Challenges to the Documentary Hypothesis: Hermann Gunkel and Gerhard von Rad

(I have decided to do a series on challenges to the Documentary Hypothesis and subsequent attempts at explaining Pentateuchal composition.  See HERE and HERE for earlier posts in what has now become a series).

Both Hermann Gunkel and Gerhard von Rad can be seen as ‘refiners’ of the classical documentary hypothesis.  It appears, though, in hindsight that each of their refinements in reality introduced a certain crack into the once believed-to-be-unshakeable foundation upon which DH rested. 

Gunkel’s 1901 Genesis commentary begins a shift away from this reigning hypothesis, albeit an unintentional one.  While Gunkel does not question the existence of sources, he is not interested in their existence but rather in their oral prehistory.  As those who know Gunkel’s work may well expect, he deems it possible to establish the various Gattungen (types/forms) and Sitz im Leben (setting in life) of Genesis’ various narrative units.  What results from his investigation is that the Genesis narrative is seen as a collection of legends and sagas that achieves its ‘final form’ by means of oral transmission.  Emerging from Gunkel, then, one sees a shift from speaking of large-scale documents to small units, from texts to traditions, from authors to the preliterate society of ancient Israel.  And while Gunkel does not explicitly challenge documentarians, form-criticism and tradition history end up eliciting questions that proponents of DH would find difficult to answer (for instance, what is the relationship between the oral units and the larger documents?).

Gerhard von Rad’s seminal 1938 essay, “The Form-Critical Problem of the Hexateuch” is addressing, already, a stalemate in the field.  Von Rad says many have already gone too far in analyzing source documents and have lost sight of the final form of the Hexateuch.  He also agrees with Gunkel that the answers sought by source critics were to be found in the earliest periods of the oral traditions of ancient Israel.  These he finds in the kleine Credo, the little creeds out of which he believes the entire OT narrative develops.  The two primary creeds he focuses on are Deut 26:5-9 and Josh 24:2-13.  These creeds share a mention of the entry into Egypt, exodus and land occupation.  Conspicuous by its absence, however, is Sinai.  As a result, von Rad concludes Sinai belongs to a separate tradition.  The J ‘writer’ is the first to join the Sinai and Settlement traditions together during the United Monarchy.  J is also responsible for adding the Primeval History and Ancestral Narratives to create a national epic of Israelite origins.  J is seen as the controlling genius, governing the arrangement and establishing the overall framework of the Pentateuch to which others add.  Various criticisms have been levelled against von Rad in the present, among them that these creedal statements are actually more likely much later and could just as easily (more accurately) be viewed as a later distillation of an already extensive narrative.  Similarly, even those who still wish to speak of ‘sources’ (such as Van Seters’ Supplementary Hypothesis) accept von Rad’s J in many respects, save for the tenth century dating.  This was a pillar of DH.  It is now utterly problematic.  Von Rad, though, also propagated the challenge of Gunkel by affirming tradition-history as an adequate method to get behind the sources.  His critique that documentarians had already gone “too far” and failed to take the final form of the text into account serves as a further challenge to the traditional way of viewing Pentateuchal composition.  And while von Rad and Gunkel both saw tradition-history as feeding into and as intimately related to the construction of wholesale ‘sources,’ it would be a later scholar–Rolf Rendtorff–who would adequately demonstrate the two were incompatible. 

But that, my friends, will have to wait until the next installment!

How the Documentary Hypothesis has been Debunked: R.N. Whybray

In the comments to THIS POST I was asked about a good and accessible volume that communicates how and why the documentary hypothesis has been debunked.  My response: R.N. Whybray’s The Making of the Pentateuch, published in the JSOTSup series.  Whybray challenges both source-critical and tradition-historical approaches to Pentateuchal composition.  What is most helpful, though, is the distillation at the end of each chapter of the basic tenets of his argument.

Since the topic of the documentary hypothesis has come up several times on this blog and elsewhere, and because I think it is quite clear it has been debunked and is by no means a convincing way to talk about Pentateuchal composition . . . . AND because I’m going to be lecturing on Pentateuchal composition in a week . . . . I thought it would be helpful to post up Whybray’s list here from the conclusion to his source-critical chapter.

These are the following reasons Whybray argues the documentary hypothesis holds no sway:

1) DH “relies on a complexity of converging arguments” (the old ‘house of cards’ argument)

2) DH cannot account for all the material in the Pentateuch.  Even Wellhausen had to admit the law codes did not fit tidily, and the distinction between the so called earliest sources J and E is often blurred.

3) DH is “dependent on a particular view of the history of the religion of Israel,” an evolutionary view, that is no longer persuasive to many.

4) Authors are required to be consistent, but this same criterion is not applied to redactors (this is one of the strongest arguments in my view).  Such a view requiring consistency also fails to take into account the possibility of deliberate use of these features for aesthetic or literary purposes.

5) Doublets, repetitions, inconsistencies may already have existed in the oral stage of transmission.

6) Breaking up these narratives (“scissors and paste method”) lacks ancient literary analgoies, and destroys literary/aesthetic qualities of the narratives that should not be ignored.

7) DH places an over-emphasis on differences of language and style, especially in light of our ignorance of the history of the Hebrew language.

8 ) “Constants” required throughout each document (i.e., single style, purpose, theology) and an unbroken narrative thread do not exist in any document.

9) Pre-exilic authors appear to konw nothing of ancestral and Mosaic traditions, raising doubt about an early (United Monarchy) date for J or E.

10) Countless attempts to modify the hypothesis are only indicators of its breakdown.

11) Supplementary and fragmentary hypothesis have been neglected and need to be reassessed.

There are surely other reasons, but this is Whybray’s list, a very fine one at that.  For more on Pentateuchal composition, see my work HERE.

So, what do you think?

The Composition of the Pentateuch in Recent Research: A Teaching and Study Resource (By Me)

Most of you know I took (and passed!!) my Ph.D. comps this past April and May (see HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE).  One of the questions I prepared–and answered–dealt with the history of scholarship on the composition of the Pentateuch, focusing especially upon the last 30 years.  This is certainly a still quite unsettled issue within scholarship, and it is a fascinating topic as well.  The overall trajectory has seen a movement away from traditional source criticism towards more tradition-historical approaches or even those emphasizing literary unity.

In working on this topic I did a great deal of reading, obviously.  I then synthesized and organized the information into a cogent, articulated response in outline form.  That larger, original outline was then wittled further from 12 pages down to 5.

Given the perpetual importance of this topic and the question, I have decided to share here, in .pdf format, each of the two outlines.  Please note these files, as well as anything on this blog, falls under the jurisdiction of Creative Commons Copyright law and is not to be reproduced or distributed without author’s consent.  Full attribution must be made to me as well. 

I would also be curious of your thoughts on the files, and how you plan to–or do–use them.

Here are the two files:

Outline 1 – Longer

Outline 2 – Shorter

Here is a bibliography of those sources which are treated in the outlines:

Blenkinsopp, Joseph. The Pentateuch: An Introduction to the First Five Books of the Bible. Anchor Bible Reference    Library. New York: Doubleday, 1992. 

Blum, Erhard. Die Komposition der Vätergeschichte. WMANT 57. Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukurchener Verlag, 1984. 

_________. Studien zur Komposition des Pentateuch. BZAW 189. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1990. 

Campbell, Anthony F. and Mark A. O’Brien. Sources of the Pentateuch: Texts, Introductions, Annotations. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.

 _________. Rethinking the Pentateuch: Prolegomena to the Theology of Ancient Israel. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2005.

Carr, David M. Reading the Fractures of Genesis: Historical and Literary Approaches. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996.

 Clines, David J.A. The Theme of the Pentateuch. JSOTSupp 10. 2nd ed. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1997.

 Dozeman, Thomas B. and Konrad Schmid, eds. A Farewell to the Yahwist? The Composition of the Pentateuch in Recent European Interpretation. SBL Symposium Series 34. Atlanta: SBL, 2006.

Mann, Thomas W. The Book of the Torah: The Narrative Integrity of the Pentateuch. Atlanta: John Knox, 1988.

Noth, Martin. The Deuteronomistic History. Sheffield: University of Sheffield, 1981.

_________. A History of Pentateuchal Traditions. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1972.

Rendtorff, Rolf. The Problem of the Process of Transmission in the Pentateuch. JSOTSupp 89. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1990.

 Van Seters, John. The Pentateuch: A Social-Science Commentary. Trajectories 1. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999.

Von Rad, Gerhard. “The Form-Critical Problem of the Hexateuch.” Pages 1-78 in The Problem of the Hexateuch and Other Essays. London: SCM Press, 1966.

Wellhausen, Julius. Prolegomena to the History of Israel. New York: Meridian Books, 1957.

Whybray, Roger N. The Making of the Pentateuch: A Methodological Study JSOTSupp 53. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1987.