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Lohr, Joel N.
Chosen and Unchosen. Conceptions of Election in the Pentateuch and Jewish-Christian Interpretation.
Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns 2009. XVIII, 254 S. gr.8° = Siphrut, 2. Geb. US$ 39,50. ISBN 978-1-57506-171-9.
Joel N. Lohr’s highly readable analysis was presented in 2007 as a doctoral thesis at the University of Durham under the supervision of Walter Moberly. Besides, also L.’s studies with Joel Kaminsky (who was on a visiting fellowship at Durham in 2006) have clearly left their mark. »Chosen and Unchosen« is the second volume in a new series published by Eisenbrauns, Siphrut: Literature and Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures.
In the introduction to his work, L. points out that his prime interest lies in »examining how OT election has been construed in Christian and Jewish interpretation over the past 50 years or so.« L. finds a markedly different approach towards the biblical topos of election in »Christian Interpretation« (chapter 1) and in »Jewish Election Theologies« (chapter 2) and, in fact, it is precisely this difference that L. names to be the driving force behind his study.
Firstly, in chapter 1, L. takes a closer look at »Theological Dictionaries« and summarizes two monographs dealing with election, namely H. H. Rowley’s, Biblical Doctrine of Election (1950) and Seock-Tae Sohn’s, Divine Election of Israel (1991). He then turns to the notion of election in the »Old Testament (and Biblical) Theologies« of W. Eichrodt (1933–39), H. D. Preuss (1991), W. Brueggemann (1997) and C. H. H. Scobie (2003). Turning to the Jewish tradition, chapter 2 summarizes and investigates the more recent »Jewish Election Theologies« of J. S. Kaminsky, D. Novak, M. Wyschogrod and J. D. Levenson. In particular the groundbreaking works of Levenson and Kaminsky are surveyed in great detail. L. maintains an ongoing conversation with both scholars throughout the monograph, conversations that highlight the contribution of this thesis.
In part 2, where L. links the election theologies to »a sample of test cases«, he takes a closer look at four texts from the Pentateuch, in order to get »at the heart of what it means to be chosen and unchosen« (93). L. explicitly follows a canonical approach, setting aside questions of authorship, date, textual criticism, and literary sources. Chapter 3, at the beginning of part 2, is dedicated to Gen 20. According to L., Gen 20 is a paradigmatic outworking of the earlier promise God made to Abraham in Gen 12:1–3, as the nations (i. e. Abimelech) are to bless Israel (i. e. Abraham) in order to experience the blessing of God themselves. Secondly, chapter 4 attests that the daughter of Pharao in Exod 2:1–10 may be understood as an unchosen figure who saves Moses and thus fulfills her duty to bless God’s people. Thirdly, Num 22–24 stands at the centre of interest in chapter 5. While blessing Israel provides a blessing for Balaam, mistreatment of Israel reverses the fortune of the unchosen into a curse (cf. Num 31). Finally, chapter 6 turns to three passages from Deuteronomy, namely Deut 4:1–40, Deut 7, and Deut 10:12–22. Here, as it seems, L. first and foremost wrestles with the concept of herem which he ultimately understands as a means necessary to fulfill God’s promise made to Abraham and his descendants. Chapter 7, then, briefly summarizes the exegetical chapters by addressing the question: »Can good come from a God who favors?« Here we stand at the focal point of L.’s study that comprises a very personal quest for an apt understanding of our relationship to God. In fact, L. time and again emphasizes the notion that also the unchosen »may well find space within the economy of divine love« (2). Two lengthy appendices are once more dedicated to crucial issues of chapters 5 and 6, namely the picture of Balaam (appendix 1) and the topos of herem in biblical texts (appendix 2).
I full heartily agree with L. that the approach taken by Jewish scholars such as Levenson and Kaminsky is the »most promising in getting at the heart of election in the OT« (XI). I also concur with L. in his rather critical attitude towards Christian scholars and their predominant understanding of election in the Hebrew Bible so far. Indeed, a Christian election theology, i. e. a theology that takes serious the election of the people of Israel and develops a self-understanding for the Church that is not supersessionist in character, is still a desideratum. However, L. might also have drawn our attention to a few more helpful approaches towards »election« also by some Christian scholars. For instance, Rolf Rendtorff in his »Theologie des Alten Testaments« (1999/2001) has a lot to say about the election of Israel and its impetus for our Christian approach towards the texts of the Hebrew Bible (pace L., 183). Furthermore, together with Wyschogrod from the Jewish tradition, L. might have considered also K. Barth’s theology of election (KD 2/II) on which Wyschogrod himself draws at times. Had L. engaged a wider range of conversation partners on the Christian side, such as those just mentioned, for example, or P. van Buren, to name just another one, his comparison of Christian and Jewish scholars would have been even more significant.
Finally, L.’s selection of texts from the Pentateuch in part 2 sometimes runs the risk of an »inappropriate selectivity« (92). As he himself is aware of this, it remains unclear why no means are taken in order to define a more coherent canon of relevant biblical texts. In particular one might find it regrettable that all aspects of a diachronic approach towards the biblical texts are set aside. Above all, Exod 18 with Jethro praising the God of Israel would have merited an in-depth investigation (cf. 92).
On the whole, however, L.’s »Chosen and Unchosen« provides the reader with a stimulating argument. One hopes that this work, along with recent volumes such as Kaminsky’s, Yet I Loved Jacob. Reclaiming the Biblical Concept of Election (2007), will stimulate additional investigations into the understanding of the crucial biblical topos of election. In fine, L.’s passionate contribution is well-presented and undoubtedly merits further consideration.