Monday, January 11, 2010

The Documentary Hypothesis

Alice C. Linsley

The Documentary Hypothesis was the topic of heated discussion recently at Stand Firm. A priest made this this facile comment:
But the overwhelming consensus of modern scholars is that the Pentateuch is indeed a composite of multiple traditions, coming from a wide variety of times and places and reflecting a considerable variety of theological viewpoints and group interests.

To which a a layman, Michael A. responded:

The more I thought about this, the more irritated I became, because it is such typical liberal humbug: “This is what everyone is thinking don’t question it”. Yet it is quite untrue - *numerous* scholars reject the documentary hypothesis. I assembled a quick list, broken down into (a) liberals or other; (b) jewish (a huge field of scholars that the liberals always ignore); and (c) conservative christian:

(a) liberal or other

*Rolf Rendtdorff “problems of process of transmission in the Pentateuch”, trans English 1977

*R.N. Whybray, Introduction to the Pentateuch 1995.

*Whybray acidly comments: “There is at the present moment no consensus whatever about when, why, how, and through whom the Pentateuch reached its present form, and opinions about the dates of composition of its various parts differ by more than five hundred years.”

*Kikawada, Isaac M. and A. Quinn. Before Abraham Was: The Unity of Genesis 1-11. Nashville: Abingdon, 1985.

*Richard S. Hess, Israelite Religions, 2008 [This is a huge and detailed study on the subject]

*Literally from left field are scholars like Gmirkin in “Berossus and Genesis” 2006 who argues that the entire Pentateuch was written in the 3rd century BC! Obviously his position is radically different to mine (I believe it was written/edited by Moses, as Jesus said). Yet the end result is the same: Gmirkin rejects the documentary hypothesis.

(b) Jewish

*Umberto Cassuto completely debunked the DH. His “The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch” is still highly recommended reading (1966 in english)

*Yehezkel Kaufmann (1950s)

*Cyrus H. Gordon (1960s)

There are plenty of recent Jewish scholars who reject the Documentary Hypothesis:

*Dr. Yohanan Aharoni

*Amos Hakham

*Rabbi Dr Joshua Berman

*Rabbi Yosef Reinman

(c) Conservative christian

*John Bimson

*Bryant Wood

*Colin Smith

*R.K. Harrison, An Introduction To The Old Testament 1970

*K.A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient And The Old Testament 1966

*Gleason Archer (d. 2004) of Fuller and Trinity.

*Walter Kaiser of Gordon-Conwell

*Ronald F. Youngblood

*James Orr, The Problems of the Old Testament

*R.W.L. Moberly, The Old Testament of the Old Testament

*J Gordon McConville

*T Desmond Alexander

*Edwin Yamauchi

*Prof. Joseph Free, Archaeology and Bible History 1969

*Prof. Randall W. Younker, 1999

*Duane A. Garrett 1991.

*Derek Kidner, Commentary on Genesis

*J Harold Greenlee

*Prof. Claude Mariottini

*Joseph Blenkinsopp 1995.

*McCarter, P. Kyle, Jr. 1988

Liberal scholars are of course unaware of any of these, in their intellectual ghetto. Go figure.

[93] Posted by MichaelA on 01-11-2010 at 04:21 AM here.

I would have enjoyed joining the discussion but it appears that I no longer have posting privileges at Stand Firm. Since my work is being discussed at this thread (and misrepresented by some), it would be a courtesy to have allowed me to comment in my defense.  I have responded at Virtueonline here.

For my thoughts on the Documentary Hypothesis, go here.


Anonymous said...

Ms. Linsley,

I was taught DH in college as "gospel".

I am not familiar with most scholars listed and wonder which,if any, write from Orthodox, RC, or Anglican traditions? Best, Brent

Alice C. Linsley said...

I'm afraid that there is great confusion in the discussion running at Stand Firm. For one thing, people are confusing Source Criticism and the Documentary Hypothesis.

The great master of source criticism, Hermann Gunkel, is being misrepresented as "liberal" (whatever than means) because he used the term "legends". Gunkle used this to treat historical persons (versus "myth" which treats archetypes).

Not a single Orthodox Bible scholar is listed, Brent. Nor are the Church Fathers listed and they wrote quite authoritatively on the Bible. This comment was made by a Protestant and Protestants are largely ignorant of both Orthodoxy and the Church Fathers. However, I appreciate Michael A's comment because he is reacting to what he perceives as a dismissal of the authority of Scripture or the subordination of Scripture's Voice to the voice of scholars.

Most listed in the "conservative Christian" category have written commentaries in which they repeat many of the incorrect ideas of former (Evangelical) commentaries. Not much original research there. Also, great ignorance in some cases of Church Tradition.

For example, Lamech (Genesis 4) is treated as a sign that humanity had sunk to great depravity. This is a common reading among Protestants and has been repeated in every commentary. They ignore what has been written about Lamech by St. John Chrysostom, and they ignore the evidence of Scripture.

If anyone deserved to be ‘cut off from the land of the living’ (no progeny) it was the braggart and murderer Lamech who set himself up as God. Yet God allowed Lamech's line to continue and to flow into the line of Messiah. St. John Chrysosotom has edifying comments on this unfathomable grace as it relates to Lamech.

Here is what St John Chrysostom said concerning Lamech, the Elder: "By confessing his sins to his wives, Lamech brings to light what Cain tried to hide from God and by comparing what he has done to the crimes committed by Cain he limited the punishment coming to Him.” (Chrysostom’s Homilies on Genesis, Vol. 74, p.39. The Catholic University Press of America, 1999.)

St. Chrysostom’s interpretation is consistent with the central message communicated throughout the Bible about God’s steadfast love and departs from the interpretation found in most Bibles today which stress that God wiped Cain’s line off the surface of the earth in the flood (a view that isn’t supported by the genealogical information in Genesis 4 and 5). In fact, the Biblical text supports Chrysostom’s view, as we will see through tracing the number 7 from Cain to Lamech, the Younger.

The number 7 represents new life, grace and renewal. Cain murdered and tried to hide his crime from God. Cain’s just punishment was death, yet God showed him grace by sparing his life. Instead Cain was to be exiled from his people. Even then God shows Cain grace by placing a mark on him, not a brand of shame, but a protecting sign. Reflecting on this great grace shown to his ancestor, Lamech challenges God to show him greater grace. If grace was shown to Cain (7), then Lamech, the Elder, by confessing his sin, claims a greater measure of grace (77). Lamech, the Younger is assigned even greater grace because he is said to have lived 777 years. This younger Lamech is the son of Methuselah and Naamah, and the father of Noah.

St. Chrysostom recognized the story of Lamech to be about God’s mercy shown to sinners through the generations. He placed the emphasis exactly where it should be.

It is common to regard Cain and his descendents as sinners while Seth’s descendents were righteous. Yet the lines intermarried and God showed grace to both, even allowing Lamech’s daughter, Naamah, to bear the righteous Lamech, father of Noah, ancestor of Abraham, David and Jesus Christ our God.

The challenge facing us today is to set the commentaries and theories aside and to dig deeply into the Bible, researching it as our authoritative primary source.

Phil said...

Ms. Linsley,

I did a quick search on the SF thread and found that, other than one commenter directing readers to your blog, I'm the only one that discussed your work, over against the notion that the Flood narrative was necessarily an alien story appropriated by the Biblical authors from other sources. My comment was brief, and it wasn't my intention to misrepresent your work. Please accept my apologies (and please feel free to correct me) if I did so.

I have no idea why your posting privileges at SF would be lost, but that is, unfortunately, something that has happened to several smart and informative commenters over the past couple of years.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Linsley,
When you get the chance, please write your DH and "Source Criticism" thoughts on your splash page front and center. They don't even need to reference SF since there apparently is cross-pollination, anyway. ...I so appreciate your comments. Your blog is like no other; actually synthesizes an anthropological perspective with fully Incarnational theology. Best and blessings, Brent

Alice C. Linsley said...


Bless you! You were right on target about my research. No, I was refering to the person who visited the link to my essay on Hermann Gunkel and stated:

"Thanks Floridian, its an article worth reading. Note how Gunkel's
presuppositions left him unable to read Genesis as a single book (i.e. as Moses wrote it) and thus how he was unable to follow the flow of Genesis, its themes, nor the *interrelationship* of the various episodes therein.

If you start from a presupposition that Genesis is a miscellaneous
collection of "legends", then of course you will be unable to follow its narrative flow, i.e. missing the literary significance of the work even though it would otherwise be obvious.

The reference to Lamech (Genesis 4:23-24) in the article is interesting - not only does Gunkel never refer to it, but even the writer of the article seems incapable of appreciating the place that Lamech occupies in the narrative, i.e. one of several indicators of the ongoing moral
deterioration of the human race.

But, that is the obscuring effect that narrow liberal presumptions create in those who hold them."


Anonymous said...

Ms. Linsley, the Gunkel book is in public domain and available online. How cool is that? I plan to read it this weekend. Brent

Alice C. Linsley said...

I think you will find it interesting and helpful. Gunkel seemed to hold the text in high regard. It never troubled him that it may have been drawn from various sources. I don't think it should trouble us HOW the Bible came together. It remains the Word of God through Priests, Prophets and Kings. From Genesis to Revelation it points to God's work in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

I find it disturbing that people depend on a pottery shard from the time of David to boost their confidence in the truth of the Bible. More time researching the biblical text would help us to see the pattern and nothing boosts our faith more than to see God's hand repeating the pattern over thousands of years through many different writers and sources.

BTW, thanks for your kind words about my writing. I really appreciate what you wrote.

Georgia said...

Alice, In what language did St. John Chrysostom originally write his liturgy?

Alice C. Linsley said...

He spoke Syriac as he was from Antioch, and he both spoke and wrote in Greek. In fact, his Greek is of a very refined quality.

Georgia said...


In what language were the earliest Christian liturgies written? Are any still in use?


Alice C. Linsley said...

Hebrew, Syriac, Greek, Amharic and Ge'ez, an ancient language of Ethiopia.

The Coptic liturgy is quite old. Read the Liturgy of St. Gregory the Theologian according to the Coptic rite here:

The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great are relatively unchanged since the 3rd century.

The liturgy of St. James is very old and still in use today. Some scholars believe it is the oldest liturgy in continuous use.

Alice C. Linsley said...

I've responded at Virtueonline, here:

Anonymous said...

Do you think referencing Exodus 17:14; 24:4; 34:27 or Mark 12:26 makes a case for Mosaic authorship? "Book of Moses" is not the same as "the book written by Moses." Struggling with this one. I'm reading Paradise to Prison by John Davis. - Adam

Alice C. Linsley said...

Adam, I haven't read that book, but I like the title! Let me know what you think. Share your thoughts with me.

I don't hold to the documentary hypothesis because I see only one source - the Horite source. All the rulers named in the Genesis king lists in Genesis were Horites. Abrham was Horite. Moses was also Horite. The material associated with Moses has a Horite context. Have you seen this?