vrijdag 25 januari 2013

Review of: Baruch A. Levine, Numbers 1-20: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB 4), Doubleday, 1993

Baruch A. Levine, Numbers 1-20: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB 4), Doubleday, 1993.

Review in: The Journal of Religion
Gevonden op: http://www.academicroom.com/bookreview/numbers-1-20-new-translation-introduction-and-commentary

BARUCH A. LEVINE, Numbers 1-20: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Anchor Bible 4), New York: Doubleday, 1993. 528 pp. $40.00 (cloth).
Leviticus (The JPS Torah Commentary), New York: Jewish Publication Society, 1989. 282 pp.

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The two books under review are the result of Baruch Levine's lifelong interest in the priestly and cultic literature of the Hebrew Bible. In North America Levine and Jacob Milgrom have emerged as the chief expositors of this material. Because of the unique stature of these two scholars and the very different approaches they have taken to the material, this review will outline in some detail how the two thinkers diverge and how this is reflected in the commentaries.

In light of the importance of these two scholars, it is only fitting that in the last few years two of the most important commentary series on the Bible have given equal time to both interpreters. Milgrom has published a commentary on Numbers in the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) series and a volume on Leviticus in the Anchor series. Both authors are Jewish and thus represent-rather surprisingly-the first major Jewish commentaries on these books in the English language in the twentieth century. Though it should be said that the Jewish flavor of their work is most evident in the JPS series, which is not addressed to an academic audience alone but to an educated Jewish laity as well.

Yet even in the Anchor Bible commentaries, the Jewish dimension of their work is evident in at least two regards: (1) the usage of traditional Jewish interpretation in the exposition of the biblical text (using both rabbinic and medieval sources) and (2) a reliance on the Massoretic text as the base text for most of the exegetical work. But both scholars take a rather different attitude as to how traditional Jewish sources are to be used. Milgrom, who believes that a historical layering of the Priestly material is too speculative and therefore prefers to read the text in its final canonical form, is able to use traditional Jewish commentaries much more extensively and substantively than Levine. This is because these traditional commentaries also have a strong interest in the final form of the biblical text that is not entirely out of keeping with Milgrom's own approach.

Levine, on the other hand, limits his usage of Jewish materials to the elucidation of the finer points of vocabulary and grammatical style. For some readers Levine's method will seem more "modern" in the sense that it attempts to divide the text into different historical units and assess the meaning of each unit in light of a hypothesized historical setting, while for those whose interest lies in the final form of the text and who desire a commentary that engages the full weight of Jewish tradition along each step of the way, Milgrom's commentaries will be more appealing.

Perhaps the best manner to illustrate the difference between the two approaches is to examine a specific example. For this purpose let us look at the way each commentator has treated the difficult problem of how to interpret the sin or "purification" offering that is described in Leviticus 4. In this chapter we have two different types of ritual action. I n the first section of the chapter are those laws which concern the high priest and the community at large. In the situation that they become liable for this offering, they are to bring a bull for the sacrifice, which is slaughtered, and the blood is then put on the incense altar within the Tabernacle. None of the meat of the bull is consumed; instead, it is disposed of outside the boundaries of the camp (in Leviticus, it is presumed that the Israelites are in the wilderness of Sinai and living in tents). The second section of this chapter treats the case of the chieftain and the common Israelite, who bring goats (for the chieftain a male, for the Israelite a female) and have them slaughtered beside the altar of the burnt offering outside the Tabernacle. It is on this altar that the blood rituals are performed, and the meat of these animals is not thrown outside the camp but is eaten by the priests.

For Milgrom, the sacrificial process that is described in this chapter cannot be understood without reference to the manner in which the purification offering is treated in Leviticus 16, the day of atonement. On this day the blood of the purification offering is taken and sprinkled on the mercy seat at the very center of the Holy of Holies. Thus, we can see three different levels of blood ritual across these two chapters (1) for the individual or chieftain. the blood is laced on the altar of the burnt offering outside the Tabernacle; (2) for the priest and congregation, the blood is placed on the incense altar within the "holy" chamber of the Tabernacle; and finally (3) on the day of atonement, the blood is placed on the mercy seat itself. located within the Holy of Holies. From this seauence of events Milgrom constructs a model of scaled atonement rites: the more serious the sin, the closer the blood ritual is to the seat of God's presence. Sin, in Milgrom's view, creates an impure material that invades the Shrine. Only the cleansing activity of the blood ritual can remove this dangerous substance.

For Levine the picture is quite different. Rather than attending to the scaled treatment of the blood rites, he chooses to highlight the wider disparities that attend the treatment of the purification offering in Leviticus 4. It is not only the case that the blood manipulation

varies but also the treatment of the sacrificial flesh itself. In the case of the priest, the flesh cannot be eaten, whereas with a layperson it is. From this variant treatment Levine argues that no single Israelite perspective on the sin offering existed. Rather, what we have in Leviticus 4 is evidence of very different historical origins for the material in question. The combination of these two types of sacrifices is thus the result of a late redactional hand. For Levine, the key to understanding this rite is not an artificial creation of a typology of blood manipulation but rather the incommensurability of the very rites themselves. For Levine, the purification offering of the high priest and congregation was a riddance rite. Thus, no part of the sacrifice could be consumed; instead, the sacrifice, which itself absorbed the impurities or sin of the offerer, had to be removed from the shrine and burned outside the camp. The second type of sacrifice, that of the commoner or chieftain, was not a riddance rite and hence could be consumed by the priests as a form of emolument for their services.

In general, Levine is at his best when he can isolate ancient Near Eastern parallels for particular sacrificial terms and rituals. He is not as adept at locating and describing the larger structures or themes of the books. He distrusts Milgrom's attempts to integrate the data into a single picture or set of related but interlocking pictures. In part his distrust may be well founded. but it will be the burden of the next generation of scholars to sort out these issues and continue the discussion.

One noticeable flaw in the commentaries of Levine is the very attenuated bibliography. He does not cite or engage the arguments of many scholars who have written significant material on Leviticus and Numbers in the past decade or so. Thus, for example, in his discussion of the census lists in Numbers, one can find a reference to George Mendenhall's important article in the bibliography, but in the text of the commentarv the contribution of Mendenhall is ignored as is the extensive secondary literature which this argument spawned. One is surprised to see that the work of Norman Gottwald, Baruch Halpern, and others is passed over in silence. Also neglected is the important discussion of the problem of Leviticus 4lNumbers 15 that can be found in the work of Aryeh Toeg, Milgrom, and Michael Fishbane. David Wright's important work on the disposal of impure substances and the interpretation of the laying on of hands is also ignored. Hopefully Levine's next volume on Numbers will address some of these areas; at least it should mention the work of Israel Knohl on the dating of  ???. For the reader interested in philological matters, there will be much to find in Levine's work that is of value. We can be grateful for this systematic exposition of his life's work on the Israelite cult.

University of Virginia.

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