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ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 60, 2012

DIANA V. EDELMAN, PHILIP R. DAVIES, CHRISTOPHER NIHAN, THOMAS RÍMER, Opening the Books of Moses (Bible World; Sheffield: Equinox, 2012). Pp. vii + 200. Paperback. $US29.95.

The avowed stance of this book is stated in the opening sentence of the Preface: it is “an introduction to a forthcoming new study of the Pentateuch that will look at each of the five books in turn through a Persian lens.” Diana V. Edelman is listed as the project coordinator and an author along with the other three scholars named. There is no indication as to which author or authors contributed the four chapters that make up the book. The chapters deal with “The Present State of Pentateuchal Research and the Task of This Volume,” “The Shape, Dating and Audience of the Pentateuch,” “Yehud in the Persian Period,” and “Key Themes in the Pentateuch.” The aim of these chapters is to set out and explain the framework within which each of subsequent studies (‘commentaries’ on p. 4) will operate.

The first chapter reviews the history of pentateuchal research and the various challenges that have prompted this “new analysis of the origin and growth of the Pentateuch that reflects the huge changes in scholarship since Noth’s work and pays more attention to the overall shape of the entire structure as a complex of ideological statements and also to the social and religious history of the communities that created these statements” (3). The much longer second chapter outlines the shape of the Pentateuch and each book in turn. The description of the Pentateuch as a ‘biography of Moses’ (12) seems to be in tension with the assertion in the first chapter that of central importance in the Pentateuch “is the notion of a divinely chosen nation and its culture” (4). Edelman alerts the reader in her Preface that “the four authors hold differing views on a number of controversial topics” (viii). This may be an example. The chapter then considers external evidence (Qumran, Josephus, and others such as Demetrios the chronographer) to construct a plausible and defensible dating of the Pentateuch, following this up with internal evidence in the Pentateuch itself and the larger Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. The most reasonable time frame would seem to be between the fourth and the end of the third centuries BCE. The ‘audience’ to which the Pentateuch was directed would therefore have varied considerably in time and culture (Persian and Greek periods) as well as place (Babylon, Yehud and Egypt). The chapter concludes with a summary of the main stages in the debate about the composition of the Pentateuch.

The third chapter is an informative presentation of Yehud in the Persian period that ranges over the place of this Persian province in the empire as well as its relationship to nearby provinces, the role of rebuilt Jerusalem and its temple and rival cities such as Lachish, the importance of local temples/shrines in Persian foreign policy, the nature of emerging Judaism (and Samaritanism) both in Yehud and in diaspora locations, particularly the one at Elephantine on the Nile, and the rivalry between various factions. The three main factions discussed are, the one represented by the book of Ezra-Nehemiah, the ‘people of the land’ who were not deported to Babylon, and the Egyptian Jewish diaspora (cf. 75).

The final and longest chapter continues the book’s aim of “providing a framework” (4) for the subsequent commentaries with discussions of major themes in the Pentateuch-Torah (in its various senses); ethnicity (as descent, twelve tribes, custom, constitution); geography (definition of the ‘promised land,’ landmarks, land and ancestors); Yahweh and other deities; theories of the cult in the Pentateuch; treaty, loyalty oath and royal grant; Moses in his various guises.

Each chapter concludes with a bibliography of works cited and suggested “further reading.” There are handy maps provided at strategic points, and the book concludes with a glossary of terms, an index of “ancient citations” (includes biblical texts), and an author index. Overall, this book achieves its purpose well. It makes available to the student and non-specialist reader a concise but informative account of the long and complex debate that has led to recent scholarship favouring a Persian date for the composition of the Pentateuch. As well it provides the kind of framework that will allow subsequent commentaries in the series to “focus on how each of the pentateuchal books, individually, contributes to the definition and illustration of essential aspects of the monotheistic cult of Yahweh Elohim, which served as a basis for the Judaism (or Judaisms, and also Samaritanism) that began to emerge in the second half of the Persian period” (4).

Review by
Catholic Theological College
PO Box 146, East Melbourne VIC 8002