Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Is Genesis preexilic?

More recent studies have argued that these traditions played a significant role and may even have originated in the exilic and the postexilic periods. Israel was deported across the Euphrates and settled in the Babylonian Empire in 586 BC and was only permitted to return to the promised land after the establishment of the Persian Empire and the edicts allowing for their return (after 539 BC). Likewise, the writers of Genesis from that late period wished to portray Israel's ancestors as coming from the area of Babylon and establishing their claim to the promised land in Canaan. The Genesis stories were invented or developed from old traditions, it is claimed, to encourage Israel to become like its fictional ancestors and return and rebuild in the land of Canaan. This, combined with a Persian-period interest in codifying laws throughout their empire, led to the authorization of the composition of Genesis and the entire Pentateuch as now preserved.

This reconstruction fails to convince because there is little social and religious resemblance between the world of Gen 12-36 and that of the postexilic returnees. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their families get along with their Canaanite neighbors and make covenant rather than war with them (Gen 12,13,20,26, &c.). The postexilic world preached a policy of separation and described ongoing conflict with neighbors (cf. Nehemiah). Further, there is no awareness of religious conflict between the one God of Abram and his family other deities around Canaan. This is completely different from the separation of the postexilic community from the surrounding communities and their religious practices. Finally, Abraham and his successor sacrifice throughout the land of Canaan; they know nothing of practices such as Sabbath observance, priestly lines, temple worship, and distinctions between clean and unclean animals. All this formed an essential part of the postexilic community's worship at only one altar in the Jerusalem sanctuary. If postexilic writers were redacting (or creating) the tradations in Genesis to conform to and promote the interests of the ruling postexilic priesthood, they surely could have done a better job. R. Hess, The Old Testament: A Historical, Theological, and Critical Introduction (Baker, 2016), 35-36. 

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