Re: analysis & synthesis

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Fri Feb 27 2004 - 09:57:58 EST

Peter Ruest wrote:
> George Murphy wrote (22 Feb 2004):
> << Peter Ruest wrote:
> ....................
> > What struck me most about Hyers' approach were two things: (1) he assumed
> > that Genesis 1 was written by a "priestly" writer during or after the
> > Babylonian captivity of Judah in the 6th century BC, and (2) he assumed that
> > a theological meaning (or even agenda) in Genesis 1 prevents it from having
> > any historical-narrative basis, at the same time. Of course, this is the
> > usual dogma of liberal theology with its destructive source criticism
> > invented more than 200 years ago in Germany by "Enlightenment"
> > "theologians"..................
> I want to comment here on just 1 aspect of Peter's post, the phrase
> "destructive source criticism" - which he has used before. "Destructive" is
> a bad-sounding form of another term which we often use in math & science,
> "analytic." It means literally taking things apart... >>
> George, I appreciated this essay of yours, and I agree with much of what you
> say in it. Even before I saw any of the various posts of others expressing
> their approval and admiration, I sent a copy of your email to a series of
> (German-speaking) friends of mine, asking for their comments. Most of them
> are non-YEC theologians, and for the majority of them, I expect that they
> would probably agree more with your interpretation of Gen.1 than with mime.
> If and when I shall receive any (non-trivial) replies, I shall forward them
> to the list.
> Thus, for the moment, I want to restrict myself to just a few short
> quotations from earlier posts of mine written in 2002, which should make it
> clearer what I meant by my short and evidently all-too-cryptic remark
> "destructive source criticism". Your "analytic source criticism" is
> certainly not what I meant with "destructive", each of the few times I have
> used it. William Hamilton wrote: "... Too bad the theologians who have
> gotten the most publicity have stopped with the disassembly and neglected
> the synthesis..." This is closer.

Peter -
        I'm glad what I said was helpful. Some further comments are below.

> In a post of 28 Sep 2002 under the subject "Genesis in cuneiform on
> tablets", I discussed Percy J. Wiseman's "New Discoveries in Babylonia about
> Genesis" (1936). From that post, I quote two paragraphs:
> <<< 8. The completely different picture given by Source Criticism (or
> "Higher Criticism") was developed at a time when virtually nothing was known
> about the archeological findings which demonstrate what the ancient
> Mesopotamian cultures really were like. Now it is known that many of the
> source-critical starting assumptions, like writing unknown, polytheism
> before monotheism, not more than one divine name per author, late origins of
> the Pentateuch texts, etc., were simply mistaken. Unfortunately, this entire
> source-critical construction survived, with only minor modifications, being
> adopted even by many evangelical scholars.
> 9. One of the problems the source-critical scholars had, was of course the
> use made of Torah texts by Jesus and his apostles. This led Semler to
> formulate his theory of accommodation, saying that Jesus knew that these
> texts were not written by Moses, but didn't say so, accommodating himself to
> the erroneous beliefs of his time. Wellhausen then even claimed that Jesus
> didn't know it himself (kenosis, Jesus having "emptied himself", Phil.2:7).
> Semler called Jesus' trustworthiness into question, Wellhausen his knowledge
> of reality. Yet Jesus never hesitated to challenge the mistaken views of his
> contemporaries, particularly the bible scholars. Why did he never introduce
> them to source criticism? Jesus and the apostles took the reports of Genesis
> to be historical. From the beginning, biblical theology was based on
> history. >>>
> On 14 Oct 2002, on the same thread, I commented about the source criticism
> of the Pentateuch, the JEPD (Jahweh - Elohim - Priestly - Deuteronomy) view
> of 4 separate sources:
> <<< The implications of the JEPD view are very serious. Belief in the
> reliability of the bible in general (not only historically, but also
> theologically), and in its divine inspiration in particular, is virtually
> made impossible. In fact, Wellhausen confessed having destroyed his own
> faith by his work, becoming a rationalist, and he certainly was not the only
> one. I know that there are many evangelical scholars who accept JEPD in
> principle, but not wholesale, and with many modifications, e.g. suggesting
> much earlier cores for some of the 4 sources. They insist that many
> incongruencies of the text cannot be rationalized in any other way. But
> other evangelical scholars are of the conviction that JEPD must be rejected
> as a whole, even though there may remain various problems and difficulties
> with the text. >>>
> In a post of 25 Nov 2002 with the subject "The Pentateuch dissected and
> revised", I discussed Alexander Rofe's "Introduction to the Composition of
> the Pentateuch" (Sheffield Academic Press, 1999, ISBN 1-85075-992-8), who
> presents a modern view of the "Documentary Hypothesis", and concluded with
> the following, including my ominous "destructive":
> <<< Therefore, I feel at ease to treat the Documentary Hypothesis as one
> hypothesis among others, rather than "the assured result of scientific
> investigation, with which all competent scholars agree". I don't think we
> have sufficient evidence to discard all alternative hypotheses out of hand.
> Furthermore, we must not forget the destructive effects this
> historical-critical method - or at least the way it was applied - has had.
> It has destroyed virtually all of Israel's history until the Babylonian
> exile, together with much of the divine instructions and commandments in the
> Pentateuch, not to mention all of the promises and prophecies contained
> therein. Since both the OT and the NT faiths are squarely history-based, it
> will never do to sort out (valid) theology from (possibly or presumably)
> erroneous history. As for the early chapters of Genesis, which form the
> theological basis of the OT and NT revelations, their mythologization has
> handed over to man the job of deciding what represents divine revelation and
> what does not, resulting in many different "theologies". I don't think this
> is a sound way of doing theology.

        As I noted, source criticisms & related approaches to scripture can be threats
to the faith of some Christians. But they certainly are not intrinsically destructive,
as witnessed by the large number of biblical scholars and theologians who are committed
Christians and use such methods. Some would even say that these approaches strengthen
their faith because they help to show the incarnational character of scripture.

        Whether or not these approaches are "destructive" depends on what is to be
preserved or destroyed. They are destructive of some presuppositions about the nature
of the Bible. They need not be destructive to faith in the God active in the history of
Israel which culminates in Christ.

        You quote Wiseman concerning "source-critical starting assumptions, like writing
unknown, polytheism before monotheism, not more than one divine name per author, late
origins of the Pentateuch texts &c." It is incorrect to call the latter an
"assumption": The situation has been rather that source critics are willing to
entertain the possibility that parts of the Pentateuch are late - a contrast, of course,
to those who assume literal Mosaic authorship.
        The other "assumptions" were ideas that gave rise to early work in source
criticism but they are not essential to the method: The scaffolding that a scientist
uses to develop a theory may be discarded in whole or in part after its construction.
Maxwell & others who developed electromagnetic theory in the 19th century used the
concept of the aether, but the validity of Maxwell's equations isn't changed by the fact
that there is no aether.
        The discernment of different sources in the Pentateuch (& the whole OT) is more
subtle than just a matter of finding different divine names and so forth. It proceeds
more like this.
        Gen.1:1-2:4a & 2:4b-25 (though we could debate the exact division) are clearly 2
different accounts, whenever & from womever they originated. We note that they do have
exclusively different divine names - but also that the pictures that we get of God
(deity creating by fiat & deity getting down in the dirt to form a creature) & whole
atmospheres of their accounts differ. Then as we go through Genesis we find other
places where there seem to be 2 different accounts of the same thing - e.g., the flood
story with the 2 different statements about the number of animals to be taken on board.
(6:11-22 & 7:1-5). The different texts in which a particular divine name - and other
characteristic words - are used can be linked together & in some cases can be seen to
show common theological interests. (E.g., the hypothetical priestly source with matters
of ritual, calendar, &c.)
        That - in a very brief sketch - is the way the idea of sources like J, E, P & D
emerges. The whole process of oral tradition, composition of various texts & different
stages of redaction was, however, probably far more complex than just putting together
material from 4 different sources. The final composition of the Pentateuch - & the
whole OT - wasn't just a scissors & paste job. Still, the JEPD model does give at least
a rough picture of the way this happened. Of course the dating & authorship of those 4
sources then introduces a lot of other questions. In some sense the traditions that
they express go back to Moses, but for very reasons literal Mosaic authorship of the
whole Pentateuch seems highly unlikely. (Passages that seem to some from times after
the conquest are one indication of this.)

> In various respects I don't agree with Luther, but I fully sympathize with
> his exclamation, "Das Wort sie sollen lassen stahn, und kein' Dank dazu
> haben!" ("They must not tamper with the Word, and shall not earn any praise
> for that!" is my feeble attempt at translating it - maybe you'd better look
> it up in an official translation, or ask George). >>>

        On the front of the main building of Wartburg Seminary where I studied there is
an inscription, "Gottes Wort und Luthers Lehr'/Vergehet nun und nimmermehr." ("God's
word and Luther's teaching will never pass away.") Perhaps a _slight_ overvaluing of

        The Lutheran Hymnal translates the lines you quote as "The Word they still shall
let remain, Nor any thanks have for it." "They" in the context of the 1520s includes of
course "the papists." The Lutheran Book of Worship paraphrases with "God's Word forever
shall abide, No thanks to foes who fear it."
        One has to remember though that for Luther "the Word" is not simply "the Bible."
It is Christ and the proclamation of Christ for which the Bible is the basis.


George L. Murphy
Received on Fri Feb 27 10:00:56 2004

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