Higher Criticism—Higher Anti-Semitism

Below is the full text of Solomon Schechter’s address, “Higher Criticism—Higher Anti-Semitism”, delivered at the Judaean Banquet, given in honor of Dr. Kaufman Kohler, March 26, 1903. The text is from Seminary Address and Other Papers (Cincinnati: Ark Publishing, 1915), 35-39.

My acquaintance with Dr. Kohler dates from the year 1901, when he did me the honor of paying me a visit at Cambridge, England. There is no scarcity in that ancient seat of learning, “full of sages and scribes,” of learned conversation. But the day with Dr. Kohler was one of the most delightful I have ever experienced in that place. The day was spent in roaming over the contents of the Genizah and in conversation. Our thoughts were turned to Judaism and the subjects which occupied our minds were all of a theological or historical nature. We probably differed in a good many points, and please God we shall differ in many more—but this did not prevent our short acquaintance from ripening at once into what might approach friendship. I felt that I was in the presence of a scholar and a seeker after truth. His is an intellect devoted entirely to what he considers the truth, and his is a heart deeply affected by every spiritual sensation which is in the air. He also delights to engage in what he considers the “Battles oo the Lord,” and Judaism has need for men of valor.

To speak more clearly: Since the so-called emancipation, the Jews of the civilized world have been lulled into a fancied security which events have not justified. It is true that through the revelation in the Dreyfus case, anti-Semitism of the vulgar sort has become odious, and no lady or gentleman dares now to use the old weapons of the times of Drumont and Stoecker. But the arch-enemy has entered upon a new phase, which Boerne might have called “the philosophic ‘Hep-Hep.’ ” And this is the more dangerous phase because it is of a spiritual kind, and thus means the “excision of the soul,” leaving us no hope for immortality. I remember when I used to come home from the Cheder, bleeding and crying from the wounds inflicted upon me by the Christian boys, my father used to say, “My child, we are in Galuth (exile), and we must submit to God’s will.” And he made me understand that this is only a passing stage in history, as we Jews belong to eternity, when God will comfort His people. Thus the pain was only physical, but my real suffering began later in life, when I emigrated from Roumania to so-called civilized countries and found there what I might call the Higher anti-Semitism, which burns the soul though it leaves the body unhurt. The genesis of this Higher anti-Semitism is partly, though not entirely—for a man like Kuenen belongs to an entirely different class—contemporaneous with the genesis of the so-called Higher criticism of the Bible. Wellhausen’s Prolegomena and History are teeming with aperçes full of venom against Judaism, and you cannot wonder that he was rewarded by one of the highest orders which the Prussian Government had to bestow. Afterwards Harnack entered the arena with his “Wesen des Christenthums,” in which he showed not so much his hatred as his ignorance of Judaism. But this Higher anti-Semitism has now reached its climax when every discovery of recent years is called to bear witness against us and to accuse us of spiritual larceny.

Continue reading “Higher Criticism—Higher Anti-Semitism”

de Wette, Vatke, and Wellhausen

Key to the formation of the modern academic field of Biblical Studies are the machinations of nineteenth century liberal German Protestants (as I’ve recently touched on in these posts: Roots of Theological Anti-Semitism, Roots of Theological Anti-Semitism: Semler, Pasto, Who Owns the Jewish Past?, De Wette, Devolution, and Deuteronomy, and More of de Wette’s Charm), all of whom were anti-Jewish to a greater or lesser degree, though not full-blown anti-Semites. The latter requires belief in racial theory, which was yet to be developed, in part with support from the various “critical” anti-Jewish writings of these singularly driven men. And they were certainly driven: driven to support their own scholarship and liberal German Protestantism as the highest form of religion the world had yet seen. The respect granted to German scholarship in the nineteenth century by all Europeans was of the highest order, as it embodied the ideals of the Enlightenment, a recent event at that time. This permitted them a greater platform than they would enjoy in the twentieth century. Particularly skillful as a propogandaistic coup was the exclusive appropriation to their work of the terms “criticism” and “critical” — a situation that pertains to this day. The historical-critical method (the term originally invented to describe de Wette’s dialectic of the devolution of Hebraism into Judaism, superseded by Christianity, a revival of Hebraism, and so on, as I described here), a newly-minted approach to the Scriptures, became equated with criticism itself in the 1850s. This meant that other approaches were not referred to as critical, thereby severing the terminology’s usage from its roots in antiquity, particularly the Aristotelian usage, which had prevailed to that time. No longer was critcism the right application of a well-formed mind to decision-making, but something that the academy decided. The distinction is crucial. For it is certainly not the case that the historical-critical method of de Wette can be described as the conclusion of a well-formed mind. It is instead an entirely self-serving, societally and aetically contingent invention, an appropriation of the history of another race for purposes of his (and sympathizers’) own and only of useful application at that moment in time: for the unification of the German lands into a single rebuplican state, a state which would exclude all who would not convert to the above-mentioned highest expression of “the world spirit”: liberal German Protestantism as defined by theology professors (I will not sully “Theologian” with such an association) such as de Wette! This meant that it was preferred that there were no more Jews, and no more Catholics in the new Reich. In what was perceived as a noble gesture, they were welcomed to convert, otherwise they could leave—a familiar scenario for the Jews.

But here I want to focus on something else, which I find perfectly demonstrative of the irrationality lying behind the “criticism” of the day. This is the issue of dating the books of the Pentateuch, and how de Wette and Vatke could come up with such diametrically opposed opinions on the subject, all relying on exactly the same data.

Firstly, de Wette changed his mind on the dating of Deuteronomy. He at first considered it to be a product of the reign of Josiah, the “Book of the Law” described in 2 Kings 22. Later, however, he considered it to be even later, an exilic or post-exilic document written during a time when “Judaism” was in full swing, a time of rigid centralization and conformity to written strictures. This only means that he places the composition further along the course of the devolution of Hebraism into Judaism, in his terminology, which had already begun in pre-exilic times. de Wette leaves the authoring of the first four books of the Pentateuch to an earlier age than that of Deuteronomy, for they reveal (through narrative) a freer society and religion, one not encumbered by rules and regulations, when religion and its expression were rooted in personal piety, not in an external supernaturalism and legislation—the classic Romantic position.

Contrast Vatke. He, reading the very same Deuteronomy, posits it as representing a religion of the heart, not one of the dead letter, and therefore it must precede the legal materials found in the first four books of the Pentateuch. So, Vatke places Deuteronomy first (curiously maintaining a roughly Josianic date, a legacy of de Wettes’ reputation more than critical thought) and all the other legal materials later. It was Vatke’s solution which was generally received, and which was canonized in Wellhausen.

The two are diametrically opposed in their readings. This is not critical thinking. We needn’t go into the issue of assertion in the lack of contextual evidence, or at least not just yet. When de Wette and Vatke were writing, the great archaeological discoveries of writings from the ancient Near East were yet to occur. The languages were yet to be deciphered. Once they were however, and the great Library of Ashurbanipal discovered in 1850 by Austen Henry Layard, there was no excuse for Wellhausen and others to have ignored (as they did) the full panoply of literary texts and their implications. But there is also the question as to whether it would have entered their mind at all to equate such writings of great empires with the writings of a small client kingdom, particularly in light of their view of Jews and Judaism. They either wilfully ignored the contextual evidence, or they considered the Jews to have been incapable of being part of such a widespread literacy themselves. I think it was a little of both. In addition, Wellhausen had an agenda: to establish the liberal German Protestant scholarly trend as the solely acceptable one, in the face of challenges from conservatives. In this, he was successful, subjecting the Bible to a still-ruling hegemony of criticism. But this was and is to the detriment of gaining a true understanding of the writings of the Bible, Old and New Testaments.

Some wisdomly advice

Do not saddle yourself with fools: he is one who does not know them, and a greater, he who knowing them, does not shake them off, for they are dangerous in the daily round, and deadly as confidants, even if at times their cowardice restrains them; or the watchful eye of another; in the end they commit some foolishness, or speak it, which if they tarry over it, is only to make it worse: slight aid to another’s reputation, he who has none himself; they are full of woes, the welts of their follies, and they trade in the one for the other; but this about them is not so bad, that even though the wise are of no service to them, they are of much service to the wise, either as example, or as warning.

Gracian’s Manual § 197.

The Greatest of these is Charity

A moon impoverished amid stars curtailed,
      A sun of its exuberant lustre shorn,
      A transient morning that is scarcely morn,
A lingering night in double dimness veiled.—

Our hands are slackened and our strength has failed;
      We born to darkness, wherefore were we born?
      No ripening more for olive, grape, or corn ;
Faith faints, hope faints, even love himself has paled.

Nay ! love lifts up a face like any rose
      Flushing and sweet above a thorny stem,
Softly protesting that the way he knows;
      And as for faith and hope, will carry them
      Safe to the gate of New Jerusalem,
Where light shines full and where the palm-tree blows.

Christina Georgina Rossetti. Before 1893.

More of de Wette’s charm

Because my last post on de Wette was so interesting to some, I thought I’d post some more of his ideas and comment upon them. The point here is to demonstrate that, if anything, de Wette’s proposals were not critical in the true sense, that is, demonstrative of rational discernment, but are rather the result of deep-seated prejudices which are reflected in all his work, root and branch.

de Wette proposes that Hebraismus, his label for the religion of the Patriarchs and Moses as a discrete entity separate from later manifestations of Israelite religion (which, however, includes the Prophetic strain), becomes the intellectual source of life

from which Christianity, and after the killing of it in Catholicism, true Christian Protestantism has come forth, and with Christianity and Protestantism, the scholarly spirit of the new European culture. (Gerdmar, Roots of Theological Anti-Semitism, 80; quoting de Wette, Biblische Dogmatik, 59-60)

So, we see de Wette equating here “original religion,” Hebraismus, the best of Israelite religion, with earliest Christianity, with Protestantism (the German strain, of course), and European scholarship (again, German, of course). He does not neglect to declare Catholicism “dead,” in the same way that he declares Judaism dead. He describes Judaism elsewhere as “degenerated, petrified Hebraismus” (Gerdmar, 81; quoting de Wette, Biblische Dogmatik, 114). Presumably, Catholicism is thus conceived by de Wette as a degenerate, petrified Christianity. In this sense, he sets up the equation of Judaism (Hebraismus’ degenerate successor) with Catholicism (Christianity’s degenerate successor), and Christianity (Hebraismus’ revival) with Protestantism (Christianity’s revival). Just as dead Judaism was followed by living Christianity, so dead Catholicism is followed by living Protestantism, which finds the flower of its expression in scholarship, namely, de Wette’s own!

We find here not only blatant apologetics, but the classical early Enlightenment attachment to historical cyclicism, a long discarded practice in historiography. There is likewise here a heavy-handed admixture of pure Romanticism: the contrast of the spontaneous, vivacious, ruleless Hebraism, Christianity, and Protestantism (liberal German Protestantism, mind you, not that conservative stuff) in opposition to rote, dead, rule-laden, Judaism and Catholicism. This “freedom is life” and “restriction is death” motif is a core concept of Romanticism, if not the core concept.

This entire dialectic of de Wette’s is, of course, arrant nonsense. The equation of liberal German Protestantism with early Christianity is unbelievably stupid, in addition to being purely offensive. If anything, as we all well know nowadays, and as is described in the writings of the New Testament itself, we should without question equate early Christianity with Judaism. The first generation of Christians were considered Jews by outsiders, whatever distinctions may have been made in Christian and Jewish circles, as seen in Claudius’ expulsion of all Jews from Rome for arguing over Chrestus/Christus (arguments dissociating this from Christian-Jewish controversy are unconvincing). A clear distinction is, however, recognized by late AD 64, with Nero’s specific targeting of Christians and not Jews as culpable for the great fire that had just swept through the city (conveniently clearing a nice swath for the construction of Nero’s Golden House and its grounds). Labelling both Judaism and Catholicism as dead is both thoroughly offensive and entirely stupid, displaying only a colossal ignorance of the spiritual life of these two traditions.

But, after all, de Wette is quite obviously not after truth, but “truthiness.” All this work of his was politically motivated to provide a religio-philosophical justification for republican plans to unite the German-speaking lands into one nation-state, with liberal German Protestantism as the state religion, and liberal German Protestant scholarship as its intellect.

Utilizing the very same early Christian and Jewish sources that de Wette used, we nowadays come to radically different conclusions regarding early Christianity’s makeup. It is likewise obvious to all observers that neither Judaism nor Catholicism is lifeless and moribund. Seeing his success in this aspect of early Christian history, one can summon no confidence in de Wette’s treatment of Israelite history. The only truly rational expectation is to find him treating the evidence selectively in order to establish his point, constructing a case so that the ultimate goal of his dialectic (which is the supremacy of liberal German Protestantism) is established. This requires that he posit the devolution of true religion, Hebraism, into Judaism, false religion. His view of history as cyclical will permit nothing else, for it must match his understanding that the living, true religion of Christianity devolved into the false, dead religion of Catholicism. Then, just as Protestantism revived true religion, so Christianity must have done so. This is exactly what de Wette has done, completing the cycle, and proving, by his extension of this historical dialectic, that liberal German Protestantism is the ultimate of all religious expressions.

And it is this dialectic, this so-called critical ordering of history, that de Wette describes as “historical-critical.” The name has stuck. So it is used and adapted by Wellhausen and later authors. But its origin lies as the label for de Wette’s forcing history into his own mold. It is neither historical, nor critical.

Next up in our tour of liberal Protestant German anti-Jewish scholarship: Julius Wellhausen.

When Constantinople Was Taken

Aaron Taylor recently posted a translation of a Hebrew lament written by Rabbi Michael ben Shabbetai Kohen Balbo of Candia in Crete, dating most likely to early July 1453. The news of the fall of the city arrived in Crete on 29 June 1453, a month after the City fell. I’ve been meaning to post this interesting Hebrew piece, but have been otherwise occupied (gainfully, mind you).

As is immediately obvious to anyone familiar with the Bible, particularly with the Prophets, this text is a florilegium, combining excerpts from various books of the Bible, though mostly from the Prophets. Some of the verbs and pronouns are adapted to this context by the author.

Some readers might be puzzled by the reference to “Bela”, in quotation from 1 Chronicles 1.44. Bela was a king of Edom. The Rabbinic “callsign” for the Roman Empire was “Edom”. The fallen emperor, Constantine XI, is “Bela”, following this reckoning.

The following text, citations (following RSV versification; corrected and added to by myself), and translation are from Excursus D, pages 341-343 of Steven B. Bowman’s highly informative The Jews of Byzantium: 1204-1453 (University of Alabama Press, 1985). I combined the notations and the Hebrew text, separating the latter according to the sources. The notations in Bowman are only in the translation. I include the Bowman translation at the bottom, for comparison with the one posted by Aaron. Neither translation quite captures the pathos of the Hebrew, with its very strong language of lamentation and mourning rooted in Prophetic mourning for the sins and punishment of Israel. The punishment theme is here too, preserved by the author, indicating a punishment of both the Romans and the Israelites in the City: a great and murderous destruction has overtaken them all. Even though it’s at the hand of God, that’s no reason not to be shocked and to mourn! And I think if more people knew what kind of treatment was coming their way for the next several centuries, they might have shared some of the Prophets’ and the good Rabbi’s emotion!

This was a fun (if somewhat gloomy in subject) afternoon project!

Continue reading “When Constantinople Was Taken”

Five Books

Theophrastus has tagged me with a new meme: list at least five books that have influenced your reading of the Bible. They needn’t be restricted to Biblical studies literature, but may include religious works or works of literature.

Hmmm. Where does one begin? Closer to the beginning, I think….

Ancient Egypt
by Lionel Casson and the editors of Time-Life Books (Time-Life Books, 1965)
When I was in second and third grade, I remember going to our elementary school’s library and sitting with this book for what seemed like days. Many years later, I saw this book and a number of others books of the Great Ages of Man series to which it belongs, and promptly purchased them, as a nostalgia fix. This book was the beginning of my fascination with things ancient Near Eastern, and directly responsible for my understanding that the Bible described real places, real times, and real people, and that there were real remnants from that ancient, ancient world that were still present and that we could see and touch, and enjoy for their beauty, and wonder at their splendor. Egypt was both savior and oppressor to the Israelites, and so the connection was direct. Hearing the story of Joseph, or the story of the Exodus, my mind would fly back to the images in this book: of noble Pharaoh Khafre on the cover, with his proud chest and mystical smile, his face upturned slightly, listening to God, I always thought; to wondering at which of the Pharaoh’s crowns he wore when Moses confronted him in the palace; to picturing the beautiful, nimble chariots of the Egyptians racing along, after the poor Israelites all afoot. This book put real images in my head of real things from the ancient world, the first that this happened.

Halley’s Bible Handbook
by Henry H. Halley. Twenty-fourth edition, 1965.
I first read this book when I was 16 or 17. I still find this little book remarkable for the variety of information that Halley managed to cram into its small pages. This truly is a handbook, about 5x7x1.5 inches. As a teenager, I had no idea of all the wealth of information available on the Bible, and all the complexities of discussions going on about it. Halley does quite a good job explaining these, actually. It’s written from what was at the time a not unusual conservative stance. Even when I got it, in 1983, it was not too extraordinarily more conservative than the majority of things being published. Nowadays, it seems much more conservative. That is as much a statement on our times and the state of the resources as it is a statement on my well-kept copy of Halley’s Bible Handbook. One of the fun things about this book is the hand-drawn line maps, which are actually quite good. Another is the selection of photographs, all black and white, many of which are from museums and universities, giving people likely their first glimpse of things like a praying statue of Gudea, or the Stele of Hammurapi. The majority of the photos, however, come from the Matson Photo Archive, the surviving negatives of which were donated to the Library of Congress, and digitized. You may browse and view the Matson Photo Archive pictures starting here. I still enjoy looking through this book now and again, just as I still enjoy looking at the Ancient Egypt book above.

Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament
Third Edition with Supplement, by James B. Pritchard
(Princeton University Press, 1969)
My copies of this book have a history that made Theophrastus laugh. So, first I had the pair of paperbacks of ANET, which provided selected texts and some selected pictures from Pritchard’s Ancient Near East in Pictures. Within a few months, however, I was the happy owner of a full copy of the big third edition with supplement. It was a gift of Isaac Kikawada, who was a lecturer at UC Berkeley at the time and for whom I helped correct papers. He inscribed it “To Kevin. Isaac, 1987. After the Flood!” That was because this book, like many others of his, had been stacked in some part of the first floor of the house somewhere, and a pipe in a washer broke while he was away. My book and undoubtedly many others, were swollen and moldy. “Some gift!,” you might think? What undergrad could afford the full Pritchard? I certainly couldn’t. I was grateful for it. And through judiciously lying the book in the sun open to the most moldy pages, I was able to arrest the mold. It wasn’t until 2001 that I bought my own copy. I ripped Isaac’s little inscription out and pasted it into the new book, with a short explanation of its history. Anyhow, my reading, devouring more like, of Pritchard was probably the most influential set of reading I’ve done effecting my reading of the Bible. Here were the words of other ancients, from the very world of the Bible, rendered into English for us. The superficial parallels (this or that Israelite or Judahite king mentioned) didn’t interest me as much as the rhetorical structure of the writings, and the deeper similarities of worldview perceptible throughout these various writings and the Bible: the great piety and palpable pain, the real human emotion perceptible in the Sumerian Lamentations over the destruction of Sumer and Ur; the braggadocio of the Egyptian and Mesopotamian kings in their campaigns; the very human concerns recorded in the wisdom literature and letters. All of these things made the ancient Near East come alive for me, and the Bible come alive as well. It became to me not just a holy book, as surely it is, but also a writing of human beings from that ancient world, thinking and writing in the same way as their contemporaries, with the same braggadocio, the same emotion, the same prosaic concerns. These days, I would still recommend Pritchard’s ANET (as it is still a standard reference tool) and also recommend William Hallo’s Context of Scripture volumes (the paperbacks are apparently slightly revised; I think the electronic edition is, too; the hardbacks are first-edition only, as far as I know), and the entire SBL series Writings from the Ancient World, the latter of which are much easier to tote around and read under a tree. The Pritchard and Hallo books are huge. All of these books, if read not for quick and superficial parallelomaniac reasons, can aid the user in coming to an appreciation of the Bible as an ancient piece of literature. For the faithful reader, such an appreciation is also beneficial, as one comes to understand the kinds of literature included in the Bible better, and one is able to appreciate the differences from that literature, the strengths and superiorities of the Biblical literature (for some of it is certainly superior), and also the seemingly miraculous preservation of the Bible as the text of a living community of faith, while all those other texts’ civilizations and faiths are gone.

Studies in Cultic Theology and Terminology
by Jacob Milgrom. Studies in Judaism in Late Antiquity 36, series ed. Jacob Neusner. (Brill, 1983).
This was my first taste of a Brill book. Even though it was (and is) a photocopy, I was bowled over by the quality of the information. I think it’s fair to say that no one will understand the sacrificial system as presented in the Hebrew Bible without reading the articles in this collection and internalizing the methodology utilized in them, all of which were written by Jacob Milgrom. (Of course, I would say that, as Milgrom was my Hebrew Professor at Berkeley.) The volume comprises the following:
Introduction: On the Dating of P and Related Cultic Issues
      ANTIQUITY OF P
1. Priestly Terminology and the Political and Social Structure of Pre-Monarchic Israel
2. The Term ʿAbodah
3. The Priestly Doctrine of Repentance
      THE ḤAṬṬĀʾT SACRIFICE
4. Sin-offering or Purification-offering?
5. Two kinds of ḥaṭṭāʾt
6. “Israel’s Sanctuary: The Priestly ‘Picture of Dorian Gray'”
7. The Paradox of the Red Cow (Num. xix)
      OTHER SACRIFICES AND RITUALS
8. A Prolegomenon to Leviticus 17:11
9. The Biblical Diet Laws as an Ethical System
10. Concerning Jeremiah’s Repudiation of Sacrifice
11. The Cultic Šegāgāh and Its Influence in Psalms and Job
      DEDICATORY RITES
12. The Alleged Wave-Offering in Israel and the Ancient Near East
13. Hattĕnûpâ
14. The Šôq hattĕrûmâ: A Chapter in Cultic History
15. Akkadian Confirmation for the Meaning of the Term tĕrûmâ

Milgrom’s method is rigorously philologically driven. It’s all about the usage of the words, because different usage will indicate different meaning, and sometimes this meaning isn’t simply reflective of a broad lexical value for the word or term, but of a real temporal difference. It is only through the most careful and detailed attention to the text as it is that one will truly understand it. This sounds like a self-evident truth, but one would be surprised at the things some people get up to these days. Anyhow, this book transformed the formerly tedious descriptions of sacrifices in the Pentateuch into truly interesting and meaningful passages. And the understanding of the Israelite sanctuary as “The Priestly Picture of Dorian Gray” is truly apt: the sanctuary took on all the sins of the Land, and these were removed from the sanctuary on the Day of Atonement. The sacrificial system can be viewed as a great holiness engine, maintaining a zone of holiness so that God’s Name might dwell amongst the People. Without the properly functioning holiness engine, the Name can no longer remain, for sin encroaches on the Holy Place. So, this book likewise effected a change in my reading of the Prophets (Former and Latter, Major and Minor). The book is unfortunately hard to come by. Every once in a while, I look to find a real copy to replace my photocopy, but I’ve had no luck yet. Someday!

The Religion of Israel: From its Beginnings to the Babylonian Exile
by Yehezkel Kaufmann, translated and abridged by Moshe Greenberg. (Schocken, 1972)
This reminds me to get the full Hebrew edition of this one, which I’ve never actually read fully, and which I remember was positively crammed with notes. Even the abridgment is astounding, however. This is essentially a history of Israel. Hayim Tadmor (z”l) actually assigned this for reading for a year-long class we had in which he covered the history of the Israelite monarchy. This was just when his Anchor Bible volume on II Kings had come out. Like some kind of groupie, I got him to sign my copy. I had just started Akkadian that year, and having a class with Tadmor was like a dream come true, as I got Hebrew (I was in second year Biblical and second year Modern at that point) and Akkadian and history all in one class: what’s not to love? And this was as an undergraduate! [I also had a year with Moshe Weinfeld (z”l) in which he covered Deuteronomy, but that wasn’t as much fun.] The Kaufmann history is solid, by which I mean quite efficiently packed with information, which is perhaps an artifact of the abridgment. There are no lengthy excurses and such in the notes, as there are in the Hebrew edition, for there are no notes. There is nothing controversial about this history, so perhaps this explains why it is generally ignored in discussions these days. But, the thing that should not be ignored is Kaufmann’s keen intellect. It is his commentary on the issues within this history that he’s constructing that is so compelling. His reasoning and argumentation are incisive and flawless. It was with this book, and within that context of Tadmor’s instruction, that I was taught and learned that it is absolutely not unintelligent to read the Bible’s narratives as written and draw history from those pages. Now, although I’ve recently picked up both Ziony Zevit’s relatively new The Religions of Ancient Israel: A Synthesis of Parallactic Approaches and Richard Hess’ Israelite Religions: An Archaeological and Biblical Survey, I haven’t yet read more than the introductions. The Zevit is a magnificent book, a work of truly anthropological value and methodology it seems. It’s very impressive, and already a classic. The Hess is much shorter, and seems to more approximate a kind of new Kaufmann, as it follows in part the Biblical arrangement of historical periods, though not strictly. Now I really want to read Kaufmann again!

Well, I was going to include some more books. But I’ve run out of time!

I don’t pass on memes. I just can’t bring myself to do it, though I’ve tried, and though I do enjoy participating in them. So, the meme stops here unless you, O reader, find yourself, perhaps, on an off chance, as the case may be, meme-amenable, so that you might then take it upon yourself to contribute to this meme which could very well force you to jog down memory lane, and also, I hope, enjoy a dig through dusty bookshelves as well.

Steve Reich: Tehillim

Back in 1984, when I was just out of high school, and two years before I came up to Berkeley to learn Hebrew, I bought Steve Reich’s then-new Tehillim in vinyl, and just today received the CD. The ECM recording, performed by Steve Reich and Musicians, conducted George Manahan, is superior to the Cantaloupe Music recording performed by Alarm Will Sound and Ossia, conducted by Alan Pierson (available in a paired CD with Reich’s Desert Music). One immediately perceptible reason is the vocalists’ vibrato in the latter, which is simply out of place in the stripped-down and intentionally archaizing composition of Reich, which is better reflected in his own performance. The ECM recording is striking; “the other,” as a distinguished friend of mine from Brooklyn would say, “not so much.” As Reich says in the notes:

The non-vibrato, non-operatic vocal production will also remind listeners of Western music prior to 1750. However, the overall sound of Tehillim and in particular the intricately interlocking percussion writing which, together with the text, forms the basis of the entire work, marks this music as unique by introducing a basic musical element that one does not find in earlier Western practice including the music of this century. Tehillim may thus be heard as traditional and new at the same time.

Other listeners will no doubt concur that, ancient as the sung texts are, and as oddly archaic as the instrumentation and performance is, there is something undeniably fresh and vibrantly contemporary in this lively recording.

Reich based the rhythm directly upon the rhythm of the Hebrew words. As the Western Jewish tradition of chanting the cantillation marks in the Psalms has been lost (there is a tradtion preserved among Yemeni Jews), Reich chose the Psalms for his project, feeling free to compose melodies, as he says, “without a living oral tradition to either imitate or ignore.”

This performance is scored for all women’s voices: one high soprano, two lyric sopranos, and one alto. The instrumentation is piccolo, flute, oboe, english horn, two clarinets, six percussion (small tuned tambourines with no jingles, clapping, maracas, marimba, vibraphone, and crotales), two electric organs, two violins, viola, cello, and bass.

The texts included are the following:

Psalm 19.2-5
השׁמים מספרים כבוד־אל ומעשׂה ידיו מגיד הרקיע
יום ליום יביע אמר ולילה ללילה יחוה־דעת
אין־אמר ואין דברים בלי נשׁמע קולם
בכל־הארץ יצא קום ובקצה תבל מליהם

Psalm 34.13-15
מי־האישׁ החפץ חיים אהב ימים לראות טוב
נצר לשׁונך מרע ושׂפתיך מדבר מרמה
סור מרע ועשׂה־טוב בקשׁ שׁלום ורדפהו

Psalm 18.26-27
עם־חסיד תתחסד עם־גבר תמים תתמם
עם־נבר תתברר ועם־עקשׁ תתפתל

Psalm 150.4-6
הללוהו בתף ומחול הללוהו במנים ועוגב
הללוהו בצלצלי־שׁמע הללוהו בצלצלי תרועה
כל הנשׁמה תהלל יה הללו־יה

I guarantee, O gentle reader, that once you have listened to this recording of Reich’s performance, you will always read these texts with his melodies in mind. They are inescapably catchy.

de Wette, Devolution, and Deuteronomy

Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wette (1780-1849) is generally considered the founding father of modern critical Biblical Studies. Specifically, he was the first to develop and apply a philosophically-based method to the Biblical texts, rather than relying upon religiously-influenced or -established commonplaces or traditions. This does not, however, mean that his own method was devoid of religious influence or even connections to political and social issues of his day. In fact, his method is entirely rooted in the worldview of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century German intellectual environment.

The German intellectual scene of de Wette’s time was in lively ferment. Much discussion was taking place regarding the unification of the various German principalities and territories into a single German national state, particularly after the end of the Holy Roman Empire (so-called) and the disturbances caused by Napoleon. To have a single, democratic, liberal, Protestant Christian German state was the thinking (German) person’s ideal. There was, however, a problem with this: the Jews. Living amongst the various German Christians was this group that held to its own culture, its own religion, and was effectively a nation amongst nations. The coming German state, however, was envisioned to be a single cultural entity, a German one at that. There would be no room in the plan for any Jewish “particularists” who will reject the German “universalist” position of the unification supporters by not completely assimilating.

Enter de Wette. Drawing especially on the works of Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1802) and Jacob Friedrich Fries (1773-1843), and strongly influenced by a Romanticism that led him to view religion as a matter of aesthetics and feeling, de Wette systematized various intellectual strands into a dialectic of the development of true religion (liberal German Protestantism, of course) out of false religion (post-exilic Judaism, of course). It is this dialectic that he applied to the Holy Scriptures; this was his “method.”

The development proceeds as follows. First there was Hebraismus, the religion of the patriarchs and of Israel in pre-exilic times, which went through several stages:
1.) pre-Mosaic polytheistic Hebraismus
2.) Mosaic Hebraismus
3.) degenerated polytheistic-Mosaic Hebraismus
4.) the ideal Hebraismus of the Prophets and Poets
In this series, 1 and 3 are bad, while 2 and 4 are good. Then comes the Exile, and de Wette makes this the end of Hebraismus (overall a better thing than not) and the beginning of Judaism (an entirely degraded form of Hebraismus, of no value):

[W]e must consider the nation after the Exile as another, with a different thinking and religion. We call them in this period Jews, before that Hebrews; we call what pertains to the postexilic cultural formation Judaism, and what pertains to the pre-exilic cultural formation Hebraismus. de Wette, Biblische Dogmatik, 48; quoted in Gerdmar, Roots of Theological Anti-Semitism, 81.

The Jews acquired “Oriental philosophy” (a bad thing) during the Exile through association with Zoroastrians especially, becoming tainted with such ideas as demonology, messianism, resurrection, and so on. Religious expression turns away from faith and life to study and introspection, a thing completely unacceptable to a Romantic like de Wette. Jesus is seen as the great Romantic, reviving the spirit of Moses:

The way Jesus presented things was pure of anything didactic, methodical and systematic; it was not teaching but merely reviving, directed at common sense and unspoilt feeling. de Wette, Biblische Dogmatik, 213; Gerdmar, 84.

Within this same idealistic Romanticism, de Wette claims Jesus to present no dogma and rejecting a faith based on authority. The Pharisees, standins for rabbinic/contemporary Jews in de Wette’s views, represent the opposite of Jesus and the spirit of Hebraismus: holding to mythological tales, their outward obedience to dead laws, their expectation of a political messiah and world domination, and their religious particularism that is exclusive rather than universalistic. It is this mindset that drives de Wette’s distinctions in dating the documents of the Old Testament.

de Wette was the first to suggest that Deuteronomy was the “Book of the Law” that was discovered in the Temple in the time of King Josiah of Judah, as depicted in 2 Kings 22. de Wette ties this “discovery”, which he actually posits as a composition of the text at this time, with the imposition of a degraded Hebraismus on the people: the beginnings of Judaism. Thus, it is not any elaborate philological argument, nor any source critical discovery, nor any kind of argument based upon any logic at all that drives de Wette’s determination of the date of Deuteronomy as late. It is his liberal German Protestantant Romantic nationalist dialectic regarding how degraded Judaism was which determines it. This is in no way objective or acceptable argumentation. Indeed, there is no argumentation. There is only assertion of Romantic ideals, liberal Protestant ideals, and radical German nationalist ideals, while drawing upon other earlier anti-Jewish writings. His theological fulminations on Jewish degradation led, contrary to his short-sighted will, to an anti-emancipation movement that was disastrous for Jews, one which finally found full expression in the Holocaust.

de Wette’s is not rational thought. I reject de Wette’s ideas, every foundation of them, and everything that has proceeded to be built upon his misguided, corrupt, and bigoted mentality.

What things might we discover in leaving such bitter and childish thoughts as those of de Wette and his ilk behind? It’ll be interesting to find out.

Pasto, Who Owns the Jewish Past?

The basic argument of this work is straightforward: Jewish history, as represented in western Biblical scholarship, is a Christian invention. Or rather, it is what I will call a Christian sacralizing history. I will explain what I mean by the term “Christian” below. By “sacralizing history” I mean any representation of the past that serves as the foundational narrative for identity in the present. By Christian sacralizing history I mean a history that serves as the foundational narrative for Christians in the present. Thus, I argue that what is taught as Jewish history in most western university courses, is in fact a Christian past that serves the needs of a Christian present. I presume of course, and I will argue throughout this work, that Christians possess the power to represent the Jewish past as Christian sacralizing history. This Christian sacralizing history has a number of distinctive features, among which is the assertion of a rupture that separates and contrasts, respectively, an Abrahamic covenant with a Mosaic Law, Hebrews with Jews, and ancient Israel with later Judaism. The point of rupture is variously postulated as the Babylonian Exile, the Hellenistic period, or the time of Jesus, depending on the views of the particular writer. In each case, however, the rupture is the point at which the Abrahamic-Hebraic-Israel ends, and the Mosaic-Jewish-Judaism begins.

Integral to this narrative of rupture is the representation of the Mosaic, Jewish “Judaism” as a religion or society of “contradictory combinations,” the most characteristic of which are universalism versus particularism, prophecy versus law, and freedom versus constraint. Moreover, these contradictory combinations are set within a broader typology where the Abrahamic-Hebraic Israel — along with Hellenism and Christianity — stands to Judaism as the universal, prophetic, and free to the particular, legal and constraining. This in turn is placed within a scheme of progress where the contradictory elements in Judaism grow in intensity until they are resolved through, and in, Jesus and early Christianity. The now separate universal, prophetic and free elements serve as the foundational essence of Christianity, while the particularistic, legalistic constraining elements become the foundational essence of the post-Jesus Judaism. This schema, which many might recognize as characteristic only of 19th century scholarship, is alive and well in current scholarship.

James Pasto. Who Owns the Jewish Past? Judaism, Judaisms, and the Writing of Jewish History. PhD Dissertation, Cornell University, 1999. Page 1, first two paragraphs of the Introduction.

I saw this dissertation mentioned in several of the footnotes of Anders Gerdmar, Roots of Theological Anti-Semitism: German Biblical Interpretation and the Jews, from Herder and Semler to Kittel and Bultmann, and the notes were intriguing enough that I purchased it from UMI. I am not disappointed, in reading the Introduction. It dovetails perfectly with the Gerdmar work. One of the benefits of Pasto (two volumes totally almost 700 pages) is a full chapter on Wellhausen, which will undoubtedly be fascinating. In fact, Gerdmar recommends Pasto’s coverage of Wellhausen:

Other scholars could have been included, such as Julius Wellhausen and Emil Schürer, but for the sake of limiting what is already a large book, for Wellhausen I refer [the reader] to James Pasto’s substantial study from 1999, in which Wellhausen is closely related to de Wette. (p. 14)

Pasto’s chapter on Wellhausen comprises 110 pages, much more coverage than Gerdmar could’ve included, and undoubtedly in delicious detail (I refuse to cheat and take a peek, because I know that I’ll end up reading the whole chapter then and there). I look forward to reading it.

In this dissertation by Pasto, the Gerdmar Roots of Theological Anti-Semitism book, Carla Sulzbach’s 1996 dissertation David Zvi Hoffmann’s Die Wichtigsten Instanzen gegen die Graf-Wellhausensche Hypothese (“The main arguments against the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis”) (available here), and several articles, for example those by James McNutt [“Adolf Schlatter and the Jews,” German Studies Review 26.2 (May 2003), 353-370] and Maurice Casey [“Some Anti-Semitic Assumptions in the ‘Theological Dictionary of the New Testament,” Novum Testamentum 41.3 (Jul 1999), 280-291], all combine to paint a particular picture of the generally tendentious nature of the approch of modern Biblical criticism toward the Hebrew Bible (even/especially in its Christian incarnation as the Old Testament) and the history of Israel. It’s going to be an interesting summer for me, reading-wise. I’ll be sure to keep posting on the subject.