DH 17: What is the Documentary Hypothesis?

DH 17: What is the Documentary Hypothesis? April 21, 2014

The discussion on DH 16 seems to have degenerated into a debate about the meaning of the term Documentary Hypothesis.

Those who support the theory seem to want to define it as broadly and vaguely as possible.  (I believe this is a rhetorical ploy; if everything is a variation of the DH, then they can claim unanimity of support for the DH.)  For them, any theory that posits multiple authors in the Pentateuch is DH.  Only a theory that posits a single author for the entire Pentateuch is not DH.  I hope I have understood them correctly.  They also seem to imply that anyone who accepts source criticism as a useful method is a Documentarian.  I find this approach so incredibly vague and nebulous that it renders coherent intelligent analysis of the theory, its variants and implications, nearly impossible.  If this is an accurate description of the DH, then I am a Documentarian.

Here’s the problem.  Some scholars, like Baden, believe in four major sources for the Pentateuch, JEDP.  Others, like Schmid, believe in two major sources: only P and non-P.  Schmid believes there were separate documents of proto-Genesis and a proto-Exodus which were redacted by P.  Baden believes that there was not a proto-Genesis or Exodus before the four distinct sources were first combined, and then split into Genesis and Exodus.  For Schmid, proto-Genesis and Exodus precede the redaction process; for Baden, they are the result of the redaction process.  These two theories are not complimentary.  They are not even just alternatives.  They are mutually exclusive and  contradictory theories.  If Schmid is right, then Baden is completely wrong, and visa versa.  Yet the Documentarians in this discussion want us to believe that both of these theories equally affirm the DH.

This is a classic example of precisely why I think the DH is incoherent.  If everything is part of the theory except a single author of the Pentateuch, then, methodologically speaking, it is impossible to intelligently critique the theory.  Everyone, no matter how much they disagree about every detail, still believes in the DH.   It is a perfect example of the characteristics of circular reasoning, unfalsifiability, and unverifiability that I have already discussed.  I can rest my case right here.

When I refer to Documentary Hypothesis, I refer to the four-source theory and its major variants (which generally posit several different earlier sources from which each of the four documents, JEDP, were compiled).  That is, the DH is the theory that the Pentateuch was compiled from four pre-existing self-contained and coherent documents call J-Yahwist, E-Elohist, D-Deuteronomist, and P-Priestly.  This is the theory Baden defends in his new book The Composition of the Pentateuch: Renewing the Documentary Hypothesis.  This is the theory that Bokovoy defends in his new book Authoring the Old Testament (ch. 4). This is the theory I am critiquing, though many of my criticism may apply equally to other theories of the composition of the Pentateuch as well.

It is equivocation to claim that all scholars believe in the DH (meaning any theory that posits more than one source for the Pentateuch), and thereby implying universal acceptance of the four-source DH, the specific theory which Bokovoy advocates.

Although there is widespread agreement among contemporary scholars that the Pentateuch has multiple sources (which I also accept), there is no consensus on JEDP.  There is much more disagreement, and are many more theories about the origins of the Pentateuch today, than there was forty years ago.  There is no unanimity, let alone majority acceptance of any specific theory of the number, nature, or date of the proposed sources.   The four-source JEDP theory is not the consensus today.  There is more disagreement among scholars regarding the details and validity of JEDP today than there has ever been.



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