Thursday, January 31, 2013

The State of Pentateuchal Criticism Isn't a Mess?

I was shocked to read a certain former professor of mine argue against the idea that the state of pentateuchal criticism is not a mess. I simply could not believe my eyes when I saw this statement. Now, to be fair, I think he may have been saying that scholars were not leaning toward a unified Pentateuch written by Moses.

Well, if that is the case, then, No, scholars aren't moving in that direction. One can only read the Feistschrift article in the Menahem Haran volume written by Friedman to know that most scholars are not friendly to suggestions of single authorship (One might ask whether this is truly due to the lack of credibility of some of these theories or just a prejudice against them that has been fostered within the academic community--a prejudice that sees any suggestion of unity as uncritical and apologetic). But the way that my former professor said it seemed to imply that critical scholars using Source Criticism were all certain and comfortable with the theory. Of course, there is nothing further from the truth. The old theory is slowly falling apart.

Now, I still believe sources are used for the Pentateuch. I tend to believe that the Pentateuch is primarily priestly, and by that I mean that much of the narrative is from one priestly group, and that its final composition and compilation is primarily from a single author.

However, the idea that the state of Pentateuchal criticism is secure and certain is odd, since more and more scholars are beginning to challenge the model. In fact, even from the time of Wellhausen, his analysis of the data was so inefficient to actually deal with the variations that various scholars have had to posit even more sources to account for them.

J was broken up into J1, J2, J3. E was broken up much the same. P was broken up between P and Pg by some. Others posited a P1 and P2. Then you've got to account for the meshing of the material, so there is R (the redactor), but it seems that R is different than R2. Eissfeldt argued for L (a lay source). Noth argued for G, the Grundlage, to explain the similarities between E and J. Morgenstern argued for a K source. Pfeiffer argued for an S source. In short, the idea that the field of Pentateuchal criticism is a settled field is ludicrous, and most scholars who actually work in the field take note of this fact (see, e.g., Guillaume 2009, who in his foreward calls the Graf-Wellhausen theory "a debacle").

This is not even to mention the continual reassessment of dating the sources from the earliest times of David and Solomon in the tenth century to just before the sources cannot be dated any later in the third century. J is placed all over the map. P is post-exilic to some scholars, exilic to others, and pre-exilic yet to others (I personally am interested in the arguments made by Milgrom, King, and Knohl in recent years, but nothing is certain here). The identification of the correct time period in which the sources are written is crucial in order to understand the background and interpret the source, yet there seems to be little agreement in a field that is increasingly asking more challenging questions on what were thought once to be certain answers.

Today, you have objections that the theory explains the data very well at all. Campbell and O'Brien, two major critical scholars who have worked in the field for some time, have recently argued that there is no such thing as a continuous P source. Instead, there is but a multiplicity of sources that cannot be attributed to any one author or group. They believe that there are priestly writers of the Pentateuch, but no such animal as P. Their theory of development via accretion is close to Sandmel's haggadic theory (1961: 105-22).

As such, they see no reason to believe that J, which is often identified in contrast to P, is a true continuous source either. Scholarship has most often only seen J as a compiler of older sources, largely because so many things within what is considered J don't fit the criteria for direct authorship.

Their conclusion?

Along with these considerations, the fragmentation involved in providing continuous sources in biblical text renders the process of source analysis increasingly dubious" (Campbell and O'Brien 2005: 20).

Guillaume writes his volume to try and save what he can of what he acknowledges many scholars now consider to be a "broken" system (2009: 1). Scholars, such as Levenson (1987: 19-59) and Nicholson (1998) have observed the same.

Many European scholars wonder if J really exists as a source (Dozeman and Schmid 2006).

Such chaos motivated Whybray to argue against the hypothesis by asking a series of questions of the theory:

a. Are its presuppositions reasonable?
b. Are its methods sound?
c. Are those methods applied logically?
d. Does it account for the data more adequately than any alternative hypothesis? (1987: 35)

Whybray answers in the negative for each of these questions. He posits that a single author wrote the work in the sixth century using unknown and unverifiable sources to complete his work. He is not merely a compiler/redactor, but an author (Ibid., 221-42).

And although Friedman attempts to put Kikawada and Quinn (1989) in the same category as less sophisticated attempts to undermine the Documentary Hypothesis (Friedman 1996: 90-93), and I would agree with some of his criticisms of the work, it is clear that he does not understand their argument. Of course, their theory, that Genesis is written by a single author in polemic against Babylonian overpopulation propaganda (which I absolutely believe is beyond question--even though scholars may want to question it anyway), does not dismiss the idea of sources, but rather would argue more against the idea that Genesis is made up of contradictory texts that cannot be unified, and then one might argue from there against the very reason for dividing them in the first place.

The fact of the matter is that the state of Pentateuchal Criticism is a mess, even if you have dogmatists like Friedman, who are quickly looking like the old close-minded traditionalists against whom the then innovative theory once argued, protesting all the way.

In any case, what sources were used in the construction of the Bible aren't really a concern to evangelical scholars who can divorce the data from Wellhausen's liberal apologetic. So I'm fine with it either way. But to somehow argue that everything is right as rain in the field is just plain astonishing.

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