I originally posted this on June 28, 2001. At the time it got no response.
It describes how the JEPD theory is based on a now defunct anthopological
theory. There is not podium pounding here.
[Here in condensed form is Eternity in their hearts, by Don Richardson,1981,
Ch. 4, "Scholars with Strange Theories". He makes some interesting points
on the origin of Wellhousen's JEPD redactor theory. He makes frequent
reference to: "Origin and Growth of Religion," Wilhelm Schmidt, 1931. ]
When Charles Darwin applied and extended evolutionary principles to show how
diverse biological forms could have emerged from simpler forms, the
excitement increased. Other thinkers, working more or less concurrently with
Darwin, hoped that principles of evolution would enable them to unlock
mysteries of another kind of phenomena -- the origins of human society,
culture, and religion.
They dismissed the Bible's claim that the first religion to appear on earth
was a monotheistic faith ..
Nor did they accept another biblical insistence, that spiritism and
polytheism in all their forms are "false" religions .... In other words
evolutionists erased distinctions between "true" and "false" religion as
scientifically meaningless. Lumping all religions in the same crucible, they
advanced a bold hypothesis: that the very religions the Bible calls "false"
For example, an Englishman named Edward B. Tylor theorized in a two-volume
work called Primitive Culture: Researches into the Development of Mythology,
Philosophy, Religion, Art and Custom, that the idea of a human "soul" must
have been the natural seed thought from which all other religious concepts
Tylor continued, It dawned upon them that other entities -- animals, trees,
rivers, mountains, the sky, and even forces of -- might be similarly
endowed. Thus did spiritism (Tylor called it "animism") come to birth -- the
Ages later, said Tylor, a new phenomenon emerged in some human societies --
stratification of classes. Human aristocracies ruling over peasants
suggested aristocracies of "gods' ruling over run-of-the-mill souls and
spirits. Thus Polytheism, in Tylor's model, emerged from Spiritism -- but
only where the social phenomenon of stratification of classes prompted it!
Still later, ... one aristocrat was fortunate enough to be exalted above his
peers as a monarch. Once again, theologically precocious minds projected
this latest social development over their vision of the supernatural world.
Result: one member of the local pantheon of gods began to gain stature above
his fellow deities as a budding "supreme god." Thus monotheism, said Tylor,
gradually evolved out of polytheism -- but only in areas where the social
phenomenon of monarchy suggested it!
At least four notions were implicit in Tylor's evolutionary model. First,
... religion's natural origin and subsequent evolutionary development had
now been scientifically explained. Second, since monotheism marked the FINAL
stage in religion's evolution, religion had now reached the end of a
dead-end street. Third, ... the next step for people who wanted to stay on
the crest of evolution's wave: abandon religion with its now defunct God,
gods, or spirits.
What ... was the fourth notion implicit in Tylor's theory? ... If Tylor was
correct, primitive societies would be devoid of monotheistic
Schmit wrote: "[Tylor's theory] ... left no room for opposition ... for the
next three decades it remained 'the classical theory,' ... almost without
any loss of prestige. Even [Herbert] Spencer's ghost-theory, which
immediately succeeded it, could not deprive it of pride of place."
"A notable proof of the extent to which Tylor's theory influenced the world
is the fact that it was accepted by a number of prominent students of
ethnology and religion almost without alteration. ..."
Occasionally, even in the heyday of evolutionary theories like Tylor's, a
few voices at least tried to call attention to scattered reports that even
very primitive tribes acknowledged the existence of a Creator. But scholars
paid little or no attention. Schmidt describes their attitude as follows:
"The doctrine of progressive Evolution mastered the minds of all Europe, ...
All framers of theories concerning fetishes, ghosts, animism, totemism and
magic, if they agreed in nothing else, were at one in this, that the figure
of the sky-god must be got rid of from the earliest stages of religion, as
being too high and incomprehensible [for savage minds] ... unless it was
preferred to deduce him from Christian influence. The strength of this
universal current of thought was so great, and the resulting discredit into
which it brought the notion of the great age of the sky-god so complete,
that hardly anyone found courage to oppose it and to draw attention to the
quite frequent examples of this exalted sky-god appearing among decidedly
primitive peoples, where not the least trace of Christian influence was to
E. De Pressense, ... "I was struck ... with the increasing vehemence of the
attacks made, not only on Christian theism, but on the very foundations of
spiritual religion. ..."
De Pressense went on to mention "the victory so loudly vaunted in the camps
of materialism ... The promotion of a materialistic fanaticism at least as
extravagant as any fanaticism of the theists. ... the premature triumph
which materialism claims for itself in its popular manuals of science ..."
[Then in 1898] Andrew Lang, allowed himself to read a missionary's report,
sent home to supporting churches from a distant field. The missionary said
that primitive inhabitants of that distant place already acknowledged the
existence of a Creator God even before the missionaries arrived! ... Lang's
reaction ... was that the missionary had made a mistake. But the further his
studies took him the more examples of this kind he met with, and at last he
came to the conclusion that this fundamental tenet of Tylor's would not hold
Schmidt comments repeatedly throughout his work on the persistent tendency
of scholars to ignore or discredit the sky-god phenomenon. Not until as late
as 1922, did the first scientific monograph on the subject appear.
Still Lang pressed his attack, relying especially on "the startling
discoveries of A.W. Howitt ....
Tylor himself had read Howitt's papers... "His only resource... was to ..
question the native origin of these gods, referring them to European, and
specifically to missionary influence."
But Howitt, ... had already indicated to Tylor that no such "out" was
It was the beginning of the end for Tylor's theory.
Wilhelm Schmidt ... threw himself into one of the most extensive research
projects ever undertaken by one man. Schmidt began documenting and compiling
evidence for "native monotheism," evidence which was now beginning to flow
in like a tide from all parts of the world. ... by 1955, he had accumulated
more than 4,000 pages of evidence in a total of 12 large volumes!
The entire thirteenth chapter of Schmidt's The Origin and Growth of Religion
is devoted to quotations from dozens of anthropologists, showing that
acceptance of Schmidt's research was virtually universal. The tide had
turned! And yet ---
Before it's downfall, Tylor's theory had inspired certain scholars to apply
his ideas in other fields. One would think that refuting the "mother theory"
would cause its "conceptual offspring" in other fields to decline as well.
This has not been the case. Some of the conceptual offspring to Tylor's
theory took on a life of their own, ... and managed to distance themselves
from their mother. Thus when she was axed, they were spared and persist,
however unjustifiably, to this very day!
Tylor's Theory and Liberal Theology
"A further important conquest for the animistic [spiritist] theory was the
field of Old Testament theology. Here the agent was J. Lippert who ...
declared the theory to hold good for the development of the Jewish people
and [their] religion. This application of the theory was immediately
accepted by two leading theologians of Liberal Protestantism: B. Stade . . .
and F. Schwall . . .. They were joined by a long array of other authors,
such as R. Smend, J. Benzinger, J. Wellhausen, A. Berthold and others, who
sought support for their ideas, not only in the results of textual
criticism, which they employed, but in these data provided by ethnological
research, as transmitted to them by Tylor's theory.
... Schmidt quotes a Professor Brockelmann as claiming that 'Wellhausen . .
. was more or less consciously under the influence of ... E.B. Tylor ...
[and] . . supposed animism to be the only source of religious life."
It was this Wellhausen who became prominent in developing a famous theory
claiming that vestiges of the polytheism which, as required by Tylor's
theory, must have preceded the development of biblical monotheism, can still
be found in the Old Testament [the J.E.P.D. redactors theory]. He claimed
that monotheistic priests later tried to expunge earlier statements
consistent with polytheism from the Pentateuch, but they overlooked some!
... To my knowledge no liberal scholar has ever blown a whistle and said,
"Wait! since we no longer endorse Tylor's theory, why are we still endorsing
this orphaned offspring of Tylor's theory?"
Even conservative theologians have often accorded Wellhausen's liberal
theology an undeserved compliment by attacking it as if it were a
conceptually independent structure. Their attacks might have been more
effective had they publicly exposed the fact that Wellhausen's theology is
based upon an anthropological theory which most anthropologists no longer
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