Review of Konrad Schmid, Literaturgeschichte des Alten Testaments

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

Konrad Schmid, Literaturgeschichte des Alten Testaments: Eine Einführung (Darmstadt: WBG, 2008). Pp. 272. Hardcover, €29.90, ISBN 978-3-534-16521-6.

In the Foreword Schmid notes that this volume is only an introduction to the history of the Old Testament as literature. It does not purport to settle all the issues connected with that undertaking. Its purpose, rather, is to present a progress report on the work of writing that history (p. 12). This review will attempt to summarize Schmid's points briefly, and to evaluate the adequacy of his report. It will do so by considering first the thoroughness of his study, both in terms of the Hebrew Bible canon and the breadth of the secondary literature reviewed. Then this review will assess briefly the clarity of Schmid's presentation and, finally, the defensibility of his conclusions.

Thoroughness of the Study.

With regard to the thoroughness of Schmid's study, one might start with his bibliography. It runs 38 pages, listing from 21 to 29 entries a page, for a total of ±950 books and articles. Of these approximately half were written in German, half in English. The scope and appropriateness of Schmid's reading seems appropriate for the undertaking and a heavy task for one author. The headings of the study offer another measure of the book's thoroughness. They are eightfold: A. The Scope, History, and Problems Connected with Writing a History of Old Testament Literature (pp. 15-58); B. The Beginnings of Old Israelite Literature in the Context of the Syro-Palestinian World of Small States down to the Coming of the Assyrians (pp. 59-72); C. The Literature of the Assyrian Period (10th-8th Centuries B.C.E.: pp. 73-108); D. The Literature of the Babylonian Period (6th Century B.C.E.: pp. 109-139); E. The Literature of the Persian Period (5th/4th Centuries B.C.E.; pp. 140-176); F. The Literature of the Ptolemaic Period (3rd Century B.C.E.: pp. 177-200); G. The Literature of the Seleucid Period (2nd Century B.C.E.: pp. 201-211); and H. The Collection of Writings and the Process of Canonization (pp. 212-221). In short, Schmid introduces the subject, discusses the subject in six time frames, then by way of conclusion surveys the steps toward canon. In his discussion of each time period, Schmid gives a brief historical overview of the period, characterizes (again briefly) the theological nature of the literature, and then discusses the rise of literature during that era.

Clarity of Presentation.

It should already be obvious that Schmid employs a chronological approach. That means, of course, that the materials from a given biblical book may appear in different sections. This is, after all, a “history” of the literature. Still, the orderliness and clarity of the presentation make it remarkably easy to follow.

Defensibility of Schmid's Conclusions.

Clearly the number of decisions made by Schmid are too numerous to list and discuss, so the rest of this review will consist of a report of his findings. Sometimes, moreover, this reviewer will discuss the basis Schmid adduces for conclusions, and occasionally even disagree or interject a note of caution. Schmid argues that the Assyrian Period was the time when writing took hold in ancient Israel. Obviously, there were scribes and other record keepers prior to that time, and some of Israel's traditions predated the eighth century. It is one thing, however, to keep records and write wills; it is a different thing to produce literature. Scholars have long posited the Pentateuchal sources J and E from the tenth and ninth or ninth and eighth centuries. It has become clear in recent years, however, that writing began in earnest in Israel/Judah in the eighth century. One piece of evidence Schmid adduces (p. 44) to show this change is the number of old Hebrew inscriptions now known. From the tenth century there are only four; from the ninth, 18; from the first half of the eighth, 16; from the last half of the eighth, 129; from the first half of the seventh, 50; from the last half of the seventh, 52; and from the beginning of the sixth, 65.

Reports of archaeological finds stand behind Schmid's reconstruction of the literature of tenth to eighth century literature. Simply put, from David to the coming of the Assyrians, Israel was a dynasty state with limited territory. Those years were not a “golden age.” The literature dealing with that era, both cultic and wisdom traditions, may be described as “implicitly theological” at most. In the North one may speak of tribal narratives, and in the South of some psalms, some historical texts, and the beginnings of wisdom literature. J and E, however, are later than David and Solomon by at least a century. The Jacob cycle grew in the North, perhaps in Bethel. In the South, court materials began during the pre-Assyrian period, but were not completed until the Assyrian period or later.

During the Assyrian period Psalms such as 24, 29, 46, 48, 68, and 72 appeared, and individual Proverbs (e.g. 14:28, 35) and short collections (16:10-15) likewise. Traditions were gathered into short written narratives: 1 Samuel 8-12; an account of the reign of Josiah; Judges 3-9; the Moses/Exodus tradition; and the Abraham/Lot cycle. Part of the prophetic collections associated with Hosea and Amos and the oldest recension of the Isaiah corpus (through Isa 11:5) arose. Legal collections also took shape: e.g., Exodus 20:22 - 23:33 and parts of Deuteronomy. One way to determine those dates is to accept time frames offered in the texts: e.g. superscriptions to prophetic books. They provide only starting points for the traditions contained, however, since the collections grew over time. A second way to arrive at the date for passage or collection is to determine from what one knows of the history a plausible time at which particular traditions might be especially meaningful (e.g. the Jacob stories in Bethel during the Assyrian Period when Bethel was a prominent site). Such dates are not certain, but they are clearly plausible. Plausibility is in many cases the most one can hope for.

The Babylonian Period saw the rise of obvious writings: Lamentations, collections of laments in the Psalter, the extension of Samuel/Kings through 2 Kings 24 and 25, much of Jeremiah, part of the first half of Ezekiel, and Deutero Isaiah. Schmid adds, more deductively, the collection of many traditions in Exodus 2 through 2 Kings 25, the Joseph narratives (in light of Egyptian hegemony in the latter days of the Assyrian Empire), and non-priestly laws in the Sinai tradition. He also posits the formulation of the Decalogue in Deuteronomy (over against Noth, but this reviewer wonders if the Decalogue must be dated so late) and the collection of Deuteronomy 6-28.

The Persian Period saw much of the Hebrew Bible take nearly final shape. (Herein contemporary scholarship differs from that of the first half of the twentieth century, which saw the Persian Period as more of a desert.) It was a period characterized by strife between repatriates and those who had never been in Babylon, as well as struggles between Jerusalem and Samaria. In his discussion of this period, Schmid adopts the position common among many scholars that Nehemiah preceded Ezra, a view he bases on Ezra 9:9, which mentions “a secure wall of protection in Judah and Jerusalem.” That phrase could refer to a physical wall around Jerusalem, but it is an odd phrase to carry such a meaning and scanty evidence for redating Ezra. Other literature of the period included theocratic psalms (145-147), Job, Daniel 1-6, Ezra-Nehemiah, Haggai-Zechariah 1-8, additions to II and III Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. (Yet, it must be noted that not one clear allusion to an event after the Exile can be found in Ezekiel.) In connection with Zechariah 4:6b-10a, Schmid points out the now well-documented parallel growth between the Twelve and Isaiah. He also includes the obvious “return theology” of Deuteronomy (see Deut 30), and other additions to the prophets. He argues also that much of Genesis through Numbers came together during the Persian Period, in particular Genesis 1-11, Leviticus, and Numbers. Indeed, Genesis through 2 Kings took shape for the most part, with a clear articulation of Torah.

The literature of the Ptolemaic Period/third century BCE includes Daniel 1-7 and more. Three features dominate Proverbs 1-9: wisdom takes the form of “the fear of Yhwh”; it is personified (e.g. Prov 8:32-33, 35); and the literature takes on an optimistic outlook about the consequences of following wisdom. Schmid presents Prov 6:20-22 as a theologized reading of Deut 6:5-8, and argues that Prov 1:20-33 presents the voice of wisdom as that of a prophet. In other words texts were borrowing from one another in the redaction process. Further, behind Prov 8:15-16 stood not merely the Jewish messiah, but a king all peoples would follow. Standing behind such readings would be a growing sense of canon. Schmid also dates Job 28 and 32-37, Qoheleth, and the redaction of Psalms 2-89 during the Ptolemaic Period. More debatable (as he recognizes) is his date for the rise of Chronicles, which he thinks rewrites Samuel-Kings from a Hellenistic perspective. Other materials from this period include 2 Sam 23:13-17, the book of Esther, the translation of the Torah into Greek, prophetic texts judging the nations of the world, including Isaiah 24-27. Isaiah and Jeremiah took their final form, as did the structure of what became the Latter Prophets, though one must note that the LXX follows a different sequence. Finally, Daniel 1 and 7 were supplied with the final or fifth kingdom following the four known from Greek writers.

The literature of the Seleucid period included the final recensions of the Psalter in five books (like the Torah), the formation of the Nebiim (Joshua - Kings and Isaiah - Malachi (marked at Josh 1:7-8,13 and Mal 3:22 [MT]), and Daniel in its final form. Other works included Baruch, Maccabees, Tobit, Judith, and Jubilees, books admitted to several Christian canons. Schmid concludes his study with brief remarks to the effect that “Canon” is a post-biblical term. The first known Jewish works to mention something like a list of sacred works were Josephus, who mentioned twenty-two books, and 4 Ezra 14:42-47, which mentions 24 known publically and 70 more that were to be kept secret. The Greek prologue to Sirach spoke of “the Law, the prophets, and the other writings,” with the law the most authoritative and the prophets second. The Hebrew Bible's own presentation of itself is that of a work in the making, with the first part initially announced to Moses, not Abraham. The temple provided an impetus toward a fixed text, and 2 Kings 22 offers a narrative about finding one. Its destruction in 587 BCE added urgency. The notion of “holy writing” is otherwise quite rare. The destruction of the second temple in 70 CE provided the impetus toward a fixed text to be carefully passed down.

Paul L. Redditt, Georgetown College and Baptist Seminary of Kentucky