Is The Torah Actually a Theological Document?

an upcoming talk:

Why the Torah is Not a Theological Document: Pentateuchal Composition as Scholarly Collection

Contrary to previous attempts to explain the Pentateuch’s editing through analogy with Mesopotamian literary works such as the Gilgamesh epic, the Pentateuch does not formally resemble any standard Babylonian literary text. While Babylonian narratives are coherent, with events happening only once, the Pentateuch is distinctively incoherent, with many key events happening in two or more incompatible ways. By contrast, the Pentateuch’s clearest formal features are most strongly analogous to ancient Near Eastern scholarly collections, which often include variant versions of “the same” contents. While the Pentateuch’s thoroughgoing interweaving of preexisting literary compositions has no real ’empirical models’ in the sense of direct pre-Hellenistic Near Eastern parallels, it was most plausibly produced through a set of text-building moves parallel to those of contemporary first-millennium scribal cultures. The striking differences result from the different source materials Judean scholars drew on and the distinctive literary values they applied, values that are themselves clues to the nature of Pentateuchal composition. The Pentateuch stands in sharp contrast to its Judahite building blocks, which do resemble other Near Eastern literature, and its Jewish descendants, which struggle to make coherent theological claims out of their interweaving. The deliberate and non-hierarchical juxtaposition of incompatible legal and literary claims about God and the order of the universe make the Torah a scholarly collection, not a theological document–but one that was intended for a public rather than a court.

I’ll be presenting this at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in the Book History and Biblical Literatures session.


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