BR 9:06, Dec 1993
How the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament Differ
An interview with David Noel FreedmanPart I
Ours is an age of increasing specialization, especially in biblical studies. Scholars today frequently restrict themselves to a single text (or portion of a text!), or to the history of a particular place during a narrow period of time. In refreshing contrast to this ever more frequent practice stands the towering example of David Noel Freedman. Freedman is one of the last of the great Bible generalists. The entire Bible and all of archaeology is his domain. He is General Editor of the now-55 volumes in the Anchor Bible Series. He edits the Anchor Bible Reference Library, which consists of volumes on broad themes beyond the confines of individual biblical books. He is General Editor of the new Anchor Bible Dictionary, the six-volume work that has immediately taken its place as one of the standard reference works in the field. He has served as editor of Biblical Archaeologist and of the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. And he has himself written numerous Bible commentaries, books and articles.
Freedman recently spoke with BR editor Hershel Shanks. The first part of their conversation appears here; part two will appear in our next issue. In this portion, Freedman reminisces about his colorful family history and his conversion to Christianity before turning to one of his primary concerns as a scholar: the overall organization of the Hebrew Bible. Freedman outlines his thoughts on howand whenthe Hebrew scriptures came to take the shape they did. In the next installment, he provides further details on that organization and then carries his analysis, published here for the first time, to the New Testament.
Hershel Shanks: Noel, you have an unusual background that might give you a unique perspective on Christianity and Judaism, seeing both of these two great religions from the inside. Your grandfather was a Yiddish journalist, wasnt he?
David Noel Freedman: Yes, for the Jewish Daily Forward in New York City.
HS: Where did he come from?
DNF: Romania, a place called Botoshani, around 1900. My father was also born in Romania but he was brought to this country as an infant.
HS: Your father was a secular Jew?
DNF: That would be a good description.
HS: He wrote for the Broadway stage, didnt he?
DNF: He was a humorist and wrote for stage, screen andthe new medium at that timeradio.
HS: He was a writer for some of the great comedians, wasnt he?
DNF: Eddie Cantor especially, but also many others.
HS: So you come from New York?
DNF: I was born and raised in New York City.
HS: Ive heard a story about your father employing the young Herman Wouk.
DNF: Thats right. It was kind of a joke that we used to say that Hermans first job out of college was working for my father and my first job out of college was working for his father.
My father had a joke factory. He had to create radio programs, at the rate of as many as six a week. He employed a number of assistants: two of them, toward the end, were Arnold Auerbach and Herman Wouk. Arnold and Herman had written two Columbia University varsity shows together, so they came prepared. The joke factory supplied materials not only for radio programs but also for a variety of stage and screen shows, for many actors and actresses. After working for my father, Arnold and Herman were hired as writers by Fred Allen, a great comedian. Arnold Auerbach then wrote several Broadway shows on his own. Herman of course later became a famous novelist.a
HS: Was your father connected with Broadway?
DNF: Yes, he wrote for the stage and screen as well as radio. In his twenties, my father had a successful comedy on Broadway called Mendel, Inc. That comedy was based on short stones he wrote for Pictorial Review, which were later collected in a book called Mendel Marantz. That established my father as a humorist. On the basis of the book, he began to work for Eddie Cantor. My father actually wrote Eddies autobiography, My Life Is in Your Hands, a very successful book in the late 1920s.
Much earlier my father and Irving Caesar, the well-known songwriter, wrote a musical comedy for Florenz Ziegfeld called Betsy. It was a real turkey, as they say. [Laughter] I remember seeing it at the age of four. I must have been one of the very few New Yorkers who did see it. It closed and there were all kinds of recriminations.
Later, my father had a number of very successful runsthe Ziegfeld Follies of 1933 starred Fanny Brice, and a new version with the same stars came out in 1936. Fanny Brice, Bert Lahr and Beatrice Lillie all starred in these shows. There was one called Life Begins at 8:40, another called The Show Is On. For several years, just before he died, my father worked on a string of extremely successful musical reviews. He was the principal writer of the sketches. These shows did not have the continuity of later musicals like Oklahoma. They had separate sketches, musical numbers and all kinds of things, starring different people.
HS: I understand that in one of Herman Wouks novels, your father appears as a fictional character.
DNF: Thats correct. Hermans most recent novel, called Inside, Outside, is largely autobiographical. The leading character is Herman himself, but with a nom de plume. The same with my father. He is called Goldhandler in the book. A large part of the book is devoted to Hermans experience in the joke factory. Its a very lively and generally accurate account of what went on. My father worked at home in a three-story penthouse on the upper West Side, Central Park West. The top floor was an office; the boys would come over for supper and then work would begin.
At its peak, there were five or six fellows like Herman. Churning out these scripts was a major undertaking.
The comedians they wrote for all came from the vaudeville circuit and they had routines that, with minor changes, they could use for 20 years. Radio wiped all that out in one week! [Laughter] So each of these vaudeville comedians came to depend on someone to provide new material. This included comedians like Jack Benny, Fred Allen (who wrote his own material, but also needed help), Eddie Cantor and Fannie Brice. My fatherand a few otherswere able to reprocess, recycle this stuff, and produce new programs week after week. Eddie Cantor became the biggest thing in radio comedy, first on the Chase and Sanborn program and later with other sponsors. Jack Benny was sponsored by Jello.
HS: (sings) I love to spend each Sunday with you. As friend to friend, Im sorry its through.
DNF: Sunday at 8. And a full hour. You wouldnt believe the incredible pressureto turn out these programs week after week. (Herman describes all this in his book.) Thats why my father preferred Broadway; the skits could be repeated for six months or a year.
Hermans father was president and chief stock-holder of the Fox Square Laundry, in the Bronx. After college, I worked there as his private secretary for three months. That is all I could take.
HS: This early comedy had a particularly Jewish context, didnt it?
DNF: Very much so.
HS: You are the grandson of a Yiddish journalist and the son of a Jewish comedy writer who wrote humor with a largely Jewish context. What was your religious upbringing?
DNF: The truth is there was none. Both my father and mother had abandoned their religious traditions. We grew up like hundreds of thousands of other Jews in New York City without any religious connection.
HS: Did you feel a strong ethnic connection?
DNF: I was aware of being Jewish, but we didnt belong to any kind of Jewish community group or anything like that. It was largely atomisticthe family was very important, as were the institutions we attended (the schools primarily). Mostly I went to public schools. For a while, I went to Bentley School, where French was the only language used.
HS: Did you have a sender in your home on Passover?
DNF: Not in our home. Once in a while we attended a seder. We used to go up to the Catskills for vacations. Grossingers was the major hotel, but we always went to a rival called the Flagler. I remember a Passover or two up there during spring vacation.
HS: Did you go to synagogue on the high holy days in the fall?
HS: I take it you did not have a bar mitzvah.
HS: At one point you converted to Christianity. Can you tell me how that happened?
DNF: Its a rather complicated story, and there are some things Id prefer not to discuss.
HS: Is there anything that youd be willing to tell me about?
DNF: I think Id rather leave that.
HS: What denomination did you become?
HS: Did you teach at a Presbyterian seminary?
DNF: Yes, in two of them, for many years.
HS: What were they?
DNF: Western Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, which later merged with another school to form what is now called Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. And the other was the San Francisco Theological Seminary.
HS: Did you hold positions in the church?
DNF: I was ordained as a minister. I served as a temporary pastor in various churches, but never as a permanent pastor. My career in the church has almost exclusively been as a teacher.
HS: Are you still active in the church?
DNF: No. I retired in 1984.
HS: Did your family also convert? your brothers and sisters?
DNF: No, none of my relatives.
HS: As you probably know, among your colleagues and friends you are thought of as both Jewish and Christian.
DNF: Right. Ive never made a special issue about that. I have never been observant but, if I understand correctly, the basic definition of a Jew is that your mother is Jewish. Thats certainly true in my case. I have never renounced Judaism, but if its automatic that when you profess Christianity youre no longer a Jew, then Im no longer Jewish. But my own attitude is that you can be Jewish and Christian at the same time.
HS: You have spent your life in Hebrew Bible scholarship.
HS: Thats essentially a Jewish document.
DNF: Its also a Christian document.
DNF: Which is really why I picked that, because it allows me to satisfy my own concern about my identity. If I stick to the Hebrew Bible, I can be both.
HS: You obviously study these texts from a dual perspective, from a Jewish perspective and from a Christian perspective. Are there differences in these perspectives?
DNF: Oh, a dramatic difference. It has taken me a long time to realize that there is such a difference. But there is also a basic scholarly approach to the Hebrew Bible that is neither Christian nor Jewish, where theres a kind of common denominator, where people with different persuasions, different commitments can meet.
HS: Can you give us an example of the different perspectives?
DNF: Yes. The use made of the Hebrew Bible in the New Testament pretty much determines the Christian approach to the Old Testament. In the New Testament, the Hebrew Bible is regarded as a book of prophecy and predictionthe view that many Old Testament predictions are fulfilled and realized in the New Testament.
The writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls also used the Hebrew Bible as a collection of predictions and prophecies that find fulfillment in their own experience, according to their understanding. For example, take the Dead Sea Scroll known as the Commentary on Habakkuk, or Habakkuk pesher. The Book of Habakkuk itself is about the Chaldeans (the neo-Babylonians) who conquered the world. The prophet has a lot of things to say about them. Well, what does that mean to people 400 or 500 years later, when the Chaldeans have vanished from history? The Dead Sea Scroll people use a neat little device in the Commentary on Habakkuk and elsewhere: They assume the prophets themselves werent entirely aware of what their words meant. But thanks to the inspired interpreter, the Teacher of Righteousness, their leader, they could now understand the real meaning of the prophets words, which are, after all, the words of God. For the Dead Sea Scroll people, Habakkuk is really about the Kittim, not the Chaldeans. Its like the joke [William F.] Albright used to tell about what Moses and Middlebury had in common. Well, you take off oses and add iddlebury and theyre the same. [Laughter] Thats exactly what these [Dead Sea Scroll] people were doing, Theyre simply replacing the Chaldeans with the Kittim.
HS: Who were the Kittim?
DNF: A code name either for the Seleucid Greeks in Syria or the Ptolemaic Greeks in Egypt or possibly the Romans. They are the contemporary conquerors and invaders.
The device is easy to see: Since the Dead Sea Scroll people didnt have a prophet of their own, the next best thing was to have an inspired interpreter. They used prophecy that everybody accepted as authoritative and adapted it. No problem with this, except that according to these people theirs is the only, the real, interpretation. This isnt just homiletics. This describes a convergence of all the events recounted in the prophets of the past about this present eschatological moment, when everythings going to change.
As an academic exercise, thats very interesting and challenging. No problem. A few years pass, however, and that interpretation becomes obsolete, so you make another adjustment, with a different interpretation. And ultimately you give up the whole thing because the prophecy is equally applicable to this period, to that period, to another period, or inapplicable to any of them, because what the prophet says just doesnt happen. Then you banish the prophecy to a distant future.
But when you say, This is the only way, this is the real meaning and any other interpretation is invalid, then youre creating a problem.
When this happens, I think you have to go with the text, not with the commentary. You have to understand the text in its own historical setting, just as any scholar would do with any piece of literature.
HS: Is this the same thing that was going on in Christian texts?
DNF: Indeed, it is. One of the most famous, or infamous, passages [in the King James Version] is the passage in Isaiah 7:14: A virgin shall conceive and bear a child. The Gospel of Matthew [1:1823] makes this explicit, that the prophet is talking about the birth of Jesus Christ. If you read Isaiah 7:14 in Hebrew, however, theres a problem about the meaning of the Hebrew word almah. Does it mean young girl or virgin? In the Greek Septuagint it is translated parthenos, which is virgin. Matthew was apparently relying on the Septuagint, which may have mistranslated almah. Thats one problem. In addition, the context of Isaiah 7:14 makes it clear that the prophet is talking about his own day, something thats going to happen within a very few years and that, in fact, has already happened, so the prophecy was fulfilled. What does that have to do with Jesus Christ 700 years later? Well, thats the Christian perspective, the New Testament perspective. These people are convinced that Jesus is the messiah and therefore they comb the Old Testament for prophecies and anything that pertains or seems to pertain to this belief or illustrates it. And this is all brought into focus by the events surrounding Jesus.
The principle [of interpretation of scripture] is the same as in the Dead Sea Scroll texts. Now obviously Jews dont have the same perspective.
HS: Whats the Jewish perspective?
DNF: Well, that varies. After all, the methods weve just described were invented and practiced by Jews. The idea of using the Hebrew Bible in this way is a Jewish way; its not non-Jewish.
HS: But Jews dont seem to use this method of interpretation.
DNF: Not anymore. They got burned by all this in two ways: One was the final collapse of all of this eschatological, apocalyptic expectation. When the Romans suppressed the Second Jewish Revolt, the Bar-Kokhba Revolt [132135 A.D.], the Jews finally abandoned this expectation of the immediate apocalyptic moment. Some thought that Bar-Kokhba was the messiah. He proved not to be. So the Jews adapted to the situation in other ways. The second factor was the incredible rise of Christianity, which in a way took their [the Jewish] scriptures and turned the Bible against them; I think this cured the Jews of this kind of speculationuntil the Middle Ages when there were other messianic movements and some parts of this got revived again.
HS: What is the alternative Jewish approach to the Hebrew Bible?
DNF: The major concern of traditional Judaism has been the Torah and halakhah [Jewish religious law]. In other words, how to interpret and understand the teachings and the rules of the Bible so that people can practice them. This is an entirely different orientation.
As you know, the Bible itself is not always clear or entirely consistent. The Bible can seem to say one thing at one place and something different at another. So how do you actually practice what it teaches? Answering that is almost the whole history of rabbinic interpretation.
There is much more flexibility in Jewish interpretations of prophecy and predictions [than in the legal sections of the Hebrew Bible] because these things arent decided in a legal way. Youre not determining practice.
Of course theres a great variety between Orthodox Judaism and Reform Judaism.
But my concern is entirely with scholarship. Im concerned with the underlying requirements of scholarship. You have to be faithful and true to questions of language, grammar, vocabulary and you have to deal with historical and other contexts and simply try to recover the meaning of the original. This is a common endeavor everybody can get into, but they have to leave some of these prior convictions and commitments outside.
HS: I was going to ask you about these prior convictions. Does your interpretation of the Christian approach to the Old Testament imply a literal belief in the Gospels, for example, that interpret the Hebrew Bible in this predictive stance?
DNF: There are at least two separate questions here. One is the way in which the Old Testament is used. And certainly we can describe that.
HS: You did a moment ago.
DNF: This has little or nothing to do with real history or the intention of the prophet. On the other hand, the Gospels constitute a narrative and they are subject, just like the narratives of the Old Testament, to questions of historicity and evidence and reasonability. Its really the same.
I dont believe that the Old Testament was ever meant to support the narrative in the Gospels. The conviction about Jesus messiahship and resurrection had very little to do with the Old Testament. But once these things became the basis of Christian profession, then the Old Testament was used to demonstrate or to enhance belief. When it comes to the historical question about the Gospels, I adopt a mediating positionthat is, these are reliable records, close to the sources, but they are not in accordance with modern historiographic requirements or professional standards. In all ancient writings, you find elements of naivete or credulity. Even Josephus and classical historians like Herodotus and Eusebius include a lot of material that we cant accept as rigorous historical inquiry.
HS: I take it the biblical text can still be used for inspirational and theological purposes.
DNF: And also for historical purposes. But we have to accept somewhat looser standards. In the legal profession, to convict the defendant of a crime, you need proof beyond a reasonable doubt. In civil cases, a preponderance of the evidence is sufficient. When dealing with the Bible or any ancient source, we have to loosen up a little; otherwise, we cant really say anything.
HS: Your personal background is very secular. How did you become interested in the Bible, in biblical scholarship?
DNF: That relates to my conversion and that arose out of personal experience. My concern at the seminary was to find a way to adjust to this new life. I turned out to be a little more academic than I thought I was. The Bible has a fascination all its own, partly because of its antiquity, but mainly because of its literary character. Catholics, Protestants and Jews, as you know, have different Bibles. The one thing they have in common is the Hebrew Bible. I call it the Common Bible. This Bible thats common to everybody is the foundation. I had a naive notion that the Hebrew Bible could provide a basis for not only dialogue, but also for some kind of reconciliation among religious communities.
The Hebrew Bible is the one artifact from antiquity that not only maintained its integrity but continues to have a vital, powerful effect thousands of years later.
I believe that, in its present form, the Hebrew Bible is a product of a very carefully worked-out plan to achieve symmetry, totality, even perfection. Theres a deliberate effort made to pool together all the heterogeneous elements in the Jewish tradition and make a single whole. This book was intended to reflect what they believed about the perfection of God, more especially about the importance of his word. It was to reflect in written form the activity of God in the world and the link between members committed to this word. Just as God created the universe and rules the universe and directs history through the word spoken, here in the Bible is the word written. Its the equivalent of the word spoken. This makes the Bible something even more special, not just another relic from antiquity. It has a unique quality. My brother, who is a professed atheist, says the Bible is the richest source that he knows for human experience.
HS: This has been an abiding concern of yours, to explore the overarching connections within the entire text of the Hebrew Bible. Your most recent book is called The Unity of the Hebrew Bible.
DNF: Thats correct. Actually I have published another book since then with Sara Mandell, The Relationship between Herodotus History and Primary History.b Its a comparison between the Primary History in the Bible (Genesis through Kings) and Herodotus, who is often called the father of history. We try to show that if theres any priority here, it belongs to the Bible. Moreover, the Primary History in the Bible achieves greater unity, greater focus, is more of a history than Herodotus.
But, to return to the unity of the Hebrew Bible, Ill give you my view on that. It might help first to identify a real chasm between Jewish and Christian belief here. As is well known, the arrangement of the books is very different in Christian Bibles and Hebrew Bibles [see the sidebar to this article]. The Christian order is based on the Old Greek Bible, the Septuagint. Originally, this was a Jewish translation, but all the copies of it that have survivedfrom the fourth century onwere preserved by Christians.
The last section of Christian Bibles, following the order in the Septuagint, contains the literary prophets, ending with the prophet Malachi. The order in the Jewish tradition is different from the order in the Christian tradition. Both begin with what I call the Primary Historythe Pentateuch (the five books of Moses) plus Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings. The Christian tradition varies here only by the insertion of Ruth between Judges and Samuel.
In the Jewish tradition, the Primary History is followed by the literary prophetsthe three major literary prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel) and the Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets. Not so in the Christian tradition. In the Christian tradition, these four books of the literary prophets plus the Book of Daniel are placed at the end. Malachi, the last prophet in the Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets, leads directly into the Gospels, which are supposed to be the fulfillment of these prophecies. For Christians, the Old Testament is a book of prophecy and prediction of the coming of the Messiah that is fulfilled in the New Testament. Basically, with the coming of Jesus Christ the predictive factors in the Old Testament are fulfilled or, if not fulfilled, are largely fulfilled with others yet to come.
Now what is the Jewish view of the Hebrew Bible? From the Jewish perspective, the Bible is divided into two halves. The first half is the story of the fall of Israel (Israel and Judah, after the kingdom divides), how they lost the land, lost their city, lost their Temple, everything. Its the fall of Israel.
HS: Ending with the Babylonian destruction in 586 B.C.E.?
HS: And beginning with creation?
DNF: Right. Thats the Primary Historyfrom creation to the destruction of the Templethe five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomyof course they have different names in Hebrew) plus Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings. Thats the first half. The first half is tragic. If thats all they were interested in, that would be the end. But what the Hebrew Bible is really all aboutin Jewish traditionis how they came back. Thats the last half, the story of the return.
Both parts are equally important. This is really a quasi-legal brief on behalf of Israel and its claim to the land. The contention is that even though the original grant of land to them was conditionalprovisionaland they failed to maintain the conditionsthey didnt fulfill the requirements of the covenant and they lost the landnevertheless, over-riding this historical truth is the original commitment made by God to Abraham in Genesis 15 (and repeated elsewhere to Abraham and his descendants). There its spelled out. God committed himself by oath to give the land to Abraham and his descendants. According to their understanding, even if they deserved to lose it and lost it, they still have this claim because the original commitment was unconditional, irrevocableTo your offspring, I give this land [Genesis 15:18]and theres no way it can be reversed.
HS: And this is the story of the second half of the Hebrew Bible?
DNF: Yes, especially Chronicles. In Jewish Bibles today the last book is Chronicles, after Ezra-Nehemiah. This actually makes no sense, because it is in reverse chronological order. Chronicles begins with creation and takes the story up to a certain point and then Ezra-Nehemiah takes it from there. Nevertheless Chronicles is the last book.
But in the best and oldest copies of the Hebrew Biblethe Aleppo Codex around 900 C.E. and the Leningrad Codex shortly after 1000the arrangement is different. Chronicles appears immediately after the literary prophets, and Ezra-Nehemiah is the last book of the whole Hebrew Bible. This section from Chronicles to Ezra-Nehemiah is known in Jewish tradition as the Writings [Ketuvim]. It is the third major section of the Hebrew Bible. The first is the Torah, the Pentateuch. The second is the Prophets (Neviim), which in Jewish tradition includes the Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings) and the Latter Prophets (the four books of literary prophets). In the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex, the Writings begin with Chronicles and end with Ezra-Nehemiah. These two historical narratives (Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah) form an envelope around the Writings, what we call an inclusio.
Chronicles begins with the word Adam. This is clearly an echo of Genesis, obviously recapitulating the whole story. But this time it is the story, not only of how they lost the land, but also how they got it back.
HS: How is that conveyed?
DNF: At the end of the storyEzra-Nehemiahtheyre back in the land, the Temple has been rebuilt, theyve reoccupied Jerusalem and Nehemiah has put in the last piece of the puzzlethe walls. Jerusalem is once again a walled city. This has great significance; her integrity has been restored.
The only thing missing is that theyre not entirely free; they dont have their own king. But thats for the future. Because this is history and not fiction, it cant be a complete circle, because that isnt the way things really happened. Thats going to happen later, however. Thats the reason the Book of Daniel was added, to bring the story up to date 250 years later. The Book of Daniel is the odd man out.
But the point is that the Hebrew Bible in its totality is a quasi-legal brief for Israels right to be on that land. The whole story is how it was promised by divine grant, how they occupied it, how they lost it and how they got it back. And finally, there is a messianic future. That remains yet to be fulfilled.
The literary prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets) form a kind of connecting link between the Primary History, which Ive already described, and the Writings. The literary prophets are called the Latter Prophets in Jewish tradition, as opposed to the Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings), which form part of the Primary History. The Primary History ends when they lose the land and they are carried into captivity. The Latter Prophets overlap with this story. They start before the end of that story but go beyond it, with the return and the imminent rededication of the Temple at the end of First Zechariah (chapters 18).c In other words, that gives us the transition. And then the Writings are a heterogeneous collection, enclosed in an envelope, with Chronicles at the beginning and Ezra-Nehemiah at the very end, tying the whole thing together within this context of the promise of the land, the occupation of the land and then the loss and the resettlement.
HS: How do you account for the fact that in Jewish tradition you have the Former Prophets and the Latter Prophets? In your division, you put the Former Prophets with your Primary History.
DNF: There is a symmetry here, a bilateral symmetry that we see again and again. There are four Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings are each regarded as single books in Jewish tradition.) Ruth is not in the former prophets but in the Writings, where it is grouped with the four other Megillot [Scrolls: Song of Songs, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther]. And there are four Latter Prophets (the literary prophetsIsaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Book of the Twelve). The Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets is always one book. Thats an artificial way to establish symmetry.
I divide it somewhat differently. I believe that the Primary History was one unit and that the Torah was then separated from the Primary History.
HS: The Torah being the five books of Moses?
DNF: Right. Normal scholarship holds that the Torah came first and the Former Prophets were added to make the Primary History. I think the Torah was extracted from the whole Primary History for a reasonto create a legal constitution, a document that would be the law of the land. The Primary History is a story. The Torah is intended to be a law. In fact, neither quite fills the bill because the Primary History has a great deal of legislation in it. The Torah is laws, but it has the Book of Genesis, which isnt law. Most scholars agree that Deuteronomy goes with the Former Prophets to form the Deuteronomic History. Deuteronomy is really the introduction to the Deuteronomic History.
The only analysis that makes literary sense is that the entire Primary History is a unit. Any other division produces anomalies. For example, if you divide the first four booksGenesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, the so-called Tetrateuchfrom Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic History, youre in trouble because you end up at the end of Numbers where youre not supposed to be, in Transjordan. The Israelites havent made it to the Promised Land, the land promised in Genesis. Youre stopping in the middle because the fulfillment of Genesis, with all its promises, can only come in Joshua. It doesnt come in Numbers or Deuteronomy.
HS: Is that why the Samaritan canon includes Joshua and thats all?
DNF: Well, thats yet another story. In classical critical analysis we talk about the Hexateuchthe Pentateuch plus Joshua.
HS: In Joshua they take possession of the land?
DNF Yes. The west bank of the Jordan, not the east bank, because the west bank is what was promised to Abraham. The conquest of the east bank, which is in Numbers, is more or less an accident. So, that cant be the literary connection.
HS: According to common scholarly belief, the Pentateuch was canonized by Ezra and Nehemiah, or in that period when they from the Exile.
HS: But you are saying that they canonized more than that, that they canonized the entire Primary History?
DNF: More than that, the whole Bible.
HS: So it all must have been written by then.
DNF: Yes, I think it was, all except Daniel. The way I see it is this: Ezra is the one who establishes the authority of the law in the restored community, We are told this quite dramatically; in our last image of Ezra, in Nehemiah 8:13, he is reading from the Torah to the people. I believe Ezra is responsible for the formation of the Torah out of the Primary History, which already existed. Thats how the division after Deuteronomy occurred. Practically all the laws are contained in the first five books, and the law is what Ezra is trying to get the people to commit themselves to do, to live by the words of this document.
Then I believe Ezra wrote his own memoirs (the Book of Ezra) and died. The overall work, however, was done by Nehemiah; he has the last word in the Hebrew Bible. And what is it? Remember me, oh my God, for good. Nehemiah is like King James; hes the executive (i.e., the Governor) who sponsored this. He put up the money, and hes unhappy because he didnt get enough credit, His book is about putting everything together. The words with which the Hebrew Bible (that is, Nehemiah) ends are Zochrah li Elohay l-tovah Remember me, oh my God, for good. The two key words are Elohay, simply a form of ElohimGod, and tovah, the feminine form of tovgood. The dominant words in the first chapter of Genesis are Elohim and tov, God and good. After every days work, God says, Its good. I think in Nehemiah, which according to the most reliable witnesses (the Aleppo and Leningrad codices) ends the Hebrew Bible, we have an echo of the very beginning of the Hebrew Bible. The word Elohim is repeated, while the pair tov and tovah form a merismus or totality. Its as if to say at the very end, very deliberately, Now we are done.
HS: When Ezra-Nehemiah put the whole thing to-gether (except for Daniel), was the Primary History already in existence?
HS: When was that done?
DNF: Well, my answer is based on the axiom, the simpler the better. When dose the Primary History end? It ends with the Exile, following the Babylonian destruction in 586 B.C.E. Theres no hint in the entire Primary History of the actual return from Exile.
HS: You think the Primary History was put together somewhere in Babylonia during the Exile?
DNF: Definitely. What else did they have to do? And the two people who could produce an authoritative work like thatthe king and the high priestwere both in exile in Babylon. They could give it the imprimatur, the stamp of authority, the prestige that are required.
I think thats what happened, because if they had the faintest notion of what was going to happen 20 years later (the return from Exile), it would have been included, just as the Chronicler includes it. For the biblical people, the return was the most important event after the destruction. I think the Primary History was written in anticipation of the return from Exile, but before it happened. The Persian king Cyrus, who conquered the Babylonians, issued an edict allowing the Jews to return to their land. No-body predicted that. Afterward, they all claimed to have, but we know it was a total surprise.
In Part II of this interview, David Noel Freedman will examine the structure of the New Testament.
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Ancient Board Games February 11, 2013
The Nubian Pyramids of Sedeinga February 08, 2013
The Last Days of Hattusa February 08, 2013
Who Were the Essenes? February 07, 2013
Charles Fellows in Aphrodisias February 05, 2013
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More on the Mosaics December 12, 2012
Critical Biblical Scholarship—A Response October 10, 2012
BAR Authors Respond to Readers’ Letters October 10, 2012
Three Takes on the Oldest Hebrew Inscription August 08, 2012
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James, Brother of Jesus: The Forgery Trial of the Century
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