By the late nineteenth century, there was a general consensus among biblical scholars that the “Five Books of Moses” (the primary books of the Hebrew Bible/Old
Testament) actually contained four
voices — a theory that is known as the Documentary Hypothesis.
This consensus began to erode in the late 1970s and contemporary
scholars argue for a wide variety of theories, though variations of the
Documentary Hypothesis are still popular and continue to inform
contemporary debates on the origins of the Torah. The four authorial
developed in the original theory, are:
- Refers to God as
- Presents God as an anthropomorphic
(i.e. human-like) figure, who walks in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:8),
shares a meal with Abraham (Gen. 18), wrestles with — but does not defeat — Jacob (Gen. 32:22), and can even be dissuaded from pursuing a course of action, as when Abraham bargains with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18: 16-33) or when Moses convinces God not to destroy the people of Israel after they worship the golden calf (Exodus 32:9-14).
- Prior to division of
into two kingdoms in 922 BCE (see map below), but emphasizing southern localities and the role of
Abraham as the patriarch of the tradition.
- Refers to God as Elohim (until God reveals his name to Moses in Exodus 3, after which Yahweh is used).
- More awesome
and remote (with an emphasis on the phrase “fear of God”),
though still anthropomorphic. For example, Moses is
the only figure who has any direct communication with God, and even
here it is less direct than the examples listed above for the Yahwist.
Instead, God appears in the form of a cloud (by day)/flame (by night), or in dreams and
visions, or by a messenger — but always at a distance.
- Focuses on the northern traditions of the Kingdom of Israel (as opposed to the southern Kingdom of Judah).
to Mount Sinai as Mount Horeb (which may have been a different name for
the same mountain or a different mountain in the north).
- One scholar summarizes the Elohist perspective as follows: “Israel
must fear God and be obedient. That obedience must be shaped by the
covenant. God is present to his people, but at a distance and in a
veiled way, because he is so terrifying.” (Elohist Texts)
Yahweh was previously worshiped at many sites, Deuteronomy 12:13
restricts worship to one
location: the temple that King Solomon will ultimately build (or rather, has already built) in Jerusalem.
- The narrative
is presented as the recollections of Moses, but they begin only from the
Ten Commandments and focus on the laws by which the Israelites are
to live once they reach the Promised Land.
- Theology of national morality:
Israel is conceived of as a theocracy in which the Jewish people will be collectively
rewarded and/or punished according to their collective conduct. For example, when the people
fail to refrain from sin, the northern Kingdom of Israel is conquered
by the Assyrians in 721 BCE and the southern Kingdom of Judah is conquered by the Babylonians in 586 BCE.
- Concerned with ritual in
general and the promotion of Moses’ brother Aaron as the
progenitor of the legitimate line of the priesthood.
- Treats God as transcendental and distant — justifying the need for a priesthood to act as intermediary between God and the people.
- Written during the Babylonian exile:
descriptions of the temple (implying post-temple period), yet
older material as well.
- Details of temple worship are associated with
Moses (c. 13th-12th centuries BCE), even though the first temple wasn’t built until the
reign of Solomon (961-931 BCE).
- What are the implications of
adopting this perspective on the bible?
do we deal with traditional claims regarding the “sacredness” of sacred
texts in light of modern analysis?
- What are the implications of rejecting
the evidence of multi-authorship?
A Tale of Two Creations?
The Priestly Source
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now
the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the
deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God
called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there
was evening, and there was morning — the first day. ...
[on the fifth day] God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures,
and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So
God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with
which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their
kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it
was good. 22 God
blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the
water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning — the fifth day.
God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their
kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the
wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals
according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and
all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that
they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over
the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number;
fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the
birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the
ground.” ... 31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning — the sixth day. (NIV: Genesis 1:1-31; cf. Living Religions, 249)
- According to this account, does God create the world ex nihilo (out of nothing)?
text seems to imply that God created the heavens and the earth from a
pre-existing mass of water, with the heavens created on Day 2 and the
earth on Day 3; the theory of creatio ex nihilo did not develop until the second and third centuries CE.
- Why does God say “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness”? Does this assume that God has a humanlike body? Does it assume the existence of other gods?
- It is worth noting that in this account of creation God is referred to as Elohim, which is the plural of eloah (“a god”) and which seems to have originally referred to “the family or pantheon associated with the Canaanite father god El.” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elohim)
- According to this account, were man and
woman created separately or at the same time?
4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
5 Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, 6 but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. 7 Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
8 Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. 9 The Lord
God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground — trees that were
pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were
the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. ...
18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. ... But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
23 The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
- Are these two accounts of creation consistent?
- What are the implications of these two accounts of creation with regard to ...
- the relationship
between human beings and nature?
- gender issues?
- the authorship of the bible?
- “absolutist” interpretations of the bible?