OLD TESTAMENT STUDIES ARE MARKED AT THE PRESENT TIME BY enormous ferment. Two dimensions of that ferment are particularly pertinent to the present volume. First, there is immense generativity concerning method. What we are able to see is that the long unchallenged dominance of historical criticism has been broken, so that many other approaches can now be undertaken with a reasonable claim to legitimacy. It is not at all clear how these various newer methodological concerns will shake down, if indeed any methodological consensus will emerge beyond a dazzling pluralism. Second, among those who continue to ask historical (and historical critical) questions, there is a powerful tendency to pull the dating of almost every document in the Old Testament much later, contrary to the earlier impetus of Albrecht Alt and William Foxwell Albright of situating everything as early as possible. Specifically, scholars are now much inclined to date a great deal of the material as late as the Babylonian period of Judean history, and the Persian period is now being increasingly treated as a primally generative period for the literature of the Old Testament. Of course, such matters are deeply contested, and we are far from any redefined consensus on the historical questions.
In light of the new stirrings in the discipline, Sam Balentine has written a remarkably suggestive book that is well situated in the context of the new emergents in the field. Balentine bases his study of the Torah (Pentateuch) on the judgment that it is framed in the Persian period and is reflective of the delicately nuanced status of the Jerusalem community in the face of imperial policy. That policy, unlike the earlier practices among the Assyrians and Babylonians, was not only to allow local religious options, but to encourage such activity and to preempt local practice as a concentration of regional power that was submissive to and reliant upon Persian support and legitimacy. Thus Israel's liturgic-theological response to its situation in a Persian environment is one that deals with “internal uncertainty and external Persian direction.”