Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy: Studies in Hebrew Narrative and Poetry

Stephen K. Sherwood

Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy: Studies in Hebrew Narrative and Poetry
Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy: Studies in Hebrew Narrative and Poetry

Book Details

Series: Berit Olam
Categories: Leviticus Numbers Deuteronomy
Tags: Technical

Book Information

Many good intentions to read the entire Bible have foundered on the rocks of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Do these books have literary qualities? How does the storyteller tell the story? In Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Stephen Sherwood, C.M.F., applies the tools of narrative criticism to look for the literary qualities of these three biblical books.

Sherwood identifies the narrative art of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy not only in such colorful stories as the Sabbath breaker, the threat from Sihon and Og, the deaths of Nadab and Abihu, the story of Balaam, the bronze serpent, Aaron's rod, Miriam’s leprosy, and the water from the rock, but also through the extended discourses made by characters in the story. Sherwood studies the voices of several of these characters: the narrator, the Lord, Moses, Aaron, the Israelites, Balaam and Barak, and others, to see how each is "characterized" by their words and actions.

In Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Sherwood also shows how each of the three books has its own characteristics as part of a larger story. Leviticus deals mainly with divine speech. Numbers also contains divine speech but the voices of Moses and the narrator are more recurrent. Deuteronomy is presented in the form of a farewell speech of Moses before his death. The story is then retold from Moses’ point of view, with different emphases and even some changes.

Chapters are “General Introduction,” “Leviticus,” “Numbers,” and “Deuteronomy.” Each chapter contains a general introduction to a biblical book which is followed by notes which make observations on the literary qualities of smaller units of each book.


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4.8 out of 5 based on 5 user ratings
Stephen Sherwood's Berit Olam volume is strongest in motivating appreciation of the literary analysis of the books it covers, which also includes Numbers and Deuteronomy. It focuses on the narrative art of these three books almost to the exclusion of most other things commentaries do. It does give some sense of how each passage relates to the book as a whole and to the overall Torah. The value of this commentary is in supplementing rather than replacing other commentaries, but even what it does would have been better suited if the series had allowed more space than 300 pages for this very large set of material. [Full Review]
Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2002. Pp. xviii + 306. Cloth. $39.95. ISBN 0814650465. Beverly W. Cushman Calvin College Grand Rapids, MI 49546 Stephen K. Sherwoods commentary on the books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy provides a distinctive approach to the final forms of these three books of the Pentateuch. In this volume of the Berit Olam commentary series, Sherwood reads these texts from the perspective of narrative criticism. He argues that the law of Torah is not only embedded within a narrative framework but itself functions as a form of narrative discourse. The key to this distinctive approach lies in his perception of the incomplete nature of the laws that are promulgated and the extensive use of character discourse in these texts. These discourses are part of a story and contribute to the characterization of their speakers (xi). As Sherwood sees it, th e discourse of instruction defines the characterization of YHWH as lawgiver, Moses as prophet, and Israel as a people. The setting of these texts in the wilderness prior to Israels entrance into the land of Canaan points to the liminal quality of the narrative. The wilderness experience is one of liminality between the promise of the land and the entrance of Israel to claim that promise. It is the experience of liminality in the wilderness that provides a narrative moment from which to look at the past and prepare for the future. [Full Review]
Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2002. Pp. xviii + 306. Cloth. $39.95. ISBN 0814650465. Robin Gallaher Branch Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education Potchefstroom, South Africa 2520 Stephen K. Sherwood, C.M.F., embarked on probably the most difficult assignment in the Berit Olam series: presenting Leviticus as narration. His discoveries while analyzing the text, although probably unsuccessful in the broad picture of changing entrenched ideas about Leviticus as a holiness code and priestly instruction book, nonetheless shed keen insights and needed light on its narrative elements. He argues that Leviticus cannot be anything but narrative because it i s part of a larger story (7). In Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Sherwood, a faculty member at the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas, tackles the narrative art of these three important books. He investigates their literary properties, remarks on literary devices such as inclusios (booke nds at the beginning and end of a passage that repeat a word, phrase, or idea), and points out various chiastic (X-shaped) and concentric (onionlike) word patterns. He looks for any artful artifice that would betoken careful crafting and purposeful arrangement of the texts (xi). [Full Review]
Sherwoods volume is not a traditional ve rse-by-verse commentary but is part of a new generation of commentaries and studies focusing upon narrative criticism. However, the specific nature of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy makes this enterprise immensely interesting, since these books are not generally considered narrative but rather a collection of ritual and legislative material interspersed with some narrative sections. Sherwood is aware of this limitation (xixii) but argues that the communication of any legislative material has story-telling qualities as well. After a general introduction (xixv iii) explaining the layout of the commentary and the intended audience (any interested reader [xiv]) and emphasizing that this work is to focus only on the literary aspects of the text ( xiv), Sherwood divides the commentary into three equal sections (involving each around 9095 pages) that fo cus upon the respective books. There is no general introduction to the Pentateuch as a whole. [Full Review]
Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2002. Pp. xviii + 306, Cloth, $39.95, ISBN 0814650465. Jan A. Wagenaar Utrecht University Utrecht, Netherlands The present volume in the Berit Olam series does in accordance with the series subtitle not aim to be a verse by verse commentary with translation and notes, but an attempt to apply the techniques of narrative criticism to the biblical books of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Focussing on the final form of the text Sherwood approaches these books as narrative. Are these books then works of narrative art? Sherwood does not hesitate to answer this question with a definite ‘Yes’ (xi-xiii). After all they do not only contain a number of colorful stories, they are also part of a larger story stretching from Exodus to Deuteronomy. So what else could they be (7-8)? Codes of law? Sherwood does not think so. Even when taken together the collections of law in these books are neither unified nor complete. He prefers to consider these legal materials as discourses made by the characters in the story, which contribute to their characterization. The narrative character of the books is derived from both the narrative verbs introducing the legal materials and the literary devices that are being used such as chiasmus and inclusio (3-4). The inclusion of these materials within the larger context of the story from exodus to conquest by means of narrative verbs taken for granted, the literary techniques employed do not necessarily put these texts in the category of literature. The devices are well known editorial techniques used in the process of legal innovation within Ancient Near Eastern law and may well point to a similar process in Old Testament law. In the Introduction sections (3-44, 97-140, 199-240) preceding the Notes sections (45-94, 141-195, 241-292) the attempt to approach these legal materials as narratives is put to the test, when Sherwood insists that they exhibit a narrative structure (13-18, 216-220). [Full Review]

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