Re: [asa] JDEP

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Fri Sep 08 2006 - 21:46:13 EDT

Comments below in red.

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: David Campbell
  To: ASA
  Sent: Friday, September 08, 2006 5:45 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] JDEP

    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 passages.

  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 fictitious.

  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.

  The extent to which I would accpt these positions varies considerably. E.g., I would agree with A & reject E (because of "entirely").

    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?

    Sure, but as an argument for the historical accuracy of these these texts as descriptions of 3 separate events, doesn't this make you just an eensy bit suspicious?
    Any one of the cases of doublets or triplets can be explained as coincidence &c: The parallel names in the genealogies of Gen.4 & 5, the 2 pairs & 7 pairs of animals in the flood story, &c, the different names of Moses' father in law, &c. But when does this sort of explanation start to seem overdone?

  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).

  The discussion is sometimes biased by the assumption that "unitarity" is the default setting.

  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.

  Exactly. This is the idea of "canonical criticism" for which Brevard Childs and other biblical scholars have argued. We need to do the analytical work & try to discern different sources, genres &c. That can be done without any particular theological commitment. But belief that there is a canon of scripture (even if its borders are fuzzy) then requires that we put the pieces back together. There is theological significance in the fact that the Pentateuch has been seen within the canon as "Moses" regardless of how much of it Moses wrote. Isaiah is a canonical whole even if there are 3 oor 4 parts of it.

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Received on Fri Sep 8 21:47:16 2006

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