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The Meaning of the Pentateuch: Revelation, Composition and Interpretation Paperback – November 15, 2009
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"Sailhamer illustrates the kind of fresh and creative thinking on the OT that is possible for an evangelical scholar." (Joe M. Sprinkle, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, December 2010)
"Sailhamer has made a valuable contribution to both Pentateuchal studies and the larger field of biblical theological studies." (Roger D. Cotton, Enrichment, Winter 2011)
"An interesting evangelical position in language accessible to all." (James Chukwuma Okoye, The Bible in Review)
"For years John Sailhamer has been pressing toward a comprehensive work on the Pentateuch, preparing the way with such works as his The Pentateuch as Narrative and a host of periodical publications on the subject. At last the magnum opus has appeared under the title The Meaning of the Pentateuch: Revelation, Composition and Interpretation. In typical Sailhamer fashion, he has left no stones unturned in any language necessary to get to primary and secondary sources, while at the same time offering fresh insights into the biblical texts and compelling invitations to the reader to view them in more holistic and integrative ways. Careful reading of the book will inevitably call for a reexamination of the issue of the Pentateuch's antiquity and its deliberate compositional strategy, a reassessment that will help to rehabilitate Torah as not the end product of Judaism but as the foundation of Israelite faith and practice." (Eugene H. Merrill, Distinguished Professor of Old Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary, and Distinguished Professor of Old Testament Interpretation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary)
About the Author
John H. Sailhamer (1946-2017) was professor of Old Testament at Gateway Seminary (formerly Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary) in Brea, California. He is the author of several books, including Introduction to Old Testament Theology and The Meaning of the Pentateuch.
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Sailhamer argues that the three fold division of the Hebrew Bible into the Law, the Prophets and the Writings (Torah/Nevi'im/Ketuvim) was theologically intentional rather than simply reflecting a historic development. The author latched onto the references to meditating on the Torah day and night in Josh. 1:8 and Ps. 1:2 as appropriate locations in the seams between the first and second and between the second and third divisions. Furthermore, all three sections end on a Messianic note with the hope of a prophet unfulfilled in Deut. 34:10, the promise of the Messiah's forerunner Elijah in Mal. 4:5 and the lack of a final fulfillment of Cyrus' decree in 2Chron. 36:23. Readers should remember that the Hebrew Bible ends with Chronicles.
On the back cover, Eugene Merrill suggests that this is Sailhamer's magnum opus, and I would agree. Merrill states that this book calls "for a reexamination of the issue of the Pentateuch's antiquity and its deliberate compositional strategy." I am not sure that higher critics will be convinced by Sailhamer's literary evidence for Mosaic authorship, but his argument for an intentional compositional strategy by the "author-maker" of Pentateuch 2.0 will challenge any evangelical to come up with a better explanation of the textual phenomena.
Another of Sailhamer's contributions is his recognition of a creative intertextuality between the authors of the Prophets (Nevi'im)/Writings (Ketuvim) and the Pentatuech. He offers some very persuasive evidence that later Biblical authors engaged in serious reflection on the Pentateuch in their prophetic books and psalms. This is nothing new, but Sailhamer points out far more literary links than we often have recognized. He also points out the many innertexual links within the Pentateuch (some traced to Moses and others to that intentional later "author"). He also uses the term intextuality to indicate the links within an extended passage (30, 336, 444, 492, 499). The intertextual connections that he discovers between Balaam's poem (Num. 24) and Noah's poem (Gen. 9) leading to the Table of Nations (Gen. 10) is simply a brilliant analysis (337-41). The same can be said for his creative explanation of Matthew's (2:15) use of Hosea's (11:1) statement about God calling his son out of Egypt. He settles for neither an "out of context" explanation nor for a "typical" explanation, but defends the idea that Hosea intended to convey what Matthew saw him conveying - a Messianic meaning in the text. This is only one of Sailhamer's arguments for a thorough Messianic theology that also drove the Biblical authors in "making" their books (Eccl. 12:12).
In this regard, I personally was also very pleased that Sailhamer expounds such texts as Gen. 49:8-12; Num. 24:7-9; Psa. 2:2; 1Sam. 2:10, and Dan. 9:26 as undoubtedly Messianic and not just "Davidic" as is often the case with many modern evangelical scholars. Some study Bible notes authored by those who affirm the possibility of predictive prophecy often ignore or deny the Messianic significance of these passages. There is no hesitation in that regard with Sailhamer! He even shows how these Messianic texts reveal a compositional "Messianic strategy" by the authors.
Our author also stresses the priority of a textually based canonical reading of the Pentateuch over a historically based reading. This is one area where he will be misunderstood , but Sailhamer is not attempting to cast doubt on the historicity of the underlying events in the text. He is rather calling for more attention to how the Biblical author conveys that event, because that is what later authors are concerned about. We should not be as concerned with the history behind the text as with how the author conveys those events through his text. There are echoes of agreement here with Brevard Childs' canonical criticism, but Sailhamer advances Childs' arguments with an evangelical thrust. Sailhamer often identifies with pre-critical commentators in this regard. Many current evangelicals have surrendered to a rationalist and historicist methodology without their readers recognizing what was taking place!
It is Sailhamer's treatment of the role of the Mosaic law that will probably be his most lasting contribution. Although hinted at early on and explained over and over, he finally devotes an entire chapter (537-62) to this subject. He revives the view of Justin Martyr in his Dialogue with Trypho that Trypho's ancestors brought upon themselves the burden of the Mosaic law by their sin with the golden calf (Exo. 32). God's intent at Sinai was not to impose a set of laws, but to covenant together with His people on the basis of their Abrahamic faith (Gen. 15:6; Exo. 14:31; 19:8). When they at first hesitated in fear before the mount and later apostatized, He added the Book of the Law and the Law for the Tabernacle-Priests (Exo. 34 - Lev.16). When they sacrificed to goat demons (Lev. 17:7), He added the Holiness Code (Lev. 17-26). Deuteronomy actually anticipates the New Covenant. He makes much of Deut. 29:1: "These are the words of the covenant which the LORD commanded Moses to make with the sons of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant which He had made with them at Horeb." He finds justification for this approach to the Mosaic Law in the theological thought of Justin, Irenaeus, John Calvin and Johann Coccejus. But his Biblical argument is based on later passages in the Prophets (Jer. 7:22-23 and Eze. 20:19-25) as well as in the NT, where he points to Gal. 3:19 ("the law was added because of transgressions") and Heb.12:18-25.
There is much more, especially some interesting comments on the significance of the two versions of Jeremiah reflected in the Masoretic text and in the shorter Hebrew vorlage of the LXX (162-71). Readers should also resonate with his proposal that the "Big Idea" in the Pentateuch is living by faith and not obeying codes of laws (563-601).
Meaning is so commendable that I am hesitant to mention my one big criticism. The book is overlong, unbearably detailed, and highly repetitive. For example. 1. Six times Sailhamer quotes the same exact passage from the Jamieson-Fausett-Brown commentary (54-55, 196, 207, 280, 356, 464). 2. Twice he repeats the same long paragraph, word for word (51, 203). 3. If he mentioned once that the Pentateuch contains four long poems (Gen 49, Exodus 15, Numbers 24, Deuteronomy 33), he repeated it at least twenty times. I know that repetition is great for learning, but there is a danger of diminishing returns when an author repeats the same point over and over. Such repetition is evidence that this book is a pastiche of Sailhamer's numerous articles and books over the last twenty years. There is nothing wrong with this practice, but good editors (where were you, IVP?) could have smoothed out the tedious repetitions. Sadly this may discourage some readers from profiting from what Sailhamer writes, because he does have something very important to tell us. (I also found around a dozen examples of dittography, the duplication of words and phrases).
But let me affirm that in The Meaning of the Pentateuch, John Sailhamer has sounded a brilliant clarion call for a fresh approach not only to the Pentateuch but to the entire Hebrew Bible. I recommend that you read a book that will make you think and also re-think some traditional ideas about the Book. We will be better off if we heed his call rather than reject it out of hand simply because it is different.
If you want to skip some of the scholarly minutiae, I recommend you start reading at page 153 and then stop at around 418 or so. You will still get a lot of repetitive and unnecessary material, but this section of the book provides his main idea.
What is that idea? It is this:
God originally wanted an intimate and personal relationship with the Israelites. But they rejected Him and asked for religion instead, much like the surrounding cultures. So, much like God provided a king even though this was not His ideal, He provided laws, a priesthood, and a tabernacle, even though these were not His ideal. And ever step of disobedience in the Pentateuch caused an exponential increase in laws and regulations. At the end of the Pentateuch, Moses recognized that the law was already broken and temporary, and looked forward to the New Covenant of the Spirit based on love and liberty.
It is a masterful idea that will transform your reading of the Pentateuch. I highly recommend this book, if you can wade through all the extra details and discussion.
That being said, this is the worst edited book I have ever read. As many have noted, the repetition is maddening. The discussion of many dead/obscure theologians was very strange, often leaving me 10 pages in having no idea what was going on. The punctuation and use of foreign languages (Hebrew and otherwise) in the text was brutal and overdone. Simply put, it was a poor read.
Read the book, but pray for a second edition that's edited better.
This book was very scholarly and a tough read. It was repetitive in places as others have said. However, the nuggets of information that were in the introduction of the book were so valuable that I made it all the way through to the end of the book. I do not think this book is for everyone.
Some of the insights in this book I will never forget (The prophetic echo, The importance of the poetry, Pentateuch 1.0 and Pentateuch 2.0, ect...).
I really appreciated this insight concerning how there is an echo of the poetry in Genesis 49 in the prophecies of Balaam. Also, the insight of Israel (plural) coming out of Egypt in Numbers 23:22 changing to God bringing "Him" out of Egypt in Numbers 24:8. There is a possible connection to Hos 11:1 here. This insight was absolutely priceless!
Apart from the length and repetitiveness of the book, the only other negative was there was no discussion on the typology in the book. How can Genesis 22 not be mentioned in a chapter on the Messiah in the Pentateuch? I realize that the original recipients may not have received this story as Messianic, but looking back on this story in light of the 1st advent it is clear to those who have been given eyes to see that God was having Abraham act out prophecy in this story. Modern day scholarship misses so much of the depth intended by God in these stories.
With that said, I will be referring to this book again and again in the future. The insights were that valuable.