Review: “The Oxford Handbook of the Pentateuch” edited by Joel S. Baden and Jeffrey Stackert

With resources on Pentateuchal studies spread out and difficult to access in a single location, save for The Formation of the Pentateuch (Mohr Siebeck), Joel Baden and Jeffrey Stackert’s The Oxford Handbook of the Pentateuch is a welcome addition to biblical scholarship. Indeed, the information this volume covers is extensive, and the contributions are thorough. As with any review of an Oxford handbook, a review can be voluminous (i.e., interacting with every chapter) or brief (i.e., providing a stamp of approval or denial). In this review, I aim to be brief.

First, this volume is pedagogically beneficial because it provides a wealth of accessible introductions to various aspects of pentateuchal studies. Such material may be helpful especially for upper-level undergraduates, graduate students, and non-specialists interested in pentateuchal studies. Such benefit is true especially for the chapters that summarize and synthesize scholarship history and provide simple, approachable examples source criticism. Even so, some aspects of the volume are less helpful pedagogically and may be helpful mainly to scholars. For example, Ehud ben Zvi’s chapter on social memory, while valuable for scholarship more broadly, reads more like a call to a particular approach than an introduction and scholarship overview. That is, the extent to which Ehud ben Zvi’s would be helpful in a classroom is questionable.

Second, though an unavoidable problem and not necessarily the editors’ fault, the handbook does not capture or represent key scholarship from recent years. One such example is Liane Feldman’s The Story of Sacrifice: Ritual and Narrative in the Priestly Source. (Click here for a summary of her work.) Similarly, Sara Milstein’s Making a case: The Practical Roots of Biblical Law is not referenced, a work arguing that we view biblical law are rooted not in law collections but rather in legal-pedagogical texts. Although this book has not had sufficient time to experience academia’s crucible of innovative ideas that push against traditional scholarship and dearly held positions, such an addition would have been welcome. In any case, these works are not referenced. Thus, readers should know that other approaches not discussed in the handbook are emerging. These chapters have their limitations.

Indeed, folks immersed in pentateuchal studies will like take issue with representations of scholarship, as is the case in any Oxford handbook. Even so, aside from these two comments on the volume, the handbook is a welcome, helpful, and accessible contribution to the sometimes convoluted, complex, and dense subject that is pentateuchal studies.