Genesis as Dialogue: A Literary, Historical, & Theological Commentary

By Thomas L. Brodie | Go to book overview

APPENDIX FOUR
SOURCES: THE THEORY OF FOUR
HYPOTHETICAL DOCUMENTS (J, E, D, AND P)

By the time extant sources of Genesis began to emerge in 1872 (cf. Appendix 3) several hypothetical sources had already occupied the imagination. The emerging extant sources gradually gained a foothold, but only in a secondary position: they were generally seen as sources not of Genesis but of the hypothetical documents. The hypothetical documents retained their primary place.

Yet as already stated (beginning Appendix 1), it is not possible—as a general literary principle—to take a finished text and reconstruct diverse sources that otherwise have never been seen, sources that are hypothetical. Such a conjectural process is a last resort, to be undertaken only if there is no prospect of identifying sources that are known, and if, through unusual circumstances, the hypothetical documents emerge clearly and withstand prolonged testing.

In the case of Pentateuchal studies this conjectural process was virtually the first resort, thus causing centuries-long confusion. The detailed history of such literary theorizing is rich and complex (for surveys of scholarship see esp. Westermann, 1984, 567–574; 1985, 86; Knight, 1985; Rogerson, 1991; Moberly, 1992; Campbell and O'Brien, 1993, 1–20; Houtman, 1994; Whybray, 1987; 1995, 12–28). What is important, however, in assessing its lasting value is not its rich complexity but its underlying logic, the pivotal dynamics that have enabled it to function. The purpose of this appendix is to summarize leading aspects of that logic.


The Runaway Principle

In 1678, Richard Simon's pioneering study (Histoire critique du Vieux Testament) concluded that Moses was not the only author of the Pentateuch. Thus he launched the quest for the Pentateuch's origin, for its sources.

Seventy-five years later an answer came from a French medical doctor working at the court of Louis XIV. Jean Astruc, though he held for Mosaic authorship, saw that Genesis uses two divine names (Elohim; and YHWH), and

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