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dcarrnyus

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Reply with quote  #1 
This forum is a discussion of the replies to an article by Philip Yoo, “The Four 
Moses Death Accounts,” which appeared in JBL 131 (2012): 423–41. The response to Yoo in JBL 133.3 started with an article length contribution by Serge Frolov and some shorter replies to Frolov by Yoo and to Yoo and Frolov by Shawna Dolansky and myself. The interchange around Philip Yoo's article can be found in issue 133.3 of the Journal of Biblical Literature accessible through this link.  

This is an experiment for the SBL. I have had my (initial) say. I'm interested in seeing whether this can be a model for constructive online interchange over issues of common interest. Many thanks to John Kutsko, Adele Reinhartz, and others for their initiative in moving this forward!
Serge Frolov

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Let me join in the thanks to John Kutsko and Adele Reinhartz and to express my special appreciation to David Carr for inviting  me to continue the discussion.

As anyone who has read the responses to my article might imagine, I have much to say in my turn. So, to save on time and space, I will comment on specific points made by Carr and Dolansky (I do not have serious objections to anything in Yoo’s thoughtful response) and do it in a format that is common on Internet forums, with the responders quoted in italics and my comments following in regular font.  

 

Carr: 

>> Frolov is not as explicit about his assumptions as Yoo, but his article appears guided by one major premise, briefly stated in a footnote, “that it is methodologically sound to follow the Bible’s default framework as long as it is possible.” By this statement he seems to mean that one should read a biblical text as literarily unified unless it is clearly shown to be otherwise, not having recourse at any point to results from analyses of other, potentially related texts. Put another way: a text is unified for Frolov unless proven disunified (p. 679).

 

This is not entirely accurate: as I explain in the monograph, to which the footnote refers, following the Bible’s default framework does not always mean reading synchronically. For example, by ascribing the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah (contiguous in all canons) to two different prophets who lived roughly a century apart the Bible insists on a diachronic relationship between these two texts. But Carr is correct as far as the Enneateuch is concerned: by failing to give any signals to the contrary, the Bible invites the audience to read it as an integral composition. This, in its turn, does not mean that such a reading cannot break down at some point: as I have tried to demonstrate in the above-mentioned monograph, this is the case with 1 Samuel 1-8.

 

>>Frolov reinterprets Deuteronomy 18 as referring only to a limited similarity of later prophets to Moses. Deuteronomy 18 itself, however, lacks any specific wording to support Frolov’s understanding (p. 680).

Neither is there any wording that makes this understanding impossible. And the content of the chapter strongly supports it. There is a lot about the prophet’s role in the community and nothing about his relative stature.

If I tell my students, “David Carr is a professor just like me,” and then, at the end of the semester, a student tells her friends, “There is no professor like Frolov” – is there a contradiction?

This, actually, is a big part of what is wrong with not only source criticism but with the entire diachronic enterprise: scholars being pedantic and expecting, nay demanding, the same from biblical writers. In this particular case, Moses must be talking about the prophet’s stature if he does not say loud and clear that he is not. Why not cut him some slack – or, rather, why not allow for the possibility that he is talking to an audience (more precisely, that the author is writing for an audience) that is sufficiently sophisticated to obviate the need to spell everything out?

 

>>Frolov’s “purely inductive reading” offers two ways to harmonize these geographical designations: (1) using Modern Hebrew (not usually a good source for philological analysis of ancient Hebrew) to reinterpret “the Pisgah” as designating “generic ‘summit’ or ‘ridge,’” or (2) suggesting that the termהפסגה “may refer to the entire massif towering over the Dead Sea and the southern part of the Jordan valley (pp. 679-680).

 

Does the lack of response to the latter suggestion mean a tacit acknowledgment that it might be valid?

Here are two additional arguments in its support: a) Num 23:14 mentions a “field of watchers at the top of the Pisgah”; how can there be a field at the top of a single mountain? b) in Mishnaic Hebrew, the generic noun פסגה means “branch, bough” (see Jastrow); this seems to be better applicable to a ridge than to a single mountain.

 

>> So also, Deut 34:9 conspicuously refers back only to the (Priestly) account of Moses laying his hands on Joshua, his successor, in Num 27:18-23 and not to subsequent accounts in Deuteronomy of Moses (Deut 31:7) and Yhwh (31:14, 23) verbally commissioning Joshua. In relation to this issue, Frolov inconclusively states in a footnote, “It is by no means clear why the two scenes cannot be seen as complementary,” and suggests that Deut 34:9 mentions the scene in Numbers 27 only to single it out as crucial. Frolov does not clarify why a “purely inductive”reader would see such a reading as necessary, nor does he offer a possible reason why 34:9 would single out Numbers 27 and not the competing scenes in Deuteronomy 31 of verbal commissioning (p. 680).

 

In most cultures and political systems, the change of leadership normally proceeds in at least two temporally and ritually distinctive phases. The new leader is designated while the previous one is still in charge but inaugurated only when the predecessor is about to depart, due to natural causes or because his/her term expires. If 1 Kings 1-2 is any indication, this pattern was well known in ancient Israel. With that in mind, an inductive reading of the biblical text yields the following results: the narrator recounts Joshua’s designation in Numbers 27 and his inauguration in Deuteronomy 31 (when Moses is about to die) and then uses the report of Moses’ death to clarify that the “spirit of wisdom” was bestowed upon Joshua by the former ceremony, specifically by the laying of hands. What is wrong with this picture – except, that is, for the heresy of failing to ascribe Numbers and Deuteronomy to different hands?

 

>> In this article, Perlitt maintained that no part of Deuteronomy originated in a Priestly document, and he specifically argued that the few clear echoes of P in Deuteronomy 34, such as the mention of the “plains of Moab” in 34:1, were the result of late, post-Priestly revision rather than the conflation of sources (p. 681).

 

Perlitt actually makes a lot of sense, but his treatment of the putative P in Deuteronomy 34 is essentially redaction-critical (he envisions an original text coming from a single hand and modified by subsequent revision) and as such irrelevant as far as source criticism is concerned.

 

Dolansky:

 

>> First, in terms of his discussion of Yoo’s arguments, Frolov’s postulation of a unified “master narrative” behind Deuteronomy 34 is not so much argued for as stated repeatedly (pp. 669-670).

 

I never mention a “master narrative.” I mention a “narrative master sequence,” which is not the same thing. What I mean by this is a simple empirical observation (of the kind scientists are supposed to make) that, first, Deuteronomy 34 is a narrative, and second, that syntactically this narrative is held together by a chain of wayyiqtol verbs. If Dolansky would like to contend that the chapter is a poem or a law code or that wayyiqtols should be understood differently, I am prepared to consider her arguments.

 

>> Frolov maintains that the break in flow constitutes a “narrator’s digression” rather than a seam between sources (p. 670).

 

The tendency to interpret every digression as an “editorial seam” is one of source criticism’s age-old maladies. It might be fun to apply this procedure to modern literature and to see how many “sources” will emerge as a result in, say, Gogol or Tolstoy.

 

>> Where Frolov and source criticism part ways is in his choice to either force contradictory evidence to fit a predetermined framework or ignore it altogether. (This is also where Frolov’s method parts ways with good scientific inquiry.) (p. 672).

 

This is a strange statement, to put it mildly. Dolansky seems to have somehow missed out not only 40-something years of synchronic (properly literary) study of the Bible but also half a century of post-modern theory.

 

>>  Further, it is not self-evident that reading the text in its “default frame of reference,” that is, in its received canonical form, necessarily forms the basis for a “reasonably unbiased interpretation” (p. 672).

 

Maybe not, but certainly much more so than reading the text in any deductive framework. At least, the Bible’s received canonical form exists on parchment, papyrus, and paper. J, E, D, and P (not to mention PG and R8) exist only in exegetes’ heads. There are no J manuscripts and no notations, even on the margins, to the effect of “these are the words of P.” Shouldn’t a good scientist value evidence over presuppositions?

 

>> …in fact, the canonical form represents a set of theological biases that scholars, through source criticism and other critical means, have sought for the past 250 years to uncover, sift through, and make sense of from a more secular and scholarly position. (p. 672)

 

First, I am not quite sure what biases we are talking about here. If those of the putative sources of the Pentateuch, the statement presupposes the findings of source criticism and therefore cannot serve as an argument for its validity. Another possibility is the canonical process, but for the present discussion it is irrelevant.

Second, the claim that diachronic approaches are by definition “secular and scholarly” may have sounded convincing in the nineteenth and early twentieth century but today it is nothing but naïve. Suffice it to mention that Wellhausen developed his (version of the) documentary hypothesis primarily as a “scientific” foundation for supercessionist Religionsgeschichte in which Judaism regresses from the lofty “ethical monotheism” of the prophets, which is then gloriously saved by Christianity – as understood by late-nineteenth century German Lutherans. And is it an accident that the number of classical “sources” of the Pentateuch precisely matches that of canonical Gospels?

 

>> Perhaps I misunderstand, or perhaps I have a different definition of what it might mean for interpretations to be “equally true.” Perhaps my own ideological and/or aesthetic preferences tend too much toward the logical (p. 673).

 

What we deal here is the yawning gap between the modern and post-modern paradigms. Dolansky apparently still shares another staple of nineteenth-century naiveté, namely, the expectation that when a proper method is found and properly applied, the one and only true interpretation must emerge. Today, this is actually a heroic position, given that two centuries of modern criticism have failed to yield anything of the kind for any part of the Bible, no matter how large or small, and that in the last decades the movement has been clearly away from consensus on all things biblical. I admire her fortitude, but I am not nearly as brave, so I have let myself to be convinced by post-modern theorists that any text is polyvalent by nature. In fact, researchers are beginning to run into similar phenomena even in (so-called) exact sciences: see my The Turn of the Cycle (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2004), pp. 30-32. But maybe the Bible is different. It’s a divine book, after all J

 

>> To be sure, the goals of the interpreter are central in choosing, say, between a theological interpretation and a literary or historical one, but if, for example, the text at hand contains internal contradictions, and if those contradictions, when separated, line up exactly with previous texts in terms of theme and content, then it would be incumbent upon the “reasonably unbiased” exegete to consider a source-critical analysis of the text in question (p. 673).

First, as mentioned above, it is rather naïve to expect that a “literary or historical” interpretation of the Bible must be – or even can be – non-theological.

Second, I wholeheartedly agree that when internal contradictions are discovered in a text that presents itself as integral diachronic reading becomes an option. But there are none in “the text at hand,” that is, in Deuteronomy 34! There would still be none even if all of Dolansky’s and Carr’s objections to my reading are accepted (since these objections are very similar, I will not discuss them again). At most, there will be some tensions between chap. 34 and other parts of Deuteronomy.

Third, no amount of contradictions makes diachronic interpretation the only option. This is proved beyond reasonable doubt by the fact that glaring conceptual inconsistencies and even factual discrepancies can be found in many, maybe even most, works of modern literature definitely created by a single hand: for some examples (which can be multiplied ad infinitum), see The Turn of the Cycle, pp. 199-200, and my article “Evil-Merodach and the Deuteronomist,” Biblica 88 (2007): 187 n. 37.

 

>> Eventually, the exegete would notice that, although Deuteronomy 34 could be read as a unified whole, in light of the aggregate of evidence from the rest of the Pentateuch, Deuteronomy 34 in fact manages to tie up loose ends from at least three, if not all four20 of the other documentary sources into one seemingly unified account of Moses’ death (p. 675).

 

OK, but then a *real* scientist – one who aspires to be intellectually honest – would look back and ask: “How come that the redactor did such a marvelous job in Deuteronomy 34 and such a sloppy one in Genesis 6-9? If I leave it without explanation my hypothesis will be unfalsifiable and therefore unscientific by definition.” This is all my article is about: source critics need either to account for the redactor’s wildly inconsistent MO – or come up with a hypothesis that avoids postulating multiple sources behind unproblematic texts. Baden’s suggestion (seemingly upheld by Yoo) that the redactor was especially careful about harmonizing reports of one-time events looks like a step in the right direction (although the fact that the deaths of Joshua and Samuel actually are reported twice gives me a pause).

 

>> Yoo’s method of investigating each of the contradictions and breaks in narrative flow that he finds in Deuteronomy 34 and correlating them with earlier Pentateuchal texts is precisely what source critics do (p. 676).

 

Something tells me that Yoo would agree but Carr apparently does not (see pp. 680-681).

 

>> This is why it is unclear to what end an exegete would conduct an inductive reading of an isolated chapter (when the chapter divisions themselves are post factum and often arbitrary) in the context of a discussion of source criticism (p. 676).

 

I limited myself to Genesis 34 because Yoo’s article is focused on it, but, come to think of it, the chapter actually is a literary unit, separated from what precedes it by Moses’s blessing in Genesis 33 (which is introduced by a nominal clause in 33:1 and thus presented as a digression) and from what follows (in Joshua) by the equally digressive paean to Moses in 34:10-12. To be sure, one should also keep in mind that it is a part of a larger literary entity, namely the Enneateuch (and perhaps of a major subdivision within it, e.g. Deuteronomy-Kings), and this is what I tried to do, noting the chapter’s multiple intertextual connections to various parts of the corpus.

dcarrnyus

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Reply with quote  #3 
I hope others weigh in, but just a few words responding to Serge Frolov's detailed response. 

Frolov says, "But Carr is correct as far as the Enneateuch is concerned: by failing to give any signals to the contrary, the Bible invites the audience to read it as an integral composition. 

I find this sort of language "invite" somewhat misleading in its implication that the Bible is a subject telling us what to do with it. If we approach the Bible historically, in its ancient Near Eastern context, we know now from a variety of sources that scribes changed texts. Frolov has found evidence of this in 1 Samuel 1-8, and it is documented in other instances. So, as historians, we approach the Bible with eyes open both to how it can be read as a whole and indicators that it, like numerous other literary-theological texts of the ancient Near East, underwent change. 

It feels strange at this point in the scholarly enterprise to have to prove, yet again, on each and every chapter of the Bible, that growth is likely. 

A bit later, Frolov argues, A
n inductive reading of the biblical text yields the following results: the narrator recounts Joshua’s designation in Numbers 27 and his inauguration in Deuteronomy 31 (when Moses is about to die) and then uses the report of Moses’ death to clarify that the “spirit of wisdom” was bestowed upon Joshua by the former ceremony, specifically by the laying of hands. What is wrong with this picture – except, that is, for the heresy of failing to ascribe Numbers and Deuteronomy to different hands?

This sounds like a plausible reading of the present form of the text, but--if one believes the Bible, like many other ANE texts might well have been formed over time and if one also uses some data from other cases of Numbers and Deuteronomy--then this seems forced as the most likely reading of the data in Numbers 27, Deuteronomy 31 and Deuteronomy 34. The materials about Joshua's succession in Numbers 27 and Deuteronomy 34 cohere well together, while the materials in Deuteronomy 31 appear to be working with a different wording and conceptuality. 

Finally, at the conclusion of his reply, Frolov notes "
Perlitt actually makes a lot of sense, but his treatment of the putative P in Deuteronomy 34 is essentially redaction-critical (he envisions an original text coming from a single hand and modified by subsequent revision) and as such irrelevant as far as source criticism is concerned."

Yes, it is true that Yoo's article was resolutely source-critical. Nevertheless, Frolov's reply seems to argue that one must stretch as far as possible toward a unifying "inductive" reading before settling for any kind of diachronic hypothesis of growth. Therefore, I think we should include redaction-critical arguments here. 
That said, I will concede that I myself find that many, if not most of the redaction-critical arguments used in contemporary scholarship to identify multiple layers fall under precisely the critiques that Frolov levels against source criticism--they assume far too much unity on the part of biblical authors, they fail to explore multiple avenues for understanding the text before us, they depend too much on imported assumptions from other (methodologically weak) parts of the redaction-critical analysis, etc. Though I think we have plenty of documentation that redaction happened in the ANE (indeed more than there was source conflation), I just find that many (not all) contemporary redaction-critical arguments are actually more vulnerable to Frolov's critique than source-critical arguments. 

In sum, I see a need for balance. We need not stretch every which way and ignore data from analysis of other parts of the Pentateuch to read every chapter as a unified composition. Source-criticism need not be proved at every point on data internal to the chapter. At the same time, people doing source- and redaction-criticism need to get out of our bubbles (I'm including myself here) and do more to provide good data for their theories to people who do not already buy into their particular neo-documentarian, redaction-critical, etc. school. Otherwise, our theories will have a quite limited shelf life and make little or no contribution to the ongoing investigation of how the Bible was formed. 
Serge Frolov

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Reply with quote  #4 
I am all for a balanced approach but I believe that a major element of such an approach is the lex parsimoniae, also known as Ockham's razor. A hypothesis that invokes D or P (or Dtr, for that matter) creates a new entity out of the blue, which makes it by definition inferior to the interpretation that does not require such entities to explain available evidence. In other words, diachronic decisions (or, more precisely, decisions that go against the text's default frame of reference) should always be the last resort. Otherwise, controls are gone and excesses follow, as it has indeed been the case.

To cite a specific example: as I have already tried to explain, there does not seem to be any contradiction between Numbers 27 and Deuteronomy 34 on the one hand and Deuteronomy 31 on the other. If a biography of, say, an American president describes both his election and inauguration (events with different wording and conceptuality attached to them) and then, in the epilogue, chooses to highlight the election as the pivotal moment, does it mean that two different hands must be involved? If so, it is redundant to postulate multiple sources in order to make sense of these three texts.

Yes, there is evidence that ancient Near Eastern scribes changed their texts. Moreover, there is ample evidence that the Bible itself was changed - otherwise we would not have multiple Hebrew versions of some books, not to mention divergent ancient translations (although the latter open a whole new can of worms). And yes, this means that any given biblical text may be a product of more than one hand. But, first, there is wide epistemic gap between possibility and actuality, between may be and is. Second, has a diachronic development of an ancient Near Eastern text (other than the Bible, that is) ever been hypothesized based strictly on internal inconsistencies etc., in the absence of precursors or alternative versions? Third, available evidence concerning the MO of biblical scribes seems to undermine some crucial postulates of source criticism (together with certain varieties of redaction criticism). It would appear, for example, that the scribes freely alternated synonymous terms (e.g., YHWH and Elohim) because after the manner of oral performers they did not perceive any difference between them (Raymond Person has written extensively on this). If so, what is left of one of the most basic source-critical operations - delineation of sources by their vocabulary?      

Concerning redaction criticism: yes, of course, it may have methodological weaknesses, and if someone raises them specifically it could make for another interesting discussion. But promoting redaction criticism was not my goal: I just mentioned, in a footnote, that it does not seem to suffer from the specific epistemological problem discussed in the article. Plus, of course, even if it is proven beyond reasonable doubt that redaction criticism does not work that would not render source criticism valid by default.

Finally, I was surprised, if not dismayed, by Carr's statement that "It feels strange at this point in the scholarly enterprise to have to prove, yet again, on each and every chapter of the Bible, that growth is likely." It is my profound belief that there are no established doctrines in scholarship, that evidence and arguments are all that matters. And isn't it ironic that historical-critical scholarship, whose very existence is a rejection of sacred exegetical traditions of religious communities, now seems to have its own sacred tradition? 
dcarrnyus

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Reply with quote  #5 
Just returning back after a while to see this response. A couple of notes. 

First, toward the outset Frolov says, "A hypothesis that invokes D or P (or Dtr, for that matter) creates a new entity out of the blue." Yet, the idea of P or of D-tinged redaction is not a new hypothesis "out of the blue." These hypotheses were developed in analysis of other hexateuchal texts, with clearer indicators to be sure of growth than Deuteronomy 34. But if, in analyzing Deuteronomy 34, I, or Yoo, or anyone else proposes that parts of P or semi-D redaction are there, I have not suddenly developed a new hypothesis "out of the blue." 

Frolov asks, "has a diachronic development of an ancient Near Eastern text (other than the Bible, that is) ever been hypothesized based strictly on internal inconsistencies etc., in the absence of precursors or alternative versions?"  In fact, this has happened. It is less frequent in Assyriology and other disciplines where it is challenge enough just to edit and produce editions of texts as we now have them. But there are numerous proposals for growth of the Hammurabi Code, Maqlu, etc. that are pretty much based on internal criteria. And Jerome Murphy-O'Connor (“La genèse littéraire de la Règle de la Communauté,” RB 76 [1969]: 537–44) proposed that the Qumran community rule began at column V decades before the cave 4 Community Rule manuscripts had appeared that began precisely there. 

Finally, Frolov takes great exception to my statement. ""It feels strange at this point in the scholarly enterprise to have to prove, yet again, on each and every chapter of the Bible, that growth is likely."  Going on to say. "It is my profound belief that there are no established doctrines in scholarship, that evidence and arguments are all that matters." Though there are no established doctrines, there are working hypotheses that must not be proved anew every time one greets a new problem. Do biologists feel as if they must re-prove the basic idea of evolution each time they deal with a problem in the genome? Do astronomers have to review the evidence that the universe does not revolve around the earth each time they develop a new idea about comet's trajectories? 

Frolov is right that there is a major distinction between "is" and "may," though we probably differ on how crucial it is to constantly emphasize this gap. But he asks too much of biblical scholars, at this point in the development of research, in having to prove, from the ground up, each theory based exclusively on an individual text, especially if that text is being read harmonistically as he occasionally does in the case of Deuteronomy 34.  


Serge Frolov

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Reply with quote  #6 
With all due respect, I do not believe that the status of source criticism in biblical scholarship comes even close to that of heliocentrism in astronomy or Darwinism in biology. But even if it did, so what? All scientific theories are implicitly or explicitly challenged all the time and sometimes discarded as a result. This is precisely what happened when Nicolaus Copernicus  and others made observations that cast a shadow of doubt over Ptolemaic cosmography - which at the time was considered all but self-evident. And when in a recent experiment neutrinos seemed to move faster than light, I do not remember anybody sighing in exasperation, "What, do we have to prove relativity theory all over again?" No, the scientists analyzed the experiment and the data it yielded and found flaws. Had everything checked out, maybe today giant Internet page banners would be blaring, "Einstein Was Wrong!"

Also, I am happy to report that this discussion has already produced at least one one tangible result. Namely, it has transformed my instinctive dislike of the word "harmonization" in all its permutations into a conscious conviction that it should not be used because there is a major fallacy lurking behind it. Namely, by implying that the text under discussion is disharmonious it assumes what in fact needs to be proved. And that is another manifestation of not just source criticism but also the entire diachronic enterprise teetering on the brink of unfalsifiability. Is it possible to oppose the claim that a given text contains a contradiction without being branded a harmonizer? And if it is, when exactly? Under what conditions?   
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