Book Review: The Authors of the Deuteronomistic History by Brian Peterson
Author: Brian Peterson
Publisher: Fortress Press
Reading Level: Moderate
Authorship of Old Testament books has long been a subject of scholarly debate. Even for those affirming traditional authors for the Torah (Moses) and early history (Samuel), there remain questions about some later books and clear post-author redactions. Among the more liberal opinions the majority of the Old Testament is pushed to later post-exilic dating. Somewhere in between these extreme Brian Neil Peterson present The Authors of the Deuteronomistic History: Locating A Tradition in Ancient Israel (henceforth ADH).
For centuries the author/editor of deuteronomistic history (Deuteronomy through 1-2 Kings) has been debated. In ADH, Peterson presents a foundation for understanding the discussion and debate surrounding this history (“Part 1,” chapters 1-4). After providing a lay of the land Peterson argues that the oft-proposed single editor model is inferior his proposed series of priests from Anathoth, with most of the work done by David’s longtime priest Abiathar. In Peterson’s thesis, this linage of priests is the major summarizers and editors of Deuteronomy through 1-2 Kings (“Part 2,” chapters 5-10). Peterson concludes his thesis by arguing that Jeremiah, who is from Anathoth, or Baruch, Jeremiah’s assistant, was the individual responsible for all final state of the canonical history.
Chapter 1-2 of ADH presents the historical impact of Martin Noth on this field of research. While containing many useful elements, it is Peterson’s voice, interaction, and clarifications that are most valuable. His discussion of the “literacy in Israel,” which is used to support an earlier dating of the original source material, (24-26) and remark that these editors “were not ‘inventors’ of history they were the recorders of it” (34) provides a balanced conservative voice in a field sometimes dominated by liberal presupposition about inerrancy and dating (67-74).
For those from a strictly conservative background Peterson presents evidence for later editing in a phenomenally easy to read manner (chapter 4). Little things like 1-2 Samuel dating (98-102) and the “southern focus” of the source material (110-112) provide preliminary examples of evidence essential to Peterson’s thesis. Starting with Deuteronomy and progressing book-by-book to 1-2 Kings, Peterson demonstrates how Abiathar, the sole priestly survivor of the slaughter at Nob (1 Samuel 22), is the most likely individual to contain the prerequisites necessary for accomplishing such a monumental editorial job (primarily shown in the chapter on Judges). Taking a more moderate approach on how much of Deuteronomy and Joshua is source material limits Peterson to just a couple editorial hints (125-128, 145-147, 154-157) that pave the way for his strong arguments in Judges (170-194) and 1-2 Samuel (204-215).
Throughout chapters 8 (1 Samuel) and 9 (2 Samuel) Peterson does seem to lose track of his thesis for an emphasis on the Davidic narrative. In many cases these details are meant to implicitly support Abiathar as author and editor though these is not always explicitly stated. However, the David-Joshua parallels presented bring back the larger deuteronomistic history into focus (255-257) and the interesting interaction with Solomon returns the focus of the thesis to the priestly village of Anathoth (258-260). It is this village that the priest/prophet Jeremiah would come from and it is Jeremiah along with Baruch that Peterson argues added the final touches to this portion of Israel’s history. Though there are small elements of evidence for this in the earlier books (e.g. Joshua 2, 154-157), chapter 10 (1 and 2 Kings) is where Peterson makes his strongest push. Though not as convincing as his arguments for Abiathar, the overall logic of the argument is sound and the consistency of one priestly village, and perhaps even family, is a strong case for the uniformity of the deuteronomistic history.
In conclusion, The Authors of the Deuteronomistic History is a surprisingly accessible volume that is brimming with scholastic insight. Even laymen will be capable of understanding Peterson’s arguments and enjoying his insights into the history of Israel. Though Peterson’s conclusions will not become scholastic dogma, they remain a valuable addition to the authorship discussion. This is especially true for those who hold to conservative dating and traditional authorship. As the discussion continues, pastors, teachers, and students will benefit from this wonderful volume.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.