Literary Criticism of the Old Testament

By Norman C. Habel | Go to book overview

Editor's Foreword

The production of the Hebrew Bible was a long and complicated process. In all its stages, from beginning to end, it lasted well over a thousand years; and each attempt to describe it discloses more of its complexity.

Despite many changes in special aims and tasks, modern scholarship has persisted with great constancy in its intention of telling the story of how the Bible came to be. Its orientation has been historical and its efforts to describe the contents of the Old Testament and their history have developed three clearly distinguishable methods of study: literary criticism, form criticism, and tradition criticism. Each one of these is really a discipline in its own right. All are interested in the whole story; but each one constitutes a sort of crosscut attempt at giving its account of the whole. And so each one has developed its own techniques and methods of analysis, appropriate to the phenomena on which it concentrates.

Since they “dug in” at very different points in the complex legacy, and since they developed methods of scientific work as distinctive as their special tasks, these three disciplines sometimes give the impression of being arrayed against each other in mutually exclusive fashion. That is not the case; they are interrelated. All three want to contribute to the telling of one story. Their interrelationship is organic and logical. Each discipline lives off the questions that have baffled the other two. Since none of the three is able to ask or deal with all of the questions that must be asked and dealt with to tell the story of the making of the Old Testament, and since all want to tell that story, their relationships are complementary. It is thus fitting that these three small volumes, corresponding to the three disciplines of modern criticism, should appear under a single title, “Guides to Biblical Scholarship.”

Literary criticism was the first on the scene. At the outset it was a special variation of textual study. Concentrating on the Book of Genesis, Astruc discovered a literary pattern related to the variant use of the divine names which led him to conclude that, in dealing with the era of the patriarchs, Moses had made use of more than one document or “source” in producing the first book of the Bible. There was an Elo

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