Van Seters Vs. Levinson on Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread (In Van Seters’ Telling)

I finally finished John Van Seters’ A Law Book for the Diaspora!  In this post, I want to look at pages 163ff., in which Van Seters interacts with B.M. Levinson’s Deuteronomy and the Hermeneutics of Legal Innovation

It takes a great deal of concentration to follow Van Seters’ argument, and, quite frankly, I’m not even sure right now if I got it!  But here’s my impression of his scenario.  In his view, we have Deuteronomy 16:1-4, which talks about the Passover, then gives instructions about eating unleavened bread for seven days, as well as the de-leavening of one’s home.  Following that, in vv 5-7, we read that the Passover is to be eaten in the central sanctuary.  Then, v 8 says that the Israelites are to eat unleavened bread for six days (which, with the Passover, make seven days in all, the duration of time in which the Israelites are to eat Unleavened Bread).  In v 16, in which there is a summary of the festivals, we see a reference to the Feast of Unleavened Bread, but not the Passover. 

Van Seters’ conclusion is that the Feast of Unleavened Bread emerged in the exile as “a temporary substitution for the Passover”.  That’s why we only see the Feast of Unleavened Bread mentioned in Exodus 23:15 and 34:18, without a reference to the Passover (Exodus 23:15).  In the exilic setting of those passages, Van Seters maintains, there was no Passover, for the Feast of Unleavened Bread was replacing it.  According to Van Seters, Exodus 23:15 and 34:18 are based on Exodus 13:1-10, which is about eating bread for seven days and de-leavening one’s home.  In the Second Temple Period, however, the Feast of Unleavened Bread was combined with the Passover, which made a comeback at that time. 

So I’m taking it that Van Seters is proposing this scenario.  We have Deuteronomy 16, which focuses on the Passover.  During the exile, somebody adds the Unleavened Bread stuff to Deuteronomy 16, perhaps to show that Unleavened Bread is a replacement for Passover, and can function as such in exile because it was once associated with the Passover.  Then, once Unleavened Bread was established as replacing the Passover in exile, we have texts such as Exodus 13:1-10; 23:15; and 34:18, which mention the Feast of Unleavened Bread alone—without the Passover.

Levinson’s scenario is slightly different.  Levinson says that Deuteronomy 16 reflects an attempt to combine the Passover with the Days of Unleavened Bread.  So Exodus 12:21-27 (about the Passover alone); 13:3-10 (about Unleavened Bread alone); and 23:14, 17 (about Unleavened Bread alone) were passages that existed prior to the composition of Deuteronomy 16, which put the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread together.

But Exodus 34:25 mentions the Passover!  If Deuteronomy 16 combined the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread and came after the time of the Exodus passages about the Days of Unleavened Bread, as Levinson proposes, then why does Exodus 34:25 mention the Passover?  Levinson views that as a late, post-Deuteronomistic revision.  After Deuteronomy 16 was written, Levine argues, someone went back to the early text of Exodus 34 and added to it a stray reference to the Passover.

For Levinson, Passover was originally an “apotropaic ritualized slaughter by each household”, as we see in Exodus 12.  Basically, each homehold  killed a lamb to protect itself from harmful spirits!  We see these sorts of rituals in other cultures.  But the author of Deuteronomy came along and moved the ritual to the central sanctuary.  Van Seters seems to agree with Levinson on this.  But they differ in that, whereas Van Seters says that the Exodus passages about the Days of Unleavened Bread emerged after the composition of Deuteronomy 16, Levinson asserts the opposite.  Van Seters’ view here gels with his overall argument: that the Covenant Code came about later than the Book of Deuteronomy.  

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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