Stephen Cook–Tracing old traditions

Stephen L. Cook teaches Old Testament Language and Literature at Virginia Theological Seminary.  He has a blog.  His book, The Social Roots of Biblical Yahwism, is important, I think.  It is important because it challenges the evolutionary view of Israel’s theology that is often taken for granted.

The view I am talking about says that Israels normative religion represents a late stage of Israel’s history.   Sometimes the theory has been pretty crude, as when Israel’s thought supposedly develops from thinking of God as blood thirsty and violent to the social-justice God of the prophets.  Some of this thinking developed in Germany before World War 2, and it was pretty anti-Semitic.  Christianity and European thought, according to this view, had purified a barbaric Jewish theology.  But this thinking did not just go away after the war.  I still frequently hear liberals disparaging “the Old Testament God.”

This kind of view often assumes that somebody wrote much of Deuteronomy to justify King Josiah’s reforms and pretended to discover the book in the Temple.  Thus Deuteronomy and the prophetic tradition associated with it come late and represent a new stage in the evolution of Hebrew thought.

The truth behind this view is that the idea of God that came to dominate the Bible when Deuteronomists edited Genesis-2 Kings was a minority view in Israel at the time of Jeremiah and probably during almost all of the monarchy from David to the Exile. If Israel Knohl’s view is right (see my posts about that), then there was also another minority voice represented by Isaiah and the Holiness School of priests.

Cook’s view is that the tradition represented by Jeremiah and the Deuteronomistic editors goes back at least to the coup against Athaliah (2 Kings 11).  It existed in both the north and the south and is represented by Micah, Hosea, and the Psalms of Asaph.

He calls this the “Sinai tradition” or “Biblical Yahwism”.  I find both terms confusing.  The Yahwist source would predate Biblical Yahwism.  Thus, the Yahwist for Cook (who uses a version of the Documentary Hypothesis) does not seem to have been a Biblical Yahwist.  And in Deuteronomy the mountain of the Torah usually is called Horeb, not Sinai.  I would tend to think of what Cook is talking about as Levitical tradition. He thinks the Levites had a vital role in its development.  But that name would have the drawback that the biblical book of Leviticus speaks with a different voice.

Anyway there was a relatively conservative tradition that kept itself alive without royal support and with minimal priestly support.  Cook sees village elders representing the “people of the land”, like Micah, and Levitical prophets, like Hosea, as the locus of this tradition.  Socially, the division between Jerusalem  and the villages is more important than the popular scholarly notion of a division between northern and southern traditions.  Micah was southern and Hosea was northern, but both carried aspects of the same tradition.

He uses a mix of cross-cultural comparisons and biblical interpretation to arrive at his conclusions.  Here is what he says about the way he interprets the texts:

“Because Israel’s society changed over time, some of the outdated social traits of the traditions that the prophets preserve stand out as vestigial. The language of their traditions has anachronistic features from earlier times, and their beliefs repristinate older ways of life that would have seemed impractical to their contemporary audiences” (p. 13)

This lets us track down the older ideas behind the theology of Hosea and Micah–what Cook calls biblical Yahwism.

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About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
This entry was posted in Ancient Israel, Bible, Deuteronomy, Theology and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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