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The Pentateuch: A Long History of Study and Research (Second Part)

The scholar who more than any other has influenced the studies on the formation of the Pentateuch is certainly Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918). He began his academic career as a theologian at the University of Greifswald, from which, however, resigned for the incompatibility of his studies with the academic task of training future pastors of the Reformed Church. He continued, as well, his career in various German universities before joining permanently in Göttingen.

He became interested in the Old Testament, reading the books of Samuel and of the oldest prophets, Amos and Isaiah. When he began to study the Pentateuch he was very discouraged for the boring redundancy of Jewish laws. He asked himself how it was possible that the Israelite religion were at its beginning so ritualistic and legalistic. These first studies resulted in the book on the origins of the Exateuch. However, reading the works of Graf, he discovered that the legislative sections of the Pentateuch were the most recent. So he developed an evolutionary pattern of the composition of the Pentateuch which shall remain valid until the first half of the twentieth century. It was composed of four documents written in different eras, from oldest to newest.

The Yahwist – (Code J). It is the oldest document that was written between the eleventh and ninth century B.C. in the southern Israel. The document includes the creation, the patriarchs to arrive until the Solomonic period when the promises to the patriarchs were fulfilled.

The Elohist – (Code E) was written between 770 and 721 BC, the year of the fall of the Northern Kingdom. Influenced by the language of the prophets, the document traces the history running from Abraham until the settlement in Canaan.
These first two documents were fused together by the so-called Jehowista, (acronym RJE) at the end of the eighth century BC, when the Northern Kingdom had fallen. It is a historical overview where, however, is clearly prevails Yahwist document.

Deuteronomy contains the document found by King Josiah in the Temple (622 BC) and the narrative that follows it (code D).

The “priestly code” (or the book of the four alliances: with Adam, Noah, Abraham and Israel at Sinai) is the most recent document of the Pentateuch, because it assumes that all Israelite worship should now take place in the Temple of Jerusalem. It was written, therefore, in the exilic period (code P).

Finally, around 400 BC, D and P were synthesized, also recovering the traditions merged into RJE. So it was formed the present Pentateuch. (To be continued)

Simone Venturini


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