Gnuse-purifying the northern tradition

Robert Karl Gnuse, in The Elohist proposes the theory that the Pentateuch source E was composed at Bethel after the Assyrian conquest of  the Northern Kingdom and was addressed to the exiles the Assyrians had removed from the land.  I agree with some of his points, but also have some doubts

His theory depends on taking 2 Kings 17:24-41 with a grain of salt.  That passage makes it sound like the whole population of Israel was removed and replaced.  Gnuse points out that this shows the bias of scribes in Jerusalem.

He sees extra-biblical evidence that the Assyrians wanted to maintain their new province of Samarina as an economically productive region.  They deported many upper and middle class people from the cities.  But the lower classes and the people in the countryside probably stayed.  Bethel was a smaller community and may have been untouched.

So his theory is that priests at the sanctuary at Bethel, no longer subject to the corrupt royal house, produced an independent document taking up the views of prophets and asserting that the sanctuary at Bethel had primitive, patriarchal roots.

Much of this makes sense, although I am not sure pinpointing the composition of E to Bethel is necessary.

He does not say much about the self-deportation of many northerners to the south, which swelled the population of Hezekiah’s Jerusalem.  I guess he might see these people as defectors to Zionism, while the Elohists at Bethel remained loyal to a purified northern tradition.  But it occurs to me that the authors of E could have written to those refugees who fled south, rather than the deportees.

One of the things history reveals is the brutality and cruelty of Assyria toward its enemies. See here. So it makes sense that the fall of the Northern Kingdom would have produced lots of refugees.  My study of the Psalms of Asaph causes me to believe that these psalms represent worship in some northern sanctuary as brought south by refugees.

Also it looks to me like the priests at Bethel took a hard-line against opponents before the conquest (Amos 7:10 ff.).  They may have actually committed murder (Hosea 6:9). So it would not surprise me if religious refugees fleeing persecution in the north had already begun to arrive in Jerusalem long before the Assyrian conquest.

At any rate, the religious division between the north and south is sometimes overdone. As Stephen L. Cook has argued in his very important book, The Social Roots of Biblical Yahwism, there seems to have been a network of Levites and village elders outside of the royal cities in both the north and the south that maintained a relatively fixed theology and supported similar reforms over many centuries..

Gnuse’s book has caused me to ponder how certain traditions must have been both isolated from each other for a long time but then come to depend on each other.  They often tell the same stories.  But each goes its own way until someone brings them together again.  A unique part of Gnuse’s theory is that J used E as a source.  There was no redactor that brought them together.  J had access to E and modified, adapted and used it.  The only access we have to E apart from J comes from the fact that Deuteronomy may have used E apart from J.

The reason I am reading both a maximalist (Hoffmeier) and more of a minimalist (Gnuse) is that I find value in both without agreeing with their overall theories.  Like Hoffmeier, I think there is a connection to events like the exodus, the wilderness experience, and the settlement that couldn’t have been invented in the 6th or 7th century.  Like Gnuse, I think you can see sources behind the Pentateuch and those sources sometimes reflect agendas only relevant long after the stories they tell.

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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 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Gnuse-purifying the northern tradition

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

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