Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel

By Michael Fishbane | Go to book overview

11 Aggadic Exegesis of Legal Traditions in the Prophetic Literature

A The Law and the Prophets

Any discussion which purports to consider the relationship between the prophets and the legal materials of the Pentateuch must inevitably come up against the conundrum as to their relative priority. For modern critical scholarship, this issue was particularly well sharpened by Wellhausen, who concluded that the prophets precede the laws. 1 A primary factor in Wellhausen's multi-levelled argument was that if in fact the law came first, one would hardly expect the occurrence of prophecy at all. The basis for this insistence lies in Wellhausen's own estimation of the religious phenomenon of prophecy and its historical transformations. To him, because prophecy lays claim to an independent, direct access to God, whereas the law is concerned with the received will of God, one could certainly envisage that a non-mediated relationship with God could harden into law, but one would hardly expect the reverse. As the law could thus not be the basis of new revelations, Wellhausen went on to say: 'It is a vain imagination to suppose that the prophets expanded and applied the law.' 2

A full reconsideration of this position would naturally entail a critique of Wellhausen's prejudices on the history of religious phenomena, and an attempt to evaluate the antiquity of the biblical legal traditions on an independent basis. A vital first step in this latter process was achieved by W. Zimmerli's broadly based counter-argument that the covenant idea (and so its content) was of considerable antiquity in biblical Israel. 3 Earlier, Y. Kaufmann had contended against the Wellhausian position on the basis of his observation that the Pentateuchal laws never refer to the prophets. 4 This argument and, indirectly,

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