Unfolding the Deuteronomistic History: Origins, Upgrades, Present Text

Unfolding the Deuteronomistic History: Origins, Upgrades, Present Text

Unfolding the Deuteronomistic History: Origins, Upgrades, Present Text

Unfolding the Deuteronomistic History: Origins, Upgrades, Present Text


"In Unfolding the Deuteronomistic History Campbell and O'Brien have provided a useful tool for getting at the debate over the composition of the Deuteronomistic History, without neglecting the outlook and theology of the work as a whole. Each page is packed with information that is, nevertheless, readily accessible. The formatting of the biblical text allows the reader to see at once the layers that the authors reconstruct, and their annotations clearly explain the reasons for their judgments. This is the place to begin the study of any passage in the Deuteronomistic History." -Steven L. McKenzie, Rhodes College Author of The Trouble with Kings "Antony F. Campbell and Mark O'Brien's monumental work represents critical thought at its best. Written in a style that is thoroughly imaginative and engaging without sacrificing the erudition of great scholarship, this work is not only researched meticulously but also offers a new approach to reading and understanding the Deuteronomistic History. This study challenges traditional methods and findings of historical criticism while attempting to be faithful to the text at hand in relation to making sense out of the present text. Comprehensive yet selective introductions to the books of Deuteronomy through 2 Kings set the stage for a thorough analysis of each book of the deuteronomistic historical books. Offering a major contribution to the biblical field, Campbell and O'Brien's work is sure to become a classic that will inform all future work to be done in this area." -Carol J. Dempsey, University of Portland Author of The Prophets (Fortress Press, 2000) Antony F. Campbell, S.J., is Professor of Old Testament at Jesuit Theological College, Melbourne, Australia. He is author of numerous works including A Study Companion to Old Testament Literature (2nd ed., 1993). Mark A. O'Brien, O.P., is Professor of Old Testament at Yarra Theological Union, Melbourne, Australia, and the author of The Deuteronomistic History Hypothesis (1989).


Unfolding the Deuteronomistic History makes visually accessible to the interested reader the information, insights, and thinking of critical scholarship in Deuteronomy through Second Kings.

The book provides annotations to identify the text signals (signals embedded in the text) on which these insights are based. Most annotations include reflection on the text-history approach which seeks to account for these signals by development within the text and most provide reflections as to how the present-text potential may be exploited in all fidelity to the text to fuel imagination in its use.

Two principles have important implications for the task of analysis. First, one of those selfevident truths which Martin Noth put into words (if not always into practice): because a critical operation is possible does not make it necessary; possibility does not engender necessity. Second, involving reversal of a longstanding scholarly prejudice and emerging from modern acceptance of the skill and intelligence of biblical editors: when an editorial adjustment to the text is identified, interpreters need to explain the value added by such an adjustment; additions require reasons. Alert to the evident ability of ancient editors, critical analysis will be less likely to fragment biblical text and more likely to reveal the value added in the history of the text.

Our interest is not in the very beginnings of traditions but in the coherent texts that have been woven from these beginnings and that have become the source texts for the great narratives of Israel’s scriptures. Many works of historicalcritical scholarship were interested in such beginnings; this work is not. We can no longer continue the work of the past two centuries as if unlimited vistas of similar opportunity stretched before us—they do not. We cannot honestly return to the innocence of pre-critical study— although some seem to try. We need to continue exploring the many ways of hearing and reading the biblical text both honestly and postcritically, exercising and stretching our cultural imaginations.

1. a literary-critical possibility is not a literary-critical necessity. “Eine literarkritische Möglichkeit ist jedoch noch keine literarkritische Notwendigkeit” (Noth, Könige, 246).

2. Robert Polzin’s characterization of the old approach is classic: tensions in the final text are resolved by appeal to more coherent stages “before those inept redactors got their damned hands on it” (Samuel and the Deuteronomist, 2).

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