Documentary Hypothesis
April 15, 2011 9:00 AM   Subscribe

Is there an alternative to the Documentary Hypothesis yet?

Whenever I am reading a book or article or watching a documentary about Biblical history, inevitably the JEPD (i.e. Documentary) Hypothesis will be mentioned. Sometimes it's mentioned as if it's a method that's slowly dying off and being replaced by Literary Criticism, but other times it's mentioned as if it's alive and well. Always, though, it's cited as THE FINAL WORD on Biblical authorship.

I disagree with its basic premise that the two names for God indicate two separate authors, and frankly I'm not convinced by a good majority of it. There's got to be something better out there by now. It's just too easy to ascribe any inconsistency to a separate author as the scholars see fit, and I'm really getting tired of it.

I am always wary when I'm presented with an either/or argument ("Either Moses himself wrote every last word or exactly four writers [sometimes more] wrote each line as represented by the JEDP theory").

So....although I've seen a few other fleeting proposals for authorship, is there an authoritative alternative yet to the Documentary Hypothesis, particularly one that doesn't advance the idea that David never existed or it was all a hoax or Deuteronomy was forged by Josiah (etc. etc.)? I mean, that's great for your PhD thesis and everything, but it's not like they found irrefutable evidence for this.
posted by lhude sing cuccu to Religion & Philosophy (7 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know if this is exactly what you're looking for but Jesus, Interrupted is a book by a "leading authority on the Bible and the life of Jesus" and it goes into a lot of description about the different ways people use to interpret the bible. This book itself might be the right one but another of his might be what you're looking for.
posted by dawkins_7 at 9:33 AM on April 15, 2011

A later school of thought that shifts perspective a bit is Redaction criticism.
posted by Paquda at 10:08 AM on April 15, 2011

I think it's just called "conservative theology".

Sure, there are different names for God. But until the nineteenth century, theologians tended to believe that this signified not different authors, but the author trying to say different things about God. You can find plenty of this stuff without trying all that hard by just sticking to more conservative authors.
posted by valkyryn at 10:35 AM on April 15, 2011

It's important to remember that the DH doesn't insist that J, E, P and D represent four individual discrete authors. It's more accurate to think about them as four "streams" or "schools" of theology or authorship. The point is that the Priestly school has distinct priorities and agendas that are distinct from the Yahwist/Elohist writers', as any layperson can pretty clearly determine when comparing, say, the patriarchal narratives of Genesis 12ff with the delectable legal minutiae of dealing with menstrual blood, ejaculate and pus (Leviticus 12-15).

R. E. Friedman is pretty mass-market, but his best-known books are a helpful introduction to the subject.

If you're looking for stuff to read online, you can probably find good sources by searching for "biblical maximalism." That may lead you to some material that is closer to what you're looking for.
posted by AngerBoy at 1:34 PM on April 15, 2011

As AngerBoy notes, the Documentary Hypothesis is about much more than the name that is used for God by the author/tradition. Otherwise, the Priestly tradition would be the same as the Elohist. It's more about overall coherence of worldview/ideology and the pesky reduplications of stories. The Cambridge History of the Bible, vol. 1, would be the first place to visit if you want anything beyond the popular accounts of Richard Elliott Friedman and others.
posted by brianogilvie at 3:29 PM on April 15, 2011

Sometimes it's mentioned as if it's a method that's slowly dying off and being replaced by Literary Criticism, but other times it's mentioned as if it's alive and well. Always, though, it's cited as THE FINAL WORD on Biblical authorship.

The Documentary Hypothesis isn't going away, and there's way too much evidence that the Pentateuch is a compilation of previously existing sources for me to imagine it ever going away, although it will continue to be modified. As others have said, it's about a whole lot more than what names are used for God, and I really think the evidence is overwhelming once you look at it.

But acknowledging that there are previous sources underlying the Pentateuch doesn't mean that you can't choose to emphasize the final form of the text in your study. Some people get really into trying to figure out what the message of J, E, P, or D was, even to the extent of exegeting J as though it were another book of the Bible. But it's perfectly possible to acknowledge that the text does have this editorial history and then say, "in the end, it isn't what the authors of J, E, P and D said that interests me, it's what the editor of the Pentateuch said that I care about." In that light, figuring out the distinct messages of the source texts isn't an end in itself; it's an exercise to get you one step closer to understanding what was going on in the mind of the editor(s). That might be what you mean when you talk about literary criticism. Plenty of scholars believe in the documentary hypothesis but then exegete the final form of Genesis (or whichever) as a complete, coherent text in itself. And why not? It's what has been handed down to us, and the editor wasn't an idiot. Presumably, he noticed the reduplications, etc, but their presence served his purposes. Look at the work of someone like Brevard Childs as an example of a scholar who is doing canonical criticism--analyzing the final form of the each book, and how its understanding is shaped by the presence of the entire canon. He believed and taught the documentary hypothesis, but that was the start, not the end, for him.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:42 PM on April 15, 2011

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