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

By Ernest W. Nicholson | Go to book overview

4
The Theory Under Attack: Rolf Rendtorff's
New Paradigm of the Origin of the Pentateuch

As late as the early 1970s, that is, virtually a century after Wellhausen's presentation of it, the Documentary Theory of the composition of the Pentateuch remained firmly in place among the majority of Old Testament scholars. There were still dissenting voices, as there always had been. For example, in 1965, Frederick Winnett, in his presidential address to the Society of Biblical Literature in New York, declared his conviction that 'much of what is told us about the Pentateuch in Introductions to the Old Testament stands in need of considerable revision', and he went on to outline ways in which he believed this to be so.1 Writing a few years later, however, a leading British Old Testament scholar, Ronald Clements, in his contribution to a volume of essays under the auspices of the Society for Old Testament Study, could confidently reaffirm as the opinio communis that 'the analysis of the Pentateuch into its constituent literary sources has remained a primary feature of study, so that fresh insights and methods of approach must be regarded as supplementing, rather than replacing, it'. That was in 1974.2 By the end of the decade, however, and continuing throughout the 1980s and into the present decade, one major study after another, like a series of hammer blows, has rejected the main claims of the Documentary Theory and the criteria on the basis of which they were argued. Winnett's view,3 for which he expected few if any converts (p. 19), is now in the driving-seat, so to speak, and those who adhere to the

____________________
1
F. V. Winnett, "Re-examining the Foundations", JBL 84 ( 1965),2. This article contains modifications to Winnett earlier study The Mosaic Tradition ( Toronto 1949) in which he had already moved away from the Documentary Theory, for example, in rejecting the view that E was an originally independent source.
2
Clements' survey was written in 1974, though various mishaps delayed the publication of the volume in which it is included until 1979: "'Pentateuchal Problems", in G. W. Anderson (ed.), Tradition and Interpretation: Essays by Members of the Society for Old Testament Study ( Oxford 1979), 96-124. The quotation is on p. 99.
3
See below, Ch. 5, pp. 132-4.

-95-

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