Some methodological guidelines for the dating of biblical texts

One of the central preoccupations of modern biblical scholarship has been the dating of individual texts to particular historical situations or relative to other texts, as well as reconstructing their diachronic development from earlier stages to the final forms that appear in various text traditions/translations (LXX, Qumran, MT). And while I think this is a worthwhile endeavor and ultimately necessary to explain the complex literary quality of the Bible, too often hypotheses have been advanced based merely on vague historical correlation, the desire to find kernels of great antiquity, and the assumption that biblical scribes were for the most part simply editors or tradents handing down earlier tradition. At the same time, the traditional dating of biblical texts has tended to lack engagement with holistic literary and ideological analyses or fail to entertain the possibility that the scribes responsible for large-scale compositions were simply inventors of tradition.

I have a lot more I could say about this, but in the interest of encouraging more methodological rigor and self-criticism in the dating of biblical texts I thought I would offer a few basic guidelines:

1) The burden of proof is on those who would date a text earlier than its surrounding literary context;

2) Such proposals also move on a sliding scale, the earlier one dates a text relative to the major contexts for the production of the Bible (Persian and Hellenistic periods, late Judahite monarchy) the more speculative and tenuous the argument becomes;

3) To demonstrate literary discontinuity requires a higher bar of evidence than continuity, i.e. on principle readings that make sense of the text at a synchronic level are to be preferred over diachronic readings.

Who is Baal?

JosiahKillBaalWorshippers-e

 

According to the biblical narrative, the worship of Baal (meaning “Lord”) was the primary threat to the exclusive worship of YHWH during Israel’s life in the land of Canaan. From their first contact with Canaanite peoples, the Israelites are portrayed as irresistibly drawn to this polytheistic and iconolatrous cult. At Peor in the Transjordan they intermix with the local inhabitants and begin to worship the Baal of Peor. Hosea describes their change in cultic loyalties as almost instantaneous, “But they came to Baal of Peor and consecrated themselves to a thing of shame” (Hos 9:10). Similarly, soon after having settled in the promised land, a new generation arises after the generation of the conquest had passed on, and they, the Dtr author alleges, “did what was evil in the sight of YHWH and worshiped the Baals; they abandoned YHWH, the god of their ancestors, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; they followed other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were all around them, and bowed down to them” (Jdgs 2:12).

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Review of Thomas Römer, The Invention of God (2015)

 

In the Invention of God, Thomas Römer tackles the perennial question of the origins and evolution of the god of Israel. Incorporating a wealth of archaeological and biblical data, Römer traces the complex and multi-layered history of the deity, showing how an obscure desert war god YHWH eventually became the singular God of monotheistic religions. Although the topic has received extensive treatment in recent decades, Römer’s discussion is fresh, accessible, and state of the art, demonstrating a broad knowledge of various disciplines and fields of study and especially critical analysis of the biblical texts.
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Hannah, Samuel, and Saul in 1 Sam 1:1-2:11a*

 

hannah-praying-woodcutI have posted the first installment to my series on the literary history of 1 Sam 1:1-4:1*. The introduction to the series can be found here and the first installment on 1 Sam 1:1-2:11a* here. In order to illustrate the discussion of particular units and verses in the body of the paper and show how the textual and literary evidence all fits together, I have also created hypothetical versions of the different stages of the text here.

Some of the highlights and main contributions of my study of these chapters so far include:

–I have found two main compositional layers behind these chapters, first an early source originally belonging to a Saul narrative and then a Dtr adaptation of that source into a Samuel narrative. The Dtr adaptation is then followed by separate redactional trajectories reflected in the LXX, MT, and 4QSama.

–The early source underlies material in each of the three chapters of 1 Sam 1:1-4:1a, though it is in a fragmentary state and no longer reconstructable as a continuous narrative.

–I believe I have offered the strongest argument to date for identifying the original child of the birth story as Saul rather than Samuel, and further argue that the location of the temple that Saul was brought to was near Gibeon rather than Shiloh.

–I have found that the Samuel narrative of 1 Sam 1:1-4:1a, to distinguish it from the early source, was likely always part of a broader Dtr narrative that included parts of the book of Judges.

–The MT recension has an abbreviatory character in terms of its preservation of the earlier Dtr Samuel narrative.

–In terms of the history of ideas, the early source seems surprisingly comfortable with iconolatrous religious practice and cult, whereas the later Dtr adaptation and subsequent redaction, particularly in the MT, becomes progressively more stringent and rigorous in its theological outlook.

–The lifelong nazirite dedication of the child is likely secondary to the narrative. Originally the child was dedicated for temple service during his childhood as a form of “child sacrifice”.

–Part of the song of Hannah seems to have been original to the early source and was not imported from elsewhere, contrary to the general thinking of much critical scholarship, though it has clearly been a focus of redactional interest.