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Source Criticism Theological Train Wreck

March 19, 2009

Try as I might, I can’t let the recent article by Lacy Enderson on the Documentary Hypothesis (JEDP) go by without comment. Both Jim West and Christopher Heard have posted on Enderson’s article at the Examiner; and I encourage folks to read their responses, but there’s more to be argued here.

Both bibliobloggers have pointed out the following quote:

Conservative scholars do not accept the Documentary theory. Their rejection is based on archaeological findings, historical documents and monuments. Excavated tablets describe the patriarchal history that was recorded in Genesis offering proof for the early date of Genesis. Those who give Genesis a later date are proven wrong by the certain data that has been discovered. Writings from other sources and the first five books of the Bible show very strong similarities in culture and terminology. This adds more proof to the earlier dates of the book. The JEDP theory supporters who claim the books to be a myth have been proven wrong by historical documents and monuments that have been excavated.

Both Jim and Chris wonder to what archaeological tablets Enderson is referring. My mind immediately went to some interpretations of the texts of Kirtu and Aqhatu at Ugarit. Baruch Margalit has written much over the years linking the religious climate of these two text to that of the biblical patriarchs. Though few scholars hold to Margalit’s ideas, I can nonetheless see how one outside the guild might get confused.

What is more problematic for me than Enderson’s oblique reference to tendentiously interpreted archaeological discoveries is her theological statement in the article’s last line:

The greatest weakness of the JEDP theory is that Jesus himself referred to Moses as the author of the Pentateuch.

Obviously, from her placement of this line at the end of her story, Enderson sees this as the final nail in the coffin of the Documentary Hypothesis. But, theologically this statement is a bit of a train wreck. Why does Jesus referring to Moses as the author of the Pentateuch matter? The implied answer is “well, he was God, so he should know.”

But this breaks down the tension of the human and divine natures of Jesus that Christian theologians (and one might even say, as she, “conservative scholars”) insist is the hallmark to a proper and orthodox understanding of Jesus. It whiffs of a docetic Jesus whose humanity is overshadowed by his divinity.

To be fair, Enderson is not alone in this theologically questionable line of reasoning. In a recent article in the Gaffin Festschrift Resurrection & Eschatology, G. K. Beale made a similar argument for a singular Isaiah; but he took the line of reasoning even farther. Not only does Jesus’ attribution of Isaiah as author of all portions of Isaiah indicate a unified authorship, but to hold otherwise is to contradict the authority of the Bible.

Interestingly, Beale even mentions scholars who hold that Jesus’ humanity, his emptying himself of his divinity in the incarnation, would imply that he wouldn’t have divine knowledge of who wrote what. But Beale doesn’t really address the theological issues that his line of reasoning raises. The specter of a docetic christology goes unaddressed. (For a very thoughtful critique of Beale’s recent book The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism, see James McGrath’s review at Exploring Our Matrix.)

I do not mean to imply that either Enderson or Beale are heretics, nor do I really care if this is the case. My problem with the line of reasoning that both espouse is not that it might point to a problematic christology, but rather that it creates these problems by its very line of argumentation. It creates these problems specifically for those who hold to a conservative theological position like the ones that both these authors maintain.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 19, 2009 11:04 am

    Thank you for this contribution, Jim.

  2. Art Bucher permalink
    March 30, 2009 4:55 pm

    Nice analysis Jim.
    Funny because many conservative theologians don’t seem to have a problem with Jesus’ use of many listeners, visionaries, compilers, writers, and followers for recording and transmitting his own words (and still we say unflinchingly, “Jesus said”), but for Moses and Isaiah this is less accepted.

    • March 31, 2009 10:01 am

      Art,
      Thanks for commenting.

      I haven’t read enough of G. K. Beale’s work to know where he would fall on the important issue you bring up. However, there are those in the Evangelical world how would say that there are no issues in transmission or recording of Jesus’ life. I had a friend who was denied a job at an Evangelical school because he could not affirm their belief that the Gospels record every tidbit of Jesus’ life as it happened (like a camcorder following him around).

      I think you are spot on in pointing out the problem on Jesus’ end, but I’m not sure to what extent some of these folk would even acknowledge that the problem even exists.

  3. May 9, 2012 5:45 pm

    Apologies for the extreme necrocommenting, but could a horrendous misunderstanding of the Wiseman hypothesis be what underlies this?

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