DH 37- A Shrinking Theory?

DH 37- A Shrinking Theory? May 25, 2014

One of the latest book-length defenses of the Documentary Hypothesis, Joel Baden’s The Composition of the Pentateuch (2012).  It is noteworthy for the fact that he is only willing to defend a much circumscribed version of the Documentary Hypothesis.  For Baden—and I agree with him here—the Documentary Hypothesis is a purely literary theory, with strict epistemological limits on what it can demonstrate.  Here is a summary of his conclusions (246-249).

• “The literary question is primary and is in fact the only question that can be answered by the documentary theory” (247).  “The Documentary Hypothesis, in general and in its particulars, is a literary solution to a literary problem, and no more than that” (249).

• “There is little in the sources themselves that allows for any absolute date” (247).

• “The Documentary Hypotheses … is concerned only with the penultimate form of the text: what the compiler had at hand when he put the four documents together” (248).  In other words, it cannot find alleged sources behind the four sources [JEDP] used by the compiler.

• “Over time, however, [the claims of the Documentary Hypothesis] expanded dramatically, so that … the analysis of the Pentateuch required innumerable sigla, regular divisions of the text into half -verses and even single words, and highly complex theories about redaction.  The unwieldiness of this theory inevitably led in part to opposition” (248).

Note that even though Baden accepts the Documentary Hypothesis, it is in a much circumscribed form.  He rejects many, and indeed most claims made by Documentarians over the past century.  His position is a retrenchment and simplification.  In other words, he actually agrees with most my of my objections to the Documentary Hypothesis.  His goal is to simplify and narrow the discussion to the point where what can be analyzed by the theory is purely literary.

Where Baden and I disagree is whether source criticism allows us to identify “precisely four sources [JEDP] and one compiler” (248).  But be that as it may, it is interesting to note that Baden is defending a much restricted version of the Documentary Hypothesis.  Claims of Documentarians to have discovered date, multiple redactors, multiple sources for the four JEDP source documents, and location of writing are all rejected by Baden.  He is willing to defend the Documentary Hypothesis only in a very narrow and restricted form of the theory, accepting the legitimacy of many, if not most of the criticism of the hypothesis.  In other words, claims regarding the explanatory power of the Documentary Hypothesis are narrowing, even among its most ardent defenders.  It is a shrinking theory.


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