Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Deuteronomy 34: The Death of Moses, Not of Source Criticism

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Deuteronomy 34: The Death of Moses, Not of Source Criticism

Article excerpt

Serge Frolovs article is formulated as a response to Philip Yoo's argument that all four pentateuchal sources can be found in the final chapter of the book of Deuteronomy.1 Yoo's argument is based on the Documentary Hypothesis; using his knowledge of each of the separate sources within the Pentateuch up to that point, Yoo is able to separate the works of the J, E, P, and D sources in the culminating chapter of Deuteronomy. Frolov refers to Yoo's method as exemplary of deductive reasoning, as indeed it is. In contrast, Frolov seeks to demonstrate that inductive reasoning would lead to the opposite conclusion: that, in fact, Deuteronomy 34 is a unified "master narrative."2 Frolov concludes that, if he can read the text as coherent and unified and yet Yoo finds four sources behind this unified document, then "Deuteronomy 34 exposes source criticism as it stands today as selfcontradictory."3

But finding a unified passage-especially in Deuteronomy-where others see multiple sources hardly seems cause enough to characterize the entire sourcecritical enterprise as self-contradictory. Frolov's emphasis on method is to be commended, as a basic understanding of methodology in source-critical study is sorely lacking in our field. Unfortunately, Frolov's method of reading the text inductively and the conclusions he derives only serve to further muddy the waters concerning what the Documentary Hypothesis is, and what source critics do.

First, in terms of his discussion of Yoo's arguments, Frolov's postulation of a unified "master narrative" behind Deuteronomy 34 is not so much argued for as stated repeatedly in contrast to Yoo's evidence to the contrary. For example, Yoo argues that 34:1a conflates Deut 3:27, in which Moses quotes Yhwh as having told him to ascend rUOfln 1WTI, with Num 27:12 and Deut 32:49, where his destination is referred to as Dmyn "in (with the addition nnn in Deut 32:49). Frolov claims that Pisgah is not necessarily the name of a mountain and may mean simply "summit" or "ridge," or even the whole set of mountains over the Dead Sea and southern Jordan Valley. In any case, rather than the different terms being in tension or contradiction, Frolov asserts that "by bringing the two toponyms together, it would forge a link between the words of Yhwh quoted by Moses and those quoted by the narrator. The significance of such a link in Deuteronomy, whose collection of commandments is the only one in the Pentateuch to be enunciated by Moses (without the deity's explicit command) rather than by Yhwh, is difficult to overestimate."4

Similarly, in 34:6a, Yhwh buries Moses "in the land of Moab" and "opposite Beth Peor." Yoo notes that these two toponyms are never found together elsewhere; Frolov states that this does not mean anything, asserting that it is logical to link the site of Moses' last speech with the area of the Israelite encampment on the left bank of the Jordan.

I fail to see an argument in either case. Frolov posits that it might make sense to bring together distinct terms into one comprehensive designation. I cannot speak for Yoo, but I do not see how he would disagree with that. Yoo's point-and the point of source criticism-is not to dispute that separate, contradictory sources have been brought together into one unified text here. Frolov's demonstration of the ways in which these verses in their present form constitute a coherent whole does not undermine the argument for originally separate sources underlying that whole.

Further, while in 34:6b-7 Yoo posits separate sources,5 Frolov maintains that the break in flow constitutes a "narrator's digression" rather than a seam between sources, explaining that "the digression's placement and its structure are anything but haphazard."6 But justification or rationalization of the placement of this piece is not an argument for a "master narrative." At most it is again an argument that a "master narrative" may have been forged very deliberately and carefully from originally separate sources. …

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