Until recently, the source hypothesis enjoyed the status of classical certainty in most of modern biblical scholarship. For a century or so, it served to organize a mass of data into a relatively simple conceptual structure, thereby providing an overall system within which numerous other observations could be made. Its assumptions became accepted as a framework within which study of the Pentateuch proceeded.
There is great value in being able to work with a set of assumptions that simplifies the range of data in an area as vast as the Pentateuch. One can take comfort in the security of assumptions that are felt to be widely accepted and not to need constant reexamination. There is, however, a correspondingly great danger of blindness and falsehood in the complacent acceptance of simplicity and security. Comfortable as the past may have been, such complacency can no longer hold the field. The source hypothesis has been under challenge and reexamination for some years.
In situations of challenge, the temptation always exists of flight to another equally unexamined set of assumptions: out with the old, in with the new, let comfort be restored. Yielding to this temptation leaves the mass of data unexamined, the old assumptions unchallenged because untested, and the new paradigms fragile for lack of vigorous comparison.
The aim of this book is to enable assumptions about the Pentateuch to be vigorously and thoroughly challenged. We do not set out to advocate a source-critical model for the Pentateuch. We do set out to present one example of a source-critical model as clearly and intelligibly as possible. For this purpose, we have chosen Martin Noth’s view of the sources in the source hypothesis, as presented in his History of Pentateuchal Traditions.1
A successful challenge to any scholarly position must always confront the opposition in its strongest form. Anything less is unworthy and unproductive. There have been many views on the best model of the source hypothesis. Often, and rightly, the models may be practically incompatible. Confusion between these views troubles and clouds discussion of the new alternatives offered. The multiplicity of studies on the pentateuchal text makes it easy to lose sight of the aim of these approaches, which is to bring a simplicity of understanding to a complex process of growth.2
1. M. Noth, A History of Pentateuchal Traditions, trans. B. W. Anderson (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1972; reprint, Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1981; Cerman original, 1948).
2. Any attempt to poke fun at the complexity of analyses of biblical text must ultimately reckon with the reality that, in all approaches, comparable depth will generate comparable complexity.