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The Origins of the Hebrew Bible: Some New Answers to Old Questions

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image of Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions

In two recent studies, one by William M. Schniedewind, How the Bible Became a Book, the other by David M. Carr, Writing on the Tablet of the Heart, these scholars present their answers to the age old question of how the Hebrew Bible came into being as a special collection of edited and canonized books. Both scholars reject the older formula of a three stage process of Law (400 BCE), Prophets (ca. 200 BCE), and Writings (First Century CE). Schniedewind, on the one hand, proposes an editorial process of collection and arrangement of traditional material within the preexilic royal court and among the royal scribes in captivity in Babylon that gave rise to an authoritative corpus, which was then augmented with some later works in the Persian and Hellenistic periods. Carr, on the other hand, sees the collection and selection of biblical books within an educational process of enculturation that was continuous over an extended period from simple oral tradition in early Israel to the final stages of curricular consolidation, i.e., the canon, in which the priests play a major role. This study will examine a set of issues (e.g. orality and literacy; dating and composition of texts; editing and transmission of texts in antiquity; the role of texts in education) that are covered by these studies, and will offer some alternative suggestions for consideration.


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