Review of Sven Petry, Die Entgrenzung JHWHs: Monolatrie, Bilderverbot und Monotheismus im Deuteronomium, in Deuterojesaja und im Ezechielbuch

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 9 (2009) - Review

Sven Petry, Die Entgrenzung JHWHs: Monolatrie, Bilderverbot und Monotheismus im Deuteronomium, in Deuterojesaja und im Ezechielbuch (FAT II/27; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007). Pp. xiii + 463. Paperback. €79.00. ISBN 978-3-16-149451-2.

Petry's Die Entgrenzung JHWHs began as a thesis at the University of Göttingen, first under the supervision of Erik Aurelius and then under Hermann Spieckermann. The book is a detailed analysis of the interrelated questions of monotheism, monolatry and idol polemic in three significant biblical texts usually dated to around the time of the exile: Deuteronomy, Deutero-Isaiah and Ezekiel. Through a careful exegesis of the relevant texts and attention to their historical location, Petry hopes to shed light on still unresolved questions of the interrelationship between monolatry, monotheism and aniconism.

In a short introductory chapter (pp. 1-14) Petry considers the definitions of monolatry, monotheism and Bilderverbot and his chosen textual corpus. With reference to Konrad Schmid, he recognizes some of the recent problematizing of the concept of 'monotheism'. Nevertheless, he retains the vocabulary and understands monotheism as the direct questioning of the existence of other gods. Petry finds Pakkala's distinction between 'tolerant' and 'intolerant' monolatry unhelpful, preferring to work with a distinction between 'de facto' and 'programmatic' monolatry. Monolatry is concerned most especially with YHWH's close relationship to his people, rather than primarily being about cultic worship. The centrality of the relationship between YHWH and Israel, so often overlooked in the discussion of monotheism, is to be welcomed, but I am not certain that all will applaud this redefinition of the term 'monolatry'. Strangely Petry has little to say about the term Bilderverbot, despite the fact that it ill-describes the idol polemic in Deutero-Isaiah and Ezekiel. The unusual usage stems from Petry's belief that Deuteronomy's prohibition of idolatry is prior to the condemnation of idolatry in Deutero-Isaiah and Ezekiel.

The introduction of the three chosen texts is brief. Petry observes the importance of Deuteronomy, Deutero-Isaiah and Ezekiel for the discussion of monotheism and the traditional historical-critical attribution to writers working around the time of the Babylonian exile. Petry draws attention to the renewed historical-critical debates about the books and their redactional layers, and undertakes his work in light of recent developments. Given the size of his task, Petry perhaps wisely refuses to contribute anything new to those debates.

The heart of the book is three chapters devoted to Deuteronomy (pp. 15-103), Deutero-Isaiah (pp. 105-240) and Ezekiel (pp. 241-383). In each case Petry examines texts that concern monolatry, then prohibitions of images, and finally monotheism. Though the chapter on Deuteronomy is slightly shorter than those on Deutero-Isaiah and Ezekiel, it is arguably the most important for the historical framework that Petry is seeking to construct. With many other interpreters (e.g. G. Braulik), Petry sees a close relationship between the redactional development of the book and Israel's religious development before, during and after the exile: from de facto monolatry to programmatic monolatry to prohibition of images to full monotheism.

In the Shema (Deut 6:4) and the covenant formula (Deuteronomy 26) Petry finds a de facto monolatry. A close relationship exists between the one God and the one people. This is developed into a programmatic monolatry in the framework of the lawcode, especially in the exilic polemic against other gods and the insistence on only one cultic place. Petry provides a detailed analysis of the polemic against idols, and argues that the Second Commandment is the earliest case of the Bilderverbot in the Bible. The programmatic aniconism of the Bible, therefore, finds its roots in Deuteronomic soil during the exilic period. Whether there was a de facto aniconism prior to the exile is uncertain. Petry is unwilling to commit on the debated question of whether there was an image in the First Temple, and he finds Mettinger's view that the masseboth were a form of de facto aniconism questionable. Deuteronomy's monotheism is only to be found in a few texts that stem from the post-exilic period. These receive only brief discussion. Deut 7:9 refers to 'the gods', and Deut 4:32-40 is a later conclusion to the monolatrous sermon that originally ran from Deut 4:1-31. In his discussion of Deuteronomy Petry is strongly influenced by the redactional proposals of Aurelius and Veijola, but also the work of Kratz. As a result he dates the origin of the book and its redactional development later than the Josianic period. Thus, the concern about the centralization of worship at Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 12) only develops in the exilic and post-exilic period when the supremacy of Jerusalem was threatened by other cultic sites.

The chapter on Deutero-Isaiah begins with a discussion of monolatry. This requires a different approach from Deuteronomy since Petry accepts the view that Deutero-Isaiah is the first to propound a full monotheism. One might expect the examination of those incomparability texts - once the concern of Labuschagne - which express the uniqueness of YHWH, if not his monotheism. Petry folds those texts into his discussion of monotheism in Deutero-Isaiah, since they nearly always occur in connection to monotheistic statements, and instead considers the monolatrous traditions with which Deutero-Isaiah works. These include the idea that YHWH is Israel's king - a novel development from earlier texts where YHWH was king of the heavenly hosts and a man was Israel's king - creation theology, the exodus tradition and the patriarchs. All of the idol polemic in Deutero-Isaiah is seen as the result of later redactional hands, although they do not form one layer. The older texts in Deutero-Isaiah show an interest in the gods (e.g. Isa 41:24; 46:1-2). Later texts equate the gods with their images, but still have a concern about the gods as enemies of YHWH. In the very latest level the gods have no real existence, and Deutero-Isaiah presents a rational attack on idols which are nothing more than mundane materials. Petry raises the possibility that if the gods are unreal, the Israelites might be tempted to join in the worship; this is a suggestion that seems to owe more to 1 Corinthians 8 than to the text of Isaiah. Throughout Deutero-Isaiah the imageless worship of YHWH is assumed. In the discussion of monotheistic passages in Deutero-Isaiah, Petry also considers the incomparability statements. In Isaiah these are all understood monotheistically. Petry considers the relation of the prophet's monotheistic statements to his creation theology. He rightly concludes that the monotheistic statements are not directly related to YHWH as creator. Rather YHWH's exclusive claims are justified by his ability to know the future and thus to determine history. These abilities stem from YHWH's role as creator.

Deutero-Isaiah assumes the monolatry for which Deuteronomy has to fight so hard. With its monotheism, it develops this idea in new ways. This development comes some time during the Persian period and is a result of long thinking on the continued validity of the divine promises and the existence of the Diaspora. This monotheistic thinking in turn influences the later levels of Deuteronomy.

There is a certain shift in Petry's approach with Ezekiel, perhaps determined by the material, for there is a far greater concern with examining the relevant texts in their literary context. Nevertheless, the intention is still to discover the diachronic relation of parts of Ezekiel to one another. Petry's redefinition of monolatry plays an important role in his examination of Ezekiel, where he gives attention to the covenant formula (I will be your God, you will be my people), the self-identification formula (I am YHWH your God) and the one cult place in Ezekiel. The oldest level of Ezekiel has a de facto monolatry and knows neither covenant formula nor centralization. The later material has been coloured by the programmatic monolatry of Deuteronomy, and thus stems from the Persian period. The examination of Ezekiel's idol polemic focuses first on Ezekiel's distinctive terminology for idols, before turning to a detailed examination of Ezekiel 8. Petry observes that Ezekiel's idol polemic is absent from the earliest layers of the book and when it appears is dependent on the Bilderverbot in Deuteronomy. Some of the material is late Persian period and some is probably Hellenistic. The discussion of monotheism in Ezekiel is understandably brief since the book lacks the explicit monotheistic statements of Isaiah and any monotheism can only be inferred.

The concluding chapter (pp. 385-409) draws together Petry's results in brief compass. Petry summarizes the literary development of his three themes across his three texts, he then relates these to the changing political and religious circumstances of the Israelite, Judahite and Jewish communities.

The book is well structured and clearly presented. There are, however, just a few points where the development of the book appears to be apparent, and a little more readjusting of the material would have been of benefit. Thus in the discussion of Isa 40:18-20 Petry briefly notes that the difficult hamesukkan terumah evidences textual disturbance and is left untranslated (143). This is rather pessimistic and certainly merits more discussion. And indeed it receives it, strangely deferred to a section conclusion where Petry makes much of the possible Akkadian roots of hamesukkan (p. 180). Similarly, I have already noted the problems with Petry's extension of the meaning of Bilderverbot. He very briefly recognizes this in the discussion of Deutero-Isaiah (p. 141), but more reflection is necessary and located in the discussion of terminology in chapter 1.

The study stands in an important intellectual tradition, and although the benefits and problems of this approach are well known they are worth rehearsing again. On the one hand, Petry shows an enormous attentiveness to the biblical text. There is the careful tracing of small, but significant, differences between individual passages. The resulting historical portrayal of the development of Israel's religious history is rich. The Hebrew Bible's textual history and the economic, social, religious and political developments of the late monarchic, exilic and post-exilic communities are carefully and suggestively drawn together.

On the other hand, the price of such an enterprise is clearly evidenced in Petry's work. First, individual texts are extracted from their textual context and recontextualized in a historical context that frequently has little reference to the original literary one. Thus, the Shema (Deut 6:4) no longer functions as a positive restatement of the first commandment, nor is it linked to the command to love YHWH (6:5) or the detailed commandments about its remembrance (6:6-9). According to Petry the emphasis in the Shema is on 'our god'. YHWH is the God of Israel and Judah. This reflects the text's origins in the period after the collapse of the northern kingdom, when the south struggled to find a way to assimilate the refugees that flooded over its borders together with their strange religious practices.

Second, the primary concern is for what the original textual units meant. Not only does this increase the tendency towards atomization - the earliest text always being the smallest and simplest - but it also ignores the redaction of the these textual units into literary contexts closer to the present form of the text. Consider the case of the Shema. Even if were to grant that Petry is correct about what the text originally meant, we would still need to account for the way that this text has been reused for a community in which a division between Israel and Judah is no longer an active political concern. What does the Shema mean now that it has been attached to the command to love YHWH? Or consider the idol polemic in Deutero-Isaiah. Certainly the idol polemic creates logical and rhetorical shifts that suggest the incorporation of independent material, but there is also evidence that there are links between the material and its literary context in the book of Isaiah (see, e.g., Mark Smith, Origins of Biblical Monotheism, pp. 182-193).

Third, Petry understandably avoids contributing to the literary-critical discussion about these books; the detailed examination of Deuteronomy, Deutero-Isaiah and Ezekiel is ambitious enough. However, the historical picture he paints is deeply indebted to the redaction-critical theories on which he relies, many of which involve later datings than historical-critical theories of a generation ago. This involves reliance on a shifting consensus, an issue to which redactional theories are particularly vulnerable and which raises the difficulty of corralling all scholars together around a theory. Moreover, the redactional-critical theories themselves often rely upon certain conceptual distinctions and a sense of religio-historical development. Thus, redaction-criticism does not provide a firm basis for plotting Israel's religious development, for it relies upon that sense of religious development itself. This it not to say that we have a vicious circle, but we do have a significant problem that Petry's eschewal of providing his own literary-critical proposals does not ameliorate.

These observations should not detract from Petry's work. This is an impressive study whose ambitious scope is matched by the competence of its author. It is a worthy contribution to the debate about monotheism in ancient Israel and should be read by everyone who has an interest in this important discussion.

Nathan MacDonald, Georg-August Universität Göttingen, Germany/ University of St Andrews, Scotland, UK