Beginning Peckham’s History and Prophecy

I started Brian Peckham’s History and Prophecy.  On pages 8-9, Peckham states the following:

“The next author to take a position was the author of II Isaiah.  This update emphasized points of disagreement between Isaiah and the Deuteronomist concerning history and the prophetic tradition.  In the Deuteronomistic interpretation the nations were Israel’s natural adversaries and were inimical to the proper worship of God, but in the opinion of Isaiah and II Isaiah the nations did what God wanted them to do and in better times would even worship in Zion.  In the History, law was the basic motive and meaning of events, but the Isaiahs thought that it was truth and justice that made the world go round.  Isaiah was the only true-to-life prophet mentioned in the History and the Deuteronomist had misquoted him mainly to show that the sequel to the epic was wrong in its glowing opinion of Hezekiah.  II Isaiah quoted the whole story of Hezekiah but rewrote it first in oracular form to prove that the sequel was right, that Hezekiah was the paradigm of the future Davidic king, and that the original Isaiah was in basic agreement with it.  The Deuteronomist was disdainful of the individual prophets whose writings are preserved.  The History told an unflattering story about Amos, dramatized Micah’s conflict with the prophets but associated him with the court of Ahab, tinged the itinerant prophets of the North with Ezekiel’s madness, and included a snide allusion to Jeremiah in the guise of Huldah the prophet, who encouraged Josiah to think that all would be well with his reform and ultimately misled him.  In response, II Isaiah repeated what Jeremiah had said about prophecy falling on deaf ears and made Jeremiah’s troublesome prediction of the reunion of Rachel and Ephraim the model of his own account of the reunion of Jacob and Sion and of universal harmony.

“The librarian who revised Micah’s prophecy used the occasion to quote and correct II Isaiah toward agreement with the Deuteronomistic viewpoint.  The Isaian irenics were replaced by antagonism toward the nations, who have to be punished before they become acceptable to Yahweh.  The future Davidic king will fulfill II Isaiah’s expectations, but he will be a humble viceroy of Yahweh.  The universal reprieve that II Isaiah described is partial in this version, and only a remnant will be spared to return from exile.  Apparently this librarian or archivist was convinced that there was too much at stake in the Deuteronomistic position to be undone by faith or hope or inspired writing.”

Before I try to unravel this quote, I should provide interested readers with a little background information about Peckham’s view on the Hebrew Bible.  Peckham believes in at least three stages of the Hebrew Bible.  The first stage is what he calls the “Epic”, and it goes from Eden to Balaam (Numbers 22-24).  Peckham maintains that this Epic was based on poetic originals, and that it drew from Mesopotamia, Homer, and the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women.  He dates it to 700 B.C.E., and he locates its origin in Judah.

The second stage is what Peckham calls the Sequel, and it stretches from Moses to the deliverance of Jerusalem from Sennacherib in 701.  Peckham dates the Sequel to 680 B.C.E.  The Sequel was designed to refute the prophet Isaiah, who disliked Judah’s reliance on the covenant, which the Epic promoted, as well as preached that Judah would fall, as Northern Israel did.  According to Peckham, the Sequel was written to demonstrate that (contra Isaiah) the covenant really did work, for God delivered Judah. Peckham labels this Sequel “Deuteronomistic”.  Peckham states that the Sequel accounted for the fall of Samaria by saying that Northern Israel broke the covenant by worshiping in Bethel rather than the central sanctuary, Jerusalem, which was special in the eyes of God.  Later, Amos would agree with the Sequel that Northern Israel fell on account of some sin, but he focused on the sin of oppression, not failure to worship at a central sanctuary.  And, although I have not yet read Peckham’s full treatment of Isaiah, the impression I have from some of the book reviews that I have read is that, for Peckham, Isaiah disliked the Epic’s emphasis on the covenant because it focused on worship, to the exclusion of other things (perhaps ethics).

The third stage is also Deuteronomistic, and it seeks to explain the failure of Josiah’s reform.  It also substitutes the law for the covenant.

From what I read today, I could tell that Peckham believes that the Epic was supplemented by different voices.  The Priestly Writer, the Northern Elohist, and the Deuteronomist all had a hand in the Epic, and not always in places that we might expect!  For example, although I have read of scholars who see a Deuteronomistic hand in the Book of Genesis, I never read one who saw a Deuteronomistic contribution in the creation story—until I read Peckham!  In the Epic, Peckham states, “Yahweh sent Man out of the garden so that he might till the land and not have access to the tree of life” (page 34).  But the Deuteronomist made this into a story about God punishing Adam, Eve, and the serpent, and cursing the earth.  For Peckham, “this curse becomes a major theme of the Deuteronomistic History [and] illustrates the History’s usual interest in the origin and reason of things” (page 34).  My impression thus far is that Peckham identifies as Deuteronomistic such things as the land promise (but not all references to it), obedience, theology, worship, and opposition to idolatry.  The Priestly Writer appears to be interested in genealogies, though he, too, has an ideology—which includes a moveable sanctuary, simple observances such as the Sabbath and the family Passover, a belief in a normal created order, and the notion that God promised to Abraham “posterity, possession of the land, and the peaceful coexistence of nations and kings” (page 4).  (The Deuteronomist, by contrast, was rather anti-foreigner.)  The Elohist was Northern, but he added his contribution to the Epic after the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C.E.  Peckham’s characterization of E is like that of many scholars who believe in E: he had an interest in prophecy, dreams, and angels, as well as glorified the Northern sanctuary that was once at Bethel.

I would like to say a word about Peckham’s views regarding the sources for the Epic.  Peckham believes that E, who added the Joseph story to the Epic, drew from Greek legend.  Peckham notes similarities between the Joseph story and the Greek tale of Adonis.  Adonis was loved by Aphrodite, which aroused the jealousy of another god and led to Adonis’ death while he was hunting a boar.  Adonis goes to the realm of the dead and is lamented, and this corresponds with famine.  But Adonis’ remains are sought, and land becomes fertile again.  In the Joseph story, Joseph is loved by Jacob, which arouses the jealousy of Joseph’s brothers, who sell Joseph into Egypt and lead Jacob to believe that Joseph was killed by a wild animal.  A famine emerges, and it ends after Joseph is found.  Also, Jacob talks about going to Sheol.

Although Peckham believes that Judah drew from Greek ideas, he does not think that this occurred during the exile, as John Van Seters maintains.  Rather, he dates the Epic to 700 B.C.E., and the Elohist (who had a hand in the Joseph story) to the seventh century B.C.E.  One criticism of Van Seters (not by Peckham so far, but by other scholars I have read) is that there could have been contact between the Judahites and the Greeks before the exile (even if that occurred via Phoenicia, as Van Seters argues).

At this point, I will try to unravel my opening quote, for what will probably interest me as I continue to read this book is its presentation of biblical diversity.  According to my opening quote of Peckham, the Deuteronomist disliked the nations and viewed them as inimical to Israel’s proper worship of God (think Sennacherib).  The Deuteronomist also emphasized law—for he held that Israel’s disobedience of the law regarding centralization and the proper and sole worship of Yahweh led to her exile.  Although the Deuteronomist differed from Isaiah, he agreed with Isaiah’s anti-Hezekiah attitude, and he quoted Isaiah to dispute the Sequel’s glowing depiction of the king.  (Here, by “Deuteronomist”, Peckham apparently does not mean the author of the Sequel, but rather the exilic Deuteronomist.)  And, for some reason, the Deuteronomist did not really care for the prophets, even if he may have appealed to them for his own agenda.  He saw them as mad, and he mocked Jeremiah as one who made a false prediction about Josiah.  (For Peckham, Huldah represents Jeremiah, and she turned out to be wrong when she predicted that Josiah would die in peace.)

Unlike the Deuteronomist, Second Isaiah had an inclusive attitude towards the nations.  He prioritized truth and justice above law.  Second Isaiah, like the Deuteronomist, also tried to use Isaiah for his own purposes, only in a manner different from that of the Deuteronomist: Second Isaiah defended the Sequel’s pro-Hezekiah attitude, and even asserted that Isaiah himself was pro-Hezekiah, which was not the case.  For Peckham, Second Isaiah viewed Hezekiah as a paradigm for the restored Davidic monarch.  And Second Isaiah had a positive attitude towards the prophets, as he drew from Jeremiah, particularly Jeremiah’s positive vision.  The Deuteronomist, however, edited Second Isaiah’s work—by adding messages against the nations, reducing the king to a mere viceroy, and maintaining that only a remnant would be restored.

It will be interesting to see how Peckham develops these ideas in the course of his book.  At the moment, his assertion that the Deuteronomist was anti-prophecy strikes me as anomalous, for many scholars maintain that the Deuteronomist was strongly pro-prophet—on the basis of the Book of Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History.  But many would agree with Peckham that the Deuteronomist wanted a limited monarchy (though many would say that the author of Deuteronomy desired that, but the Deuteronomist—who came after Deuteronomy—wanted a strong monarch who would enforce centralization and purge the land of idolatry).

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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