Should the literary nature of the Priestly corpus prevent us from connecting it to ancient Near Eastern religion on the ground? A generation ago, the sober answer would have been, “yes.” Nobody had assessed the overall nature of the Hebrew epigraphic corpus, and we had made only desultory comparisons between the editorial character of P and that of other ancient Near Eastern ritual corpora. But now the answer may be different.
Scholars of ancient religion have long wriggled on the horns of a conundrum: the edited, Hellenistic manuscripts of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers provide overwhelmingly more explicit detail about ritual than any other set of texts — or artifacts — from the ancient Near East. For scholars of the Hebrew Bible, the temptation has been to triangulate a social location for these texts–the closest recent readers (Milgrom, Knohl, Schwartz) have tended to locate them in the later Iron Age (IIb). This fits well with the only reliable external evidence for literary activity in Classical Biblical Hebrew–the epigraphic record, which makes clear that the only time that this variety was systematically written was between the 8th and early 6th centuries BCE. Biblical texts from after this period show an increasing mix of Aramaic, Late Biblical Hebrew, and eventually, Persian and Greek features. . .
Give the whole thing a read at Serving the Word. Seth doesn’t post as often as some of us, but when he does it is always worth reading; it always deals with the ancient texts in the context of modern scholarship. While I wish he’d post more often, I like it when a biblioblogger deals with the Bible. I like it even more when a biblioblogger deals with the Hebrew Bible in its Near Eastern context. By the way, noting how important elements of the Hebrew Bible differ from what we know of that context is part of dealing with it in that context.