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Scholars you Should Know: Deane Galbraith

Scholars you Should Know: Deane Galbraith

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Published by Jim West
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Published by: Jim West on Aug 22, 2013
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09/25/2013

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Scholars You Should Know: Deane Galbraith 
Deane Galbraith has recently completed his dissertation titled
 Manufacturing Judean Myth: TheSpy Narrative in Numbers 13
 – 
14 as Rewritten Tradition.
It is a genuinely ground-breaking pieceof scholarship and I wanted to excerpt snippets of it and ask Deane Galbraith about them. By sodoing I hope to introduce you to a scholar you should know.Accordingly, what follows are passages from his book (which hopefully will soon be published),and questions about his work (
in bold print
, so as to set them off from citations and responses).
Deane, you write early on in your work 
1
 When considering literary disunity within the Pentateuch, a possible
explanans
which is seldom even
raised 
is that a single author might have
created 
the perceived disunity within the text (p. 32).
This, as you know, flies in the face of the last 200 years of historical-critical work. How do
you justify such a ‘sea change’ in our approach to the text?
 
May I first thank you, Jim, for your interest in my work, and for so kindly offering to interviewme on your blog.In terms of the history of scholarship on the spy narrative in Num 13
 – 
14, I agree: the approach Itake is fairly innovative. But I am influenced by a significant number of Hebrew Bible scholarswho, in recent decades, have challenged the prevailing historical-critical assumption that disunitywithin a text should usually be interpreted as a sign of its evolution over time. Nahum Sarna,Michael Fishbane, Jack Miles, and Robert Alter, for example, each question in their own waywhether historical critics, in reaching their conclusions, have adequately considered theaesthetics of the ancient composers themselves. Jack Miles even entertains the idea that ancientcomposers had an aesthetic of 
willed confusion
; that to some extent they simply
liked 
theresulting unevenness in the text. If what Miles describes is a distinctive feature of much biblical
1
Note- the pagination I am following is based on a PDF of the dissertation and will probably in no way correspondto the published edition. I apologize for this but of course it cannot be helped.
 
literature
 — 
as I think it
is
 — 
it would demand
the kind of ‘sea
-
change’
to which you refer.Moreover, all of this has especial applicability to Numbers. For, as commentators havefrequently observed, the book presents what appears to be a jumble of different narrative formsand traditions.
If Numbers has the appearance of, as Martin Noth described it, ‘an unsystematic
collection of innumerable pieces of tradition of very varie
d content, age and character’ (
eineunsystematische Zusammenstellung von zahllosen Überlieferungsstücken sehr verschiedenen Inhalts, Alters und Charakters
), then I think we should also question whether this tendency to juxtapose diverse material
throughout 
the book applies to the method of composition
within
 individual narratives.
You follow that statement up with
 Num. 13
 – 
14 is a compilation of multiple traditions combined according to anaesthetic of unity and disunity which is radically different from the sensibilitiesand techniques of modern critical scholarship
(p. 33).
The dissertation
spends a lot of time supporting and explaining and ‘fleshing out’ this
skeletal statement. Convincingly, I might add. But what led you to this view?
In short, I found that both the traditional documentary hypothesis
 – 
 based approach and the morerecent approaches which posit a series of redactional layers in Num 13
 – 
14, did not satisfactorilyaccount for the peculiar literary features we find in the text.As for the longer answer, it took me quite a while to come to this view, and I did so in a fairlyroundabout fashion. When I commenced the project, my primary focus was on how and whystories about gigantic inhabitants of the promised land
 — 
very brief and allusive traditions
 — 
hadended up in the biblical texts. Where did these strange traditions come from, and what promptedtheir inclusion
in a story about the settlement of ‘Israel’ in the land? Like most others
before me,I first proceeded on the basis that what we had in these references to giants was the vestige of very old tradition
 — 
and so I began by
examining the references to the r’pum at Ugarit and the
Rephaim of the poetic biblical books, in order to trace their development. The problem I ran intowas that these supposedly very
old 
traditions about autochthonous rulers or giants consistentlyappeared to form a part of the very
latest 
stage of literary development
 — 
not only in Numbers, but in Deut 1, Josh 14 and 15, and Judg 1. The late Lothar Perlitt had perceptively observed thesame phenomenon, although his explanation falls back on some traditional assumptions about a progression from myth to history which I would dispute. At the same time, I noticed thecomplexity of the integration of the various components of Num 13
 – 
14: the purportedly verylatest levels of the text seemed to presume what is contained in purportedly the very latest levels.So I eventually realized that the questions I had originally posed for investigation werethemselves misconceived. The facts were getting in the way! I needed to reexamine some of the basic diachronic assumptions which were present in earlier studies of the spy narrative.Accordingly, my whole approach changed dramatically. Fortunately, I could find many of thetools I needed to understand the development of the text in studies of inner-biblical interpretationand rewritten Bible.
 
 
You also say
The present study thus offers a distinct alternative to prevailing models for thecomposition of Num. 13
 – 
14, challenges existing theories of the relationship between Numbers and Deuteronomy, and makes a new contribution to our understanding of the composition of the Hexateuch (p. 41).
In a nutshell, what is that contribution?
The first edition of Numbers itself was written later than deuteronomistic Deuteronomy. That is,most of Deuteronomy was written before Numbers was conceived. Only very minor harmonisations were added to both Deuteronomy and Numbers when the two books were later combined into a larger narrative unit (a Hexateuch [Genesis-Joshua] or Enneateuch [Genesis-Kings]).My study of Num 13
 – 
14 and Deut 1 provides what I think is a good argument for such anunderstanding of the development of Numbers and the Hexateuch. But I readily admit that thisconclusion needs to be corroborated by further studies of other narrative and legal sections of  Numbers, by employing
a similar model of ‘rewritten tradition’
(as indeed Benjamin Sommer has done for Num 11 and Robert Alter for Num 16).
And then you say something I found really important:
the biblical reviser honours the past by reinterpreting it; he finds the pastauthoritative only insofar as may be retold in ways that are consistent with thecontingencies of the present (p. 45).
This, I assume, is how you would view the entire Hebrew Bible. Is that assumptioncorrect?
This paradoxical manner in which authoritative tradition functions is, I think, an importantfeature of the composition of most parts of the Hebrew Bible. And it occurs in many other contexts as well; the paradox can be observed in almost any process involving the transmissionof culture, not just in those processes which are categorized as biblical or even
religious
. This provides one very important reason why the study of reception history in any time period
 — 
of thecontextual factors which produce a certain use or influence of texts
 — 
 potentially offers valuablegrounds for understanding the processes by which the Bible itself was produced. For the abilityto examine the inner-biblical rewriting of tradition depends on the existence of the rewritten textand its precursors, or at least our ability to satisfactorily reconstruct a precursor. But there areonly a limited number of these examples available within biblical literature. There are more if weextend our examination to Second Temple or later Jewish and Christian literature in general, butmore still if we extend our investigations further afield in order to compare certain elements of textual production.

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