The Pentateuch: A Long History of Study and Research (Third part)

Source Yahwist (J) This source is related to the first documentary hypothesis also called “Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis”. It is based on the presence of YHWH name starting from the chapter of Genesis 1-3. The source’s tone is light and free, and it begins from creation to reach the Davidic kingdom. The dating is very smoky, generally attributed to the monarchic era. This uncertainty is due, in the view of Wellhausen, by the fusion of the two documents (RJE),  becaming virtually unrecognizable the distinction of each source.

Hermann Gunkel (1862-1932) would later say that J is not a single author but a “school of storytellers” who collected and passed down stories not written, but oral traditions. Its position is common to those who break off the J source in a variety of narrators (all with name i.e. Ja, Jb, Jc …). The reason for this splitting is the diversity and inconsistency of the stories that can be solved, but not satisfactorily, postulating multiple sources.

However Gerhard von Rad (1901-1971) will return to state emphatically that it was not J the theologian and storyteller of what he called the “history of salvation”. The narrative of J would have originated by a kind of “table of contents”, what he called “small historical creed” (Deut 26:5-9), containing the main themes of a first and sketchy narration of Hexateuch (Gn-Js).

Then at this work were added Genesis 1-11, the patriarchs stories and the traditions of the Sinai. The source J would belong to the Solomonic age, whose prosperity allowed the development of a true “enlightenment”. During this time the Israel’s traditions were collected and written, representing the first history of Israel, between 950 and 930 BC

Martin Noth (1902-1968) developed the study of the pre-monarchic traditions that J picked up and issued. there were five themes around which these pre-monarchic traditions were collected:

1. patriarchal promises;
2. the departure from Egypt;
3. the way in the desert;
4. the revelation at Sinai;
5. the entry into Canaan.

With these two important authors – Gunkel and von Rad – the J hypothesis remained unchallenged until the seventies.

H. H. Schmid observed considerable thematic similarities between parts of the Pentateuch and the language of Deuteronomy (abbreviation Dtr – theory firstly formulated by Martin Noth). Therefore J couldn’t belong at the time of Solomonic Enlightenment.

According to Martin Rose, J would be even later than Dtr and it would constitute the introduction of the Dtr historiography. John van Seters continued Rose’s studies and he said that J was an historian of the Persian period, as Herodotus or Thucydides. He would have created this story as an introduction to the Dtr.

These two authors overturned the documentary theory, while not denying it, saying that J would be post-exilic and certainly not belonging to the monarchical era.

Rolf Rendtorff will destroy the character and the role of J. He said, in fact, that the Pentateuch is composed of great narrative units that were gradually fused together by editors as the Dtr. Similar positions were shared by Frank Crüsemann (about Gn 2-11), Erhard Blum and C. Houtman.

Currently there are still those who adheres to the positions of von Rad and Noth, (eg. L. Schmidt) but also those who continue to postulate that J would belong to the X cent. BC, though much reduced in its extension (eg. Erich Zenger). However, others share the views of Martin Rose, John van Seters, ie that J would belong to the exilic or post-exilic period. There is also who shares the Rendtorff and Blum’s positions. (To be continued)

Simone Venturini


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