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

By Ernest W. Nicholson | Go to book overview

8
The Documentary Theory Revisited

According to the Documentary Theory, when the P material is excluded the Tetrateuch comprises mainly the work of the so-called 'Jehovist' but includes also a certain amount of additional material from subsequent redactors, including Deuteronomic editors. It is with this corpus, which as we have seen has been the subject of the most intense debate in recent research, that I am mainly concerned in this chapter.

Following Wellhausen's view, many have seen the Jehovist (RJE) as not merely an editor but also an author who added passages which he freely composed. We have seen, however, that there is currently increasing support for the view of such earlier scholars as Paul Volz that E never was an independent narrative source on the analogy of J, but is rather the work of an editor of J. The fragmentary nature of E, which scholars such as Noth concede, has itself been seen as evidence of this, just as the sparse nature of P in Genesis has been seen by others as evidence that P never was an independent narrative. For obvious reasons, this questioning of E as a separate source has also necessitated a rejection of the well-known criteria on the basis of which the two sources J and E were identified and isolated from one another, that is, differences in style, the variation in the use of the names for God, and the phenomenon of duplicate narratives. Among recent scholars, Whybray has most comprehensively marshalled the arguments questioning these criteria.1 He has also raised again the question of the credibility of the Documentary Theory as an explanation of how such a corpus of literature as the Pentateuch was composed, claiming that it depends upon implausible notions of how authors and editors in the ancient world would have worked. It will be convenient in what follows to focus upon Whybray's discussion, though the observations of others who share his conclusions will also be noted and considered. I begin with Whybray's claims concerning

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1
Whybray, The Making of the Pentateuch.

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