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Dating Deuteronomy: The Wellhausen Fallacy, by Josef Schubert

24 January 2020

Henry Wansbrough on a biblical exploration

THE interest of this remarkable short book is not so much “The Wellhausen Fallacy” as the study of Israelite religion in the monarchical period. Dr Schubert is primarily not a biblicist, but a retired professor of psychology in Canada, who has been passionately interested in biblical history ever since he arrived in Israel (then Palestine) as a teenager and was compelled to attend courses on Jewish history and culture. His first degree was in biblical studies at the University of Jerusalem.

The crux of the attack is Wellhausen’s contention that the centralisation of worship in Jerusalem attributed to King Josiah was an invention foisted on Josiah and woven into the Book of Deuteronomy by the post-exilic community to justify their own practices.

By his careful exegesis and, particularly, his subtle familiarity with the Hebrew language, the author shows that the pre-exilic cult was much more variegated than has been supposed. Deuteronomy does not centre all cult on Jerusalem, but prescribes that the formal sacrifices be held in major traditional sanctuaries. Despite condemnation by the prophets there seems to have been a tolerance of informal worship on the lesser shrines of the high places inherited from the Canaanite traditions.

The real novelty of post-exilic cult and the basis of all subsequent Judaism was a worship that had neither image nor sacrifice nor holy place. The clarity and courtesy of the argumentation make the book a pleasure to read.

Fr Henry Wansbrough OSB is a monk of Ampleforth, emeritus Master of St Benet’s Hall, Oxford, and a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.

Dating Deuteronomy: The Wellhausen Fallacy
Josef Schubert
Wipf & Stock £20
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