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The Composition of the Pentateuch: A New Theory (Third part)

The breastplate on the High Priest’s garment

The elements of  the so-called Deuteronomism are the centralization of worship in the Temple of Jerusalem, the confession of faith in JHWH, the search for identity of Israel and the corresponding uniqueness of the Law. The phenomenon called “Deuteronomism” is the fundamental reform that led the formation of Judaism of the times of Jesus. The book of the Deuteronomy is the literary product of the Reform. The Deuteronomy is not only the core of the Pentateuch, but also the origin of it. In fact, it is the model that gives shape and structure to the rest of the Pentateuch. The historical context of this reform is the beginning of the Persian era, the late sixth century BC. To be precise the last two decades of the sixth century BC, when it was rebuilt the Temple, and when the priests came to power after the end of any hope of restoration of the Davidic dynasty.

When the High Priest Joshua took the power, following the coup d’état against the governor Zerubbabel and the priest Zechariah (cf.. Books of Haggai and Zechariah) things changed dramatically in Israel. It was the end of the prophecy that deeply influenced the language of the Deuteronomy. The interests, style and language of the priestly class prevailed. The priests, on the basis of the historical plot of the book of the Deuteronomy (the sefer ha-torahDt 12-26), gradually worked out and drafted the Torah, i.e. the Pentateuch.

A sheet of the Codex Petropolitanus, preserved in the St. Petersburg Library. From this hebrew codex come all the modern Bible’s translations

From this core, in the favorable climate established with the advent of Darius I (550-
486 BC), developed the entire Book of Deuteronomy. At that time were also reconstructed the ‘origins of Israel’, from the Creation until the times of the ancestors (the patriarchs). This literary complex was linguistically and thematically influenced by the centrality of the Temple of Jerusalem and the unique nature of the national god JHWH. At this primitive literary complex, it was gradually added other material, collected and handed down on the basis of two fundamental trends.

The first trend is the collection of the ancient traditions on the origins of Israel to insert into the historical pattern found in Deuteronomy. This material includes the patriarchs, the period in Egypt, the exodus from Egypt to the Horeb. Were they only oral or also written traditions? To what extent these traditions have been changed or altered during transmission? Now we cannot answer to these questions. We can just say that the Archaeology and History are the disciplines delegated to discern the antiquity and the nature of the traditions collected in the Pentateuch. Beside the literary development already mentioned in Deuteronomy, also were written independent parts, such as Genesis 1-11, the story of Joseph or even the stories that concern the project and the construction of the sanctuary (Ex 25-31; 35-40). These latter accounts reveal the priestly interests. During the redaction of the Pentateuch, the priestly interests will take over on the Deuteronomy’s theology. The evidence of a growing and critical importance of language, style and priestly themes are the opening and closing of the Pentateuch: Gen 1:1-2:4a and Dt 34.

The second trend is the origin of the so-called Deuteronomistic work (Dtr). It would be written within a few decades, starting with the history of the kingdom (2 Samuel- 2Kings) and going backward to period of Joshua. At the end of the Dtr redaction (Gs 13-22), prevails the language and priestly style. Therefore, rather than see one, two or three stages of Dtr’s redaction – as scholars usually did – it is better to see the gradual replacement of the Dtr perspective with priestly theology.

At the end of the redactional process that led to the establishment of the Pentateuch plus the historical books, there is only the Priestly writer. He did insert into the narrative plot of the Pentateuch independent stories created by him.

Simone Venturini


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