Hoffmeier-geography and reality

One difference between James K. Hoffmeier in Ancient Israel in Sinai and scholars with a minimalist tendency concerns the names of places in the Pentateuch. Minimalists explain the place names in Numbers 33 and elsewhere as reflecting the 6th century rather than the 12th or 13th. They claim this shows that the Pentateuch and its sources arose centuries after the events they purport to describe.

Hoffmeier refutes this with strong evidence.

A good deal of this debate has to do with the mention of cities of Ramses and Pithom in Exodus 1:11 and Numbers 33:5. The late-date people say that dropping the Pi prefix (house of) for Ramses points to a late date. But a writer who did actually write a poem about it centuries later used the name, Zoan (Psalm 78:12). And the sixth century prophet Ezekiel included the Pi when he mentioned Bubastis (Ezekiel 30:17) So the idea that a later writer would have called the city Ramses while a writer close to the time would have called it Pi-Ramses is a weak assumption.

Hoffmeier has a long and learned discussion about the existence of ancient canals and the location of Pithom, Succoth, Etham, Migdol and the Reed Sea (he locates the sea somewhere in the Bellah Lakes system).

Hoffmeier has been involved in archeological projects in the Sinai for many years. He has been associated with the archeological work that has located a string of New Kingdom fortifications along the road toward Canaan. In addition to work on the ground, we now have access to satellite imaging that has shown traces of canals that used to exist.

He says that the recent discoveries decisively disprove the theory that the exodus story was made up based on sixth century geography. The places mentioned in Exodus 14:2 and Numbers 33:7 all existed in relation to the system of forts at the Egyptian end of the road toward Gaza during the New Kingdom. They were between the north part of the Bellah lakes and the old eastern lagoon.

We shouldn’t dismiss these findings lightly.  Although, I would rather think the sea crossing happened at the north end of the Gulf of Suez, the distances and how far you can travel with livestock in a day (based on my own ranch experience) cause me to think it must have happened, as Hoffmeier says, in the northeast corner of the Nile Delta.

The environment and geography of this area changed over the next several centuries. Hoffmeier includes maps reconstructing the ancient lakes, canals, and coastline. The Pelusiac branch of the Nile gradually moved at least fifteen kilometers to the north. The area where Hoffmeier has located the Reed Sea crossing began to dry up. So he is quite sure that the story does not reflect sixth century geography.

These kind of results move us away from the most skeptical theories. However, I want to point out that this does not mean we have a precise historical record in the Bible. I believe Moses existed and had something to do with a sea (lake) crossing and a period of hardship in the wilderness. However, I also detect a good deal of evidence that the stories have been theologized and exaggerated.

I would compare this to the records about Sargon the Great. This Akkadian king really existed and was born about -2330. However, many of the stories about him are of the genre “naru literature”. See here. Such stories did not have accurate history as their main concern. For instance, there is a story about Sargon’s birth in which he gets set afloat on the Euphrates in a basket.

So even though Hoffmeier has an important point about the real geographical setting for the exodus story, we can’t jump from that to the idea that everything happened just like the Bible says.

Posted in Ancient Israel, Ancient Egypt, Exodus | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Hoffmeier-how we study the Bible and Sinai

In order to show the contrast in ways to approach the narratives in the Pentateuch, I am going to shift from Gnuse’s The Elohist to James Hoffmeier’s Ancient Israel in Sinai for one or two posts before I have to take a week off.

Hoffmeier makes the point that there is a flaw in the approach that many recent scholars have taken. That approach seeks to build a view of ancient Israel from archeology and extra-biblical sources only. What archeology has recovered about religion shows Canaanite religion being practiced. Hoffmeier has it right when he points out that, since there are severe restrictions on doing archeology on the Temple Mount, what we are going to find is popular religion. The whole point of the Bible is to criticize this popular religion. So finding that Canaanite religion was popularly practiced does not really undermine the accuracy of the narratives.

He also makes the point that much of the scholarship that studies Ancient Israel has a bias, not just against miracles, but against the whole concept of revelation. Although it may sound a little polemical and defensive to point this out, it is useful to remember that such scholarship approaches the Bible from a totally unsympathetic point of view. He criticizes both post-modernism and Enlightenment rationalism as approaches to the religion of Israel.

Hoffmeier proposes that scholars might learn from those who have taken a more phenomenological point of view. He speaks here of Rudolph Otto and Mircea Eliade. A feature of phenomenology is to bracket your own world view and try to just describe in a disciplined way what you find without imposing your assumptions. This is very hard to do. But it does require us to have a certain self-awareness about our own POV. This enables scholars to be more fair to ancient world views.

In the study of the religion of ancient Israel, this puts Hoffmeier sharply over against a scholar like Mark Smith, who does not think the wilderness tradition played any role in the origin of Israelite religion. It all evolved from an indigenous Canaanite background. In contrast, Hoffmeier holds that the religion that became settled in the period after the exile involved a conservative return to original ideas.

Okay, that is about all the philosophical and methodological talk I can handle—although it is really important to understand the differences between scholars.

Hoffmeier moves on to give us a lot of information about the Sinai Peninsula. In the Bronze and Iron ages it was important as the land bridge between Africa and Asia. Important caravan routes ran through it. The Egyptians had mines in it for cooper and turquoise. Yet, though it was influenced and exploited by Egypt, it was not a part of Egypt.

He does not know the meaning of the word, Sinai. Some have suggested a connection with the Hebrew word for bush, a reference to the burning bush. Others have thought it had something to do with the Egyptian word for mud. Still others have connected it to the Mesopotamian moon god, Sin. Hoffmeier asks what the Egyptians called the peninsula. Surprisingly, Egyptian documents do not seem to have a word for it. Some recently discovered documents record mining expeditions passing through Bia, a word with a foreign land determinative in the hieroglyphics. But this may not be the name for the land itself, but for the route through the land.

In later times Sinai was included in the term, Arabia.

Hoffmeier gives a brief description of the geography and climate of the Sinai. It had a challenging environment that the biblical description of a “great and terrible wilderness” is right.

His concentration on Sinai for the wilderness experience of Israel is certainly correct in that to get from Egypt to the plains of Moab they had to pass through it. However, the oldest biblical poetry—passages like Judges 5:4-5 and Deuteronomy 33:2 seem to place Sinai to the southeast. So was Sinai in biblical memory really the same as our Sinai Peninsula?

Posted in Ancient Israel | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Gnuse-the road from Carmel to Horeb

In The Elohist, Robert Karl Gnuse presents a distinctive theory that much of the prophetic material—material about Samuel, Elijah, and Elisha—in Samuel and Kings comes from the same northern Israelite circle as does the E material in the Pentateuch. His view is especially distinctive because he argues that the prophetic material came first and that some of the Elohist material depends on it.

So, for instance, the stories about fire from the mountain in 1 Kings 18 and 2 Kings 1 came first and the image of God descending in fire upon the mountain in Exodus 19:18 derives from them. Certainly the Elijah stories and the Elohist stories in the Pentateuch share the idea that God revealed himself in fire (burning bush, pillar of fire, divine retribution by fire, and so forth).

The story about Elijah traveling to Horeb, where he experiences God in silence rather than fire (1 Kings 19-20), complicates this. This story may come from the standpoint of a later, less spectacular kind of prophet who experienced God’s presence in private dreams rather than public demonstrations. Dreams are how God often self discloses in the E stories in the Pentateuch, but hardly at all in the Samuel and Kings stories. So E seems more sophisticated and later than the prophetic stories in Samuel and Kings.

Gnuse even suggests that Horeb as a location was invented at for the story of Elijah’s pilgrimage. Most references in E and the prophetic material are to the “mountain of God”, which may not mean a specific mountain. It may just be whichever mountain from which God’s presence discloses itself in that particular story. So any later references in E or D to Horeb as a place depend on the story of Elijah’s pilgrimage in 1 Kings 19:8-9.

Gnuse also shows that the idea of the angel of God plays a part in both the prophetic cycles and in E. On several occasions an angel tells Elijah to go somewhere (1 Kings 19:7, 2 Kings 1:3, 1:15). There are other references too, and one should perhaps include the curious references to the horses and chariots of God. In E the angel of God seems to play the theological role of distancing God from man so that the deity seems less human-like (as God often seems in J) and more awesome. So once again the E material seems more sophisticated and later than the prophetic stories.

A more general argument is that, although Gnuse admits this is his subjective judgment, the Elijah/Elisha material seems much stranger than E. By strange he means the accounts of ravens having a food delivery service, jars of food and oil that never empty, an ax head that floats, prophets being eaten by lions, boys being eaten by bears, chariots of fire, going to heaven in a whirlwind, and several other incidents of that kind. Although there are miraculous events in E, they just do not seem as bizarre. So Gnuse understands that E must have come from a “later, more reflective era”.

Gnuse has a theory of Elohist development that covers three or four centuries. In the ninth century prophets were active and created a memory in the communities that eventually produced their stories. In the eighth century the narratives arose. In the seventh century these narratives influenced the E stories that found their way into the sixth century J stand of the Pentateuch.

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I am reading Gnuse’s The Elohist at the same time I am reading James Hoffmeier’s Ancient Israel in Sinai. There is a huge gap between the two scholar’s approaches. Gnuse’s suggestion that the holy mountain was not a specific place would take away the reason for a fair portion of Hoffmeier’s book. Hoffmeiier would surely point out how subjective Gnuse’s arguments are. To some extent, Gnuse admits this.

Yet Gnuse, who is not dogmatic about his thesis, thinks his suggestions are of value. I agree, but I am still evaluating them.




Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Gnuse-traces of a separate Elohist document

I am reading Robert Karl Gnuse’s The Elohist, where he defends the existence of a contributory document to the Pentateuch, called the Elohist or E.

Some of the critics of E deny the  whole theory about documents. Some of these are conservative scholars who cling to Moses as the author or the Pentateuch. They hold that editors added a few things later–like the record of Moses’ death– but that, for the most part, Moses wrote it.

Some other scholars view the Pentateuch as an inventive, unsourced and non-historical construct by a late author. One that Gnuse deals with and I have also read is Norman Whybray. He criticized the methods of those who reconstruct documents behind the text. The variation in vocabulary such as between Elohim and Yahweh as the name of God and the designation of the holy mountain as Sinai in one place and Horeb in another, he says is just the literary variations of one author. He thinks the same thing is true of doublets, like the similar stories about the incident involving a Patriarch’s wife in Egypt or Gerar.

Gnuse’s impression of Whybray’s work is similar to mine. Whybray is plausible only in the abstract. Yes, a single author could have played around with different words and enjoyed telling the same stories in different contexts. But when you actually read the Pentateuch, common sense leads you to see sources, or at least fragments, woven together there.

That Moses was the single author or that the stories were a late literary construct by a single author, are both theories make for more problems than a theory of sources.

Gnuse defends the older reasons for thinking there was an E source. He also adds some that I had not considered. For instance, he points to several places that refer to events that must have been part of E, but have been edited out of our text. An example is Genesis 46:4 where God gives Jacob a prediction about his death, including that his lost son, Joseph, will close his eyes. There is no story in Genesis that says Joseph did this. The story fulfilling that prediction would fit at about Genesis 50:1-2. But it isn’t there. So Gnuse thinks that there was a document that told the story of Joseph closing his father’s eyes. But it has not survived into our version of Genesis.

Another new argument to me is one that Gnuse has picked up from Joel Baden. According to Baden, Deuteronomy 1-9 quotes stories about the wilderness wanderings that come from E but not J. In other words, it looks like the author of these chapters used the Elohist, but not the Yahwist. Therefore, he must have known it as a separate document.

Gnuse deals with a number of individual passages in a way too detailed for me to get into here.

Probably later in the book, he will deal with what I think is the most striking argument. That is that each of the strands of the Pentateuch has a different portrayal of God. At some point a single person, like Ezra, put these all together. But it seems to me that we can also separate movements and communities within ancient Israel where these traditions about God had their own life.

I should stress that Gnuse has a distinct kind of documentary theory. EDJP is his sequence for the dating of the documents. But he is also open to the idea of Baden that the sources may have developed separately and not built upon each other before they were combined in order to introduce the whole work to the public as in Nehemiah 8.

But Gnuse’s own theory is this:

. . .the Yahwist has used Elohist material in a Yahwist history and has partially rewritten the Elohist accounts, supplemented the Elohist accounts, and omitted some accounts, to give us that coinfused and blurred appearance in the Elohist narratives (this appears 16% into the Kindle book).

He compares this to the way Luke used Mark according to Synoptic Gospel studies. Even more extensively than Luke, the Yahwist added, rearranged, and omitted accounts while revising the vocabulary.

Unlike the old Wellhausen theory, Gnuse does not have an editor splicing together two documents. It is the Yahwist himself (or herself, I would say, since it is a serious theory that the Yahwist was female) who is using E “in piecemeal fashion.”

Posted in Bible, Deuteronomy | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Gnuse-what holds E together

One of the best things about Robert Karl Gnuse’s The Elohist is his survey of the history of the debate about whether there ever was such a document.

The Documentary Hypothesis says that the Pentateuch came about from a combination of at least four documents. I do not see why this is controversial for P and D.

There is a priestly document, Leviticus. The priestly characteristics of Leviticus are also found in sections of Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers. So most scholars are willing to speak of P material.

There is a D document, Deuteronomy. There is much less of this kind of material in the other books. But many scholars think there is some.

It is with the supposed Yahwist (J) and Elohist (E) documents that the going gets difficult. Many recent scholars have called both J and E into question. But, especially, scholars have denied the existence of an E document.

The theory of Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918) set up the modern debate. He took the idea of a J and an E source from some earlier scholars. But he found the two sources very hard to untangle. So he said there must have been someone who put the two together at some stage before the completion of the Pentateuch. So, in addition to J, E, P, and D; we now have an editor, JE–alphabet soup before the federal government discovered it.

Wellhausen saw J as more primitive than E, so it came first. The sequence was J, E, JE. His ideas were debated and refined by critical scholars throughout the twentieth century.

One of the things that became apparent was that the E source was fragmentary. When you took the J material out, you did not always have a continuous story that made any sense.

One of the new ideas was that the material behind the Pentateuch got passed on orally. There may have been an oral ground work (G) which both J and E worked from with different interests. Thus, we could assume that E was fragmentary because it was parallel to J and only used as a supplement when it added something distinctive that was important to the JE editor.

Many saw E also as a reaction against J that reflected the politics of the divided monarchy. E was about the situation in the Northern Kingdom. Especially, in its golden calf story, it was a critique of the calf shrine at Bethel. It saw God as more distant and severe than J did. So it reflected a kind of minority report.

So here is something I did not know:

In a seldom-cited article worthy of attention Joachim Schupphaus delineated the themes that held the fragmentary Elohist accounts together. Since critics often declare that no unifying theme holds the Elohist accounts together, Schupphaus’s arguments are of value in the modern critical debate….He observed that the theme of fear is central to accounts about Abraham (Genesis 20, 22), Joseph (Genesis 42), midwives (Exodus 1), Moses (Exodus 3) and Israel (Exodus 20). Fear is the result of human response to the majesty of God, and in the Elohist narratives it leads to obedience and concretely results in the articulation of the law in the Decalogue and the Book or the Covenant (Exodus 20-23, which he viewed as Elohist). Law, in turn, leads to the establishment of community, which for Schupphaus, was a primary goal of Elohist texts. (My Kindle book has no page numbers. This quote is several pages into chapter 2.)

God’s faithfulness to his promise to Abraham was another unifying theme in E, according to Schupphaus.

This idea that the Elohist was writing to an audience that needed community bonding under a majestic, but faithful God is important for the rest of Gnuse’s book.

Posted in Ancient Israel, Bible | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Gnuse and Hoffmeier-the Elohist and the Wilderness

Okay, I have gotten Holy Week behind me. I have watched my men’s basketball bracket get destroyed. I have done my taxes. And—oh, yeah—I have become a grandfather again..

So the deck is cleared to do some blogging, except that I am going to take a week off soon to go visit my new granddaughter and family.

I have started two new reading projects, both of which have to do with the Pentateuch.

I am reading Robert Karl Gnuse’s The Elohist: A Seventh Century Theological Tradition. And I am reading James K. Hoffmeier’s Ancient Israel in Sinai: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition.

These two authors are an interesting contrast. Gnuse is one of the scholars—others include R. Friedman and J. Baden—who are sticking with the Documentary Hypothesis in modified form.  Gnuse’s is, indeed, a radical departure from Wellhausen’s old theory, because he accepts Van Seter’s dating of the Yahwist to the post-exilic period. So the original JEDP order that some of us learned in seminary has become something like EDJP.

On the other hand, Hoffmeier is very traditional and rejects the Documentary Hypothesis entirely. Although he is way too conservative and tends toward Moses as the author, he knows his stuff and makes some points that more critical scholars need to hear.

A case in point is the relation of Hosea and the other ancient prophets to the Pentateuch. Gnuse puts the Elohist after Hosea. This is unusual in the history of scholarship. He suggests that perhaps the mention of Jacob and an exodus from Egypt by Hosea inspired the Elohist to elaborate those stories.

Hoffmeier thinks these prophets had access to the whole Pentateuch (excluding Deuteronomy, I would assume, unless he thinks the lost book in the Temple was something else).

Amos, Hosea, Micah and Jeremiah all lived before the Babylonian Exile, so what they said tells us something about what people knew then.

In regard to the wilderness tradition, Hoffmeier points out that Amos 2:8 already shows knowledge of the 40-years-wilderness-tradition. Hosea 13:5 refers to God establishing a covenant with Israel in the wilderness. Micah 6:3-4 talks about a series of incidents from the exodus and wilderness traditions that follow the order of the Pentateuch. Jeremiah 2:6 among other passages in that prophet refers to the wilderness experience of Israel.

Hoffmeier says that none of these prophets had to educate people about these events. They must have already been common knowledge to people in both the northern and southern kingdoms.

So by the eighth century the stories and their sequence were well known. That does not prove the scroll of Exodus was in the hands of a literate public. But it does seem to tell against the idea that later writers invented tales based on a few references in the prophets.

Posted in Ancient Israel, Bible, Exodus | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Why blogging may be spotty for a while

The pastor of my home church has been on sick leave for couple months.  Fortunately, we have a young man taking care of Sunday morning services.  But the people have called upon me for a few things.  This week being Christian holy week, I suddenly find myself with services to lead and a few other things to handle.

Have a meaningful Good Friday and Easter–or beginning of Passover.

I intend to blog seriously again next month, but unevenly.  I will take a break sometime because I have a granddaughter due to be born early in April and we plan to go visit for a few non-blogging days.

Posted in Seasonal | Tagged | Leave a comment