I am reading the introduction to the Pentateuch in Georg Fohrer’s Introduduction to the Old Testament. I ended my discussion yesterday by noting that Fohrer understood one important motive for producing the stories in the Pentateuch was to sanction Israel’s claim to land. He developed that thought in regard to the patriarchs, the stories about Abraham, Isaac , Jacob and even Moses. If you take out the prehistory in the first 11 chapters of Genesis; the Joseph story at the end; and the material about non-Israelite nations, you end up with a few summaries and stories about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. From the standpoint of history, Fohrer called the other material in Genesis “extraneous”. Drawing on pioneering scholars like Alt and Noth, he sees the short notes about the patriarchs as historically worthwhile. Some of the patriarchal names and practice of family law in the stories coincides with texts from Mari and Nuzi. He thought (mistakenly, from my reading of the Amarna Letters) that the ‘apiru of the 14th century corresponded to the Hebrews and the nomadic existence of the patriarchs. None of this meant that the stories in Genesis were exactly historical. But these things gave Fohrer grounds for thinking that the traditions were old and corresponded to actual Bronze Age conditions. He said this about this nucleus of the Genesis story:
“The story returns over and over again to accounts of theophanies associated with blessings and promises of territorial possession and descendants, but also to disputes with the previous possessors of the land. At one time there were probably many such ancestral traditions, since we must think in terms of a considerable number of Israelite tribes or groups infiltrating gradually into Palestine. Only a few of these traditions, however, became or were drawn into the common lore of all Israel” (p. 123).
It surprised me when he said that the original stories about Moses turn out to be like the stories in Genesis. They are also about territorial claims and the occupation of land. The first purpose of the Moses stories was to show that the people Moses led out of Egypt had a solid claim to the land west of the Jordan. However, the basic story of the Exodus is not a combination of isolated notes. Neither, he says, was it made up to back up a confession of faith (von Rad ) nor as a festival legend to use in cultic worship (Weiser). Rather, the Exodus from Egypt and the Sinai story never had an independent existence. Together they always led up to the possession of the land. Fohrer called the group that came out of Egypt “the Moses host”. The Moses host had a parallel story to that of the other tribes and groups. The Moses host also had a claim to land. The theological point of all these stories is to link together faith in Israel’s God with the practical concerns about real estate and relations with other peoples. So Fohrer did not think that all the tribes ever were in Egypt. They gradually settled the land, moving in at various times over a long period. The group Moses led out of Egypt was another one of the groups that settled the land and made territorial claims. All Israel eventually adopted both the patriarchal stories and the Exodus story as parts of a national epic. I should note that Fohrer very much took the side of those who thought that the people who settled Israel were originally mostly nomads or semi-nomads. This idea has been attacked and, especially about the time I was getting my theological education, became very unpopular. So Fohrer is out of date in the sense that we have in his work no dialogue with anti-nomad scholars. Still, I have seen more respect recently for the idea that at least some of those who came to make up Israel were nomads or what the Egyptians called Shasu.