Literary Patterning; Writing Scripture

In The Bible As Human Witness to Divine Revelation, I read two essays: John Harvey’s “Jehoiachin and Joseph: Hope at the Close of the Deuteronomistic History,” and David G. Meade’s “Ancient Near Eastern Apocalypticism and the Origins of the New Testament Canon of Scripture.”

1. Harvey’s essay argues that there are many parallels between the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua-II Kings) and stories in the Tetrateuch (Genesis-Numbers). He says that there is likewise a parallel between Joseph in Genesis and Jehoiachin at the end of II Kings, who is exalted in Babylonian exile. Harvey views this as a sign of hope for the exiles: in the same way that the Exodus occurred long after the exaltation of Joseph in Egypt, so would the Israelites return from Babylonian captivity after the death of Jehoiachin. And, indeed, II Kings 25:20 says that the king of Babylon gave Jehoiachin a weekly allowance for as long as Jehoiachin lived, indicating that at least part of the Deuteronomistic History was addressing a situation after the death of Jehoiachin.

Harvey probably views Jehoiachin as a historical person, for (if I’m not mistaken) there is archaeological evidence that he was in Babylon. And yet, the Deuteronomist’s description of Jehoiachin and his significance can be literary—patterned after a literary figure (Joseph). This is important because there are scholars who try to create a wedge between the historical and the literary, as if what is literary cannot be historical. Christ mythers argue, for example, that, because Jesus in the Gospels resembles Horus, Jesus wasn’t a historical person. And the list goes on. But can a historical person be described in a literary manner, or patterned after literary characters?

I was thinking about that this Christmas. The “birth story” of Jesus in Matthew contains elements that we find in other stories: a king tries to kill a bunch of kids to get rid of a promised deliverer, a star heralds the birth of said redeemer, etc. This brings to mind Josephus’ telling of the Exodus story, among other legends. That may be why there are people who don’t believe that the birth story in Matthew is historical. But does similarity to legend rule out historicity? I’m not sure. That may depend on a case-by-case basis. It’s one thing for Jehoiachin to be exalted in Babylon, and for that to be described in terms of the story of Joseph; it’s another thing for a story to contain a number of typical scenes that appear in other legends. The former looks less contrived than the latter, if you know what I mean.

2. One of Meade’s arguments is that “The non-closure of the Old Testament, the conception of heavenly books, and the literary genre of testament were the vehicles by which the post-apostolic authors of the New Testament (e.g., the Pastorals, 2 Peter, Revelation) could begin to articulate a doctrine of new, Christian Scripture, and to develop a hermeneutic to interpret these texts” (320). Meade contends that the canon of the Hebrew Bible was officially closed (presumably by the rabbis) in response to Christianity. And there were apocalyptic books in the Second Temple Period which were popping up, claiming to be divine revelation. There are books in the New Testament that fit this genre.

People have asked: Did the New Testament authors believe that they were writing sacred Scripture? Maybe Paul did not think that he was doing so, but his writings were considered to be Scripture in the second century, as books such as the pastorals and II Peter demonstrate (for II Peter considers Paul’s writings to be Scripture). The author of Revelation, on the other hand, probably believed that he was writing a divinely-inspired document.

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.
This entry was posted in Bible, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.