This is Part II of my seven part series of the documentary hypothesis (the so-called JEDP theory of the Old Testament) and the book, Before Abraham Was: A Provocative Challenge to the Documentary Hypothesis by Kikawada and Quinn. All page references point to it.
In Part I, I gave basic definitions for the discussion (along with a justification for my aggressive and sarcastic tone). I concluded that if one accepts the documentary hypothesis, that necessarily involves them in either a clever or a brutish abandonment of the doctrine of scripture’s Divine authorship. Switches in vocabulary and literary types have convinced adherents of the hypothesis that eveloutionary processes betray the presence of various editors who created Genesis.
Can God Write?
If Genesis underwent centuries of editorial changes, then it is valid to ask: Can God write a book? If God couldn’t write Genesis (along with preserving it and passing it along), then we must ask: Can he write anything?
We know the answer. God wrote a book. He is the author of scripture. But for those who prefer to find competing editors in Genesis, they can’t hear God.
The documentary hypothesis hears the antithesis between Genesis 1 and 2 as assonance and not as God multifaceted in his purposes and actions. In Genesis 1 they discover one god, Elohim, who is the wholly other God, and in Genesis 2 they find another god, Yahweh, who walks among men.
The hypothesizers postulate that any single author who imbibes in the kind of assonance that exists between Genesis 1 and 2 will eventually resolve the clash through synthesis. That is, two contrasting poems or narratives will eventually come together in a way that unifies both and serves the story. The hypothesizers postulate the problem of assonance and then go looking for an answer which they claim not to find. If there is one author who used assonance between Genesis 1 and 2, then where does the synthesis show up?
The story that at first seems to meet our requirements [of synthesis] could not in fact be any closer to Genesis 1-5, for it is the story of Noah that occupies Genesis 6-10 and dominates the latter half of primeval history… that story moves easily back and forth from Elohim to Yahweh, from an immanently anthropomorphic God to a supremely transcendent lawgiver, from formulaic expression to human drama (21).
Yahweh and Elohim are indistinguishable in the story of Noah. Moses freely switches back and forth in the story calling God both names throughout the account. But the hypothesizers will have none of this. The solution for Gerhard von Rad — one of the early proponents of the documentary hypothesis — was to reject Genesis 6-10 as a synthesis and union of Yahweh and Elohim. He was committed to finding two stories packed into Genesis 6-10 so that the assonance and the antithesis remain with no synthesis to be found — and hence no single genius responsible for Genesis.
Hypothesizers will not bow the knee. They crave editorial antithesis between an Elohim god and a Yahweh god. They are hypothesizers and innovators who make a god that is fashioned into an editor’s image. As they cast about in their own assonance and confusion, they cast a god according to their own mold and refuse to recognize the real God, Yahweh Elohim.
The Definitive Case of Noah
The account of Noah in Genesis 6-10 gives a synthesis of Yahweh Elohim. It satisfies the hypothesizers’ supposed problem. If a single author must resolve his own assonance, then doesn’t Genesis 6-10 do that? If it does, then the documentary hypothesis is a fizzled theory. The hypothesizers only have a hypothesis so long as they can sustain that Genesis does not have a single author — and they seem passionately interested in sustaining the theory. To that end, they had to deal with the story of Noah if their hypothesis was to escape the 19th century and be believed in the 20th.
The decisive test for the documentary interpretation of Genesis 1-11 was the Noah story (34).
They passed the test and they did so with great ease. It only required a pair of scissors and a commitment to the predetermined outcome that there is no single responsible person behind Genesis.
What they did was cut Genesis 6-10 along various phrase boundaries and extracted two protracted accounts. They rearranged these versions into two columns. In column one, they placed everything that is Elohim-like. In column two they placed all the information that is Yahweh-like. There was no manuscript evidence to support such editing. There was no archaeological basis for their algorithm. They simply needed scissors and a commitment to assonance with no synthesis.
Ironically, cutting and pasting is what they attributed to ancient editors. In reality, they were inventing ancient editors according to their own image. Their fine-tuning was nothing short of forcing their intellectual scheme back upon Genesis. They took an evolutionary theory and went looking for a swamp. They had Darwin’s theory of evolution, they had the standing and upright Pentateuch, all that was lacking was the primordial ooze. Their swamp turned out to be a morass of texts that could mutate into their stories.
An example of their work will suffice. Genesis 8:2b was cut and spliced in front of Genesis 8:3a which was spliced so that Genesis 8:6 followed immediately. With enough of this kind of editing, Noah’s story proved that Elohim remained a detached and judging priestly-god, while Yahweh was the seeing, caring and close man-like god. Macrion would have been proud.
Elohim cares about the dimensions of the ark, Yahweh cares about the clean animals. Elohim gives detailed instructions while Yahweh helps to ease Noah’s mind about the duration of the voyage. Elohim renews a covenant with creation while Yahweh smells the offerings. The hypothesis is not without problems. The editors who supposedly inserted the Yahweh version were able to use both name, Elohim and Yahweh. The Priestly editors, on the other hand, were constrained to use Elohim exclusively.
The End Results
To help you see how this works when the text is laid out, I have taken Genesis 6-9 from the English Standard Version (ESV) and color coded the text according to the divisions of the documentary hypothesis. I followed the divisions given by Kikawada and Quinn (22-29). Click here to see the end results.
On that page I also show the strange and serendipitous overlap that exists between the documentary hypothesis and the modern Mormon doctrine that Elohim is the Father and Jehovah is the Son. Mormonism likewise reads two gods into the Pentateuch.
Scissors: A Biblical Tool?
With enough editing, explaining, cutting and pasting, the documentary hypothesis was able to make itself emerge victoriously through Genesis 6-10 as a new Noah coming out of a Darwinian ark (even if it was a little harrowing at times):
There is some fairly close weaving done here, including breaking apart three different verses. However, there is no serious disagreement among analysts over this, and von Rad would even break a fourth. … After all, if an editor could make such small changes as this for the sake of sense, why would he not undertake larger ones? (27)
Indeed, if later priestly editors inserted their version at the level of phrase boundaries, then why not keep cutting and adding? If they are going to cut a little, why not cut the whole thing? And that is precisely what the documentary hypothesizers imagine. They claim that the editors (who are like them) cut and pasted most of the Bible. They were free to do to the text as they pleased.
With innumerable unencumbered editors, there is no god needed, for there is no god — there are only editors to trick others; the editors themselves become the source of revelation. But since there really were no ancient JEDP editors, we are really talking about the hypothesizers. The documentary hypothesizers were not satisfied being mere readers of the Hebrew; they wanted to be a part of the revelatory processes. They reshaped the text. Professing to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the truth of God for a lie (Romans 1:22,25).
Has God Really Said…
There is a striking parallel between the documentary hypothesis and Satan’s first words: “Has God really said…?” (Gen 3:1). The Dragon has not invented a new attack. Satan is the father of lies. So, how much attention should we give to his question? What conversation can be had with a liar? Von Rad has the respect of being taken seriously. Is such honor due? Is it dishonoring to Jesus to honor those who dishonor his word?
What has merited the impressive attention given to the documentary hypothesis? When will we announce the death of the JEDP theory? How long must we acknowledge the fiction? Do New Testament scholars study the Jesus Seminar with the same intensity that Old Testament scholars afford to the documentary hypothesis?
We Give Credence to Gnostics
The documentary hypothesizers have postulated, dated, and named various editors and editorial schools. They have named the players in a fiction they invented. It is like my aunt who would tell me about the ghosts that came and visited her at nights. I never dignified her night visits with questions or by initiating a conversation about them. The ghosts were not visiting her. Whatever she was experiencing, I never once thought that a parade of ghosts were queued up each night to enter her bedroom (on schedule and according to our solar-defined experience of night).
Speaking about Priestly editors is like naming my aunt’s ghosts. There were none. It is a fiction. They were the specters of von Rad’s mind. They may have haunted him and Julius Wellhausen, but they don’t visit me. To even imagine that there really were competing J, E and P editors is like talking about ghosts with a crazy old lady.
It may be exciting to believe invented stories. It may charge the mind to imagine an inside scoop on what God was really doing (or not doing, in the case of the documentary theory). It is thrilling (even if terrifying) to imagine that ghosts from another realm are interested in visiting me at nights. It is a desire of the heart of man to look upon the naked things of God. We want to see behind the text and around the cross to get a bead on the mind of God. When we do this, however, we discover that we have the bead on a dead god who is only invented.
God is not found by looking through a translucent text. The God of Israel revealed himself with the text. The scholarly bead that has sighted what is behind the text is nothing more than the thrilling imagination of the hypothesizers. They have not found a secret line. Their ability to spy what the rest of us missed would have made the Gnostics proud, but is only to a scholarly version of an old idolatry. In being evil, the documentary hypothesis is not even original. It does not even get credit for how utterly bad it is.
In the next installment, I will explore other ancient creation stories, the historicity of the Genesis account, and how nicely it fits within its ancient world.
Eastside Church of the Cross