Review of Peter Weimar, Studien zur Priesterschrift

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

Peter Weimar, Studien zur Priesterschrift (FAT, 56; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008). Pp. XI + 373. €89.00. ISBN 978-3-16-149446-8.

This volume brings together various articles and essays written by P. Weimar over more than thirty years, all devoted to issues related with the Priestly writing (Priesterschrift, or P). All the studies collected in this volume have been updated and revised to some degree in order to address recent developments in the scholarly discussion.

The volume is introduced by a new essay (pp. 1-17) in which Weimar addresses some significant issues that have emerged recently. Weimar begins by recalling some central aspects of the discussion on P, such as the distinction between “narrative” and “legal” elements (= Pg and Ps respectively). He further calls attention to the need to separate between P itself, its sources, and later revisions. Lastly, with regard to the much disputed issue of P's ending, Weimar briefly summarizes his arguments for holding the classical view that identifies the conclusion to P in Deut 34. Chapter Two (pp. 19-90) reproduces a lengthy study devoted to P's structure and composition (“Die Priesterschrift. Struktur und Komposition eines literarischen Werkes”). The study, first published in 1984, has since become a major scholarly reference. Weimar offers a detailed and very thorough analysis of central structuring features in P, including genealogies, itineraries, chronologies and various stylistic devices such as inclusio, inversion, and the promise/fulfillment pattern. He also devotes several pages to general principles of composition in P - such as the pairing of events or parallel accounts - and he concludes with a comprehensive discussion of P's overall structure.

After these two general studies, the eight remaining contributions focus on specific aspects of P. These contributions are organized according to the order in which the relevant texts appear in the Pentateuch. Chapters Three and Four contain two studies dealing with the Priestly creation account. The first study (pp. 91-134) offers a source- and literary-critical analysis of Gen 1:1-2:4. Against the communis opinio regarding Gen 1:1-2:4 as a compositional unit, Weimar argues that P made use of an earlier source (“eine ältere, in fünf Strophen arrangierte Schöpfungserzählung”), which he rearranged into a coherent composition consisting of two main parts (Gen 1:3-19 and 1:20-2:3*), with Gen 1:1-12 and 2:4a as super- and subscriptions. He also identifies the hand of the pentateuchal redactor (Rp) in several passages, especially in the second part. Chapter Four (pp. 135-150) substantiates this analysis of Gen 1:1-2:4 by focusing on Gen 1:2 and its meaning within P's creation account.

Chapter Five (pp. 151-184) deals with the so-called toledot-formulas in P. Weimar demonstrates that there were originally ten such formulas in Pg (Gen 37:9 and Num 3:1 are later additions), and he offers a detailed examination of their form and meaning in P. One of his conclusions is that the obvious concentration of such formulas in the Urgeschichte (Gen 1-11*) and the Jacob story (Gen 25-36*) corresponds to the emphasis on the topic of “blessing” in these two sections (“der Segen als Leitthema”), whereas P's account of Abraham is focused on the topic of covenant specifically. Overall, Weimar demonstrates that both the distribution of the toledot-formulas in Pg and their sequence reflect a careful system and are an integral part of P's structure.

In Chapters Six and Seven consist of two studies on Abraham and Jacob. Chapter Six (pp. 185-225) comprises a lengthy study entirely devoted to the central text of Genesis 17, its literary history, and its place within P. As with other key passages in P, Weimar differentiates between (a) Pg, (b) a source used by P, and (c) two successive redactional layers. According to his analysis, the pre-P tradition lies in Gen 17:1-4a, 6 and 22; a first revision (Ps) can be identified in Gen 17:9b* (10ab), 12a, 13b, 14a α b; and the second, final revision (Rp) comprises several additions in v. 7aß, 8aß, 12b, 13a, 14aß, as well as in 16ab, 16b α *, 16bß, 17b, 19b, 20a α *, 20b, 21, 23, and 27. Weimar then discusses the meaning of Gen 17* Pg; in particular, he shows that this text lies at the center of Pg's account of Abraham, and evinces many parallels with other key accounts, especially in Genesis 9, Exod 6:2-12 and Num 13-14* (Pg). The two revisions, on the other hand, involve significant reinterpretations of Genesis 17. The first revision (Ps) has a marked “ritualizing” tendency; the second, which Weimar assigns to the pentateuchal redactor (Rp), seeks to realign P's conception of the berît between Yahweh and Abraham with the non-Priestly account. Chapter Seven (pp. 227-268) is an early (1974), but important study of P's version of the Jacob story. Weimar shows that P's account is carefully structured by two pairs of toledot (Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob) which frame a central section recounting Jacob's arrival at Luz (Gen 31:18* and 35:6*), Yahweh's manifestation to Jacob in Beth-El (Gen 35:9-13*, 15, 22b-26), and Isaac's death and burial (Gen 35:27-29).

The final three chapters of the book leave the Priestly account in Genesis to move into the other books of the Pentateuch. Chapters Eight and Nine are two important studies on Pg's account of the Sinaitic revelation (Exodus and Leviticus). Chapter Eight (pp. 269-317) offers a detailed reconstruction of Pg in Exodus 25-31, 35-40 and Leviticus 9 (inauguration of the sacrificial cult on the eighth day). Weimar then presents an in-depth discussion of Pg's version of Israel's stay at Mount Sinai against the general background of the Priestly narrative in Genesis to Deuteronomy. Although his reconstruction of Pg in Exodus 25-40* remains debatable, especially because of its highly fragmentary character, Weimar's observations on the general structure of this account as well as its parallels with the rest of Pg remain a significant contribution to studies of P. Chapter Nine (pp. 319-345) also deals with Pg's account of the Sinaitic revelation, especially the importance of the motif of Yahweh's dwelling among Israel (see Exod 29:45-46). It also addresses its relationship with the last part of Pg's account, i.e., after Israel's departure from Sinai. According to Weimar, this final section is particularly concerned with the issue of the concretization of Yahweh's presence in the midst of Israel. Finally, Chapter Ten (pp. 347-360) is a short study concerning the account of Aaron's death in Num 20:22-29. Weimar identifies later additions to Pg in 20:22a, 23aßb, 24, and 29bß. He then proceeds to interpret the meaning of Aaron's death and Eleazar's consecration in the original Priestly account. Weimar understands this account as an essentially positive text, with a programmatic significance for understanding Yahweh's willingness to deliver and for Israel's future. Of particular interest is Weimar's suggestion that the name “Eleazar” is also part of this programmatic meaning of Num 20:22-29* Pg: “Von daher erscheint es auch nicht ausgeschlossen, daß die Priesterschrift in dem Namen Eleasar (‘Gott hat geholfen’) dessen in ihm liegende programmatisch-zukunftsweisende Bedeutung im Hinblick auf das von Zweifeln an Jahwes Macht und Durchsetzungswillen zur Sicherung der eigenen Existenz bewegte Israel mit anklingen lassen will” (p. 357).

Overall, the publication of these studies is very welcome. Several of Weimar's contributions have had a lasting impact and remain landmarks in the scholarly discussion of P. The decision to update the articles and essays collected in this volume is perhaps more debatable. On several occasions the debate with more recent contributions on P leads to very lengthy footnotes, in which the mingling of ancient and recent discussions is at times confusing for the reader. Furthermore, Weimar's engagement with the newest scholarship on P remains necessarily limited, and does perhaps not always do full justice to some of the issues that have been raised recently, such as, e.g., the identification of P's conclusion, or the conception of the land in P.

On the whole, Weimar's work remains largely tied to the traditional source- and literary-critical model according to which the task of pentateuchal exegesis is first and foremost to isolate the original “sources” underlying the canonical Pentateuch, with comparatively little attention being devoted to understanding the religious and political motivations of the Torah's final editors (even though in some essays, such as the piece on Genesis 17, Weimar appears to be more sensitive to the complexity of the work involved in aligning Priestly and non-Priestly traditions into a unified and comprehensive composition such as the Pentateuch). In light of the present pentateuchal discussion, understanding the development taking place between the Priestly writing - including not only Pg but also later supplements (“Ps”) - and post-Priestly compositions in the Pentateuch might actually appear as a more pressing issue. However, identifying the original Priestly source, its structure, its historical context, and its overall intent will always remain a starting point and a major issue for any critical study of the Torah. In that respect this volume is to be recommended to any student of the Priestly literature, and of the Pentateuch in general.

Christophe Nihan, Faculty of Theology, University of Geneva