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Review of Baden’s J, E, and the Redaction of the Pentateuch

December 19, 2010

David Carr has a very critical review of Joel Baden’s J, E, & the Redaction of the Pentateuch at the Review of Biblical Literature. Carr doesn’t have much positive to say about Baden’s revision of his 2007 Harvard dissertation. Summing up his critique in the last paragraph Carr writes:

In the end, I very much hope this book is not an indicator of the direction of future pentateuchal scholarship, especially scholarship conducted in North American contexts…. Aside from my issues in detail with the multitude of textual analyses presented as givens across the book, the main problem I see is the extent to which this book as a whole is a triumph of system over detailed textual observation, caricature of opposition in place of detailed engagement, and a sad example in North American research of ignorance of and lack of specific engagement with recent European scholarship (particularly untranslated German pentateuchal scholarship).

Carr’s criticisms are valid to some extent. At this level you really have to at least give a nod to the larger scholarly world.

However, Baden’s work is doing something very different than what is happening in German pentateuchal scholarship. I’m not sure how he would have adequately addressed Carr’s concerns. A host of “contra” footnotes?

Personally, I found Baden’s interaction with pentateuchal scholarship quite sizable, but his concerns are more akin to my own. I can only hope that Carr doesn’t read the source-critical discussion of the Sinai narrative in my dissertation.

34 Comments leave one →
  1. Jeffrey Stackert permalink
    December 19, 2010 2:52 pm

    For a different perspective on Baden’s book, see

  2. December 19, 2010 3:05 pm

    Looks like the reviewer is expecting a Harvard Ph.D. to be conversant with untranslated German scholarship. That sounds reasonable to me.

    • Jeffrey Stackert permalink
      December 19, 2010 5:05 pm

      I would recommend reading Baden’s book and then evaluating Carr’s claims in light of it. Baden interacts extensively with untranslated German scholarship. It’s just not the scholarship that Carr wants him to cite.

      • December 19, 2010 6:39 pm

        Fair enough.

        • Nathan MacDonald permalink
          December 20, 2010 1:56 am

          I don’t think it would be unfair to see that the book only mentions scholarship that has already been brokered. That is, summaries of those works in English already exist.

  3. December 19, 2010 10:19 pm

    Yes, if there’s one thing Baden goes into great depth on, it’s German scholarship that has been neglected because it was untranslated. Cf. simply his resurrection of the important and forgotten debate on the origins of JE, pp. 13-43. I would have been interested to see which specific scholars Carr feels Baden was neglecting. As it is, the critique seems both a shade broad and a bit vague.

  4. December 20, 2010 12:00 am

    Carr circles the wagons with care and names names: Konrad Schmid, Jan Gertz, Erhard Blum, Reinhard Achenbach, and Christoph Levin, along with Ska and Carr himself.

    If I understand him correctly (he might have been clearer), those are the specific scholars Carr feels Baden is neglecting.

    I haven’t read Baden’s work but it has to be admitted: you can’t do world class pentateuchal source analysis without interacting with at least a subset of the above on a sustained basis.

    Of course, it would be easy to turn that criticism on its head and note that one can’t do world class pentateuchal source analysis without interacting with the work of Hebrew-language scholars like Haran, Schwartz, Rofe, and Yoreh on a sustained basis.

    My first question after reading Carr’s review: is it true, as Carr suggests, that Baden’s D is undefined and without a Compositionsgeschichte of its own in need of postulation? If so, that is not a minor defect.

    My first question after reading Stackert’s review: is it true that both Baden and Stackert believe that D *but not P* interacts on the literary level with precedent “sources”? If so, I believe that Occam’s razor has been misused.

    • Jeffrey Stackert permalink
      December 20, 2010 8:29 am

      Indeed, I do hold, as does Baden, that P shows no clear evidence of direct, literary interaction with the other Torah sources. This is different from dependence upon unidentified, pre-existing material, which seems likely. The Holiness stratum of pentateuchal Priestly literature, in my view, does interact literarily with other Torah sources.

      The issue is an evidentiary one, and it is this issue that must be recalled in any invocation of Occam’s razor. Simplicity is no substitute for a failure to produce compelling evidence. The disagreement on this point normally centers on what counts as evidence. What never counts as evidence is rhetoric such as “there can be no doubt that…”, “it is certainly the case that…”, and the like. Many scholars seem to begin from a presumption of literary interaction, and such rhetoric substitutes for evidence in some of their work.

      • December 20, 2010 10:13 am

        I find that extraordinarily interesting, Jeffrey. But also bewildering.

        It is easiest to explain why by way of an autobiographical excursus. I began my journey through the wilderness of pentateuchal criticism by being convinced by *the arguments,* not the rhetorical flourishes, of Moshe Greenberg,, who found evidence for a “P” editorial layer in Exodus (1969 commentary, 1971 Albright FS). I was a student of Michael Fox at the time, which meant that I was also trained to think of the issues along the lines laid out in Tigay’s “Empirical Models” volume. We also read Kaufmann and Haran, which predisposed me to thinking of “D” and “P” in pre-exilic, not just post-exilic terms. The cognitive dissonance I experienced as I shuttled between the UW-Madison and the U of Toronto (Winnett -> Van Seters; Redford on the Joseph cycle) has never completely dissipated. Then it was off to Rome and the Jesuits: the volume Le Pentateuque en Question (1989), along with Jean Louis Ska’s detailed work on “P” as a redactor (see now his Introduction, which I have in Italian in a 2001 re-edition) introduced me to the world of which Nathan MacDonald speaks. That was topped again when I went to Germany and studied with Crusemann. It was now necessary to think through “Die Entstehung der Pentateuch” nach Peter Weimar/Erich Zenger; nach Erhard Blum; nach Eckart Otto; I admit I did not get as far as “nach Rainer Kratz.”

        I’m not sure I would wish on anyone else a journey through this wilderness. On the other hand, since that was my journey, I might put it this way: when it comes to “P” as a redactor, if one wishes to tell me I need to relearn so much of what I thought I knew, I will expect a detailed smackdown of at least the following three authors relative to the question at hand: Moshe Greenberg; Erhard Blum; and Jean Louis Ska.

        • Jeffrey Stackert permalink
          December 20, 2010 12:46 pm

          Dear John,

          We have read much of the same work, but there is almost always more to read (and reread). On P, I’d recommend a return to Haran as well as a consideration of Schwartz, Torat Haqqedusha, and several of his articles (on P as an independent literary document, see esp. his piece in the Haran Fs). There are also other pieces that have argued well for P as source and not redactional layer (what immediately comes to mind is Koch, “P–Kein Redaktor!” in VT).

          As for Greenberg, I have a piece forthcoming in VT that deals in part with his view of the plagues, which you cite. Regarding his arguments for redactional aesthetics, his tripartite grouping is likely coincidental. This conclusion gains strength from an analysis of the Torah as a whole (which is really where the Documentary Hypothesis stands or falls–not in smaller units), which evinces a consistent method of compilation according to concerns for chronology, preservation, and perseverance with a single source until it is absolutely necessarily to switch. But it is also important to point out that Greenberg distinguishes quite clearly among J and P (his sometime A and B) and the redactor. His redactor is neither of the foregoing.

          I should also note that in current European discussion, there is a tendency to see P as an independent source rather than a redactional layer. The question is really whether this source knows the other Torah sources. Yet I admit fully that the conversation can get a bit fuzzy, for the terms ‘source,’ ‘redactor’ and ‘author’ are oftentimes ill-defined.

  5. December 20, 2010 1:10 am

    John, that might be the most sophisticated way of saying “I haven’t read any of these people” that I have ever seen! 🙂

  6. December 20, 2010 1:34 am

    What’s even funnier is that I have read this and that by almost everyone listed, but I would not be able to go beyond vague generalities and a few specifics if you asked me what version of the documentary hypothesis Ploni Almoni held to.

    However, I can remember the fine detail of face-to-face conversations I’ve had with scholars as different as Rendtorff, Haran, and Christoph Levin. This confirms the rule: we remember what we want to remember.

  7. Nathan MacDonald permalink
    December 20, 2010 2:10 am

    I did read the book before the reviews by Stackert and Carr. I wish I could say that Carr was being unfair. In mitigation it could be said that Baden was poorly advised. I recall that one German scholar (I forget whom) said to me that it took them a year to come to terms with the debate (and the bar is obviously higher if you don’t have German as a Muttersprache). They also said that they would never allow a doctoral student to take on Pentateuchal criticism, only someone doing a Habilitation (the second German doctorate). I think this highlights the problem. There has been an enormous and highly sophisticated debate in the continent over the last 25 years. Little has been brokered into English.

  8. Nathan MacDonald permalink
    December 20, 2010 2:57 am

    It should also be observed that there are no more than a handful of scholars in american world who know the literature sufficiently well to supervise a dissertation on Pentateuchal criticism, even if it were advisable. With the retirement of Graham Davies, there is now no-one in the UK who could supervise in this area so far as I can see. This is something of a death of a tradition, alas (Nicholson, Auld, Johnstone, Davies etc.)

  9. December 20, 2010 12:05 pm

    Dear Nathan and colleagues,
    I share your concern about the incorporation of German scholarship
    and have called out colleagues in reviews myself on that score. So I
    here agree with the principle. Still, I wonder if this issue could be more
    complicated. Baden clearly made a decision to focus on the classical
    period of the development of the Documentary Hypothesis in order to
    make his case. It seems to me that he does so with engagement and
    control of the appropriate literature, including German literature not already
    in translation and not mediated by others. See his extended discussion of Riehm at 40-43, for example. One of the difficulties with current scholarship is that there emerges “politically correct” trends, much as in society as a whole: so that a certain in-group coterie defines the questions and the problem field, sometimes in ways that mark departures from the foundations of the discipline and its history. You are absolutely right, further, to point out the difficulties for graduate training in this field–both in the North American and the UK contexts; on the other hand, there are corresponding difficulties in the European context in regard to adequate immersion in cuneiform literature as a way of defining controls for how authors work with texts; in regard to the use of epigraphy and historical linguistics; and in regard to the use of Second Temple literature as models for the formation of the Pentateuch. I think we can all learn from one another, and need to seek ways of building bridges and enhancing dialogue.

    All best,
    Bernard Levinson

    • Nathan MacDonald permalink
      December 20, 2010 2:35 pm

      Bernard. It is nice to have a broad perspective from one of the handful. Thanks for the observation on Riehm. This is a matter in which I am very happy to be proved wrong.

  10. December 20, 2010 2:10 pm


    I am less bewildered now. I see the point of what you and Baden are up to.

    This is a fun thread. I concur of course with Bernard’s observations.

  11. December 20, 2010 8:38 pm

    I’m glad my little post has generated so much discussion! Like I said in the post above I found Baden’s bibliography quite robust given what he was doing, but I wouldn’t presume to have the knowledge of some who’ve been commenting here.

    I’m also looking forward to Jeff’s article in VT. (I’m assuming it will be related to his excellent Tempelton tour from this past fall.)

  12. December 20, 2010 11:06 pm

    Dear friends,

    For me, the blog has not been simply all fun. I think there is a risk to take at face value the claims made by a review without reading the book itself, to get one’s own sense. I realize that is not always possible, of course, but in some of these things, the stakes are high. I think also, it’s important to recognize that academics and even the elite pentateuchal theory is not some ensconced in some pristine ivory tower, as Seth was gently hinting at. Let me put it another way. Who sets the rules for who should be quoted and how: who determines the players. One wants, certainly, any scholar to address the choices he or she makes, and not to do so is a problem. At the same time, there is also an economics or sociology of knowledge within the discipline and within the various subsections of the discipline, whether in DSS or in Pentateuchal Theory, that can sometimes risk becoming a closed game operating within a determined set of assumptions. There was a fascinating article in the New York Times a week ago about how banks set quite convenient rules for who could participate in the profitable near-monopoly of trading in derivatives. It’s worth reading and considering whether an economic analysis might apply to any of the recent issues under discussion:

    Bernard Levinson

  13. Simeon Chavel permalink
    December 21, 2010 10:59 am


    Though I join the discussion I must admit I do not find this fun at all. I read Baden’s work long before the review came out. Think of your own projects, a review that you feel to be misleading and personal, and responses on the order of, “Well, some of those points sounds reasonable.”

    There are several different points to be made here.

    1. It strikes me as extremely uninformed for anyone who knows Baden’s advisor to wonder whether he could have overseen a dissertation of Baden’s scope fall short on scholarship or not even aim in a current direction (as it seems to be perceived here, but see next point). You may think a bad choice was made but surely it has to have been thought through knowledgeably and logically, not because he’s just not a Pentateuchal scholar.

    2. Again, think of your own projects. When you feel theory has taken a sharp turn and interpretation now precedes from a faulty premise and approach, are you going to engage every single piece written to demonstrate it is wrong? More likely than not, you will engage the theory as a whole, especially those who promoted it and are cited regularly in its wake. Bear in mind, the point Baden is out to argue is one that depends on the older theory and pushes it forward on its own terms. Would it have been gratifying for the rest of us who do not read current Pentateuchal scholarship to see him engage the current combinations of fragmentary, bloc, supplementary, and redaction models that mainly come out of Europe? Sure. Perhaps a chapter like that could have been written. Let us see what his next book brings.

    3. It is simply silly to wonder about Baden’s ability to read German. His book demonstrates he reads it fluently.

    4. Not translating is a rhetorical choice. To suggest otherwise is deeply cynical and borders on slander. Note how many of us cite biblical texts in Hebrew without translation. Perhaps we don’t know biblical Hebrew? Maybe now I might recognize it is not so nice of us to do it after all.

    5. As we are not in emergency medicine, I really cannot fathom what could justify the personal dimension.

  14. Ron Hendel permalink
    December 21, 2010 3:31 pm

    David Carr should be ashamed of the tone and content of his review. Source criticism is not a blood sport. His criticisms are largely unwarranted, and the aggressive ad hominem tone is offensive and unprofessional. For a senior scholar to attack a junior scholar in this way — simply because he disagrees with his conclusions — is arguably an abuse of power.

    Some examples of unwarranted criticism:
    1. Carr criticizes Baden for following Schwartz’s source criticism of Exodus 19-24 and for producing “unprecedented” source criticism of these chapters. Which is it, David?
    2. Carr criticizes Baden for “show[ing] little awareness of or engagement with the last three decades of European scholarship,” yet credits him with interacting with the work of “Konrad Schmid, Jan Gertz, Erhard Blum, Reinhard Achenbach, Christoph Levin, the current author, and Jean Louis Ska, among others.” Which is it, David?
    3. Ramping up the rhetoric, Carr alleges that “such lack of attention to and detailed engagement with (nontranslated) European scholarship borders on incompetence.” This allegation is not only false but is evidence of something worse than incompetence. It is sheer malice.
    4. Carr seems to deny the presuppositions of source criticism by citing his previously published argument that in ancient Israel “scribes creating new documents accessed prior
    sources in memorized form.” There is not a shred of data to substantiate this thesis, and a book review is no place to assert it as a criticism of the book under review.
    5. Carr criticizes Baden for views that are “at odds with that of a large number of contemporary specialists.” This is a bizarre objection, since most of those contemporary specialists do not agree among themselves about the source criticism of these texts. And there is a large number of contemporary specialists for whom Baden’s views are entirely compatible. The important point is, as one of my teachers used to say, the truth is not a scholarly consensus. Carr is merely being arrogant and defensive here.

    Bullying is unacceptable in the playground, and it should also be unacceptable in scholarship. The editorial oversight of this review journal (RBL) is, as I have noted previously, sadly lacking. But we should also expect senior scholars to exercise restraint in their scholarly critiques. I have advised David previously to tone down his angry rhetoric about source critics who disagree with him. Since he has come public with his rancor, I think he should be called out for doing so.

    • Simeon Chavel permalink
      December 21, 2010 3:50 pm

      Bravo and thank you.

  15. December 21, 2010 5:58 pm

    My attempt to lighten things up with the word “fun” went over like a lead balloon.

    I find this conversation enjoyable, not because “the personal dimension” is palpable in the negative sense, but because it is also palpable in the positive sense – excuse my sense of hope – and because I feel as if I understand the issues better thanks to having read not only Carr’s review, but that of Stackert, and the thread of comments here.

    I am particularly hopeful because of Ron Hendel’s comments, which rekindled my faith in the concept of lex talionis.

    “Source criticism is not a blood sport.” Now that’s a great line. But one might argue that it has been a blood sport since the days of Wellhausen. This very thread, including Ron Hendel’s remarks, is proof that the stakes are high in more ways than one. Perhaps this is the case: it is allowable to talk about those stakes in reference to the past, and if politically correct, up to the present – one of my mentors, Frank Cruesemann, does this admirably in the first pages of his “Die Tora,” but otherwise let’s not talk about the senses in which particular source theories are objective correlatives for everything from simple feelings of disgust or pleasure to a full-blown aesthetics of religion.

    Re: depending on book reviews to get an idea of books we have not read. For every book I read, I read reviews of 50 books I will never read. That is not going to change, so a conversation like this one is instructive. Furthermore, a conversation like this one ensures that Baden’s volume will be read by anyone who cares about the future of pentateuchal theory, if only to see what the fuss is all about.

    I feel as if I am at a huge advantage, thank you very much, in the wake of this conversation, whether or not I find the time to read Joel Baden’s volume, though of course my appetite for reading it has now been suitably whetted.

    Thanks Jim, for hosting this comment thread.

    As you complete your dissertation, which I expect will be excellent, you will do well to keep Simeon Chavel’s comment in mind: “Would it have been gratifying for the rest of us who do not read current Pentateuchal scholarship to see [Joel Baden] engage the current combinations of fragmentary, bloc, supplementary, and redaction models that mainly come out of Europe? Sure. ”

    A fortiori, it would have been especially gratifying to someone like Carr, who is a significant producer of current Pentateuchal scholarship, if Baden had done that.

    Speaking for myself, it would be especially gratifying if someone like you, Jim, took the time to make mincemeat of Carr’s proposals, those of Ska, and those of Blum. Or if that truly falls beyond the purview of your research focus, you have at least been “prompted” to explain why in sufficient detail.

  16. David Carr permalink
    December 21, 2010 6:29 pm

    I was alerted by some to this thread where some fairly serious things are said about me and my review of Joel Baden’s book. It is tempting in light of comments above to expand on my review with bibliographies of the relevant works on each text, etc., but the world already has heard enough, I think, about what I think of the book.

    I just want to say that it was not lightly done. I worked closely with the book (both in dissertation and then in FAT form) over the last couple of years as part of another project. I wrote a version of the review a few months back, but put it aside out of concern that my version was too sharp. Believe it or not, coming back to that draft with fresh eyes (and having some advice from colleagues outside the discipline who read it), I did modify /soften it at some points. Perhaps I could have modified it more, but I took care to base it on a close reading of the book itself. Though it is sharp, my review is fairly specific, I think, about elements in the book that I find problematic.

    Some have said as a senior scholar I should not have engaged in such intense and close critique of a junior scholar’s work. I did not do it lightly. I also feel a responsibility as a senior scholar to review work in my discipline. Up to the appearance of my review, the main other review to be published to the best of my knowledge was one by a classmate and good friend of the Joel Baden’s (and someone whose work I have reviewed quite positively) Jeffrey Stackert, who stated that the book was “a landmark in Documentary scholarship” and constituted “the most compelling presentation of the Documentary Hypothesis currently available.” So there we have a review offered by a peer and friend. My review offered a different perspective from a different vantage point.

    That said, though it has been perceived otherwise, I bear no personal ill will toward Joel Baden. I disagree with him on points of substance which I do detail in the review (contrary to Ron Hendel and some others’ allegations). Moreover, though easily overlooked, I do see positive elements in the book, particularly the implicit use of D to isolate pre-D Tetrateuchal material (something not unique to Baden, but he has some evocative examples of this). That too is stated in the review, but toward its end.

  17. David Carr permalink
    December 21, 2010 8:02 pm

    Correction: I was misinformed. Baden and Stackert were not classmates.

  18. Nathan MacDonald permalink
    December 22, 2010 3:10 am

    There are a number of points made by Hendel and Simi that I would dearly like to respond to, but I shall refrain from doing so. Rather like John Hobbins I feel the discussion perhaps needs to be given a less anguished tone. (I’m not sure about Bernard’s economics analogy, Baden is becoming more like Julian Assange as far as I can see. There are those who want him strung up for challenging the status quo, and another side who want him celebrated as a champion of the alternative narrative). In view of that I would like to try and make some positive suggestions and see what we all might do to improve the situation.

    I have already suggested that seeking to tackle Pentateuchal theory in a doctoral thesis is inadvisable, but what about the student in Jim Getz’s situation who tries to work on a particular Pentateuchal text, like the Sinai narrative, and then seeks to make sense of recent German essays and monographs?? As I have tried to come to terms with the recent discussion I have found it like treading onto the surface of Mars – a completely disorientating experience for which I have almost no help from what I learnt in Graduate school.

    In this respect I think the past generation of scholars has left us peculiarly bereft. Ernst Nicholson’s book on Pentateuchal scholarship is now dated and is rather like the caricature of a policeman standing at the supposed wreck that is German pentateuchal criticism: “moving on, please, nothing to see”. The idea that continental scholarship is nothing more than a cacophany with nothing to contribute to anglo-american (or Israeli) discussion of the Pentateuch is a canard, but one that has been, and is, widely propagated (I think only of David Clines’ address at the Edinburgh SBL on the anniversary of Rendtorff’s work).

    It seems to me that Baden has done what many of us have had to do in our doctoral work: orientate ourselves to an alien world without much support and with a limited knowledge of German (contra Simi). Bernard is right to suggest that Baden has worked through an untranslated portion of Riehm, but John Rogerson’s Old Testament criticism appears to have been the midwife. But how many PhD scholars have needed that kind of help? Most, I would imagine. How many feel confident discussing the most recent literature or orientating themselves to it? Few, I would imagine. Most of us need some form of mediation or brokerage, and there has not been much around. In this respect, when unkind reviews come (and I’ve had mine, Simi) it is hard not to feel that the children’s teeth have been set on edge because of the sins of the fathers.

    What can be done, then? Clearly there is no replacement to having the best German skills one can (ok, ok modern Hebrew too, I hang my head), and that is a challenge for most US and UK doctoral students. Beyond that some help needs to be given to broker this scholarship. It’s only when some of the animating concerns and the importance of the debate is made clear, that students and scholars are going to know why it needs to be engaged. Some of this has been done with the publication of volumes from the Pentateuch section at SBL, but they are narrowly focused on particular research questions (the demise of the Yahwist; Torah and Persia, etc.). So, here’s a couple of suggestion.

    First, could we gather together enough people with the requisite competencies in German and modern Hebrew to produce a volume of collected essays that Eisenbrauns could publish in their Sources for Biblical and Theological Study series that flourished in the late 90s. The Knoppers and McConville volume has 30 essays in it. Since an underlying issue in the discussion of Baden’s book is also something of a “you neglect German scholarship” – “but you haven’t read any Israeli scholarship”, it would be good to cover some significant selections from recent Israeli work. Each essay would need to be translated and provided with an introduction that situates it.

    Second, perhaps we should have something at SBL (maybe sitting within it, or alongside) where those of us who are junior scholars in the US and Europe do nothing more than try to describe what we see as going on in our different worlds, and what animates the debates that we are familiar with. Hell, we could even have continental scholars who gave their papers in German and allow questions in either language. For many of us we don’t need a research paper, but some schooling. I am aware that I learn more from people than I do from books (or perhaps better I learn different things from each). There are frustrations on both sides of the Atlantic at the way that work is ignored, marginalized, misunderstood and caricatured. (I know one junior German scholar whose paper was patronised and ridiculed at an SBL meeting for being “so German” and having nothing that anyone wanted to hear. They have not attended SBL since).

    Other thoughts?

    • Nathan MacDonald permalink
      December 22, 2010 4:41 am

      To remove potential confusion: The first suggestion is a book of translated essays (not fresh compositions). So, e.g., Perlitt on the end of P; Kratz on Deuteronomy 1-3 etc.

  19. December 22, 2010 9:18 am


    I would love to see, say, Bernard Levinson and Jeffrey Stackert edit such an Eisenbrauns volume.

    It is of course a shame to read someone like Perlitt in translation: his command of German prose style is itself worth the price of admission. My own wish is that volumes of translated work come packaged with a CD of the same texts in the original languages.

    Gone are the days, I suppose, when a publisher like Harvard University Press might publish a volume of collected essays with at least a token number of contributions in German and French – I am reminded of the Cross-Talmon volume, on which I cut my teeth in text-criticism.

  20. Ron Hendel permalink
    December 22, 2010 1:09 pm

    There will be an important (and massive) volume coming out next year with essays from most of the relevant scholars — The Pentateuch: International Perspectives on Current Research, eds. Thomas Dozeman, Konrad Schmid, and Baruch Schwartz. The book derives from a conference on the Pentateuch that was held at Zurich last winter. All of the essays are in English. This volume is a laudable attempt to create dialogue among the different schools and practitioners of Pentateuchal scholarship.

  21. Mark Leuchter permalink
    January 22, 2011 11:26 am

    I’d like to add my two Canadian cents (which, with the current exchange rate, comes to just about 1.98 US cents).

    There are two things that bother me a lot about this matter. First, and foremost, is the rhetoric of ferocious reviews, which seem to surface every now and then. When we write a book review, we are responding to a work that represents years of someone’s life and immeasurable effort, dedication and, often, dramatic sacrifice (I speak from experience, and I know I’m not alone). I think it is perfectly fine to use a book review to engage in a detailed critique, but I also think a spirit of collegiality and sensitivity should accompany this. And too often, that sensitivity gets lost in a reviewer’s commitment to his or her own methodological predilectionds and agendas. Reviewers must remember that in many cases, they are not just reviewing a scholarly enterprise but the intellectual raison d’etre of the author, who has given up much in his or her own life to complete the work under consideration, or who has invested much into what he or she has created.

    Second — I am increasingly disturbed by the polarity of the rhetoric I encounter by both the supporters of Neo-Documentarian approaches and by critics. It is not uncommon to hear people say “nobody uses J or E anymore” — but obviously this isn’t true. Rather eminent scholars still find that paradigm to be useful, and much can be learned from the work of those scholars even if one does not subscribe to the source-critical approach. Ton say “nobody uses J and E” implies that those who do are, in effect, nobodies, whose scholarship is not worth engaging (whether or not this is what is intended by speakers of the “nobody uses J and E” language is immaterial; the effect of such language is what matters). By the same token, some documentarians vehemently dismiss alternate methods and hold steadfast to the conviction that the 4 source model is the only, or the best, way to analyze, categorize, and understand the development of the Pentateuch’s composition and redaction history. I see no benefit in promoting such divisive attitudes. It creates a sort of scholarly atomism, where we huddle into methodological camps that refuse to engage or recognize the merits of scholarship emerging from other camps.

    To borrow a phrase introduced to me by my colleague Jeremy Schipper, I don’t really ahve a dog in this fight. I don’t do a lot of work in Pentateuch, so I am not particularly committed to either method as a matter of principle. However, when I do decide to do something involving Pentateuchal material, I find that there are insights of great depth provided by both those who use the documentary and non-documentary approaches. I don’t think they are, or should be, mutually exclusive…especially because the people who are using them in contemporary scholarship are VERY smart and it would be foolish to think I cannot learn something from their work even if I think the textual categories they use don’t directly apply to what I’m doing. In the end, I think carrying an ideological banner should not preclude the viability of alternatives. But it often does, and the current discussion thread is evidence of the damage it can do. To wit, I direct the documentarians and non-documentarians to the following youtube clip, which I hope they will take to heart:

  22. Mark Leuchter permalink
    January 22, 2011 1:25 pm

    My apologies for the little typos in my post.


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