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

By Ernest W. Nicholson | Go to book overview

Renewed Debate about P

Amidst the diversity of recent new theories of the origin and composition of the Pentateuch, support has remained strong, as we have seen, for the notion of a 'Yahwist' author whose work spanned all or most of the narrative of the Hexateuch. Increasingly, however, this has been denied in the case of E and P which, according to the Documentary Theory, were also originally independent narrative sources similar to J. The origin of the Elohist passages and fragments is closely related instead to the emergence of the Yahwist's narrative, whether as a stage on the way to it or as editorial supplements to it. The Priestly material, which is more expansive than E, is likewise regarded as the work of an editor or editors of an already formed Pentateuch or Hexateuch. That is, Wellhausen's 'book of the four covenants' (Q), or, as others termed it, the Priestly Grundschrift (PG), never existed.

Such an assessment of these 'strata' in the Pentateuch is not new. As we have seen, the original independence of P was already questioned soon after the publication of Wellhausen Composition of the Hexateuch and it has remained debated ever since. The origin of E as an originally discrete source narrative has likewise been frequently challenged. In recent research, however, the case against the Documentary Theory of these two sources has gained momentum and fresh arguments have been added.

This assessment of these 'strata' in the Pentateuch must now receive our attention, since it not only strikes at the foundation and rationale of the Documentary Theory but is also important for the viability of most of the new theories outlined in the preceding two chapters. On the principle that an analysis of the Pentateuch should begin with the text we possess, the completed Pentateuch, and work back from there, I shall begin with the Priestly material. The question of the E fragments will be considered in Chapter 8.

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