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Shadow on the Steps: Time Measurement in Ancient Israel.

Shadow on the Steps: Time Measurement in Ancient Israel. SBL Resources for Biblical Study, vol. 64. By DAVID MIANO. Atlanta: SOCIETY OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE. 2010. Pp. xx + 267, illus. $34.95 (paper).

This revision of the author's 2006 University of California, San Diego, dissertation, supervised by William H. C. Propp, elegantly traces chronometry and chronology in ancient Israel and Judah and notes the implications of the former for the latter. Following a brief introduction stating his position on the sources of the Primary History (J, E, DtrH, and P), one long and one short chapter explore calendrical units of time--principally days, months, and years--and long-time reckoning. Two long chapters explore the genealogical chronologies of the Priestly material in the Pentateuch and the ruler-ship chronologies of the Deuteronomistic History. A short conclusion summarizes his findings, and two appendices treat the chronographic sources of the Deuteronomistic History and the fourteenth year of Hezekiah.

Miano advances several interesting calendrical theses. He argues from close readings of several biblical texts that all the main sources of the Primary History assume a new day that begins in the morning. The Priestly prescription of holy days that run from evening to evening is an innovation of P and applies only to the liturgical calendar. Daylight was perhaps divided into four watches totaling twenty "hours," and nighttime was divided into three watches. P began to use a month numbering system in the late preexilic period. The agricultural year had two primary divisions: seedtime and harvest. The civil calendar consisted of twelve months, beginning in the fall. The liturgical calendar likewise consisted of twelve months, but P moved the start of the year to the spring. The Judahite regnal year began in the fall, while the Israelite regnal year began in the spring. These several calendars coexisted and efforts were made within each of them to resolve the discrepancies between lunar and solar cycles.

Miano stresses that ancient Israelites and Judahites held both cyclical and linear views of time, reflected in calendars and chronologies. The two were intertwined: linear time was measured by counting cycles of time in sequence. Miano shows that biblical authors counted time inclusively. Furthermore, in adding two linear sequences of time, they did not combine the final (partial) unit of one sequence with the initial (partial) unit of the second sequence. Rather, they simply added the two sequences, resulting in what would appear to modern western eyes to be an inflated count. In compound figures, both time units were measured inclusively but did not overlap.

The Priestly material of the Pentateuch dates events prior to the exodus by placing them in a specific year of the life of an individual. Genealogies connecting individuals, especially in Genesis 5 and 11, thus form a framework for the history of the world. Miano reconstructs an archetypal Priestly chronology and traces how he thinks that proto-chronology was revised in the Masoretic Text, the Septuagint, and the Samaritan Pentateuch. Miano argues that this archetype was itself composed of two sources, which he reconstructs.

Turning to the period of the monarchy, Miano argues that the original edition of DtrH contained chronological information from two sources, the Judahite and Israelite royal chronicles. These placed events in particular regnal years but did not provide totals for the length of kings' reigns. The total lengths of kings' reigns were then added to DtrH in the exile from another two sources: king lists that contained chronological data independent of the royal chronicles. The incorporation of these various sources of chronological data into DtrH resulted in discrepancies and contradictions, which were smoothed out in various ways in the Masoretic Text and in the Old Greek translation. The chronological data from the king lists are difficult to reconcile with chronological data from Egypt and Mesopotamia, whereas the data from the royal chronicles are compatible with external sources. Those dates therefore appear to quite closely reflect historical reality.

The book has much to commend it. Miano carefully distinguishes between the sources reflected in the biblical text, producing a nuanced picture of ancient attitudes toward time. He likewise differentiates approaches to time in Israel from approaches to time in Judah, and acknowledges the differing perspectives of actors with varying social locations--for example, farmers, members of the royal court, members of the priestly administration, or particular scribal circles. The result is a subtle treatment of the evidence, for which Miano is to be admired. A further strength of the volume is its careful attention to ancient Near Eastern contexts--for example, an Egyptian shadow clock provides a model for Miano's interpretation of Isa. 38:8. His analysis of the chronologies of P and DtrH are rooted in examination of text-critical variants, which are treated with care. Miano has also succeeded in making a technical and abstract subject accessible through a very large number of charts, maps, and illustrations, which greatly aid the reader in following his main theses.

Yet, difficulties remain with the volume. For example, while many scholars assume that Chronicles used the Deuteronomistic History as a source, A. Graeme Auld has for some time championed an alternative proposal: that they both drew on a common source that already contained a narrative of Israel's history from the death of Saul to the destruction of Judah. Chronicles contains far less distinctively Deuteronomistic language than DtrH. Auld's thesis thus has the advantage of providing an elegant explanation of the parallels between Joshua-Kings and Chronicles. Otherwise one would have to assume that the Chronicler carefully isolated and removed distinctly Deuteronomistic material from his source text. Such a hypothesis is difficult to accept, despite the fact that the Chronicler clearly abridged his source material.

Auld's work bears directly on Miano's treatment of the chronologies of DtrH since the chronological information contained in Chronicles provides further evidence for the chronological sources used in DtrH. Comparing the data from Chronicles raises the possibility that one early source a chronological information for this narrative history did not contain the age of Judahite kings at their accession. The history of the incorporation of chronological information into DtrH, in other words, may not have followed the path that Miano suggests.

In this regard, one wishes that the book might have more robustly handled alternative interpretations of the biblical data. Chapters 1 and 2 on chronometry nicely provide parallel lines of evidence for their theses. As a result, even if one is not inclined to accept one or two of the interpretations of biblical texts that Miano offers, the larger conclusions of these chapters remain more or less persuasive. Chapters 3 and 4 on chronology, however, adopt an alternative strategy by building one hypothesis upon another. The result is that if one part of the argument is qualified slightly--for example, by an examination of parallel material in Chronicles--large swaths of the whole argument suffer. One of the strengths of the volume is its precision, but this has become a weakness in chapters 3 and 4, where the data have been subject to three or four successive layers of interpretation, each partly dependent on the preceding hypothetical reconstruction. To my mind, the biblical data do not inspire confidence in such precise extrapolation.

Despite these difficulties, Shadow on the Steps represents a welcome addition to studies on time in the biblical period and is sure to have important implications for anyone interested in the history of Israel and Judah, especially during the monarchic period.


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Author:Russell, Stephen C.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2013
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