- Approaches to the “Chosen Place”: Accessing a Biblical Concept by Rannfrid I. Thelle
In biblical studies, the overarching literary theories of the last century are under deconstruction, and the Deuteronomistic History (DtrH) is no exception. DtrH refers to the books of Joshua through 2 Kings understood as the compilation of gifted scribes working either under King Josiah in the seventh century or in the Exile a generation later. Scholars, principally Martin Noth, referred to these six historical books as Deuteronomistic because it was thought that Deuteronomy influenced the scribes significantly and provided the legal and ethical blueprint against which Israel was to be judged during its time in the land, as described in Joshua–2 Kings. In this century, however, studies have focused on the contrasts between the norms and ideals of Deuteronomy and the materials contained in DtrH (see G. N. Knoppers, “Rethinking the Relationship between Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History: The Case of Kings,” CBQ 63 : 393–415). One of the most trenchant voices in this regard has been Eckart Otto, claiming there has yet to be shown any meaningful correlation between the literary layers of Deuteronomy and DtrH (see E. Otto, “The Pentateuch in Synchronical and Diachronical Perspectives,” in Das Deuteronomium zwischen Pentateuch und [End Page 428] Deuteronomistischem Geschichtswerk [ed. E. Otto and R. Achenbach; FRLANT 206; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2004], pp. 14–35).
The study of Rannfrid Thelle comes in the wake of Knoppers and Otto. Her focus is the concept of the chosen place, which is ubiquitous in Deuteronomy. The phrase “the place which YHWH your God will choose” is attested twenty-one times in the book, with some variation in wording. This salient feature of Deuteronomy was long thought to have inspired, at least in part, the reforms of Josiah elaborated in 2 Kings 22–23. Thelle’s thesis is that the concept of the chosen place played no role in the account of Josiah’s reform and had minimal if any influence on DtrH, despite a deeply engrained assumption to the contrary by many scholars.
After an introductory chapter, Thelle’s thesis is presented in chapter 2, where she disengages the idea of a chosen place from DtrH and endeavors to explain the dynamic of cultic centralization in Deuteronomic terms, that is, on the basis of Deuteronomy alone. In the former matter, she argues that DtrH contains an ideology of Yhwh’s election and protection of Jerusalem that has been mistakenly identified as an expression of Deuteronomy’s cultic centralization. These two are, she contends, separate phenomena. She cites examples such as the concept of divine election in Deuteronomy as distinct from that in 1 Kings 8, where the ideas of Jerusalem as chosen and a house for Yhwh are brought together in the temple constructed by Solomon. Thelle states:
Even though the election phrase is similar to the type we find in Deuteronomy, and contains the same type of expansions, the concern communicated here [in 1 Kings] seems entirely different from that in Deuteronomy. We are not dealing with centralization of cult here, we are dealing with the election of Jerusalem as a special city where YHWH will be present and guarantee its protection.(p. 49)
Cultic centralization in Deuteronomy, Thelle counters, is an effect of the idea of divine election as it is employed in Deuteronomy to authorize the idea of cult centralization. In the next six chapters of the book, Thelle adds different components to her thesis and develops it in depth, either with respect to Deuteronomy (chapters 3 and 7) or to DtrH (chapters 4, 5, 6, 8).
Thelle’s methodology is synchronic as she works with the “final form” of the text “now available to us” (p. 23). The choice to read synchronically as opposed to a diachronically shapes the study considerably. Deuteronomy 12, for example, is commonly analyzed in terms of different literary layers reflecting biblical writers before, during, and after the Exile. In Thelle’s reading of Deuteronomy 12, the description of...