Rethinking the Foundations: Historiography in the Ancient World and in the Bible: Essays in Honour of John Van Seters. (Reviews of Books)

By Fried, Lisbeth S. | The Journal of the American Oriental Society, January-March 2002 | Go to article overview

Rethinking the Foundations: Historiography in the Ancient World and in the Bible: Essays in Honour of John Van Seters. (Reviews of Books)


Fried, Lisbeth S., The Journal of the American Oriental Society


Rethinking the Foundations: Historiography in the Ancient World and in the Bible: Essays in Honour of John Van Seters. Edited by S. L. MCKENZIE, T. ROMER, and H. H. SCHMID. Beihefte zur Zeitschrift fur die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, vol. 294. Berlin: W. DE GRUYTER, 2000. Pp. xiii + 304. DM 178.

Rethinking the Foundation is a combination of three independent initiatives to create a Festschrift for the honoree, testifying to the immense influence John Van Seters has had on the field of biblical studies. The work consists of sixteen essays, three tributes to Van Seters--by H. H. Schmid, K. L. Sparks, and T. L. Thompson, and a four-and-one-half-page bibliography of Van Seters' contributions. The essays in this fine volume are by A. O. Auld, E. Blum, T. B. Dozeman, E. Eynikel, O. Kaiser, G. N. Knoppers, N. P. Lemche, N. [Na.sup.[contains]] aman, A. de Pury, D. B. Redford, R. Rendtorff, T. C. Romer, J. M. Sasson, H.-C. Schmitt, U. Schorn, and K. L. Sparks.

As expected in a work honoring Van Seters, most of the essays deal with the dating of the Yahwist, the Deuteronomist, the Priestly writers, and the deuteronomic historian. Many testify to the sea-change in biblical studies that Van Seters' work helped to bring about. These place the biblical writers in the exilic period at the earliest--the Wellhausian assumptions that had supported us for the previous hundred years are gone. For those interested in the problems of dating the Pentateuchal sources and the deuteronomic historian, this volume is important reading. The book is aptly named.

A case in point is the article by N. P. Lemche, who states that the entire history of Israel as known from the Bible has now been dissolved. There were no patriarchs, no exodus, no united monarchy. Although deportations certainly occurred under the Assyrians and Babylonians, the idea of a great Babylonian exile and the changes it ostensibly brought about belongs among the biblical stereotypes that are vanishing. The biblical idea of the great return from exile is little more than a variant of the Bible's narratives about the Israelite conquest of Canaan. Like the book of Joshua, the tales of Ezra and Nehemiah are ideological constructs. According to Lemche, early Iron Age Palestinian society had very little or nothing to do with the image of ancient Israel created by the biblical historiographers. Lemehe chides Van Seters for comparing the deuteronomic historian to Herodotus. He should have considered later writers as well, even those as late as Livy. Van Seters limited himself to Herodotus because he placed the Deuteronomist in Herodotus' time. Lemehe views Dtr as a Helenized Oriental, writing in the Hellenic period.

In this same vein, T. C. Romer asks about the Sitz im Leben of "the ideology of centralization in the deuteronomistic historiography." Romer questions the link between the book of Deuteronomy and the deuteronomic historian. Deuteronomy is not the opening of the deuteronomic history, but the conclusion of the Pentateuch, written after the history and as an introduction to it. Romer finds three separate periods and three separate theologies in Deuteronomy 12. Verses 13-18, the kernel of Deuteronomy 12-26, belong to the time of Josiah; Deut. 12:2Off. ("when YHWH your God enlarges your borders") belong to the post-exilic period. The temple has been built, but the Jews of Babylon and Egypt have not been able to go to it to sacrifice. …

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