Oracular Law and Priestly Historiography in the Torah 978-3-16-153342-6 - Mohr Siebeck

Simeon Chavel

Oracular Law and Priestly Historiography in the Torah

[Orakelgesetze und priesterliche Geschichtsschreibung in der Tora.]

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Published in English.
Simeon Chavel combines classical philology with narratology and theory of law and narrative to identify and analyze four instances of a unique story-type in the Torah, the »oracular novella.« He illuminates its contours and poetics, historical background, use in the Torah, and theoretical significance.
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, identifies 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 off 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 differently as an expressive ideological moment; each was composed, incorporated, and revised separately and differently; and each had a different effect 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.

Simeon Chavel Born 1969; 1992 BA in English Literature; 1994 MA in Religious Studies; 2006 PhD Biblical Studies; 2006–09 Lecturer in Hebrew Bible at the Department of Religion, Princeton University; since 2009 Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of Chicago Divinity School.


The following reviews are known:

In: Zeitschr. f. d. Alttestamentl. Wissenschaft — 128 (2016), S. 156–157 (R.A.)
In: TheBiblicalReview.wordpress.com — https://thebiblicalreview.wordpress.com/ (10/2015) (William Brown)
In: Review of Biblical Literature — www.bookreviews.org (1/2017) (Benjamin D. Sommer)