Friedman’s Pre-Exilic P

For my write-up today of Richard Elliott Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible?, I want to write about why Friedman believes that P was pre-exilic (in contrast to the traditional Documentary Hypothesis, which dated him to Israel’s exilic and post-exilic periods).

Here are some of Friedman’s reasons:

1.  Although scholars who believe in a post-exilic P argue that the prophets do not quote P—which indicates to them that P was later than the prophets were—Friedman contends that “Prophets do quote P.”  In Jeremiah 4:23, Jeremiah talks about the earth being unformed and void, and light being gone from the heavens.  Friedman holds that Jeremiah is alluding to Genesis 1:1-3, in which God creates order out of an earth that was unformed and void, as well as says, “Let there be light.”  For Friedman, Jeremiah here is speaking “poetically of a time when nature will be turned upside down.”  Moreover, in Jeremiah 3:16, Friedman argues, Jeremiah quotes P’s line in Genesis 1 of “Be fruitful and multiply,” as well as takes a swipe at the Ark of the Covenant, which P liked to emphasize: Jeremiah says that there will be no more Ark when the Israelites are fruitful and multiply.  For Friedman, Jeremiah also takes a swipe at P in Jeremiah 7:22, in which God says that he did not command the Israelites to offer sacrifices in the wilderness; P says that God did command them to do so.

Friedman also maintains that Ezekiel knows P.  In Ezekiel 5-6, “Ezekiel acts as a prosecuting attorney in a divine court, accusing the people of their breach of contract with God” (page 168).  Friedman thinks that this contract is in Leviticus 26 (P), noting verbal parallels between Ezekiel 5 and that chapter.  Friedman also states that “It appears that Ezekiel’s source for the exodus event is P” (page 170).  Against scholars who believe that P drew from Ezekiel, Friedman asks, “How can they explain the fact that this meant that the telling of the story in P had to be based on the retelling of the story in Ezekiel?”  For Friedman, Ezekiel was a prophet quoting the priestly Torah, rather than an inspiration for P.

In my opinion, this is Friedman’s strongest argument.  I think that Ezekiel drew from other sources for the Exodus than P, however, for, in Ezekiel 20, we see the tradition that Israel worshiped idols in Egypt, something that is not in P (as far as I know).  Moreover, like Julius Wellhausen, I wonder why Ezekiel, in his attempt to justify the Aaronic priesthood (Ezekiel 44:15), does not appeal to P, which has stories about the exaltation and legitimation of Aaron.  Was it because people in his audience did not accept P as an authority?  But, if that’s the case, why does Ezekiel in other cases appeal to P?

2.  On page 175, Friedman asks if the Tabernacle was “a fiction, made up by a late Priestly writer as a symbol of the Second Temple?”  The problem with that, Friedman notes, is that “the Priestly source emphasizes the ark, the tablets, the cherubs, and the Urim and Thummim in connection with the Tabernacle; and none of these things were in the Second Temple.”  Friedman may be responding to a scholarly view that is out there, but Julius Wellhausen himself said that the Tabernacle was modeled after the Solomonic temple, on pages 36-37 of his Prolegomena.  Maybe the sacred items that Friedman lists were not in the Second Temple because they were lost, and yet an exilic or post-exilic P could still have believed that these objects were valuable parts of the sanctuary, even if they were no longer around in post-exilic times.

3.  I Kings 8:4 may suggest that the Tabernacle was put inside of the Temple.  Wellhausen saw this as an interpolation, and his argument was that the Tabernacle is so notably absent throughout the pre-exilic historiographic narratives of the Hebrew Bible, showing it was an exilic or post-exilic invention.  But Friedman cites Psalms in which the Temple is associated with the Tabernacle, as if the tent is a part of the Temple (Psalm 26:8; 27:4-5; etc.).  And Lamentations 2:6-7 says that the enemies destroyed the Tent of Meeting and the Temple.  For Friedman, this is evidence that there was a pre-exilic Tabernacle, meaning that it wasn’t an exilic or post-exilic invention.

4.  Friedman comes up with a believable pre-exilic context for P.  After the destruction of Northern Israel in 722 B.C.E., Northern Levites came down to Judah, bringing with them their traditions, such as E, which presented Aaron in a bad light.  These Northern Levites challenged the sole priestly authority of the Aaronids.  In the face of this, the Aaronic priests needed to justify their authority—and that of the Jerusalem sanctuary—in order to survive.  Consequently, they created their own Torah, which elevated Aaron, and cast Moses (E’s hero, and maybe even his ancestor) in a rather negative light.  They highlighted the need for sacrifices under the auspices of the Aaronids, rather than being sorry and receiving God’s forgiveness (which was in JE).   P’s Torah did not have sacrifices prior to the creation of the Tabernacle, and Leviticus 17 (which Friedman apparently attributes to P, rather than the Holiness Source) is clear that meat can only be slaughtered at the Tabernacle (which came to be in the Temple); for P, if you want to sacrifice, you go to the Aaronides!  The God of P is more distant and less personal than that of JE, perhaps because P wanted to emphasize that one interacted with God through the orderly system of worship that God established, not through talking donkeys, prophets, dreams, or angels, which appear in JE (page 192).  And P had the Korah story in Numbers 16, which put down the claims of competing Levites.

I’ll stop here, for now.

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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