Academic journal article The Jewish Quarterly Review

Is There a Redactor in the House? Two Views on Biblical Authorship

Academic journal article The Jewish Quarterly Review

Is There a Redactor in the House? Two Views on Biblical Authorship

Article excerpt

Is There a Redactor in the House? Two Views on Biblical Authorship Raymond F. Person. The Deuteronomic School: Hbtory, Social Setting, and Literature. Society of Biblical Literature Studies in Biblical Literature 2. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2002. Pp. x + 175.

John Van Seters. A Law Book for the Diaspora: Revision in the Study of the Covenant Code. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. Pp. xii + 236.

IT IS NOT LONG BEFORE a student introduced to the critical study of the Bible encounters the shadowy figure of the "redactor." Ubiquitous and anonymous, apparently the redactor is capable of everything from a small change in wording to the organization of whole books. The authors of both monographs reviewed here question common presuppositions about the activity of biblical redactors.

The study of such literary activity is called "redaction criticism," although the connotations of the term redaction have changed over time. Originally, redaction referred to editorial processes related to preparing received texts for publication. As applied to the Pentateuch, for example, redaction criticism was once concerned with distinguishing the original documentary sources from editorial revisions that had combined them into their final form. Latterly, redaction has been used to indicate a wide range of re visional activities, in some cases virtually synonymous with authorship.1 If there is a common thread between the earlier meaning of the term and later developments, it consists in the belief that the result of redactional activity is the production of a particular text. Redaction criticism remains interested in discerning evidence that the text transmitted is a revision of an earlier document.

The works of Person and Van Seters raise significant questions about connections between authorship and redaction. In different ways, both challenge what they consider to be improper projections of modern practices onto ancient book-making. Person claims that the concept of authorship is actually unhelpful in describing the development of the Deuteronomistic History (DtrH). Van Seters denies the necessity of using redaction criticism to discern a history of composition in the law code found in Ex 20.23-23.33, the so-called Covenant Code (CC).

In 1943, the German biblical scholar Martin Noth proposed that a single writer (to some extent relying on preexisting sources) composed a work of historiography comprising Joshua-2 Kings that was dependent on the theology and rhetoric of Deuteronomy: the DtrH. He believed the author of the DtrH produced this monumental opus in the exilic period of biblical history. Noth s own scholarship presupposed critical discussions about the composition of the books of Joshua-2 Kings that had taken place since the nineteenth century. At that time, scholars had already noted that the books of the former prophets showed significant use of phraseology and theology that resonated with the book of Deuteronomy.2

Since Noth's time, the DtrH hypothesis has been subject to two significant modifications. Following the work of Harvard-based Frank Moore Cross, many scholars believe that a first edition (or block) was composed in the late preexilic period with a second completed during the exile. Another influential view, associated with Rudolf Smend of Gcittingen, thinks that redaction criticism can expose three or more different layers (or strata) of the DtrH composed during the exilic and postexilic periods.

The brief sketch above, of course, paints a picture of postwar scholarship with a very broad brush. In fact, intensive work on the DtrH in the last decade has raised searching questions about the validity of either the block model or the strata model. Some have even gone so far as to question the existence of the DtrH altogether. But, typically, the scholars concerned have used techniques of redaction criticism to obtain their results.3

A major point of Person s book is to raise serious questions about the competence of redaction criticism to discern different versions of the DtrH. …

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