Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Rofe on the Composition of Deuteronomy

On the basis of what evidence did W.M.L. de Wette conclude that Deuteronomy was composed in the seventh century? One answer is that de Wette wasn't basing his conclusion on evidence and rational thought; rather he was driven by Romantic notions of authorship and anti-Jewish tendencies to arrive at his invalid conclusions. (See posts and comments here and here for background.) That would be the wrong answer according to Israeli scholar Alexander Rofe.
[T]he law of the unification of the cult, which appears over and over again in D between 11.31 and 31.13, became a tool for dating D and, by extension, for dating all pentateuchal literature. The dating, following the lines proposed by De Wette (1805), is based on the following historical syllogism: (1) of all the books of the Pentateuch, only D commands the unification of the cult; (2) the unification of the cult was carried out only twice, the first time not on the basis of a written law, in the days of Hezekiah, King of Judah (727-698), and the second time on the basis of a book of Torah that was discovered in the temple, in the eighteenth year of Josiah, King of Judah, that is, 622; (3) it follows that the book that was discovered was the D document (or part of that document), and that it was written in the seventh century, between the cult-unification activities of Hezekiah and those of Josiah. Henceforth pentateuchal literature can be dated based on its relationship to D. Documents that are unaware of the unification of the cult must predate the seventh century, and documents that assume the unification of the cult must post-date it, from the time of the exile or the return[.] (p. 4)
Reference: Alexander Rofe, Deuteronomy: Issues and Interpretation, London: T&T Clark Ltd., 2002.


  1. Then there is everything we know about now, of which de Wette could not have had a clue.

    Some of the latest bibliography I'm aware of:

    David P. Wright, “The Laws of Hammurabi as a Source for the Covenant Collection (Exodus 20:23-23:19),” Maarav 10 (2003) 11-87; idem, “The Compositional Logic of the Goring Ox and Negligence Laws in the Covenant Collection (Exodus 21:28-36),” Zeitschrift für Altorientalische und Biblische Rechtsgeschichte 10 (2004) 93-142; idem, “The Laws of Hammurabi and the Covenant Code. A Response to Bruce Wells.” Maarav 13 (2006) 211-60; idem, Inventing God's Law: How the Covenant Code of the Bible Used and Revised the Laws of Hammurabi (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009, forthcoming); Bernard M. Levinson, “Is the Covenant Code an Exilic Composition? A Response to John Van Seters,” in "The Right Chorale": Studies in Biblical Law and Interpretation (FAT 54; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008), 276-330; a revised and updated version of “Is the Covenant Code an Exilic Composition? A Response to John Van Seters,” in In Search of Pre-Exilic Israel (John Day, ed.; JSOTS 406; Proceedings of the Oxford Old Testament Seminar; London: T. & T. Clark 2004) 272-325; Israel Knohl, A Sanctuary of Silence: The Priestly Torah and the Holiness School (E. Feldman and P. Rodman, trans.; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995); Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16 (AB 3; New York: Doubleday, 1991); idem, Leviticus 12-22 (AB 3A; New York: Doubleday, 2000); idem, Leviticus 23-27 (AB 3B; New York: Doubleday, 2000); Baruch J. Schwartz, “Leviticus,” in The Jewish Study Bible (Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, ed.; New York: Oxford University Press, 2004) 203–280; Jeffrey Stackert, Rewriting the Torah: Literary Revision in Deuteronomy and the Holiness Legislation (FAT 52; Mohr Siebeck, 2007); Jacob Milgrom, Numbers (JPSTC; Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1990); Bernard Levinson, Deuteronomy and the Hermeneutics of Legal Innovation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); idem, “Deuteronomy.” in The Jewish Study Bible (Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, ed.; New York: Oxford University Press, 2003) 356–450; idem, “The Neo-Assyrian Origins of the Canon Formula in Deuteronomy 13:1,” in Scriptural Exegesis: The Shapes of Culture and the Religious Imagination (Essays in Honour of Michael Fishbane; Deborah A. Green and Laura Lieber, ed.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009) 25-45.

  2. so the question is, does Kevin a) not know about all of this evidence OR b) not accept it since it is a product of the biblical criticism which he believes to be inherently unsound? Perseverance in spite of the evidence is familiar terrain for proponents of fringe theories.

  3. Kevin studied with Jacob Milgrom, I believe. We'll see how and in what fashion he distances himself from his teacher.

  4. I can't seem to trackback/pingback from WordPress. Here's a link to my late-to-the-party reflections. Summary: Really excellent conversation.

  5. Of course I'm aware of the literature on the matter. Do you think I've not read anything over the course of 23 years?

    Ther is a problem with Rofe's circularity here. Particularity of the cult belonging solely to D is true only when you adhere to the existence of a D, which depends precisely upon the dialectic developed from and after de Wette and Wellhausen. When you have that convenient bit of source critical fiction in place, then you can determine that any source mentioning it belongs to the time and place of D. Presto! D supports de Wette! Particularity exists from the end of Exodus, throughout Leviticus and Numbers (one tabernacle, one cult).

    John, it is good for you to believe that I studied with Jacob Milgrom, because it is true. You yourself might want to study his Leviticus commentary and see how that fits with the consensus on dating P and H. One hint: it doesn't.

  6. I'd be impressed if you'd read everything from John's above biblio comment, Kevin. Some of it's quite recent.

    I'm just glad to know you studied with a quality scholar like Milgrom. Was that Masters work? PhD? Just curious.

  7. Kevin,

    I have read a great portion of Jacob Milgrom’s production. I continue to learn from his scholarship. Milgrom upholds the consensus view and is an effective interpreter of it. He has tweaked the consensus view without overturning in the least.

    Since you deny the fact that Milgrom is a consensus scholar, I will document it from his own writings.

    Milgrom argues throughout his commentary that P Torah (PT) preceded H legislation and that D knew and modified both PT and H. He is very clear that the Holiness document (H) is to be dated the late 8th cent. BCE. I point the reader, first of all, to his discussion of slave laws, 2254-57, in Volume 3 of his AB commentary, and then, to his concluding remarks on 2364-65, with references there to full discussions).

    The conclusion is indisputable: Milgrom backs the same date for D that De Wette suggested: the 7th cent. BCE. For the sake of emphasis, let me repeat, Milgrom and De Wette are not far apart, perhaps a decade or two, in their dating of D.

    Milgrom is also careful to identify an *exilic* stratum in H, and H interpolations in P.

    In all of this, Milgrom’s style of reasoning is consistent with that of all other consensus scholars, though of course consensus scholars differ among themselves about exactly which portions of the Pentateuch are to be dated to and reflect the concerns and milieu of the 8th, 7th, 6th, and 5th centuries BCE, respectively.

    Milgrom is in fact an exemplary historical-critical scholar. At the same time, he has apologetic tendencies, as has often been noted, but these are minor blemishes in a work that towers in importance.

    Note that Milgrom dates PT to the *8th cent. BCE,* not earlier. He makes a persuasive argument that PT’s origins go back to the Shiloh temple but, as it stands now, he is equally persuasive that PT reflects both the precentralized Hezekian temple and the earlier regional temple at Shiloh (page 34 in the first volume of his AB commentary).

    Kevin, if what you plan to do is argue on behalf of Knohl's theses as adopted and modified by Milgrom and many others, your introduction is misleading.

    If instead you plan to suggest that Knohl and Milgrom have missed the boat no less than other consensus scholars, that’s fine with me, but then it is misleading on your part to suggest that you stand with your teacher. You don’t.

  8. And what part of my "see how that fits with the consensus on dating P and H" did you not understand?

    If you're going to approach any of this seriously, I expect you to read what I wrote and comment on that, not on your own eisegesis.

  9. Kevin, I'm going to hazard a guess that your comment was directed at John, right? Maybe this is where threaded comments like Wordpress has would be helpful.

    Either way, is it helpful to be so dismissive of John's detailed comments? As far I can tell it was relevant to the discussion. I think John's point is that the early P, late P discussion is irrelevant for dating D because both sides put it in the same place, more or less.

    Now if you take late P as being the consensus position and that's what you mean when you say Milgrom doesn't follow consensus, I can see that. I'm actually interested in learning more about earlier dating for P and H.

  10. Sorry, Kevin.

    I really thought you were challenging De Wette's dating of D.

    It now sounds as if you accept it within a couple of decades or so, as does Milgrom. You only wish to challenge the post-dating of P and H with respect to D.

    If that is the case, I think you could have expressed yourself more clearly in your post. I don't think I can be blamed for thinking that you wanted to toss out what is considered by virtually everyone to be the linchpin in the whole debate: a 7th century date for D.

    Knohl and Milgrom's research, not to mention the research in other areas by Weinfeld, Levinson and others, make a 7th century date for D more plausible, not less, than it ever was in De Wette's day.


    I hope you take a close look at a couple of examples in which Milgrom takes a passage through its paces (the slave laws are an example) and explains why P-H-D makes for a plausible sequence. I remember doing so in preparation for prelims and passing them all the first time around. *Smile.*

    I am not as confident as Milgrom is that H precedes D. They seem coeval to me, alternatives within the selfsame time period of the 7th and 6th centuries, with due allowance made for later retouching.