The Pentateuch dissected and revised - Creation and Evolution

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The Pentateuch dissected and revised

English > Fields of Research > Biblical Theology

Peter Ruest (25 Nov 2002), listserve of the American Scientific Affiliation, archived under;

Main points:

Alexander Rofé's "Introduction to the Composition of the Pentateuch" (1999) is a short introduction into the way the Pentateuch is usually interpreted in historical-critical research. Apparent duplications, contradictions, inconsistencies, different use of expressions (e.g. divine names), style, and genre (e.g. laws, narrative) led scholars to divide up the 5 books of Moses, as well as what follows, into 4 sources (J, E, P, D), dating them to the 8th century BC and later (the Documentary Hypothesis).

Additional sources identified and challenges to this hypothesis by Form Criticism and History of Tradition not only make the standard hypothesis practically superfluous, but also show that the original model was strongly influenced by the unrealistic romanticism of 19th century Germany.

Rofé opts for fragments which were merged together mainly after the Babylonian exile, but reaffirms (1) real difficulties in the text, (2) caused by combining different sources, (3) style and content may identify authors, (4) some of the texts can be dated. Yet virtually all of the difficulties Rofé mentions allow for alternative interpretations in line with an integer and harmonious inspired text, and his other three points depend on these.


Of course, there are some different sources, e.g. in Genesis, but different subject matters, circumstances, and times may account for many of the style and vocabulary differences, even in text written by the same author. Considering the dearth of Hebrew texts of the time relevant for the Pentateuch, statistical significance for source division is probably impossible to achieve.

The Documentary Hypothesis has destroyed virtually all of Israel's history until the Babylonian exile, together with much of the theology, promises and prophecies of the Old Testament. As biblical faith is history-based, any claim to be able to sort out valid theology from (presumably) erroneous history or worldviews is an illusion, resulting in many different "theologies". Luther's "Das Wort sie sollen lassen stahn!" is as urgent as ever.

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