The Place of the Law in the Religion of Ancient Israel

By Moshe Weinfeld | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
THEOLOGICAL CURRENTS IN
PENTATEUCHAL LITERATURE

In Pentateuchal literature, we meet two schools of crystallized theological thought: that represented in the priestly strand (P) and that reflected in the Book of Deuteronomy (D). These schools were, to be sure, antedated by JE,1 but the latter constitutes a narrative source, in which neither uniform outlook nor any concrete ideology can as yet be discerned as in P and in deuteronomic literature. Each of the latter, on the other hand, embodies a complex and consistent theology, which is difficult to find in the earlier sources. These two schools differ from each other in their religious conception, their mental climate and their mode of expression. Scholars of the Graf-Wellhausen School endeavored to explain these differences in historical terms. In their opinion, P crystallized during the exilic period, when Israel was severed from its land and from agricultural life; consequently, they developed a schematic religion of sacral mores devoid of a national-territorial setting. The Book of Deuteronomy, on the other hand, having received its fixed form during the Josianic period, reflects a religion deeply rooted in the life of a people settled on its land and leading a natural, agricultural, and political existence. Y. Kaufmann (HIR 1.113–115), in opposing this view, convincingly called into question the hypothesis of P’s lateness and of its dependence on D; he did not, however, provide any explanation to account for the differences between these two works.

As an example, one of Wellhausen’s central arguments for his late dating of P was that in P’s calendar of festivals, the New Year and the Day of Atonement appear (Lev 23:23–32; Num 29:1–11), but receive no mention in the calendars of JE and D (Exod 23:12–19; 34:18–26; Deut 16). Wellhausen explained this discrepancy by the

1 We speak of JE as a single document even though it comprises two separate
sources, J and E, because it is extremely difficult to distinguish between these two
sources throughout the Tetrateuch. Only in the book of Genesis is it possible to
do this with some measure of success (Speiser 1964).

-77-

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