Torah Torah Torah 2

2 – Other major documents:

The book of Deuteronomy, abbreviated D , stands off by itself, distinct from the J/E/P strands in the “Tetrateuch” as the first four are sometimes called. Its very opening phrase “These are the words that Moses spoke…” testifies to a prior history as an oral transmission before it was written down. When was it committed to writing? Certainly not by Moses, since this is where his death is described, and the phrase “no-one knows the place of his burial to this day” (Deut. xxxiv:6) implies long hindsight. It is a well-accepted theory that this is the book of the law discovered in the Temple during the reign of Josiah by Huldah (the “dean of the women’s college”? “abbess of the nunnery”? Her title says something interesting about women’s role at the time, although it is hard to be sure what): catch-phrases and words from Deuteronomy, particularly the enigmatic divine title El Shaddai (“God Almighty” in the KJV; actual etymology and significance quite uncertain), begin to be echoed in the prophets from Jeremiah on, where they are not found in First Isaiah. The more cynical skeptics therefore tend to assume that D was actually written during the reign of Josiah, since we have experience of other books purporting to be from ancient times which have been hidden away and “just now found” (Daniel, IV Esdras). The age of the language, however, suggests otherwise; the dismay of king Josiah at seeing the great discrepancy between the religion of D and the practices of his own day (he “tears his clothes” to hear the words of the book, II Kings xxii:11), and the reforming zeal which was then inspired, seem perfectly genuine. Professor Mendenhall at U-Michigan suggested that D was committed to writing by the prophet Samuel: the speeches in chapters xxxii-xxxiii presume that Israel has been settled in Canaan for quite some time, and seem to be making specific political commentary about the attitudes of the author’s time, with xxxiii:5 telling the people to consider YHWH their only king, a pointed reference if the author is Samuel.

The book of Joshua has been considered a continuation of J (the “Hexateuch” theory), and Judges and Samuel a continuation of D (the “Octateuch” theory). The editor of Judges and Samuel quite obviously has the “Deuteronomic” theory of history in mind, according to which good things happen whenever the people are good, and bad things when they are bad; but the voice of this editor, sometimes called DH (the Deuteronomic Historian), is only present in the rhetorical flourishes like “The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD gave them into the hand of Midian seven years” (Judges vi:1) or “Then the people of Israel cried out to the LORD on account of the Midianites and the LORD sent them a prophet” (Judges vi:7-8) which tie together disjoint pieces of narrative, which are presented as-is without suppressing information that a later orthodoxy might find embarrassing (the descendants of Moses were a rival line of high priests to the descendants of Aaron, maintaining a shrine at Dan with gold and silver images: Judges xvii-xviii; the editor obviously disapproves, repeatedly telling us ba-yomim ha-hem, ein melekh b-Yisrael, w-‘asah ish eth-ha-tov b-‘einau “In those days, there was no king in Israel, and everyone did the good by his own eyes”– but he does honestly preserve this information for us). The sources in Judges consist of numerous small fragments, but in Samuel we have two major lives of David which run throughout, distinguished by doublets as in the Torah: A is written not long after David, while B is sufficiently later that tall tales have crept in (in A , David comes to Saul’s court as a harpist, and the killing of the giant Goliath is a footnote about one of David’s favorites in the army, a fellow Bethlehemite named Elhanan; in B we get the sword vs. slingshot duel). It is quite evident that the manuscripts of A and B were old and poorly preserved by the time DH edited them: pieces are out of order, and words are garbled beyond easy recognition; Samuel contains more sentences which just don’t parse and whose meaning is still debatable than the rest of the Old Testament put together. This is, however, actually a good sign: it means that our editor is giving us, letter-for-letter, exactly what he sees, without trying to clean it up.

Joshua is a different kind of writing altogether. The author J2 frequently cites to earlier sources by name, such as the “Book of Jashar” etc. which we wish we could see for ourselves. We find this characteristic citing of old books beginning at Num. xxi:14 “As it is said in the Book of the Wars of the LORD”: it is hard to tell where the original J ended, but E ends with one version of the blessings of Balaam (Num. xxiii:7-10), and it is a reasonable guess that J ended similarly (at Num. xxiv:3-9); J2 is not picking up at the end of J but is inserting new material (including more versions of Balaam’s blessings which intermix “YHWH” and “Elohim” in an atypical way) toward the end of J and then continuing with the Joshua narrative. The theme of Joshua is that every single sack of any city in Canaan which the Israelites have any knowledge all took place within this single whirlwind campaign. This contradicts Judges, as regards Hebron (captured by the great-grandson of Joshua’s contemporary Caleb) and Hazor (defeated by a later judge Deborah), and also the archaeology, which shows Jericho and Luz falling many centuries before Joshua and unoccupied for a long time by his generation, and Megiddo falling many centuries later. Jericho did indeed suffer a collapse of its walls (probably in the traditional way, from miners sapping the foundations) but not in the right period; Luz is called Ai “the ruins” because by the time Israel arrived in the area, it had been abandoned for so long its very name had been forgotten; at the other extreme, Megiddo continued to function as a usual Canaanite city, acknowledging the Pharoah as nominal sovereign but paying no real attention to him or anybody else, all the way through the supposedly powerful reigns of David and Solomon (whom Megiddo didn’t even notice; references to David and Solomon are surprisingly thin on the ground) before falling in the 9th century BC, probably to king Omri of Samaria. Israel Finkelstein in “The Bible Unearthed” attributes J2 to the reign of Josiah, arguing that it is a piece of political propaganda to justify Josiah’s attempts to assert sovereignty over the old territory of Samaria, after the collapse of Assyria left a serious power vacuum in that area.

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