In February of this year, I blogged through Volume I of Rainer Albertz’s A History of Israelite Religion in the Old Testament Period. Now, I’ll be blogging through Volume II: From the Exile to the Maccabees.
According to Albertz, Jews in exile changed their religion in light of new realities, or they fell back on certain forms of their religion. Whereas, before the exile, the Sabbath was a new moon festival and was distinct from the agricultural rest every seventh day (which is not called a Sabbath in places of the Torah), the Sabbath during the exile was a weekly day of rest and a marker of Israelite identity. Whereas circumcision before the exile was a practice that Israel shared with her neighbors (i.e., Ammon, Moab, Egypt) and may have been performed on adolescents (as was the case with Ishmael in Genesis 17), it was an unusual practice in Mesopotamia—the place of the Jews’ exile—making it a marker of Israelite identity, plus it was performed on newborn males.
The exiled Jews also found family religions to speak to them in exile, where they lacked a king and a temple. Before the exile, God was considered to be the father of the Israelite king; during the exile, however, God was the father of Israel, and Second Isaiah even likened God to a mother. Moreover, Israel in exile conducted celebrations within the context of the family—as was the case with the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread in Exodus 12. The pre-exilic monarchy tended to undermine clans, but the collapse of the state led to the strengthening of Israelite families, clans, and elders. And yet, universalism developed during the exile, one reason being that the Israelites formed friendships with foreigners within that context. From this setting emerged the sense that Israel was to be a blessing to the nations (the idea that we see in the patriarchal stories and Second Isaiah), rather than fantasizing about subjugating them, which was how pre-exilic Israelite monarchs approached the nations. According to universalism, all of the nations would benefit from the worship of Israel’s God, and so Israel had a missionary role.
But Albertz does not present the ideology of Jews during the time of the exile as monolithic, for there was diversity. The Deuteronomistic Historian desired the rebuilding of the temple, whereas the Deuteronomist who contributed to the Book of Jeremiah criticized those who harped on the “temple of the LORD”. (This interpretation of Jeremiah 7:4 intrigued me, for that passage is criticizing the notion that the temple made Judah invulnerable. During the exile, however, everyone knew that the temple was vulnerable, since it had been destroyed. But Albertz may believe that the Deuteronomist is pointing that out to criticize those who stressed the importance of the cult.) There is also diversity within the Book of Ezekiel, as one voice discusses the restoration of the Davidic monarch, whereas another voice—the one in Ezekiel 40-48—presents a society with a weak prince and power among the tribes. Second Isaiah, however, envisioned God as the one who would rule Jerusalem.
In the post-exilic period, Haggai envisioned the removal of Jeremiah’s curse on Jehoiachin, as Zerubabbel would become king. (Albertz interprets Nehemiah 6:6-14 to mean that nationalistic prophets wanted Nehemiah to become king, but the author of the text itself seems to be trying to resist that notion.) But that hope was shot down, perhaps by the Persians, and Zechariah portrayed the high priest Joshua as the one who would be anointed. Similarly, the post-exilic priestly author presented the garments of the high priest as similar to clothes of royalty.
Changed circumstances was sometimes the cause of the diversity in Scripture. In the case of Haggai and Zechariah, their predictions of God’s dramatic intervention did not come to pass, and so later hands made Zechariah’s prophecies conditional on social justice, as well as eschatologized them: relegated their fulfillment to the far-off future. At some points before the exile, the Levites were transient, but Ezekiel envisioned a society in which they would have their own land and could support themselves.
With all of the diversity after the exile, there was an attempt to bring different factions together, which was why the Deuteronomistic and the priestly writings were incorporated into the same canon. But, even then, there were marginal voices, such as Third Isaiah, which appealed to lower economic classes.
Changing ideologies in response to different circumstances is a significant theme in this post. But I want to note something else that I found interesting. Albertz interprets Zechariah 5:1-4—which discusses false witnesses and thieves dwelling in houses—in light of post-exilic lawsuits that were between two parties: the Israelites who remained in Palestine and dwelt in houses there, and the returning exiles who wanted to live in some of those houses.