The Deuteronomic School: History, Social Setting, and Literature

By Meier, Samuel A. | Journal of Biblical Literature, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview
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The Deuteronomic School: History, Social Setting, and Literature


Meier, Samuel A., Journal of Biblical Literature


The Deuteronomic School: History, Social Setting, and Literature, by Raymond F. Person, Jr. Studies in Biblical Literature 2. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2002. Pp. x + 175. $29.95.

Person addresses the unsettlingly wide array of conflicting options that encourage skepticism of past attempts to sort out discrete redactional layers in the Dtr history: "the redaction critical method has no basis for distinguishing the work of one from the other" (p. 147). Person offers "four new perspectives" (pp. 147-48) to overcome the impasse: (1) link text criticism with redaction criticism, (2) recognize a vigorous Deuteronomic activity in the postexilic period, (3) explore Deuteronomic activity by investigating scribal culture elsewhere in the ancient Near East, and (4) recognize the oral dimension of Deuteronomic activity. These four perspectives are the subjects of the first four chapters, respectively, and Person reaches the conclusion that "Deuteronomic literature could have evolved gradually over a long period of time, even if no systematic, intentional revisions were made" (p. 151). The remaining three chapters explore the interpretation of Deuteronomic texts in the Persian period and the Deuteronomic school's relationship to other postexilic works.

Person abandons any distinction between the terms "Deuteronomic" and "Deuteronomistic" (pp. 6-7), opting to use the former. The Deuteronomic school "probably formed in Babylon among exiled scribes, who formerly served in the Jerusalem temple and palace and carried various texts into exile with them" (p. 152), where they produced the first redaction of the Deuteronomic (Dtr) History. They "probably returned to Jerusalem and participated in the effort to rebuild the temple and its cult" (p. 123) during the governorship of Zerubbabel. With "the failure of Zerubbabel to re-establish the Davidic monarchy" (p. 123), "a certain level of disillusionment" set in, prompting skepticism toward "human institutions in general, including the temple cult," and a turn instead "to a heightened eschatological perspective" (p. 135). This attitude would be seen as "increasingly defiant of the Persian empire," which would dispatch Ezra "to lessen the authority of the Deuteronomic school" (p. 135). "The lack of the necessary support of the Jerusalem administration" (p. 149) and "the mission of Ezra probably led to the demise of the Deuteronomic school" (p. 123).

The Introduction briefly surveys the scholarship on the Dtr history and related matters. Chapter 1 assesses the lack of confidence one can place in most redactional analyses of the Dtr history, unless one couples this with text-critical controls: "The prevailing views of the Harvard and Gottingen schools fail methodologically in that they both rely solely on redaction criticism to distinguish one Deuteronomic redactor from another" (p. 24). "I am just as skeptical about the ability of source critics to define the limits of the sources for the Deuteronomic History as I am about the ability of redaction critics to discern redactional layers" (p. 25). A paragraph summarizes Person's rejection (on linguistic and historiographical grounds) of the position held by those who date the Dtr history to the Persian or Hellenistic period (pp. 26-27).

Chapter 2 aims to refine the study of the redaction of the Dtr history by applying text-critical analysis. On the basis of his own work and the work of others, he argues that the "LXX for the Deuteronomic History . . . generally preserves an earlier stage of the redaction process . . . than the MT" (p. 42). Not everyone agrees with this position, and although he mentions a dissenter (S. McKenzie, p. 39), the dissenter's arguments are not addressed. Person presents extensive passages where text criticism uncovers "post-LXX [i.e., its Vorlage] additions to the MT" (p. 48) of the Dtr history where Deuteronomic language is also present, supporting his conclusion that the Deuteronomic school was active in the postexilic period.

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