Sunday, January 28, 2007

Ezra and "Outsiders"

Ezra Promotes the TorahOver on his Blue Cord blog, my friend Prof. Kevin Wilson has graciously linked to my recent post on Ezra's social location and raised some fascinating questions for discussion (click here). Thank you, Kevin!

One of the questions he raises is the following: "It seems to me that Ezra is not among those who edited the final version [of the Pentateuch]. The Holiness School [which seems responsible for this final editing] has a great openness towards outsiders, as can be seen in the repeated admonition that there should be one law for the Israelite and alien alike. Ezra, on the other hand, is not so open to outsiders, at least when they are getting married to Israelites. Any thoughts on this Steve?"

Let me make a few notes in response to Kevin. Following R. E. Friedman, I do consider Ezra a viable candidate for one of the final editors of the Pentateuch, but in my view he is not an extremely likely candidate. More and more, I am thinking that the the bulk of Israel's sacred literature came together before exilic and postexilic times, such as those of Ezra. I admit that William Schniedewind's recent work on this question has been strongly influencing me (click here).
On the one hand, Friedman does a good job of showing that Ezra's Pentateuch probably contained most all of the strands that today make it up. On the other hand, the impression of Nehemiah 8 is that Ezra is promulgating a compilation of these strands that has been around for awhile. His Torah is extant, in Hebrew. The primary job for him and his allies is to translate it into Aramaic and interpret it, not to introduce it for the first time.
Nevertheless, Ezra could have been one of the Torah's final editors. Certainly his purported "exclusivity" does not disqualify him. As I understand Ezra, the issue for him was not exclusion of foreigners or xenophobia, but holding the line against syncretism and apostasy in worship. I do not think that Ezra had any problem with marrying proselytes, only with marrying idolaters. Ezra, HS, and PT, all three, are on the same page on this minimal level.

I strongly disagree with older scholarly divisions between "universalism" and "particularism/legalism" in the postexilic period. Contrary to this idea, I understand openness to proselytes to have been the norm in most all the relevant biblical texts (see Blenkinsopp, AB 19B, p. 83).

Responses and Comments welcome.


Blogger John Hobbins said...

I concur, Steve, that the Holiness strand of the Pentateuch reads better against the background of pre-exilic rather than post-exilic times.

H, D, and Dtr first edition fit best in the reign of Josiah (second half of the seventh century BCE). The bulk of the materials usually ascribed to JEP might be dated a half century or century earlier. Not all "J" or "P" texts, of course, can be so dated. Gen 12:1-3 is early post-exilic, for example. It is an insert into the "J" narrative, and might be compared, for themes, with Zech 2:5-15; 8:13.

Zech 2:14-15 is early sixth century BCE, but illustrates your point: exogamy was fine so long as the outsider married was Ruth-like, as it were.

All this talk of JEPHD will seem anachronistic to many. But Ron Hendel at the SBL national meeting, who is working on the successor commentary on Genesis to that of Speiser in the AB, said boldly, if a little bit tongue-in-cheek: "I believe in J, E, and P."

I predict that the old documentary hypothesis, Kaufmannized a bit, will make a comeback. Stay tuned.

Mon Jan 29, 04:15:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger John Hobbins said...

Who is John of the previous comment?

The one who keeps the ancient Hebrew poetry log. I've spent some time with some of texts I refer to.

Minus the narrative introduction, Gen 12:1-3 is a fine poetic inset.

So is Zech 2:8-17 minus the narrative introduction. I might post on that passage, since its poetic structure seems to have eluded folks.

Mon Jan 29, 04:57:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

Hi John. Thanks for identifying yourself; and, of course, thanks for the comments! Please, if you do end up posting, leave a link here. Of course, I try to follow your blog, but sometimes I get overwhelmed with the joys and struggles of the profession... ---SLC

Mon Jan 29, 05:02:00 PM GMT-5  

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