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Biblical Law

Right Chorale: Studies in Biblical Law & Interpretation (Forschungen Zum Alten Testament) by Bernard M. Levinson(Mohr Siebeck) The twelve essays in this volume make a sustained statement about the nature of textuality in ancient Israel. Bernard Levinson draws upon the literary forbears of biblical law in cuneiform literature, as well as its reception and reinterpretation in the Second Temple period, to provide the horizon of
ancient Israelite legal hermeneutics. Investigating both law and narrative, these studies are essential for an understanding of the formation of the Pentateuch and the Bible's contribution to later western intellectual history.

This book presents twelve selected investigations of textual composition, interpretation, revision, and transmission. With these studies, Bernard Levinson draws upon the literary forebears of biblical law in cuneiform literature and its reinterpretation in the Second Temple period to provide the horizon of ancient Israelite legal exegesis. The volume makes a sustained argument about the nature of textuality in ancient Israel: Israelite scribes were sophisticated readers, authors, and thinkers who were conscious of their place in literary and intellectual history, even as they sought to renew and transform their cultural patrimony in significant ways. The studies explore the connections between law and narrative, show the close connections between Deuteronomy and the Neo-Assyrian loyalty oath tradition, address the literary relationship of Deuteronomy and the Covenant Code, reflect upon important questions of methodology, and explore the contributions of the Bible to later western intellectual history. The volume offers essential reading for an understanding of the Pentateuch and biblical law.

Wallace Stevens, perhaps one of the most demanding, which is to say, rewarding of modern poets, was a profound reader. In his poems, Stevens proposes a way of reading and of being in the world that breaks down dichotomies: between sacred and profane, between metaphysics as a transcendent reality and metaphysics as immanent in the world, between language and thought, between presence and absence. Creation, as Stevens so clearly saw, entails hermeneutics, metaphor, language, and thought. Allusions to the Bible often appear unexpectedly in his work, as in the gorgeous poem "The Idea of Order at Key West," which centers on an unnamed woman who, like God at the beginning of creation, stands over against the waters, bringing all into existence through her potent voice, ordering nature.' Stevens here writes an implicit literary midrash that combines Proverbs 8 with Genesis 1. The stanza that I selected from "Esthétique du Mal" as the epigraph for this volume similarly rereads and rethinks literary and intellectual history in light of the Bible. In describing how "the metaphysicals / Lie sprawling in majors of the August heat," Stevens's hyperbole provides a poetic critique of a tradition like that of Platonic philosophy, in which ontology or truth is divorced from history and embodiment: "the greatest poverty is not to live in a physical world." The contrasting model of fulfillment that he invokes is predicated upon religious language: "The reverberating psalm, the right chorale." Stevens now points to another literary and intellectual tradition, that of the Jewish and Christian Bible, where meaning is conceptualized as existence in time, or as incarnation: "As if the air, the mid-day air, was swarming / With the metaphysical changes that occur, / Merely in living as and where we live."

The essays gathered in this volume attempt to embody that same "right chorale." They explore the interplay between synchronic and diachronic method, between higher and lower criticism, between the Bible and its Near Eastern context, between narrative and law, while at the same time seeking to preserve due categories of distinction, so as not to privilege the one over the other or subsume one into the other. This goal becomes evident with chapter 1, "The Right Chorale: From the Poetics to the Hermeneutics of the Hebrew Bible." Presented here in revised form, it was one of the first articles that I published, and it remains intellectually important to me. When I wrote the article, academic biblical studies seemed to be split along methodological lines: between synchronic and diachronic approaches, between "literary" approaches and more conventional source-critical approaches. The divide was not always irenic and I was troubled both by the claims of methodological hegemony and the lack of dialogue. For someone who became interested in biblical studies through work in literature and intellectual history, the situation was perplexing. Given my own research on Deuteronomy, with its integration of narrative and law, and where its reworking of literary and legal history was cast in terms of continuity with tradition, the double dichotomy law and narrative, synchronic and diachronic seemed inconsistent with the textual evidence.

One of the most ambitious and engaging works of literary scholarship that I read at that time was Meir Sternberg's The Poetics of Biblical Narrative. I found the intellectual scope of the book, which ranged from antiquity to modern literature and theory, breathtaking, as he sought to defend the literary modernity of the Hebrew Bible. At the same time, certain of his claims, both the methodological ones and the theoretical summaries about the "Israelite revelation," gave me pause. I set myself the task of working through his book carefully and writing a programmatic response in order to try to find a way out of the impasse. I found myself returning to Spinoza as a model for breaking free of the methodological dualism. Many scholars do not see Spinoza in these terms, and so in revising the article, I have sought in particular to update the literature on this important thinker.

A number of years after the original publication of chapter 1, Meir Sternberg published another work on the Hebrew Bible, a massive study of "the repertoire of legaliterature [sic] in its manifold narrativity."3 This volume investigates the literary construction of ethnicity, identity, and power in the Hebrew Bible, worked out through the allegedly different "codes" for employing the terms Hebrew and Israelite. The volume includes an extensive analysis of biblical law, especially the laws concerned with manumission of slaves. It is gratifying to see that Sternberg has therefore moved in directions consistent with the main points raised in chapter 1.4 Sternberg would deny, however, that there is any change and in his response to my original article takes sharp exception to it regrettably, in a way that does not leave the door open for dialogue on the issues.'

Chapter 2, "The Seductions of the Garden and the Genesis of Hermeneutics as Critique," continues the exploration of the relation between narrative and law in a different way. Recent years have seen renewed interest in the story of the "fall" narrative in Genesis 2-3, with two volumes published just in the last year.6 However, my own interest in the story was first awakened through John Milton, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and the fascinating Russian Jewish philosopher, Lev Shestov, who was influenced by both Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, and who deployed the narrative of the fall for his powerful, if eccentric, critique of the western philosophical tradition.' For these thinkers, the narrative is not an account of the loss of grace. Rather, it represents a symbolic structure of experience, a moment that is enduringly present and that is repeated both within the lives of individuals and from generation to generation. Their readings draw powerful connections between the Bible and the tradition of western literature and thought. For Hegel, "Der Sundenfall ist daher der ewige Mythos des Menschen, wodurch er eben Mensch wird"; it represents "der ewige Geschichte des Geistes."8 From this perspective, the fall is not a moment in past time but in literary history and the imagination, essential to human self-reflection.

In chapter 3, as in the previous chapter, the approach is primarily synchronic and attempts to reflect on a pivotal moment in the overall narrative of the Pentateuch. "The Sinai Covenant: The Argument of Revelation" was written as a contribution to a broader project on the history of Jewish political thought, and aimed at a broader reading public. I had to set aside the scholarly debates on dating and composition and focus instead on how and why the Sinai pericope matters as a chapter in the history of political thought, separate from its significance for religious communities. If the election of Israel at Sinai is popularly regarded as a myth of privilege, I believe that a closer study challenges that position.

The exploration of the political thought of the Hebrew Bible continues in chapter 4, "Deuteronomy's Conception of Law as an 'Ideal Type': A Missing Chapter in the History of Constitutional Law." Here my concern was to explore the contribution of academic biblical studies to the history of constitutional thought. I felt that the role played by the ancient Near East and ancient Israel in the development of the ideas of the autonomy of the judiciary, the separation of powers, and the rule of law was widely overlooked. Although I speak in typological terms, other scholars have made more direct claims about the Bible's influence. For example, Donald S. Lutz prepared "a count of the citations in the political literature produced during the founding era. . . . The general sample . . . covers the period from 1760 to 1805 and includes more than 916 pamphlets, books, and newspaper essays with 3,154 references to 224 different individuals. The sample includes virtually all the pamphlets and essays from the 1780s by Federalists and Antifederalists concerning the Constitution." Lutz made a special effort to exclude political pamphlets that were reprinted sermons to avoid over-weighting the influence of religion, although "at least 80 percent of the political pamphlets during the 1770s and 1780s were written by ministers." The conclusions that he draws are striking:

[T]he impact of religion and biblical sources on American political theory needs to be examined carefully. Notwithstanding the importance of separating church from state in our politics, it would appear that students of American political theory ignore the impact of religion only at the cost of missing an important influence. . . . Even [after] excluding the majority of sermons that had no references to secular thinkers, as we have done here, Deuteronomy is the most frequently cited book, followed by Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws.

The importance attached to the Bible as a source of political thought at the time of the American founding cannot be overlooked.

Chapters 5-8 function as case studies to highlight particular issues in the field of biblical law. Presumably, the laws investigated by each of these chapters already functioned in antiquity as paradigmatic cases in order to conceptualize matters of legal personhood (manumission, indenture) and religious fidelity (the boundary line between love of God and love of family). The four chapters are presented according to the canonical sequence of the biblical texts they address (Exod 21:2; Deut 13:7, 9, and 10). As a result, they appear in the reverse chronological order of their original publication. In each case, the chapters center on a single verse, which then becomes an opportunity to reflect upon larger methodological issues associated with the interpretation of biblical law, such as the relation of linguistics to historical-critical scholarship, the relation of higher and lower criticism, and the relation of textual criticism to Assyriology and the history of interpretation.

Recent debate about the literary sequence of the Covenant Code, Deuteronomy, and the Holiness Code have centered on whether the Covenant Code precedes Deuteronomy (as in the older consensus, which I also advocate) or instead represents the latest of the sources. The manumission law of the Covenant Code has been invoked as a case study to test the question of priority, since it is attested in each of the three pentateuchal legal corpora. At one point, however, I felt that something was missing in the debate. Despite several mutually exclusive claims about the meaning of the protasis of the manumission law—what it could or could not mean, who was envisioned as its subject, and what was the legal-historical situation that it referenced—there had not been a serious study of its semantics. Chapter 5 consequently investigates the nature of verbal transitivity: how a verb construes its grammatical object, an issue which proved to be something of a "blind spot" in the conventional reference works for Biblical Hebrew. It was also necessary to find a way to think through the equally inconsistent assumptions of contemporary linguistics, on the one hand, and the more traditional handbooks, on the other, about whether the concept "accusative" is appropriate altogether as an analytical tool for a language like Hebrew, in which case endings are not preserved. Having to negotiate and resolve the various positions led me deeper into the material and, I believe, strengthened my reading of the manumission law.

Deut 13 is one of the most fascinating, if not also simultaneously horrifying, units in the Bible. It is also a chapter where the key scholarly issues cut across questions of textual criticism, the composition and redactional history of the legal corpus, and the dating of the reception of Near Eastern treaty traditions into ancient Judah. The chapter commands religiously sanctioned violence in situations of extremis, requiring the execution of religious functionaries (prophet or oneiromancer), one's own spouse or son or daughter, or even an entire city, in case of incitement to apostasy. In contrast to the summary execution of one's intimates demanded in the Hebrew text, the majority of the ancient versions offer different readings, which ensure that any such killing should conform to the laws of due process. Similarly, the other ancient witnesses provide an ostensibly more logical list of the family members addressed by the law. Scholarly consensus has long advocated that the MT should be restored in light of the versions.

The more I worked on Deut 13, the less I found myself in agreement with these approaches, as regards both the text-critical issue and the religious-legal situation contemplated by the passage. The consensus position seemed to me too politically correct: the "solution" failed to locate the chapter in its Near Eastern context, and mapped a postexilic "Jewish" view of law onto an Israelite text whose assumptions I saw as strongly influenced by the Neo-Assyrian loyalty oath (ade) tradition. My interpretation of the evidence was informed by my analysis of the literary structure of sedition within Esarhaddon's Succession Treaty (or the Vassal Treaty of Esarhaddon), on the one hand, and the approach to textual criticism that I learned from Moshe Goshen-Gottstein on the other. It was methodologically important for me to take into account the full range of the versional evidence (and not just the Septuagint in isolation, as had commonly been done to that point), and to consider whether the versions preserved original readings or instead constituted exegetical corrections of a religiously problematic Vorlage. The results of these investigations are provided in chapters 6, 7, and 8, which concern themselves with Deut 13:7, 9, and 10, respectively.

It has been very gratifying to see that these studies have helped bring about a change in the consensus regarding the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible. The arguments provided for the originality of the readings witnessed by MT Deut 13:7 and 13:10 (chapters 6' and 16 ) have found quite wide acceptance and have been accepted into the new edition of Bible, Hebraica Quinta. My study of the lexicography of Deut 13:9 (chapter 7 which argues that a key idiom within the verse has been misunderstood since antiquity, has also found acceptance in a number of quarters.3 It also important to acknowledge several scholars who have taken the time 1 write thoughtful responses to my work. In particular, the original publication of chapter 8 (on Deut 13:10) has generated very interesting debate. shall focus upon one response here and address the second, by Horst Se( bass, in the Afterword to chapter 8 (p. 193).

In her ironically titled challenge, Anneli Aejmelaeus seeks to defen the priority of the Lxx reading of Deut 13:10.4 In order to do so, she di; misses the relevance of investigating the full range of ancient witnesses t this difficult biblical text, which I believe I was the first to do. She considers most of them (such as the Syriac Peshitta, the Vulgate, and the Targumim) irrelevant: "In the evaluation of a textual case the strategies later versions play no role. The procedure followed by Levinson in hi argumentation is not legitimate and definitely not convincing."5 She cor tends, for example, that the Syriac Peshitta "is not to be regarded as a

independent witness since it probably at least partly depends on the MT,"6 a claim for which she provides no evidence. Instead she simply cites an article by Jan Joosten as the basis for her claim and then immediately continues: "The translation of the Peshitta probably started in the 2nd century C.E. with the Pentateuch, and the Hebrew parent text was very close to the consonant [sic] text of the MT." The difficulty, however, is that Aejmelaeus misunderstands and inverts Joosten's actual position in that article. He begins by describing the conventional view of the late nature of the Syriac and its lack of text-critical interest, only then to present his own affirmation of its importance. Aejmelaeus overlooks this distinction. She mistakenly attributes the conventional view, which she holds, to him, although Joosten rejects it as no longer tenable in light of the evidence:

Cependant, l'établissement d'un texte relativement fiable, et la reconnaissance de la PAT comme une version relativement ancienne et indépendante devrait incliner les chercheurs vers une revision de ce jugement. Dans la pratique une grande prudence sera toujours nécessaire, mais du point de vue théorique it est certain que la PAT contient des !eons dues a un texte hébreu qui divergeait du texte massorétigue. Entre ces variantes qui n'ont pas leur origine dans le processus de traduction it pourra se trouver des leçons originates. La critique textuelle devra nécessairement en tenir compte.

[However, the establishment of a relatively reliable text, and the recognition of the Peshitta as a relatively old and independent version should incline researchers towards a revision of this judgment. In practice, great prudence will always be necessary, but from the theoretical point of view it is certain that the Peshitta contains readings due to a Hebrew text that diverged from the Masoretic text. Among these variants that do not have their origin in the translation process it is possible to find original readings. Textual criticism must necessarily take this into account.]

In cases such as Deut 13:10-11, where there is genuine uncertainty regarding an original reading, textual criticism must carefully consider the full range of ancient witnesses, as I have sought to do, rather than arbitrarily dismiss relevant evidence.

I learn how to think more sharply by engaging the work of scholars who raise fundamental methodological or theoretical questions about how to approach the biblical text. This is so whether or not I agree with the positions argued: simply the in-depth engagement in the approach of another colleague helps me understand my own ideas more closely and, ideally, leads to a constructive dialogue in both directions. The four articles gathered here engage the work of Raymond Westbrook, Calum M. Carmichael, J. Gordon McConville, and John Van Seters. Several larger themes tie them together, themes that go beyond the explicit question of how to read biblical law, whether the Covenant Code (as with Westbrook and Van Seters) or Deuteronomy (as with Carmichael and McConville). In all four cases, the real question is: How do we develop criteria to distinguish more and less powerful ways of reading the text?

In this final section, the volume returns to the methodological issue introduced earlier in chapter 1: the relation of synchronic and diachronic method and the role of philology. Two main themes are addressed. First, I seek to demonstrate the difficulties that arise when a synchronic approach overlooks the extent to which it is also an interpretive construction (when its interpretive moves remain unconscious) or when it claims some kind of hegemony as to either theological significance or literary richness, as if diachronic method were somehow inferior, relegated to the realm of the merely technical or arbitrary. Second, I investigate what it means to claim that one particular reading of a biblical text is immanent, whereas the alternative is somehow not culturally appropriate or anachronistic. These issues arise both in Westbrook's reading of the casuistic laws of the Covenant Code (chapter 9) and in Van Seters's reading of the Covenant Code and Sinai pericope (chapter 12). Such arguments can easily be inverted and challenged on their own terms.

It is certainly the case that I advocate strongly the diachronic method, which is to say, conventional source-critical and historical-critical approaches. I think it wrong, however, to consider me "guilty of completely overlooking synchronic concerns in favor of diachronic analysis," as Peter T. Vogt recently claimed in his doctoral dissertation, completed with McConville (whose approach is the subject of chapter 9).1 Perhaps an adequate method, like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder, since precisely the opposite charge has been directed against my work by Eckart Otto: "Insgesamt spielt die Frage literarischer Schichtung in [Deut] 12-26 eine fair der Verf. eher untergeordnete Rolle" [In general, the question of literary stratification within Deut 12-26 plays a rather secondary role for the author]. Contrary to Vogt, many of the essays in this volume (as in chapters 1, 2, 3, and 4) show not only my respect for the contributions of the synchronic approach but my own use of it as a way to access meaning. Conversely, there is an irony in Otto's often-repeated critique, since my volume on Deuteronomy identified numerous points where his approach was arbitrary in its differentiation between Deuteronomic and Deuteronomistic strata or harmonistic in overlooking substantive legal differences between texts.

The difficulty with synchronic scholarship is when it flattens out the specifics of a text and looks away from the "fault lines" and the rough edges of the text, out of the concern to make everything fit nicely, and as if they were not somehow part and parcel of the content of revelation. Textual coherence is a much richer concept than is frequently recognized. Coherence tends to be reduced to a Romantic notion of "original unity of authorship," a position that must then defend the text from any notion of interpolation or redactional layering. But scholarship that is attentive to the synchronic interpretation of a text need not be harmonistic and need not deny the compositional and redactional history of a text. Attention to such issues may help make the contours of the text, both its literary sophistication and its theological differentiation, emerge even more significantly, as evident in the work of scholars such as Norbert Lohfink, Eckart Otto, and Jean-Pierre Sonnet (whose dissertation I helped direct).

In doing research for my doctoral dissertation on Deuteronomy, I read widely on literary approaches to biblical law, because I believed that this dimension of the legal corpus had not received sufficient attention. Hoping to find a model that would clarify the connections of the legal corpus to other Israelite literature and make sense of Deuteronomy's distinctive rhetorical techniques, I was initially drawn to the proposals of Calum M. Carmichael. As I worked through his publications, doubts began to emerge. To explain these concerns, I published my first journal article in 1990. Revised here as chapter 10, the article provides a detailed assessment of Carmichael's theories about the nature, purpose, and construction of the laws of Deuteronomy. He has since moved on to examine Leviticus, first in an article that includes a response to my critique and more recently in a monograph.4 Since Carmichael is now applying the same theories and methods to the laws of Leviticus that he previously applied to Deuteronomy, the issues I originally addressed remain relevant.

John Van Seters has recently published a response to the original version of chapter 12, charging me with "making exaggerated accusations and overstatements which tend to distort or confuse my position. . . ." Indeed, at one point where he pointed out a possible factual error, I corrected the text, to show that J is not the latest stratum of the Pentateuch in his model, although he concedes that this point was already clear from the rest of the article. Van Seters has responded elsewhere as well. The reader must finally decide whether the chapter distorts his position. Since a complete response would require yet another article, I will address just one issue.

As I argued in the original version of chapter 12: "A more immanent reading of the legal-religious literature of the ancient Near East demands recognition of redaction as an essential strategy of authorship" (p. 295 below). Van Seters retorts: "What I object to is characterizing any of this literary activity as editorial. The term author-editor is an oxymoron, a contradiction. It is precisely the history of redaction criticism that has

created this problem." This "contradiction," however, is a product of his maintaining a rigid dichotomy between "author" and "editor," a dichotomy that is itself bound to the western historical-social milieu out of which both notions arose. The terms "author" and "editor" as representing distinct concepts each rely upon the other for differentiation. To read these separate categories back into antiquity is where the anachronism arises. Much of cuneiform as well as Israelite literature is the product of sophisticated scribal compositional techniques where the modern dichotomy between author and editor simply does not apply. To be sure, Van Seters has done the field a service in his most recent book by highlighting the intellectual history of the concept of editing, drawing extensively on classical scholarship.8 His goal of eradicating the use of terms such as "editor" and "redactor," while maintaining the use of "author" as alone valid, simply creates another anachronism by leaving the impression that ancient Israelite textual production should be understood in terms of the myth of the Romantic author.

Authorship has an intellectual history, no less than the concept of editing, and this must equally be recognized. Jean-Louis Ska takes the mirror opposite approach, being so concerned to avoid the anachronism that he denies the category of authorship—in effect, of literary and intellectual originality to antiquity altogether, in favor of the anonymous editor. I would argue that through their anonymous, pseudonymous, or theonymous compositions and interventions in the textual tradition, ancient scribes were able to introduce significant legal, literary, and religious transformations of tradition." Even if not working within the tradition of the "named author," their capacity for originality should not be dissolved, as if everything were surrendered to tradition. Accordingly, in contrast to these two positions—either all "author" or all "editor"—I believe that my alternative model, whereby authorship and editing are not mutually exclusive, provides a more robust reading of the literary history of antiquity.


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