Friday, October 19, 2012

Cult Centralization in Deuteronomy

This post is the third in a series considering the law of centralization in Deuteronomy. The first post gave attention to a new argument by Adrian Schenker that the wording of the law was past tense (the place which the Lord has chosen), as reflected now in the Samaritan Pentateuch and some versional manuscripts, rather than future (the place which the Lord will choose), as reflected in the Masoretic Text and the vast majority of Greek manuscripts. The second post examined Stefan Schorch's argument in which he attempted to draw out the implications of this for the origins of Deuteronomy. I have found Schenker's textual argument to be quite compelling, but I have not found Schorch's ideas about the origins of Deuteronomy to be quite as well formulated. This post is my attempt to draw together some indications for the nature of the centralization law in Deuteronomy and its implications for the book's origins.

[For bibliography related to this post, go to the bottom of the first post in the series.]

Both Schorch and Schenker think that Deuteronomy originally was written in the North as part of a program to centralize worship around Gerizim. This is because the law of centralization, first articulated at Deut. 12:5, points within the Book of Deuteronomy to the specification of a place of worship found in 27:4, where the place is named as Gerizim (in the original text, preserved now in the Samaritan Pentateuch). Schorch then argues that an Israelite carried Deuteronomy with him to the South when the Assyrians destroyed Israel in the eighth century BCE, and that it achieved an authoritative position there rather early. Both Schenker and Schorch argue that the proto-MT version of Deuteronomy was not formed until the word Gerizim was replaced with Ebal in 27:4 and the centralization formula was transferred from past tense to future tense as part of Hasmonean-era dating. So, we are to imagine Deuteronomy holding an authoritative place among Jews for perhaps 500 years with the original wording intact (past tense in centralization formula, Gerizim rather than Ebal in 27:4).

This all sounds fine to me, as long as we do not force Deuteronomy's centralization formula to mean that only one sanctuary would be (or, rather, had been) chosen by God for all of time. As Schorch realizes, that cannot be how it was received in Judah. Rather, Judeans apparently understood Deuteronomy to be indicating that God would choose a series of sites for cult centralization, beginning perhaps at Gerizim, culminating in Jerusalem.

In this post I wont present my full argument for this reading. But let me just point to a few pieces of data which Schorch himself acknowledges. (1) Nehemiah 1:9 understands the past tense choice of God to focus, at least at this later time, on Jerusalem, even though Gerizim was apparently still in the text at 27:4 (see Schenker's German article, p. 115; Schorch, p. 32). (2) Josiah's effort to centralize cultic activity at Jerusalem (2Kings 23) was related in some ways to the similar requirement in Deuteronomy, so it could not have been understood as limiting worship to Gerizim. (3) Jeremiah 7:12 uses the same Deuteronomic formula of God's causing his name to dwell somewhere, but uses it in reference to Shiloh, as one in a series of cultic places chosen by God. (4) Other passages, such as Psa 78:60-68 and 2Kings 23:27 also seem to have in mind a series of chosen places (see Schorch, p. 33; cf. also von Rad, p. 94).

If Deuteronomy was received in this way in Judah, it seems curious to me that we would insist that it originally referred not to a series but to just one specific location which would function as God's chosen place for all time, that being Gerizim. As I say, maybe I'll have an opportunity at a later date to present a full argument against this view.

Schenker and Shorch both think the text was edited by Hasmonean-era scribes in an effort to minimize any perceived legitimacy toward the Samaritan cult on Gerizim, and thus we have the proto-MT form of Deuteronomy. Sounds right to me.

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