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.




About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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1 Response to Gnuse-the road from Carmel to Horeb

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

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