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?