Konrad Schmid. The Old Testament: A Literary History. Translated by Linda M. Maloney. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012.
Konrad Schmid defines a literary history as “an attempt to present
and interpret literary works not simply in themselves but in their
various contexts, linkages, and historical developments” (page 1). In The Old Testament: A Literary History,
Schmid situates writings within the Hebrew Bible in historical
contexts: the time before Assyria’s rise as a world power, the Assyrian
period, the Babylonian period, the Persian period, the Ptolemaic period,
and the Seleucid period. Schmid also discusses the role of scribes in
the production of ancient religious writings, intertextuality (in which
one writer interacts with another writing), and redaction. Redaction
plays a significant role in Schmid’s work, as Schmid explores the
redactional harmonization within the text of different voices, as well
as the redactional conformity of the texts to what would become the
general structure of the Hebrew Bible as a whole (i.e., the priority of
Torah over the prophets).
The book excels in its depiction of religious and theological
diversity within the Hebrew Bible. This is especially the case in
Schmid’s discussion of themes in Genesis. Schmid argues that the
priestly writer’s flood story was essentially placing eschatology within
a primeval context. Against those who wrote that God would judge
people with a cataclysm, P was saying that God already did so with the
flood, and that God vowed never to do so again. According to Schmid,
there were writers within the Hebrew Bible who disagreed with P on this:
the Isaiah Apocalypse, for instance, maintains that God indeed will
destroy the earth because its inhabitants broke God’s covenant, which
probably means God’s covenant with Noah, a covenant that applies to all
of humanity. Schmid discusses other ways in which biblical writers
differed from one another: some, to promote a political agenda of
Israel’s restoration, restricted the restoration to the Jews in
Babylonian exile returning to their land, whereas other voices and
redactions universalized the restoration, envisioning Israelites
returning from all over the earth.
Schmid’s literary history is also useful because it refers to recent
scholarship. For example, a number of biblical scholars long held that
there are three (largely independent) Isaiahs: First Isaiah was written
in the eighth century B.C.E., Second Isaiah was written in exile, and
Third Isaiah was written in Israel’s post-exilic period. According to
Schmid, “support for the traditional three-book hypothesis has declined
markedly” (page 203), as scholars notice redactional connections between
the Isaiahs. Not only does Schmid refer readers to recent scholarship,
but he is also evenhanded in his discussion of various attempts to date
biblical stories and writings, such as I-II Chronicles and the story of
Josiah, as he acknowledges different arguments and possibilities.
Also noteworthy are some of Schmid’s proposals on dating. Schmid,
for example, considers Judges 3-9 to be pro-Assyrian: to be arguing in
the aftermath of Assyria’s destruction of Northern Israel’s monarchy
that Israel does not need a king and can co-exist with hostile powers.
Schmid regards the Moses story, by contrast, to be anti-Assyrian: to be
saying that the only legitimate imperial power is that of God. Whether
or not one agrees with Schmid’s proposals, they do make the book worth
The only criticism that I have of Schmid’s book is that it does not
adequately explore who wrote the biblical texts, and what exactly their
political agendas were. He says that they were scribes with different
perspectives. But why did they have the perspectives that they did?
Schmid does offer general ideas, but he could have gone deeper.
The book is an introduction to the Hebrew Bible. To a professor of
an Introduction to Hebrew Bible class, I would recommend it as a
supplement to Richard Elliott Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible? Who Wrote the Bible? would show students the basis for historical-critical interpretations
of the Bible (i.e., biblical contradictions, different authorships,
anachronisms, etc.). But because Friedman presents a particular model for the Pentateuch's
composition and development----his version of the JEPD Documentary
Hypothesis----students would profit from also reading Schmid's book,
which offers other models for the Hebrew Bible's composition and
I received a review copy of this book from Fortress Press in exchange for an honest review. See here for Fortress Press’s page about this book.
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