Authorship in Hebrew Culture

This post wasn’t supposed to go up until January. By then, I intended to have written an introduction for it. Somehow. it just went up today. I was horrified, as I thought it was set to “draft,” not Dec. 23.

I wrote the introduction later, in the afternoon. It is here.

I’m curious if any of you have any feedback on this. This is from An Introduction to the Study of Isaiah, which I’m reading on a Google Books preview because the preview has the page I was looking for in a reference from a Wikipedia article.

Here’s the LONG quote (which I have to type; Google Books apparently doesn’t allow copy and paste on its previews):

To many the idea that [Isaiah] did not write the book bearing his name may come as a surprise. … While this is not the place for a full discussion of all the differences between our ideas of authorship as moderns and those of the ancient Israelites, it may help to say just a few words about this here. Clearly, the ancient Israelites, as least those responsible for Biblical literature, did not regard it as inappropriate to supplement a pre-existing work while remaining anonymous. Take for example, the passage mentioned above, Deuteronomy 34. [My note: Deut. 34 mentions Moses’ death, so he obviously did not write it.] Most scholars regard this as a later addition to Deuteronomy … Most likely the author of this passage will have regarded the legal corpus he inherited and to which he made his addition as stemming from that great figure of the past, Moses. Nevertheless, in supplementing that older corpus with Deuteronomy 34, this later hand felt no need to identify himself as author, and this despite the fact that his addition made no claim of Mosaic authorship for itself either (v. 6). …
Thus, there exists a real cultural difference as regards authorship between ancient Israel and many modern societies. The nature of authorship was simply different. It is in this light that our discussion of Isaianic authorship should be seen. But what sort of claim were the later editors and authors of the Isaianic tradition making for their work vis-à-vis the original oracles? How will they have seen their role in the formation of the book? One explanation very much born out by the evidence is that of Seitz, who says regarding the title in 1:1 that it ‘functions as a superscription for the entire book. What 1:1 states, however, is less a matter of authorship or proprietary claims made on behalf of Isaiah than it is a statement of belief, made on the part of those who shaped the Isaiah traditions, that what followed was a faithful rendering of the essence of Isaiah’s preaching as vouchsafed to him by God.” [p. 4; parentheses original, brackets mine]

This sort of discussion of authorship would apply to, say, 2 Peter, which many scholars believe was not written by Peter. The questioning of 2 Peter is not new. Eusebius the historian wrote the following in his Ecclesiastical History in AD 323:

Among the disputed writings, which are nevertheless recognized by many, are extant the so-called epistle of James and that of Jude, also the second epistle of Peter, and those that are called the second and third of John, whether they belong to the evangelist or to another person of the same name. (III:25:1-4)

Earlier in his history, he wrote:

One epistle of Peter, that called the first, is acknowledged as genuine. And this the ancient elders used freely in their own writings as an undisputed work. But we have learned that his extant second Epistle does not belong to the canon;581 yet, as it has appeared profitable to many, it has been used with the other Scriptures (III:3:1)

As an aside, modern scholars often reject the authorship of Paul for the pastoral epistles, but I think they are beyond dispute. They are quoted early and often by men like Ignatius and Polycarp. Eusebius says of them, “Paul’s fourteen epistles are well known and undisputed. It is not indeed right to overlook the fact that some have rejected the Epistle to the Hebrews, saying that it is disputed by the church of Rome, on the ground that it was not written by Paul” (III:3:5).

I’m sure many of you have heard about books like 2 Peter and the others that Eusebius mentioned (James, Jude, 2&3 John) being disputed.

I’m curious about your thoughts on these and especially about what Jake Stromber, author of the introduction to Isaiah quote above, has to say about authorship among the Hebrews.

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2 Responses to Authorship in Hebrew Culture

  1. Peter Hakkenberg says:

    Paul, much of the ancient writings we have today started as oral tradition. I don’t have a problem with future generations writing down what had existed as an oral tradition. Surely Genesis existed for many generations in the same way. For Isaiah a certain school of thought developed and continued for many generations. When recorded it was in the same tradition and attributed to the founder of that school of thought.

    • paulfpavao says:

      Thank you so much for commenting, Peter! This post was not supposed to go up! I set it to draft a couple days ago because it really needs an introduction.

      Your contribution is really helpful as far as informative, but even more in letting me know that once again my computer is not obeying. I’m going to go put an introduction on the blog post now.

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