Clarifying Von Rad and Noth

I started Ernest Nicholson’s The Pentateuch in the Twentieth Century.  It’s helping me to understand Gerhard Von Rad and Martin Noth better.

1.  A question I have had about Von Rad concerns his definition of the Hexateuch: What was it, when was it used, and when was it replaced by the Pentateuch?  Von Rad believes that the Hexateuch was the narrative of Israel, contained in Genesis-Joshua, which was based on the ancient creedal formulas in Deuteronomy 26 and Joshua 24—formulas that refer to the patriarchs, the Exodus, and the Conquest.  (Many scholars since Martin Noth have disagreed with Von Rad’s notion that these formulas were ancient, contending instead that they were later distillations or summaries of the narrative of Israel.)  According to Von Rad, J put together this narrative in written form during the tenth century B.C.E., to justify David’s conquest.  Von Rad believes that J contributed to the Book of Joshua as well, and that Judges 1 was the end of his work.  (Noth disagreed with Von Rad, seeing Joshua as part of the Deuteronomistic History, not the Tetrateuch—the part of the Pentateuch in which J and E have their voice.)  And so the Hexateuch is, technically-speaking, Genesis-Joshua, although Von Rad acknowledges that people after J (such as D and P) added their own two-cents to the narrative (and those two-cents are significant chunks of the Hexateuch!).

I do not know right now when Von Rad believes that the Hexateuch gave way to the Pentateuch, and so I should probably read his article on “The Form-Critical Problem of the Hexateuch.”  But a scholar named H. Holzinger said that Joshua was disjointed from the Pentateuch during the time of Ezra.  At that time, the Pentateuch became a book of law, and so perhaps priests wanted to detach Joshua so as to keep the focus on Moses, the law-giver (while keeping Genesis because it gave historical background on the nation of Israel).

2.  Regarding Noth, Noth holds that disparate tribes entered the land of Canaan and settled.  There were already people there who had stories about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and who believed that they were entitled to the land.  They celebrated the fulfillment of the land promises at sanctuaries.  Well, according to Noth, the entering tribes later settled near those sanctuaries and took those legends over!  Later, as these tribes united to form Israel, these legends gained an all-Israelite significance.  The Jacob tradition was strongest, which we can see by the fact that Jacob was considered the father of all Israel.  The Jacob traditions are concentrated in central Palestine, which is where some prominent Jacob stories are set (in Bethel and Shechem).  But Abraham and Isaac were big in Southern Palestine, and they contributed their two cents to G—the pre-monarchic source behind J and E—which contained Israel’s national story.  A. Alt had an idea on how Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob became connected: people made pilgrimages to different sanctuaries, and learned about other patriarchs.  (Speaking of pilgrimage, remember Noth’s argument that E has stories that are set in the South, and is thus not Northern?  On page 15, Nicholson mentions a scholar who cited Amos 5:5 to argue that Northern Israelites made pilgrimages to Beer-sheba, in the South.)

3.  I want to discuss Noth’s view on Sinai, for that is an issue that has come up in my write-ups on biblical scholarship.  Some have argued that the Sinai tradition is late because it appears so seldom in the non-Pentateuchal parts of the Hebrew Bible.  Von Rad believed that the Sinai tradition was independent of Israel’s cultic creed, and that J inserted it into his narrative.  Von Rad notes that the ancient creeds do not mention Sinai, that the Sinai traditions lack reference to Israelites’ settling the land (a huge theme of the Hexateuch), and that the insertion of Sinai disrupts the Kadesh traditions.  For Von Rad, Sinai looks out of place because it’s independent and was inserted into the broader narrative.

For Noth, in Nicholson’s summary, “the decisive revelation of Yahweh which formed the nucleus of the Sinai tradition may have taken place in the course of a pilgrimage by some semi-nomadic clans to Yahweh’s holy mountain of Sinai.”  Later, these clans joined Israel, and the story was incorporated into an Israelite covenant festival at Shechem.  For Noth, the Sinai tradition was early, and yet it was combined with the other traditions of the Pentateuch (in the pre-monarchic G source) later.  Noth agrees with Von Rad that the Sinai tradition was transmitted independently of the other traditions, until it was combined with them.  But, unlike Von Rad, Noth holds that Sinai was an early part of Israel’s national story.

Nicholson asks a good question: “Why was it then that a tradition of such fundamental importance for Israel did not find a place in G until the final stages of the development of the narrative?”  On pages 83-84, Nicholson quotes Noth’s answer:

“The evidence adduced suggests that the theme ‘revelation at Sinai’ comes out of a situation which, in a later era, seemed removed to a somewhat misty and distant past, for the reasons that new events, institutions, and conceptions had pushed decisively to the fore in the meantime and now virtually dominated the field…It [sc. the Sinai tradition] remains so far in the background because the comparatively more recent themes of the ‘guidance out of Egypt’ and the ‘guidance into the arable land’ had such a strong attraction as the basis of faith and election and, being newer, held the field.”

I wonder if this is also Noth’s solution to the absence of Sinai in so much of the non-Pentateuchal parts of the Hebrew Bible, and in some of the creeds that sum up Israel’s history: Sinai was not considered cool enough and was deemed to be part of Israel’s murky, distant past.  Personally, I’d think that God’s covenant laws—along with the dramatic fireworks that accompanied their revelation—would be considered quite important!

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.