As I noted in one of the comment threads yesterday, there are many good resources out there to equip non-seminary trained parishioners to defend against attacks on the historical veracity of the Old Testament launched by those who hold to 19th century German academic Julius Wellhausen’s hypothetical and isogetical reconstruction of Old Testament sources. It is important to do so because, as the article explains, Wellhausen’s theory undermines the integrity of the Pentateuch, the “authors” purported to have created it, and the uniform witness of both the Old Testament and the New with regard to recorded historical events and Mosaic authorship. In fact, since acceptance or rejection of the Documentary Hypothesis says so much about a person’s view of scripture, I would encourage all search committees to work in a question or two about Wellhausen when interviewing prospective clergy. In any case, this is a very good and thorough critiqueon the popular level by Doug Beaumont of Southern Evangelical Seminary:
The twentieth century has essentially seen the downfall of the Documentary Hypothesis in scholarly circles, although it continues unabated in educational institutions and in popular literature. Archer writes concerning the “structure erected by the documentary theory,” that, “Almost every supporting pillar has been shaken and shattered by a generation of scholars who were brought up on the Graf-Wellhausen system.” Sadly, this has done little to sway the general acceptance of the theory. Elsewhere Archer concludes that, “For want of a better theory, therefore, most non conservative institutions continue to teach the Wellhausian theory . . . as if nothing had happened in Old Testament scholarship since 1880.” Loath to accept religious assumptions (i.e. that the Biblical text means what it says), Documentary Hypothesis supporters cling religiously to their own. This attitude is exemplified in the statement by British scholar H. H. Rowley: That it [the Graf- Wellhausian theory] is widely rejected in whole or in part is doubtless true, but there is no view in its place that would not be more widely and emphatically rejected . . . The Graf-Wellhausen view is only a working hypothesis, which can be abandoned with alacrity when a more satisfying view is found, but which cannot with profit be abandoned until then.
In other words, scholars committed to the presuppositions of the Documentary Hypothesis are unwilling to surrender this already discredited view until a better one comes along that allows those presuppositions to remain intact. A critique of these presuppositions will do much to determine whether or not this reluctance to admit defeat is justified.
Word Usage, Subject Matter, and Style
There are many varied reasons for rejecting the divisions based on titles of deity, word usage, etc. The very idea that a single author is incapable of writing on more than one subject, using more than one style, or employing different modes of writing in different genres is preposterous and easily demonstrated to be false. Common sense dictates that one author may vary his style or word choice for several reasons such as emphasis, amplification of important points, literary genre distinctiveness, avoidance of repetition, etc. Further, if this assumption were true, the very authors of the Documentary Hypothesis would not be able to comment on this phenomenon themselves, for they themselves would have to write on different topics in order to dos so. Finally, the critics here are not even willing to consistently apply their own rules (e.g. Genesis 24).
Another area in which Documentary critics find reason for their division is parallelisms and doublets. Examples include the creation accounts in Genesis, the flood narratives, the naming of Isaac, etc. These occurrences that seem to repeat other themes or stories are, according to the critic, a “clumsy combination of diverse traditions of the same event.” A thorough discussion of each of these is beyond the scope of this paper, but suffice it to say that several reasons can be given for these occurrences. They could simply be similar stories (many are not so unusual that one would not expect similarities), they could be purposefully written to show similarities with another event for emphasis or remembrance, for even unusual events can repeat in history. O.T. Allis also notes three major traits of Hebrew prose that could be mistaken for doublets: (1) The use of the word “and” to join subordinate or interdependent ideas could be mistaken for “pasting together” divergent accounts. (2) The repetition of important events for emphasis could be mistaken for copying. (3) Poetic Parallelism can make a text appear repetitious. All of these considerations and many others can explain the Hebrew writings much better than multiplying anonymous authors and artificially dividing the texts.
The criteria of names itself is highly suspect. It makes more sense to see the various names of God used as methods of conveying different aspects or sense of His working in history. The name Elohim is usually used when referencing God as the “Almighty Creator” and “Lord of the Universe,” hence its use in the Genesis creation account. Yahweh, on the other hand, is the “Covenant Maker” and this name is used in the Genesis relationship accounts. This use in Semitic times was unknown at the time of Astruc and Eichorn’s writings. Archer comments that, “the Semitic and Egyptian data were virtually unknown; otherwise it is impossible that any theory of source division based on divine names could ever have arisen. . . . it is hard to see how anyone could take seriously the terms Yahwist or Elohist any longer.”
There is also the issue of “misplaced” names between the “J” and “E” sources. Much like misplaced strata in the fossil record provides serious challenge to evolutionary theory, the “wrong” title for God is found in several places in the Pentateuch. As well, the very source that Documentary theorists use for their analysis has over 180 “name discrepancies” between the Majority Text (MT) and the LXX. This casts considerable doubt on the accuracy of their claim.
Perhaps one of the most clear refutations of the artificial division of the Pentateuch is the Documentary view’s own downward spiral into disintegration. Analogous to the effects of continuously inbreeding animals, the JEPD theory has corrupted itself by its own standards.
First, some of the most vociferous attacks against JEPD have come from within the Higher Criticism camp. The Documentary Hypothesis is itself the product of several failed views. It’s earliest version in 1783 quickly gave way to the Fragmentary Hypothesis in 1800. This view claimed that there were at least 38 fragments of documents that were put together by an unknown redactor about 500 years after Moses’ death. This view was later challenged by the Supplementary Theory of 1823-1830. After dealing the “death blow” to the Fragmentary Hypothesis with his work on the unity of Genesis, Heinrich Ewald proposed that there was one basic document “E” with additional material “J” added at a later date. Fifteen years later, the same Ewald rejected his own theory in favor of the Crystallization Theory. Now, he claimed, the Pentateuch was composed by five different authors over a period of about 700 years. It was not until 1853 that Hupfeld / Graf / Kuenen / Wellhausen began to develop what is now known as the Documentary Hypothesis. All this in just 80 years!
Second, today’s version of the Documentary Hypothesis is itself under continual attack from within. Using the methodology of his predecessors, Rudolph Smend discovered two parts to “J” (“J1” and “J2”) in 1912. In 1922 an alleged “L” document was discovered within “J” by Otto Eissfeldt. Not to be outdone, Julius Morgenstern added “K” in 1927 similar to the “S1” and “S2” documents of Robert Pfeiffer in “J” and “E” in his Introduction to the Old Testament. These “divisions within divisions” provide the Documentary method with its own reductio ad absurdum - there is no criteria for when this parceling off of Scripture will end.
Josh McDowell’s quote of renowned scholar Cyrus Gordon sums up the blind adherence of JEPD theorists well when he states:
They are willing to countenance modifications in detail. They will permit you to subdivide (D1, D2, D3, and so forth) or combine (JE) or add a new document designated by another capital letter but they will not tolerate any questioning of the basic JEPD structure . . . I am at a loss to explain this kind of ‘conviction’ on any grounds other that intellectual laziness or inability to reapprise.