John H. Sailhamer. The Meaning of the Pentateuch: Revelation, Composition and Interpretation. IVP Academic, 2009. See here to purchase the book.
The late John Sailhamer taught Old Testament at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Brea, California.
In the Meaning of the Pentateuch, Sailhamer makes a variety of points about the Pentateuch. They include (but are not limited to) the following:
—-Sailhamer argues that a version of the Pentateuch was written by
Moses, who used different sources. Later, the Pentateuch underwent an
eschatological update. Parts were added that stressed the coming of a
Messianic king of Israel in the last days. This king of Israel would
defeat Israel’s enemies, inaugurate paradise, and bless the nations.
Sailhamer believes that such themes were latent in the original
Pentateuch, but that the additions emphasized them and made them
—-According to Sailhamer, canonizers played a role in the
Pentateuch’s eschatological orientation, as well as that of the Hebrew
Bible. The Pentateuch ends with Israel not yet in the Promised Land,
and that is because the Jewish people during the time of this
canonization are still awaiting the Messianic, eschatological
restoration of Israel to, and in, her land. The same goes with the
Hebrew Bible, which ends with II Chronicles, with Israel still in exile,
and yet hope is on the horizon. At the same time, Sailhamer maintains
that there were different communities with different canons: some
communities preferred to end the Hebrew Bible with II Chronicles, giving
the Hebrew Bible an eschatological focus that anticipated a future
restoration from exile. At least one community, however, ended the
Hebrew Bible with Ezra-Nehemiah. This gave the Hebrew Bible a
historical focus, which maintained that the fulfillment of Israel’s
restoration from exile occurred historically under Ezra and Nehemiah.
Sailhamer holds that this difference of opinion can also be discerned in
different versions of the Book of Jeremiah.
—-Sailhamer maintains that the Pentateuch is not about obeying rules
but is about faith. Trust in God is a recurring theme in the Pentateuch
(i.e., Abraham believes God, the Israelite spies did not have faith in
God). According to Sailhamer, God in the Pentateuch desired a direct
relationship with Israel. Israel would be a priesthood and would hear
from God directly, and she would have few rules to follow. But Israel
feared hearing directly from God and requested a mediator, and she kept
sinning. Aaron helped Israel to construct the Golden Calf, and
Israelites worshiped goat demons. God then gave more laws to provide
Israel with discipline, restraint, and guidance. The Tabernacle would
provide a system of mediation, the levitical laws would keep the priests
on the straight and narrow, and the Holiness Code would guide
individual Israelites. For Sailhamer, this structure of the Pentateuch
(and he seems to believe this is part of the original Pentateuch)
anticipates the new covenant, in which God would write God’s laws on the
Israelites’ hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Sailhamer argues that parts of
the Book of Jeremiah support this picture of God giving Israel more
laws in response to Israel’s sins, and he also refers to New Testament
and patristic views to that effect.
—-Sailhamer defends certain Christian interpretations of the Hebrew
Bible. When Paul in Galatians 3:16 states that God made the promises to
Abraham’s seed (Christ, according to Paul), not Abraham’s seeds, did
Paul fail to realize that “seed” is a collective noun? When Matthew
2:15 applies Hosea 11:1 (“Out of Egypt I have called my son”) to Jesus
coming from Egypt, did Matthew not notice that Hosea 11:1 is about
Israel coming out of Egypt? Is Isaiah 7:14 eschatological or Messianic,
as Matthew 1:23 seems to suggest, or does it concern an event in the
seventh century B.C.E.? Sailhamer wrestles with difficult questions and
offers important insights: that there is an individual, kingly seed in
the Hebrew Bible who blesses the nations, and that Numbers 24:7-8 can be
interpreted to mean that God will bring the king of Israel out of
Egypt. In my opinion, he was not as convincing on Isaiah 7:14. While
he may be correct that Isaiah 7:14 has a larger eschatological
significance in the Book of Isaiah, it still seems to be a sign about
events in the seventh century B.C.E.
—-While Sailhamer defends Christian interpretations of the Hebrew
Bible, he is unhappy with the tendency of many Christians to treat the
Hebrew Bible primarily as a prophecy about Christ, or as a promise about
Christ’s coming. In his mind, such an approach implies that the Hebrew
Bible is useless now that Christ has come. Sailhamer believes that the
Hebrew Bible still enlightens and informs, and that it provides a
context for the New Testament. For Sailhamer, the Hebrew Bible’s focus
is not so much on prediction as it is on elucidating God’s will and
—-Sailhamer contends that there is a shift towards individual piety
in the course of the Hebrew Bible. Deuteronomy 15:1 commands that the
Israelites are to hear the Torah every seven years. By contrast, Joshua
1:8, which marks the “Prophets” section of the Hebrew Bible, and Psalm
1, which marks the “Writings” section, exhort individuals to meditate on
the Torah day and night. Sailhamer refers to a scholarly argument that
the Book of Psalms was intended for individual piety, and he presents a
picture of exilic and post-exilic Jews as literate. Sailhamer also
maintains that the song in Exodus 15 presents a picture of individual
praise of God.
—-Sailhamer made intriguing points and addressed questions that I
have had. What did Noah mean when he predicted that Japheth would dwell
in the tents of Shem (Genesis 9:27)? Sailhamer answers that in
reference to the identification of their descendants in Genesis 10 as
well as the Book of Daniel, relating it to Rome and Greece’s dominion
over Assyria, Babylon, and Israel. Did Noah end God’s curse of the
earth (Genesis 5:29)? If so, why does the ground still produce thorns?
According to Sailhamer, Noah, by sacrificing after the Flood,
encouraged God to bless the earth. Sailhamer also notes that, prior to
the Abrahamic and Sinaitic covenants, the Hebrew hero (Abraham and
Moses) had contact with a Gentile (Melchizedek and Jethro). Sailhamer
commented some on the significance of this, but he could have commented
more; most of the time, he had the opposite problem, repeating points he
had already made—-sometimes the exact same arguments and quotations.
Now for my assessment:
—-Sailhamer argued robustly for his positions. He did not merely
assume that certain passages in the Pentateuch are eschatological, as
some evangelical scholars do, but he actually set out to defend his
positions and to address challenging questions. His argument that there
was a later eschatological update to the Pentateuch is plausible, even
though I would not be too quick to acknowledge that the Pentateuchal
writings were originally eschatological.
—-Sailhamer focuses on Judah in his interaction with Genesis 49.
Genesis 49 can be translated to concern the last days, and it talks
about a Judahite king, whom Sailhamer interprets as the Messiah. But
Jacob in Genesis 49 talks about the other Israelite tribes as well. How
do they fit into the last days? Many Jewish interpreters have
interpreted Genesis 49 in reference to events in Israel’s history: the
judge and serpent Dan in vv 16-17 has been interpreted as Samson, for
instance. They have also maintained that the phrase translated as “last
days” actually means coming days, which is not necessarily
eschatological. (Sailhamer acknowledges that as a possible translation
but rejects it, thinking that the eschatological interpretation of the
phrase makes more sense, in terms of the structure of the Pentateuch.) A
possible challenge to Sailhamer’s interpretation of Genesis 49 as
eschatological occurs in v 7. Jacob predicts that Simeon and Levi will
be scattered in Israel. That happened historically, but, after Israel’s
eschatological restoration, Simeon and Levi will receive land in
Israel, according to Ezekiel 48. How would Sailhamer interpret such
details of Genesis 49, from an eschatological standpoint?
—-Did exilic and post-exilic Jews really possess their own copies of
the Torah, as in their own scrolls? That is not usually the picture
that I have gotten from academics, but I am open to correction.
—-Sailhamer interprets Numbers 24:7-8 to concern the Messiah coming
out of Egypt. Are there any post-biblical Jewish sources that manifest
such an expectation, though? If canonizers updated the Pentateuch to
include such an expectation, would we have seen it in other Jewish
sources? More engagement with post-biblical Jewish sources may have
helped Sailhamer’s case (or not).
—-As I said above, Sailhamer was repetitive when it came to certain
points. That did help me absorb the points, but did he have to, say,
quote Jamieson-Faussett-Brown’s statement that Moses used sources three
times? The conclusion did a good job tying things together, especially
when it related Sailhamer’s discussion of methodology and evaluation of
evangelical scholarship to Sailhamer’s own methodology and project.
Still, an appendix in which Sailhamer laid out the passages that he
believed were the original Pentateuch, and the passages that he
considered to be the later additions, would have been helpful.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest!
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