Completing Cross’ Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic

I finished Frank Moore Cross’ Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic.  I have four items:

1.  In “Ideologies of the Kingship in the Era of the Empire”, Cross talks about different covenants in the Hebrew Bible.  On pages 261-263, Cross argues that the United Monarchy shaped the Yahwist’s presentation of the patriarchal covenant.  The monarchy was supported by a myth that related to creation and eternity—perhaps because the monarchy was an essential part of the order of the cosmos.  (That’s my assumption about what Cross is saying.)  J portrays the patriarchal land promises in terms of the extent of the empire of David and Solomon, which was from the boundary of Egypt to the Euphrates.  (Although Cross acknowledges that David and Solomon did not annex Philistia, Cross states that Achish of Gath may have been one of David’s vassals, and Gath had hegemony over other Philistine cities.)  Another area in which royal theology influenced J’s depiction of the patriarchal covenant involves the universal implications of the covenant—that Israel’s expansion and destiny was to be “a source of blessing for the nations”, an idea that we encounter throughout Genesis.  Cross states: “Here we see the universalism of mythic kingship, the reverberations, so to speak, of the universal victory of the divine warrior-king transforming the patriarchal covenant into the image of the divine decree with its eternal and universal significance.”  For Cross, royal theology absorbed the patriarchal covenant—presenting the United Monarchy as the means for the fulfillment of the land promise, and endowing the patriarchal covenant with universal implications, the idea perhaps being that the king would enable Israel to benefit the world.  John Van Seters argues something similar, only he take the concept in a different direction: For Van Seters, royal concepts were applied to the nation of Israel in exile, as a way to give Israel meaning when she no longer had a monarchy.

On page 271, Cross refers to George Mendenhall, who argues that P does not believe that the Abrahamic covenant has obligations, and that circumcision is merely a sign.  Cross responds: “However, both circumcision and the Sabbath, sign of the Sinai covenant, are at once signs and laws, which if broken bring separation from the covenant people.  The Priestly strata are influenced by the mythic and antinomian tendencies of the royal Judaean theology, but law is a part of each of the Priestly covenants.”  This reminds me of two things: Brian Peckham’s argument that Isaiah criticized the J epic because it emphasized worship, rather than ethics (antinomianism), and Israel Knohl’s argument in Sanctuary of Silence that P lacked an ethical focus, as it viewed God as very transcendent in his relationship to humans.

2.  In “The Priestly Work”, Cross discusses P, which he appears to regard as a supplement to JE, rather than an independent document in itself.  Cross does not think that P is adequate as a source by itself, and he maintains that details of J and E (such as the Fall, or the covenant rites of Sinai) are essential to P’s story.  Martin Noth was one who believed that P was an independent source—and that a redactor used P to organize the story.  But there are times when Noth holds that P at one point had details that are no longer present in it.  Noth appears to address the same sort of problem with P that Cross does—P’s inadequacy by itself as an independent document, and its presumption of stories that are in J and E—but he deals with it differently from Cross.

On page 312, Cross makes an interesting point about P and the Feast of Weeks.  Cross argues that P in Exodus 19:2 sets the events of Sinai during the third month, so that E’s story of the covenant meal in Exodus 24:3-8 would fall on the Feast of Weeks, the sixth day of the third month.  I was aware that Judaism associated the Feast of Weeks with the Sinai revelation, but I did not know that there was explicit Scriptural support for this.  Exodus 19:2 may be close to constituting Scriptural support.

On page 313, in a footnote, Cross discusses the Decalogue.  Cross affirms that P and E maintain that the revelation of the content of the Decalogue preceded the tablets, and E in Exodus 24:7 presents the reading of the Book of the Covenant as occurring prior to the tablets.  J, however, has another tradition: Moses brings the tablets to the mountain, then the covenant is made on the basis of the Ten Commandments.  Cross identifies the Decalogue in Exodus 34 as Yahwistic, but, because the first two commandments resemble the first two commands of the Decalogue in Exodus 20, Cross argues that the remaining eight commandments in Exodus 34 have been suppressed and replaced with a cultic calendar, “one which has a common origin with the cultic calendar in the Covenant Code, Exod. 23:14-19.”  So Cross holds that J’s Decalogue was like the Decalogue of Exodus 20 (and was even earlier, for its first two commandments are simpler than they are in P’s Exodus 20), but that the last eight commands were replaced with ritual rules.

3.  On pages 337-339, in “The Apocalyptic Community at Qumran”, Cross discusses the role of Joshua 6:26 in a Qumran list of Testimonia from Cave 4.  Joshua 6:26 is where Joshua curses anyone who attempts to rebuild Jericho.  I Kings 16:34 presents the fulfillment of this prophecy, but the Essenes reapplied it to their own time.  Cross relates the Testimonium to events in the second half of the second century B.C.E., when Simon the Maccabee fought Antiochus VII and went to Jericho as he was “reviewing fortifications which he had build or which were in the process of reconstruction.”  There, Simon and two of his sons were murdered by Ptolemy, the administrator of Jericho, who was probably an Idumean seeking to establish Idumean power.  But Simon’s other son, John Hyrcanus, managed to escape death.  For Cross, the Essenes were criticizing the Maccabees, which is not surprising, since the Essenes may have left Jerusalem to go to the desert on account of their disapproval of the Maccabees.

4.  On page 345, in “A Note on the Study of Apocalyptic Origins”, Cross concisely explains the difference between prophecy and apocalyptic: “The old songs of the wars of Yahweh were transformed into eschatological songs of imminent war in which Yahweh’s universal rule would be established.”

Good book!

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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