The Pentateuch in the Twentieth Century: The Legacy of Julius Wellhausen

By Ernest W. Nicholson | Go to book overview

2
Behind the Documents of the Pentateuch

The focus of the Documentary Theory was upon the composition of the Pentateuch as a literary corpus. The method employed was 'literary-critical' or 'source-critical' in the sense that the different sources and the redactional material which now unites them were separated from each other on grounds of style, vocabulary, and the like, as well as the distinctive theological and religious outlook and interest which could be discerned in each source. The emphasis was accordingly upon the creativity of the separate authors or 'schools' of authors who composed the original documents and upon the contributions of the various redactors who gradually combined them. In other words, it was believed that it is at this level of source-critical analysis that the problem of the origin and composition of the Pentateuch is to be solved.

As a result of this, little importance was credited to the 'pre- compositional' stage or stages in the development of the literature. That the authors of the various documents were frequently dependent upon inherited oral tradition was generally conceded. Now and again attention was drawn to the antiquity of the subject matter of a passage over against the relatively late literary expression of it by the authors of the Pentateuchal sources.1 But no serious attempt was made by Wellhausen and his followers to elevate the investigation of the pre-compositional stage in the emergence of the literature to a subject for research in its own right. Quite the contrary was the case. Wellhausen himself held a low estimate of the significance of the pre- compositional stage and spurned the task of investigating it as of no more than antiquarian interest and outside the scope proper of the

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1
Thus S. R. Driver commented: 'The date at which an event, or institution, is first mentioned in writing, must not, however, be confused with that at which it occurred, or originated: in the early stages of a nation's history the memory of the past is preserved habitually by tradition; and the Jews, long after they were possessed of a literature, were still apt to depend much upon tradition.' ( An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament, 125.)

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