Albertz on Post-Exilic Diversity and Social Class

I’m continuing my way through Rainer Albertz’s History of Israelite Religion in the Old Testament Period, Volume II: From the Exile to the Maccabees.

My reading today concentrated on Israel’s post-exilic period, though I also got some into the Hellenistic Period.  As with my reading yesterday, biblical diversity was a major theme in today’s reading.  Albertz talked about the pre-priestly Pentateuch and the priestly-Pentateuch.  For Albertz, the Deuteronomist had a significant influence on the pre-priestly Pentateuch (though the pre-priestly Pentateuch goes beyond Deuteronomistic ideology, in certain areas), which was nationalistic and xenophobic, yet which ended in a manner that did not anger the Persians—with the death of Moses, rather than the Conquest or the reign of Josiah.  Whereas the Deuteronomist elevated ethics above the cult, P thought that the cult was very important—that the apostasy of the Golden Calf demonstrated Israel’s need for a cult as a means of atonement.  For P, the cult, in addition to the obedience of the commandments, could repair creation and ensure God’s presence in Israel.  According to Albertz, P also held that Israel had a mission for the world.

The issue of nationalism vs. universalism showed up in other arenas, as well.  For a while, the Samaritans were invited to be a part of post-exilic Israel’s worship (see II Kings 17:41, which, for Albertz, implies such an invitation).  But, as Judahites became concerned about intermarriage between their priests and Samaritans, and northern Yahwists experienced discrimination at the hands of post-exilic Jews who prized descent from Judah and Benjamin, Samaritans decided in the fourth century B.C.E. to establish a sanctuary at Gerizim.  They picked that location on the basis of the importance of Gerizim in the Pentateuch (even as they rejected the important site of Bethel on account of its historical syncretism), and the sanctuary even had Zadokite priests.  Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles reflect some of the tension between Judahites and Samaritans, as Ezra and Nehemiah portray the Samaritans in a bad light, and Chronicles emphasizes the importance of Judah.  The sanctuary at Gerizim was destroyed by John Hyrcanus in the second century B.C.E.

Economic class played a significant role in Albertz’s discussion of biblical writers.  For Albertz, wisdom writings such as many of the proverbs came from socially-conscious members of the upper class, who sought to encourage people to be concerned about the poor, both through generosity and also through avoiding oppression.  But, although proverbs affirmed that God rewards the righteous, real life was not so neat, and so the story of Job exhorted righteous aristocrats that even rich people who care for the poor can suffer, and that righteousness should not be based on a desire for reward.

Albertz argues that the Books of Chronicles came from middle-class circles, for it demonstrates sympathy for the “lowlier cultic personnel” as well as exhibits a desire for harmony, “typical of members of the middle class of all ages” (page 553).  But Albertz chides the Chronicle for failing to discuss social problems in Israel, which reflected a “lack of courage in the face of the upper class and lack of sensitivity to the suffering of the lower class” (page 556).  According to Albertz, the Chronicler’s failure in this “last great Old Testament synthesis of Israelite religion” had devastating consequences, for the Chronicler did nothing to sensitize the Judean leadership “to the rising social conflict which exploded with bloodshed in the Maccabean period” (page 556).  Albertz’s criticism of the Chronicler stands out, for my impression as I read this volume is that he generally has a charitable view towards biblical writers.  For example, he says that the Zadokites and the Aaronides were exclusive, not just out of a desire for power, but out of a genuine concern for holiness.  But, as I think back to Albertz’s first volume, he was critical there of Zion theology, which he disliked because it was anti-democratic, in comparison with other biblical voices.

Back to the issue of economic class, Albertz attributes certain heavily eschatological works (i.e., Third Isaiah) to lower class prophetic circles, which were not optimistic about any alleviation of the poors’ plight coming about through human means, and thus eagerly anticipated a dramatic intervention by God on their behalf.  As far as I could see, Albertz does not discuss how a poor, marginalized group could produce documents.  Was there anyone who would have been willing to sponsor it at the time, or could it have produced documents without a sponsor?  When Albertz talks about the Hellenistic Period, however, he mentions Jews who had problems with the Hellenistic direction that Israel was going, and he argues that they included people from the upper-class.  For Albertz, this was the source of later apocalyptic writing.

I’ll stop here.

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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