Literary Criticism of the Old Testament

By Norman C. Habel | Go to book overview

Interpreting Literary Sources: The
Yahwist and the Promise

As a literary artist the Yahwist1 has been compared to Homer and as a theologian to St. Paul. These accolades may be true but they may also prove a smoke screen for the beginning student of the Pentateuch. He wants to see the evidence for a Yahwist source beyond the texts of Genesis 2–9. We could, of course, follow the lead of most introductions to the source hypothesis of the Pentateuch and list all proposed Yahwist style and theology. Such a method is comfortable. It adopts the findings of some great scholar and assumes that the evidence for identifying the Yahwist writer throughout, the Pentateuch is the same or similar to that provided in the preceding analysis of Genesis 1–9. The critical reader, however, will want to test these assumptions. He will want to know what kind of data, criteria, or evidence play a role in the identification and understanding of the Yahwist in the patriarchal, exodus, and wilderness traditions.

It is obvious that we will not have opportunity here to discuss each proposed Yahwist passage. Nor will we have a chance to treat many passages where the separation of Yahwist and Elohist sources is problematical. We shall therefore choose typical and normative materials to illustrate the literary character of the Yahwist subsequent to Genesis 2–9. In so doing we hope that convincing connections with the Yahwist texts of Genesis 2–9 will become apparent and the governing characteristics of the Yahwist's total literary work will be revealed. At the same time we do not want the bold outline of the Yahwist which follows to obscure the fact that many contours of the Yahwist literary source have become blurred in the course of textual redaction and transmission.


THE YAHWIST AT WORK: A CLASSIC PASSAGE

Genesis 18 provides a profitable example of Yahwist literary formulation. In this chapter we can discern many of

1. The writer of the Yahwist literary source is usually designated the
Yahwist as though he were a clearly identifiable individual. For the sake of
convenience we have preserved this traditional designation. See P. Ellis,
The Yahwist (Notre Dame, Ind.: Fides Publishers, 1968) for a recent anal-
ysis of Yahwist style and theology. This book provides a complete text of
the Yahwist.

-43-

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