Friedman’s Pre-Exilic P, Part II

I finished up Richard Elliott Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible? There are many things that I can write about, but I want to continue to focus on Friedman’s view on P.  Here are four points:

1.  Friedman sees two points to P’s story of the heresy of Peor in Numbers 25: to say that the priesthood belongs to the line of Aaron forever, and to criticize Moses, the alleged ancestor of P’s Levite competitors.  After all, Numbers 25 condemns Israelite intermarriage with Midianite women, which was exactly what Moses did!  But I wonder why a pre-exilic priest would condemn intermarriage in the first place.  One reason that there are scholars who date P to the post-exilic period is that intermarriage was a big issue at that time.  Overall, I like how Friedman assumes the historicity of large parts of the biblical narrative.  (He doesn’t do this with the Pentateuch, mind you, but rather with the biblical history from David through Israel’s post-exilic period.)  Personally speaking, I get a little tired of always having to be suspicious of sources, plus I think that the history that the Hebrew Bible portrays is a believable historical context for the biblical writings.

But I wish that Friedman would at least ask questions.  Don’t get me wrong—he does that a lot, and he tries to cover as many bases as he reasonably can.  But I was disappointed that he did not address the issue of intermarriage.  He should have demonstrated that it could have been an issue in Israel’s pre-exilic period, which is when he dates P.  Instead, he just assumes that it was, and proceeds from there.  Friedman should have asked if intermarriage was frowned upon in other ancient Near Eastern nations prior to Israel’s exile.  If not, why would it dawn on pre-exilic Israel to oppose intermarriage?  My impression of Friedman is that he views ancient Israel as unique: he says that its religion was different in that it refused to absorb foreign gods in exile, and that the Israelites created the first history (whereas Van Seters would argue that the Israelite history emerged after Herodotus had written his history).

I’m not sure if I’m being clear here, but I am hitting upon an issue that seems to underlie different scholarly opinions: When Israel differs from her ancient Near Eastern neighbors, how did that difference emerge?  I suppose that there are plenty of religious people who will just say “God commanded it,” but there are scholars who aren’t comfortable with that—and so some of them look to Israel’s exile as a setting for her nationalistic opposition to intermarriage: Israel was trying to preserve her national identity in exile, amidst the challenge of assimilation.  For these scholars, that wasn’t as much of a problem before Israel’s exile, since Israel had a religion, a king, borders, etc., and so pre-exilic Israel probably wasn’t as concerned about intermarriage.  But some think that she was always concerned about it, since God called her from the beginning to be a separate people, and warned that intermarriage could draw Israel away from her covenant God.  Is that Friedman’s view?  Why does he think that there would be opposition to intermarriage in pre-exilic Israel?

Then again, ancient Israel wasn’t always against intermarriage, since Moses married a Midianite.  When did opposition to intermarriage become a part of Israelite religion, and why?

2.  A few posts back, I referred to Friedman’s treatment of the spies story in Numbers 13-14.  He said that Joshua appears in E (a Northern source) because he’s an Ephraimite hero, whereas Caleb shows up in J, a Southern source, because he had land in Judah.  But what about the parts of the spies story in which Joshua and Celeb appear together? Friedman attributed that to P.  I thought initially that this looked rather arbitrary, but I learned about Friedman’s reasoning in today’s reading.  On page 206, he says that P was trying to find some reason that God rewarded and honored Joshua, for JE’s reasons weren’t good enough for him.  In JE, Joshua does not join along in the Golden Calf heresy, and he also stands guard at the Tabernacle.  P doesn’t like either one of those scenes.  For one, P doesn’t want to draw attention to the Golden Calf story, in which his ancestor Aaron appears in a not-so-flattering light.  And, second, P doesn’t like the idea of Joshua standing guard at the Tabernacle, which (according to P) only a priest can enter.  And so P comes up with another reason that God exalted Joshua: because Joshua (along with Caleb) had faith when the other spies were descending into despair and rebellion.

3.  According to Friedman, the Deuteronomist, who wrote Deuteronomy 1-11 as a preface to an earlier Shilohite law code, knew of P.  Deuteronomy 1:39 has language that is similar to Numbers 14:31 (which, according to Friedman, earlier scholars attributed to JE, but later scholars ascribed to P): both talk about the fear of the Israelites that their babies would become a prey.  So why couldn’t P be drawing from Deuteronomy in that instance?  On page 273, Friedman says that the Deuteronomist is trying to harmonize the sources in front of him, including P.  Numbers 14:24 says that Caleb will enter the Promised Land, without even mentioning Joshua, and Deuteronomy 1:36 makes that same point.  But then Deuteronomy 1:38 says that Joshua, too, will enter.  Friedman views this as evidence that the Deuteronomist has P and other sources in front of him (and these sources had not yet been combined by the redactor, whom Freidman regards as Ezra), and he’s seeking to make sense of them, with their contradictions.

Friedman believes that the Deuteronomist was Jeremiah—or Jeremiah in collaboration with Baruch.  According to Friedman, Jeremiah did not like P, for “The Priestly laws excluded him and his family from the priesthood” (page 209).  (Remember that Jeremiah was a Levite who was not descended from Aaron.)  As we saw yesterday, Friedman believes that Jeremiah quotes P: “Jeremiah plays upon P expressions, reverses the language of the P creation story, denies that God emphasized matters of sacrifices in the day that Israel left Egypt” (page 209).  But he thinks that Jeremiah did not accept P “as a source of law or history”, but regarded it as the product of the pen of lying scribes (Jeremiah 8:8)!

But I have some questions about this scenario.  First, if Jeremiah did not view P as a reliable source of history, then why does he refer to Numbers 14:31 in Deuteronomy 1:39?  And, second, why did Jeremiah’s Deuteronomistic History support the Josianic reform, which centralized worship at Jerusalem, the stronghold of the Aaronids?  Jeremiah’s exclusion from the Aaronic priesthood did not hinder his support for Josiah’s program, right?  Or did Jeremiah expect for Josiah to follow Deuteronomy’s inclusive policy towards Levites, which Josiah did not end up doing?

4.  Friedman dates P to the time of Hezekiah.  He believes that P was the document that inspired Hezekiah’s reform of centralization, and he notes that, while the Deuteronomist emphasizes Josiah, the Chronicler (who is from Aaronic priestly circles) heavily glorifies Hezekiah.  Friedman also sees some political rivalry over the Nehushtan, the bronze serpent that Moses set up in Numbers 21: Hezekiah destroyed it (II Kings 18:4), whereas Josiah married a woman named Nehushta (II Kings 24:8).  According to Friedman, the Shilohite E and Dtr circle loved the Nehushtan—in fact, Jeremiah 8:17-22 refers to the story in Numbers 21!  But Hezekiah, the man of the Aaronides, destroyed it.  And yet, Josiah, the man of the Shilohites, married a woman with the name of Nehushta, which was probably Shilohite in origin (considering that Shiloh Levites loved the Nehushtan).

I’m not sure what to do with this.  After all, the Deuteronomist (according to Friedman) is from Shilohite circles, and he’s the one who cites Hezekiah’s destruction of the Nehushtan as an example of his righteous deeds as king.

Julius Wellhausen, on pages 46-47 of his Prolegomena, argues against a scholar who dates P to the time of Hezekiah.  My impression is that Wellhausen is skeptical that Hezekiah tried to enforce centralization.  For one, Hezekiah’s contemporary, Isaiah, does not call for centralization, but rather for the cleansing “of the local sanctuaries from molten and graven images…”  Centralization wasn’t even on people’s radar in the time of Hezekiah, Wellhausen argues.  Second, if Hezekiah had tried to enforce centralization, why doesn’t the Book of Kings harp on it, when centralization is a topic of interest to him?  Why does it portray Josiah’s reformation as so revolutionary and profound, if Hezekiah had tried the same thing not long before?  Regarding II Kings 18:4, 22, which affirm that Hezekiah abolished the high places, Wellhausen attributes that to the Deuteronomist redactor, who was bringing Hezekiah’s cleansing of Jerusalem from idolatry more into line with the Deuteronomistic agenda (i.e., get rid of the high places, matzebot, and asherot).

Friedman’s answer to Wellhausen would probably be that the Deuteronomist liked Josiah better than Hezekiah, and that’s why the Deuteronomist in II Kings emphasizes Josiah’s reform.

I’ll stop here.

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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