1. Michael Fox, Proverbs 1-9.
Scholars have debated about the social setting for the Book of Proverbs. Some argue that its mileau is the villages of ancient Israel, meaning that it contains folk wisdom. In support of this view, we see a lot in Proverbs about agriculture. Others contend that the palace is its mileau, for it talks about rulership and ways to make a good impression on the king.
For Fox, the Book of Proverbs has layers. He says that the palace incorporated folk wisdom into the book, and he acknowledges that part of Proverbs dates to the time of the first Israelite commonwealth, which predated the exile. But he also sees Aramaisms and awareness of Greek styles, and Fox views Proverbs 8 as a response to Greek philosophy. He also asserts that the Book of Proverbs draws from Jeremiah. And so, according to Fox, the latest strata of the Book of Proverbs dates to the Hellenistic Period.
2. Alberdina Houtman, Mishnah and Tosefta.
I finished this book today, and I finally got the meat of what this author believes! For Houtman, there were a lot of oral traditions, and so a group of rabbis decided to create a tight, official repository of those traditions, the Mishnah. But there were more conservative rabbis who didn’t care for the Mishnah, believing that it left out a lot of important oral traditions. And so they created the more comprehensive Tosefta. But the Tosefta didn’t catch on like the Mishnah did. That’s why it is rarely quoted in the Talmud.
3. Geoffrey Hartman, “The Struggle for the Text”, Midrash and Literature.
Hartman talks about Jacob’s encounter with the mysterious man in Genesis 32. Who was this mysterious man? One explanation is that he was Esau’s guardian angel. Although Jacob calls him Elohim, remember that Elohim can refer to a divine being, such as an angel (but does the plural, Elohim, ever refer to a single angel?). That’s why this mysterious man can’t stay until the morning. If he were God, he could do anything he wants.
And yet, there are reasons for seeing the mysterious man as God. He has the power to bless. He’s called Elohim.
For Hartman, there are layers in the text. And part of his point may be that midrash seeks to explain a text that is multi-layered, as a result of a process of composition and redaction. Midrash is seeking to iron out a text that is not that smooth!
Incidentally, when I worked at a Presbyterian church, the associate pastor was telling the children this story, and she said that people don’t know who the mysterious man was. She may have mentioned the idea that he was a water-demon, but I don’t remember. But her lesson for the children was that, even though we don’t understand everything, we can take comfort in the fact that God loves us.