Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Yahwist: The Earliest Editor in the Pentateuch

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Yahwist: The Earliest Editor in the Pentateuch

Article excerpt

(ProQuest-CSA LLC: ... denotes Hebrew characters omitted)

(ProQuest-CSA LLC: ... denotes Greek characters omitted (or Cyrillic characters omitted.))


Recent Pentateuch research has again come to center on the long-familiar fact that the Pentateuch narrative rests on a sequence of individual narrative compositions. In the non-Priestly text, six separate narrative groups can be distinguished: (1) the primeval history (Genesis 2-11), which has to do with the origin of the world and humankind; (2) the history of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Genesis 12-36); (3) the story of Joseph and his brothers (Genesis 37-50); (4) the narrative about Moses (Exodus 2-4); (5) the history of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and their wanderings through the desert (Exodus 12 through Numbers 20), to which the death of Moses may also have belonged (Deuteronomy 34*); and (6) the story about the seer Balaam (Numbers 22-24).

The diversity of the material indicates that it was only at a later stage that these groups were linked to form the continuous narrative we have today. At present the view is gaining ground that the compositions were joined together not in a single literary step but in several stages, and that this fusion took place at a late period. One reason is that, according to ancient Israelite tradition, the history of God's people began with the exodus from Egypt. Consequently it is assumed that the great OT history also originally began with the book of Exodus. According to this view, the stories of the patriarchs and the primeval history were put in front of the account of the exodus only later.1 The Documentary Hypothesis, which assumes that there are sources that run right through the Pentateuch, is incompatible with a solution of this kind. Not a few of today's scholars consider that this hypothesis is now superseded.2 Instead, Deuteronomistic3 or late wisdom writers4 are made responsible for fusing the different blocks of tradition. This view can claim support inasmuch as explicit cross-references in the Pentateuch have clearly been introduced subsequently, and at a late date;5 one example is the explicit references to the tradition of the patriarchs in the books of Exodus to Deuteronomy.6

Another solution sees the Priestly source as providing the historiographical scaffolding into which the non-Priestly narratives have been inserted at a later point, not having formed a separate source of its own before that.7 This revival of the supplementary hypothesis once more attributes to the source P the position of the basic document that nineteenth-century research rightly denied to it.

Until a short time ago, however, the Documentary Hypothesis was also called into question because of the Priestly source, since the literary coherence in the patriarchal narratives is so weak as to suggest that there was no independent written source here, but that the P material represents a reworking of the older text.8 The Priestly source alone is not suited to serve as the basis for the narrative of the whole Pentateuch, even if there are still good reasons for the assumption of an originally independent literary thread.

The composition of the Pentateuch hangs not on a single thread but on a cord plaited together from two strands, the Priestly source and the Yahwists history. This cord makes it possible for the work as a whole to avoid falling apart when one of the two threads is torn or missing, which is the case several times.

It is certainly true that the material in the books of Genesis to Numbers that does not derive from the Priestly source provides us with a more or less coherent narrative. Even if this coherence cannot have existed when the transmission began because of the disparity of the material, it will not have been produced merely through the late cross-references. There are good reasons why earlier scholars read the non-Priestly Pentateuch as a literary unity. …

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