While I have not been able to read everything that Prof. Carmichael has written, I have surveyed much of it. Summarizing his basic thesis:
- Prof. Carmichael disagrees with the prevailing theory that the laws (and rules) set forth in the first five books of the Primary History were developed by different sources over time in response to changing social conditions in Ancient Israel and were later compiled into the Pentateuch without any real attempt at editing or correlation.
- Instead, Prof. Carmichael argues that the author(s) of the Primary History distilled the laws from their judgment of then-existing narratives of the history of Ancient Israel, which they also set forth in the Primary History. That is, the laws and narratives of the Primary History are a unitary, literary whole presenting a single narrative.
- Prof. Carmichael posits that the purpose of the Primary History was to firmly anchor its laws in its narratives, thereby creating a seemingly ancient, national identity for Israel.
Below, I provide extended excerpts from two of Prof. Carmichael's books, Illuminating Leviticus: A Study of Its Laws and Institutions in Light of Biblical Narratives, and The Book of Numbers: A Critique of Genesis.
While I accept Prof. Carmichael's conclusion that the Primary History constitutes a unified literary whole in which the "laws" and the "narratives" are inextricably intertwined, I cannot accept his unfounded assumption that, while the laws were newly minted by the author(s) of the Primary History, the underlying narratives were ancient. As I established in an earlier post, there is substantial reason to believe that at least some of the narratives of the Primary History were based on events that took place in the Early Hellenistic Period. For example the narratives of King Saul, King David and King Solomon appear to have been based on the lives of Alexander, Ptolemy I and Ptolemy II, respectively.
Thus, not only is there no reason to assume that any of the narratives of the Primary History were ancient at the time of its writing, there is an affirmative basis for believing that the stories of David and Solomon were composed by the authors of the Primary History based on relatively recent events involving Ptolemaic kings. This should not be surprising in view of how the Primary History was written. As Prof. Carmichael notes throughout his works, the authors of the Primary History presented history as something that repeated itself, and the stories of Saul, David and Solomon would be understood by some as predicting the later Hellenistic kings.
Given that the laws are based on the narratives, and some of the narratives are based on the lives certain Ptolemaic kings, an important question to ask is what do the laws say about those Ptolemaic kings? That's a line of inquiry I will spend some time exploring on this blog, but my conclusion is that the Ptolemaic kings are found wanting by the authors of the Primary History. Indeed, as I will also explain, an anti-Ptolemaic polemic runs throughout the Primary History.
The journey that led me to blogging on Plato's Athena began with the hypothesis that the authors of the Primary History, following the teachings of Plato and Aristotle, wrote the Primary History as the constitution of a Hellenistic colony in Judea. While I have become agnostic as to whether or not the colony's population were Hellenes, Prof. Carmichael's analysis essentially confirms my belief that the Primary History was written to serve as a Platonic constitution.
From Calum Carmichael's Preface to Illuminating Levitcus:
This book is an attempt to transform our understanding of the laws of Leviticus, to show that while these laws may well seem excessively dry and strange, fundamentally--and startlingly--they concern some of the most dramatic incidents and famous personages in biblical sources. We will encounter, among others, Noah of the Flood narrative, the Philistines of the plague narrative, Joseph in his battle with his brothers (a great deal of him, in fact), Rachel and Onan in their uncleanness, and the renowned descendants David and Jonathan.
Collections of biblical rules appear in a narrative that stretches from Genesis to 2 Kings. The narrative records how the universe began, the beginnings of humankind, the first fathers of the Israelite nation, its first institutions, and those persons first and last associated with them until the exile to Babylon. There exists, I claim, a fundamental connection between the rules and the stories about first happenings recorded in this epic.
I do not agree with the common view that the rules found in the Bible are responses to issues that came up at different times during the actual history of ancient Israel. Rather, the rules exhibit a feature that so often underlies legal systems. National and ethnic groups attempt to link their laws to legendary history and to locate the foundations of their laws as far back in time as possible. In the case of ancient Israel, scribes created, I submit, a fiction about the origin of their nation's laws. They took up topics they found in the traditions of their own people's ancient history, in stories that were set clown in the books from Genesis to 2 Kings. From their own ethical, legal, and historical standpoint, the scribes responded to selected issues in these traditions and set out their judgments, expressed in the form of rules, at different points in the Pentateuch. The latter should not be separated in any way (as conventional scholarship in the past has sought to do) from Joshua-2 Kings, a body of material that so plainly continues the narrative line starting in Genesis i and running through and beyond Deuteronomy 34.
When combining the stories from Genesis to 2 Kings, the scribes carefully wove together laws and narratives by placing collections of rules at points of crucial beginnings in the flow of the overall narrative. They formulated, for example, the deity's rules about killing animals and humans at the fresh beginning of the world after the Flood (Genesis 9). The Decalogue, the Book of the Covenant (rules in Exodus 2123), and the succeeding rules about the institution of the cult they placed at the start of the nation after the exodus from Egypt. The laws of Leviticus they put immediately after the setting up of the Tabernacle (on the first clay of the first month in the second year after leaving Egypt, Exod 40:17), and the laws of Deuteronomy they set down in anticipation of the Israelites starting a new life in the land of Canaan. As it happens, a feature that the narratives and laws share in common is that each also highlights first-time developments in the history and prehistory of the nation Israel. Whether narrative, law, or placement of law code, the spotlight was primarily on seminal events as they are depicted in Genesis-2 Kings.
From a different perspective, the rules are the literary forms that reveal a thorough redaction of the history that is recounted in Genesis-2 Kings. Insofar as critics speak of a D (Deuteronomic) and P (Priestly) redaction of biblical material (Pentateuch and the Historical Literature), I am building on, much extending, and greatly modifying their insights.
The introductory chapter sets out my claim that the key to comprehending biblical legal material is the recognition that what inspires the formulation of biblical rules are incidents in biblical narratives, not the actual history of ancient Israel that scholars infer from these rules and narratives. The close link between narrative and rule enables us time and again to solve hitherto baffling legal, linguistic, and literary puzzles. Chapters 1-10 continue what has become a rather extensive project of mine to examine every law in the Pentateuch with a view to demonstrating that each is linked to a narrative. My book, Law, Legend, and Incest in the Bible: Leviticus 18-2o (Ithaca, 1997), focused on the (mainly) incest laws in Leviticus r8-2o. The aim of this volume is to analyze many more laws in Leviticus by a close reading of the material in Leviticus 10-27 (excluding 18-20).
Chapter 1 looks at a succession of well-known rules in Leviticus 10-14, dealing with clean and unclean food, childbirth, and skin diseases. In accounting for them, I turn to the stories of the Flood, the wickedness of the priestly house of Eli, and the plagues visited upon the Philistines. Chapter 2 concentrates on the laws concerning genital discharges of Leviticus 15, and here we will have occasion to link the uncleanness attributed by King Saul to David, to his son Jonathan, and to Jonathan's mother back to Onan's infamous act of spilling his seed and Rachel's claim to be Iuenstru- ating when unable to arise before her father.
Chapters 3 and 9 look at the origin of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16) and the origin of the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25) and argue for a fundamentally different understanding of institutions that have long been shrouded in mystery. Both institutions involve perennial concerns. Focusing on renewal, the Day of Atonement is about relief from the burden of personal and communal wrongdoing. The Year of Jubilee, in turn, is about radical political and economic renewal in society at large. The key developments for comprehending each institution are, respectively, the quest for forgiveness on the part of the brothers of Joseph for mistreating him and Joseph's policy in Egypt for coping with mass starvation.
Chapter 4 addresses one of the most enduring controversies in biblical scholarship-namely, how to evaluate a rule that apparently, but astonishingly, requires that whenever anyone in the nation wishes to slaughter a domestic animal he must bring it to the sanctuary for slaughter (Lev 17: 2-9). Rejecting standard views, I give an argument for connecting each element of the rule to the story of Joseph in Genesis 37. Chapter 5 proposes a solution to the major problem about the role of blood in biblical ritual (Lev 17:ro-r6). The story of Joseph again proves most revealing.
Any study of the laws of Leviticus is likely to touch on different facets of sexuality. Chapter 6 takes up a curious and much misunderstood aspect of priestly sexuality (Leviticus 21). A key story is the one in judges 19 about the Levite who cuts into twelve pieces the body of his sexually abused concubine and sends them to the other tribes of Israel. Chapter 7 also focuses, in part (Lev 22:12, 13), on sexuality N hen it examines the incident in which David claims that he and his companions (nonexistent as it turns out) have kept themselves from women and can therefore eat food that only the priests at the sanctuary are supposed to eat. Chapter 8 looks at the topic of blasphemy in an incident described in Leviticus 24. The lawgiver has under scrutiny the many facets of blasphemy that show up with the sons of Eli, David, and Doeg in i Samuel and with the falsely accused Naboth of i Kings 21.
A major and obvious problem is that often we find in different locations in the Pentateuch rules exhibiting both overlap and striking differences about the same topic. Whereas the standard approach is to assume that societal developments over time account for the similarities and the differences, I offer my own approach here. In Chapter 1o, I examine the rules about slavery in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy and suggest that every detail of each of the three rules can be explained by relating their subject matter to the contents of three different narrative incidents: Jacob serving Laban, Israel under the pharaoh in famine-stricken Egypt, and Israel enslaved in Egypt. The discussion highlights that most controversial of questions: how do we account for the composition of the Pentateuch?Calum Carmichael's Introduction in Illuminating Levitcus:
The Nature of Biblical Law
A marked feature of biblical laws is that they are mainly attributed to Moses. Examples are the Book of the Covenant in Exodus 21:2-23:19, the laws in Deuteronomy 12-26, and the rules in the books of Numbers and Leviticus. Only exceptionally does God communicate rules directly: on permission to kill animals for meat and on homicide to Noah and his sons in Genesis 9, on circumcision to Abraham in Genesis 17, and the Decalogue in Exodus 19 and Deuteronomy 5.
Various collections of legal material are incorporated at different points in a narrative history that stretches from Genesis to 2 Kings. The final set, the laws of Deuteronomy, is given at the point in time when Moses is about to die and the people of Israel are about to enter the land of Canaan. The scribes responsible for this merging of law and narrative, adopting a convention common in the ancient world, attributed their own creation to a great figure of the past. Thus they made of Moses a legendary figure who, in the rules he enunciated, judged past and contemporary developments in his nation's history as recorded in Genesis-Deuteronomy (the Pentateuch) and also anticipated future ones as recorded in Joshua-2 Kings (the Historical Literature). This legendary Moses took up problems that existed among his ancestors (the kidnapping of Joseph, for instance), that occurred in his own time (his sister's leprosy), and that would occur long after he lived (the appointment of a king in Israel). The literary traditions in Genesis-2 Kings contain all of the issues taken up in the laws, legendary history and law being intimately linked.
If, to date, our knowledge of biblical law is but the knowledge of a track amid tangled territory, the unexplored route of arriving at the laws by locating their inspiration in the narratives broadens the track considerably. The move is from the extra ordinary in the narrative to the more commonplace in the rule. By working out the links between the laws and the individual narratives, not only can we explain why the laws contain the issues they do, but we can also account for the often peculiar language of the laws and why they are set out in sequences that often bewilder. In the Decalogue, for instance, a rule about murder curiously comes after a rule about honor to parents. The rule about honoring parents includes the promise of living long upon the ground ('adamah), not land ('erets). The explanation of the sequence and the language is that the compiler's focus is Cain's deed of dishonoring his parents when he murders Abel, the other son produced by his parents' act of procreation. The consequence of the murder is that he is no longer permitted to till the ground ('adamah). The lawgiver's invariable habit was to seek out the first instance of a problem in the nation's history or prehistory-hence his choice of Cain's murder of Abel.
It should be noted that in the body of texts extending from Genesis through 2 Kings, the law codes are found only in the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy. The reason is that these books, Exodus through Deuteronomy, recount the birth of Moses and the course of his life (and death). Genesis recounts matters that are relevant to the appearance of Moses at a certain point in history and, in fact, does include laws, though they are uttered by God and not by Moses. The largely narrative texts from Joshua through 2 Kings relay matters that relate back to Moses's concern for the future of his nation and occur after his death. The laws are given their place in the flow of a narrative that is itself very much taken up with beginnings. The narrative record (to be selective) opens with an account of how the universe begins (Genesis I), how humans acquire the emotion of shame that distinguishes them from the animals, how different languages come into being, and hose the world has to begin again after a catastrophic flood. There follow accounts of the first families associated with the Israelites (Abraham's, Isaac's, Jacob's). A narrative about the beginnings of the nation Israel (the coming together of Jacob, Joseph, and his brothers in Egypt and the subsequent exodus under the leadership of Moses) is next. Legends follow about how the nation acquires institutions (the Passover ceremony), a judicature (from Moses's father-in-law Jethro), and fundamental norms (the Decalogue). Throughout Genesis-2 Kings there is a continuing focus on beginnings, for instance, the institution of judges, the monarchy, and, in Leviticus, the institution of the priesthood. The concern with beginnings might be obvious but nonetheless needs stressing because Moses's judgments are taken up with them.
As we follow the formative experiences that create the identity of the Israelites, we find that the ancient writers are struck by the fact that what happens in one generation repeats itself in another. If a family has a problem with its firstborn son (Abraham's Ishmael), the next generation does also (Isaac's Esau and then Jacob's Reuben). If a member of one generation experiences oppression in foreign parts (Jacob under Laban), so does a member of the next (Joseph as a slave in Egypt), and members of the next again (all Jacob's clan under the pharaoh). Moses's first miracle for the people marching through the wilderness is the sweetening of bitter waters (Exod 15:23-26), and Elisha's first deed for the people is the healing of evil waters (2 Kgs 2:19-22).
Like the recorders of the narratives, the lawgivers too focused on the first time that problems arose and how they recurred down through the generations. Positioned at certain points in history (or prehistory), God (N; ho gave the rules after the Flood ends, and the Decalogue after the Exodus from Egypt) and Moses (who during his lifetime gave rules in Exodus 21-23, Deuteronomy 12-26, and Leviticus) looked backward and forward to the first occurrence of a problem in the history (and prehistory) of the nation and to its recurrence. In reality, an actual lay;-giver-I will use the singular because the process is always the same-looked at the First time that some problem arose and also noted its reappearance in succeeding generations. Each doing the same thing in his own way, lawgiver and narrator complemented each other in producing a written edifice that conveyed the nation's history and identity.
STORY GENERATING LAW
In an example drawn from outside the book of Leviticus, we can see just how fascinating--and ingenious-- is the process whereby a narrative prompts the presentation of a rule. The rule presupposes intimate knowledge of the narrative and, indeed, cannot be understood without it. It is important to keep in mind that the laws and the narratives are recorded together. I emphasize this point because when we read the laws today and ask the question how we or other hearers or readers of the laws in times past are to pick up on the links, the answer is, simply, that the laws and the narratives are bound together as a unified whole.
Rule Narrative Deut 24:19-22. The needy are to receive gleanings from the harvesting of an Israelite's field, olive grove, and vineyard. In The obtaining grain, however, they only receive some if the harvester has forgotten a sheaf in his field. Genesis 37-50. Joseph has a dream in which sheaves of grain, his brothers, bow down to a standing sheaf, himself. dream comes true only after Joseph is for- gotten, but then remembered as an interpreter of dreams.
The first time in the history of the nation when a welfare policy is put in place to take care of the needs of the underprivileged occurs in Egypt in the time of Joseph. The policy influences the way in which the lawgiver chose to formulate a law about feeding the needy when Israel takes up residence in its own land. The formulation contains a decidedly odd feature that is the clue to the link between it and the Joseph story. The rule in Deut 24:19-22 reads:
When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go back to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that Yahweh thy God may bless thee in all the work of thy hands. When thou beatest thine olive tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow. When thou gatherest the grapes of thy vineyard, thon shalt not glean it afterward: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow. And thou shalt remember that thou was a bondman in Egypt: therefore I command thee to do this thing.
The first part of the rule concerns a forgotten sheaf of grain at harvesttime. Only if the farmer forgets that he has left the sheaf in his field, then remembers that he has forgotten it, has he to refrain from returning to fetch it. He has instead to leave it in the field to be picked up by the needy. But there is no guarantee that a farmer will forget the sheaf, much less that he will remember that he has forgotten. As a rule encapsulating the principle of solicitude for the poor, this rule would certainly be inadequate and the practice unreliable. No wonder that in Rabbinic literature we find statements such as, "All the commands in the Torah were given us by God to be observed knowingly, but this one we can observe only unknowingly. For if we seek to keep it deliberately, it cannot be kept, since it is ordained only for forgetfulness" (t. Peah 3:8; Siphra 27a). What highlights the curiously impractical instruction about the grain is the fact that the rule goes on in a perfectly rational spirit to urge the farmer not to beat his olive trees a second time and not to glean his vines a second time. To refrain from doing so will guarantee that the needy can indeed take what is left of the olives and the grapes.
Critics who are alert to the puzzling feature of the first part of the rule resort to a religious explanation. The rule, they believe, must preserve a matter of great antiquity that goes back to a time prior to the kind of Israelite religion found in the Bible. The claim is that a sheaf of grain was originally left in the field as a propitiatory offering to a god.
The rule's curious feature, in fact, has nothing to do with a relic of remote antiquity in the sense that the critics assume. Rather, it is the lawgiver himself who utilized an almost universal belief in the authority of the past-- a quite different matter. I suggest that the rule harks back to the problem of famine in Egypt as described in the book of Genesis. The rule's intent is to evoke the role of Joseph in obtaining food for the Egyptians and his own family in bad times. Recall that in the first of Joseph's dreams he sees himself at harvesttime as a sheaf of grain surrounded by other sheaves, all of which bow clown to him. Joseph's dreams are from God and refer to future developments. The dream about the sheaves points forward to the time when his brothers have to go to Egypt to obtain food because there are no longer any harvests. On that occasion they do indeed bow down to Joseph, the overseer of all the grain in Egypt (Gen 42:6; 43:26). The dream encompasses the entire history of Joseph in Egypt. In what is a standard procedure for a biblical lawgiver, he turned to this particular story because it provided the first example in the nation's history when a policy was put in place to supply those desperately in need of grain.
The key to comprehending the law of the forgotten sheaf is the role of forgetfulness in the Joseph story. The law takes up the drama of how Joseph's dream about himself as the superior sheaf of grain is delayed in its fulfillment. The dream only begins to show promise of fulfillment when in prison Joseph, under God's direction, interprets aright the dreams of the butler and the baker (Gen 40:8). Joseph appeals to the butler to remember him N hen he becomes the pharaoh's butler again (Gen 40:14). However, the butler "did not remember Joseph, but forgot him" (Gen 40:23). Only when the pharaoh has his troubling dreams (one of which contains imagery involving grain) does the butler remember Joseph and commend him as an interpreter of dreams (Gen 41:9-13). That development triggers Joseph's rise to preeminence, to a position from which he administers food stores on behalf of those who would otherwise go hungry.
The standing sheaf of the dream, representing Joseph, like the sheaf in the rule, is first forgotten, then remembered, and, again like the sheaf in the law, is able to provide the needy with grain. The odd element in the law-a sheaf is forgotten and then remembered-is designed to arouse curiosity and stir historical memory. It functions like a proverb in that the oddity depicted is the key to its meaning, and like an adage the law is "a miniature of major content," "infinite riches in a little room." The lawgiver has exploited a legendary story about the first time people were aided in obtaining food in times of hardship. The view is that such a rescue comes at the hand of God and the example from the past should be remembered and imitated at harvesttime-- imitated in the sense that a harvester should indeed leave for the poor some of the fruits of the harvest. One would misunderstand the rule by taking it literally; reckoning that obedience to it was only possible should forgetfulness prevail. Critics whose automatic assumption is that the laws serve practical, institutional ends overlook their aesthetic makeup, that they might sometimes exhibit indirect, allusive ways of communicating. Law in the biblical era lacked formal institutions, and those ancient scribes intent on the formulation of laws were probably also those involved with the transmission and shaping of narrative traditions.
The storylike character of the rule about the forgotten sheaf explains (in part) why there is no effort to make the legendary episode at its core explicit. The quality that Walter Benjamin saw in storytelling applies also to the biblical rule: "It is half the art of storytelling to keep a story free from explanation as one reproduces it." The intent is to have the recipients of the rule reflect on their history-it is assumed that they will know it intimately-and realize, from knowing their past, who they are and how they should conduct themselves in the present. The story of Joseph is itself, after all, intent on conveying certain counsel. In any event, my argument is that the lawgiver's own wrestling with problems in his people's traditions affected the way in which he formulated rules to address comparable problems that arose in his own time- or that might occur any time, for that matter. The exercise presents a remarkable example of how laws tied to stories about national origins can contribute to a group's identity.
The recorders of the biblical legal material engaged in a process, the invention of their own legal traditions, which has the effect of building a culture and an identity. Such a process occurs in the life of most nations. I have come upon examples in Chinese, Greek, Roman, Scottish, and, most recently, Roma (Gypsy) law. A negative consequence is that it is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to work out the laws that actually applied in the lawgiver's own time. To be sure, the laws that we find recorded will, in most instances, have been based on laws existing at the time the lawgiver(s) lived. It is impossible to detect, however, from the contents of the invented laws attributed to Moses what form the existing laws might have taken. Just as Islamic standards were imposed on laws current in Arabia in the seventh century C.E., so the Israelite lawgiver imposed ideal standards on law and custom current in his time.
A few observations might be made about the rules available to the biblical lawgiver before he embarked on his grand scheme of bringing them into connection with the formative myths about the history and prehistory of his nation. Taking biblical law as a whole, most interpreters nowadays view it as part of the broader legal culture of the ancient Near East. Economic, social, and religious needs determine, they assume, the distinctive aspect of Israelite legal culture. I have no doubt that there is truth in this view for those laws available to the lawgiver in his time-that is, those laws he reformulated in light of the contents of the biblical narratives. But even for the laws assumed to exist in the time of the lawgiver, I am not sure what it actually means to claim that they are part of ancient Near Eastern legal culture. Are we to assume that the Israelites borrowed rules from their Babylonian neighbors de spite the difference in geographical location and general culture? Or are we to assume a less direct connection, the existence of similarities in general thought and methods such as we find characteristic of later Greek, Roman, Talmudic, and Islamic jurisprudence? In regard to the latter four bodies of law, there is on the whole no dependence of one on the other. Rather, over a long period of time the craft of rhetoric, in the sense of forensic science (which was originally Greek in origin), influenced schools of jurists in each culture.
The theoretical character of the Near Eastern codes has been increasingly stressed, much being made of what is termed "the schools tradition" and its possible influence throughout the entire Near East, including, it is conjectured, ancient Israel. The rules are not primarily geared to their use in court but are hypothetical in character. So far as I can make out, however, it is not clear whether the influence of the Babylonian schools on Israelite scribal schools is solely general in character, along the lines of the Greek, Roman, Talmudic, and Islamic examples. Or do similar rules show up in each legal culture and the formulations specific to each come, as Westbrook has argued, from similar hypothetical questions put to similar legal cases in each society? The cases in question are, alas, but known to Westbrook only because he infers them from the rules in the codes. Despite this obvious problem, I am nonetheless attracted to the possibility that the Near Eastern scribal tradition inspired Israelite scribes to put hypothetical questions to their own particular cases. Only these cases came not from the functioning courts in ancient Israel but from the issues that turned up in the traditions we find recorded in Genesis-2 Kings.
IDIOSYNCRATIC CHARACTER OF STORYTELLING
Why, it might be asked, has the fundamental link between law and narrative largely escaped notice? Aside from the major problem of not reading Genesis-2 Kings as a coherent narrative, another problem is the difficulty of seeing how the idiosyncratic features of the narratives inspire the rules. That storytelling is about the idiosyncratic goes without saying. However, because this notion is so essential to comprehending the nature of biblical legal material, it very much needs to be said. Consider the following link between the story in Genesis 29 of how Jacob on his weed ding night unwittingly acquired Laban's older daughter Leah as a bride and the rule in Deut 22:13-21 about the man who rejects a bride because she is not a virgin on her wedding night. Both story and law deal with unwanted brides. But in what way might they be related such that the law is a response to the story?
In the story, Jacob wishes to marry Laban's younger daughter, Rachel, and he agrees to work seven years for her to become his wife. After the seven years are up, Laban, taking advantage of Jacob's inebriated state at the wedding festivities, slips Leah into the bridal tent in place of Rachel. When Jacob comes to his senses after the substitution and discovers his unwanted new wife, he confronts Laban. The latter responds by offering Rachel to Jacob for a further seven years of service, if he remains married to Leah. Jacob has no alternative but to accept the offer, and Rachel becomes his second wife.
In the rule, a man refuses to accept his new bride because he alleges that she is not a virgin. The dispute hinges on the wedding night sheet. If bloodstained, the man must pay the bride's father double the bride price for the slander he brought on her and her father's house, and he has to remain married to her. (Jacob, we might note, paid a double bride price, fourteen years of service, for Rachel and had to remain married to Leah.) In the rule, if there is no blood on the sheet, the woman is put to death because she is judged to have committed harlotry.
The climactic part of the rule, the bride's lack of virginity, provides the reason, I submit, why it is set clown at all. In both texts, a man rejects his bride because of a misconception about her that, in each instance, results from what happens on the wedding night. Jacob is mistaken about his bride's identity, and the man in the rule is mistaken about his bride's virginity. But the story and the rule then diverge. On account of the circumstances he finds himself in, Jacob cannot reject Leah. In the rule, however, the man can reject his bride if no blood has been found on the sheet. Can we, despite the different outcomes, claim a link between the law and the narrative? I think that we can. The rule furnishes a valid basis for rejecting a bride-- lack of virginity-- that was not available to Jacob. I believe that the lawgiver crafted the rule as a reaction to Jacob's inability to reject Leah. The intent of the law is that if, sometime in the future, an Israelite seeks to dismiss his newly acquired bride, the one ground entitling him to do so is the production of proof that she was not a virgin.
Links of this kind, not being immediately obvious, account for the difficulty in picking up how the laws relate to the narratives. My claim is that these links nonetheless exist, and for every rule we have to position ourselves correctly to see the connection. In the preceding example, we can assume that later Israelites were familiar with the story about the founding father's marital problem. Jacob's predicament raised the question about what a man might do if he somehow acquired a wife whom he did not wish. The rule, in turn, comes up with a comparable problem that might plausibly occur in ordinary, not legendary, times and examines the legal issues that might arise.
Later noncanonical authors did, in fact, formulate judgments in response to biblical events. Coming at the incident from a certain angle, Sirach, for instance, reacted critically to Jeremiah's daring preaching in the Temple court in the hearing of the governor. The authorities ill-treated him for doing so, and Jeremiah, driven to despair, curses the clay he was born and condemns his father and mother for giving him birth (Jeremiah 20). Responding to the incident, Sirach counseled about the imprudence of speaking provocatively in high places: "Remember your father and your mother N hen you sit in the council in the midst of grandees, lest perchance you stumble before them and show yourself to be a fool in your manner of speech, and do wish you had not been born and curse the clay of your birth" (Sir 23:14).
METHODS OF ANALYZING BIBLICAL LEGAL MATERIAL
My view of how biblical laws came to be set clown in writing differs radically from the long-standing view of other scholars who assume that the laws are responses to issues and problems that arose in the lives of lawgivers. For these scholars, the laws reflect live history, whereas for me they reflect a long lost past. On my reading, the laws have been formulated because someone (or some school of scribes) has surveyed an account of Israel's past up until the Exile and made judgments on matters arising in it. Given the nature of these two different assumptions about a living present as against a lost past, a markedly different result about the meaning of any one law usually emerges.
The attempt to relate biblical laws to social, political, and religious history cannot but be speculative, I submit. Much effort goes into suggesting various historical settings that are inferred from the biblical sources and into which the laws supposedly fit. But consider, by examining an example of two mutually exclusive attributions, how serendipitous is the linking of the laws to different periods of history in ancient Israel. J. E. Hartley relates the rule in Lev 25:39, 40 (an Israelite's having to sell himself to a fellow Israelite) to the time of the Judges. He states (perhaps accurately), "Beset by poor harvests, plagues, personal illness, marauding bands ... a brother may become so poor ... that he has to sell himself.... This would have been especially true during the clays of the judges, for the Israelites began their occupation of Canaan with limited capital and limited experience in farming. Losses inflicted by marauding bands were a recurring problem that caused these peasants great economic hardship and threatened many with the loss of their patrimony, as the book of Judges attests." Baruch Levine, in turn, relates the rule in Lev 25:47-55 (an Israelite's having to sell himself to a prosperous resident alien) to the postexilic Persian period of history, some five hundred years at least later than the period of the Judges. He reckons (and he may be correct) that it must have been a period when problems associated with a mixed population surfaced in Jerusalem and Judea.
In each of the two examples, we can find other critics who choose quite different periods of time to which each of the two rules might be related. My point is that often their observations may well be correct- in the periods of time in question, the concerns in the rules could have coincided with those in society-but it does not necessarily mean that we can pinpoint the laws as coming from one or another of these historical periods. We simply have no way of confirming that a particular law comes from the conjectured history in question.
My criticism of the regnant theory is, then, that it lacks the provable documentary sources to support claims about the possible links between laws and actual historical events. Those who adhere to the thesis assume that the issues in the laws are about the problems in the society of the lawgiver's time, because to these inquirers it is self-evident that laws are always responses to what goes on in society. But even in regard to the contemporary United States, where law is so much more institutionalized than in ancient society, that assumption is far from true, as I shall later point out. My own thesis at least has the merit that it invites an examination of evidence directly accessible to us: both rules and narratives are available for our direct scrutiny.From Calum Carmichael's preface to his The Book of Numbers:
The Book of Numbers, the least researched of the books that make up the Pentateuch, presents a puzzling combination of law and narrative. Seemingly haphazard sequences of rules interrupt an ongoing story about Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness. Some of these rules are often analyzed (the suspected adulteress, the daughters of Zelophehad, and the Sabbath stick-gatherer), and some have proved elusive (the Red Heifer and the nazirite). With this book I continue a process of discovery that, in the beginning, I did not know I was undertaking: to demonstrate how each law in the Pentateuch is a response to a problem arising in a narrative incident. Events in the Book of Genesis prove to be the springboard for every rule in Numbers. At the same time, I show that the same thinking is at work for the narratives in Numbers. They present episodes parallel in Genesis in order to counter disturbing developments that occurred among the fathers of the nation. I propose a new way of thinking about how the Pentateuch came into being, a perspective that opposes the long-standing Graf-Wellhausen, JEDP hypothesis about different sources (Jahwistic, Elohistic, Deuteronomistic, and Priestly).
This book’s primary aim is to transform our understanding of Numbers. Noting that stories in Genesis are so written as to anticipate future events like the sojourn and enslavement in Egypt and the acquisition of the land of Canaan, I argue that the migratory account of Jacob-Israel and his sons in Canaan and Egypt, the beginnings of the nation’s history in Genesis 25–50, furnishes issues on which Numbers, in both story and law, renders judgment. Numbers also thinks ahead to life beyond Israel’s wilderness wanderings between Egypt and Canaan in the era of Moses. Opposing what occurred among the fathers of the nation and among the wilderness generation, Numbers holds out higher standards to which later Israelites are to adhere.The first chapter, "Genesis Extended," from Carmichael's The Book of Numbers:
The Book of Numbers is an integral part of a narrative that runs from Genesis through 2 Kings: the Primary History, as it has come to be called. Numbers might be viewed as a study in secular and sacred leadership—with a twist. Moses represents more the secular side and Aaron the sacred. The twist is that their decisions and actions often oppose the ways of the ancestors in the Book of Genesis, particularly the conduct of Jacob, Judah, and Joseph. Before proceeding to an analysis of Numbers (in chapter 2), some comments are in order to introduce the role of Numbers in Genesis–2 Kings.
The Primary History depicts life from the creation of the world through the creation of Israel as a nation to its end in exile in Babylon. In the epic we have the unfolding of the history of the generations. There is among scholars, most welcome in my view, increasing recognition of and detailed argumentation from a nonreligious perspective for the unified character of Genesis–2 Kings. Much recent work has paid attention to the connections between one narrative and another, with Moshe Garsiel one of many critics pointing to the numerous links: for instance, the marriages of David and Jacob in 1 Samuel 18 and Genesis 29, respectively, which involve two sisters, noncommercial bride-prices, devious fathers-in-law, and the flight from them, which requires a wife (Michal, Rachel) to make use of household gods (teraphim) in order to escape the hostile fathers (Saul, Laban). I have long argued that the fable about the proposed marriage between the son of the thistle and the daughter of the cedar in 2 Kgs 14:1–14, puzzlingly relayed to curb the saber-rattling of King Amaziah, owes a great deal to the story in Genesis 34 about the slaughter of all the males of Hamor’s clan by the two sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi. They took up arms against the proposed marital alliance between the son of the ass (Hamor) and the daughter of the ox (Jacob). A major aim of this book is to bring out a plethora of hitherto unrecognized links between the narratives and laws in Numbers and the contents of Genesis. Greifenhagen’s claim that “Joseph is essentially bypassed” and forgotten after his story has been relayed at the end of Genesis could not be further from the truth, as is Thomas Römer’s claim that the Joseph story is virtually an appendage to the Pentateuch in its final form.
Bodies of rules, law codes in some sense—for instance, Exodus 21–23 and Deuteronomy 12–26—are part of the narrative history of Genesis–2 Kings. Numbers does not have a comparable body of rules that might conveniently be called a code of laws but we do find, interspersed among its narratives, different sequences of rules. The joint presentation of storytelling and laws, not just in Numbers but to a lesser extent in Leviticus too, immediately invites puzzlement because the recitation of a series of rules that every so often interrupts a continuous narrative history seems anomalous. Equally awkward is the impression that there often appears to be neither rhyme nor reason why one law follows another. This mode of literary arrangement wherein it appears that narrative flow is interrupted by legal text is present throughout the Pentateuch. Because Numbers is a continuation of Leviticus I shall focus in this chapter on some laws in Leviticus to set the stage for my analysis of Numbers, for what is true of Leviticus is also true of Numbers.
Consider, then, one example from Leviticus that serves well to indicate the problem of sequence. Lev 19:11–12 has a seemingly haphazard succession of rules—theft, false dealing, lying, swearing falsely by Yahweh’s name, and profaning God’s name: “Ye shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither lie one to another. And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am Yahweh.” If we consider this particular instance of the problem of sequence, the issues that arise are worth unpacking because the example serves to lay out clearly the difference between the long-standing Wellhausen, JEDP, scholarly approach and my argument about the highly integrated character of Genesis–2 Kings.
A recent book by Christophe Nihan brings out the gulf in the respective positions. His book is a model of its kind: very well researched in terms of the Wellhausian approach he favors and faithful to scholars who strongly adhere to the method in question. His aim is “to reassess the difficult question of the formation history of the book of Leviticus, in relationship to the composition of the Torah as a whole and to the history of the early Second Temple period, during which this book was written.” He makes the common claim that, despite appearances, Leviticus was not composed as a coherent narrative at a certain historical moment but incorporates a considerable number of additions over time. Almost all the added extras he identifies he detects by exercising sensitivity to language and syntax; and also by inferring historical developments behind literary texts. One problem, however, is that different scholars exhibit different sensitivities to language and syntax, providing many variations in parsing texts, and, from my perspective, producing quite bewildering arrays of propositions about editorial additions and the dating thereof. While Nihan details the many scholars and their views, he does not address the implicit but never questioned assumption that differences in the texts must necessarily indicate differences in the period of time they were produced. My approach is fundamentally at odds with their attribution of historical development, so carefully yet so variably parsed from the texts and unquestioningly based by these scholars on that bulwark of received opinion, the JEDP hypothesis. Moreover, working on the same historical critical assumptions, on the same material in the Pentateuch (the Patriarchal stories in Genesis and the account of the Exodus from Egypt), scholars such as Römer and John Van Seters come to results quite at odds with each other. For the latter JE is the primary redactor, for the former it is P.
One of Nihan’s conclusions is a typical tour de force of contemporary neo-Wellhausian scholarship: “Later [after Lev 1–3 has used an alleged earlier document], Lev 1–3 was included into P’s narrative by means of Lev 8–9, building an inclusion with Ex 25–29, as well as by various additional redactional devices, such as the envelope created by the motif of Moses’ [actually non-] admission into the sanctuary in Ex 40:35 and [admission with Aaron] Lev 9:23.” For Nihan, these additions are spread over many periods of time and the dates guessed at. The final form of Leviticus is dated to the Second Temple period and for Nihan constitutes a window into the life and institutions of the state Yehud (Judea after the return from exile). But the complaint of Montesquieu from over two hundred years ago about those who construct history still applies: “They don’t make a system after reading history; they begin with the system and then search for proofs. And there are so many facts over a long history, so many different ways of thinking about it, its origins are ordinarily so obscure, that one always finds materials to validate all sorts of opinions.”
If we wish to gain insight into the substance of the rules in Leviticus, Nihan has us consider similar rules in law codes that allegedly predate Leviticus: the Decalogue, the Covenant Code, and the Deuteronomic Code. He then cites the succession of rules in Lev 19:11–12 (quoted above), which he claims belong to a separate Holiness Code (H), a fifth main source which Wellhausen’s scholarly heirs have added to the Priestly Code of Leviticus 1–15. The Leviticus rule about theftcompletes the prohibition … in Ex 20:15; Deut 5:19 [against stealing] with two others concerning deception of a fellow Israelite … not found in the other codes. V. 12 [about misusing God’s name] takes up Ex 20:7; Deut 5:11 [not to use Yahweh’s name in vain], but restates it emphasizing the specific aspect of the prohibition on swearing a false oath … in Yahweh’s name (instead of the more general prohibition on misusing the name in the Decalogue), and adds a different rationale: the fear of desecrating Yahweh’s [text has God’s] name. This rationale betrays a characteristic feature of H which introduces for the first time in the Torah the notion that not only Yahweh but also his [text has God’s] name are holy and thereby liable to be desecrated.In Nihan’s view, it is all about additions, with the last one supposedly revealing the final editor’s contribution to Israelite legal history and Israelite religion.
Plainly, Nihan pursues the form of literary analysis associated with Graf-Wellhausen, dividing the Pentateuch into different sources and assuming that these sources reflect historical development. But it is possible to pursue less complicated means of understanding the text so that, as in mathematics where the simpler solution is usually the more convincing one, the more convoluted one then becomes precarious. For example, when considering the series of laws in Lev 19:11–12, I too assume a narrator-lawgiver (or scribe or school of scribes) who is familiar with other parts of the biblical corpus. But whatever the sources of his knowledge for the diverse contents of this corpus might have been originally, he set down the rules’ disparate subject matter in response, not to existing laws in other codes of law in order to update them but to a disturbing event in the life of the nation’s founding father, Jacob-Israel (Genesis 27).
Isaac had asked Esau to bring him a game dish that he enjoyed with a view to conferring the blessing of the firstborn on Esau. But in collusion with his mother, Jacob set about stealing Esau’s birthright. To this end, the two of them prepared a meat dish from one of their domestic animals. Jacob disguised himself as his hairy brother and presented the dish. Isaac, who was blind, identified the bringer of the meat as Esau by feel and expressed surprise at how quickly he had brought the food. Asked who he was, Jacob lied by saying that he was Esau. We have in this story a clear succession: an intention to steal involving false dealing, followed by a blatant lie. It is the same order as in the prohibitions in Lev 19:11: “Ye shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither lie one to another.” When asked by Isaac about the speed with which he had brought the dish, Jacob, invoking God, swore falsely by audaciously saying, “Yahweh your God made it come before me” (Gen 27:20). In the prohibition in Yahweh’s own words against false swearing in Lev 19:12 both names are used—as in Gen 27:20: “Ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am Yahweh.”
Instead of comprehending this cluster of rules as a product of a bewildering process of redaction involving different and even hypothetical documents and inferred time periods, we can view the medley as formulated in reaction to issues raised when Jacob cheated Esau. Not only do particulars in the episode carry over into details in the rules; by unraveling this thought process a more natural and certainly more engaging method of composition emerges. Did the scribe of Leviticus have before him a written text? I think we should envision the narratives and the laws as being written down simultaneously and being in conversation with each other, rather than one serving as background material to the other. At some seat of learning and training it may have been realized, generally, that to derive the full benefit of several sources of information it was essential to keep them several. Like similar laws probing different aspects of a narrative incident, similar narratives probe different aspects of some basic situation (for example, the suffering of the people in the wilderness because of lack of water). The uncovering of legal, ethical, and religious ideas by a full and thorough integration of the narrative and legal materials has driven the complex composition of Genesis through 2 Kings. It is vain, I think, to try to separate out behind-the-scene sources and impose our historical knowledge on them. Historical inquiry should focus primarily on the narrator’s own interest in history, his going back and forth between the generations as recorded in Genesis–2 Kings. The narrator is aware of historical development, and it is his sense of past and future we should heed, not scholarly speculations about the dating of different bodies of material.
While I do not set aside the achievements of the Wellhausian methodology—even if judgments about different strands of material might be off the mark, much illumination is often forthcoming—it is possible to so view the unity of the material as to cast serious doubts on many of the method’s results. Even the major distinctions among the inferred sources, P, H, and D, turn out to be decidedly shaky because, in my view, all the material in Genesis–2 Kings is a product of the same process of composition. Critics who have pursued and continue to pursue the source-critical approach are, in my view, like alchemists who attempt to make gold out of disparate elements without suspecting that they stand beside a goldmine.
In concluding a chapter entitled “Genesis as Part of a Larger Unity” that deals with the harmonious character of Genesis–Kings, Tom Brodie states, “There is significant evidence not only that Genesis is unified but that the same is true of the larger body of the Primary History. Many problems within the Primary History remain unresolved, but as with Genesis, the weight of evidence is shifting, and the idea of literary unity is gaining plausibility. It is the simplest hypothesis that accounts for the data.” I take Brodie’s point further to claim that the laws are an integral part of the larger literary unit of Genesis–2 Kings. Enabling us to discern many more of the interconnections than have been shown to date, my results prove compatible with this developing trend.
My hypothesis that the laws took up issues in the narratives and not, at least not directly, societal problems in the lawgiver’s time came long after I noted links between an increasing number of laws and narrative incidents in Genesis–2 Kings. The first time I broke through to what has become my primary hypothesis was when considering the rule against plowing with an ox and an ass together in Deut 22:10. I thought that the rule may not have a literal meaning but, like the rule about illegitimacy in early English law “Whoso bulleth the cow, the calf is yours,” be coded communication expressed as a proverb that criticized Jacob’s lackadaisical attitude to Shechem’s treatment of Dinah. Jacob’s moderate approach to Dinah’s contact with the Hivite people is depicted in Genesis 34. Jacob seemed not to care overmuch that the house of Israel would enter into a marriage alliance with the Hivite (Canaanite) house of Hamor (Ass). The rule against plowing with an ox and an ass together portrays the idea that Shechem, the son of the ass Hamor, plowed in a sexual sense Dinah, the daughter of the ox—Jacob refers to his house as that of the ox in his comment on the incident in Gen 49:6. The prohibition is directed against intermarriage with the Hivites, an injunction actually spelled out in Deut 7:1–3. One reason for the law’s cryptic expression is that it attacks the founding father of the nation, Jacob.
I assume that the narrator-lawgiver’s knowledge of legal lore in his time was brought to bear on the nation’s traditions and that he used that knowledge to formulate the laws he set down in the text. In this light, although rules come before narratives, the rules set down in the biblical text, having reacted to what is going on in the narratives, reformulate preexisting ones. Because biblical rules are the earliest written version of that early law, we have no way of knowing the legal lore and practices that existed before they were formulated and that the lawgiver was surely steeped in. I do not exclude the possibility that rules found in other Near Eastern writings may have been known to biblical authors, but the evidence remains elusive. When we observe how the procedure is from narrative to legal formulation, not the reverse, strange sequences of rules, oddities in their language, and puzzling features of their contents time and again make sense.
The writing down of a biblical command often meant the spelling out of the rule implicit in the narrative incident in light of how the lawgiver understood the rule in his time. That is, he formulated the rule in response to the incident. A good example is the injunction about menstruation in Lev 15:19–24. When Rachel’s father, Laban, pursues and catches up with the fleeing Jacob and his family, Rachel hides her father’s household gods, which she has stolen from his home. Laban searches for them, but Rachel prevents him from coming upon them by claiming to be unclean because of her menstrual flow of blood. She tells her father that she cannot arise from the camel’s saddle on which she sits (Gen 31:34). Implicit in her statement is the notion that he should touch neither her nor the object on which she sits because each is off-limits on account of menstrual blood. It is precisely such a narrative occurrence that typically triggers the lawgiver’s interest in any implicit rule that might be at stake, in this instance the one underlying Rachel’s attitude to her menstrual discharge. Thus he formulates a rule: “And if a woman have an issue and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even. And every thing that she lieth upon in her separation shall be unclean: every thing also that she sitteth upon shall be unclean” (Lev 15:19, 20).
I have tested almost all of the Pentateuchal rules in light of what takes place in the narratives of Genesis through 2 Kings and find the same relationship at play. I had not, until writing this book, tested the laws in the Book of Numbers against narrative incidents but do so now. With its completion, the tally comes to over four hundred laws since I first began the exercise with the rule against plowing with the ox and the ass. In this book, but confined to Numbers, I also examine an idea I have not considered before in any large-scale manner. Just as a great many laws in Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Leviticus relate to issues in Genesis, so do many of the narratives contained in Exodus–2 Kings, for example, the one about Saul’s daughter that Garsiel pointed out. The narratives in Numbers relay the history of Israel’s migration from Egypt through the wilderness to the border of Canaan. The write-up of this epic reflects at every turn, I shall argue, the influence of the previous migratory history in Genesis 25–50 when Jacob and his family migrated from Mesopotamia to Canaan and then to Egypt. Past experiences in Canaan and Egypt in the time of the fathers of the nation as depicted in Genesis are the focus of so many of the narratives and the accompanying laws in Numbers.
The recognition that both the narratives and the laws in Numbers consistently return to events in the Book of Genesis is crucial for comprehending in a quite new way Numbers’ diverse contents. Balaam’s confrontation with an angel, which ensures Israel’s deliverance from the king of Moab’s enmity, emulates Jacob’s confrontation with an angel, which delivers him from a previously hostile Esau (Numbers 22–24; Genesis 32). The five daughters of Zelophehad find that when their sonless father dies they are excluded from inheriting his estate. Moses, however, corrects the existing law of inheritance and permits daughters in the absence of sons to inherit after Israel conquers Canaan (Numbers 27). The topic is taken up because of a dramatic example of potential loss of inheritance in a Genesis episode. Jacob feared that Simeon’s and Levi’s slaughter of the fathers and sons of the Hivites put the entire house of Jacob at risk of retribution. It would face similar loss of fathers and sons: “And Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, Ye have troubled me to make me to stink among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites: and I being few in number, they shall gather themselves together against me, and slay me; and I shall be destroyed, I and my house” (Gen 34:30).
The rules about a woman’s vow and oath in Num 30:2–17 have a quite specific background in the Genesis account of Jacob’s vow to God at Bethel and his oath to Laban on returning to Bethel about the household gods that each man does not know are in the possession of Jacob’s wife, Rachel—she is also Laban’s daughter—as they flee from her father’s house (Gen 28:20–22; 31:32, 35:7, 14, 15). The rules referred to in Num 30:16 about female vows and oaths—“These are the statutes, which Yahweh commanded Moses, between a man and his wife, between the father and his daughter, being yet in her youth in her father’s house”—come from considering the implications of Jacob’s vow at Bethel and his oath to Laban in regard to Rachel (see chapter 10). The supposed ill-fitting material in Numbers 28 and 29, which precedes the section about vows and oaths and which lays out the requirements for cultic life (including some about vows), is also informed by reflection on Jacob’s vow at the very beginning of Israel’s cultic life, the worship of El-Elohe-Israel in Genesis 32.
Genesis presents the prehistory of Israel’s origin as a nation. Numbers, in turn, reviews the period after the Exodus from Egypt when Israel actually becomes a nation and takes up time and again issues in Genesis. The organized cult that we come upon in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy did not exist during patriarchal times. After the nation with its established cult comes into existence, its founding fathers are not forgotten, and we have assessment of issues touching on the sacred that arose among them. The aim is to ensure that priests properly handle equivalent issues that might turn up in later national life.
To appreciate the composition of Numbers it is crucial to take stock of a mode of history writing that is common at all times. In a justly renowned lecture at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London in October 1966, David Daube began by saying, “All history-writing transfers features of one event or one great personage to another, and, indeed, much history-acting is in imitation of previous occurrences. Whoever nowadays writes about Napoleon is likely to lend him some traits of Caesar, and Napoleon himself—not to mention de Gaulle—would on occasion look to that example.” The phenomenon of history writing incorporating previous history writing, especially by viewing the present as like the past in order to counter developments in the earlier period, imitation par opposition, is a major characteristic of Numbers in relation to Genesis.
In other biblical material the role of imitation par opposition is well recognized. Fate or providence or history has a disguised Joseph pay back his brothers in mirroring fashion to remind them of their evil treatment of him. When they come to Egypt to buy food to relieve the famine back in their own country of Canaan, Joseph is vizier in Egypt. The brothers’ acts of hatred against him are recalled—like Moses after him, Joseph is depicted as knowing the past and the future—and there is retaliation in kind. The brothers had concealed the true nature of his fate by having their father believe what his eyes told him, namely, that Joseph’s blood-stained coat meant that he had been killed by a wild beast. By way of reprisal, so the narrator slants his story, Joseph falsely accuses the brothers of wrongful looking: they are spies who have come to Egypt to view “the nakedness of the land” (Gen 42:12). A false claim made by the brothers, which involves sight, is paid back by Joseph’s false accusation of their wrongful looking. Later, Joseph, once his father’s favorite child, has Benjamin, the son who has replaced him in his father’s affections, brought to Egypt to remind the brothers of what they did to him. Another instance of imitation par opposition within the Joseph story is worked out in response to the fact that the brothers sought but did not in fact receive money for selling Joseph as a slave. Recall that Joseph had angered his brothers because in a dream he saw himself as a sheaf of grain to which they, as sheaves of grain, would bow down as ruled to ruler or, more to the point, as we shall see in chapter 6, worshipers to a divine being. In Egypt, Joseph torments the brothers by surreptitiously slipping money into their sacks of grain after they have already paid for it. The additional money placed inside the sacks is not a generous act but a retaliatory one representing the payment they never received for attempting to sell Joseph, the exalted “sheaf of grain.” When they received the grain from Joseph in Egypt they had indeed bowed down to him, exactly as Joseph’s dream predicted (Gen 42:6).
Imitation par opposition frequently shows up in the relationship between one narrative and another. A story often echoes a previous one in order to affirm that justice comes in many forms; that, even if a particular wrong cannot be righted, there is some measure of retribution at work. The second story might not originally even be related to the first. The narrative about Jacob’s marriages to the daughters of Laban illustrates the position well. The unwanted elder daughter Leah is slipped into the wedding tent in place of the desired younger daughter Rachel. The story is so recorded that we are meant to see it in relation to Jacob’s acquisition of the birthright when he, the younger brother, cheated the elder brother Esau out of the blessing of the firstborn. The narrator does not alert the hearer-reader to the connection, but it is to be picked up nonetheless.
The links between the narratives and the rules in Numbers and the narratives in Genesis about Jacob, Judah, and Joseph are precisely of this implicit kind. I assume that the original recipients of the material, let us say in a scribal school, readily recognized the connections. In any event, the formation of Numbers cannot be understood without awareness of two features: imitating in order to oppose and, in the mode of communication extolled by Heraclitus of Ephesus, “neither telling, nor concealing, but indicating.” To be sure, in the literary convention adopted by the scribes when they have Moses turn to incidents in his own lifetime in order to pronounce judgments on them, he is made to cite the event. When, however, they have Moses render judgments on incidents in Genesis, which occurred long before he lived, he is not made to cite events outright, but he is not made to cover over either; instead, he provides indication for those immersed in the nation’s lore.
There is, then, a pattern to the presentation of all of the material in Numbers. The past is corrected, particularly unacceptable tendencies that the patriarchs exhibited. Their conduct needed to be judged, even if excused up to a point, because of the milieu in which they operated (in Egypt, for example). If there is a formula at work in the writing up of the history in Numbers, it is repetition with change—in a later generation heading to the new land and for the better because the earlier unacceptable conduct was not to be replicated. The program that emerges takes under particular cognizance the results of Joseph’s life and policies in Egypt. An example in Leviticus 25 anticipates the pattern in Numbers: the Jubilee Year that is institutionalized for the Israelites stands in opposition to what Joseph institutionalized for the Egyptians at the end of their famine. The Sabbatical cycle in Leviticus 25, with its climactic Year of Jubilee, relates back to the developments in Egypt. The policy adopted because of Joseph’s counsel to Pharaoh is the key to how the Israelite institution came to be formulated. In Genesis 37–50, seven years of plentiful harvests in Egypt are followed by seven years of famine, but Joseph’s policy enables everyone to be fed. In a climactic year of the famine, every Egyptian is enslaved and each gives over his ancestral property to Pharaoh. In Lev 25:2–13, seven Sabbatical Years of no harvests interspersed over a period of forty-nine years leads to a climactic fiftieth year when there is again no harvest, but during the fallow years everyone continues to be fed. The seven Sabbatical Years mimic the seven years of famine in Egypt. In the fiftieth year, every enslaved Israelite is freed and every Israelite who has sold ancestral property returns to it—the opposite of what happened to the Egyptians under Joseph.
The literary process I am focusing on shows up in the Book of Genesis. The past is mended by having it repeated but revised in order to oppose its unacceptable tendencies. To justify the attainment of the coveted position of firstborn son, Isaac has to undergo a life-threatening encounter at the hands of his father, Abraham. Isaac’s experience mimics his elder brother Ishmael’s. Most unfairly, Ishmael underwent a near-death experience after Abraham sent him away into the desert with his mother, Hagar (Genesis 21). God’s intervention to prevent intercourse between Sarah and Abimelech in Genesis 20 is intended to communicate, among other matters, a negative reaction to Sarah’s sexual defilement by Pharaoh as initiated by Abram in Genesis 12. The narrator (or scribe or school of scribes) responsible for setting out both stories does not remove one and keep the other. After all, the dubiousness of Abraham’s and Sarah’s ploy is still very much in the fore in Genesis 20. The aim is not to sanitize tradition about Abraham and Sarah but to present the later development by way of furthering ethical reflection on the conduct of the actors in a previously told story, where cultural milieu determines the patriarch’s action.
Concentration on patriarchal conduct in Genesis with a view to avoiding its repetition in later Israelite life is a major feature of the narratives and rules recounted in Numbers. The narrative in Numbers 25 and the related one in Numbers 31 depict Israelite antagonism to any dealings with Moabite or Midianite women. The two stories are so written as to counter Israelite idolatrous tendencies by invoking and strengthening the spirit of opposition that Simeon and Levi exhibited when dealing with the Hivites in Genesis 34 and 35. The incipient nation’s first sexual and religious encounter with a foreign group, the Hivites, raises the equivalent and more intense concern about encountering the later Moabites and Midianites. Numbers draws out the potential problem of idolatry in the Genesis incident with a view to countering it (see chapter 10). This process of judgment occurs throughout the Book of Numbers. Another instance is how the loss of Joseph to his family in Genesis 37 brings to the attention of the Numbers lawgiver the loss of inheritance to some of Joseph’s descendants in Numbers 27 and 36 (see chapters 10 and 11). Arrangements are set out to prevent any loss.
The placement of collections of laws at different points in Genesis through 2 Kings reveals an intense interest in beginnings in line with the major role of Genesis as a document about origins. The deity’s rules about killing animals and humans appear at the fresh beginning of the world after the Flood (Gen 9:3–6). The Decalogue, the Book of the Covenant in Exodus 21–23, and the succeeding rules about the institution of the cult make their appearance at the start of the nation after the exodus from Egypt. The laws of Leviticus regulating the priesthood are put immediately after the setting up of the Tabernacle on the first day of the first month in the second year after leaving Egypt, and the laws of Deuteronomy 12–26 are set down in anticipation of the Israelites starting a new life in the land of Canaan. The spotlight is primarily on seminal events as they are depicted in Genesis–2 Kings, and because Genesis contains so many of these its role in Numbers too is substantial.
The primary feature of biblical lawmaking is, I repeat, that the laws take up issues arising in the nation’s history, especially at its beginnings, with the laws incorporated into a coherent narrative that begins in Genesis and concludes in 2 Kings. It should seem obvious that if bodies of laws are incorporated into an ongoing narrative at certain points, there will be a significant connection between one and the other. This is indeed the case. When scholars attempt to make sense of the rules by choosing instead to reconstruct actual life in ancient Israel, they have been missing this fundamental feature of all of the laws. The cases the laws take up and render judgment on come not primarily from the world of experience (although there must have been some link to issues in the scribes’ own time), but from a narrative history as recorded in Genesis through 2 Kings.
Karl Llewellyn urged law students when first handling cases to knock their ethics into temporary anesthesia and immerse themselves in the cases: “Dig beneath the surface, bring out the story, and you have dramatic tales that stir, that make the cases stick, that weld your law into the whole of culture.” When we deal with biblical law, the dramatic tales served up in the biblical texts provide the cases, and digging beneath their surface does indeed furnish the issues the laws take up. Something of a parallel in a quite different ancient culture is how, inspired by the rise of legal advocacy in his time, Sophocles in Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus explores with consummate literary sensitivity legal and ethical issues in the Greek myths about origins. Recognizing the nature of the biblical integration of law and narrative provides us with a literary representation of ancient Israelite culture. Assnat Bartor’s recent book highlights the remarkable literary character of the biblical laws themselves.
The recovery of what the law might have been in real life is not my aim, nor do I think it is a plausible one because of the lack of reliable historical records. My position is the opposite of one expressed by Charles Foster Kent in 1906 and still standard in scholarly circles. Frustrated by the “confusing labyrinth” of the laws, Kent argued that “before [they] can be intelligently read … they must be systematically codified, (1) logically, according to subject matter, and (2) chronologically, within each group, so that the enactments and usages of successive periods can be studied in their true historical order.” In other words, as Austin Blum points out, “Kent believes that historical knowledge permits scholars to understand the biblical laws better than the lawgivers themselves did. Kent performed this feat of perception through the presumption that the actual placement of the laws in the text was of no importance. For him, the laws gain meaning only when they are organized chronologically, which allows Kent to see how they developed in response to what he and other scholars conjecture to be the changing social conditions of ancient Israelite society, and by subject matter, presumably through Kent’s own common law perspective.” I could not disagree more with Kent’s position and will set out to oppose the long-standing consensus that he articulated so clearly over one hundred years ago. My thesis opposes the conventional, rather disparaging view that “the compilations of laws and customs [come] from different sources, all brought together without any real attempt at editing or correlation.” In contrast to views such as Kent’s, I believe that the sequence and placement of laws—the very elements they find not even confounding but irrelevant—are vital keys to their meaning.
A clear instance where I differ markedly from other critics is the assessment of similar rules in the different codes of law. They wrongly, in my view, see two similar rules reflecting different historical periods in the life of the nation. The first thing to be said about their approach is that it is highly speculative because we simply do not know the history of ancient Israel outside of the biblical record, which I consider to be often fictional or mythical or pseudohistorical. It is not that I am denying some historical reality to the rules. Their contents may well mirror actual practices and be based on rules known to the compiler(s) of the biblical rules when he committed them to writing. The rules are, in fact, even more interesting than any assumptions about the historical realities of ancient Israel might suggest. Once we view them as arising from reflection on the mythical and legendary history in Genesis–2 Kings, we can pinpoint exactly why the rules take up the problems they do and we can appreciate how deeply the biblical authors thought about things.
The assumption that goes into my hypothesis can be examined; the standard historical-critical cannot because there are no sources external to the text to back up ideas about how Israelite society really operated. I repeat that I am not dismissing the possibility, even the likelihood, that what the biblical lawgivers do was also geared to making an impact on their own time and place. It is just that I know no way of accessing that purpose or the impact it may have had. In any event, the standard view that one law belongs to this source and time and another similar law to a different source and a different time can be countered with a plausible alternative. A case in point, the narrative in Genesis 34 about Shechem’s seduction of Dinah, explains why two similar rules about seduction exist and why they also differ markedly from each other (Exod 22:16, 17 and Deut 22:28, 29). The contents of each rule differ because divergent judgments can arise depending on what aspect of the narrative tradition is under review: the refusal of the daughter in the Exodus rule corresponds to the refusal of Dinah to the foreigner Shechem in the story; the fixed bride-price for an Israelite seducer in the Deuteronomic law opposes Shechem’s negotiating a bride-price for Dinah.From a review of Illuminating Leviticus by William Gilders:
In this new work, Calum Carmichael continues the project of most of his previous books, seeking to demonstrate that biblical law collections were composed in reflection on Israel’s national narratives. Here he deals with Leviticus 10–17 and 21–25, having treated Leviticus 18–20 in an earlier study, Law, Legend, and Incest in the Bible: Leviticus 18–20 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1997).
As the title indicates, Carmichael’s goal is to shed light on the meaning of various laws in Leviticus. According to Carmichael, the entirety of Israel’s national narrative, from Genesis to 2 Kings, existed in more-or-less its present form, prior to the composition of the legal materials that now appear at various points in the Pentateuch. Reflection on this narrative by the scribe who composed the legal materials that make up most of Leviticus (whom Carmichael regularly refers to as “the lawgiver”) determined the contents and organization of the laws. The laws of Leviticus are fictive constructions, exercises in producing laws, stimulated by engagement with narratives and their key themes. As rhetorical exercises, they are not connected with practical legal concerns.
From a critique of Carmichael's methodology by Bernard Levinson:
In three books and numerous articles, Calum M. Carmichael argues for a radical transformation in the way the laws of Deuteronomy are to be understood. His most recent work, Law and Narrative in the Bible, maintains that the legal corpus of Deuteronomy, far from being "law," rather constitutions "literature," in which the Deuteronomistic historian reflects upon the full range of pre-exilic Israelite narrative, Genesis through 2 Kings. In the course of this argument, Carmichael makes fundamental assertions about the composition of Deuteronomy, the history of Israelite literature, and the history of interpretation. Carmichael introduces his work as an attempt "to overturn longstanding views on the material that has always been in center stage in the study of the Bible" and as "radical in its results." His work has already generated a series of further studies of narrative allusion and drafting techniques in Deuteronomy that presuppose his arguments.
From a review of Illuminating Leviticus by Beth Berkowitz:
Calum Carmichael’s Illuminating Leviticus argues that Biblical law was formed in response to Biblical narrative and not, as many scholars argue, the social conditions of ancient Israel. At stake in his argument is a question about the nature and purpose of law which, Carmichael proposes, is an exercise in identity-building and ideology, not in practical problem-solving.
Carmichael’s argument is based on the development of the laws in Leviticus 10-25 (He omits chapters 18-20 because he dedicated a previous book, Law, Legend, and Incest in the Bible, to it them.). Carmichael argues that these laws were composed in reaction to the grand narrative of Israel’s beginnings found in Genesis through 2 Kings. In Carmichael’s reconstruction, the lawgiver had this narrative before him. As he sifted through the stories, he responded to them, creating laws to ensure that the injustices found there would not happen again and to trigger historical memory for his contemporary audience. While the lawgiver no doubt drew on the existing legal traditions of ancient Israel and neighboring peoples, Carmichael argues that Biblical law marks the invention of a new tradition intended to recollect, ritualize, and sometimes reverse the inherited history of Israel. The lawgiver, who Carmichael hypothesizes probably lived in the Babylonian exile, then interspersed his laws into the narrative and produced the Pentateuch as we more or less know it today.
Illuminating Leviticus takes us systematically through the Leviticus laws, showing that the details of each legal passage can be explained by reference to a particular Biblical narrative. Carmichael’s method is to identify points in the Biblical law that appear perplexing or impractical, such as a word choice, the order of the laws, or an unusual legal scenario, and to use the linkage to the story as a resolution to this seeming difficulty. In so doing, Carmichael attempts to solve long-standing problems in the interpretation of the legal texts.