Review of Thomas Römer (ed.), The Books of Leviticus and Numbers

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

Thomas Römer (ed.), The Books of Leviticus and Numbers (BETL 215; Leuven: Peeters, 2008). Pp. XXVIII + 742. Paperback. €85.00. ISBN: 978 90 429 2094 1.

This book contains both papers presented at the 55th Colloquium Biblicum Lovaniense, which dealt with the biblical books mentioned in the title, and articles written especially for this volume. The colloquium took place August 1-3, 2006, in the Maria-Theresa College and the Paus Adrianus VI College of the Catholic University of Leuven and it brought to conclusion a series of colloquia dedicated to the study of all the books of the Pentateuch. The papers from the previous colloquia have been published by Peeters in the same series under the titles Das Deuteronomium. Entstehung, Gestalt und Botschaft, ed. by N. Lohfink (BETL 68, 1985); Studies in the Book of Exodus. Redaction - Reception - Interpretation, ed. by M. Vervenne (BETL 126, 1996); and Studies in the Book of Genesis, ed. by A. Wénin (BETL 155, 2001).

The book at hand opens with the editor's introduction (pp. XIII-XXVII), which previews the articles collected. Then Thomas Römer in his article “De la périphérie au centre: Les livres du Lévitique et des Nombres dans le débat actuel sur le Pentateuque” (pp. 3-34) sketches recent scholarship on the books Leviticus and Numbers and different views on the formation of these books.

Erich Zenger and Christian Frevel in “Die Bucher Levitikus und Numeri als Teile der Pentateuchkomposition” (pp. 35-74) present their understanding of the structures underlying both books. The authors divide the book of Leviticus, which they consider the center of the pentateuchal composition, into seven parts (chapters 1-7; 8-10; 11-15; 16-17; 18-20; 21-22; 23-27). Chapters 16 and 17 constitute the central point of the book, around which the other chapters are arranged. Although “the problems of the structuring of the book of Numbers can not be completely solved here” (p. 49), the authors find motifs and phrases structuring the book as a whole and connecting it with the preceding and following parts of the Torah.

Felix García López in “La place du Lévitique et des Nombres dans la formation du Pentateuque” (pp. 75-98) studies the structure of both books and what it reveals about their place inside the Pentateuch. He finds that the issues treated in Leviticus bind it closely on the two preceding books. He analyses the use of the expression על פי יהוה (“according to the utterance of YHWH”) and comes to the conclusion that it was used by the post-Deuteronomic and post-priestly redactor(s) to connect this book with the preceding and the following ones. According to García López the book of Numbers functions as a bridge between the Triateuch and Deuteronomy-Joshua and belongs to the latest stage of the Hexateuch redaction. García López holds that the use of the term דֶּגֶל “standard, banner” in Numbers 2 and 10 was inspired by the existence of Persian military units, and he determines the 5th century B.C. as the time of redaction.

Ed Noort in “Bis zur Grenze des Landes? Num 27,12-23 und das Ende der Priesterschrift” (pp. 99-119) offers an exegesis of the pericope mentioned in the title. He considers this text part of the Priestly source, while attributing Deut 32:48-52, another text speaking about Moses' death, to a later redactor.

Olivier Artus in “Le problème de l'unité littéraire et de la spécificité théologique du livre des Nombres” (pp. 121-43) first discusses various proposals for the book's structure. He then proposes a tripartite division of the book (chapters 1-10; 11-21; 22-36) based on the narrative content that all three parts have in common, consisting mainly of the naming of the heads of the twelve tribes' (ch. 1, 13, 34) and the presence of the laws concerning the Levites (ch. 4, 18, 35). Artus finds that every part of the book has its own literary and theological specificity. While the first two parts deal with the organizational matters and with the sojourn in the desert, the third part looks up to the entrance into the promised land.

Reinhard Achenbach in “Das Heiligkeitsgesetz und die sakralen Ordnungen des Numeribuches im Horizont der Pentateuchredaktion” (pp. 145-75) studies the function of the Holiness Code and of the sacral rules in Numbers, as well as the means by which they were integrated into the Pentateuch. According to Achenbach the Holiness Code results from “the revision of the Sinai pericope within the framework of a Pentateuch redaction,” while the sacral rules were produced “within the framework of the so called post-pentateuchal editorial treatment by theocratic-minded Zadokian circles,” which took place “in all likelihood” in the 4th century B.C. (p. 175).

Christophe Nihan's “Israel's Festival Calendars in Leviticus 23, Numbers 28-29 and the Formation of ‘Priestly' Literature” (pp. 177-231) re-examines the relationship between these two calendars. After a discussion of the structure of the chapters and the literary homogeneity of Leviticus 23, Nihan reassesses the genetic relationship between the two calendars. His analysis affirms the long held view that Numbers 28-29 is dependent on Leviticus 23 and not vice versa (pp. 200ff., 228). He considers the former a supplement to the latter dealing with sacrificial matters (p. 212). Leviticus 23 is itself a “systematic reception of all other biblical calendars, except for Num 28-29” (p. 218, italics in original).

Horst Seebass in “Das Buch Numeri in der heutigen Pentateuchdiskussion” (pp. 233-59) begins with an overview of the present state of scholarship regarding the growth of the Pentateuch and the place of Numbers in its redactional process. Then he discusses what he terms the “Numeri-composition,” his designation for the “end redaction” of the book, and its thematic connection with the book of Joshua, which he judges to be rather minimal (p. 246). He subsequently presents his own assignment of individual sections of the book to various compositional layers of the Pentateuch and discusses the theological significance of Numbers inside the Pentateuch.

Thomas B. Dozeman in “The Midianites in the Formation of the Book of Numbers” (pp. 261-84) analyses the contradictory traditions about Midianites preserved in the book. On the one hand, through the marriage of Moses the Midianites became in-laws with Israel and probably stayed in the midst of Israel (in the book of Judges Moses' father-in-law is a Kenite). However, according to the Balaam cycle they posed a threat to Israel, so Israel was commanded to eliminate Midianite males (chapter 31). Dozeman concludes that “the non-Priestly author idealizes the Midianites as non-Israelites who share in the religious experience of YHWH outside of the Israelite cult,” while a “Priestly author reinterprets the role of Midianites as an external threat to the purity of the Israelite cult” (p. 282). According to Dozeman the different views of Midianites represent a debate on the fundamental nature of Yahwism in the Second Temple period (p. 283).

Alfred Marx's “Le système sacrificiel de P et la formation du Pentateuque” (pp. 285-303) maintains that the sacrificial system of the Priestly Code shows three characteristics: 1) “parfaite cohérence” (p. 287); 2) its texts “ne forment pas un corpus uniforme clairement délimité” (p. 289); and 3) “un système clos, complet, possédant sa propre coherence” (p. 295). Observations on the sacrificial terminology of the Priestly Code and the fact that the code presupposes the centralization of the cult support Wellhausen's view that it is the latest layer of the Pentateuch.

James W. Watts in “Ritual Rhetoric in the Pentateuch: The Case of Leviticus 1-16” (pp. 305-18) starts with an overview of relevant examples of ritual texts from the ancient Near East. He understands ritual rhetoric as “a means for explaining past events and instructions for controlling future ones” (p. 309). Like the ancient Near Eastern texts in which ritual rhetoric reinforces political claims, the texts in Leviticus 8-10 “clearly legitimize the ritual authority of the Aaronide priests” (p. 312). According to Watts the story of Nadab and Abihu in chapter 10 does not undermine this authority but strengthens it.

Didier Luciani's “Structure et théologie en Lv 1,1-3,17” (pp. 319-27) studies the microstructure of the pericope mentioned, dividing it into the three sections. Each deals with three different kinds of offerings (holocausts, 1:3-17; grain offerings/minah, 2:1-16; “peace-offering”/šelamim, 3:1-16),which allows for further division into three subsections for every passage.

Hanna Liss in “Ritual Purity and the Construction of Identity: The Literary Function of the Laws of Purity in the Book of Leviticus” (pp. 329-54) investigates the laws concerned with the ritual purity of persons and with the ban on unclean animals in Leviticus 11-15. These laws, which are of a fictional nature, categorize “Israel's world into a variety of spatial areas to be declared and manifested by the priests” (p. 347). By comparing the formulations of these laws with formulations in the story of Creation she finds that the actual priestly task to distinguish between pure and impure becomes an imitatio dei (p. 348). These laws “set up a system of an ongoing imagination of the sanctuary” (italics in original, p. 353) which intrude into Israel's daily life until this day.

Thomas Staubli in “Hühneropfer im Alten Israel: Zum Verständnis von Lev 1,14 im Kontext der antiken Kulturgeschichte” (pp. 355-69) argues on the basis of etymological, ornithological, exegetical and historico-cultural considerations that the Hebrew bird name תּוֹר means “francolin.” The common translation as “turtle dove,” also found in the Septuagint, is influenced by the postexilic understanding of תּוֹר among the Jews. The old meaning “francolin” supports the “great age of the content of the Priestly Code” in which this word is used (p. 365).

Innocent Himbaza, the editor of the forthcoming book of Leviticus in the Biblia Hebraica Quinta, discusses in “Le Lévitique dans la nouvelle Biblia Hebraica (BHQ): Questions textuelles et théologiques sur les pratiques sacrificielles en Lv 1-7” (pp. 373-81) the understanding and characterization of some non-masoretic readings in the first seven chapters of the book.

Theo van der Louw's “Translation and Writing in 4QLXXLeva” (pp. 383-97) compares the readings of this manuscript, which contains the text of Leviticus 26:2-16, with the readings accepted by J. W. Wevers in his critical edition of the Septuagint version of Leviticus. Van der Louw argues that both texts are not exemplars of different Greek translations but represent the same textual tradition, while the textual form represented by the Qumran fragment is older than the Septuagint text edited by Wevers. His remarkable conclusion is worth citing: “the textual form of the major uncials testify to a revised Septuagint and […] the text of Alfred Rahlfs and Wevers, which are mainly based on them, can no longer claim to represent the original Septuagint text of Leviticus” (p. 396, italics in original).

Michaël N. van der Meer in “The Next Generation: Textual Moves in Numbers 14,23 and Related Passages” (pp. 399-416) studies the Septuagintal plus in Numbers 14:23 in which innocent small children are excluded from the punishment of their parents. In light of similar pluses elsewhere that deal with Israel's disobedience he argues that the textual additions in the Septuagint and other witnesses are due to the translator(s) and do not render a Vorlage that diverges from the Masoretic text.

Lenart J. de Regt's “Partial Repetition in Sections of Numbers 4 and the Translator” (pp. 417-22) investigates the formulations describing the duties of different Levitical clans. He contends that the differences and the similarities of these formulations should be taken into consideration not only in translation by also in the section headings of Bible translations.

Hendrik Jacob Koorevaar in “The Books of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, and the Macro-Structural Problem of the Pentateuch” (pp. 423-53) discusses the position of these three books within the Pentateuch and the ties between them with regard to their content. After revisiting different views on the delimitation inside the Pentateuch and on the “phenomenon ‘book'” as a physical and metaphysical entity he suggests that the three books should be seen as something of a triptych. According to him, these books have strong interconnections and they are demarcated from the first and the last books of the Pentateuch on the literary level.

The title of Thomas L. Brodie's article “The Literary Unity of Numbers: Nineteen Atonement-Centered Diptychs as One Key Element” (pp. 455-72) speaks for itself. He presents and advocates the structure of the book mentioned in the title. The first part, “Sinai to Kadesh”, goes from chapter 1 to 19 and the second, “Kadesh to Moab”, goes from chapter 20 to 26. The center of the book lies in the tenth diptych, ch. 17:12-19:22.

Won W. Lee in “The Conceptual Coherence of Numbers 5,1-10,10” (pp. 473-89) discusses different proposals concerning the subject mentioned in the title. He finds that the rights and responsibilities of the Aaronide priests yield a dominant concept of this pericope.

Ulrike Sals' “Kohärenz im Buch Numeri: Eine Perspektive aus der Weltchronik Rudolfs von Ems” (pp. 491-506) explores the idea of literary coherence in general and in the book of Numbers in particular. She studies the reception of the book of Numbers in The Chronicle of the World by Rudolf von Ems (ca. 1200-1254) and finds that the biblical and mediaeval literatures have a similar understanding of coherence, one that is completely different from the modern understanding.

Françoise Mirguet in “La représentation littéraire d'une réalité à venir: La terre promise dans les Nombres” (pp. 507-19) studies the references to the destination of the wandering people in various stories and sections of the book. She maintains that the destination of the journey is disclosed successively.

Anthony Abela in “Shaming Miriam, Moses' Sister, in Num 12,1-16. Focus on the Narrative's Exposition in vv. 1-2” (pp. 521-34) presents an exegesis of this pericope and pays special attention to syntactical and lexical features.

Jean-Pierre Sonnet in “Nb 20,11: Moise en flagrant délit de «main levée»?” (pp. 535-43) studies the episode of Moses' (and Aaron's) sin at the waters of Kadesh. The expression “to raise a hand/with a raised hand” used in this account and in a law in Numbers 15:30 sets this story and the sin of Moses in the legislative context of Numbers.

André Wénin's “Le serpent de Nb 21,4-9 et de Gn 3,1: Intertextualité et élaboration du sens” (pp. 545-54) discusses the structure and the meaning of the episode with biting snakes and compares the role of snakes here with the role of the serpent in Genesis 3.

Hans-Peter Mathys in “Numeri und Chronik: Nahe Verwandte” (pp. 555-78) argues on nine points that the books reveal close thematic affiliation. They share special interest in priests and Levites, in Pesach, in the tithe, in funding the temple, in population census, in negation of collective responsibility, in holy war, and in agriculture. Both also contain “fanciful, designed, artificial-seeming stories” (p. 577).

Mark A. Christian in “Openness to the Other Inside and Outside of Numbers” (pp. 579-608) explores the attitude to non-Israelites as presented in Numbers in comparison with other biblical texts. He traces this approach in different redactional layers of the Pentateuch and surveys at length the views of different scholars concerning redactions, redactors, and authors of pentateuchal texts.

Vincent Senechal in “Quel horizon d'écriture pour Nb 14,11-25? Essai de sondage des soubassements de cette péricope” (pp. 609-29) studies this pericope in the context of Numbers 13-14 and in comparison with other texts that deal with Moses' intercession for the Israelites after they have provoked the anger of God. Of the three texts Exod 32:7-14, Num 14:11-25 and Deut 9:12-12, 26-29 the Numbers text is the latest while the Deuteronomy text is the least incorporated into its context.

Jean-Louis Ska in “Le récit sacerdotal. Une «histoire sans fin»?” (pp. 631-53) studies the extent of the Priestly code in Numbers. He overviews the state of debate and discusses the presentation of God and the vocabulary of Priestly Code in this book. He brings the mute, “anticlimactic” ending of the book into connection with the disappointment experienced in the return from the Babylonian exile.

In “Nb 27,12-23, la succession de Moise et la place d'Eleazar dans le livre des Nombres” (pp. 655-75) Dany Nocquet studies this text in light of other texts that deal with this succession. The specificity of this text is that it speaks about the appointment of Joshua before the community and Eleazar as well as describing not only the appointment of Joshua but also to some extent the appointment of Eleazar (pp. 662ff.). The comparison with other texts shows that Joshua and Eleazar constitute a twofold succession of Moses.

Mark W. Elliott's “Leviticus in Early Modern Netherlands: Lapide and Grotius” (pp. 677-84) describes the exegetical approaches of these two scholars and their treatment of some texts of the book of Leviticus.

Some of the articles collected in this book approach the books Leviticus and Numbers diachronically and discuss the editorial process of the Pentateuch, while others use a synchronic approach. The latter promote literary structures for the books as a whole or their sections and locate these books inside the larger literary unit of the Pentateuch/Hexateuch. Still other articles deal with textual problems that often disclose the exegetical efforts of older generations. No attempt is made to reach an agreement between the synchronic and diachronic approachs or to integrate them both into one thesis. The only point on which the authors seem to agree is that the book of Numbers is relatively late. But as far as other questions are concerned the reader is left to pick the view that best suits him. Given the plurality of findings and hypotheses within both approaches, one is left with a formidable panoply of choices. It seems logical to suppose that one of both approaches is inefficient or that both miss the mark.

On the one hand, the intertextual links between different biblical texts and books should bear on the dating of these texts. This means that, first of all, some reliable and widely accepted criteria for assessing intertextuality should be determined. The same holds true for the search for the literary structure of a given passage or book. What are the indicators of a reliable textual organization? Which signals should be considered important for understanding this organization as intended by the author(s)/redactor(s)? Is it possible to discern between the marks intended by the author and the patterns perceived by the (modern) reader? Is it possible that multiple structures coexist in and texture the same composition? How many structures can be reasonably attributed to the author/redactor of the same piece of literature?

On the other hand, diachronic exegesis should not ignore the observations made by the synchronic approach. Substantial findings of literary and redactional criticism can help test the suggestions concerning text structure. In some instances these findings will help ascribe textual structures to different stages of the text growth so that both will yield sound exegesis. The texts studied should be the tertium comparations for different approaches. These approaches should be interwoven to produce reliable results in view of texts with extremely intricate compositional histories. The study of growth and literary structures of ancient Near Eastern literary texts can also be constitutive for the biblical exegesis and, vice versa, benefit from it.

Even if the articles collected in the present book “by no means pretend to exhaustively represent the current research concerned with both books” (p. XXVII), the reader will find in it much information about this research and its currents. The huge amount of bibliographical references in the individual articles makes up for the absence of bibliographies. This weighty volume closes with three indices that help to unlock it - an index of names, an index of biblical references, and an index of other references.

The reviewer suggests the following corrections. P. 35, bottom line, instead of חמושה read חמישה. P. 113 the figures in “Frevel56” designate the footnote number. P. 115 instead of “yאלב,” sic, read שאל ב (cf. p. 114 ). P. 148, line 23, delete one word in the phrase umgekehrter umgekehrter (dittography). P. 148, line 17 from the bottom, instead of /emi“t”tā read šemiṭṭā. P. 186, first line of the footnote 25, instead of im wesentlich read im wesentlichen. P. 206, the penultimate line of the footnote 76, instead of בכשים read כבשים “lambs.” P. 211, forth line, instead of unmistablyread unmistakably. P. 316, the penultimate line of the first paragraph, instead of Tanaatic read Tanaitic. P. 373, the last two lines, and the third line of the p. 374, instead of קרבנכן and קרבניכן read קרבנכם and קרבניכם respectively. P. 380, forth line, instead of פתה read פתח. P. 523, bottom line, delete by. P. 531 instead of נססע read נסע. P. 592, footnote 54, instead of Leitworten read Leitwörter. P. 642, probably delete one occurrence of מקדש. P. 647, footnote 57, instead of אשר זרהנֶכריה read אשה זרה/נכריה. P. 673, third line, delete the hireq sign. This reviewer considers it odd that the Hebrew texts cited in the book often bear the maqqef sign although neither accents nor vowel signs are used.

Viktor Golinets, University of Basel