Joel S. Baden Yale Divinity School New Haven, Connecticut

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1 RBL 07/2010 Wright, David P. Inventing God s Law: How the Covenant Code of the Bible Used and Revised the Laws of Hammurabi Oxford: Oxford University Press, Pp. xiv Hardcover. $ ISBN Joel S. Baden Yale Divinity School New Haven, Connecticut In Inventing God s Law: How the Covenant Code of the Bible Used and Revised the Laws of Hammurabi, David P. Wright has laid out in great detail his argument that the Covenant Code (Exod 20:23 23:33; henceforth CC) is dependent both in content and structure on the Laws of Hammurabi (henceforth LH). In the first chapter of the book, Wright sets forth his general claim. In the second and third chapters, the detailed arguments for the dependence of the casuistic (ch. 2) and apodictic (ch. 3) sections of CC on LH are presented. Chapter 4 proposes the historical setting for the composition of CC: in the Neo-Assyrian period, specifically between 740 and 640 B.C.E. Chapters 5 11 describe the process by which CC transformed its source material, in both legal and ideological terms. Chapter 12 discusses the possibility of secondary growth in CC and the contextualization of CC in a larger Exodus narrative. The conclusion summarizes and focuses the foregoing arguments. Wright s book is thorough in its detail, providing extended discussions of virtually every passage in CC as well as very useful charts and layouts of the texts in question. The argumentation is clear at every point, which allows for the reader to easily evaluate Wright s claims. It is to Wright s credit that he has approached the question of CC s dependence on LH from a primarily literary perspective. In contrast to much biblical research, in which the

2 questions of absolute dating and historical context are taken as the starting point for the analysis of the text, Wright recognizes the essential fact that the Bible, and CC within it, is first and foremost a literary work, as of course is LH. Thus he begins with the purely literary analysis of the two texts and develops his argument for dependence on the literary level alone. Only once he has determined that the literary evidence points to a relationship between the two texts does he attempt to find a historical context in which that relationship may have developed. Overall, Wright s argument for CC s dependence on LH is convincing, although with some qualifications. For a number of the casuistic laws of CC, Wright clearly demonstrates the manner in which CC has adopted and adapted laws from LH. His analysis of the apodictic laws of CC is less persuasive; indeed, he admits that it is only once one has accepted dependence on the basis of the casuistic laws that one can in turn see the relationship between the apodictic laws and LH (58). Where Wright makes his most compelling argument is in the analysis of the parallel structures of CC and LH, not only in their similar A-B-A pattern but also in much of the specific ordering of the laws. He shows that the places where CC diverges from the order of LH are comprehensible in light of known methods of legal revision. Even where a given law in CC does not seem to match quite as exactly as Wright would have it (more on which below), he returns again and again, and with success, to the remarkable symmetry in the structure of the two law codes. His central argument in this regard, that it would be a remarkable coincidence if CC followed so precisely the structure of LH and not that of any other known law collection, is indeed a strong one. Wright makes two subsidiary arguments that are of crucial importance in the study of CC. First, he makes a strong case for the unity of CC, against the majority of scholarship past and present, which tends to find multiple layers in the code (see esp ). Wright approaches this issue from the point of view of CC s dependence on LH: since CC shows this dependence throughout, in all of its variety of content and form, Wright argues that the simplest explanation is that the entire code was written at one time on the basis of LH. An important corollary to this, which Wright notes in passing (e.g., 157, 212), is that the diversity of form and style in CC is not an indication of multiple authorship. The single author of CC was free and willing to use a range of techniques in composing the laws, just as any author, biblical or otherwise, is free to vary his or her style over the course of a single unified work. Second, and similarly, Wright finds the connection between CC and the narrative in which it is found to be original and intentional (332 44). Although Wright calls this narrative context the Covenant Code Narrative (CCN) so as to avoid becoming involved in the confusion of current pentateuchal narrative criticism, his identification of

3 the texts that belong to this narrative are precisely those that can and should be identified with the classical E document. Wright concludes that the CC laws and narrative were composed in one piece, the narrative serving to frame the laws (335). I find the argument that the Decalogue is a secondary addition to this narrative (342) both wrong and, in any case, unnecessary; the further argument that CCN is itself also dependent on LH (340 41) also seems forced, as it is more likely to my mind that the aspects of the narrative that resonate with LH do so because the narrative resonates with CC, that is, with itself (he also claims that J is dependent on CC and that P derives its view of the divine origin of law from CC [358], two claims that I think utterly indefensible). These minor points notwithstanding, Wright makes an important contribution to the discussion of law and narrative and their integral relationship in the Pentateuch. While Wright s main point, the dependence of CC on LH, is successfully made, his exuberance in making his case does at times have a deleterious effect on the argument. This comes out mostly in his attempt to see dependence almost everywhere, even when the connections between CC and LH are less than perfectly clear. Thus he at times relies on what appears to be no more than common Semitics in drawing parallels: the use of the verb to take to designate marriage, for instance (34), or the use of the qattāl nominal pattern for habitual action (40). There are also cases in which the similarities between the CC and LH laws are outweighed, to my mind, by their substantive differences: although both Exod 21:33 34 and LH 229 describe an act of negligence and the punishment thereof, the biblical law describes someone who digs a pit and fails to cover it, while the Mesopotamian law describes someone who builds an unstable house (41 42). As there is no reason to think that the CC author would have needed to change the law in LH Israelites, after all, had houses also it is difficult to see a clear line of literary dependence here. In the apodictic section, surely CC s call to heed the words of the deity in 23:13a need not be dependent on LH s laws regarding obedience to the words of the stela (59 60), especially as the words in CC are the spoken words of Yahweh, while those in LH are the written words of the document. Similarly, although it is possible that the Hebrew word b-r-k, to bless (20:24), is conceptually similar to the Akkadian idiom šīrum t ābum, well-being (LH col. 48:34 35), it is a stretch to argue that this is evidence of direct dependence. Wright s conviction that CC is fundamentally a derivative text drives him to see dependence not only where there are potential connections to LH but to any number of other texts, Mesopotamian or otherwise. Thus there are parts of CC that he derives from the Laws of Eshnunna, from the Middle Assyrian Laws, from Hittite laws, and even from Ugaritic material. He surmises at one point that a CC passage is derived from an otherwise unknown Akkadian law (217 18). The picture of CC as dependent on LH is somewhat altered by this type of analysis. CC appears to be more a collection of various legal

4 traditions that uses LH as its basis and structure, while filling it out with other traditions where necessary. Though this is not impossible, it does raise the question of whether there is any CC material that is original to its author, rather than being necessarily derived from an external legal source. Most problematic in this regard is Wright s assumption of the existence of a native participial source (see esp , ) on which CC has drawn. Wright admits that this source cannot be reconstructed (162), though at times he attempts to do just that (164, 196, 203). Since elsewhere Wright claims that CC has used the participial form in rewriting LH (165 66, , 200), it is unclear to me why these participial elements could not simply be the original contribution of the author of CC, representing his expression of native Israelite legal custom. Even in a text that is largely dependent on another, there is still surely room for original authorial contributions. This aspect of Wright s work raises the larger question of the intention of CC s revision of LH. For Wright, CC was written as an academic, polemical response to LH. Yet many of the changes to LH found in CC seem to have no ideological quality but are merely attempts to create a sound legal document, as Wright himself observes (see , , ). Furthermore, some places where Wright sees ideological polemic may be accounted for just as readily on the basis of the author of CC s adaptation of Mesopotamian religious ideas to those of Israel, especially as regards the question of monotheism. He suggests that the change from the laws being given by the king in LH to the laws being given by God in CC is polemical (287 93); yet as every legal collection in the Pentateuch derives the laws from God, it seems more likely that this was simply how Israel envisioned the etiology of legal custom. Surely it is an overstatement to suggest that CC could not have come up with the idea of laws deriving from God without LH (292). While it is clear that where LH has references to the statue of the god(s) in the temple CC has removed this concept, this can only be seen as a polemical response if CC invented the aniconic tradition in ancient Israel (293 94, ); if, on the other hand, it was part of Israelite religious tradition that Yahweh could not be depicted and that there was no statue of Yahweh in the temple, then this change is again merely CC s representation of contemporary religious practice. Finally, the fronting in CC of the themes of the poor, the cult, and justice, which Wright takes as an ideological response to Assyrian overlordship ( ), has a solid foundation in the traditions of the early prophets and may be better seen as part of that tradition. In general, Wright reads CC almost entirely through the lens of its revision of LH, which results in some slight methodological difficulties. Regardless of its relationship to other texts, CC must be comprehensible within its own cultural context, as a literary product unto itself. When Wright identifies a specific text as being written in the native idiom (183), he establishes a false dichotomy with the rest of CC. The entire text is written in the

5 native idiom, otherwise it would not be comprehensible to its readers or writers. To take one example in particular, Wright claims that when CC uses the term ha elohim it means the god, in contrast to the plural gods of LH (252 58). Yet it seems probable, given the evidence from the rest of the Bible, that Israelites hearing or reading ha elohim would recognize a direct reference to Yahweh rather than a response to a foreign law code with which they would have no familiarity. In broader terms, Wright at times ascribes ostensible difficulties in the logic of CC to the way in which CC uses LH: according to his analysis, CC is understandable once we see how it plays off LH (140, 178, 188, 307). The problem is that the audience of CC would not have LH before them to serve as a guide for reading CC. As a document intended, as Wright recognizes, to be an Israelite replacement for LH, CC has to be comprehensible on its own terms. The fundamental question is whether dependence that of CC on LH or of any text on another necessarily entails polemic or any ideological motivation. Although this is commonly assumed to be the case, I do not see that it is required. It is perfectly reasonable, to my mind, that the author of CC should have used LH because of its high standing as a major legal text, as a template and guide when creating his own Israelite law code, without writing as a direct response to LH per se. The use of a preexisting text does not require that the newer document be written as replacement or rebuttal; it may simply be taken as a model. Wright assumes the ideologically motivated polemical intent of CC more than he proves it. Part of this assumption is based on his dating of CC to the Neo- Assyrian period, during which time he sees both opportunity and motive for an Israelite intellectual class to compose a document reacting against the classic Mesopotamian legal document. Although I find no problem with this dating, the opportunity and motive for polemic does not demand the existence thereof. The foregoing concerns, which should be taken more as commentary on the question of literary dependence in general rather than as criticisms of Wright in particular, do little to diminish the impact of this book. Wright has made a major contribution to our understanding of the composition of CC even if one accepts only the barest bones version of his thesis, that CC has some dependent relationship to LH. Read alongside the conceptually similar works of Bernard Levinson on the relationship of CC and Deuteronomy and of Jeffrey Stackert on the relationship of H to Deuteronomy, CC, and P, Wright s book takes us one step closer to a full picture of the development of Israelite law. He has further done scholarship a significant service by again showing that literary dependence can be seen not only in word-for-word correspondence but also in the intelligent revision of an earlier text (although some verbal correspondence is certainly required to make a convincing case). No account of the history of CC s composition will any longer be able to be written without reference to and deep engagement with Wright s

6 work, whether one agrees with him or not. Such is the mark of the truly meaningful contributions to scholarship, and Wright s book undoubtedly belongs in such a class.

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