K. Schmid, Genesis and the Moses Story: Israel's Dual Origins in the Hebrew Bible

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 13 (2013) - Review

Schmid, Konrad, Genesis and the Moses Story: Israel's Dual Origins in the Hebrew Bible (Siphrut, 3; translated by James D. Nogalski; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2010). Pp. xiii + 456. Hardcover. ISBN 978-1-57506-152-8.

The original edition of this volume was published in 1999 as Schmid's Habilitationsschrift, and was reviewed extensively in the scholarly literature (see footnote 1, page xi). The author has here taken the opportunity to update the discussion, expanding or modifying certain passages, so that this version of his work in English is an important contribution in its own right.

Schmid departs from certain tenets of the classical expression of the Documentary Hypothesis by arguing, in nuce, that the Priestly source was the first to link the main themes of the Primeval History, the ancestral narratives, and the exodus story. He states succinctly, “Originally, Genesis on the one hand and the Moses story on the other provided two competing traditions of Israel's origins that were not combined before the time of the Priestly Code—that is, the early Persian period” (p. xi). Rather than assuming the literary and theological gap between Genesis and Exodus was bridged in both a J source and an E source prior to the priestly recension, Schmid argues that such thematic unity in the pre-Priestly textual evidence is best explained (in both J and E text blocks) as the result of later editing. He is not alone, of course, in this conviction, and is indebted throughout to the (mostly) German-speaking academic tradition. But this is the most compelling argument for two competing traditions of Israelite origins—the primeval and ancestral traditions of Genesis, on the one hand, and the Moses story on the other—which were thematically independent of each other until the Persian period. In his view, the two originary foci of the Hebrew Bible (Israel's ancestors and the exodus story) were not connected in its salvation-history, literarily or conceptually, prior to a Persian-era Priestly Code.

An introduction traces the research question (pp. 1–49), exploring how scholars have dealt with the disconnect between Genesis and the Moses/exodus traditions. In Schmid's presentation of “methodological considerations” (pp. 46–49), he admits that the failure to arrive at a scholarly consensus on the composition of the Enneateuch is not the result of “the presentation of significantly different text observations but from the same observations interpreted differently and (especially) given different weight” (p. 46, emphasis his). The introductory chapter is not infrequently punctuated by Schmid's distinctions between “the English-speaking world” and “the German-speaking world” of scholarship, and I could not help but wonder if his observation about the interpretation of textual data is the focus of that distinction.[1] Also in this introduction, Schmid critiques the tendency of literary-critical reconstructions to atomize the text into fragments, and sets for himself the task of investigating “redaction-historical processes and their literary-historical sequence” as discernable across the Enneateuch. This project, by contrast, will be “thematically oriented” (pp. 46–47).

The volume moves carefully through analysis of the text of the Hebrew Bible for indications suggesting the heterogeneity of the Genesis story and the exodus story, and for clues as to how they were preserved independently (ch. 2). Next, Schmid's analytical observations are synthesized in a reconstruction tracing the redactional connection of Genesis and Exodus (ch. 3), followed by explorations of the reception history of the canonical sequencing of the ancestral accounts with the exodus story (ch. 4), and finally the implications of this work for the history of scholarship (ch. 5). Along the way, Schmid evinces an amazing control of the secondary literature and carefully detailed exegetical observations of the text.

This is monumental scholarship and demands our attention. I list here three difficulties I have with the thesis, although more could be said. The fact that I interpret the data differently should not detract from my admiration of Schmid's accomplishment in this volume. First, I remain unconvinced by the interpretation of Gen 15 as originating “toward the end of the literary shaping of the Pentateuch rather than as an original building block” (p. 166, and see pp 57 and 158–71 for Schmid's full discussion). Of course, Gen 15 is perhaps the most important bridge connecting the ancestral complex of traditions with the Moses/exodus complex, referring as it does to a 400-year sojourn of Abram's descendants enslaved and oppressed in Egypt, of God's judgment on Egypt, and the exodus of Israel and return to Canaan in the fourth generation (esp. 15:13–16). While I admit that the issues are myriad, I find unlikely the interpretation (again, acknowledging that this is not necessarily a textual observation) of Gen 15 as a literary unity dated after the Priestly Code. A cleaner and more efficient explanation of all the data, it seems to me, is the interpretation of Gen 15 as an early keystone text that became the source of later Pentateuchal, Deuteronomic, and prophetic traditions. I would reverse Schmid's statement, and see Gen 15 as an original building block rather than the end of the shaping of the Pentateuch.

Second, Schmid's reliance on a model of an originally independent P from the Persian period needs critiquing. If, in fact, P is either (a) a collection of disparate but related texts without unifying narrative, or (b) an earlier redactional layer, perhaps as early as the pre-exilic period, then much in Schmid's reconstruction is questionable. He acknowledges in his preface to this English edition that the bibliography lacks contributions from American and Israeli scholars (p. xi), which is not necessarily a problem. But on this point, the lack of interaction with Yehezkel Kaufmann and his followers is poignant, as it omits the need to consider early dates for both P (either as source or redaction) and H as pre-exilic traditions. In particular the work of Israel Knohl and Jacob Milgrom on the sequential priority of P to H, and the pre-exilic origins of both, merits further consideration in these discussions.

Third, the references in Deuteronomy to the ancestral triad, the “fathers,” usually in the form of the land-promise “to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” is squarely at odds with Schmid's reconstruction (Deut 1:8; 6:10; 9:5, 27; 29:12; 30:20; 34:4). These texts would appear to reflect a linkage between the ancestors of Genesis and the exodus prior to Schmid's late Priestly Code. He therefore expends considerable energy to explain the references (pp. 67–69 and 276–79), identifying the ancestral triads in Deuteronomy as late insertions (following Römer, Van Seters, and others), and arguing that the “fathers” in Deuteronomy were the exodus generation and not the ancestors of Genesis. Thus the land promise of Genesis is directed to the autochthonous ancestors, while the land promise of Deuteronomy is directed to the allochthonous forefathers of the exodus generation. This portion of the argument is more complicated than it needs to be, and simpler and more compelling explanations are ready-to-hand.

As always, Professor Schmid has given us much to ponder. We owe much to the publisher (Eisenbrauns) of the Siphrut series for providing several recent important volumes on the “Literature and Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures” and especially to Professor Nogalski for an excellent translation. English readers may at times be led astray by references to “the Historical Books” by which the volume almost always means the Primary History (the Enneateuch, the first nine books of the Hebrew Bible). A few typographical slips here and there notwithstanding, we are all grateful to have Schmid's tour de force available in this new venue.

Bill T. Arnold, Asbury Theological Seminary

[1] This distinction is clearly on display in the recent dialogue on continuity or discontinuity of Genesis to Exodus in the non-Priestly narrative between Professor Schmid and Joel S. Baden, representing “English-speaking” scholars; Biblica 93 (2012), 161–208. Baden's contribution is “The Continuity of the Non-Priestly Narrative From Genesis to Exodus” (161–86) and Schmid's is “Genesis and Exodus as Two Formerly Independent Traditions of Origins for Ancient Israel” (187–208). reference