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Three Times a Year. Studies on Festival Legislation in the Pentateuch
Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2012. XIII, 277 S. = Forschungen zum Alten Testament, 82. Lw. EUR 84,00. ISBN 978-3-16-150980-3.
Karl William Weyde
The aim of this study by Shimon Gesundheit is to present »the his-tory of cultic literature in Israel« and »not […] the development of the Israelite cultus« (229). The rationale for this is that ever since the days of Wellhausen, scholars have paid more attention to the cultic, theological, and social developments of the festival institutions than to the festival laws and the relationship between them, and there is still a need for clarifying many of the difficulties arising from the festival lists themselves. The book is thus written from a literary-critical perspective in order to shed new light on the history of the literary crystallization of the Pentateuchal festival laws (1–4).
This approach is also motivated by the crisis of recent research on the Pentateuch: No consensus exists about the documentary hypothesis and new proposals of alternative models are not persuasive. Therefore, G. does not adopt any particular theory of the Pentateuch’s composition but intends by means of literary analysis to discern different stages of composition and revision of the festival calendars, in order to see their current formulation in the light of their gradual development. Such reading, he argues, can only be made comprehensible by a comparison of the inner-biblical parallels, which can explain the difficulties of the texts as manifestations of innovative inner-biblical exegesis.
In chapter 1, G. compares the two festival calendars in Exod 23: 14–19 and Exod 34:18–26. He argues that the latter represents a hermeneutic »midrashic« revision of the former; they are not two se-parate traditions. For instance, the phrase »the sacrifice of the Pass-over festival« (34:25) is an interpretation of »the fat of my festival« (23:18); the »writer-reviser« (43) made this change not only because of the association generated by the reference to leaven in Exod 23: 18a but also because he was influenced by the Priestly injunction not to allow any of the Passover lamb remain uneaten until the morning (Exod 12:10). The revision was no problem to a later writer who was used to think of the Passover festival and the Festival of Unleavened Bread as a single entity (Ezek 45:21). The Priestly influence also explains why the verb »slaughter« was inserted in Exod 34:25. More-over, G. detects Deuteronomic/Deuteronomistic connections in Exod 34:18–26. He explains the differences between the two calendars solely on the basis of hermeneutical considerations.
In chapter 2, G. contends that Exod 12:1–28 comprises a primary Priestly Passover layer (vv. 1–11.22–27a.28), into which were inserted, in a chiastic sequence, »the epexegetical comments of a secondary layer« (7). This editorial work substituted a text about the fes-tival of unleavened bread (v. 13–17) for the original verses, which had concluded the Passover passage (vv. 22–27a.28). Another appendix, in vv. 18–20, combines the Passover festival and the Festival of Unleavened Bread by defining an eight day long period during which one should eat unleavened bread. In the assumed basic layer, a reviser also transferred the Passover from the 10th day of the month in the older tradition to the 14th day (Exod 12:6).
In chapter 3, it is argued that Deuteronomy 16 was not initially composed as a festival calendar, but developed from a text originally only centralizing the Passover rite to the single site that YHWH had chosen. This primary layer, located to vv. 2.5–7, bears Deuteronomic features and make up a smooth, continuous text, whereas the expansions in vv. 1.3–4.8 depend on their parallels in Exodus and serve to integrate them into their new context. In successive stages this text was supplemented by laws about sacrifice, leaven, and unleavened bread taken from passages in Exodus, the link be-tween Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread existing only in late writings. It is also argued that at least parts of the Priestly laws in Exod 12 post-date the final text of Deut 16:1–8, and perhaps react to some of the ideas found in it. By comparison, the regula-tions for the two other pilgrimage festivals (Deut 16:9–12.13–15) are coherent and belong to an earlier stage of composition character-ized by autonomous writing, before the festival calendar in Exod 34 came into existence. Finally, the tension between the calendar in Deut 16:1–15 and the concluding vv. 16–17, which demand pilgrimage of males alone, indicates that the conclusion was constructed from extant material originally composed as part of a different text. V. 16, which belongs to the latest revision of Deut 16, draws upon the festival calendar in Exod 34.
In chapter 4, G. maintains that the first-born section in Exod 13:11–16 is a uniform, late composition, which is an innovative version of the first-born legislation in Exod 12:22–27 designed to suppress the apotropaic rite of the Passover and establish in its place the law of the first-born as a cultic institution. This revision in-tended to commemorate the slaying of the first-born and the exodus from Egypt. Also the unleavened bread section (Exod 13:3–10) is influenced by the formulation of the Passover in Exod 12 and aims to provide an alternative to it. Moreover, it was a reaction to the first-born legislation in Exod 13:11–16, which was not accepted by the composers of the unleavened bread passage, who wished to return to the unleavened bread as a symbol commemorating the exodus from Egypt.
Chapter 5 provides a summary and conclusions including G.’s reflections on the implications of his methodological approach for the study of the festivals. An extensive bibliography and useful indexes end the book.
G.’s detailed literary analysis offers some theories and prospects that will challenge opinions widely accepted by scholars, for in-stance his view on the midrashic character of Exod 34:18–26 and on the primary Priestly layer in Exod 12, which implies that the Pass-over institution was not recorded in the J document. Also his suggestions about Deut 16:1–8 should be questioned, for it can be argued that already a primary layer contained regulations for both Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread (vv. 1–4), to which later expansions were added (vv. 5–8).
G. has produced a literary-critical study of the festival calendars in the Pentateuch based on a careful scrutiny of the texts, which, in fact, also sheds light on the development of the cult. His proposals and conclusions will stimulate scholarly discussion on the subject.