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Altes Testament


Elrefaei, Aly


Wellhausen and Kaufmann. Ancient Israel and Its Religious History in the Works of Julius Wellhausen and Yehezkel Kaufmann.


Berlin u. a.: De Gruyter 2016. XIV, 304 S. = Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, 490. Geb. EUR 99,95. ISBN 978-3-11-045212-9.


Peter Machinist

Aly Elrefaei’s book, as already observed in its preface by Reinhard Gregor Kratz, is an unusual work. For it represents a thorough and penetrating study of two of the giants of Hebrew Biblical scholarship of the modern era, carried out by an author who grew up in a very different environment from theirs. As against the German Lutheran Wellhausen and the Israeli Jewish Kaufmann – although an Israeli with strong European experience – E. is an Egyptian Muslim, trained first at Cairo University in Hebrew and other Semitic languages as well as biblical studies, who completed his education at the University of Göttingen under Kratz and his colleagues with the dissertation of which the present book is the revision.
The focus of the book, as its title indicates, is the religious history of ancient Israel as interpreted and reconstructed by Wellhausen and Kaufmann through the Hebrew Bible. The book is framed, in conventional fashion, by an introduction and conclusion, which describe what the focus entails and then summarize, in systematic fashion, the resulting analysis of it. Following the introduction, E. moves to short biographies of Wellhausen and Kaufmann (»Biographical Aspects«), with the latter much longer than the former, because E. rightly judges that Kaufmann is less well known to the non-Jewish, including the non-Israeli, world. This judgment has now been made less pressing because of the recent publication, unfortunately after E.’s book had appeared, of an excellent symposium on Kaufmann, covering his biography and scholarship and with English translations and summaries of several of his heretofore untranslated works: Job Y. Jindo, Benjamin D. Sommer, and Thomas Staubli, eds., Yehezkel Kaufmann and the Reinvention of Jewish Biblical Scholarship (OBO 283; Fribourg /Göttingen 2017).
The meat of E.’s book comes in its three middle parts, each with several chapters: the first dealing with Wellhausen, the second with Kaufmann, and the third a comparison of their works. In the case of Wellhausen, E. first looks (chapter 1) at his analysis of the Old Tes-tament/Hebrew Bible, particularly the Pentateuch (or the Hexateuch) in terms of its compositional development. He then moves to the stages of Israelite religion that, for Wellhausen, were re-flected in and paralleled by this literary development. Chapter 2 expands on Wellhausen’s views of Israelite religion, both pre-exilic and exilic/post-exilic, while the third and final chapter focuses on Wellhausen’s treatment of Israelite history, specifically of the pre-monarchic period.
E. then turns to Kaufmann, in part two, for a parallel discussion, though a longer one of four chapters rather than the three for Wellhausen, in keeping with his awareness that Kaufmann, being much less well-known, needs more study. Chapter 4, like chapter 1 for Wellhausen, considers Kaufmann’s literary analysis of the Hebrew Bible, again focusing on the Pentateuch. In chapter 5, E. similarly draws out the implications of Kaufmann’s literary study for his views on Israelite religion and its distinctive emphases as against other ancient religions. Chapter 6, again as for Wellhausen, con-siders Kaufmann’s treatment of Israelite history with particular emphasis on the pre-monarchic period; it includes his commen- taries on Joshua and Judges. The final chapter on Kaufmann (7) studies his exegetical approach to the biblical text as Kaufmann con-sidered it within the frame of Jewish history overall.
The third and final part of E.’s core analysis looks back over the works and views of Wellhausen and Kaufmann and compares them. The bulk of the comparison is in chapter 8, and focuses on three issues that have emerged as central to the two scholars: Is-raelite religion; the reconstruction of Israelite history, especially in the pre-monarchic period; and the question of the authority of the Hebrew Bible, that is, whether and how the Bible can be used as a source for Israelite history. In the second and final chapter of the comparative section (9), E. treats a particular theme that brings these issues together, namely, theocracy and the ways Wellhausen and Kaufmann thought about it both as a practical institution of governance in ancient Israel, and also as a concept in the world view of the biblical authors and their Israelite context(s).
From this abbreviated summary of E.’s book several important perspectives emerge – their importance reflected in their appear-ance a number of times in the book. The first concerns the Hebrew Bible as literature. Both scholars, E. emphasizes, accept an histor-ical-critical, or source-critical, approach to the Hebrew Bible, and more specifically, the so-called four-source or documentary hypothesis as it applies to the Pentateuch or, particularly for Wellhausen, the Hexateuch. And they both understand the sources as written documents. But they divide particularly on the dating of the P Pentateuchal source: Wellhausen placing its composition as a written document in the Babylonian exile and post-exile, though he allows for some pre-exilic traditions in the document, while Kaufmann dates the source as a written text to the pre-exile, regarding it as the primary part of the Torah literature of the Hebrew Bible. This dating puts the origin of P/Torah literature, for Kaufmann, as the earliest section of the Hebrew Bible, stretching back to Israel’s early periods and eventuating later in D and the reform of Josiah as a Torah book, all in a consistent maintenance of the essential literary-religious themes. P/Torah literature is, thus, earlier than the prophetic corpus, which continues these themes. In this, Kaufmann stands opposed to Wellhausen, who places P after the prophetic corpus, and views it as the culmination of a long compositional history of the Pentateuch/Hexateuch, in which the sources often varied in content and viewpoints from one another.
This difference in the dating of P accompanies and grounds the difference in each scholar’s perspective on Israelite religion. Both focus, as E. makes clear, on religion as the fundamental feature of Israelite history, but they diverge dramatically in their views of what is at stake. Fundamental to Wellhausen is his famous distinction between Israelite religion – the religion before the Babylonian exile – and Judaism of the exile and post-exile. The distinction, as E. shows, turns on the matter of Law, that is, as E. correctly emphasizes, on the existence of a systematic body of written regulations for the community, understood to be divinely based. It was this body that constituted the P source and became the foundation of Judaism. In the pre-exilic period of Israel, Wellhausen argued, there was only law in the sense of conventional customs: something unsystematized as a formal document. Wellhausen, in other words, saw the issue of law > Law as one of historical development, a development that embraced all of the religious institutions of Israel, and was paralleled in the development of the literary sources of the Pentateuch/Hexateuch, culminating in P. The development at issue was one from a loose arrangement of cultic life to a more defined, hierarchical structure with the priests at the top. Included also was the concept of deity: from an initial polytheism or paganism, undifferentiated from its Canaanite context, on through an ethical monotheism of the time of the prophets and the Deuteronomic movement, which was sharply distinguished from paganism and centered on a national god, Yahweh (Jehovah for Wellhausen), and which was supervised, in exilic/post-exilic Judaism, by a priestly theocracy. This arc of development, in cult and belief, was sharply contested by Kaufmann, as E. explains. P with the Torah literature as the early stage of biblical literature testifies, Kaufmann argued, to monotheism as belonging to the early history of Israel, not late as in Wellhausen. Monotheism, in turn, was a discovery, a revolution connected with Moses, which was then elaborated in the following periods of Israelite and Jewish history, but without a change in its essential conception of deity; throughout it remained differentiated from, indeed hostile to its polytheistic neighbors, Canaan and others. The emergence of Judaism, therefore, did not constitute a break in religion as Wellhausen had advocated; it was simply another stage in the enduring distinction of monotheism, which has continued, proposed Kaufmann, to be the source of Jewish creativity and survival to the present. In this assessment, idolatry in Israel was at the most »vestigial […] a vulgar superstition« (140, quoting Kaufmann), the bulk of which had been extirpated from Israel at its beginnings under Moses. Similarly, all denunciations of aberrant, especially foreign, worship by the prophets and others must not be considered testimonies to polytheistic religion in Israel. If there was Canaanite influence in Israel, it can only be found in the earliest stage of Israel’s history, that of the Patriarchs.
A third important issue that emerges from E.’s treatment of Wellhausen and Kaufmann concerns their views of Israel’s history, es-pecially the early, pre-monarchical periods. Both deemed written sources, especially the Hebrew Bible, as primary for historical study (e. g. 7.29.219), completely marginalizing archaeology and extra-biblical texts in this regard. And both agreed that the beginnings of Israel as a community were in the period of Moses, who was its founder and architect; only then could the biblical sources begin to look historical. But Wellhausen, as E. observes, was much less sanguine about the historical authenticity of these sources than Kaufmann, being much more inclined to take them apart and look for features that reflected more on their biblical authors than on what t he sources depicted. On this basis, he did not recognize a Patri-archal period as the Hebrew Bible does; indeed »he refused to speculate about the very beginning of the people of Israel« (77). For him the Patriarchal stories were composed in and reflected the later monarchy. As for Moses, while he was historical as the founder of Israel – though not all the biblical narratives about him were his-torical – he cannot be regarded as the founder of Law in Israel, as the Sinai/Horeb episode credits him, for the Law as the constitutive element in Israel came only with Judaism. In contrast and reaction, once more, stood Kaufmann, who was more willing to trust in the essential historicity of the biblical texts, even for the Patriarchs, al-though he admitted that the latter were »enveloped in legend« (144) and most likely were not monotheists. As for Moses, Kaufmann agreed with Wellhausen that he was the founder of Israel as a com munity, but against Wellhausen, he was also the one who first grasped the concept of monotheism and, as the »apostle prophet« of Yahweh, implemented it as the foundation of the community.
How to evaluate E.’s analysis and comparison of the work and achievements of Wellhausen and Kaufmann? Without question, E. has offered a comprehensive study, displaying a full and detailed knowledge of Wellhausen’s and Kaufmann’s bibliography. The latter includes not simply their major works, the Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels in the case of Wellhausen and the Toledot ha-’Emunah ha-Yisra’elit of Kaufmann, but also their other writings, even in other fields: classical Islamic history for Wellhausen and the broader realms of Jewish history for Kaufmann. E.’s knowledge of the primary texts also extends to what appear to be all the relevant secondary studies, in all the relevant languages. Particularly strik-ing is his ability to write in fluent, elegant English – though some typographic and perhaps grammatical solecisms remain (e. g. – and to read and translate unerringly from German and modern Hebrew. To be sure, many of the features of the biblical work of Wellhausen and Kaufmann that E. discusses are known and have been commented on by previous scholars – espec-ially is this the case for Wellhausen. Nonetheless, E.’s book stands as a definite contribution. In the first instance, this is due to the clear and logical way in which his discussion is organized, allowing the reader, as summarized above, to gain a rounded picture of each scholar’s biblical work separately, so that the comparison of them can emerge more sharply. In the process, E. makes clear how much Kaufmann owes to Wellhausen: Wellhausen as both a symbol of and himself a major contributor to the academic biblical study, with its historical, source-critical orientation, that had emerged in Western Christian, especially Protestant Europe, but also Wellhausen as arguably the principal opposition to what Kaufmann saw as the center of biblical literature and religion. E. has also made clear, though perhaps he could have emphasized this a bit more, that in Wellhausen we meet a scholar who thought of himself as an historian working with philology, while for Kaufmann, we are dealing more with a philosopher with historical dimensions (e. g. 8.9.16 – the latter noting Kaufmann’s Ph.D. in philosophy from Bern). In any case, neither would have understood himself as a theologian, and for Kaufmann, that is perhaps most significantly manifest in his general avoidance of the term »revelation« for the introduction of monotheism into Israel (see 134.173.181–182; »revelation,« how-ever, does occur on p. 188 [the Hebrew of Kaufmann here is hitgallût, which more literally might be translated as »self-uncovering«]; but see n. 988).
E. is also able to build on what various others have only remarked, namely, on how the individual elements of the works of Wellhausen and Kaufmann intertwine within each and between them. This becomes particularly clear in his exposition of how Wellhausen brought together parallel schemes of development for the Pentateuchal literature and for Israelite religious institutions – the one confirming the historical validity of the other. E. is equally deft at showing how Kaufmann’s dating of the Torah literature in the Hebrew Bible, with P as its center, goes hand-in-hand with his assertion of the primacy and pervasiveness of monotheism in Israelite religion. And for both scholars, E. offers a compelling exploration of how fundamental to their work is the P source – a source they both understand as written but otherwise characterize and date in opposed perspectives. Indeed, it is P that makes Wellhausen a principal point of departure for Kaufmann and his work.
With all of its positives, E.’s book leaves this reader with certain qualms and questions. Here are several of them. For one thing, the book tends toward repetition: a number of the same issues, like the depiction of Moses, the character of the pre-monarchic period in Israel, and the identification and role of P in biblical literature and biblical religion, reappear several times, reiterating some of the same points, and not occasionally the discussions themselves are wordy (e. g. 132–133 with the preceding; 173–175.200–201.220–222) To be sure, some of the repetitions add aspects and nuance, but the overall effect in reading can be wearisome and yield an occasional loss of the clarity of development that the book otherwise offers.
There are also places where the discussion could have been more complete. Two particular examples: in discussing Kaufmann’s historical approach, E. mentions »three main hypotheses« of current scholarship on the Israelite conquest and settlement, but does not identify these; he simply refers to two books that review the matter (150 and n. 772). And after stating Kaufmann’s claim about »the absence of myth in Israelite religion« (118), E. quotes without explanation a further Kaufmann statement, which looks like at least a partial contradiction, that »What mythical vestiges are found in the Bible […] are part of the belief of the biblical authors« (119).
More broadly, E. recognizes correctly that Wellhausen and Kaufmann treat Israelite religion as a developing phenomenon, but that they do so differently: Wellhausen being more pronounced about the depth and character of change, as he argues for a path from polytheism through monotheism and the attend-ant transformations in ritual place and practice. Kaufmann, on the other hand, maintains monotheism as a constant, fixed core of Israelite religion throughout its history, and where he does allow for changes, it is only in the elaboration and form of the expression of this monotheism. But how to characterize all of this becomes murky in E.’s discussion, as he and his two scholars seem to move back and forth among the labels of »development,« »evolution/evolutionism,« and »gradual process« without any or at least clear definitions of these complex terms (see especially 195–196.200–206).
Similarly, E. has some helpful discussions of the variety of intellectual and cultural influences on Wellhausen and Kaufmann and their work: Wellhausen from his European, particularly Germanic context involving not only particular forebears like de Wette, but the larger movements of historicism and romanticism; Kaufmann from his Eastern European background and then his exposure to Western Germanic Bildung, including romanticism, especially from his doctoral studies in Bern. Yet more could have been done here, particularly for Kaufmann, the lesser known figure to Western scholarship. To his credit, E. discusses, perhaps a bit too briefly, Kaufmann’s attraction to Zionism and the broader field of Jewish history, as exemplified in the four-volume work that, as he observes, precedes and serves as the intellectual foundation of his biblical studies, namely, Golah ve-Nekhar (»Exile and Alienness«). But he could have noted that while Kaufmann’s early life was in Eastern Europe, his upbringing and education there were not traditional and pious, but quite soon that of the Jewish enlightenment (Hebrew haskalah). And when E. talks about the Jewish »rationalistic« influence on Kaufmann, citing particularly Maimonides and the elder contemporary of Kaufmann, Hermann Cohen, he does not adequately explain what this »rationalism« is all about and how it worked in the case of Kaufmann’s biblical and other studies. In this regard, I might suggest that the »rationalism« helps to explain the non-theological view of monotheism that Kaufmann proposed.
A major issue in the book, finally, is its lack of a substantial evaluation of the various positions and contributions of Wellhausen and Kaufmann. This apparently was a deliberate decision, the emphasis being placed, rather, on an explanation of what Wellhausen and Kaufmann composed and how their work can be compared (cf. 9–11). In a number of places, however, E. does provide some evaluation, but when he does, it is ordinarily too brief, or not very specific, concrete, or substantiated. One example is the critique of Kaufmann’s view of id-olatry in ancient Israel, wherein E. does not really grapple specifically with the biblical sources, even as he does not deal with the non-textual sources altoge-ther. Nor does he explain the background in contemporary and earlier Western studies of religion of Kaufmann’s use of »fetishism« as the label for Israel’s id-olatry (124–129; cf. other E. critiques, e.g. in 120–121.190–192.271–273.281–282). Of course, a full evaluation of Wellhausen and Kaufmann would have required a book double or more the size of E.’s. And, after all, much of this evaluation has been known and published, especially for Wellhausen, over many years, and not occasionally, E. does cite other critics, though often without much if any comment on them. Still, something more detailed could have been offered through representative examples from Wellhausen and Kaufmann, which would have lent context and heft to E.’s explanations of their work. Here a most obvious example, as just intimated, is the non-biblical evidence from archaeology, non-written and written, that Wellhausen and Kaufmann virtually ignore. Such evidence, of course, has played a critical role in the recent discussion of the terms and concepts of »biblical« versus »Israelite« religion and how much they should be differentiated. While E. is certainly aware of this issue (7), he could have done much more with it as it concerns Wellhausen and Kaufmann. Indeed, if one may infer from what he does say, the relationship between »biblical« and »Israelite« does not seem to have been directly faced by either Wellhausen or Kaufmann, focused as they were on the Hebrew Bible as their overwhelmingly dominant source for religion.
My questions and qualms notwithstanding, E.’s book stands as an important study of Wellhausen and Kaufmann. In its comprehensiveness and its many insights, it brings new light on issues of literature, religion, and history that continue to attract and bedevil biblical scholarship today. As such, it serves to underscore the value of a knowledge of the history of the biblical field if future research is to be productive.