Etudes d'histoire religieuse et de philologie biblique.
The character of this collection reflects broadly the combination of interests that dominated Old Testament studies a quarter of a century ago: familiarity with the languages and cultures of the ancient Near East, an easy assurance of how the Old Testament writings evolved historically, founded on pentateuchal documentary analysis, and an assumption, above all, that these writings reflect the historical religion of `ancient Israel'. This literary-critical scholarship arose partly from the successful efforts of eighteenth-and nineteenth-century criticism to free critical study from dogmatics, though history subsequently took over and the central and positive place in Old Testament theology was taken by a reconstruction of the `religion of Israel'.
This agenda has now been relegated to only one of several as a result of various revolutions in the last quarter century, and the process has clearly been observed by Cazelles, whose reading is wide and up-to-date. Yet regrettably if understandably, while the names of N. K. Gottwald, B. S. Childs, J. Van Seters, I. Finkelstein, M. Liverani, G. Garbini and R. Albertz grace the footnotes, the impact of their work in general (and the work of other, unmentioned scholars like T. L. Thompson or J. Barr) remains undetectable in the body of the text. Indeed, the array of literary and ideological programmes that now constitute the bulk of contemporary Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible) scholarship is unconsidered, as is the range of controversies that now attends the discussion of `Israelite' history and its relationship to the ancient Near East.
Accordingly, to a reviewer first trained in biblical scholarship in the 1990s, this volume evokes a keen sense of nostalgia. One is curious rather than irritated that so many contemporary issues are ignored, so many contemporary questions not so much stated and resisted, but unaddressed; and sympathetic rather than upset by the impression one gets of a scholar of an earlier generation reading today's biblical research from a world that has more or less gone. For so much has changed. Even when one expects nothing else, there is disappointment that Cazelles is unable to celebrate the remarkable impact of recent French philosophy (Lacan, Derrida), history (the Annales approach) and sociology (Foucault) on the discipline he has made his life's work. It is probably true that Kuhn's famous `paradigm shift' theory applies not only to the history of scientific hypotheses but also to the evolution of scholarly careers. At some point, most of us have been, or will be, unwilling or unable to abandon the former paradigms that have shaped our own careers, and we are left only to write for each other's Festschriften, if at all!
The first eight essays cluster under the unwieldy heading `Identity of the People of the God of Abraham and Institutions of the Ancient Orient'; the second group bears the heading `Institutions of Israel and Biblical Redactions' and the third `Israel Amid the Nations'. The obituary of the history-of-religions approach is clearly premature. Yet Cazelles does continue to engage a range of issues; he has thoroughly reviewed a number of individual questions and here and there he offers some novel insights. Since it is impossible to review briefly the entire collection, a few examples will have to indicate the character of this collection and perhaps vindicate the comments just made.
The first essay, entitled `On the Foundations of Research into Biblical Theology', consists largely of an historical account of the evolution of legal systems in the ancient Near East; it offers the kind of account of the word `spirit' that one hoped James Barr had forever banished many years ago, and, though trying to understand and even purvey the hermeneutics of Paul Ricoeur, can only conclude that `the notion of polysemy ... allows us to see how very simple words or gestures ... can assume several meanings in the multiple concrete problems of everyday life. But theological research, in dealing with the conditions of life of an individual Israelite, confronted by other peoples, can explicate how this Israelite would have understood a prophetic word or a hagiographical narrative' (p. 23). Is this what Ricoeur is about? In any case, has not most theological and historical research long abandoned these objectives? Later in the volume, in an essay entitled `Biblical and pre-biblical historlographies', Cazelles again addresses an issue of considerable contemporary interest: what are the precursors of the biblical historiographies, what is their cultural context and function, and what is their date? But having reviewed the variety of ancient Near-Eastern genres dealing with the past, we are then offered detailed accounts of the historiographies of the Deuteronomist, the Yahwist, the Elohist and the Priestly writer(s) who, in their conventional chronological sequence (J,E,D,P) show a dissolution of the sacral character of monarchy. First Moses, then other institutions (notably the priesthood) take the place of the king. Although Van Seters's In Search of History (New Haven, 1983) is mentioned in several footnotes, there is no engagement with his thesis at all; throughout the present volume important recent work has been noted, and occasionally engaged at minor points. But nowhere is any fundamental issue addressed other than in terms of the old certainties that this recent work has undermined.
Still, this criticism does not entirely do justice to Cazelles's vision. At the end of the opening essay (p. 24) he writes the following:
We have long spoken of the Bible in terms of what preceded it: it was composed as a result of the aspirations of human beings (with their molecules and fibres) to receive an aid from their creator who had placed them in a universe described as `good' or `very good' (Gen. 1:31), but difficult to live in for the lowly and oppressed. To discover the value of its testimony for [human] life one cannot refrain from interrogating the three living communities that relate themselves to it ... Biblical research is multiple. One can address it as philologist, as literary critic, as psychologist, as historian -- whether concerned with sociology, demography, law or politics...
Interrogation of the `living communities' is a minor facet of modern biblical research, but Cazelles's second essay is entitled `A biblical scholar [The French term is bibliste] interrogates the Qur'an'. Contemporary biblical scholars are highly aware of the cultural relativity of biblical criticism(s), and surely that entails recognition of Islam as part of the cultural reception of the Bible. Here, then, is a fruitful topic. But the interrogation is somewhat superficial. Equally disappointing are two further essays: `Bible and Politics' and `The State; its Necessity and its limits according to the Bible'. The composition and reception of the Bible have both served political ends (politics being the theatre of ideology), and, after all, the application of the Bible (and other religious scriptures) to politics has never been more evident than now, whether in the USA, the Arab world or Israel. But both essays divert us from the present real world to a reconstructed past one, to biblical history and eschatology. Indeed, wherever he raises a novel issue, it seems that Cazelles transports the reader back to the familiar territory of history of Israelite religion, proving if anything how irrelevant biblical scholarship used to be to modern life!
Among other topics covered are clans, monarchic state and tribes; the Hebrew terms for tribes; the composition of the `Book of the Covenant'; the exodus event; the milleux of Deuteronomy; the origin of the Deuteronomistic movement; and the Syro-Ephraimite war. The provision of indexes (to subjects, Bible, Quranic and modern authors) is also commendable, and so is Cazelles's ongoing absorption with study of ancient Israel. And the frustrations felt by this particular reviewer may not be shared by those who still think that the modern ways of doing biblical studies are merely a fad, ideology a trendy word for theology, the Old Testament largely history, reader-response a cloak for fundamentalism (this indeed may be partly true) and that the clock will go back one day.
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|Publication:||The Journal of Theological Studies|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Oct 1, 1998|
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