Final Wilderness Points by Albertz

I finished Volume I of Rainer Albertz’s A History of Israelite Religion in the Old Testament Period.  I went through the endnotes.  In this post, I was to talk about two issues: priestly controversies about the wilderness, the Deuteronomic authorship of the Decalogue.

1.  On page 263, Albertz states the following:

“In Ezek. 44.10-12 the Zadokite-Aaronite priesthood of Jerusalem defends its privileges with the accusation that the ‘Levites’ bear the decisive share of blame for the apostasy of Israel which led to the exile.  In Ex. 32, those who are thus discriminated against turn the tables, and by using the old Bethel tradition [about the Golden Calf] prove that it was Aaron who allowed the people to ‘run wild’ (Ex. 32.2ff., 25b), whereas the Levites are marked out by their inexorable loyalty to Yahweh (Ex. 32.2ff., 25b)…”

So one view is that the Golden Calf story reflects exilic disputes between Zadokite priests and Levites.

On page 310-311, Albertz refers to another idea: that the story of the Golden Calf in Exodus 32 was at one point a promotion of the bull cult at Bethel, and that Aaron was portrayed as its founder because the Aaronide priesthood served at Bethel.  What evidence do advocates of this view offer for their claim?

First of all, there’s the fact that Exodus 32 portrays Aaron as playing a significant role in the construction of the Golden Calf.  Exodus 32:8 says “these are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt,” even though there is only one calf, and Jeroboam in I Kings 12:28 speaks the very same words about the sanctuaries that he establishes, and so there are many scholars who have argued that Exodus 32 is really about Jeroboam’s sanctuaries.  But why connect Aaron with Jeroboam’s sanctuaries, when Aaron did not serve in the North, but in the South (in Judah)?  Apparently, there is a belief among some that the Aaronic priesthood served in the North.

Second, Judges 20:26-28 says that Aaron’s grandson Phinehas served at Bethel.  Third, Joshua 24:33 says that Aaron’s son, Eleazar, was buried in land held by Phinehas in Ephraim, and so there’s a connection between the family of Aaron and Ephraim, in Northern Israel.  Fourth, “the first two sons of Aaron (Nadab and Abihu) bore almost the same names as the sons of Jeroboam, who in addition had all too premature a death (Lev. 10.1-3; I Kings 14:17; 15:27)…”  The argument here is that the Aaronide priests honored Jeroboam by inserting “the names of members of the royal family into their genealogy…”  In the exilic and post-exilic periods, the argument runs, the Zadokites applied to themselves the genealogy of the Aaronide priesthood, so as to legitimate their own priesthood.  But, in this view, the Aaronide priesthood served in the North, not in the South.  It was later presented as serving in the South.

And come to think of it, I don’t see much of the Aaronic priesthood in I Samuel-II Kings, even though there are plenty of Levites in those books!  (As far as I can see, Zadok is not traced to Aaron in these particular books.)  It is the post-exilic I-II Chronicles that repeatedly features the sons of Aaron as priests in Jerusalem.

So what exactly happened, if both of these scenarios are true?  Did the Zadokites in exile claim to be descended from Aaron, and there was a story that championed Aaron as the founder of the Bethel cult, but rival Levites then said, “Okay, we believe that you’re descended from Aaron, but Aaron founded the cult that led Northern Israel astray”?  Did the Zadokites load themselves with baggage when they claimed descent from Aaron?

2.  On pages 356-357, Albertz discusses the Decalogue.  If I’m understanding him correctly, he thinks that the Decalogue is Deuteronomic because it flows so smoothly in the story of Deuteronomy: Deuteronomy 5 fits pretty well in its context.  But Exodus 20 does not, for, there, God speaks the commandments right after Moses has descended from Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:20-25).  So it’s more likely, in Albertz’s eyes, that the Deuteronomic author composed the Decalogue, and that the person who put together Exodus inserted a modified version of that Decalogue into his book, albeit in an awkward manner.  And the editor of Exodus (or one of them) followed the pattern of Deuteronomy: in the same way that Deuteronomy followed the Decalogue with laws, so Exodus followed the Decalogue with the Covenant Code.

But doesn’t the Decalogue contain a non-Deuteronomic idea—that God will punish children for the sins of their parents, whereas Deuteronomy 24:15-16 says that each person will be put to death for his own sin?  David Aaron said that the Deuteronomist accepted the Decalogue, even though it contained the idea of transgenerational punishment, which he did not hold.  But Albertz goes more of a harmonizing route: He says that “there is no contradiction, since the prohibition of clan liability in the punishment in Deut. 24.15 moves on a different level from divine retribution; in the latter case Deuteronomy also knows collective ideas of punishment (e.g. 28.32).”

I think one can make a case that Deuteronomy 24:15-16 is about divine retribution, however, for it says that those who oppress others will be considered sinners by God, right before it says that children will not be punished for the sins of their parents.  The implication seems to be that God will judge individuals for their sins.  But I can also understand why some would buy into the harmonizing approach that God can practice transgenerational punishment, whereas courts cannot do so, for v 17 mentions not perverting judgment—a court issue.  So I don’t know what to say here.  I agree with Albertz, though, that punishment in Deuteronomy can be complicated.  Yes, Deuteronomy says that God punishes individuals for their sins, moving away from transgenerational punishment; yet, a big part of its ideology is that God punishes the nation of Israel for a period of time.  When that happens, sons and daughters end up suffering for their ancestors’ sins!

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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