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THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES


THE WORK BEFORE
US,1 Dr Sandmel, Provost and Professor of
Bible and Hellenistic Literature at the Hebrew Union College, presents a "distillation of what is in the Tanak" (8). Not an introduction
describing the books of the Bible,
in the usual sense-systematically
discussing their authorship, composition, date and purpose, and
giving evidence for the positions taken, the book's asserted aim is to
focus "on the eminent passages ... to acquaint the student with
them," and "on the religious ideas found in the Tanak," some of which
'will seem relevant today, but some may not [original italics]," for
"whether majestic or less exalted, [they] are worth knowing" (8). Years
of reflection on the subject and experience teaching it have gone into
this work; Sandmel's disciples cannot but be gratified to the have
the result published in so comprehensive and handsome a volume.
After two preliminary chapters in which the intent of the work and
a historical sketch of Israel's beginnings to the time of the Judges are
set forth, the body of the book begins with a treatment of the literary
prophets (chaps. 3-II, the pre-exilic prophets from Amos to Habakkuk; chaps. I2-I7, the post exilic prophets; chap. I8, Daniel). This is
followed by five chapters on the poetic Hagiographa (chaps. I9-24)
and seventeen on the narrative books (Pentateuch, chaps. 26-32;
histories down to Esther, chaps 33-4I). There are four appendixes:
archaeology and the Tanak, the sacred calendars and the priesthood,
the Tanak in Judaism, and in Christianity. A selected bibliography,
almost entirely of English works, and Scripture and subject indexes
complete the volume. Seventeen well executed maps are included.
The tone of the work is genial, occasionally passing into the informal
(e.g., on the effect of Lamech's song on his wives: "Unquestionably
the good ladies were greatly impressed" [48]). Many extensive passages
of the Prophets and Hagiographa, fewer of the prose books, are reproduced in periphrasitic renderings (Jer. I : I3: "What do you see ?"
I said, "A boiling teakettle do I see, and its spout is toward the
north." [I29]). Emendation is not uncommon and not always indicated. Wise comments betray an experienced teacher's familiarity
with the common misconceptions of students: on the distinction
between the origin of a custom and its present meaning and value
on the co-existence of particularism and universalism in the
(23-24);
IN

1 Samuel Sandmel, The Hebrew Scriptures: An Introduction to their


Literature and Religious Ideas. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, I963.
Pp. xviii + 552 + xviii (indexes).

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THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES-GREENBERG

259

literary prophets (67-68, I89); the repeated insistence that "who


wrote the books is scarcely as important as what they say" (e.g., 325);
pleas against the deprecation of law (386) and ritual (39I) in religion;
down to the warning not to confuse Ezra with Ibn Ezra (328). The
author never loses sight of his intended audience; few, if any, introductory works have been as solicitous of the debilities of students.
"I have not considered

it to be my task," writes Sandmel,

". . . to

appraise the value or significance of the Hebrew Scriptures for our


own day. That is properly the task of the theologian rather than the
historian" (ix). Nonetheless evaluations fairly abound in the book.
"The Bible that emerges [from a study of its meaning as intended by
its authors] is more rather than less valuable than the allegorical or
rationalized version" (7). Deborah's song evinces a "vindictive spirit"
that "may bother us" (38). The poetry of Psalm I "is not so exalted in
the Hebrew as it is in the King James translation. If the author
attempted to blend edification with beauty of expression, he did
not succeed"

(256). Proverbs'

"unimaginative

righteousness

may, for

some, become tedious" (268). Ezekiel's doctrine that God acts for the
glory of his name "is by no means an exalted doctrine.. . Ezekiel
does not reach the high eminence of his successor [Second Isaiah]"
(i64). In the latter chapters of Exodus "it is only the detail that is
dull; the conceptions are exciting" (387).
The author confesses his biases in a remarkable passage:
I am a rabbi ... a Reform Jew ... I do not distinguish between
those of my attitudes that result from my being a rabbi and those
that result from my being a professional scholar; I am not able to
separate the two (I3).
That this is quite so can be illustrated from the following statements:
"Since the [Pentateuchal] books were written a long, long time ago,
and reflect a world view that is no longer valid, the answers given
[there] can satisfy modern man only in a limited sense" (324). When
Sandmel describes traditional practices it is in the past tense:
... until very recent times, Jews chanted or sang the Tanak;
they did not simply read or recite it ... When a Jew sang Lamentations on the feast of Tisha be-Ab...
the tearfulness of the
melody underscored the lament of the lines. When on the holiday
of "The Rejoicing in the Torah," he marched around the synagogue proudly carrying the scrolls ... he was expressing a genuine joy (526-7).
The doctrine of vicarious atonement in Isaiah 53, "of course, central
to Christianity," embarrasses Sandmel. After duly noting that a pagan

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260

THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW

ritual "has been suggested" as the background of the chapter, he


found no acceptance in subseconcludes: "The theological idea...
quent Judaism; the 'Suffering Servant' is a stray poem, which in
some unaccountable way came to be included in the Book of Isaiah"
(I93).
The facts, uncongenial as they may be to certain views on
where Judaism

differed,

are quite the contrary:

Hellenistic

Judaism

as well as Rabbinic found deep meaning in the doctrine of vicarious


suffering and atonement, and applied it both to their own experience
and to that of biblical personages.
The author's vow of abstinence from judgment is most often
violated in the matter of the "unhistoricity" of the Bible. He is convinced that a large amount of biblical historiography is legendary,
and he must express himself on the present relevance of that conviction. "Even if one conceded that the 'historical' data provided by
the Bible were all inaccurate, its religious ideas would not be decisively affected" (9).
Yet, can the [Bible's] theological interpretation [of history] be
logical, acceptable, and persuasive if the factual basis is questionable? The candid answer must be a forthright no. But we should
notice that while an assembly of facts or pseudo-facts existed
for the biblical writer to draw upon, he started with the theological conclusions and supported them with facts, rather than the
reverse, He did not say, "Here are the facts; see how they reveal
God." Rather, he said, "God reveals Himself in history; here is
the set of facts which demonstrate this." It is the biblical theology which should challenge modern debates and not the bare
facts of biblical history (337-8).
Strictly speaking, a reviewer's duty is done when he points out a
gap such as this between an author's protestation and his performance.
However, the last two citations represent a view often enough heard
to warrant a brief comment. To the biblical writers, Israel's historical
experience furnished the very stuff of faith. If "the Sinai episode is a
legend" (380) and the covenant "legend and not history" (385), the
basis of Israel's obligation to be loyal to God and observe his Torah
collapses. To suppose that the religious ideas of the Bible "would not be
decisively affected" (9) by rejection of their historical foundations
reveals an inadequate appreciation of the intensely pragmatic ground
of Israelite faith. It is not at all apparent how that faith could survive
detached from its historical ground; it has not done so in the past.
Sandmel's assumption that such a detachment can be carried through
"biblical theology" which "demonstrates" itself by
today-that

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THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES-GREENBERG

26i

"pseudo-facts" can yet "challenge modem debates"-is, to say the


least, ingenuous. A modern thinker may, perhaps, reconstruct a new
a-historical theology out of the debris of biblical faith bequeathed
to him by Sandmel, but surely he would know better than to name
his brainchild "biblical theology."
We turn now to "the history of ideas," the area the author claims
to be his proper realm. How does he explain his unusual order of
presentation-Amos to Daniel before the Pentateuch and histories ?
My experience in teaching leads me to think it wiser to defer
considering even the early sources imbedded in the Book of
Samuel until we consider why and when an author wrote, or
compiled, the total book. Although portions of the Five Books
of Moses were recorded before the time of Amos, we shall defer
scrutinizing any of this material for the same reason until we
consider the relatively late compilation of the Five Books (42-43).
(This is not to say that Sandmel takes the book of Amos for an early
composition; like most other critics he recognizes the necessity of
freeing the genuine prophecies of Amos from later accretions, but for
some unspecified reason refuses to do the same for the early components of the Pentateuch and histories). However, this principle
cannot justify the priority of Daniel to the Pentateuch, nor is it made
clear on what grounds Sandmel departs from the consensus (if he
does) so as to place Psalms and Proverbs before the Pentateuch and
histories. The arrangement, then, is not calculated to promote an
appreciation of the historical development of Israelite religion.
What the arrangement does suggest is the author's own ranking
of the historical works below the "idea" and theological books (Prophets-wisdom-poetry) to which he gives priority. However that may be,
the fact is he does make severe strictures on the contents of the narrative book. Genesis and the first half of Exodus are "quasi-history"
(4I7), Deuteronomy is "midrash at its height of vigorous creativity"
(4I3), the stories in Judges "cannot by any stretch of the meaning
of the term be called history" (437). In the bulk of the Deuteronomic
history he is confronted by a dilemma: on the one hand "theological
motifs are so abundant that they counterbalance the purely historical
material" (42 I); on the other hand, "were it not for the Deuteronomic
judgments, Samuel and Kings would appear to be the account of a
succession of [royal] scoundrels . . . It would seem that the bare events
are irreligious beyond rehabilitation" (465). Small wonder, then, that
he gives priority to the "idea" books!
It is tempting to connect Sandmel's relegation of the Pentateuch
and histories to last place with his emphatic assertion of the irrelevance

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262

THE JEWISH QUARTERLYREVIEW

of historical fact to biblical theology. To the Bible, the basis of faith is


historioal experience; hence the records of history come first. Precisely the same basis is evident in the brief epitomes of faith that
appear here and there within the various strands of tradition (e.g.,
Deut. 6 : 20-25; 26 : i-iI; Psalm I36). It is therefore altogether likely
that the narratives of these events belong to the oldest traditionstuff, and justly stand at the beginning of the canon. A modern eclectic, anxious to salvage certain exalted ideas from the wreck of biblical
theology may be allowed to downgrade the historical narratives; but
a historian, professing to interpret the Bible from within, who ranks
the first last and the middle and last first is simply not true to his task.
There is no point in cataloguing all the questionable and idiosyncratic positions that turned up in my sampling of Sandmel's book;
often enough they are but faithful reflections of the disorder that
reigns in the house of biblical scholarship at large. A few examples of
arbitrariness and inconsistency, representative of all too much work
done in our field, may however, be of service. Time and again Sandmel
excises weal-prophecies from the pre-exilic prophets: "The recognition
that these parts [viz. the beating of swords into plowshares, the lying
down of the wolf and the lamb; also Isa. 6 : I2; IO : 20-I, etc.] are late
insertions reveals Isaiah as even more of a prophet of doom than
Amos and Hosea. In all three, but especially in Isaiah, the early
Hebrew religion expresses a basic hopelessness" (96). But Mic. 7: 7-20
is declared genuine: "That this half-chapter is hopeful scarcely points
to a late date of composition"; apparently in favor of its earliness is
the judgment that though hopeful "the section is neither clear nor
exalted" (I03). Again, after asking "whether one and the same man
could reasonably have uttered" both Amos 3: 2 and 9: I3 (56), he does
not hesitate to write of a "change in mood" in Jer. 3 (I32), and freely
concedes that "even in misery...
Jeremiah did not lose confidence
about the future" (I42). Though Sandmel is "wary of imposing our
western logic upon biblical matters, for it is misplaced there ... for
the oriental mind was capable of harboring unresolved items that are
contradictory in theory .. ." (I65), he rejects, as "beyond translation,"
the plain sense of I Kings 8 : I3 because "its content ... is at variance
with an abundance of conflicting data" (47 1).
Sandmel shares the widespread view that cultic formalism developed late in Israel. He detects an absence of "a systematic cult or . .
priesthood" in pre-exilic prophetic literature (I50), and takes it to
reflect the true state of affairs during the monarchy. The Priestly
code, "composed rather than compiled" in post-exilic times (339,
3856; but contrast "assembled by P rather than originally written
by him," 40I), cannot, of course speak for the pre-exilic state of

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THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES-GREENBERG

263

affairs. Yet when it comes to chosing between a decalogue "primarily


ritual in character" (382) and another, in which ritual "is at a bare
minimum" (384), Sandmel (along with many others) opts for the
"primitive" (385) ritual version (in Exodus 34) as the earlier one. At
the same time, he warns repeatedly against assuming a rectilinear
development in religion (334, 337, cf. especially 2I).
Sandmel has the right instincts: he is wary of making everything
logical; he suspects rectilinear theories; he knows that universalism
and particularism, individualism and collectivism can abide in the
same breast. Yet the working of these instincts has been counteracted
by the weight of the conventional cliches of criticism.
One of the most discouraging aspects of biblical scholarship is the
aura of dogmatism that seems to envelop it. The author of a new
introduction to the field has an unparalleled opportunity to teach
sound reasoning. It is not asking too much of him to argue clearly
the grounds of his major conclusions, and generally to enlighten the
minds of his readers by making explicit the criteria he employs.
Sandmel's readers will be grateful to him for supplying his ground for
accepting the historicity of the enslavement in Egypt (" . . . because
I do not believe that an ancient people would deliberately select slaves
as their ancestors," ii), for at least listing (if not criticizing) C. F.
Kent's I9I0 enumeration of signs that a given word or passage is a
later interpolation (56 1). But what will they make of this summation
of the biographical material in Jeremiah:
How much of this story is history and how much is legend it is
difficult to say. There is, however, no reason to doubt that the
account is basically correct (I40)
How, they must ask, does Sandmel decide on the kernel of truth?
Or consider this conclusion to a parapgraph on the doubted genuineness
of Hosea I4 (the repentance prophecy): "I myself do not know the
solution and change my mind from week to week" (79). Many problems
are indeed not susceptible of solution; in that case the reader is entitled
to know what the evidence is, and precisely why it is inconclusive.
Neither helpful nor right is the following, on the enigmatic Urim and
Thummim: "Scholarly explanations of the phrase are multitudinous,
and the reasonable conclusion is that all of them are wrong" (52 5).
And what sort of a basis is this for rejecting the theory of divine
kingship: "One could even concede that the theory is correct; yet the
procedure of reading a reflection of it so broadly into so many psalms
grossly overstates the case to the point of negating it" (242). Are we
dealing in advocacy, where psychological impact outweighs truth, so
that overstating a case negates it ?

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264

THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW

Even the limited sampling of Saludmel's book on which the above


remarks are based included a not inconsiderable number of errors,
of which the following are representative: from II Sam. 12 3, 6,
hevat "like a brother," 'arba'tayim "fortyfold"; the Babylonian flood
story does not ground the Flood on "discord among the gods" (35I);
Ezekiel himself is not told to smite the unmarked people of Jerusalem
(I58); David did not draft Uriah into the army after Bathsheba
became pregnant (5I); no law in Deuteronomy prescribes that "the
body of a man executed in a capital case is to be hung on a tree" (4I0);
that "Elohim emphasized God's mercy, while Yahve ... emphasized
His strict justice" exactly reverses what "the ancient Rabbis" observed

(329).

Sandmel's understanding of the covenant has not been affected


by the formal and conceptual similarities that have been pointed out
repeatedly within the last decade between the biblical material and
ancient Near Eastern treaties-similarities with considerable theological implications. Nor has the verisimilitude lent to the patriarchal
narratives by the recovered worlds of I7th century Mari and I5th
century Nuzi and Ugarit sufficed to overcome his inclination to view
these narratives largely as later fictions ("the character of Abraham
was not inherited ... but was built up, exalted, and stabilized" [360]).
In the appendix on "Archaeology and the Tanak" Mari is not
mentioned at all; Nuzi is mentioned only to say that the word Habiru
is found in tablets from there (5I3). In all essentials Sandmel is an
orthodox Wellhausenian, with several private reservations whose
effect seldom materializes in any significant way.
Missing from this first full length English introduction to the Bible
written by a rabbi is a reflection of the pertinent work of any Jewish
scholar other than Julian Morgenstern, the author's master, to whom
the work is dedicated. Not only does the bibliography (noting works
up to I962) lack the title of Kaufmann's Religion of Israel (I960), I
could find no account taken anywhere of that lamented scholar's
profound contribution to biblical study made over the last quartercentury. At the least, Kaufmann's penetrating critique might have
furthered Sandmel's clarification of his own view to better consistency
and depth. Nothing of the distinctive contributions of Benno Jacob or
Umberto Casutto-outstanding proponents of the coherence of biblical
itself. Kadushin's illu(especially pentateuchal) literature-shows
minating work on the nature of "organic thinking," which, though
dealing with rabbinic literature, bears directly upon biblical thought
as well, and might have given Sandmel a handle to grapple with those
"inconsistencies"

that

so

bedevil

him,

is

overlooked.

Medieval

Jewish exegesis is simply ignored. The names of Astruc, Colenso,

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THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES-GREENBERG

265

Driver, Graf-Wellhausen, Gunkel, Kent, Pfeiffer, Rowley, G. A.


Smith, G. E. Wright appear in the index, but not of Ibn Janah, Rashi,
Rashbam, Nahmanides, Qimhi, Shadal, or, for that matter, the
Talmud. Evidently none of these contributed anything worthy, in
Rabbi Sandmel's estimation, of being mentioned in an introduction
to the literature and religious ideas of Hebrew Scriptures. i
University of Pennsylvania

MOSHE GREENBERG

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