Inconsistency in the Torah: Ancient Literary Convention and the Limits of Source Criticism (2017)

Joshua Berman

Inconsistencies in the Torah is a critical intellectual history of the theories of textual growth in biblical studies. The historical critical approach to the Pentateuch has long relied upon scholarly intuition concerning some of its narrative and legal discrepancies, which scholars have taken as signs of fragmentation and competing agendas. Those hypotheses are, Joshua A. Berman argues, based on anachronistic, nineteenth-century understandings of ancient Near Eastern and biblical law as statutory law. Indeed, the Pentateuch’s inconsistencies are not dissimilar to types of narrative inconsistencies from Egyptian monumental inscriptions and the historical prologues of the Hittite vassal treaty tradition. Berman here explores the inconsistencies between the Pentateuch’s four corpora of law by surveying the history of legal theory and its influence on the critical study of biblical law. He lays bare how the intellectual movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries impeded the proper execution of historical critical method in the study of the Pentateuch. Ultimately he advocates a return to the hermeneutics of Spinoza and the adoption of a methodologically modest agenda. This book is a must-read for Biblicists looking to escape from the impasse and extreme fragmentation gripping the field today.

Purchase the book