From Epic to Canon: History and Literature in Ancient Israel

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From Epic to Canon: History and Literature in Ancient Israel, by Frank Moore Cross. Baltimore/London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. Pp. xv + 262. $45.00.

Writing a book review of any book produced by a serious scholar is always an earnest undertaking. Writing the review of a book of one of the giants in the field of ancient Near Eastern studies is a daunting and challenging undertaking. However, it is worth the effort and extra heartbeat. The twelve studies included in this work are intended to continue the discussion begun with Cross's important work Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic (1973), although they represent mainly earlier studies published between 1975 and 1995. Two of the articles have never before appeared in print: the first chapter, entitled "Kinship and Covenant in Ancient Israel" (pp. 3-21), and chapter 11, "The Stabilization of the Canon of the Hebrew Bible" (pp. 219-29). The essays are divided into six categories including epic traditions of early Israel (in continuation of his earlier 1973 work), two studies concerning priestly terminology and their ancient Near Eastern background, and two studies focusing on Hebrew prosody in general and specifically in Lam 1 and Jonah 2. Cross dedicates two more essays to the discussion of the history of postexilic Palestine involving a republication of his 1974 presidential address to the SBL concerning the historical reconstruction of that specific period. The next two studies focus on Qumran and the history of the biblical text (pp. 205-29), seeking to pinpoint the difficult questions of the fixation of the text of the Hebrew Bible and the stabilization of the canon. The final section includes only one essay, originally published in 1982 in Maarav, which deals with typology in historical and archaeological research. The book includes also four useful indices.

It is clear that a book review cannot do justice to a collection of such diverse studies, so my comments will be limited to the two as yet unpublished essays as well as to the important methodological study of typology in research (pp. 233-45) and his essays on priestly terminology and its ancient Near Eastern background.

Cross's discussion of "kinship and covenant in ancient Israel" (pp. 3-21) is of particular interest for those studying the origins of the entity called Israel. He suggests that kinship and covenant terminology is not-as suggested by J. Wellhausen and still often treated as gospel-bereft of legal connotations and mutuality, but formed the basis of the twelve-tribe league (pp. 15-16) and later on during the monarchic period functioned as a check against the arbitrary powers so often associated with monarchical states. Although Cross does not mention it, a parallel development can also be seen in Emar, whose "limited kinship" has been recently discussed (see D. E. Fleming, "A Limited Kinship: Late Bronze Emar in Ancient Syria," UF 24 [1992]: 59-71). It is interesting to note that both the Hebrew Bible and the Emar texts seem to describe Late Bronze societal realities. Cross suggests that the neo-Assyrian ads documents from the eighth/seventh century B.C.E. do not necessarily provide the adequate analogy to Israel's early covenant institutions, since these documents borrow most of the technical terms and their formulary material from ancient West Semitic texts to be dated a thousand years earlier (pp. 18-19). I would have liked to see Cross interact with H. U. Stymans's recent comparative analysis of the ade texts and Dent 28 (see H. U. Steymans, Deuteronomium 28 and die acl zur Thronfolgeregelung Asarhaddons [OBO 145; Fribourg: Universitatsverlag Fribourg, 1995]). Cross's first chapter should be a basic requirement for graduate courses on the history and religion of ancient Israel.

Cross has updated his comments in chapter 2, originally published in 1983. He includes an insightful two-page note (pp. 29-31) discussing John Van Seters's attempt to demote the Yahwist to the exilic period and draws upon linguistic typology of grammar, lexicon, canons, and narrative genres in order to contest this point of view. …