A New Generation of Deuteronomists? Review Essay -- By: Richard S. Hess

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 19:3 (NA 2009)
Article: A New Generation of Deuteronomists? Review Essay
Author: Richard S. Hess


A New Generation of Deuteronomists?
Review Essay

Richard S. Hess

Denver Seminary

The So-Called Deuteronomistic History: A Sociological, Historical and Literary Introduction. By Thomas Römer. London: T. & T. Clark, 2007. x + 202 pp. ISBN 978-0-567-03212-6.

This book has been heralded as the new introductory text for all who wish to understand the Deuteronomistic History and the current scholarly consensus on the subject. Given its clarity of expression, its affordability, and its widely publicized appearance (e.g., a well-attended session devoted to reviewing the book at the Society of Biblical Literature’s annual meeting, November, 2008), the work will no doubt find its way onto many reading lists in the theology faculties of numerous universities, seminaries, and theological colleges. One may anticipate that the analysis and conclusions asserted here will be presented as agreed-upon assumptions by future generations.

Thomas Römer, professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of Lausanne, begins his relatively short but densely packed volume with a survey of the narrative from Deuteronomy through Kings. The author then turns to the history of the critical study of this literature. Beginning with rabbinic traditions, Calvin’s observations, and the views of others, he traces the developments of the understandings of these books to luminaries such as De Wette, Wellhausen, and Noth. Noth’s classic formulation of the Deuteronomist as a single editor working in the shadows of his nation’s ruin is compared to Noth’s own social context, writing alone in a German university in 1943. The era since Noth has been characterized by three trends: (1) the German school of Smend (at Tübingen) with its multiple exilic and postexilic redactions; (2) the school of Cross that stipulates a major postexilic editorial work in the time of Josiah; and (3) those, such as Van Seters, who continue Noth’s view of a single exilic author of the work (although they are less optimistic as to its worth as a historical source). Römer compares the Greek definitions of history such as that of Thucydides and observes how much the writing of the Hebrew former prophets differs. In particular, miraculous explanations are discounted by the Greek historian but “occur continuously in the Deuteronomistic history” and thus demonstrate how it is “still mythical” (p. 36). Behind a comment such as this lies an array of intellectual and other assumptions that place a value judgment on these accounts from the Bible that assume a supernatural element. Is this the reason

Römer ignores form-critical comparisons with ancient Near Eastern epics, annals, treaties, land grants, and other document...

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