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

By Ernest W. Nicholson | Go to book overview

3
From Tradition to Literature

The main achievements of the generation of Pentateuchal research which began with Gunkel's work around the turn of the century lay less in the new results it could claim, important though many of these were, than in the new directions it opened up for research. Form criticism, though it yielded a rewarding first harvest, clearly created such possibilities for fresh advances that it required an extensive programme of research and application which would occupy scholars for decades to come. The accomplishments of traditio-historical investigation during these years were likewise of great significance, but the potential of this approach also remained to be more fully exploited.

Alongside the promising advances being made on the basis of these new methods, this period was scarcely less notable for its continuation of the task of source criticism which was considered to have been by no means exhausted, notwithstanding the almost exclusive attention which had been devoted to it by preceding generations. As we have seen, the 'Newest Documentary Theory', which was one of the crowning achievements of nineteenth-century research, was now revised by some into the 'Newest Documentary Theory'. Much effort was at the same time devoted to tracing the continuation of the Hexateuchal sources beyond Joshua into the remaining books of the Former Prophets. Further, old controversies concerning the criteria of the documentary hypothesis continued, with, indeed, fresh impetus, whilst some of its hitherto least contested results were now shaken by fresh questioning. Such was what may be described as the upheaval in Pentateuchal study and the methods to be employed that it is no exaggeration to say that research since then has been largely occupied with the new tasks and problems it posed.

What gave the more immediate impulse for the beginning of the period of research which followed, however, and to which I now turn was, first, the necessity to pursue further the possibilities which had been opened up for investigating the pre-compositional stages in the history of the literature and the traditions, and, second, a sense of

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