Gnuse-situating E after the northern exile

When I last wrote about Robert Karl Gnuse’s book on The Elohist, he had argued that the circles that produced the stories about Elijah and Elisha must have been composed earlier than the Elohist because they tell strange, incredible tales. By earlier, he means at least a century earlier.

This argument sounds impressive. But I think about the present day.  I am aware of a Pentecostal culture where contemporary people tell all kinds of stories about current revelations from God, demon possession and exorcism, and even recent resurrections from the dead. These circles are not centuries apart from communities more defined by modernity. The credulous and the skeptical exist at the same time.

My point is that such differences do not require different centuries, just different communities and cultures.

If the Elijah and Elisha cycles originated with itinerant bands of charismatic prophets and the Elohist source came from a more settled community of priests and scribes, that would explain the difference without telling us anything about chronology.

Another part of Gnuse’s argument has to do with dreams. Jeremiah and some other later prophets condemned revelation by dream (see, for instance, Jeremiah 23:25 and 28). In E the patriarchs often have dreams where they hear God’s voice. Elohist epic stories seem to make Bethel a kind of portal for dreams. Gnuse believes these accounts depend on Mesopotamian dream literature, since most Assyrian and Babylonian  dream stories also are auditory. To him, this suggests the Elohist may have composed after the Assyrian invasion.

Gnuse further argues that the theological themes of the Elohist make the most sense if they addressed the northerners exiled by the Assyrians after -720. The northern kings had appointed priests at Bethel. But after the Assyrian conquest those priests probably went into exile with other elites. Bethel may have fallen into the hands of lesser or unofficial Levites who blamed the fall of the north on the apostasy of the royal house and the official priesthood.

In this situation the Elohist themes of the fear of God, the demand for obedience, and indirect revelation through dreams and angels may have made the most sense.

I am a little surprised that Gnuse doesn’t make more of the golden calf story. Maybe it is because others have emphasized it. But with Gnuse’s setting of E after Hosea, the fact that Hosea seems to have been the first prophet to object to the calf at Bethel is significant. The story casts Aaron in a pretty bad light. The official priesthood at Bethel during the divided monarchy seems to have claimed to derive from Aaron.

The position Gnuse takes is that E comes before J and that it had some similarities to the literature that came after the Babylonian conquest in the south. It interpreted and explained the tragedy as the consequences of abandoning true worship and tradition.

I am not sure about this. It would not really upset my understanding of the development of the Pentateuch too much, although I see P and J as earlier than he does. It wouldn’t upset my scheme, since I would put J during or shortly after the reign of Hezekiah. This could be after the Elohist wrote E to northern exiles. J has worship at shrines other than Jerusalem but sacrifice only at Jerusalem. This seems to me to put it after Hezekiah’s reforms and before Josiah’s.

However, I think we are talking only about the crystallization of these traditions into continuous documents. I see most of the material as representing old and historically valuable memories probably passed along orally or as shorter written accounts.

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 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Gnuse-situating E after the northern exile

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

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