Treasures Old and New: Essays in the Theology of the Pentateuch
The twelve chapters in this volume are culled from various periodicals and books of essays, conveniently gathered here under the rubric of the Pentateuch, an area of study in which the author has already made his mark. (See his The Pentateuch: An Introduction to the First Five Books of the Bible [New York: Doubleday, 1992].) His approach in this and earlier studies is from a moderately critical viewpoint much in line with classical source-critical assumptions and analyses.
Some of the more interesting—and perhaps important—studies are on “Memory, Tradition, and the Construction of the Past in Ancient Israel”; “Old Testament Theology and the Jewish-Christian Connection”; “YHVH and Other Deities: Conflict and Accommodation in the Religion of Israel”; “The Judge of All the Earth (Genesis 18:22–33)”; and “Deuteronomy and the Politics of Postmortem Existence.”
Speaking of theology as an Old Testament discipline, reflected in the subtitle of this book, Blenkinsopp makes the rather wry and pessimistic confession that having looked at others who have attempted to view the Old Testament theologically, he has “arrived at the point of wondering whether the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament is capable of generating a theology.” The reason for his skepticism, he adds, is that “the creation of any theological system, biblical or otherwise, begins at a specific starting point dictated by the agenda of the writer and the interest groups to which the writer belongs. What it says or leaves unsaid will also generally be determined by a ruling concept chosen in advance of writing, the choice dictated by the presuppositions and prejudices, conscious and unconscious, of the writer” (pp. vii–viii). This cogent and important point was made by Wilhelm Gabler 220 years ago and remains a set of observations worth considering in the undertaking of biblical theology.
On the other hand Blenkinsopp laments that postmodernity as well as fundamentalism is adversarial to the historical-critical assumptions and methodologies he himself employs in his own entry into the Old Testament literature (pp. viii–ix). In doing so, he seems to ignore the fact that presuppositionary stances vis-à-vis the nature of the Bible are no more to be applauded than those concerning its contents and message, that is, its theology. To be fair the scholar who criticizes the theologian for coming to his task with a priori’s must admit that he too approaches the biblical text with his own set of assumptions.
The reactions expressed here should not be construed as mere carping, for the essays under review (and in fact all scholarly writings) are impacted from beginning to end with methods, interpretations, and conclusions that logically flow from fundamental convictions about the nature of the biblical material being addressed. This said, it is only right to point out the strengths of the work under review. Blenkinsopp writes with clarity, flair, and helpful exegetical and theological insight. His familiarity with relevant literature is impressive and most of his arguments are backed up by solid literary and logical evidences. The work is recommended to those who want to become familiar with topics of contemporary biblical and theological interest.