Gordon Wenham, who is well known by regular
is now Professor of Old Testament at Cheltenham and
On the face of it, the study of the Pentateuch is in ferment. New
interpretations of narrative and law are constantly being proposed in journal
articles, and large tomes keep appearing which challenge or reaffirm
conventional hypotheses about the composition of the Pentateuch. But this only
underlines the fact that no new paradigm or scholarly consensus has emerged to
displace the old theories. Though this article will focus on modern studies of
the Pentateuch, this must not be taken to imply that the old views have been
discarded. I suspect that if a poll of contemporary OT scholars were conducted,
only a minority would endorse one of the modern models.
The oldest paradigm of Pentateuchal study presupposes the Mosaic
authorship of nearly the entire corpus from Genesis to Deuteronomy. Moses is
not only the chief actor in most of these books, he is the recipient of all the
laws in Exodus to Numbers, and the preacher of Deuteronomy. Indeed Deuteronomy
31:24 states that Moses wrote 'the words of this law in a book, to the very
end'. So generations of readers from pre-Christian times to the nineteenth
century concluded that Moses was the author of the Pentateuch.
However, with the rise of historical criticism in the nineteenth
century, a new paradigm of the Pentateuch established itself. Far from the
books being written by one author in a short period (c. 1400 BC), they
were written by many hands over a long period. It was held that the earliest
sources were written several centuries after Moses: J about 900 BC, E about 800
BC, Deuteronomy about 600 BC, the Priestly source about 500 BC, and the final
edition later still. This is known as the documentary hypothesis and its chief
advocate in Germany was J. Wellhausen.
This hypothesis is expounded in every introduction to the OT, so
we shall not spend time reviewing it here.
Conservative Bible readers were perturbed by its implications for the
historical truthfulness of the Pentateuch. If it was written so long after the
events it describes, how can we be sure that they actually happened, let alone
that they are reported accurately? But there was another very important change
in the direction of pentateuchal study marked by the rise of the documentary
hypothesis. Hitherto the main purpose of study had been to understand the text
as it stood and to apply its teaching. Now the main purpose of study was to
understand how the text came into existence and the historical circumstances of
its composition. Critical commentaries were filled with discussions of which
source is being cited, when a passage was written, how it relates to
non-biblical texts, and so on. The origins of the biblical material, not its
final form, became the focus of study. The assumption was that the scholar's
duty is to recover the earliest form of a narrative, law or other tradition;
the canonical text, since it was produced quite late, is of little
In the first half of the twentieth century, subtle modifications
to the documentary hypothesis by scholars like Alt, Noth and von Rad in Germany
and the Albright school in America suggested that, despite the late date of the
Pentateuch, we can nevertheless recover a credible picture of the period of
Moses and even of the patriarchal age. Hence
opposition to the documentary hypothesis gradually waned, and by the
mid-twentieth century it was almost universally accepted.
But in the 1970s this cosy consensus began to be disturbed. The
dating of the sources was questioned, the historicity of the narratives was
disputed, even the principles underlying source division were challenged. This
debate has been in full swing now for twenty years and shows no signs of
subsiding. Much of the argument is convoluted and depends on assumptions that
are not universally
shared, So. for the sake of clarity, we must simplify the debate
drastically and just draw out its main strands and directions. I shall
therefore describe four main models for understanding the growth of the
Pentateuch: the radical-sceptical, the Jewish critical, the New Critical, and
the theological models.
First to challenge the scholarly consensus were the radical
sceptics, led initially by North American scholars like Van Seters and
Thompson, then joined by Germans such as Rendtorff, Blum and Levin, and
supported by the doyen British OT scholar, Whybray. These three groups have in
common a rejection of the traditional criteria for distinguishing between
sources, a dating of J to the sixth century BC or later, and a scepticism about
the historicity of the material. But they disagree about how the Pentateuch was
composed. Whereas Van Seters and Levin advocate a modified documentary
hypothesis, Rendtorff and Blum favour a supplementary model, and Whybray a
fragmentary model. For this reason, we shall describe each approach
J. Van Seters, in Abraham in History and Tradition (1975),
offered a fresh approach to the composition of the Pentateuch, which he has
developed in numerous articles and in two further books, Prologue to
History: The Yahwist as Historian in Genesis (1992) and The Life of
Moses: The Yahwist as Historian in Exodus-Numbers (1994). I shall look at
these books in order of publication, spending most time on the first, for it is
the one that has had most impact.
Abraham in History and Tradition divides into two parts.
The first part attacks the position of Albright, Speiser and Gordon and others
who had argued that parallels between Genesis and second-millennium Mesopotamia
demonstrated the historicity of the Genesis accounts. On the contrary, Van
Seters argues that the nomadic lifestyle of the patriarchs fits better into the
late neo-Assyrian or even the neo-Babylonian period, i.e. the seventh
and sixth centuries BC. He argues that the alleged
parallels between the social and legal customs associated with marriage,
adoption, sale and covenant-making in Genesis and the ancient Near East fit in
better with first millennium oriental practice than with the second millennium,
Finally, he looks at the places that Genesis says the patriarchs visited and
asserts that the archaeological evidence does not show that they were inhabited
in the early second millennium in the days of the patriarchs.
Van Seters' arguments against the historicity of Genesis were
supported by T. L. Thompson in his misleadingly titled The Historicity of
the Patriarchal Narratives (1974). Thompson's work is a more
judicious book than Van Seters'. He draws attention to some of the fallacies
that have characterized the archaeological defence of Genesis, but he is not so
dogmatic as Van Seters in propounding an alternative very late setting for the
traditions in Genesis.
These two books prompted a scholarly reassessment of the arguments
for the antiquity and authenticity of the Genesis accounts, for example
A. R. Millard and D. J. Wiseman, Essays on the
Patriarchal Narratives. This concludes that the arguments for
authenticity are not so cogent as Speiser and others alleged. but the balance
of probability still lies with the antiquity of the tradition. Furthermore, the
names of the patriarchs, such as Jacob, Ishmael and Isaac. are definitely early
second-millennium in form and it would be very surprising for them to have been
successfully archaized in the late first millennium.
In the second half of Abraham in History and Tradition Van
Seters developed a fresh approach to the source criticism of Genesis. He sits
light to many of the criteria employed by traditional source critics. Only
duplication of episodes is a clear marker of different sources, e.g.
12:10-20 and chapter 20, or chapters 15 and 17. Repetition within a story
may not indicate different sources but may be merely stylistic. Nor does
variation in vocabulary or divine names suffice to
separate sources, though material analysed into sources on other
grounds may be identified through distinctive vocabulary.
Throughout his literary discussion Van Seters tends to argue for
the substantial unity of material usually ascribed to J and suggest that it
comes later in biblical history than traditionally supposed. Discussing Genesis
15, for example, he notes its kinship with deuteronomic ideas and
Deutero-Isaiah and suggests the boundaries of the land: 15:18-21 suit the
exilic era better than any other period. He
regards the P material essentially as a supplement to J and dates it to the
postexilic period. He holds that chapter 14 is later still, and that Genesis
reached its present form about 300 BC.
In his later works Van Seters tries to show that his critical
conclusions hold for other parts of the Pentateuch. In Prologue to
History he deals with the primeval history in Genesis 1-11, which he
compares with both Near Eastern and Greek mythology. He thinks it has an
affinity with Greek antiquarian writers active in the late first millennium as
well as with Mesopotamian sources. He suggests that this is explained if the
Yahwist lived in the Babylonian exile, where he could have encountered these
In The Life of Moses (1994) Van Seters completes his case
for a complete reordering of the documentary hypothesis. As in his earlier
works, he tends to view the JE material as a unity emanating from the Yahwist,
and argues for its late date. Basically, the Yahwist was writing an
introduction to the Deuteronomistic history (Deuteronomy to Kings), and
borrowed freely and creatively from these earlier works in writing his own.
Thus, Joshua's encounter with the captain of the host of Israel becomes the
model for the burning bush. Moses' reluctance to be a prophet is modelled on
the calls of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and the idea of an exodus from a land of
oppression derives from Second Isaiah.
Van Seters's approach is a tour de force. If he is right,
it has even more serious consequences for the historicity of the Pentateuch
than the traditional documentary hypothesis. Though some may see his approach
as the reductio ad absurdum of the documentary hypothesis, his view that
the JE material is no earlier than the exile has found a good number of
adherents, most notably Blum and Levin.
Criticism of Van Seters has generally concentrated on his treatment of the
patriarchal narratives, but his treatment of
Genesis 1-11 is also problematic. The closest non-biblical parallels to this
material come from the period 2000-1500 BC in Mesopotamia and it is most
unlikely that these traditions could have been transmitted to Israel after the
If Van Seters is the leading North American dissident in the field
of pentateuchal criticism, in Germany this title must go to Rolf Rendtorff,
whose The Problem of the Process of Transmission in the Pentateuch
(1977) represents an outright challenge to the documentary hypothesis.
According to Rendtorff, the methods of source criticism as exemplified in
Wellhausen's work and the methods of form criticism of Gunkel are fundamentally
incompatible. Yet Gunkel and his successors, including Noth and von Rad, tried
to combine the two methods. They used form criticism to explain the development
of pentateuchal traditions in the oral stage of transmission: Then they
affirmed that these oral traditions somehow coagulated into the literary
sources J, E, P and so on,
Rendtorff holds that the patriarchal narratives were originally
shorter and independent of each other. The Abraham stories do not form a
tightly knit cycle: each episode seems rather independent and this suggests
what they were like in the earliest stage of oral tradition. They were
subsequently linked up by adding the divine promises of descendants, land and
blessing. The different formulations of the promises (e.g. sometimes
'land', sometimes 'descendants') give a clue to the different stages in the
process of amalgamation. These divine promises glued together the Abraham
stories. Meanwhile, other stories about other themes were developing. e.g.
the primeval history, the Joseph story, the exodus, Sinai. But at
this stage there was no documentary source running from creation
to conquest. The blocks of stories were not linked up into a lengthy narrative
akin to our Pentateuch till a deuteronomist developed the land promise to
connect the previously separate blocks together.
Rendtorff thus argues that it is quite misleading to talk about a
Yahwist or Elohist, for there never was a stage in the growth of the Pentateuch
when the J or E traditions existed as connected documents covering the earliest
history of Israel. Nor is it valid to speak of a P source. His work contains
many other sharp jibes at the methods of literary criticism and at the dating criteria that are often invoked.
It must be conceded that we really do not
possess reliable criteria for dating of the pentateuchal literature. Each
dating of the pentateuchal 'sources' relies on purely hypothetical assumptions
which in the long run have their continued existence because of the consensus
Rendtorff's book is more of a programme than a fully worked out
alternative model of pentateuchal criticism. This has been provided by his
former student E. Blum. In Die Komposition der Vätergeschichte
(1984) Blum traces the multiple stages of growth through which the patriarchal
stories have passed. The earliest elements are found in the stories of struggle
between Jacob and Esau and between Jacob and Laban in Genesis 25, 27 and 31:
'Obviously this text cannot be dated before David's subjugation of Edom. This was next expanded by the addition of other stories
in Genesis 27-33. Next the story of Jacob and his sons that begins in chapter
25 and ends in chapter 50 was filled out. Since these stories are concerned
both with the northern tribes (e.g. Joseph) and yet look to the
leadership of Judah, this points to a period when Judah was asserting its
supremacy over the North, i.e. the reign of Josiah.
Meanwhile, stories about Judah and its neighbours, Moab and Ammon,
circulated in the southern kingdom. These relationships are reflected in the
narrative about Abraham and Lot (Gn: 13, 18-19). These were tacked on to the
Jacob narrative to form the first patriarchal history
(Vätergeschichte 1). During the
exile, a second form of the patriarchal history (Vätergeschichte 2)
was produced. This involved filling out the Abraham stories and connecting the
material with the promise of descendants, the gift of the land, and blessing.
In the post-exilic period, perhaps between 530 and 500, the patriarchal history was linked to the rest of the
Pentateuch through the editorial work of D, the Deuteronomist, In Genesis, his
hand is evident in chapters 15, 18, 22: 16ff., chapter 24 and some other
Like the deuteronomistic layer, the priestly layer is the only
other layer that is found throughout the Pentateuch. Blum's second volume,
Die Komposition des Pentateuch (1990), deals first with the
deuteronomistic redaction of the Pentateuch and then with the priestly texts. J
and E are never mentioned, though in some respects his D-layer is like Van
Seters's and others' late and expanded J. But in his definition and dating of
P. Blum comes close to traditional pentateuchal criticism.
A British contribution to this new-look pentateuchal criticism has
been provided by R.N. Whybray in The Making of the Pentateuch: A
Methodological Study (1987). He begins by observing that
the documentary hypothesis, the fragmentary
hypothesis, and the supplementary hypothesis are not mutually exclusive, But he
holds that the least plausible of them is the Documentary Hypothesis. For
whereas the Fragment and Supplement Hypotheses envisage relatively simple, and,
it would seem, logical processes and at the same time appear to account for the
unevennesses of the completed Pentateuch, the Documentary Hypothesis is not
only much more complicated but also very specific in its assumptions about the
historical development of Israel's understanding of its origins.
Whybray has two fundamental objections to the documentary
hypothesis. The first is that it is illogical and self-contradictory and fails
to explain what it professes to explain. The Pentateuch is split up into
sources, because the present text contains redundant repetition and
contradiction. The original sources, it is held, were non-contradictory and not
repetitious, and the documentary hypothesis labours to reconstruct them. But
then, when the sources were linked together, a repetitious and contradictory
account was produced. Why, asks Whybray, should we suppose that the methods of
Hebrew writers changed so drastically? If early writers did not tolerate
contradiction or repetition, why did later writers revel in it? But if later
writers did not mind such features, why should we suppose that the earlier
sources did not contain contradiction and repetition? But if they did, how can
we separate out the sources? 'Thus the hypothesis can only be maintained on the
assumption that, while consistency was the hallmark of the various documents,
inconsistency was the hallmark of the redactors'.
His second objection is that the phenomena of repetition and
stylistic variation found in the Pentateuch, which the documentary hypothesis
is alleged to explain, may be understood quite differently. For example, since
other religious texts use a variety of names for God, why should the change of
divine name in Genesis signal a change of source? There could be a theological
reason why one name is preferred to another, or the writer may just want a
change. Repetition is often done for stylistic reasons, or to emphasize
something, e.g. for rhetorical effect and in poetic parallelism.
Furthermore, Whybray holds that the attempts to describe the theology of J or
of E rest on too narrow a base to be convincing. But if this applies to these
relatively lengthy texts, how much less plausible are the attempts of Rendtorff
and Blum to define editorial layers on the basis of alleged editorial
Having argued that the documentary style of analysis is both too
complicated and implausible, Whybray criticizes the traditio-historical
approach even more trenchantly. He argues that the task of tradition critics is
even more difficult than that of source critics. At least the latter are
dealing with partially extant texts, but the former are dealing with
hypothetical reconstructions for which we have no tangible evidence: 'Much of
Noth's detailed reconstruction of the Pentateuchal traditions was obtained by
piling one speculation upon another.'
Rendtorff and Blum profess to be tradition critics, but Whybray
says that this is true only in the sense that they see the process of growth
that characterized the oral phase as continuing in the literary phase, for
their methods of analysis of the text are much closer to classic source
criticism. But he finds their conclusions less than convincing: 'Rendtorff has
merely replaced the comparatively simple Documentary Hypothesis which
postulated only a small number of written sources and redactors with a
bewildering multiplicity of sources and redactors'. As for Blum, Whybray thinks his approach is, if
anything, more complex and more dogmatic, yet less demonstrable, than
So what does Whybray himself believe? His agnosticism about most
of the complex reconstructions of the documentary and tradition critics is
manifest. He considers most of their hypotheses at best unverifiable and at
worst illogical speculation. Let us admit that we just do not know much about
the growth of the Pentateuch. Modern literary criticism (cf. Alter and
Clines) has shown that the Pentateuch is a well-constructed work, which shows
that it is the work of an author, not the end-product of haphazard growth like
the Midrash. So let us suppose it is the work of one writer from the late sixth
century, as Van Seters argued. Greek historians claim to use written sources,
but they evidently rewrite them in their own words. They do not mind repeating
themselves or varying their style, so why should these features in Hebrew
literature be ascribed to different sources or layers? Van Seters and Rendtorff
have been going in the right direction in seeing the Pentateuch as an
essentially single literary work, either by the late Yahwist or a
Deuteronomist, but they have failed to reach their logical conclusion: 'There
appears to be no reason why (allowing for the possibility of a few additions)
the first edition of the Pentateuch
as a comprehensive work should not also have been the final
edition, a work composed by a single historian.' But its late date means that most of the story should
be regarded as fiction, including 'the whole presentation of Moses... in its
Whybray's work on the Pentateuch could be viewed as the logical
conclusion of the direction in which most pentateuchal criticism has been
moving in the last three decades, More and more studies have been insisting on
the sixth century as the time in which the whole work took shape, and there has
been an ever stronger trend to unitary readings and a reaction against minute
dissection. On the other hand, he could be viewed as the embodiment of the
English common-sense tradition as opposed to the continental love of complex
theorizing. His book is a powerful and valid critique of the methods that have
been taken for granted in pentateuchal criticism for nearly two centuries.
However, though I think his model for the composition of the Pentateuch is
essentially correct, i.e. that of one major author using a variety of
sources, he has not demonstrated this by giving
detailed attention to the texts, nor has he shown that it was composed so late
and should be regarded as fiction.
A quite different model of the growth of the Pentateuch is
preferred by most critical Jewish scholars (Orthodox Jews still of course
uphold the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch). Following in the footsteps of
Y. Kaufmann, they tend to accept the basic
source division of the documentary hypothesis, but maintain that P is not the
latest source but that it antedates Deuteronomy and reflects the worship of
Solomon's temple. P may therefore come from much the same period as J. Some of
the more important works from this school of thought have come from A.
Hurvitz, M. Haran, J. Milgrom, and M.
A new study of the P material
profoundly challenges many accepted views. According to the documentary
hypothesis, there are several components in the priestly material. One of the
earlier sections is the Holiness Code (H) (Lev. 17-26), which is often dated in
the early exile, whereas the bulk of the priestly code (P) may be up to a
century later. Furthermore, it is usually held that there are P insertions or
editorial changes to H.
Knohl challenges all these points. Using methods used in the
critical analysis of the Talmud, he argues that the Holiness School edited the
P material not vice versa. By comparing the P version of the festivals
in Numbers 28-29 with the H version in Leviticus 23, he shows that the latter
is an H expansion of a P text, Using a mixture of linguistic, theological and
content criteria, Knohl goes on to argue that wide stretches of P material have
been edited by H. He argues that 'there are many indications of HS editing of
PT material but... no evidence at all for influence in the opposite
direction.' Not only did HS edit PT and not
vice versa but 'HS is responsible for the great enterprise of editing
the Torah, which included editing and rewriting the legal scrolls of the VP and
blending them with the non-Priestly sources'.
Knohl then tries to locate HS and PT historically. He thinks that
Leviticus 17 suggests that HS was written in a period when the cult was being
centralized, because it forbids the offering of sacrifice anywhere but at the
tabernacle. This could connect it with Hezekiah's reform in the eighth century.
This was also a time of social polarization, which HS tries to counter with the
jubilee provisions of Leviticus 25. The eighth-century prophets like Amos and
Isaiah savagely attacked priestly rituals and demanded moral purity. So HS
counters this prophetic onslaught by insisting that holiness does involve
morality, but that the cult also has its proper place: 'Thus we find a moral
refinement of the purely cultic conception, stemming from Priestly circles
themselves, under the
influence of the prophetic critique.' The prophetic preaching about social and moral issues
led to the priests emerging from their introverted world preoccupied with
cultic holiness, and interacting instead with popular concerns. Thus Knohl
dates the emergence of HS somewhere in the late eighth century.
P(T), however, was written before HS. It probably originated in
the period when Solomon's temple was being built in the mid-tenth century: 'We
may safely assume that the establishment of the "King's Temple" of Jerusalem
and the creation of a closed, elitist Priestly class dependent on the royal
court are all part of the background leading to the development of PT.' The loftiness and abstraction of PT by no means require
a late date. Probably PT and J came into existence about the same time... If we
add the flourishing of poetry, psalmody and wisdom literature, we may
generalise by saying that this was the peak period of all Israelite literature
- in every genre.'
Knohl's analysis of the redaction of P texts by HS is convincing
at many points. He has made a good case for holding that many P texts have been
edited by HS. His methods and conclusions seem more sober and empirical than
most attempts at source and redaction criticism, His exposition of the
theological stance of HS is masterly. But his view of P and his dating
arguments seem less well grounded. These depend too much on arguments from
silence. Knohl too often argues thus: if PT does not mention something, it
follows that it did not believe in it. P does not include moral commands;
therefore, its concept of holiness is purely cultic. P does not mention prayer
and singing in describing the sacrifices; therefore, worship was conducted in
silence. However, we do not have the original PT, only the version edited by
HS. We therefore cannot be sure what PT once contained, only what parts HS
chose to retain.
Does, for example, the non-mention of prayer in worship mean
sacrifice was conducted silently? We could argue that though we do not know
what was said or sung during worship, we should assume that something was said,
because this was standard practice throughout the ancient Near East and
elsewhere in the OT. Knohl makes the opposite assumption: that the absence of
reference to singing or prayer with the sacrifices means that nothing was said.
But as archaeologists say: 'Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.' It
would seem extraordinary that if PT were written to describe temple worship in
Solomon's time, a time when, Knohl says, psalmists were also active, the text
would envisage a sanctuary of silence.
Though Knohl may be right to date P and H much earlier than usual,
his arguments are not much better than Wellhausen's or Van Seters's. The
concerns of HS would be relevant at many points in Israel's history, not just
in the eighth century.
Final form study and New Criticism
In much modern pentateuchal criticism there is a trend towards
much simpler explanations of the growth of the Pentateuch: this is most
noticeable in the work of Whybray and Knohl. There is a recognition that the
more complex the reconstruction of the growth to the Pentateuch, the more
difficult it is to demonstrate, and that if one is not careful, one will pile
hypothesis upon hypothesis. This has led to ever increasing interest in the
final form of the text. However, it is not merely the dawn of common sense that
is to be thanked for this new insight but also a trend in literary theory known
as New Criticism. This holds that the proper subject for literary study is the
text itself, not the author or the circumstances of the text's composition. An
example of this new style of criticism is D.J.A. Clines, The Theme of the
Pentateuch (1978). In it, he laments the vast attention given to the
unprovable speculations of source criticism and the neglect of the present
shape of the Pentateuch.
It is ironic, is it not, that the soundest
historical-critical scholar, who will find talk of themes and structures
'subjective' in the extreme, will have no hesitation in expounding the
significance of a (sometimes conjectural) document from
conjectural period for a hypothetical audience
of which he has... only the most meagre knowledge.
Clines argues that 'the theme of the Pentateuch is the partial
fulfilment... of the promise to or blessing of the patriarchs'. The promises focus on descendants, the divine-human
relationship, and land. Most of the rest of Clines's book is taken up with
showing how these are developed in different parts of the Pentateuch, and that
recognition of the theme allows us to see the coherence of sections of the
Pentateuch, such as the book of Numbers, often regarded as confused and
illogical. In the penultimate chapter, he shows how this understanding of the
Pentateuch's theme fits in with the needs of the exilic community, which could
have read the story of Israel's wanderings outside the land as prefiguring its
own life in exile. This shows, according to Clines, that attention to the major
literary issues such as theme may clarify historical issues, so that synchronic
and diachronic studies need not be in opposition to each other.
Other studies emphasizing the final form of the text have tended
to look at shorter sections. G.A. Rendsburg
deals with the whole of Genesis, while J.P. Fokkelman and M. Fishbane look at parts of Genesis including the Jacob cycle (chs
25-35). Many other studies of parts of Genesis have appeared in journals and in
such books as J. Licht, Storytelling in the Bible, R. Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative and M. Sternberg, The Poetics of Biblical
Narrative. Studies on other parts of the
Pentateuch have been fewer, but a final-form reading of Exodus 32-34 has been
offered by R.W.L. Moberly, of Numbers by D.T.
Olson, and of Deuteronomy by R. Polzin. This brief list gives only a hint of the range of
exciting work devoted to interpreting the final form of the text.
Though most final-form studies pay lip-service to the continuing
place of diachronic study, few really have attempted to create a new synthesis
bringing together the two ends of the discipline. And even fewer studies take
the theology of the text seriously. An exception is R.W.L. Moberly, The Old
Testament of the Old Testament, He begins by looking at two passages in
Exodus 3 and 6, which tell of the revelation of the name of Yahweh to Moses. In
the first, Moses standing before the burning bush asks God what his name is. He
is told, 'I am that I am', i.e. Yahweh. In the second passage, God
simply introduces himself: 'I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and
to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known
to them' (Ex. 6:2-3). Standard documentary criticism sees these texts as
justifying the analysis of pentateuchal narratives into the main sources, E in
Exodus 3: 14-15 and P in Exodus 6:2-3, because they could be held to be
repetition. They also enable a contrast to be made with the J source which uses
the name Yahweh frequently in the patriarchal stories, whereas E and P say it
was an innovation from the time of Moses.
Moberly, however, shows that Exodus 6 is not simply repeating
Exodus 3: the plot of the narrative demands that something like chapter 6
follow chapter 3. Thus, if it is right to distinguish sources here, which
Moberly doubts, both the old E source and late P source agree that there is a
distinction to be made between the religious experience of Moses and that of
the patriarchs. Why. then, is God so often referred to as 'the LORD' in
Genesis? Moberly argues that this does not represent a different historical
perspective from the J source: rather it is a way of insisting that the God who
spoke to the patriarchs was the same God as spoke to Moses. The patriarchs may
have known God as 'El Shaddai' or 'El' or 'Elohim,' but that does not mean he
was a different deity from Moses' Yahweh. The use of the name 'Yahweh' in
Genesis is a reminder of the continuity between patriarchal and Mosaic religion
and of the fact that patriarchal history is told from the perspective of Mosaic
Yahwism. Thus all the
putative sources in the Pentateuch see both continuity and
differences between the Mosaic and patriarchal periods.
Moberly then goes on to explore some other points of similarity
and difference between the patriarchal and Mosaic periods portrayed in the
texts. While the patriarchs worship one God, there is not the exclusivism that
characterizes Mosaic monotheism. The patriarchs generally live peaceably with
the Canaanites without trying to exterminate them or to drive them out as the
Mosaic law requires. God reveals himself directly to the patriarchs and they
themselves build altars and offer sacrifices without the mediation of Moses or
the priests. The patriarchs practise circumcision, but it is not clear that
they observed the sabbath or food laws that figure so largely in later books of
the Pentateuch. Finally, 'the notion of holiness, which from Exodus onward is a
basic characteristic of God and a major requirement for Israel, is entirely
lacking in the patriarchal traditions'.
Moberly argues that the relationship between the patriarchal
stories and the rest of the Pentateuch is like that between the OT and the NT.
The same God revealed himself in both testaments, but there was a radical new
perspective on his nature revealed by the coming of Christ. Similarly, the
revelation at Sinai represented a new theological dispensation in his dealings
with Israel. That is not to invalidate the old revelation given to the
patriarchs or to say that their experience of the life of faith is not most
illuminating to later ages, but to insist that the revelation to Moses, like
the coming of Christ, brought new insights into God's character and purposes
Moberly suggests that the whole project of naming the sources J, E
and P is flawed, because so much rests on postulating religious distinctions
between the sources, which really represent differences between the patriarchal
era and the Mosaic dispensation. He would prefer a different approach: 'It
would be most helpful to adopt categories that are descriptive of the content
of the text: patriarchal traditions (subdivided into Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph
cycles...); similarly Mosaic traditions' (again subdivided). Then one can proceed to find the linking vocabulary and
theological themes that span these different sections of text and build up a
new critical theory.
Finally, Moberly's approach to the distinctiveness of the
patriarchal era makes the scepticism of Van Seters and others about the
historicity of these traditions unwarranted. The pentateuchal writers cannot be
projecting back into the patriarchal past contemporary popular religious
practice with which they disagree. The writers believed in Mosaic Yahwism, yet
they have described different beliefs and practices which they wanted to
abolish without condemnation. Indeed, they have gone further:
They have given traditions depicting non-Yahwistic ethos and
practices the considerable luster of inseparable association with the ancestor
of Israel's faith, Abraham, and the eponymous ancestor of the whole nation,
Jacob/Israel. They have refrained from all adverse comment. And they have gone
to considerable lengths to relate such material to Mosaic Yahwism in the way we
have shown above. One would have thought that straightforward suppression would
not only have been easier but also more in keeping with the generally exclusive
and polemical nature of Yahwism in Exodus-Deuteronomy.
Sometimes scholarship gets stuck in a rut. But that is certainly
not the case with pentateuchal studies at the moment. The debate between
different points of view is lively and sometimes heated. As yet, no new
consensus has emerged about the composition of the Pentateuch. However, there
is much creative interpretation being done by those concentrating on the final
form of the text. And it is here that Christians have always located the
authority of Scripture and its inspiration, and it
remains our duty not simply to read the text but apply it to
ourselves for instruction in righteousness (cf 2 Tim. 3:16). If we do
this, we shall keep the critical debates in perspective.
 For my brief summary
and assessment see The Pentateuch', in D.A. Carson et al, The New Bible
Commentary: 21st Century Edition (Leicester: IVP. 1994), pp. 43-53, and
G.J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (Waco: Word, 1987), pp. xxv -
 See The New Bible
Commentary p. 49.
 J. Van Seters.
Abraham in History and Tradition (New Haven: Yale UP, 1975). pp.
 Ibid. pp.
 For further
discussion see A. R. Millard and D. J. Wiseman (eds), Essays on the
Patriarchal Narratives (Leicester: IVP, 1980), and for a brief assessment
of the debate, G. J. Wenham, Genesis 16-50 (Dallas: Word, 1994), pp.
 Van Seters, op.
cit., pp. 155-157.
 Ibid. pp.
 Ibid. pp.
 J. Van Seters, The
Life of Moses (Kampen: Kok .1994), pp. 35-63.
 C. Levin. Der
Jahwist (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. 1993).
 See footnote 7 and
also K. Berge, Die Zeit des Jahwisten (BZAW 186: Berlin: de Gruyter.
 For further
discussion see Wenham, Genesis 1-15, p. xliv.
 E.g., on
linguistic criteria for source division, see R. Rendtorff, The Problem of
the Process of Transmission in the Pentateuch, trans. by J. J. Scullion.
(JSOTSS 89: Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1990) pp. 113, 118.
 Ibid., pp.
 E. Blum, Die
Komposition der Vätergeschichte) Neukirchen: Neukirchener Verlag,
1984), pp. 202-203.
 Ibid.. p.
 Ibid.. p.
 R.N. Whybray,
The Making of the Pentateuch: A Methodological Study (JSOTSS 53;
Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1987), p. 18.
 Ibid., p.
 Ibid., p.
 Ibid., p.
 Ibid., pp.
 Ibid., p.
 I argued the same
independently of Whybray in my commentary on Genesis 1-15 which was also
published in 1987. Genesis 1-15 (Waco: Wood, 1987).
 Y. Kaufmann, The
Religion of Israel, trans. and abridged by M. Greenberg, (Chicago: Chicago
 A. Hurvitz, A
Linguistic Study of the Relationship between the Priestly Source and the Book
of Ezekiel (Paris: Gabalda, 1982).
 M. Haran.
Temples and Priestly Service in Ancient Israel (Oxford: Clarendon,
 See his numerous
books and articles but especially his commentaries: The JPS Torah
Commentary: Numbers (New York: Jewish Publication Society, 1990) and
Leviticus 1-16: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New
York: Doubleday, 1991).
 E.g. in
Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972)
and 'Social and cultic institutions in the priestly source against their
ancient Near Eastern background', in Proceedings of the Eighth World
Congress of Jewish Studies volume 5 (Jerusalem: World Union of Jewish
Studies, 1983), pp. 95-129.
 I. Knohl, The
Sanctuary of Silence: The Priestly Torah and the Holiness School
(Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995).
 Ibid., p.
204 NB. Because Knohl believes that H and P have not always been
correctly distinguished. his definitions of H and P do not always coincide with
the traditional ones. For this reason he speaks of HS = Holiness School and PT=
 Ibid., p. 6;
cf. p. 101.
 Ibid.. p.
 Ibid., pp.
 Ibid., p.
222 n. 78.
 D.J.A. Clines,
The Theme of the Pentateuch (JSOTSS 10; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1978), p.
 Ibid., p.
 G.A. Rendsburg,
The Redaction of Genesis (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns. 1986).
 J. P. Fokkelman,
Narrative Art in Genesis (Amsterdam: van Gorcum, 1975); M. Fishbane,
Text and Texture (New York: Schocken, 1979).
 (Jerusalem: Magnes
 (New York: Basic,
Indiana UP. 1985).
 R.W.L. Moberly,
At the Mountain of God (JSOTSS 22; Sheffield: JSOT Press,
 D.T. Olson, The
Death of the Old and the Birth of the New: The Framework of the Book of Numbers
and the Pentateuch (Brown Judaic Studies 71: Chico: Scholars Press,
 R. Polzin, Moses
and the Deuteronomist (New York: Seabury Press. 1980).
 R.W.L. Moberly,
The Old Testament of the Old Testament (Minneapolis: Fortress Press,
1992), p. 99.
 Ibid., p.
 Ibid., p.