My Hebrew Bible comp is rapidly approaching. I have read a lot of books over these past five months, as my regular readers know. But I have also read some book reviews. This afternoon, I was reading Sam Wheeler’s review of Frank Moore Cross’ Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic. The following stood out to me:
“Cross argues forcefully against Noth, Von Rad, and others for the original inclusion of the Sinai-covenant traditions in the Exodus-Conquest complex. The position he adopts is essentially that defended by Weiser and others that the Sinai traditions in their present place in the epic traditions are indeed ‘secondary,’ since their earlier and rightful place was at the close of the cultic recitation of the magnolia Dei in a covenant renewal ceremony like that in Joshua 23 (p. 85). Cross ingeniously turns Noth’s method of separating themes against Noth himself by showing first that the types of ‘divine law-giver’ (El) and storm god (Baal) are distinct; and second, linking the Exodus events, particularly the victory at the Sea of Reeds, with Baal imagery and forms of manifestation. It is not hard to show that the earliest epic accounts of the Sinai events (JE) already contain a combination of El imagery (lawgiver, covenant god) and Baal imagery (Victor at the Sea, manifest in the clouds); that is to say, the Sinai account in itself already links in its imagery Exodus and Sinai events (pp. 177-86).”
I read the “Prologomena” in Cross’ book today. I may have to read more of the book to get a better understanding of what Sam Wheeler is talking about. Whether or not I will have time to do that, I will have to see, for there are other things that I want to review in the next few days. But I’ll write about what I got out of the “Prologemena,” even though I had a tough time comprehending it.
The reason that the above statement by Wheeler stood out to me was that the absence from Sinai from certain biblical traditions has been something salient that I have learned over the past seven years. A professor of mine at Hebrew Union College pointed out narrations of Israel’s history within the Hebrew Bible that omit any reference to Sinai, which is odd, considering how significant Sinai is in the Pentateuch. His conclusion is that the Sinai tradition was later than those narrations—and he argues that there is a Diasporic context for the Sinai tradition. But I learned from reading his book that Gerhard Von Rad also noticed the absence of Sinai from narrations of Israel’s history, and Von Rad concluded that the Sinai tradition was independent and was incorporated into the history of Israel at a particular time. Then, recently, I read in a book by Jon Levenson that Von Rad argued that Sinai was celebrated during Sukkot, whereas the Exodus-Conquest was commemorated during Pentecost—which is what we see in the Credo in Deuteronomy 26:5-10 (which does not mention Sinai). Under the United Monarchy, Von Rad contended, the Sinai and the Exodus-Conquest stories were brought together by J.
But how does Cross address the issue of Sinai’s absence in the Hebrew Bible from certain narrations of Israel’s history? On pages 85-86, he tackles this question. Cross affirms that the order that we see in the Pentateuch—of Exodus, Sinai covenant, and Conquest—“is based on older historical memory”. But, within the cult, there was a different order: the Exodus-Conquest was celebrated, and that was followed by a covenant ceremony. For Cross, Joshua 24 and Exodus 15 were used at sanctuaries (Shechem and Gilgal, respectively), and then there was a ceremony of covenant renewal, which “displaced the Sinaitic traditions.” Cross states that “there is evidence in some early traditions that the march of the Divine Warrior from the South or the Wars of Yahweh tended to dominate the cultic reenactment of the magnalia Dei.” Early traditions preferred to focus on the Divine Warrior, and we see passages about the Divine Warrior coming from the South in Exodus 15:1-18; Deuteronomy 33:1-3, 26-29; Judges 5:4-5; and Habakkuk 3:3-7. The Exodus-Conquest story fits nicely into that, and so cults preferred to talk about the Exodus-Conquest—which is about Yahweh as Divine Warrior—without interrupting their story in the middle with the Sinai covenant (though I wonder how Cross would account for Deuteronomy 33:1-3, which concerns the giving of the law). They preferred to save the covenant part for the end. And Cross sees in Exodus 34:10-27 (J) an indication of this: God tells Moses about the Conquest and what the Israelites are to do in the Promised Land, and then the covenant involving law takes place.
Cross does not appear to separate Sinai from the Exodus-Conquest,. He believes that, early on, El’s role as lawgiver and Baal’s role as conqueror of the sea were combined in Yahweh, the God of Israel.