Yahweh Elohim in Genesis 2-3: A Response to Opponents of Documentary Analysis

Yahweh Elohim in Genesis 2-3: A Response to Opponents of Documentary Analysis April 16, 2014

I’m grateful that my book Authoring the Old Testament has sparked some interesting discussions.   As I shared in the book’s introduction, my goal was never to convince readers that the way I currently understand Pentateuchal sources represents THE correct view.  I myself anticipate shifting my current perspectives with further study.  Therefore, I sincerely appreciate the efforts that have been made to raise questions regarding the perspectives I articulate and the legitimacy of documentary analysis.

Recently, BYU History Professor, William Hamblin, has begun blogging on the topic of the Documentary Hypothesis.  It’s quite clear that Dr. Hamblin feels uncomfortable with the academic consensus that the Bible’s first five books derive from separate literary sources and that the books cannot be attributed to Mosaic authorship.  I’m grateful for his critiques and would invite interested readers to think critically about the issues he has raised.  I believe many of the concerns Dr. Hamblin brings up are answered effectively through a careful reading of my book and the sources I suggested for further study.

Though I’m sincerely grateful for these questions, I will not have the time necessary to respond in detail.   However, I would like to address some interesting issues raised in his latest post.  I feel they’re important.

In his post, Dr. Hamblin states that there is “no empirical evidence supporting the hypothesis.”  This is simply not correct.  Examples of empirical evidence for the documentary hypothesis at work are given in chapter two of my book.  I would also draw readers’ attention to Jeffrey Tigay’s studies in this area, especially his classic work Empirical Models for Biblical Criticism[1]

On the issue of  “falsifiability,” Dr. Hamblin attempts to critique documentary analysis under the premise that the hypothesis is simply circular in its reasoning, and therefore, non-falsifiable.  As an illustration of this point, Dr. Hamblin draws attention to the use of Elohim (“God”) in Genesis 2-3, which the DH attributes to the J source.  Since J typically uses the divine name Yahweh for its deity, whereas P and E use Elohim, Hamblin notes that Richard Elliot Friedman’s reconstruction in the Bible With Its Sources Revealed attributes the attestation of Elohim to an editor or redactor.  Hamblin then writes:

“Since a fundamental criteria for distinguishing between the Yahwist-J and Elohist-E is which name of God they use, the appearance of both names for God together in these two chapters would seem to undermine the theory”

I’m grateful that Dr. Hamblin has raised this issue.  However, as I explained in chapter four of my study, distinctions in names (Yahweh/Elohim) are not one of the fundamental criteria for distinguishing sources in the Pentateuch.  The issue concerning which proper name appears in a text is not the most compelling identifying feature of a documentary source.  Instead, scholars only consider this issue after the document has been identified as a literary unit based upon plots, doublets, and inconsistencies.  To identify a specific source, scholars look for the document’s story and the way in which its plot is told through a narrative continuity.  In other words, one of the basic criteria used to identify a particular source text is simply its readability. Does the story actually make sense?

Despite the current debates between European and Israeli/North American scholars on documentary vs. supplementary analysis, one would be hard pressed to find a biblical scholar who does not recognize the fact that Genesis 2-3 is a separate creation story from Genesis 1-2:4a for the various reasons I articulate in my book.  Put simply, Genesis 2-3 doesn’t make sense when read with Genesis 1.  Contrary to Hamblin’s assumption, the discrepancies between the two accounts are not falsified nor overcome by the fact that Genesis 2—3 has the divine title Yahweh Elohim (LORD God).  We’re still left with two accounts that directly contradict each other when narrating creation.  The attestation of a name not typical to a source text can never falsify documentary analysis because names are not the primary piece of evidence used to distinguish a source.

The fact is that Yahweh Elohim may have been original to the source that provides Genesis 2-3.  We simply don’t know.  This title may also have been added by a later redactor in the way Friedman’s analysis suggests (I personally believe that this is probably the case).

The description of Israel’s deity as Yahweh Elohim (LORD God) is a somewhat rare biblical expression that outside of its repeated attestation in J’s Eden story appears primarily in late biblical texts (Exod. 9:30; 2 Sam. 7:25; 2 Kgs. 19:19; Jer. 10:10; Jonah 4:6; Ps. 84:12; 1 Chr. 17:16,17; 28:20; 29:1; 2 Chr. 1:9; 6:41,42; 26:18)[2].   Since Yahweh Elohim does not serve as the typical form J uses to refer to its deity, many scholars (not just Friedman) logically speculate that the noun Elohim was added to J’s account by a later redactor in order to harmonize J’s creation story with Genesis 1‐2:4a (which as a Priestly text, features Elohim as the divine name)[3].

The fact that Yahweh Elohim appears as a designation for Israel’s deity primarily in late biblical texts lends support to this proposal.  Since Yahweh Elohim was a common expression used by late Judean scribes, it’s quite likely that a late Judean scribe inserted Elohim into the second creation story to help the two accounts read as one.  This was probably necessary since the redactor’s typical technique was to blend sources together in the way I illustrated in my book via the flood and Joseph stories.

Either way, the analysis is not circular in reasoning, since contrary to Dr. Hamblin’s assumption, biblical scholars are not identifying Genesis 2-3 as a separate creation story from Genesis 1 due to the fact that the accounts use different divine names.  We do this because each account tells a completely contradictory story and their respective vocabulary and themes tie together neatly with later biblical sections that also feature contradictions when read synchronically (such as the flood story).

Regarding Yahweh Elohim, scholars have presented a variety of interesting theories concerning the historic origin of the construct.  In his treatment of the name Yahweh, Frank Cross advanced the theory that the tetragrammaton represents a hypocristicon (a name in which the theophoric element has been left out) of yhwh’l.[4]  David Freedman advocated a similar view to that of Cross.[5]  Freedman theorized that the grammatical form Yahweh Elohim probably derives from an earlier sentence name given the God of Israel, namely “Yahweh El” or “El causes to be.”[6]  While important considerations, these respective theories regarding the construct phrase remain speculative.

We don’t know for sure why it’s there (though a late redaction makes sense).  We simply know that Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are not telling the same story and that they clearly derive from different sources.

[1] See also, Jeffrey H. Tigay, “Documentary Hypothesis Confirmed,” BAR Sept/Oct (2008): 8-10; idem, “The Documentary Hypothesis, Empircal Models and Holistic Inteprtation,” in Modernity and Intepretation of Ancient Texts: The Collapse and Remaking of Traditions (ed. Jun Ikeda, et. al; International Institute of Advanced Studies; Kizugawa-City: Kyoto Japan, 2012).

[2]  For example, Claus Westermann makes this same argument in his classic commentary, Genesis 1-11: A Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg Pub. House, 1984), 198.

[3] However, with the addition of the pronominal suffix (e.g. “your,” “their;” e.g., “Yhwh your God”) upon the noun elohim, the designation appears well over eight hundred times in the Bible.

[4]   Frank Moore Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973), 64‐65; see also, Frank M. Cross, “Yahweh and the God of the Patriarchs,” HTR  55 (1962): 225‐259.

[5]  However, recent archeological discoveries featuring ancient Semitic inscriptions have illustrated the fallacy of the previously held grammatical assumption concerning proper nouns; see Emerton, “New Light on Israelite Religion,” ZAW 94 (1982): 12‐13.

[6]  David Noel Freedman, “The Name of the God of Moses,” JBL  79 (1960): 156. In a related assessment, Mark Smith has argued: “The original god of Israel was El this reconstruction may be inferred from two pieces of information. First, the name of Israel is not a Yahwistic name with the divine element of Yahweh, but an El name, with the element, ’el. This fact would suggest that El was the original chief god of the group named Israel. Second, Genesis 49:24‐25 presents a series of El epithets separate from the mention of Yahweh in verse 18.” Mark S. Smith, The Early History of God: History, Memory, and the Experience of the Divine in Ancient Israel (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), 32.

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