Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel

By Michael Fishbane | Go to book overview

8 Legal Exegesis and Explication in the Pentateuchal Legal Corpora

A Introduction

The law collections in the Pentateuch present a distinct context for inner-biblical legal exegesis. In contrast to the legal exegeses embedded in the historiographical materials, the analytical separation of laws from their subsequent exegesis is more problematic. This is due to two principal factors: (a) there are few technical terms which formally introduce exegetical expansions or clarifications of the biblical laws, so that these latter must be isolated mostly by contextual considerations; and (b) there is no sharp distinction in genre, style, or terminology which would serve to highlight the exegetical strata, since the legal comments are formulated in a parlance largely similar to that of the laws themselves. The net effect is that the inner growth and clarification of the laws are often obscure—if not actually obscured. Such obfuscation may, of course, be directly due to the inherent tendencies of legal conservatism, in so far as legal conservatism prefers to give the impression of a unified, harmonious, and comprehensive law corpus. But such tendencies would only reinforce the basic theological framework of the laws themselves: all three collections are presented as the word of the Lord from Sinai. In the Covenant Code (Exod. 21: 1-23: 19) the mišpāṭîm-ordinances are given by God to the people through Moses at Mt. Sinai (cf. Exod. 20: 22, 21: 1, 24: 12); in the priestly laws of the Holiness Code (Lev. 17-26) the teachings are severally spoken by God to Moses, and the whole is summed up with the remark that 'these are the laws, and ordinances, and teachings which YHWH set between himself and Israel, through Moses on Mt. Sinai' (Lev. 26: 46; cf. 27: 34); and, finally, in the Book of Deuteronomy the entire corpus is presented as a recapitulation by Moses of 'all that which YHWH commanded him' (Deut. 1: 1) at Sinai (v. 6).

Since all the laws are presented as one integrated teaching from one specific historical moment, there would appear to be no reason to have citations within the Pentateuchal legal corpora. However, closer analysis of the deuteronomic materials shows a repeated concern to refer to earlier traditions and legislation; and, indeed, to distinguish

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