Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Supersessionist or Complementary? Reassessing the Nature of Legal Revision in the Pentateuchal Law Collections

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Supersessionist or Complementary? Reassessing the Nature of Legal Revision in the Pentateuchal Law Collections

Article excerpt

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Scholars studying the evolution of biblical law are today divided into two camps. The fundamental question that divides them concerns our understanding of the development and revision exhibited within the pentateuchal law collections-the Covenant Code, the Priestly law, the Holiness Code, and the laws of Deuteronomy. One camp views these collections in fundamental opposition to one another, especially the Covenant Code, the Holiness Code, and the laws of Deuteronomy. These scholars argue that the authors of these respective corpora revised earlier law collections with the aim of superseding them. This supersessionist approach has long been dominant; indeed, well into the twentieth century it was virtually the only approach. In the last three decades, however, a growing countermovement has challenged the classical paradigm. These scholars maintain that, as biblical authors revised an earlier code, they did not reject the authority and standing of the earlier collection. Rather, they viewed their own literary works as complements to the earlier ones. Scholars routinely adopt one position or the other and demonstrate how that position produces constructive readings of the passages at hand. One is hard put, however, to find studies that systematically set the methodological claims of each camp in conversation with each other to measure and mediate the validity of these respective approaches.1 This study seeks to remedy this situation.

A comprehensive assessment of the two models of legal revision mandates that we examine how each responds to five interconnected questions within the discipline of biblical law:

1. The prevalence of lemmatic citation. For all expositors, the challenge of explaining the relationship between the law corpora is akin to the challenge of untying a Gordian knot. On the one hand, the collections reveal highly divergent rulings of law and in many instances no harmonization is possible. The laws seemingly beg to be read as exclusive of one another. Yet the formulations of the laws reveal a ubiquitous and highly intricate system of lemmatic citation and expansion. The laws seem to invoke one another even as they differ from and even contradict one another. Expositors therefore are challenged to articulate a hermeneutic of revision between the law collections that accounts for both the continuity and the discontinuity displayed between them. How do supersessionists and complementarians navigate this tension?

2. Accounting for the redaction of the disparate corpora into a unified Pentateuch. In the redaction of the canonical form of the Torah the corpora were brought together within a single narrative framework. Scholarship has long maintained, however, that the collections existed as independent entities prior to their inclusion in the canonized form of the Torah. Writers revised the corpora in a process that historically preceded their inclusion in the final redacted form we have today. Should our understanding of the motives and mechanism of final redaction of the Torah have any bearing on the theories we propose to explain the earlier relationship between the various collections? Or, alternatively, should we view the stage of final redaction as entirely distinct, a process that has no capacity to inform the nature of legal revision between the collections in the precanonical/preredactional stage?

3. The blending of legal references throughout the Hebrew Bible. Nearly all the books of the Hebrew Bible employ language and invoke laws known to us from the law collections in the Pentateuch. Moreover, nearly all the books of the Bible contain references to more than one of these legal traditions, freely citing and blending the language of Leviticus and the language of Deuteronomy, for example. What light can these many instances of textual blending shed on the relationship between the four law corpora?

4. The legal models employed to assess the data. …

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