There are problems in biblical studies which are so complex that they seem never to find an agreed resolution, yet which are so fascinating that scholars never give up the quest. Such is the 'Synoptic Problem' in the study of the Gospels; and such also is the question of the origins of the Pentateuch. Despite innumerable studies from at least the time of the Reformation, it was not until little more than a century ago that one hypothesis, the so-called 'Documentary Theory' formulated by Julius Wellhausen, established itself as the point of departure for all subsequent study of this topic. And even that represented only a pause for reflection, for it was not long before new approaches first supplemented, and then threatened to oust Wellhausen's great theory.
This book is an attempt to re-evaluate the Documentary Theory in the light of the vast literature that has appeared on the Pentateuch since it was first put forward. The first three chapters examine the work of form critics and traditio-historical critics who sought to build on Wellhausen's achievement but asked new questions about (for example) the oral traditions underlying the four 'sources' (JEDP) identified by Wellhausen, and the process by which they came to be incorporated into written documents. This material is familiar to scholars, but it will be useful for students of the Old Testament, and in any case is necessary if the newer developments surveyed in subsequent chapters are to be properly understood. For, as these chapters go on to show, in the last twenty-five years the study of the Pentateuch has been once more in turmoil. Rather than attempting to supplement Wellhausen's hypothesis, recent studies have either endeavoured to investigate the Pentateuch from scratch, or else to challenge almost every conclusion to which Wellhausen and those who followed him came concerning the date, origin, integrity, and nature of the sources. Not only are modern works of the origins of the Pentateuch challenging and provocative, however; they are usually also long, densely technical, and often in German. One intention of the present book is to make these discussions available in a clear and readable way to students of the Old Testament.
But the objective is not to provide merely a neutral 'state of the art'