JEDP theory (multiple authors of Pentatuche)


#1

I know it has been covered before but the posts about it are long and I can’t seem to figure out a short answer to the JEDP theory. What is the Catholic response? What is the majority opinion in Catholic scholarship? Can we believe in it?


#2

<< What is the Catholic response? What is the majority opinion in Catholic scholarship? Can we believe in it? >>

Pope John Paul II seemed to have no problem with it, also called the “Documentary Hypothesis.” He refers to the “Yahwist” [or Jahwist] and “Elohist” sources in his commentary on Genesis. See Theology of the Body, for example “Biblical Account of Creation Analyzed”

"From the point of view of biblical criticism, it is necessary to mention immediately that the first account of man’s creation is chronologically later than the second, whose origin is much more remote. This more ancient text is defined as ‘Yahwist’ because the term ‘Yahweh’ is used to name God. It is difficult not to be struck by the fact that the image of God presented there has quite considerable anthropomorphic traits. Among others, we read that ‘…the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life’ (Gn 2:7).

“In comparison with this description, the first account, that is, the one held to be chronologically later, is much more mature both as regards the image of God, and as regards the formulation of the essential truths about man. This account derives from the priestly and ‘Elohist’ tradition, from ‘Elohim,’ the term used in that account for God.”

I don’t have a problem with multiple sources for the OT. What is the main problem with this as you see it?

Phil P


#3

Pope Benedict XVI has been very skeptical of such reductionism. See “Jesus of Nazareth”.

Keep in mind also that the “P” in JEDP is for “Priestly”, and is rooted in the anti-Catholic bias of the person who originally formulated the theory (see The Teaching Company’s “Book of Genesis” lecture series for more. Note—the lectures are neither Catholic nor Christian in worldview).

One must ever separate the historical and analytical value of such efforts from the propagandist aims of its adherents—the primary purpose is not to understand, but to debunk.


#4

This it tough, since I’m working off the top of my head, but I can tell you that my Religion 11 teacher in high school, Anne Carroll (in complete agreement with her husband, Dr. Warren Carroll), taught us that the JEDP theory was pretty much just wrong. For one, it effectively says that Moses was not the primary author of the Pentateuch, which runs rather contrary to tradition; and at the same time, the arguments on which it rests are a bunch of flimsy historical assumptions created by modernists.

I’ve touched it up in order to make it more readable and complete (less like a skeletal outline), but here’s what I have from one of our high school test review sheets (boy, am I sure glad I saved these)… I’m sure my notes from class are a bit more thorough and detailed, but they’re currently out-of-state at the moment, so this is the best I can give you: :slight_smile:

==================================================

Modernism: began in the late 1700’s, and was adopted by liberal Catholics in 1900’s – denies the truth of Scripture; denies prophecy, miracles, and the Divine Inspiration of Scripture – tries to claim that Scripture is just stories that were written long after the actual events, and is primarily full of myth and imagination, etc.

What do Modernists say about the Pentateuch?

We believe that the Pentateuch was mostly written by Moses.

They say that it was written by a variety of authors (4 authors or “sources”) long after the events took place:

J – Yahwist (author refers to God as Yahweh); around 800 BC (400 years after Moses died)
E – Elohist (author refers to God as Elohim); wrote around 700 BC
D – Deuteronomist; entire book of Deuteronomy, written around 600 BC
P – Priestly; written by Jewish priests around 500 BC

Then it was all put together at a later time by a redactor (editor).

Modernists cut it apart to show people that it is not inspired, and not written by Moses (who lived through some of these events, and is thus a more reliable historical source).

Main arguments for JEPD:

  1. Doublets: repetition; events described twice, two names for God, etc.
    However, doublets were very common in mid-east literature; and God has many names.
  2. Style: many different writing styles seem apparent throughout the Pentateuch.
    It was written over 40 years; a person’s writing style can change over a long period of time.
  3. Theology: concepts of God are too advanced for the Jews culture at the time.
    They don’t need to have had an advanced culture; God revealed these things to them.

What has Church said?
Issue addressed by the Potifical Biblical Commission in 1906.

  1. Could Moses have uses sources in writing the Pentateuch?
    >> Yes, but if so, those sources must have been inspired.
  2. Could Moses have used secretaries to aid him in writing the Pentateuch?
    >> Yes, but anything that the secretaries wrote must also have been inspired.
  3. Could there have been additions to the Pentateuch made after Moses’ death?
    >> Yes, but those additions must also have been inspired.
  4. Could anyone other than Moses have written most of the Pentateuch?
    >> No, there is no evidence to prove that. (And no more evidence has surfaced.)

#5

What is required of Catholics is to believe that the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit and without error. As to whether the Pentateuch was written by Moses or compiled from several sources, that is a point upon which Catholics can legitimately disagree.

I don’t know of any poll of Catholic bibilical scholars to say who believes what. On a purely anecdotal level, my sense is that there are more who believe in JEDP than those who do not. I have also heard it said that this may be changing. That JPII used this language isn’t so much a stamp of approval on the theory as it is the pope using the vocabulary that is familiar to biblical scholars (regardless of what side of the fence they fall).

Personally, I have the same problems with JEDP as I do with the Q document and the synoptic Gospels. It seems that many scholars get so caught up trying to determine which passage came from which hypothetical source that they forget to stand back and look at the whole. Thus, if two passages are difficult to reconcile, the easy answer is: “They must be from different sources”. However, I think much more is to be gained if we try to find what ties the passages together.

For example, let’s look at the two creation accounts of Genesis 1 & 2. The JEDP camp says they must have been written by different people because they use a different name for God and they describe the same event twice. Then, at a later date, some redactor came across both texts, couldn’t decide which one was better, and so just awkwardly threw them both in. To me, this seems like an exegetical shortcut. Even if JEDP is correct and there are two (or more) sources, we still need a more satisfactory answer as to why both texts are put together beyond “The redactor couldn’t decide”. Even if the human redactor was clueless (which I find hard to believe), we know that the Holy Spirit is not clueless. Thus there must be a reason that both passages are included. There must be a reason that God is referred to by one name in Genesis 1 and by another in Genesis 2. In exploring these questions, we end up with a far more satisfying biblical exegesis.


#6

Found the actual Pontifical Biblical Commission statements:

On the Mosaic Authorship of the Pentateuch (June 27, 1906)

I: Are the arguments gathered by critics to impugn the Mosaic authorship of the sacred hooks designated by the name of the Pentateuch of such weight in spite of the cumulative evidence of many passages of both Testaments, the unbroken unanimity of the Jewish people, and furthermore of the constant tradition of the Church besides the internal indications furnished by the text itself, as to justify the statement that these books are not of Mosaic authorship but were put together from sources mostly of post-Mosaic date?
Answer: In the negative.

II: Does the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch necessarily imply a production of the whole work of such a character as to impose the belief that each and every word was written by Moses’ own hand or was by him dictated to secretaries; or is it a legitimate hypothesis that he conceived the work himself under the guidance of divine inspiration and then entrusted the writing of it to one or more persons, with the understanding that they reproduced his thoughts with fidelity and neither wrote nor omitted anything contrary to his will, and that finally the work composed after this fashion was approved by Moses, its principal and inspired author, and was published under his name?
Answer: In the negative to the first and in the affirmative to the second part.

III: Without prejudice to the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, may it be granted that in the composition of his work Moses used sources, written documents namely or oral traditions, from which in accordance with the special aim he entertained and under the guidance of divine inspiration he borrowed material and inserted it in his work either word for word or in substance, either abbreviated or amplified?
Answer: In the affirmative.

IV: Subject to the Mosaic authorship and the integrity of the Pentateuch being substantially safeguarded, may it be admitted that in the protracted course of centuries certain modifications befell it, such as: additions made after the death of Moses by an inspired writer, or glosses and explanations inserted in the text, certain words and forms changed from archaic into more recent speech, finally incorrect readings due to the fault of scribes which may be the subject of inquiry and judgement according to the laws of textual criticism?
Answer In the affirmative, saving the judgement of the Church.

Document listed on the Vatican website: 33. De mosaica authentia Pentateuchi (June 27, 1906)


#7

III: Without prejudice to the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, may it be granted that in the composition of his work Moses used sources, written documents namely or oral traditions, from which in accordance with the special aim he entertained and under the guidance of divine inspiration he borrowed material and inserted it in his work either word for word or in substance, either abbreviated or amplified?
Answer: In the affirmative.

It seems to me that this is a key statement. We may be creating a false dilemma here. We do not necessarily have to reject traditional Church teach regarding Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch in order to grant that there may be a variety of different source materials.


#8

I don’t have a problem with the idea of Moses using (but not relying totally on) earlier sources. After all, he wasn’t present for most of the things that he wrote about in the Pentatuech. And there certainly isn’t any reason to believe that God put him into a trance as an automatic writing tool to mechanically write down what the Holy Spirit poured into his ear concerning the early history of the world. We don’t believe that about any of the books of Scripture. That is just not the definition of inspiration.

However, I dislike the JEDP/Documentary Hypothesis because ofthe way that it is often presented. I mean, it is often presented as a proven fact --uncritically, without any qualifier that this hypothesis is just just that: an useful, but not necessarily factual framework in which to look at these particular biblical texts (this is how it is presented in the NAB footnotes and in the Catholic Study Bible, for example). Thus, you have half-informed people spouting off all of the place, “This is is what all Catholic Bible scholars say! This is what the Church teaches! If you you don’t embrace this wholeheartedly, you are a Neandethal fundamentalist!!”

Also, in my opinion, just the* construction *of the JEDP – how compartmentalized it is into each group – creates the illusion that each supposed tradition represented by each letter is an actual person or persons or school that has been positively identified. This is just not the case. The traditions these letters are supposed to indentify are entirely hypothetical.


#9

It is pure postmodern reductionism. It adds nothing to our understanding while reducing this marvelous legacy of the ancient world to a mere literary curiosity.

What has such reductionism added to Homer? To Shakespeare?

I am unaware of the approach being applied to Xenophon or Thucydides or Herodotous, but it would do nothing but detract from ancient history as well.

If the same critical approaches were applied to every surviving document from the ancient world, we would have no choice but to reject them all as “invalid”.

Isn’t it curious how the skepticism of the Bible critic turns to gullibility when a Gnostic gospel turns up?


#10

Yup, that’s another one of my big gripes. :mad:

Can anyone tell me how the Documentary Hypothesis (or any other critical scholarship method) is helpful in any way* to the average Catholic* who picks up a New American Bible to try to live and learn their Faith better? To the ivory tower academic exegete, yeah maybe. But to your Mom, or your little sister or to Joe Sixpack in the pew, what is the benefit?

Seriously-- can anybody tell me?:confused:


#11

It depends how one defines “average Catholic”. There are Catholics who find this kind of thing extremely helpful in understanding the Bible - belittling it, is no more sensible than belittling those who prefer to approach the Bible without it. There is room for both in the Church.

What use is geometry, to the people mentioned above? Not all Catholics are university graduates, or astronomers, or geologists, or historians, or a host of other things - is that a reason to throw out everything not within the mental
capacity of a ten-year old ? Presumably Biblical Hebrew & NT Greek, also failing as they do to be immediately comprehensible to children & housewives, are equally worthless. As for that remark about “the ivory tower exegete” - that could apply to many other branches of theology as well, as well as to Classics, Ancient History, Philosophy, & Archaeology - some people have the aptitude for such things; others a have a talent for the sciences instead; others again are better with their hands than their heads. People are different, so they have different aptitudes & interests, & what one finds helpful, another will not. What is so strange, or so indefensible, in that ?


#12

I think this answer very nicely personifies the attitude of those described.

This remark is especially telling:

Not all Catholics are university graduates, or astronomers, or geologists, or historians, or a host of other things - is that a reason to throw out everything not within the mental capacity of a ten-year old ?

There’s not a whole lot I can add to that. :cool:


#13

My thoughts exactly. What really gets me is that most Catholic high school religion textbooks use this source criticism as the starting point. :mad: They’ll begin their look at the Gospels by saying things like “We know that the Gospels weren’t really written by those whose name they bear.” It’s one thing to discuss this as a possibility, but to start with it and state it as fact is truly scandalous. This type of information fed into me drifting away from the faith at the end of high school / beginning of college. I figured the Bible must just be another book. Thankfully, God didn’t leave me alone until I came back. :slight_smile:


#14

Christ advised us to approach him as a child would, not as a literary critic would.

We shall surely discover, should we persevere to the eternal reward, that there are far more of those who in life possessed only the mental capacity of a ten-year-old on the other side than the smart set, the former having far less innovative excuses for disobeying God than the latter.


#15

Does the Pope refers to the JEDP theory there? If you are speaking of reductionistic theories in general, you need to show that JEDP is intrinsically reductionistic.

Keep in mind also that the “P” in JEDP is for “Priestly”, and is rooted in the anti-Catholic bias of the person who originally formulated the theory

The JEDP theory has taken on all sorts of permutations. You make a valid point that the traditional characterization of the “priestly” source has been shaped by a certain kind of liberal Protestantism (which was both anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic). And this is a serious point to bear in mind. However, that does not discredit the hypothesis, if there is evidence for it apart from Mr. Wellhausen’s prejudices. And most scholars over the past 150 years have thought that there is. What needs to be challenged is the implicit devaluation of this “priestly source.” I read an excellent article on Chronicles (which is usually identified with the same tradition that produced the “priestly source”) in the Catholic Biblical Quarterly last year which took some good steps in that direction.

One must ever separate the historical and analytical value of such efforts from the propagandist aims of its adherents—the primary purpose is not to understand, but to debunk.

Exactly. Here we are in full agreement. The value of the JEDP theory can be evaluated on its own right.

I’m not wedded to it, but most of those scholars in recent years who have moved away from it have either moved in the direction of a more radical skepticism about the historicity of the OT or have turned away from an interest in questions of historicity altogether. Some form of JEDP still seems like the most reasonable way to talk about the Pentateuch as a historical source. But of course that’s highly provisional.

Edwin


#16

All truth is helpful, because we were all made to know and love the truth.

Here’s a specific example: in Genesis 30 we are given one picture of Jacob–as a clever schemer who is trying to get the better of his father-in-law. In the next chapter, Jacob suddenly starts speaking in a very lofty, pious tone about his trust in God and the way God has protected him from Laban. As the text stands, it looks very much as if Jacob is a hypocrite, who uses pious language as a cover for his own craftiness. But it so happens that God is referred to as “YHWH” in chap. 30 and as “Elohim” in chap. 31–one of the basic indicators usually taken to mean that we are dealing with two different sources originally. This sheds a whole new light on the matter. We are dealing with two different traditions about Jacob, one emphasizing his craftiness, the other his trust in God. It’s not that Jacob shifts gears suddenly from one mode to the other, but that the ancient Hebrews (under divine inspiration) saw him in two somewhat different and complementary ways.

I don’t claim that this is earth-shaking. But it helped me at least understand a bit better what God was telling me in Genesis about the character of Jacob. Given the importance of the figure of Jacob for the overall Biblical story, I don’t think this is altogether to be sneezed at.

Edwin


#17

This is a really good point, and it’s one that more recent Biblical critics have made. The emphasis on “source documents” which could lead (as you note) to the inference that the redactor’s work is of little value is a real weakness in traditional historical criticism, and has been frequently noted by scholars. Brevard Childs (himself extremely skilled in traditional historical-critical methods, as his commentary on Exodus shows) is particular famous for pointing this out and insisting on the need to look at the final, canonical shape of the text and treat it with respect.

On the whole, the historical criticism that I’ve read does a pretty good job of recognizing that the “redactor” is the real author of the text as we have it and thus needs to be given due credit, and that the stories are not simply dumped together haphazardly but are woven together in a very artful and meaningful way. And, of course, from the standpoint of Jewish or Christian faith this is not simply a work of human art but of divine inspiration.

In Christ,

Edwin


#18

He was referring to the whole literary deconstruction approach, of which JEDP is the best-known.

The JEDP theory has taken on all sorts of permutations. You make a valid point that the traditional characterization of the “priestly” source has been shaped by a certain kind of liberal Protestantism (which was both anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic). And this is a serious point to bear in mind. However, that does not discredit the hypothesis, if there is evidence for it apart from Mr. Wellhausen’s prejudices. And most scholars over the past 150 years have thought that there is. What needs to be challenged is the implicit devaluation of this “priestly source.” I read an excellent article on Chronicles (which is usually identified with the same tradition that produced the “priestly source”) in the Catholic Biblical Quarterly last year which took some good steps in that direction.

True, but if the hypothesis began with a false premise, it will not fit the evidence very well. In statistical analysis, the best “buckets” in which to categorize such things are those which do not overlap. Thus, the hypothetical P author would be concerned only with “priestly” things, which would not overlap with any other author’s text. The reference to a “redactor” of course indicates this isn’t so—the text has been jumbled together at least. The question then becomes, are the so-called J,E,D,P texts significantly different from one another?

Anachronistically reading in an anti-Catholic bias for modern ideological purposes isn’t the best way to formulate such buckets, and indicates that the original formulator may have begun with a conclusion and worked backward rather than objectively contemplating a text. Literary critics of course do this quite often, but for historical or theological inquiry it should be avoided.

Exactly. Here we are in full agreement. The value of the JEDP theory can be evaluated on its own right.

I’m not wedded to it, but most of those scholars in recent years who have moved away from it have either moved in the direction of a more radical skepticism about the historicity of the OT or have turned away from an interest in questions of historicity altogether. Some form of JEDP still seems like the most reasonable way to talk about the Pentateuch as a historical source. But of course that’s highly provisional.

Edwin

I should also stipulate that I find the theory fascinating, and enjoy following the literature on it as a layman, but I am very skeptical that it is true.

The best proof would be to have some linguists generate a series of phony 1st century texts, have a separate redactor anthologize them, and see if another group of scholars could accurately parse the texts. As a control, perhaps a single author text could be provided as well and see if the JEDP approach produces a false positive there.


#19

The Toledoths of Genesis

             For those biblical scholars who have had the unfortunate experience                  of having the JEPD theory of the Documentary Hypothesis jammed                  down their throats the past forty years in Catholic biblical scholarship,                  and as long since the time of Julius Wellhausen in the late 1800s,                  this will be a real treat. This article will show what an absolute                  sham Catholic biblical scholarship has been since the 1960s; how                  innocent Catholics have been deceived by these pseudo-scholars;                  and why Catholic students all over the world have lost the faith.                  After you read this article, if you own Raymond Brown's "New Jerome                  Biblical Commentary," it may come in handy this winter when you                  need kindling for the fireplace. I hear that liberal biblical                  scholarship burns especially well. I can just hear those pages                  crackling now!

more…


#20

It has to be true. Why else would there be two creation stories and two flood stories (the two flood stories are merged into one). In one creation story man is created first and in the other man is created last. In one flood story Noah is commanded to bring 2 of each animal no matter what and in another he is commanded to bring 7 of each of the nice animals and 2 of the bad ones like snakes I guess.


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