TRACING SOURCES: TOWARD CLARIFYING
THE CRITERIA FOR DETECTING SOURCES
As a general literary principle, it is not possible to take a finished text and reconstruct diverse sources that otherwise have never been seen—sources that are hypothetical. Those who discuss source criticism in literature at large (Morize, 1922, 82–131; Saunders, 1952, 162–191; Wellek and Warren, 1962, 257— 258; Altick and Fenstermaker, 1993, 106–119; cf. Bateson, 1972, 192) never envisage the feasibility of reinventing lost sources.
What is possible, though it is often difficult (see the above-mentioned authors), is to identify a known text as one of the sources of another known text. It is possible, for instance, to demonstrate that Virgil used Homer, that Chronicles used Genesis-Kings, and, for most scholars, that Matthew used Mark.
Consequently the invoking of unknown documents—such as JEDP for the Pentateuch—is, at best, a last resort, to be undertaken only if there is no connection with known documents and if there are special indications that the hypothesis is working coherently and successfully.
The brittleness of hypotheses invoking unseen documents is illustrated in the nineteenth-century effort to distinguish sources in the Epic of Gilgamesh: the only success depended not on an internal analysis of the Epic but on comparison with other, known, texts (Berlin, 1983, 132–134; cf. Tigay, 1982; Moran, 1995).
The primary purpose of this appendix is to clarify the criteria for claiming that one known text depends on another.
In the case of Genesis the situation may seem discouraging. For a long time the book looked unique—unrelated to other literature—and so there was no question of trying to trace its dependence on known writings. But now, research has connected Genesis with several kinds of literature, especially with historiography, epic, and prophecy, and so there is the prospect of finding specific texts used by the author of Genesis.
However, before embarking on this task, it is useful to stand back and look at the larger picture of using sources. The discussion is threefold: