Van Seters on Schniedewind, Carr, and van der Toorn

I was browsing a cool new journal I can’t believe I’ve overlooked until now called The Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religion and I came across a series of review articles published by John Van Seters: Schniedewind’s How the Bible Became a Book (7.1 [2007]: 87–108), Carr’s Writing on the Tablet of the Heart (7.2 [2007]: 219–37), and van der Toorn’s Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible (8.1 [2008]: 99–129). Here are the conclusions from the three reviews, respectively:

The flaws of the book’s thesis and its many contradictions are so egregious that it is hard to enter into a constructive dialogue with the work. If there is any merit at all in this book, it is in raising again the question of the consequences of literacy in Judah, from the eighth century b.c.e. onwards, and even if one rejects this rather simplistic, uncritical, and popular attempt to address the issue, it may prove to be a stimulus to more serious efforts to do so.

His discussion, however, is not primarily about schools and the learning techniques of memorization and recitation, but about the curriculum. It is, in his view, the attempt by state and priestly authorities to identify and authorize a growing corpus of books, from the pre-exilic period onwards, as textbooks for the “enculturation” of the young, eventually resulting in a closed collection of 22 or 24 books in the Hasmonean period, that became the canon of Scripture. As I have tried to indicate above, this thesis encounters too many problems to be convincing.

It should be obvious at this point, that I cannot accept the general thesis of this book, namely, that a succession of temple priests over the course of several generations were responsible for the creation, redaction, and transmission of all the biblical books and for the final delineation of the ultimate shape of the Hebrew canon. In spite of his accumulation of a massive amount of comparative material, especially from Mesopotamia and his erudite mastery of it, too little attention is actually paid to the biblical side of the equation, and the connections become forced and superficial.

Now, he raises some concerns I myself had with these books, and I don’t think his criticisms are without merit, but three successive 20 page review articles? What’s up his craw?

PS – Some other reviews of these books are available here, here, and here.

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