Re: [asa] JDEP

From: David Campbell <>
Date: Fri Sep 08 2006 - 17:45:29 EDT

> The case for different sources of the Pentateuch (whether or not called
> JEDP) doesn't really have rely on very sophisticated arguments.

There are even occasional mentions of sources or more extensive versions in
the text. However, several different claims need to be distinguished, e.g.

A) The compilers of the present version of the Pentateuch (or other biblical
books) used multiple sources, which underlie some of the differences between

B) The Pentateuch contains more or less divergent and incompatible versions
of the same event, carelessly thrown together by ancient editors.

C) Various sources for the Pentateuch, by their theological focus, show
themselves to have been originally composed far later than the dates claimed
for them within the text.

D) The final compilation of the Pentateuch was probably significantly later
than the Exodus, but this editorial activity relied heavily on documents
and/or traditions from the time of the Exodus.

E) The historical events described in the Pentateuch are entirely

F) The historical events described in the Pentateuch are not described in
the way a modern historian would and need to be interpreted with caution and
in light of archaeological or other outside evidence.

G) A source critic can infallibly sort out different source documents based
on differences in vocabulary, even if some later editor confused things by
removing the differences that ought to be there.

  I don't know about anyone else but as soon as I took seriously the
> possibility of different sources, the fact that there are different versions
> of the same basic account simply jumped out at me. E.g., can anyone miss
> the 3 different stories of the patriarch saying that his wife is his sister
> - 2 of them with a king in Gerar named Abimelech?

Real people never make the same mistake twice and real royal (though just a
local city-state) families never use the same name or (perhaps more likely
in this case) title?

Part of the problem is that we have rather limited comparative material to
use. What we do have is largely the product of the past century's
archaeological work, i.e., after the basic JDEP, etc. model was developed.
Comparison with other ancient near eastern literature is largely lacking.
To develop a solid set of criteria for distinguishing composite versus
unitary documents, one would need a large set of known examples of both from
a setting close enough to ancient Israel to be an appropriate comparision.
Without a more objective criterion, it becomes merely an assessment of
opinons on plausibility. It's a bit like all the ID criteria for
recognizing design, which routinely look like efforts to describe complex
biomolecular systems and show no signs of testing against actual examples of
known "designed" versus non-"designed" objects (defining design is of course
problematic here, too).

Perhaps rather more important than source criticism, whatever one thinks of
its merits, is the fact that the compilers and audiences of the OT books as
we have them today evidently thought they were coherent. The models which
suggest that different writings were simply thrown together and should be
analyzed only in isolation have an unreasonably low opinion of ancient
scribes. While it may be true that, e.g., the book of Jeremiah might have
in part been merely collation of independent records of his prophetic
activity at different times or that Matthew thematically drew together
sayings of Jesus from different occasions, and any human copyist makes
mistakes, our present theological task is understanding the Bible as we have
it. This also suggests that differences between parallel narratives were
not seen as problematic. E.g., some ancient Israelites must have thought
that Genesis 1:1-2:3 and 2:4ff were compatible, a point that does not
support putting huge emphasis on the 7days.

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Received on Fri Sep 8 17:46:14 2006

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