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Unfolding the Deuteronomistic History:…

Unfolding the Deuteronomistic History: Origins, Upgrades, Present Text (2000)

by Antony F. Campbell

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"In Unfolding the Deuteronomistic History Campbell and O'Brien have provided a useful tool for getting at the debate over the composition of the Deuteronomistic History, without neglecting the outlook and theology of the work as a whole. Each page is packed with information that is, nevertheless, readily accessible. The formatting of the biblical text allows the reader to see at once the layers that the authors reconstruct, and their annotations clearly explain the reasons for their judgments. This is the place to begin the study of any passage in the Deuteronomistic History." -Steven L. McKenzie, Rhodes College Author of The Trouble with Kings "Antony F. Campbell and Mark O'Brien's monumental work represents critical thought at its best. Written in a style that is thoroughly imaginative and engaging without sacrificing the erudition of great scholarship, this work is not only researched meticulously but also offers a new approach to reading and understanding the Deuteronomistic History. This study challenges traditional methods and findings of historical criticism while attempting to be faithful to the text at hand in relation to making sense out of the present text. Comprehensive yet selective introductions to the books of Deuteronomy through 2 Kings set the stage for a thorough analysis of each book of the deuteronomistic historical books. Offering a major contribution to the biblical field, Campbell and O'Brien's work is sure to become a classic that will inform all future work to be done in this area." -Carol J. Dempsey, University of Portland Author of The Prophets (Fortress Press, 2000) Antony F. Campbell, S.J., is Professor of Old Testament at Jesuit Theological College, Melbourne, Australia. He is author of numerous works including A Study Companion to Old Testament Literature (2nd ed., 1993). Mark A. O'Brien, O.P., is Professor of Old Testament at Yarra Theological Union, Melbourne, Australia, and the author of The Deuteronomistic History Hypothesis (1989).… (more)



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Scholars of the Hebrew Bible generally agree that there is a corpus of books which all bring a particular theological viewpoint to Jewish history. The theology is largely expounded in the book of Deuteronomy, and the remaining books of the "Deuteronomistic History" (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings) detail how following or turning away from these religious requirements has affected the success or failure of the Israelites.

The broad picture is easy, but the details are complicated indeed. The Deuteronomistic History was not written all at once; rather, the "Deuteronomist" (or Deuteronomists; there were probably several of them) worked over established materials. And even these established materials might have undergone several layers of combination and reworking. This is particularly evident in the Book of Judges, where the oldest strata seem to be individual folktales of various heroes (the Judges). These were combined. Then, most likely, they were "bookended" with various other tales of the period. Then the Deuteronomist put his spin on things. So, in this case, we have at least four stages of composition.

This book attempts, typographically, to show how all this works, using Roman type, italic type, and sidebars to show various stages in the history.

It's a brilliant idea. There are three problems. One is that the typographic system is confusing. This is probably inevitable, although it seems to me that more could have been done to make things clear. (E.g. even a sidebar saying what is what would have helped.)

The second, much more severe, problem is that not all the various layers are in fact disentangled. In 1 Samuel, for instance, there seem to be many, many sources (Ark Source, Prophetic Source, Saul Source, David Source). These are all treated as "early sources" by Campbell and O'Brien -- and hence not distinguished very explicitly even though this is the most interesting of the distinctions in the book. Yes, it's nice to know where the Deuteronomist expressed his prejudices, but it would be much more helpful to figure out whether a particular passage is intended to be pro- or anti-Saul!

Finally, there is the fact that not everyone will agree with the source assignments that Campbell and O'Brien make. This, again, is probably inevitable. But their assignments struck me as rather radical and ill-supported. To be sure, that is based on the English text (New Revised Standard Version) rather than a detailed look at the Hebrew....

None of this should detract from the cleverness of the idea. I would consider this a useful book, and have not hesitated to consult it. But when assigning sources to Samuel in my own work, I did not trust it very far. The sad fact is that, rather than being a final reference, for me at least it is merely a starting point that must always be checked. ( )
  waltzmn | Oct 25, 2013 |
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Unfolding the Deuteronomist History makes visually accessible to the interested reader the information, insights, and thinking of critical scholarship in Deuteronomy through Second Kings.
The Book of Deuteronomy


The book of Deuteronomy, as it is now, purports to be a speech or speeches of Moses delivered to the people of Israel in the plains of Moab, on the desert fringe to the east of the Jordan, just prior to Israel's crossing into Canaan.
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