeffrey Stackert. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2014, viii + 243 pp., $74, hardcover.

*I would like to express my gratitude to Oxford University Press for providing a review copy of A Prophet Like Moses by Jeffrey Stackert.

An emerging and ground-breaking biblical scholar, Jeffrey Stackert’s first book, Rewriting the Torah: Literary Revision in Deuteronomy and the Holiness Legislation (Mohr Siebeck, 2007), resulted in bestowment upon him of the 2010 John Templeton Award for Theological Promise. Currently teaching at the University of Chicago Divinity School, his second publication will significantly further his already established authority in biblical studies.

Chapter One discusses Wellhausen’s impact the relationship between law and prophecy in the Torah, especially critiquing his coincidental correspondence between law and prophecy (15) and choice not to distinguish J and E. Additionally, rooting his analysis of the Torah in various concrete, historical settings, Stackert emphasizes that “the Torah sources engage in historical discourse for precisely… their conceptualizations of prophecy’s attenuation and demise” (31). Chapter Two turns to the literary characterization of Moses’ prophetic character, initially presenting four reason why he is not denoted a prophet. Following,  he demonstrates that Moses’ greater literary context, the ancient Near East, indicate his legitimate status as a prophet. He then narrows his focus to briefly analyze a variety of textual traditions, especially J, E, and D, to demonstrate that the Torah does portray Moses as a prophet.

Chapter Three, through tracing E’s narrative trajectory, analyzes five major passages: “Exod 3*-4*, 19-20*, and 33:6b-11; Num 11*-12*; and Deut 34:10-12” (71). In short, Stackert concludes “that E’s Moses stands as a singular prophet” (125), acting with in an extreme anti-prophetic sense and promoting law over prophecy. Chapter Four examines D’s unique appropriation and approbation of E, its literary fund. After analyzing Deut 1:9-18, 5:1-31, 13:2-6, and 18:9-22, he concludes that D expects some sort of prophetic action with its historical context. In response, D authorizes prophecy under the auspice that the prophet is derivative of Mosaic authority. D’s extension of prophetic authority “is one in which law and prophecy exist in a hierarchical relationship rather than being mutually exclusive options” (166), as E presents. Because there is far less direct reference or allusion to prophecy, Stackert discusses both P and J in Chapter Five. P, he concludes, is unique in that it simply views Moses as sole prophet of Israelite religion because of “the divine law mediated by Moses” (174). With P, H advocates for a priestly mediatory figure. And as Stackert succinctly notes P’s claims, “There once was a prophet who instituted a religious system in which there is no place for prophecy” (172), concluding that P holds an antiprophetic stance. Chapter Six, after initially reviewing the breadth of perspectives on ancient Israelite religion, discusses how Wellhausen, even in his attempt to distinguish the theological from historical, was unknowingly driven by his own perspective on religion. As a conclusion, he argues that biblical studies should be studied within the realm of humanities, such as ancient Near Eastern studies, rather than the realm of theology, noting his own study as one which provides “a richer and more nuanced appreciation of some distinctive views of prophecy and law in the history of Israelite religious thought” (208).

Stackert accomplishes his goal of demonstrating the breadth of theological tradition in the history of Israelite religion. Most praiseworthy is his ability to locate and draw out the nuances between the various sources. As he notes, many scholars overlook certain aspect of the sources and generalize based on the work of Wellhausen. Yet, by providing reason to doubt certain aspects of Wellhausen’s work, he illustrates the importance of each sources trajectory regarding prophecy and law, providing analysis essential to any future study of prophecy in the Torah and Moses’ literary character.

As for points of disagreement, there was only one place in which his argumentation needed more support. Chapter Five notes that “two specific omissions from P emphasize its antiprophetic stance… because P addresses the question of the performance of religious practices that YHWH did not sanction” (171). Stackert then draws of Nadab and Abihu’s death (Lev 10:1-2) and Korah’s death (Num 16), both P material, as evidence that “religious innovation provokes a fatal divine response” (172), his reason that post-Mosaic prophecy is not permitted in P. Yet to compare these two passages is inadequate evidence for such a claim. Leviticus 10:16-20 specifically notes Aaron’s error, perhaps intentional, in failing to eat the goat in the sanctuary, as Moses commanded. If God is against religious innovation, or differences in what he commands, Aaron should have died as well. He did not, and was in fact justified in his religious innovation. Thus, Stackert’s use of the beginning of the narrative in Leviticus 10 fails to take into account the greater complexities of the passage. In summary, his argument that P opposes religious innovation is weak in that he fails to explore or note the complexities of Leviticus 10’s narrative, leaving him with only one argument for P’s stance against religious innovation.

Even so, A Prophet Like Moses is valuable for research relating to the prophetic nature of the Torah and Moses, as it presents a ground-breaking and unique perspectives on how to understand the relationship between prophecy, law, and Moses. Stackert’s nuanced approach, additionally, demonstrates a focused approach on the history of Israelite religion and may be used as a guide for future research due to how it understands the complex dynamics of law and prophecy. And because his focus draws on the historical dynamics of law and prophecy, it opens doors for much future research regarding each source’s unique time period. In conclusion, Stackert’s nuanced analysis of the Hebrew Bible and willingness to look beyond generalized dynamics between law, prophecy, and Moses allow his work to potentially become a launch pad for future studies exploring the nature of the multi-faceted, historically rooted, theological traditions of ancient Israel.

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