Reading the Fractures of Genesis

By Tooman, William A. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, June 1999 | Go to article overview

Reading the Fractures of Genesis


Tooman, William A., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Reading the Fractures of Genesis. By David M. Carr. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1996, x + 388 pp. $39.00.

With this book Carr wades into the convoluted field of Pentateuchal criticism in an effort to bridge the gap between diachronic and synchronic approaches. The book makes no attempt to interpret Genesis, nor does it reintroduce the various methodological approaches to "reading" Genesis. Rather, Carr presents a highly detailed proposal for the formation of the book of Genesis, followed by an attempt to demonstrate how diachronic study can positively benefit the synchronic task.

Carr utilizes a top-down approach in his reconstruction of the compositional history of Genesis. After a brief chapter on methodology, Carr moves from the youngest textual strands backward toward the oldest. Beginning with P, Carr describes competing views on the extent and nature of each textual layer, defends his own views on the strand in question, and illustrates his view with detailed examples on classically difficult texts (e.g. Flood Narrative, Table of Nations). This is followed by an identical section on the non-P material, and a summary chapter demonstrating the positive effect of such diachronic analysis on synchronic study.

Carr describes his critical method as "intratextual." He accepts the typical critical tools for identifying sources (mainly doublets, ideological and terminological discrepancies and Wiederaufnahme), and is strongly impacted by Tigay's empirical models. The "intratextual" portion describes the (assumed) ideological motives of the writers and compilers. In Carr's mind, the writers and compilers of Genesis were deliberately creating an "irresolvably multivalent mix," a "multivoiced text." They attempted to preserve and build on the authority of the text while, at the same time, transforming it.

Carr's assessment of the evolution of the book is not unique. His P source is nearly identical to that of Wellhausen and Holtzinger, although he gives a somewhat broader role to R^sub p^ (notably in chap. 10). In the non-P material, Carr has abandoned the J(E) source, and follows the compositional approach of Rendtorff and Blum. His vision of the evolution of Genesis has five stages. (1) The primeval history and two versions of the Jacob-Joseph cycle (Judean and Israelite) were in independent circulation. (2) The primeval history and the Judean version of the Jacob-Joseph cycle were combined together under the structure of the promise theme resulting in "proto-genesis." (3) Revisions were made to "proto-genesis" under deuteronomistic influence (chaps. 14-15 were also added independently). (4) In the early post-exilic period, P composed his own version of Genesis "designed to replace the account on which it is dependent" (p. 312). (Carr argues that non-P was the Genesis of the exilic and post-exilic lay leaders, whereas, P was the Genesis of their priestly contemporaries. …

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