Van Seters on the Documentary Hypothesis

I continued through John Van Seter’s Abraham in History and Tradition while I watched Commander in Chief, which stars Geena Davis, Donald Sutherland, Zach from Saved by the Bell, Peter Coyote, Claire from Heroes (on one episode), and others. Lynette’s mom from Desperate Housewives is also on it, though she doesn’t bake her special marijuana brownies! (She has a gambling problem, though). And she dates Orsen Bean, Loren from Dr. Quinn, who’s on Desperate Housewives this season. I like the West Wing a little bit better, but Commander in Chief is still pretty good. Too bad they never released the final five episodes!

Van Seters doesn’t care much for the Documentary Hypothesis, which divides the Pentateuch into four sources: J, E, P, and D. One way scholars have tried to distinguish J from E is to say that J uses the divine name “Yahweh,” whereas E prefers “Elohim.” The problem is that there are cases in which “the alternation in the use of the divine name has resulted in the complete fragmentation of otherwise unified stories and episodes” (127).

This is something I noticed in high school, when I first learned about the Documentary Hypothesis and wrote a paper against it for my Bible Lit class. There are times when the division of sources makes sense and you can isolate two stories about the same topic (e.g., creation, perhaps the flood) that stand pretty well on their own. But there are also times when a source doesn’t make sense by itself but needs the details of the other source for the story to be coherent, and that’s where the Documentary Hypothesis fragments unified stories. I wonder, however, if that throws advocates of the Documentary Hypothesis, leaving them speechless. Couldn’t they just say that our Pentateuch doesn’t have all of E (to use an example), but that the people who combined J and E drew from E without quoting all of it?

Then, there’s the question of why J and E have parallel stories in the first place. Why do J and E both have similar stories about (say) Abraham? Biblical scholar Martin Noth proposed that both of them are relying on a common source: the Grundlage (G). But Van Seters is skeptical. He asks why J or E departed from the Grundlage, since their accounts differ from one another, notwithstanding their similarities.

I could be wrong, but my impression of Van Seter’s view on the composition of the Pentateuch is that he believes J offered the foundational story, and later writers added to it. For him, that’s a better way to account for the unity and diversity in the Pentateuch.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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