Review Article: “The Meaning of the Pentateuch” by John H. Sailhamer (Pt.2)

This continues my review of John Sailhamer’s important book.  Time restraints mean I shall need at least one further post to finish the full review.  Please bear with me.  Part One of the review is here: link

Part Two continued…

Sailhamer sees the four main poems of the Pentateuch as strong indicators of the fact that the author has not abandoned the messianic hope of Genesis 3:15 or the covenant with Abraham.  He teases out several examples of constructive uses of these to signify “the prophetic hope of the new covenant” (as he says on 603).  Thus, he insists that while the law fills the greater part of the Pentateuch, there are clues which lead us to see the wider expectation of God’s faithfulness more congruous with the Abrahamic promises than the Mosaic codes.

He is also sure that rather than reading the OT in light of the NT it is wiser to study how the OT itself, as the Bible of the Apostles, uses the OT.  So he is insistent that, “The Old Testament has its own messianic light” (238).  And in the interplay between the Testaments, he goes so far as to assert;

Not only does the NT casts its messianic light back on to the OT, but also the light of the OT also shines onto the NT. (247)

What this logically entails is a hermeneutical continuity between both Testaments; the sort of continuity which can only be insured if neither Testament is granted interpretive priority over the other.  He continues,

The books of the OT were written as the embodiment of a real, messianic hope – a hope in a future redemption and a promised redeemer.  This was not an afterthought in the HB.  It was not the work of final redactors.  The central purpose of the books of the HB from the outset was to serve as the expression of the deep-seated messianic hope of a small group of faithful prophets and their biblically alert followers.” (Ibid).

Therefore the authors were theologically; we could say messianically driven.  They recorded real happenings, but they did so with an eye upon the greater theological purpose.  As the OT Canon came to a close, this messianic purpose was made more explicit (246).  Also, priests like Ezra may well have had a hand in the “final form” of the Pentateuch (292-297).

The rest of Part Two details the “compositional strategy” of the Pentateuch.  One major topic treated in this section is his understanding of the aggregation of the Law codes in the Pentateuch.  He refers to Cocceius’ view (353-354 – Though these pages have been duplicated from 41f) that the more detailed ceremonial cultus and restrictions were introduced after the episode with the golden calf (361-362).  Thus,

The author wants…to show that Israel’s relationship with God, established in no uncertain terms at Sinai, almost immediately began to undergo important changes, due principally to Israel’s repeated failure to obey God.  What began as a covenant between God and Israel, fashioned after that of the Patriarchs (the Decalogue and the Covenant Code), had quickly become an increasingly complex set of restrictions and laws primarily aimed at the priesthood (the Priestly Code). (363)

This is then linked with composition patterns that the author finds in the rest of the Pentateuch (see esp. Sailhamer’s summary on 414-415!).  Of special interest is the discussion of the deliberate shaping of the direction of the Decalogue section (386ff.).  Sailhamer thinks the failure of the people to come up the mountain when they heard the sound of the horn after three days was of great significance (393).  In working through the text of Exodus 18 through 20 he raises and addresses many questions. I cannot mention them all in this review, but this excerpt from his short “Excursus on  the Interpretation of Jeremiah 11:6-8” will illustrate the kind of fascinating avenues Sailhamer goes down:

As suggested already in Exodus 19:1-9, originally there were no stipulations or collections of laws associated with the covenant.  It was cast as a continuation of the Abrahamic covenant, which also had no laws, but rather was based on the call to faith, as Exodus 19:9 (ya aminu) clearly states.  Then the people disobeyed God, and God brought stipulations/laws upon them to govern their relationship within the covenant.  Law was given not as a punishment, but as a way to curb Israel’s disobedience and lead them in following God’s will.” (409-410).

Sailhamer spends many pages proving this and trying to tie it all together, and the discussion demands a high order of concentration from the reader.  Does he read too much into the text?  Some readers may think so.  But he does not waste our time, and his conclusions are quite compelling.  I for one will be re-reading (again) this argument with Bible in hand in the near future.

This does not mean that all will be comfortable with Sailhamer’s correction of the MT with the LXX version(s) to make this point (e.g. 244-245).  But he notes further on how the MSS laying behind the LXX (Vorlage) and those of the Masoretic Texts show the influence of both preservation and interpretation within respective communities.

Part Three here!


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