This is a valuable book whether one accepts the “neo-documentary” approach to the composition of the Torah promoted in it or not. In chapter 1, the author formulates a substantial critique of the classic so-called “new documentary hypothesis” popularized by Julius Wellhausen in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The problem, according to Jeffrey Stackert and other neo-documentarians, is not with the documentary approach itself, but with “the manner in which Wellhausen pursued his argument and his specific claims” (p. 2). As Wellhausen saw it, along with the ongoing development of the exilic and post-exilic priestly system came the rejection of the free, lively, and dynamic prophetic religion of the pre-exilic period, which was relatively free of the stifling effects of Jewish law (pp. 2–14). The shift between the two began with the centralization of worship in Deuteronomy (seventh century, based on the earlier work of de Wette and others), and reached its final form in the priestly cult of the early second temple period.
According to Stackert, one of the main faults in Wellhausen’s method was his inadequate separation of E (the Elohist) into a separate source from J (the Jahwist), D (the Deuteronomist), and P (the Priestly writer), which led to his lack of appreciation for the prophetic focus E brought to the composition of the Torah. As is well known, Wellhausen most often referred to JE, not J and E, because he viewed E as more of a supplement to J than as a separate source document that could be isolated and reconstructed. Stackert notes that many others have levied strong criticisms against Wellhausen’s theory. The “neo-documentarians” are joining in with them. Stackert draws upon Joel Baden, another neo-documentarian, for a convenient summary of their approach to the composition of the Pentateuch (pp. 20–22).
A well-defined E source is “a centerpiece” of Stackert’s approach to the composition of the Pentateuch (p. 22). As far as the dating of the sources is concerned, Stackert begins with D, as Wellhausen did, but he determines the date of D more from what he takes to be its dependence on the Succession Treaty of Esarhaddon than from any identification of it with a supposedly Josianic law book. He does not consider the Josianic law book to be historical. Thus, he dates D to ca. 670 BCE. J and E are earlier because D depends upon them, so they do not date later than early in the seventh century, and could have originated in the eighth century. H (the “Holiness Code,” which is a stratum of the P source, Lev 17–27) depends on P, D, and E, so it is the latest of them all. It is close to Ezekiel, so H should probably have an early exilic date. Since H is a supplement to P, the date of P must be earlier, probably in the later part of the seventh century (pp. 31–34).
Stackert argues that the E plotline “expresses a larger religio-political argument that has at its heart the relationship between law and prophecy” (p. 26). Overall, as is commonly argued, when the sources differ they reflect the time and context of their composition rather than the time about which they speak. Moreover, they constitute religiously pluralistic minority reports, not a linear movement from prophetic to legal religion, as Wellhausen would have it. Instead, legal priestly religion was not a late development but a continual force present from early in ancient Israelite religious history. As minority perspectives, each of the four Pentateuchal sources are literary fictions that present the conflict between prophetic and legal religion as a historical development, according to their own peculiar view of the supposed historical conflict (pp. 28–29).
Chapter 2 rightly argues for the status of Moses as a prophet in all four of the supposed sources, and reviews the data for the nature and importance of prophetic divination in the surrounding ANE world. According to Stackert, the E source is pro-legal but anti-prophetic. It sees Moses as the lawgiver and the last legitimate prophet in ancient Israel (ch. 3). This is the core of the book. E considered ongoing prophetic activity after Moses to be a threat against the record of prophetic revelation found in the Mosaic Law. Prophecy always had a subordinate position to other forms of divination in the ANE, as shown by the need to confirm prophecies through extispicy and other observable methods of authentication in the Mari archives and Neo-Assyrian prophecy. D moderates the claims of E and, therefore, does not eliminate prophecy after Moses (ch. 4). The same ANE suspicion toward prophetic messages, however, is manifest in D through tests of prophecy. D rejects all the other forms of divination in favor of properly tested prophetic divination (Deut 18:9–22; cf. Jer 28:8–9). P takes an even stronger stance against prophecy in favor of law. It imagines Israelite religion with no prophetic activity, even assigning oracular activity to the priests and the cult as over against the prophets (ch. 5). According to Stackert, therefore, all the Torah sources presume that Moses is a prophet, including J, but J is not concerned with establishing legal religion over against prophetic religion, as are E, D, and P. J does not even have a collection of laws.
Unfortunately, in a good number of instances Stackert can maintain his view of the respective minority arguments of the sources only by making arguments for peculiar interpretations of certain passages of scripture. This is detectable in his extended treatments of Exodus 3:1–4:23; 33:7–11; Numbers 12:6; and Deuteronomy 34:10–12 (pp. 56–57, 82–92, 108–17, and 117–23, respectively). We cannot go into all the details and problems with his textual analysis in this brief review of his book, so we will focus on two examples, one from the beginning of Exodus and the other from the end of Deuteronomy.
First, according to Stackert, a redactor spliced the E and J Mosaic call narratives together in Exodus 3:1–4:23 (pp. 56–62). He separates them into E (3:1, 4b, 6a, 9b–15 [minus “now”], 21–22; 4:17–18, 20b) and J (3:2–4a, 5, 6b–9a [“now”], 16–20; 4:1–16, 19–20a, 21–23 [minus “but I will make him obstinate”]). According to his reading of Exodus 3, therefore, the E narrative does not include vv. 2–4a, which refers to the burning bush because, in the view of E, God spoke to Moses there face to face with no mediating bush. He still has the problem, of course, with v. 4b, “God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, ‘Moses, Moses,’ and he said, ‘Here I am,’” which should be E because of the divine name, but should be J because of the bush. Stackert attempts to resolve the problem by arguing that “from the midst of the bush” in v. 4b “most likely originates from the compiler, who inserted it in the place of either “from the mountain” or “from the heavens” because he wanted to “harmonize the locations of the deity in the J and E sources” (p. 56 n. 77). One naturally wonders if it is the ancient compiler or the modern scholar who is doing the harmonizing here.
Second, the normal rendering of Deuteronomy 34:10 is, “Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face” (NRSV). Stackert takes Deuteronomy 34:10–12 to be E’s “summary reflection on Moses after the prophet’s death” (p. 117). He therefore renders the verse, “Never again did a prophet arise in Israel like Moses (did), the one whom YHWH selected directly,” and suggests that it refers specifically to his selection in Exodus 3 (pp. 117–20). Of course, among other things, this rendering requires the ellipsis of a verb “(did).” He argues for it because it is the only way to maintain his documentary distinction between E and D, since Deuteronomy 18:15–22, which belongs to the D source, allows for multiple prophets after Moses, whereas E resists it. Here again, Stackert has the theoretical “tail wagging the dog,” putting his theory before the most natural way of reading the text. In my view, the neo-documentary approach simply turns themes into sources by separating out thematic patterns. This is essential to their method (p. 20 point #1), and reflects a massive misunderstanding of how literature works both ancient and modern.
Even with these serious defects in method, theory, and textual analysis, Stackert’s book provides us with some helpful resources for dealing with other theoretical developments in the field. For example, he provides a very good summary of the evidence for prophetic divination in the ANE. With this he offers strong evidence for the fact that Moses was not only a lawgiver but also a prophet in ancient Israel, and the natural relationship between the two from a historical cultural perspective. Furthermore, in his book Genesis and the Moses Story, trans. James D. Nogalski (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2010), Konrad Schmid analyzes the cross references in Genesis to Exodus and, conversely, those in Exodus to Genesis (see my extensive review of Schmid’s volume in RBL, 05/2011). He argues that the two sets of traditions are heterogeneous, and that they existed independently until a Priestly (P, late sixth century BCE) or post-Priestly redaction linked them together. Stackert argues contrary to Schmid, that the earlier sources (Stackert’s E and J) show a narrative continuity from the patriarchal and Joseph narratives on into the Exodus narratives (p. 26 n. 84). There is no waiting for P or a post-priestly redactor to link the patriarchal with the exodus traditions. Of course, Stackert’s approach is documentary, more specifically, neo-documentary, while Schmid’s is documentary regarding P, but redactional for the earlier traditions J, E, and D.
The book concludes with a review of Pentateuchal theory that returns to the critique of Wellhausen (ch. 6). Stackert takes the sources to be “prospective expressions of religious imagination, not implemented religious programs” (p. 197). Since E, D, and P all portray Moses as a prophetic mediator of the law, the Wellhausenist proposal of a linear progression from prophecy to law in the history of Israelite religion cannot be maintained. Finally, he argues that we need to harbor biblical studies as a discipline within religious studies rather than theology. This would help avoid imposing modern theological concerns on the ancient text, which he sees as a serious problem in the academy today. On the one hand, I agree that it is important for all of us to distinguish between the history of Israelite religion as we find it in the Hebrew Bible and archaeology, as opposed to Biblical Theology. They are not the same thing. On the other hand, the Bible has three overlapping dimensions: literary, historical, and theological. To ignore and set aside any of the three is to deny the academy one of the voices it should have in the serious study of the Bible.