Koog P. Hong, «The Deceptive Pen of Scribes: Judean Reworking of the Bethel Tradition as a Program for Assuming Israelite Identity.», Vol. 92 (2011) 427-441
Nadav Na’aman has recently proposed that the Judean appropriation of Israel’s identity occurred as a result of the struggle for the patrimony of ancient Israel. This paper locates textual evidence for such a struggle in the Judean reworking of the Jacob tradition, particularly the Bethel account (Gen 28,10- 22), and argues that taking over the northern Israelite shrine myth after the fall of northern Israel was part of the ongoing Judean reconceptualization of their identity as «Israel» that continued to be developed afterwards.
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438 KOOG P. HONG
tunity arose after the fall of the Northern Kingdom, Judeans could
entertain the possibility of taking over that prestigious position of Israel.
In order to justify their right to the assumption, Judeans placed Abraham,
the ancestor of the southern tribes based on Hebron, in the higher place
in the new Israelite genealogy. Now, without wiping out, or forgetting, the
memory of Jacob, Judeans could find a way to redefine their identity:
not only through Jacobâ€™s lineage but also through the founding role now
bestowed on Abraham. In this regard, Abrahamâ€™s foundational placement
in the Israelite genealogy may reflect the Judean desire to buttress their
right to take over the position of Israel.
To be sure, to redefine a nationâ€™s identity is not a simple task 42. It may
very well confront resistance, both from the outside and inside. For instance,
the memory of the long-standing inferiority to the Northern Kingdom was
not something that could be dismissed so easily. So many Judeans continued
to remember Jacob as their father 43, that is, together with Abraham. This
perhaps means that the Judeansâ€™ program was not directed against Jacobâ€™s
role as the progenitor of the twelve tribes of Israel but specifically against the
founding role once bestowed on him. Without stripping the still important
role from Jacob, now Abraham takes over the founding place as the first father
of Israel. He thus takes the first space of what later becomes the triad of the
Israelite ancestry, â€œAbraham, Isaac, and Jacobâ€.
Dtr uses a similar strategy. Davidâ€™s founding role as the model king of
the united monarchy is highlighted, though without denying Judahâ€™s minor
position during the subsequent era. Then Davidâ€™s kingdom, remembered
as an idyllic memory of the distant past, served well as the basis for the
This redefinition may have required an enlightenment of a sort, which
could happen slowly in the peopleâ€™s mind. To this, prophets like Isaiah appear to
have contributed significantly, as seen in his interpretation of YHWHâ€™s delivery
of Jerusalem from Sennacheribâ€™s threat (Isa 37) and his subsequent promotion
of the idea of YHWHâ€™s choice of Jerusalem and the new role of Judah in this new
era. Slowly yet steadily, through a debate among diverging ideas and suggestions
by varying participants (such as prophets, priests, and scribes), the Judeans finally
came to be convinced that they were meant to take over the Israelite heritage.
In fact, Judeans did not have to forget this rich tradition, which is now
without its owner. With a successful program of promoting Judah as the new
Israel, Judah in fact could assume and take advantage of all the Jacob tradition as
our tradition (because we=Israel). In doing so, Jacobâ€™s genealogy, once a dramatic
device to emphasize the eventual birth of the beloved son, Joseph, transforms into
a legitimation of Judahâ€™s right as a practical first-born of Jacob â€” in the particular
way in which Judeans appropriated this genealogy. Although Judah is the fourth
son of Jacob, all three sons born ahead of him, Reuben, Simeon, and Levi, are
somehow dismissed as legitimate heirs of Jacob. See Gen 35,22 and Gen 34. Such
a dismissal becomes clearer in the later Priestly text in Gen 49,3-4.5-7.