Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Gerhard von Rad on Genesis

The variety of material in the Hexateuch serves as proof for Rad that sources were used, and therefore need to be understood (14).

He begins with periodic “confessings” of Israel’s history (e.g., Deut 6:20-24; 26:5-9; Josh 24:2-13; Ex 15; Ps 78; 105; 135; 136), which he suggests as early traditions which took on a kind canonical function for Israel as their story. This story, which Rad refers to as a “credo of sacred history,” served as a backbone for the literary work that was assembled (14f).

The Yahwist, in Rad’s estimation, “gave to the entire Hexateuch its form and compass” (16f), which is to say that J assembled the story line to which E, D, and P were fitted by later redactors. He did this by gathering and shaping oral traditions which performed various functions but were necessarily linked originally to cultic contexts (17). After the stories were combined, changing political conditions removed them from their cultic settings (where they often served aetiological purposes) and eventually spiritualized them, as in Deut 8:3 (18f). So old stories, whose old meanings faded with the societies that told them, took new meanings in the scheme of the larger story the Yahwist constructed.

Rad highlights three parts of the Hexateuch that were included even though they are conspicuously absent from (at least the earliest of) the various forms of the credo:
  • Rad feels the Yahwist was the first to combine primeval history with sacred history. Primeval history, he argues, showed how God responded to sin with grace––until Babel, a dead end; then, Rad says, the Yahwist brings in sacred history to answer the hanging question of how God relates to all peoples. This is “the aetiology of all aetiologies in the Old Testament,” meaning it’s the story that explains the goal of the rest of Scripture: God’s fulfillment of the third promise to Abraham.
  • Next, the Yahwist arranged the Abraham stories around the idea of the delayed promise. Rad takes the promise of the land to be ancient and unrelated to exodus traditions, such that the original traditions of the promise had no notion of leaving the land and having to re-conquer it (21). This moves the Patriarchs to a separate time, having a relationship with God that is broken and must be reestablished at Sinai (22).
  • the giving of the law on Sinai (20). So, for Rad, the Yahwist was the first one to bring together the Sinai tradition with the conquest tradition, such that “the two basic elements of all Biblical proclamation are outlined: law and gospel” (20).
Rad gives his evaluation of the three narrative sources used in the composition of Genesis:
  • Rad considers the Yahwist the creative genius of the group

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