R.J. Person, The Deuteronomistic History and the Book of Chronicles: Scribal Works in an Oral World

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

Person, Raymond J., The Deuteronomistic History and the Book of Chronicles: Scribal Works in an Oral World (SBL Ancient Israel and Its Literature, 6; Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2010). Pp. 218. Paperback. US$26.95. ISBN 978-1-589-83517-7.

Raymond Person's The Deuteronomistic History and the Book of Chronicles: Scribal Works in an Oral World is a thoughtful and provocative work furthering ideas related to the compositional history of the books of Samuel-Kings and Chronicles. His arguments are clear and concise, which is most welcomed given the complexity and breadth of issues at hand. His ideas on the other hand are highly controversial but do bring with them an important caution for those working in this field. His thesis can be stated as follows. Basing much of his argumentation on Auld's common source theory, Person posits that the Deuteronomistic History and the Chronicler's history were both still being edited into the Persian period by two different scribal guilds. Arguments for such a late dating of the Deuteronomistic history has, of course, already been argued by Person in his earlier book, The Deuteronomistic School, and are assumed in this work.[1] Furthermore, the documents produced by these scribal guilds are not in fact contradictory or competing theologies. The reason for this, he proposes, is that the broader oral traditions in which this is all set allowed for such divergent (“multivocal”) ideologies and thus these different ideological texts are simply different expressions of the same tradition. Moreover, these different expressions found in Samuel-Kings and Chronicles are, in fact, expansions of a common source. The arguments leading to such conclusions are developed in the following way.

To begin, Person's introduction surveys various views of dating and authorship of both the Chronicler's history and the Deuteronomistic history, including a discussion of a common or shared source between Samuel-Kings and Chronicles, a position which Person says is “not that controversial” (p. 17). Adopting and expanding upon Auld's common source thesis, Person discusses the importance of oral traditions and oral societies which valued or allowed for multiformity in their written texts. The idea of oral traditions and the role of texts in an oral world is an important part of Person's overall thesis, and one he further develops in chapter three.

Chapter one begins with a defense of Person's late dating of the Deuteronomistic history. Here Person responds to critics of his previous book who argued that he did not take into account linguistic evidence for a post-exilic setting of the Deuteronomistic history. Person analyzes the arguments of Young, Rezetko, and Ehrensvärd, among others, all of whom posit that linguistic evidence, namely the differentiation of early and late Biblical Hebrew, is not helpful with dating biblical books.[2] This differentiation between early and later biblical Hebrew, which is often used in defense of the consensus theory, does not in fact point to different chronological periods, but rather different literary styles found both in the First and Second temple periods. The conclusions of Young, Rezetko, and Ehrensvärd allow Person to do two things. First, to argue for the “possibility” that Samuel-Kings and Chronicles might very well be contemporary works; and, second, to advocate the “possibility” of a common source, as per Auld's theory. But again, even Person admits these are only possibilities.

Having established these possibilities, Person moves, in chapter two, to a discussion of the role of scribes in the transmission of texts. His concern here is to rethink a modern scholarly concern for identifying authors within texts as well as the changes made by these authors to their sources as being conscious and intentional. These concerns need to be tempered with ideas of an oral culture and oral traditions which often minimized the role of the individual and thus minimized the “intentionality” of differences we see in the text. Given evidence of scribal activity in the Deuteronomistic history as well as the Chronicler's history, along with arguments from Susan Niditch and David Carr concerning how scribes in Israelite society worked, Person advocates for a further possibility as to what ancient authors were doing when they copied texts.[3] Instead of verbatim copying or ideologically motivated manipulation of sources, he argues that, based on the interplay between oral and written tradition, the intentional changes often ascribed to these scribes might very well be evidence that they were drawing on their memory or own creative imagination. Such changes thus are not intentional as we would view them, nor are they an unfaithful representation of the tradition. In the following chapter (ch. 3), these ideas are furthered in two ways. First, Person finds evidence of multiformity as one of the distinguishing features of modern day oral traditions. This factor, along with evidence of multiformity within the biblical text, is evidence that while differences seen in the text might very well be ideological, they may also very well be inconsequential. Not surprisingly, he errs on the side of inconsequential differences within these different histories.

Chapters four and five both advance his argument in the following ways. Both of these chapters attempt to show how multiformity works on a micro level in both the synoptic and non-synoptic passages of texts. With respect to the synoptic passages, he finds evidence that these are all expansive of their source (an earlier form of LXX Samuel and Kings) and thus have expanded a common source. What he does not account for here very well are the arguments of both McKenzie and Knoppers, who show that Auld's common source contains Deuteronomic vocabulary which questions the very existence of this common source.[4] With regard to the non-synoptic passages that are normally regarded as “additions” in Chronicles, Person argues that both the unique material in Samuel-Kings and in Chronicles are not additions but are all expansions, given the tendency of scribes to do so as already argued in chapter four. Here again, these expansions to a common source are not so significantly different, from a theological perspective, as scholars make them out to be. Rather, such differences are in fact drawn from broader oral traditions and thus are seen to be a faithful representation of this tradition.

Person's ideas are indeed an interesting contribution to this field, and they do bring with them an important caution concerning the determination of both how much, and in what ways, scholars should claim that changes in the text are intentional and ideological. But as I have already indicated, the two theses upon which his entire argument rest (a common source and a late dating of the Deuteronomistic history) do not find a great amount of support in the field. A final observation is that a number of times throughout the book, Person states that he remains skeptical about our ability to discern various sources and redactional layers behind texts (pp. xi, 18). While Person does not do this himself in this book, he nonetheless tends to rely on scholars who do. It is also interesting that this common source, upon which Person relies so heavily, is not only a text which is no longer extant and difficult to reconstruct, it is also one that has drawn a lot of criticism from several scholars. It should be noted, in addition, that Person himself regards this shared or common source as being in fact much smaller than what Auld has proposed.

Sean E. Cook, University of St. Andrews, Scotland

[1] Raymond F. Person, The Deuteronomic School: History, Social Setting and Literature (Studies in Biblical Literature, 2; Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2002). reference

[2] Ian Young, Robert Rezetko, and Martin Ehrensvärd, Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts (2 vols; London: Equinox, 2008). reference

[3] David M. Carr, Writing on the Tablet of the Heart: Origins of Scripture and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); Susan Niditch, Oral World and Written Word: Ancient Israelite Literature (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1996). reference

[4] Gary N. Knoppers, I Chronicles 1–9 (AB, 12; New York/London: Doubleday, 2003); S. L. McKenzie, “The Chronicler as Redactor,” in M. P. Graham and S. L. McKenzie (eds.), The Chronicler as Author: Studies in Text and Texture (JSOTSup, 263; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 70–90. reference