The Torah: Theology and Social History of Old Testament Law

By Walton, John H. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, December 1999 | Go to article overview

The Torah: Theology and Social History of Old Testament Law


Walton, John H., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


The Torah: Theology and Social History of Old Testament Law. By Frank Crusemann. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996, 460 pp., n.p.

Crusemann undertakes the task of attempting to explain how different law books were combined into one Torah. He understands the questions that he wants to answer as best approached through legal-historical and social-historical investigations. He proposes to "examine societal relationships in Israelite jurisprudence, the groups and institutions underlying the legal documents, their social intent and effects, the societal context of their theological bases and historical fictions" (p. 16).

Crusemann spends the next six chapters investigating the pertinent Biblical literature. This investigation includes the preexilic prophetic literature, the Sinai pericope, Moses and the legal institutions in Israel, the book of the Covenant, Deuteronomy and the Priestly writing. His concluding chapter is entitled "The Pentateuch as Torah: The Way as Part of the Goal," where he identifies the Pentateuch as a product of the Persian period and views it as supporting the sociological issues of that period.

As he begins his study Crusemann shows that he is not simply going to adopt the methods of the past. When critical analysis produces only rubble, he says, the time has come to switch methodologies (p. 30). Evangelicals would nevertheless be unconvinced that Crusemann's new method is acceptable or productive, because it is still highly reconstructive.

Regarding the prophets, he is willing to acknowledge that written instructions existed that presented themselves as words written by God to Israel as early as Hosea. But he does not believe that the traditions are ancient, nor that they were connected to Moses or Sinai. By Jeremiah's time, he concludes that Yahweh's written will was available and called Torah. By this point in the book, it is already clear that to Cruisemann, the absence of reference to any element of tradition can be taken as proof that that element was unknown.

This approach results in four rather predictable conclusions regarding the SinaiTorah tradition. First, he sees no connection between the mountain of God and instructions from God in pre-Deuteronomic, preprophetic texts. Second, the connection between those traditions was not deuteronomistic. Third, he concludes that priestly influence preceded deuteronomistic shaping of the Sinai pericope, and fourth, that there was a shift in emphasis from cult to law in the Persian period. These theses lead Crusemann to his findings concerning how and why the Torah got connected with Sinai in the deuteronomistic strata of Exodus 19-24 in the Persian period. Crusemann insists that the historical events that the Bible records (such as the end of the northern kingdom, the Deuteronomic movement, the exile and the Persian empire) can legitimately be seen as instigating the literary evolution that he sees in the texts.

When Crusemann moves on to Moses, he poses the question "Who was this Moses?" He has far more confidence in his own reconstructions than in the Biblical information. But it is interesting that he uses the Biblical information (quite selectively) to fuel his reconstructions. His conclusion is that Moses is a personified prototype of the institution portrayed in Exodus 18. He takes all of the roles that the text connects to Moses seriously, but refuses to consider that there might be a Moses to fill them. He rather speculates, for instance, how Jeroboam was similar to Moses (in order to consider whether Jeroboam was the model for the development of the Moses figure). In the end he sees Exodus 18 as descriptive of the Jerusalem high court (2 Chronicles 19) and posits Moses as the embodiment of that ideal projected back to Sinai. …

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