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ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 59, 2011

THOMAS B. DOZEMAN, Commentary on Exodus (The Eerdmans Critical Commentary; Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2009). Pp. xix + 868. Paperback. $US55.00.

This massive commentary is the fruit of Dozeman’s many years of research and publishing on the book of Exodus. He divides it into two major parts: 1) The Power of Yahweh in Egypt (1:1–15:21); 2) The Presence of Yahweh in the Wilderness (15:22–40:38). These are then subdivided into, for part 1: Setting (1:1–2:25), Characters (3:1–7:7) and Conflict (7:8–15:210), and for part 2: Journey (15:22–18:27), Revelation (19:1–24:11) and Sanctuary (24:12–40:38). In the customary “Introduction,” Dozeman discusses literary genre, postulated authors and editors of Exodus, a consideration of key aspects of the book that will be unfolded in detail in the commentary, and an outline and explanation of the conventions used for distributing texts between the postulated authors and editors. The commentary on each part of the division is organised according to the following format: an introduction, central themes, discussion of authorship, literary structure of the text in question, commentary (prefaced by his own translation). This is not the kind of book one is likely to read from cover to cover. It is more a valuable reference work on Exodus. The arrangement allows readers to gain an overall appreciation of Dozeman’s understanding of Exodus and then select particular sections for more detailed consideration—and there is a wealth of detail to explore.

Dozeman has joined the general exodus of recent critical scholarship from the source hypothesis. In place of J, E, D, and P ‘sources’ he opts for a non-P History (incorporating the texts that used to be assigned to J and E) and a P History that includes the former P narrative as well as the P law texts (identified by a number of commentators as an addition to the P narrative). In contrast to the classical version of the hypothesis, Dozeman, along with many recent commentators, opts for a late date for the composition of Exodus and the Pentateuch. He regards the non-P History as later than Deuteronomy (and the Deuteronomistic History) and sharing many of its perspectives. In its final form it is most likely a post-exilic work. The P History is later still. Dozeman uses the term ‘history’ in the sense of ‘salvation history,’ and understands this “loosely as a broad history of salvation” (40). He devotes considerable space to justifying this description of the literary genre of Genesis through 2 Kings, but I remain unconvinced. On p. 27 he asserts that “The biblical writers certainly wish to anchor the exodus from Egypt firmly in history,” and presumably it is this purported authorial intention that Dozeman wishes to honour in his use of the term history. But can we be sure that this was the authorial intention of biblical authors, given critical scholarship’s understanding of the composition of texts? In discussing chronological texts in Exodus, Dozeman concludes, “The biblical system of dating may simply be formed for theological purposes” (28). On pp. 475–77 he argues persuasively that the P History contradicts the non-P History’s view that the Decalogue is spoken directly by God to the people and modifies the text accordingly (Exod 19:25). Given this kind of textual evidence, I think it would be more accurate to refer to non-P and P ‘narrative’ rather than ‘history.’

Another aspect that drew attention is the relationship between diachronic and synchronic readings of the text. Dozeman argues that Exod 1:6–8 implies a loss of knowledge of YHWH in the new ‘exodus’ generation and this is paralleled by an ‘absence’ of YHWH in Exodus 1–2. In my judgement, Dozeman is reading into Exod 1:6–8 a purported connection with Judg 2:8–10 based on a diachronically argued dependence of the former on the latter. The latter does report the generation that followed the ‘conquest’ generation ‘did not know YHWH’ (67). However, a person reading the present text sequence from Genesis to Exodus does not gain an impression of a loss of knowledge of YHWH. I would also question his proposal that YHWH is largely absent from Exodus 1–2, in contrast to Genesis where “the Deity was imminent and active with the ancestors” (66). His remark certainly applies to the stories of Abraham and Jacob but not to Joseph, where there is no dialogue with God. Yet one can hardly speak of the absence of God in the story of Joseph. The same goes for Exodus 1–2. Dozeman subsequently seems to modify his view somewhat, stating on p. 75 in relation to the account of the Hebrew midwives “that God has been absent from the story until this point.”

There is of course no perfect or definitive commentary and Dozeman would be the first to recognise this. There are aspects that can be criticised but this is a work that commands respect and close attention, and will become a valuable addition to the bibliography on Exodus.

Review by
Camberwell VIC 3124