DH-36: Four Degrees of Speculation

DH-36: Four Degrees of Speculation May 21, 2014

Documentarians generally claim that they can: 1- identify the four different sources within the Pentateuch; 2- reconstruct form those diverse sources the original documents J, E, D and P from which the received Pentateuch was composed; 3-  determine the original rival “theologies” and world views of the authors or composers of the four original documents; and 4- discover the date and the location of the composition of the original four documents.  Narrowly speaking, only one of these four steps—identifying sources from which a text is composed—is based on the standard methodologies of source criticism.  In steps two through four, the Documentary Hypothesis goes substantially beyond the basics of source criticism, and becomes increasingly speculative.

It must be emphasized Documentarians are able to attempt an accurate analysis in steps two through four only if they have accurately identified the original sources in step one.  If a Documentarian creates an inaccurate attribution of a particular part of a text to a source, say J, it is not just that text that small fragment that is affected by this misinterpretation.  Rather, the entire conceptualization of the supposed theology, date and context of J might well become distorted if non-J texts are inadvertently incorporated into the textual worldview of J.  Similar problems will occur if authentic J-texts are mistakenly not included in the reconstruction of J by the Documentarians.  Furthermore, if some original J-texts were omitted by the redactor, and thereby irretrievably lost and not included in the received Pentateuch, the ability of the Documentarians to accurately reconstruct the worldview of J is further undermined.  Likewise, if the Redactor paraphrased parts of the original J-source in the composition of the received Pentateuch, further distort the reconstructions of the Documentarians might occur in steps two through four.

Such distortions can have a ripple effect as well, since it will necessarily distort the conceptualization of the P-context, if a P-text is erroneously assigned to J, or a J-text erroneously assigned to P.  If only ten percent of Pentateuch texts are erroneously assigned to the wrong alleged source the entire system will necessarily become warped, and its reliability become increasingly questionable.  That is to say, errors at any level of analysis are necessarily compounded in each successive level of analysis.


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