Studies in the Bible and Jewish Thought

By Moshe Greenberg | Go to book overview

Idealism and Practicality in Numbers 35:4-5 and Ezekiel 48
1968

To one familiar with the sometimes cavalier operation of biblical criticism, the salient feature of E. A. Speiser's approach to the Bible was his predisposition to regard everything carefully, even material that seemed on the face of it to be the product of error or fantasy. With his profound understanding of the Near East this predisposition resulted time and again in evoking new information from hitherto uncommunicative texts. The priestly writings of Israel were particular beneficiaries of his attention: repeatedly they were shown to harbor genuinely ancient, even pre-Israelite practices and terminology. The following study of two problematic passages in that literature is inspired by his example and dedicated in gratitude to his memory.1


THE PASTURE LANDS OF THE LEVITES

In framing an ideal we may assume what we wish, but should avoid impossibilities. -- Aristotle, Politics, Book II: Chapter 6 ( 1265a)

The penchant for schematizing, so evident in the priestly writings of ancient Israel, has been felt to bespeak a visionary mentality distant from mundane realities. It has been invoked as evidence for an exilic provenance. On the scheme of Levitical cities (Num. 35; Josh. 21) Wellhausen wrote:

It would hardly have occurred to an author living in the monarchical period, when the continuity of the older history was still unbroken, to look so completely away from all the conditions of the then existing re-

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