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Review of Biblical Literature Blog

Oracular Law and Priestly Historiography in the Torah
Chavel, Simeon

Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014 pp. x + 353. €99.00

Series Information
Forschungen zum Alten Testament, 2/71

Description: In this study, Simeon Chavel establishes the existence of a distinct type of story within the Torah, the “oracular novella,” traces its contours and poetics, identi:es its historical background, and analyzes its use. The oracular novella is a very short story with a legal climax, in which divine adjudication and legislation resolves human complication. In a spartan style, the narrative recounts how an incident or set of circumstances in Israel led through oracular inquiry of Moses to legal resolution by Yahweh. The Torah contains four oracular novellas, all in the Priestly History, two action stories and two situation stories: a man curses Yahweh (Lev 24:10–23), a man gathers wood on the Sabbath (Num 15:32–36), impurity of certain Israelites at the time of the Pesaḥ threatens to cut them oE forever (Num 9:1–14), and the name of a man who died without sons to possess his portion in Canaan stands to go to oblivion (Num 27:1–11). Each utilizes the legal climax diEerently as an expressive ideological moment; each was composed, incorporated, and revised separately and diEerently; and each had a diEerent eEect on prior and subsequent biblical literature. But all function similarly within the Priestly History to dramatize a set of principles and themes in the immediately preceding divine legislative speeches and divinely directed activities. Ancient court records and biblical materials show the oracular novellas to adapt a form of priestly activity for historiographical purposes. As a group, they illuminate the Priestly History as a narrative founded on a deep and extensive troping of divine will as law and legislation, and highlight how Judean priests cherished oracular inquiry as the nexus of divine and human society.

Subjects: Bible, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Pentateuch, Leviticus, Numbers, Literature, Methods, Historical Approaches, History, Literary Approaches, Source Criticism

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Review by Benjamin D. Sommer
Published 1/12/2017
Citation: Benjamin D. Sommer, review of Simeon Chavel, Oracular Law and Priestly Historiography in the Torah, Review of Biblical Literature [] (2017).

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