Thoughts of John

What is on my mind.

Torah: Theories of Pentateuchal Interpretation Considered and Analyzed.

Within the range of Old Testament scholarship there is an approach that tends to see each Pentateuchal book, not as a unified document, but as a multiplicity of documents. This view not only implies numerous authors but also a complex growth process before the particular book reached its final stage of development.

But such an approach arguing for a multiplicity of documents is far from representing a unified view of the Pentateuch. It has had many stages of development and has been represented by many authors who have differed on even fundamental points. It is not even identified by a standard term. It has been variously called the Documentary Hypothesis implying a multiplicity of documents making up the Pentateuch. It has also been referred to as the JEDP theory specifying the four basic documents that make up the first five books of the Bible. Still others refer to the particular approach to the Old Testament as the Higher-Critical theory. This latter terminology is wrong, however, for the phrase higher-criticism is used of various approaches to the Pentateuch that do not assume a multiplicity of documents. Higher-criticism is a “scholarly discipline dealing with the genuineness of the text including questions of authorship, date of composition, destination, etc.” (A General Introduction to the Bible, p. 451).

Sometimes the term Form-Criticism is used, but this deals with a certain hermeneutical approach to the Old Testament which may function under the overall category of Documentary Hypothesis. We will use this latter term in our approach to this part of our study.

A. The History of the Documentary Hypothesis. – A number of Gnostic sects existed in the first and second centuries A. D. They subscribed to the view that matter and spirit are opposed and that matter is evil. Since matter is evil the God who created evil must also be evil. This God is the Demiurge, the God of the Old Testament, thus the Old Testament is far below the level of the New Testament in value.

Simon Magus, perhaps the Simon of Acts 8:9-10, was part of this sect. He denied that the Law and prophets came from God. The Ophites, a pre-Christian sect, believed that the Fall of Adam was upwards since it gave to man the knowledge of good and evil. They taught that the serpent was to be exalted and the God of the Old Testament despised. The Cainites exalted Cain, Esau, and Korah. They considered Cain to be a martyr of the Demiurge. Another Gnostic sect was the Syrian school which believed the some prophecies were spoken by angels and some by Satan. The Egyptian school, founded by Valentinus and reflecting his view of the Old Testament, approved some parts of the Law and rejected others. The Italian school with its Gnostic emphasis was reflected in the leadership of Ptolemy and his work The Epistle of Ptolemy to Flors. He argued that the Law, being imperfect, could not have come from a perfect God. But since the Law enjoins justice it could not come from the adversary. According to him parts of the Law came from God, others from Moses, and still others from the elders of the people.

Marcion’s view concerning the Old Testament needs to be specifically mentioned. Marcion (2nd century A.D.) had come under the influence of the Gnostic Cerdo in Rome (about A.D. 138). He (Cerdo) taught that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament were different beings. Marcion then developed this concept further by stating that since the Creator is corrupt so his work, the Law, is corrupt. This obviously influenced his entire view of the Old Testament and was the cause for its total rejection in his so-called canon of Scripture. We need to understand that Marcion’s conclusion that the Creator is corrupt was based on his view that all matter is corrupt. Consequently, his view of the Old Testament is not to be regarded as scientific, but stems from a prejudiced philosophical base.

The non-Gnostic sects of the first two centuries A.D. were diversified in their views of the Old Testament. The Nazarite sect has given us the first recorded denial of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. The Ebionites detested the prophets and denied that certain words of the Pentateuch came from Moses. In the Clementine Homilies the difficult passages in the Bible were considered to be interpolations of the devil.

These are attitudes that prevailed in the very early history of the Church, or even in the pre-Christian era. In the seventeenth century A.D. a critical view of the Old Testament reached a new stage of development.
Benedict Spinoza (1632-1677), a Jewish “prophet-philosopher” as one called him, denied Mosaic authorship of the first five books of the Bible on the basis of three points: (1) Moses repeatedly referred to in the third person, (2) the comment that Moses was a very meek man – he could hardly have said that about himself, and (3) the closing chapter of Deuteronomy records the death of Moses, hardly an event that he would have recorded. Spinoza does acknowledge that Moses may have written certain passages, but most of the was done by a late compiler – possibly Ezra.

It was Jean Astruc (born March 19, 1684), a physician in the royal court of France, who layed the groundwork for the Documentary Hypothesis. In 1753 he published a work on Genesis in which he stated that Moses refers to events which took place over two thousand years before his time. E. J. Young presents Astruc’s view in the following manner. “Moses actually possessed certain old memoirs which contained the history of his ancestors from the creation of the world. In order not to lose any of these he divided them by pieces . . . according to their contents. These pieces he assembled, one following another, and from this assemblage the book of Genesis was formed.” (An Introduction to the OldTestament, Rev. p. 119)

There are four points that Astruc advanced. (1) There are repetitions of certain events recorded in Genesis: the Creation, chs 1 and 2; the Flood; etc. (2) There are two primary names used for God – Elohim and Jehovah. (3) Some events in Genesis are not in chronological order – the table of nations (ch. 10) appears before the confusion of tongues (11:1-9). (4) Astruc limited these distinctions to Genesis and chapters 1 and 2 of Exodus. Though Astruc emphasized that the Divine names Elohim and Jehovah in their usage in Genesis represented two primary documents called A and B, he also developed the theory of eleven other documents.

It must be kept in mind that Astruc’s work was not totally negative. He did not deny the Mosaic authorship of Genesis. He recognized that the use of Divine names was not sufficient criteria to establish documentary distinctions. His assertion that Moses used memoirs in compiling Genesis is probably true.

Though J. G. Eichorn (1752-1827) claimed independence from Astruc, he nonetheless developed a theory of documents for Genesis and Exodus 1 and 2 much like his. However, he went further than Astruc. It was he who established the early form of the classic documentary theory and he did so on the basis of the Divine name criteria. He also completely abandoned the view that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. Rather, he divided Genesis and Exodus 1 and 2 into sources designated Jehovistic (J) and Elohistic (E). Eichorn held that these were edited by an unknown redactor.
The history of the documentary theory is marked by significant complexity from this point on. The Fragmentary Hypothesis arose to which Johann S. Vater was committed. He held that the Pentateuch was developed from thirty-eight documents. Wilhelm DeWette held to the Fragmentary theory in a limited way. He stated that the earliest portions of the Pentateuch should be dated from the period of David. He argued that the different books were compiled by separate redactors who drew upon independent fragmentary sources. He further stated that Deuteronomy was composed during Josiah’s reign.

The Supplement Hypothesis was developed in opposition to the Fragmentary Hypothesis. This view proposed the existence of a basic document, perhaps E, to which other documents were added as supplementary material. Heinrich Ewald stated that at the base of the first six books of the Bible was an Elohistic writer and that a later writer took excerpts from other documents and added them to E. Fredrick Bleek, an evangelical Christian, argued for an Elohistic base which was supplemented by the Jehovist himself. But Bleek also believed that many passages in the Pentateuch were originally Mosaic. Franz Delitzsch also held to a modified Supplementary theory.

Another view which came into focus in the middle eighteen hundreds was the Crystallization Hypothesis. Heinrich Ewald had turned from the Supplementary theory to this position. This hypothesis was nothing more than “an attempt to remove the difficulties of the supplement hypothesis by means of the introduction of additional supplements” (Young, Introduction, p. 132).

Hermann Hupfeld modified the Crystallization theory. He stated that the J passages of Genesis were in fact a continuous document and that E was a composite consisting of El and E2 sources. Furthermore the E2 scribe was closer linguistically to J and the El was priestly in emphasis. As a result Hupfeld had four documents: a Jehovistic (J) document, an Elohistic (E) compilation, a Priestly (P) source (this was considered to be part of the “Foundation Document”), and the book of Deuteronomy (D). It is probably correct to view Hupfeld “as the real founder of the modern documentary hypothesis; that is, the hypothesis that the Pentateuch consists of four principal documents” (Young, Introduction, p. 133).

A popular designation for the documentary hypothesis is the Graf-Wellhausen view, after the two men who gave it its classic form. Concerning Graf R. K. Harrison says this: “The developmental hypothesis took a step forward with the work of K. H. Graf, who adopted the suggestion of E. G. Reuss, J. F. L. George, and W. Vatke that the Levitical legislation was later than the date assigned to Deuteronomy, and that it could not have arisen any earlier than the exilic period.” (Introduction to theOld Testament, p. 500f)

It is from his study that the four document theory came prominently into focus. The documents of Hupfeld were changed in sequence to the now common pattern J E D P by Graf.  Jullius Welhausen perhaps brought this hypothesis to its highest point of development. In his work DieComposition des Hexateuchs (1876-77) he established dates of compilation for the various documents. According to him the Jehovist (J) section came from the Kingdom of Judah and should be dated about 850 B.C. The Elohist (E) document was a product of the Kingdom of Israel and should be dated about 750 B.C. These two documents were combined by an unknown redactor called R-JE. Wellhausen considered Deuteronomy (D) to be a product of Josiah’s time (ca. 621 B.C.). It was added to the existing corpus around 550 B.C. According to him the Priestly (P) material was compiled between 500 and 450 B.C. by priestly authors and was then added to the existing material by another unknown redactor called R-P about 400 B.C. The extant form of the Pentateuch emerged about 200 B.C.

One further point needs to be made relating to the time frame of the Documentary Hypothesis. It developed in the rationalistic period at the time of the growth of the Darwinian theory of natural selection. What was applied in the biological realm soon came to be applied philosophically. This led to the concept that Israel’s religious system moved from the simple to the complex. The meaning to be drawn from this is that the very elaborate religious structure presented in the Pentateuch could not have developed in the early period of Israel’s history. It was therefore assumed that the Hebrew cult developed in its most elaborate form in the post-Exilic period (after 539 B.C.). This explains, to some extent, the dating of the so-called P document to between 500 and 450 B.C.

Notes by J Warren and H Hosch


October 21, 2009 - Posted by | Bible, Bible Study, Biblical Interpretation, Christian, Christianity, God, Old Testament, Theology

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