[K:NWTS 12/3 (Dec 1997) 35-50]
R. Norman Whybray. Introduction to the Pentateuch. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995, 146 pp., $14.00 paper. ISBN: 0-8028- 0837-9
If you wish to either purchase or recommend a book that will give an introductory overview of the Pentateuch, Roger Norman Whybray's Introduction to the Pentateuch is not what you are looking for. Not only does Whybray deny that any of the Pentateuch was written by Moses, but he believes that it was composed in its final form no earlier than the 6th century by an author who drew his material from largely fictional sources. Needless to say, there is almost nothing in this book that would recommend itself to the Kerux reader who seeks to understand the Pentateuch from a biblical-theological perspective.
What does interest us about Introduction, however, is that it is an indication of the new direction some current Old Testament scholars are taking Pentateuchal studies: away from the Documentary Hypothesis and away from form- and tradition-critical studies and into the much-neglected task of studying the text in its final form. The purpose of this article, therefore, is to examine why Whybray (whom I will use to represent this new trend) is skeptical of the theories of his predecessors; what has led him to emphasize a synchronic approach to the Pentateuch; how his approach bears on his analysis of the Pentateuch (the book review section of this article); and what are the logical implications of Whybray's views for the future of Pentateuchal studies.
II. Whybray's radical skepticism
The Documentary Hypothesis had achieved wide acceptance by the end of the 19th century thanks to Julius Wellhausen's Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels (1883; English trans. Prolegomena to the History of Israel, 1885). It should be noted, however, that the main contribution of Wellhausen's Prolegomena was not in postulating the idea of multiple Pentateuchal sources. In 1753 French physician Jean Astruc first suggested that the book of Genesis drew its material from two sources based on the two different names used to refer to God, Yahweh and Elohim. Although Astruc's aim was to defend Mosaic authorship, subsequent non-conservative scholars began using his approach to deny the same. By the 19th century, the theory known as the Documentary Hypothesis had been developed which alleged that the Pentateuch was really a composite of four documents known as J, E, D and P (composed by four different authors, none of whom was Moses). Although there was no concrete proof that such documents ever existed, variations of language and literary style and the presence of repetitions and (apparent) inconsistencies in the Pentateuch were pointed to as sufficient evidence of its composite authorship.
Wellhausen's contribution, then, was not in inventing the Documentary Hypothesis, but in combining it with the currently popular Hegelian evolutionary approach to history and showing how the four documents reflected various evolutionary stages in the historical development of the Israelite religion. According to Wellhausen, J and E were written during the more primitive stage of Israel's religious development, approximately 900 and 800 B.C.; D reflected a later stage of development in Israel's religious life around 600 B.C.; and P represented the final post-exilic stage around 500 B.C.
Wellhausen's version of the Documentary Hypothesis (known as the Development Hypothesis) was not only brilliant but comprehensive, well-argued, and in step with the times so that it was enthusiastically received by scholars worldwide. It also succeeded in marginalizing the minority of traditionalist scholars whose stubborn insistence upon Mosaic authorship sounded increasingly unconvincing and outdated. Prolegomena fleshed out and breathed life into the Documentary Hypothesis so as to provide non-conservatives with a seemingly solid foundation for their conviction that the Pentateuch was not composed by Moses over a short period of time but rather was written by numerous authors unrelated to Moses over a long period of time, centuries after the recorded events were supposed to have taken place.
Although the Documentary Hypothesis still remains somewhat of a sacred cow among liberals, its credibility has suffered considerable damage at the hands of a new and more skeptical generation of Old Testament scholars of which Whybray is a part. In 1987 Whybray published The Making of the Pentateuch1 in which he severely criticized the Documentary Hypothesis, exposing many of the flaws and inconsistencies that conservative scholars have known about for years. For example, Whybray recognizes that Hebrew writers may have deliberately used doublets and repetitions for literary purposes, and that variations in style and vocabulary may have more to do with variations in subject matter than anything else. He argues that no work of ancient literature was ever perfectly uniform in language and style and completely free of repetition and contradiction. Why, then, in the isolated case of the original Pentateuchal sources should these standards suddenly become paramount? Furthermore, he points out that the alleged original sources, when reconstructed, themselves contain repetitions and inconsistencies.
However exciting conservatives may find this latest trend in Old Testament studies to be, one must not mistake Whybray and his fellow skeptics as pioneers of some kind of conservative uprising within liberal circles. Clearly this is not the case. In the second half of Making Whybray also attacks Hermann Gunkel's form-critical and traditio-critical approach which, when it was first introduced in the early 20th century through his study on Genesis,2 made it possible for one to accept the Documentary Hypothesis and at the same time hold to the traditional belief that the Pentateuchal stories themselves had very ancient origins.
This is not to say that Gunkel and his followers were traditionalists. They did not hold to Mosaic authorship but, in fact, considered themselves followers of Wellhausen who were only attempting to expand upon his thesis. Nevertheless, their belief that the stories of the Pentateuch had been kept alive in Israel's oral tradition centuries before being actually committed to writing at least safeguarded the idea that these stories were not only ancient but historically based. In the introductory chapter to his commentary on Genesis, Gunkel compared the Genesis narratives with the phenomenon of the Icelandic Sagen or folktales. According to the studies of Heinrich Ewald, a contemporary of Gunkel, many of these Sagen claim to preserve the memory of actual events of the remote past and have survived up to the present through generations of oral transmission. Gunkel believed the Genesis stories were also a kind of Sagen, as he boldly stated in his introductory chapter, "Die Genesis ist eine Sammlung von Sagen" ("Genesis is a collection of sagas"). Martin Noth, one of Gunkel's most prominent followers, even attempted to meticulously reconstruct each stage of development that would have led up to the formation of the Pentateuch in A History of Pentateuchal Traditions (1948), in which he describes a process that began with numerous, originally unrelated oral stories, which then combined into the larger, continuous narratives that eventually became the basis for the written documents.
Whybray rejects the idea that oral transmission could have adequately preserved such stories with any degree of historical accuracy, and thus he is not convinced by the evidence that form and tradition critics present in favor of their antiquity. He points out in Making that studies of oral narration in modem cultures show that narrators tend to modify their stories to fit their present circumstances so that a high degree of distortion is possible within a period of only a few transactions. Furthermore, he reports that the latest studies have debunked the once held notion that early Israel was a primitive people that had to depend on an oral tradition because they were unfamiliar with the use of written texts. Studies that had supposedly demonstrated that the ancient Near Eastern cultures surrounding Israel did not preserve their historical traditions through writing are now shown to be guilty of employing a selective use of evidence. In addition, they failed to distinguish between oral tradition and the practice of orally reciting written texts, so that many scholars believed that the "hearer-friendly" nature of the Pentateuchal narratives was proof that the written text had preserved the style and techniques of oral narration. Now scholars are willing to attribute this quality to the fact that the Pentateuch may originally have been written for the purpose of being read aloud to an audience.
III. Whybray's proposal/A
Introduction to the Pentateuch
Whybray's view of the Pentateuch, then, springs from an a priori rejection of Mosaic authorship, a rejection of the Documentary Hypothesis's theory of multiple documents, and a rejection of the theory of form and tradition critics that an ancient oral tradition lies behind the written text. He is left only with the following conclusion: there must have been a single author3 of the Pentateuch since the Documentary Hypothesis's evidence of multiple authorship is sorely lacking. And since there is no concrete evidence that the Pentateuch has ancient origins, most likely it is a largely fictional work that was written to give post-exilic Israel a sense of cultural identity and heritage. It should therefore be dated around the 6th century at the earliest.
To bolster his view of single authorship and a late date for the Pentateuch, Whybray cites the work of John Van Seters as supporting evidence.4 Van Seters compares the Pentateuch with the work of 6th and 5th century Greek historians (such as Herodotus) who used myths, legends, genealogies and historical imagination to compose a history of their people for the purpose of solidifying their own national traditions and identity. The author of the Pentateuch presumably had the same purpose in mind. But since in the cultures surrounding Israel no examples of such sophisticated historiography existed prior to the arrival of the Greeks, Whybray argues it is highly unlikely that an Israelite historian could have authored the Pentateuch any earlier than the 6th century. Besides, he says, it only makes sense that it would be written after the exile since the unstable situation of post-exilic Israel would have demanded that someone produce a document like the Pentateuch in order to bring a sense of unity and purpose to that community.
In spite of Whybray's bold and radical assertions, however, one must keep in mind that ultimately Whybray will insist on taking an agnostic approach to questions of the date and origin of the Pentateuch to the extent that he does not even take his own views too seriously. He freely admits that his own late dating of the Pentateuch is "to some extent subjective"5 and refuses to shrink from the disturbing and very real possibility that neither he nor anyone else may ever know for sure how and when the Pentateuch came to be.
Thus, with so many unanswerable questions surrounding Pentateuchal studies, Whybray believes the only "brute fact" he has to work with is the phenomenon of the Pentateuch itself. Closing his discussion in chapter 2 of the various theories of its authorship and origins, he writes,
The debate is likely to continue indefinitely, and whether a new consensus will eventually emerge is far from certain. ... But it is important to realize that in such a matter as this we are dealing entirely with hypotheses and not with facts. Proof, either in the mathematical or in the logical meaning of that word, will never be attainable. The only fact available to us is the text of the Pentateuch itself in all its complexity.6
We know the Pentateuch exists, says Whybray. We know what it claims itself to be. We know it was written for a purpose. Therefore, let us quit speculating about what we can't know and focus on what we can know about this document. Whybray therefore recommends that the reader should approach the Pentateuch first and foremost from the standpoint of understanding its contents and claims. What does it have to say about God, the patriarchs, Moses, Israel and the law, and what overall message is it trying to communicate to its audience?
Sounds good so far. Perhaps there is potential here for a truly objective treatment of the text. One will find in Introduction that Whybray's approach does lead him to make some accurate and helpful observations. For example, the Pentateuch presents God as playing the leading role in all his dealings with his people; the story is mainly about the birth and adolescence of the nation Israel; the theme of the patriarchal narratives is God's election of and promises to unlikely individuals; Moses is presented as both a heroic and fallible leader; Israel is presented as a constantly rebellious people; and Yahweh himself is presented as a benevolent God who is good toward the obedient and also as a vengeful God who will punish the disobedient. Unfortunately, the reader will be disappointed to discover that Whybray stops short of drawing any penetrating insights from these observations. He says nothing that a mature student of the Bible cannot already gather from his own personal reading.
This raises the obvious question: what was Whybray's purpose in writing Introduction? To offer a "Cliffs Notes" to the Pentateuch? Whybray informs us in his final chapter that while there are many legitimate approaches he could have taken, it was his intention in this book to provide a synchronic approach to the Pentateuch, particularly in dealing with the narratives. Reading between the lines, it would appear that Whybray actually views his approach as somewhat unique—something sure to leave theologically conservative readers puzzled. What is the big deal about letting the text speak for itself? Isn't it obvious that this is how one ought to approach the Pentateuch? Perhaps not to a liberal. Consider the fact that higher-critical scholars have for so many years mucked around in questions of origin, sources, historicity and authorship that they have completely neglected the most obvious task of simply paying attention to what the Pentateuch has to say about itself. From this perspective, Whybray's approach would be considered fresh, invigorating, and downright revolutionary. From the perspective of the conservative, however, this approach makes for incredibly dull reading.
Sad to say, this "Cliffs Notes" aspect of the book is its sole redeeming quality. Whybray fills the remaining space with various speculations of scholars about the origins of particular stories and passages (though he rarely commits to any particular view), arguments that cast doubt upon the historicity of the narratives, and arguments advancing his late date theory. He finds "evidence" of post-exilic authorship behind every bush. In spite of his claims to be committed to a synchronic analysis of the Pentateuch, it is surprising how frequently he falls into the very speculations regarding composition that he himself claimed to eschew. True, he manages for the most part to keep a healthy, skeptical distance from unsubstantiated theories, yet one gets the impression that perhaps he isn't fully cognizant of his frequent digressions from "the only fact available to us."
Throughout the book, the reader is bombarded with constant reminders that even though we are concerned with the Pentateuch in its final canonical form, we must not take it too seriously. After all, it is really just a work of fiction and nothing more. So eager is Whybray to make this qualification that in the opening paragraphs of his chapter on Genesis 1-11 he launches into a discussion of why the Genesis prologue should be viewed as a myth.7 He believes most of its elements were borrowed from the creation myths of the surrounding Mesopotamean cultures and that, typical of such stories, the Genesis narrative was concocted as a prologue to be tacked onto Israel's national history for the purpose of explaining her origin and relationship to the rest of the nations. Though not a historical account of actual events, the Genesis narrative was nevertheless supposed to be taken seriously by post-exilic Israel (the intended audience according to Whybray) because it is a parable containing timeless truths about the rebellious nature of mankind, the proliferation of sin in the world, sin's consequences, and the hope to be found in God's grace and benevolence. Whybray strongly suggests that the intention of the author was not only to give his audience general instruction about mankind's relationship to God, but also, consistent with his late 6th century dating, to address post-exilic Israel's situation directly by reminding them of their own disobedience and punishment through exile and giving them assurance that in spite of their rebellion Yahweh has not completely abandoned them.
As grievous as Whybray's view of the historicity of the Genesis prologue is, one is almost glad that Whybray thinks the account is merely fictional once one learns how perverse and blasphemous his interpretation of it is. Genesis, according to Whybray, is the story of a God who created the world but then failed to maintain his dominion over it. His first mistake was that he thought he could frighten Adam and Eve into subjection by threatening them with death if they disobeyed his rules. But when a wily snake appeared on the scene and called God's bluff, Adam and Eve discovered they could eat of the forbidden fruit without dying after all. This humiliating defeat left God feeling even more insecure about his ability to control human beings, who continued to increase in alarming numbers. His desperate attempts to restrain them only met with failure after failure. Eventually he was forced to admit to himself that he had been short-sighted when he had made the world and decided that he must destroy it. But just when it seemed that all would be lost, faithful Noah appeared on the scene and saved God from total embarrassment.
Although Whybray does a better job of understanding the patriarchal narratives, he still insists that they are largely fictional. The alleged choppiness of the patriarchal narratives and their disjointed arrangement are, to his mind, evidence that they were artificially strung together in an effort to give the appearance of a continuous account. This clearly betrays the hand of an editor—perhaps a historical novelist who took originally unrelated stories, touched them up, and smoothed them out in an attempt to fabricate a family history portraying Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as blood relations. Interestingly, Whybray does concede that the Joseph story was an exceptional piece of prose that did not need to be tampered with; for he recognizes that the skillful way in which each subsequent event in Joseph's life logically unfolds so as to set up the reader for the powerful climax of the tale speaks for the narrative's unity and literary quality. He therefore thinks that the historical novelist was probably able to adopt the entire story as he originally found it.
Where did this alleged historical novelist obtain his material? Whybray argues that the stories must have been drawn from either the exilic or post-exilic period because none of the "preexilic parts of the Old Testament" demonstrate any familiarity with the lives of Abraham, Isaac or Jacob.8 What criteria he uses to determine which books of the Old Testament should or should not be considered preexilic and why he assumes that the Pentateuch's antiquity should be mistrusted unless verified by the "preexilic parts" are not discussed. This is one example of how Whybray's higher-critical presuppositions, which are already biased against the antiquity of the Pentateuch, lead him to reach the desired late date conclusion.
Whybray concedes that the figure of Moses may be based on an actual historical person, but he thinks the stories surrounding Moses' character have been embellished and exaggerated to the point of reducing him to legendary rather than historical status. (The development of the legends surrounding King Arthur or Robin Hood would be comparable to what Whybray has in mind.) Neither is the account of Israel's wilderness wandering and eventual conquest of Canaan to be believed. Whybray entirely dismisses the existence of the tabernacle with the comment, "That such a massive structure could have been built and carried for many years through the desert is an obvious impossibility."9 He also attacks the idea that the Israelites immigrated into the land of Canaan, favoring instead the "internal development" hypothesis which proposes that the early Israelites were really an indigenous group of Canaanite descendents who broke away from the polytheistic Canaanite culture and settled in the less populated regions of the land where over time they developed their own sub-culture. As proof of Israel's polytheistic origins, Whybray cites Deuteronomy's extensive teachings on the exclusive worship of Yahweh. Why is this proof? Only a polytheistic people would have needed such stern monotheistic correctives!
Apparently, when the memory of Israel's humble origins had sufficiently faded, it then became possible for imaginative bards to glamorize her history with dramatic tales involving heroic personalities. One wonders at this point how it was possible that the post-exilic Jews so readily embraced the Pentateuch as an historical account of their national and religious heritage if so much of it was fabricated. How did the author get away with passing off his work as authentic? Here Whybray pauses to give the modern reader a short lesson in the psychology of the ancients. You must understand, he explains, that since these tales were set in the remote past far removed from the experience and memory of the post-exilic community, there was really no reason for the Jews to disbelieve them unless there existed within the community an oral tradition that directly contradicted them. Besides, it was fashionable in those days to possess an epic-like account of one's cultural origins, and a certain amount of embellishment was entirely expected. If you think it incredible that the Jews believed the stories of the Pentateuch, consider how gullibly they also swallowed the fantastic tales found in intertestamental Jewish literature! Besides, the post-exilic Jews desperately wanted to believe a message they found so relevant to their situation. It assured them that Yahweh was still the sovereign ruler of all the nations; it instructed them that if they continued in their obedience to Yahweh, he would continue to bless them.
As an interesting side-note, one of the scholars Whybray mentions in his discussion on the dating of the Pentateuch is George E. Mendenhall, whose study of ancient Near Eastern treaties between overlords and their vassal kings has shed light on the possible origins of the Pentateuchal idea of covenant. Mendenhall pointed out the amazing parallels between the content and structure of second millennium Hittite suzerainty treaties and the covenant at Sinai, both of which contain the following six elements: a preamble identifying the author (overlord) of the treaty; a historical introduction reciting the benevolent acts of the overlord toward the vassal; a list of stipulations that the over-lord imposes upon the vassal; the ratification and public proclaimation of the treaty; the list of divine witnesses to the treaty; and the blessings and cursings that will follow depending upon the vassal's obedience or disobedience to the stipulations. Mendenhall furthermore pointed out that even though Assyrian suzerainty treaties also existed in the first millennium, there is a closer resemblance between the Sinaitic covenant and the second millennium Hittite treaties in form and content, supporting a second millennium dating of the Exodus account.10
Whybray, in an effort to rebut these conservatives implications, flatly misleads his readers into thinking that Mendenhall was not yet aware of the existence of the first millennium treaties when he had made this observation, for he neglects to mention that Mendenhall based his statement on the significant differences he observed between second and first millennium suzerainty treaties. In his counterargument, Whybray only points out that the international treaty form was also used in the first millennium and from there speculates that Israel may have borrowed this format as late as the 7th century to support his own late date view.11 Furthermore, Whybray completely ignores the work of Meredith G. Kline and Kenneth Kitchen, whose further studies elaborating on the parallels between the Hittite treaties and the Sinaitic covenant have strengthened the case for a second millennium dating of the Pentateuch. 12
IV. Conclusion: The Implications of Whybray's Approach for the Future of Pentateuchal Studies
Whybray has jumped out of the frying pan of Wellhausenian and Gunkelian speculation and fallen into the fire of agnostic uncertainty and skepticism. He sees the flaws in nearly every theory of Pentateuchal origin and authorship proposed by higher-critical scholars past and present, yet he would rather wander in a scholastic no-man's-land with no place to lay his head than pitch his tent in the traditionalist camp of Mosaic authorship and divine inspiration. He adopts the theory of 6th century dating and single authorship of the Pentateuch almost by default, and though he consistently defends his position he is by no means dogmatic. He believes that all he can do is exhort the reader to deal with the Pentateuch simply as a phenomenon that stands before us, letting the text speak for itself. But this seemingly objective approach fails to do justice to the Pentateuch because the contents and message of the Pentateuch cannot be divorced from its divine origins without stripping it of its power and significance. By attacking the Pentateuch's claims about itself—its historicity, antiquity, authorship, and ultimately its authority—Whybray has pulled the rug out from under any meaning and relevance the Pentateuch might have for readers today.
Since Whybray dismisses the traditionalist view of a divinely inspired Pentateuch as absurd and scorns most higher-critical theories of the Pentateuch's origins as hopelessly inconclusive, and since he proposes that having come to terms with our ignorance on questions of origin we ought to confine ourselves to the study of the Pentateuch in its final form without hope of ever knowing the answers to those questions, one wonders whether the future holds any place for Pentateuchal (or even Old Testament) studies at all if Whybray's views were to prevail. If all that is left to "do" with the Pentateuch is study it in its final form, then what need do we have of that specialist called the Old Testament scholar, since he is not required to believe in the uniqueness of the Pentateuch as divinely inspired nor expected to interact with or to even take seriously the studies of past higher-critical scholars?
In his article "Today and Tomorrow in Biblical Studies,"13 Whybray makes this very point. He contends that there is really no need for the Old Testament scholar as a specialist in Old Testament studies; the idea is just a vestige from those days when the Old Testament was thought to have had special status as divine revelation. Whybray perceptively points out that liberals have been inconsistent in buying into the notion of an Old Testament specialist, and furthermore suggests that they have done so to the detriment of Old Testament scholarship. For the Old Testament scholar is neither a specialist in historiography, anthropology, sociology, literature nor linguistics. He is an amateur who tries to apply his sketchy understanding of each of these fields to the Old Testament with less than satisfactory results. Shouldn't he step aside and allow the task to be delegated to the experts who can do a much more competent job?
This might in the end lead to the concept of the "biblical" or "Old Testament scholar" becoming a thing of the past as professional ancient historians took note of the "historical" information provided by the Old Testament in the context of the study of ancient history, professional students of ancient Semitic literatures treated it as a simple regional variant, professional anthropologists made use of it as a source of information about anthropological phenomena, and so on. 14
The elimination of Old Testament studies altogether is the logical end of Whybray's views, and is really the logical end of any view that denies divine inspiration and places the Old Testament on a par with any other piece of ancient literature. For this reason Whybray's seemingly objective and reasonable proposal of focusing solely on the final form of the Pentateuch is a dangerous one. It is an approach that will, in the end, deliver the fatal blow to whatever remains of the unique status still associated with it. And once that status is lost and Old Testament studies is carved up and distributed to the secular "professionals," we will soon find Old Testament studies to be in an even sadder state in the hands of those with an anti-religious agenda than it was when in the hands of those with an anti-conservative agenda.
Sherman Oaks, California
1 JSOT Supplement 53, Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1987.
2 Die Sagen der Genesis (1901).
3 Whybray's "author" is also assigned the role of compiling and editing existing oral and written traditions much like the ancient Greek historians (cf. below).
4 The reader, however, will not know the extent to which Whybray relies on Van Seters's research simply from reading Introduction. It is in Making that Whybray discusses his reliance on Van Seters in fuller detail.
5 Introduction, p. 136
6 Ibid., pp. 26-7.
7 Whybray, however, avoids using the term "myth," for he says, "[it] is often applied to these stories; but since there is no agreement about the meaning of this term it is probably best to avoid it" (p. 30). I am using the term to describe Whybray's view for lack of a better word.
8 Whybray cites Hosea 12:3-4, 12 as an exception.
9 Introduction, p. 129.
10 Law and Covenant in Israel and the Ancient Near East (Pittsburgh: The Biblica Coloquium, 1955).
11 "However, like the Nuzi hypothesis, [Mendenhall's] theory, although at first widely accepted, was destined to have only a temporary success. It was pointed out on the basis of later discoveries that the international treaty form continued to be in use during the first millennium, many centuries later than the Hittite treaties, and that if Israel did in fact borrow the notion from elsewhere this borrowing could have taken place as late as the seventh century B. C." (Introduction, p. 21) (italics mine).
12 Kline demonstrates that what have commonly been known as "the two tables of the law" that Moses delivered to Israel from Sinai were really duplicate copies of one covenant, in keeping with the Hittite practice of making two treaty copies to be deposited in the sanctuaries of both lord and vassal as witnesses and reminders of their respective obligations. Another of Kline's contributions is in demonstrating the parallels between the Hittite treaty structure and the republication of the Sinaitic covenant in Deuteronomy. See Treaty of the Great King (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963).
Kitchen elaborates on the difference between first and second millennium treaty formats by showing that the former did away with all benevolent means of coercion—omitting the historical prologue and the blessings sanctions—and resorted to ruling the vassal solely by means of threats. The covenants of Exodus and Deuteronomy, with their recitation of the great redemptive acts of Yahweh on behalf of his people and list of blessings promised upon their faithful obedience to him, clearly resemble the second millennium treaties in their emphasis on the benevolence of the overlord as the chief motivation for keeping the stipulations. Furthermore, he observed that the second millennium treaties almost always listed the divine witnesses between the stipulations and curses while the first millennium treaties never did so; and that the second millennium treaties had a consistent ordering of its elements while the first millennium varied its order of elements. See Ancient Orient and the Old Testament (Chicago: IVP, 1966) and The Bible In Its World (Downers Grove: IVP, 1977). For his most recent treatment see "The Patriarchal Age," Biblical Archaeology Review 21 (Mar/Apr 1995): 52-56.
13 The Expository Times 100 (July 1989): 364-368.
14 Ibid., p. 364.
D. Moody Smith. The Theology of the Gospel of John. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995, 202pp., cloth/paper, $44.95/$12.95. ISBN: 0-521-35514-1/0-521-35776-4
This volume in the Cambridge Theology of the New Testament series features Duke University's (Durham, North Carolina) Johannine expert. For more than twenty years, Smith has been writing on the fourth gospel in summary yet serviceable fashion. The present volume is a handy précis of theological issues surrounding John's gospel as well as a pointer for those who follow on this ever increasing yet ever intriguing road pioneered by the Beloved Disciple.
Smith first summarizes the quest for the historical John. The plethora of suggestions for the origin of this gospel are brilliantly summarized in the space of ten pages (pp. 10-20). From Hellenism to Gnosticism, from Qumran to Judaism—each critical attempt to detect the milieu out of which the gospel arose is surveyed together with its peculiar inadequacies.
Next, Smith takes us on a narrative journey thorough the 21 chapters of the gospel itself (pp. 20-48). He provides a narrative commentary on the gospel which touches all the theological issues, but without penetrating any with profundity. Always lurking in the background is Smith's own attempt to get behind the narrative to the originating Johannine community. The evangelist, the characters in the gospel, even Jesus himself are ultimately unknowable; they are a mere pretext, to be stripped away in order to reveal the Johannine community hidden underneath. In other words, for Smith, narrative analysis is but the latest critical means to a critical end—demythologize what the text means in order to reconstruct what the text meant to the original community. The theology of the gospel of John is an inventions construction by an early "Johannine" community of Christians. And so left-wing critical fundamentalism reconstructs the gospel in its own (current) image!
In the course of this presentation, we read the buzz words of the 60's and 70's: "paradox," "dialectic," sitz im Leben, "symbol." As late as 1995, Smith has not exercised the ghosts of his neo-orthodox past. Does he not know, Barth, Brunner, Tillich are dead!
There are occasional glimmers of insight: John 17 as a last will and testament (pp. 41, 42); salvation related to the death and resurrection of Christ (p. 81); the incarnation as an eschatological event (p. 97). But when one puts the book down, the gospel is as flat and tendentious as the "author" or "community" behind the text. We are left with the haunting question—is Jesus himself merely a symbol—a myth? Since "a true symbol participates in the reality it symbolizes but is not identical with it" (p. 166), perhaps the critical past has after all succeeded in swallowing up D. Moody Smith. Is Smith in fact any better than the Hellenizers, the Gnostics, the Essenes, the Judaizers—all of whom he dismisses when discussing the source of the gospel?
This small volume is a window on the critical fundamentalism of our era. As such, it is of limited value for the preacher of the text, although those majoring in agenda based liberal pretexts may find it useful.