David Carr’s big book

I know my posts have become few and far between. I am having a series of eye surgeries this summer. My hope is that in September, with the surgeries over, I will get new corrective lenses to relieve the eye strain that reading has been causing me.

Today, though, I want to call your attention to the fact that David Carr has now published a big book on the origin and authorship of the Pentateuch and other scripture: The Formation of the Hebrew Bible: A New Reconstruction 1st Edition. It was actually published ten years ago. But I had not previously noticed its availability.

I have read and posted about two of Carr’s books: Writing on the Tablet of the Heart and Holy Resilience.

The first was about Carr’s take on ancient scribes and writing. He suggested that writing, unlike modern authorship and publishing, was often in the service of oral performance. He compared it to written music. Music is written for musicians to help them perform. It isn’t written for the general public to read.

My understanding of this is that ancient scribes produced texts for story tellers who then performed those works, sometimes improvising. Another use may have been for worship leaders. Priests took up a text and used it to help a congregation sing, chant, or recite liturgy.

Holy Resilience was about trauma related to scripture. Carr wrote about some of our new understanding of trauma and PTSD. He suggested that several biblical works came about in order to help ancient people cope with traumatic events. For instance, the brutal Assyrian conquest of Samaria and assault on Judah were events that prophets like Hosea and Isaiah preached about to help people face.

Surprisingly Carr also thought that Josiah’s reforms and centralization of worship was a traumatizing event for Israelites who had long mixed their worship of Israel’s God with fertility magic. Also rural Levites and those who worshiped at their “high places” were now deprived and disoriented. Later, the Babylonian conquest traumatized Judah. Much biblical literature seems to take up these traumas.

There is an interesting review of Carr’s book by Andrew Giorgetti here. A couple of quotes from the review show that Carr reflects some of the themes from the two books.

“. . . Carr provides evidence of a writing-supported process of memorization and performance for the transmission of the Hebrew Bible.” This applies particularly to the kind of “long duration” sagas that we find in the Pentateuch.

Also, “Carr draws on trauma studies to buttress his argument that the exile was the impetus for development of pre-monarchical stories of origins as found in a post-Deuteronomistic Hexateuch and a Priestly “counterwork” to it (pp. 255–303). However, this period exhibits more scribal coordination of earlier texts than direct creation of new ones.”

The trend in recent decades has been for critics to see most of these “stories of origins” invented or constructed during the Persian period after the end of the exile. Notice that Carr goes against this trend. He is talking about editing and coordinating stories, not the unsourced invention of new stories. ”. . .his reconstructions present a challenge to scholars who contend that most or all of the Hebrew Bible was produced largely whole cloth in the Persian or Hellenistic periods.”

Carr sees much scribal activity in the Neo-Assyrian period in the eighth century. But he even sees some of it in the early monarchy—ninth or tenth centuries. Some of the Psalms and Wisdom literature come from this period, he thinks.

With regard to the Pentateuch, Carr joins those who think the JEPD documentary theory assumes too much. I am not sure when or if I will get to read Carr’s new book. For now I will be satisfied with thinking about this sentence of his, which I found here: “Though academic biblical scholars do disagree on numerous points, most have agreed for the last 200-plus years that the Pentateuch was formed through a combination of a Priestly layer, a non-Priestly layer most evident in the Tetrateuch (Genesis through Numbers), and a core portion of Deuteronomy.”

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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