Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible
Karel van der Toorn
I'm not a scholar of Biblical Criticism or Documentary Theory or any of that. I just copy the Torah.
But if I'd tried to articulate how I think Torah got put together, assuming it didn't get blasted down from heaven all in one piece (you can think that if you want. Like dinosaurs. Maybe they got planted in the Earth's crust last Thursday and we just think there was evolution. Maybe the Torah got dictated to Moses on Mount Sinai and I just think it got put together by people. Same idea, different specifics, different significance, but it doesn't matter for present purposes because I'm talking about the consequences of this particular perception), I would have said, roughly...
A long time ago there were a lot of legends and stories about how the Earth and humans and Israel came to be. People in different places told them in different ways. At some point, perhaps coinciding with some sort of national unification, the stories got merged into bigger stories. As well as the stories, there were pieces of civil legal material, since just as peoples need identity legends they need social structures. There was also quite a lot of legal stuff relating to the structure of the cult. Some of it was written down, some of it was oral. Probably no one group had all the bits.
Deuteronomy probably came into being around the time of Josiah, who was doing some serious nationalising and wanted a Book which combined identity stuff with legal stuff and religious stuff so that people would be on board with him forging the kingdom into one nation under God, as it were.
The other stuff was firmly entrenched in the national identity, so at some point, perh under Ezra the Scribe who was also doing some serious nationalising, it got turned into Genesis thru Numbers and tucked into the Written Material of the Jews. Said Written Material was probably quite fluid for some time, bc of approximately-centralised religion and limited literacy, but at some point fluidity stopped being acceptable and One Version was allowed. That is Torah.
Given that, here's what I'm taking away from van der Toorn's book:
a) There were a lot of stories, legends, legal codes and stuff knocking around in early Hebrew oral culture; some of them got written down as aids to oral transmission, preserving different variants of stories (repeated motifs in Genesis, for eg); combining the variants into one large version is quite in line with the sort of thing scribes would do to texts. The idea of fidelity to a set text is anachronistic at this point. Later scribes when writing stuff down would combine material in storyteller-like ways as they saw fit.
b) When Josiah centralised religion in J'lem (c.620 BCE) he needed some sort of legitimisation, so a bunch of stuff got written down and "discovered"; centralised religion => one master copy of covenant with deity = deuteronomy. Later scribes made replacements when earlier scrolls wore out. Because scribes copied but also edited, they added bits as they saw fit, preserving major chunks of text intact but frequently adding opening and closing sections in line with the political, etc, concerns of the time. One master copy => this is easily done.
c) Around the time of Ezra (c.450 bce), Persia ruled Judah and required Judah to come up with some sort of legal code (he brings evidence for this from Darius requiring the same of Egypt). So Ezra and chums wove together the stuff from a)and b) into a single written text.
d) At some point, written text acquired authority over oral text, so "It is written" carries weight that "It is said" does no longer. After this, editing the text as per a) and b) is less acceptable. This takes place over centuries. Also, being written down as per c) and made into administrated law makes it authoritative in the sense that the rulers of the province say this is the law, and you can't change it any longer.
e) I didn't read the stuff on the prophetic material very hard, because I don't know Prophets nearly as well as I know Torah. Similar sorts of things, by and large, but in a later framework with different specifics. Procedure as for b); by about 200 BCE there were no more changes in the text.
It was an interesting book, but it struck me as the sort of thing where an awful lot of scholarly effort goes into demonstrating something which seems more or less common sense. This either means it was trivial or that he is saying things which are probably right. Since I couldn't have provided scholarly evidence for a lot of the things he said about ancient culture, history of writing, social development of the book, etc, I hope that it wasn't trivial. I think I would be glad to know it was in a library I had access to, but I wouldn't spend my own money on it unless I had quite a lot of spare money.