The present contribution to the furtherance of our understanding of the Hebrew Bible’s reception history (previous segments of this multipart review of this multivolume behemoth are arranged here) opens with an intriguing chapter on history and historicism. That theme is then expanded upon in the sections which follow until readers arrive at chapter Seven which describes The ‘New World’ of North America and Canada – and the Globalization of Critical Biblical Scholarship. It is here that scholarship outside of a mainly European context enters the discussion (which is itself an amazing and at one level disturbing fact).
Biblical scholarship as practiced in North America and Europe continues, then, to be the core discussion point until chapter Twelve. That chapter, The ‘History of Israel’: Its Emergence as an Independent Discipline turns away from regional considerations and involves readers in debates and discussions about various topics related to Old Testament scholarship.
The highlight of the volume commences in chapter 16 though- titled “Albert Eichhorn and Hermann Gunkel: The Emergence of a History of Religion School”, by Erhard S. Gerstenberger, Marburg which is then followed by “In the Wake of Wellhausen: The Growth of a Literary-critical School and Its Varied Influence” by Rudolf Smend.
All of the major historians, exegetes, and theologians practicing Old Testament studies are described and their contributions are explored. Whether Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Conservative, Liberal, or any of the other subgroups. This encyclopedic volume situated as it is towards the end of this encyclopedic multivolume work opens readers to an ever clearer comprehension of the way the Hebrew Bible has been interpreted. And the last chapter is something of a ‘tease’ for the last volume. It’s titled “Modernity’s Canonical Crisis: Historiography and Theology in Collision”.
The contents of the book are themselves intriguing enough to attract readers and the bibliographic headings provided at the commencement of each chapter are a library within themselves; but a more helpful thing than mere description by an admittedly biased (because immensely impressed) reviewer may be to excerpt portions so that interested persons can get a better ‘feeling’ for the work here proffered. To that end, note the following texts:
Prior to the nineteenth century, it was axiomatic that the prophets were later than, and were the teaching successors of, Moses. This view was based upon a combination of the canonical portrayal itself (e. g., Joshua as Moses’ successor), the statement of Deut 18:15 concerning the raising up of prophets, infrequent references within the prophetic material to a succession (Jer 15: 1), the idea of prophets in schools or guilds (e. g., Elijah and Elisha; the ‘sons of the prophets’; Isaiah and his disciples), and the New Testament’s subsequent perspective. But foremost was the basic notion of Israel’s religious foundation at Sinai with Moses at its centre. Who could the prophets be if not the successors of Moses, dependent upon his written legacy? (p. 561).
And then, in another chapter discussing a different aspect of the Old Testament’s reception:
Toward the close of the eighteenth century, J. S. Semler (1725–1791) strongly insisted that the biblical canon had a history. It did not drop fully formed from heaven, nor had Israel or the Church possessed complete agreement from the beginning about what its contents or arrangement should be. The traditional view of the Old Testament canon attributed its existence to the work of Ezra and the men of the Great Assembly. As the sixteenth century Jewish scholar Elias Levita (1469–1549) had summarized: “In Ezra’s time the 24 books of the OT were not yet united in a single volume; Ezra and his associates united them together, and divided them into three parts, the Law, the Prophets, and the Hagiographa”.1 Yet, as Semler and others began to argue, some of the books of the Old Testament appeared to date from a time after the era of Ezra. Moreover, there were apparently later disagreements by various Jewish groups over the contents of the canon. So did it not make more sense to view such disagreements as existing prior to the point at which the canon had been fixed? Just when had the canon really been closed? The response of nineteenth-century scholars to such questions was increasingly to treat the biblical canon as the eventual consequence of a lengthier process of literary development and communal deliberation (pp. 656-657).
Today history is mostly conceived and pursued within biblical scholarship without any recourse or relation to revelation at all, which begs the old question anew and even more urgently: if the biblical canon is fully contingent, a mere accident of history, what unity can it possibly have and what convincing rationale can be given for its limits? In purely historical terms, how can one restrict one’s inquiry to only these books, and how can one perceive anything in them other than irreducible diversity? (pp. 658-659).
And so on, throughout. No more thorough treatment of the way the Old Testament has been received, understood, interpreted, applied, abused, appealed to, and misrepresented has yet been produced anywhere by anyone. This exceptional volume, and indeed, this entire exceptional series, is something without which scholars of the Hebrew Bible cannot do.
The final portion’s review will be forthcoming soon.