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Higher Criticism.

1. Biblical higher criticism is an investigation of the origin of the books of the Bible. In distinction from lower criticism (see Textual Criticism) it deals with such questions as authorship, hist. background, authenticity, integrity, and unity of the books. It is profitable to evaluate properly the hist. and literary data supplied by the Bible and other hist. sources.

2. Conservative scholars have come to regard the work of most higher critics negatively, pointing out that most conclusions of higher critics make it impossible to accept at face value what Scripture itself says about the origin and authorship of a book or parts of it.

3. Theories of higher critics about the origin and composition of the Pentateuch* and other books reveal their methodology and its results.

4. Critical views regarding the Pentateuch are not all of recent origin. Origen* refuted Celsus* (Contra Celsum, IV, 33–55). Sporadic doubts about the authorship of the Pentateuch rose in the Middle Ages. Sweeping attacks were made by T. Hobbes* and B. Spinoza,* but their views were not gen. accepted. Higher criticism as a systematic and gen. method with specific criteria of investigation began in the latter part of the 18th c.

5. Most higher critics hold that the Pentateuch is not the earliest book of the Bible but is the product of oral and literary activity completed toward the end of the OT period, after the return from Babylonian captivity; the substance of some parts may derive from the Mosaic age, but the present structure of the Pentateuch resulted from development spanning a millennium of literary activity.

6. There is a growing tendency to recognize the problem as complex. But most higher critics regard the Pentateuch as the result of literary activity in 4 major stages producing 4 main strands of materials or sources (Ger. Quellen). See also “Q.”

7. This “source hypothesis” or “documentary hypothesis” labels the 4 strands J, E, D, P (Jahwist, Elohist, Deuteronomist, and Priestly writers).

8. There is some variety of opinion, but higher critics are agreed in gen. on a timetable for the origin and fusion of these sources. J is dated no earlier than the time of David (11th c. BC). Since E reflects traditions current in the N Kingdom, its origin is dated prior to the fall of Samaria ca. 722 BC About 100 yrs. later the fused J-E document was supplemented by a strand produced by D. The Priestly writer or writers flourished after the destruction of Jerusalem 586 BC After the Babylonian exile these accumulated and interwoven materials were edited into Pentateuch form by an unknown writer or writers.

9. The 4 main strands have been identified and isolated according to literary criteria held to be valid in the study of any documents, Intense study, great ingenuity, and vast learning have gone into this dissection and linguistic analysis. It is held that the Pentateuch must be of composite origin because certain accounts (e.g., the creation story) and laws (e.g., the Decalog) appear more than once in slightly different versions. These “doublets” appear in various stages of fusion. Some parallel accounts have been left almost unchanged and have merely been set down side by side; others have been woven together so skillfully that only the seam and an occasional spot of color appears here and there to identify the original material. Further proof that the Pentateuch is the work of many hands is sought in vocabulary and style; e.g., J uses Jahweh (Jehovah), E uses Elohim (God) as a name of the Supreme Being and each source has many words that appear almost exclusively in its strand. A distinct style is predicated for each source; J is volkstümlich, popular; P is pedantic and statistically dry; D. is highly historical.

10. The documentary hypothesis finds each strand marked also by varying points of view. Each writer is said to reflect a stage in the development of Israel's concept of God, J speaking of God in strikingly anthropomorphic terms that do not occur to so marked a degree in E. Later sources give further evidence of growing stress on the monotheistic and transcendental nature of God not found in the earlier writer. Each source also differs in treating Israel's hist., and its choice of materials is dictated by the aim of the writer.

11. Critics admit that it may be difficult to apply these criteria consistently. But they say there is enough validity to make the cumulative evidence conclusive.

12. This view of the origin of the Pentateuch, called the Graf-Wellhausen theory because it was developed esp. by K. H. Graf* and J. Wellhausen,* appeared in rudimentary form ca. a c. earlier. J. Astruc* concluded that Moses incorporated into Gn at least 2 main sources, one of which uses Elohim, the other Jahweh, to denote God. J. G. Eichhorn (see Eichhorn, 2) is regarded by many as the father of modern higher criticism; he elaborated Astruc's documentary hypothesis by applying and broadening its principles to the whole Pentateuch; in the last ed. of Einleitung in das Alte Testament (1823–24) he concluded that the Pentateuch was a compilation of sources later than Moses, though he conceded that some of the sources may have been of Mosaic origin.

13. But development of the documentary theory did not proceed in a straight line. A rival theory of the origin of the Pentateuch was introd. by Alexander Geddes (1737–1802; Scot. RC) and later championed by W. M. L. De* Wette. Their view that the Pentateuch resulted from fusion of many indep. strands and pieces was called the “fragment theory.” Acc. to it the final ed. was not Moses, but the compiling took place at the time of the Exile, though some material may be traced to Moses' time. The main thesis of this theory was later discarded, but its defenders contributed one of the permanent features of modern documentary theory: identification of the core of Dt, now called the Deuteronomic code, as part of the reform movement of Josiah and attributed to Moses as a literary device.

14. Another rival view that found favor for a time was the “supplement theory,” which posits one initial document (Grundschrift) supplanted by additions of later writers. The core document was regarded as appearing in the 11th or 10th c. BC; Mosaic authorship was considered impossible. The most influential sponsor of this theory was G. H. A. Ewald.*

15. Neither the fragment theory nor the supplement theory survived for many yrs. H. C. K. F. Hupfeld* revived the documentary hypothesis 1853 in Die Quellen der Genesis und die Art ihrer Zusammensetzung von neuem untersucht, and it emerged dominant (see pars. 5–12 above).

16. Other scholars in the 20th c. have sought to supplement and even displace the documentary hypothesis by stressing the part that oral transmission rather than written sources played in the development. J. F. H. Gunkel* stressed the need of recognizing the oral beginnings of ancient literature which have their origin in definite settings of their presentation (Sitz* im Leben) and which are still recognizable in certain literary forms (Gattungen). Constant recital at various times and occasions modified and enlarged the first short and simple narratives and resulted in more complex and variegated composition in literary form. This attempt to find antecedents of the written form is known as “traditio-historical” research. A more radical rejection of the literary source hypothesis in favor of a long and reliable oral transmission is advanced by a group of Scand. scholars such as Johannes Peder Ejler Pedersen (b. 1883 in Illebö (or Lindelse), Langeland, Denmark. Ed. and tr. Muhammedansk mystik. Other works include Der Eid bei den Semiten; Israel: Its Life and Culture; Scepticisme Israelite; Islams Kultur) and K. I. A. Engnell.* They and the followers of Gunkel also repudiate Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.

17. Conclusions of higher criticism were contested from the outset by conservative scholars. Investigations have been made to disprove the validity of the linguistic canons on which higher critical theories rest.

18. Opposing literature has also pointed to divergence in higher critical theories. No 2 critics agree on a detailed analysis of literature in question. They differ even in major issues. The same book or sections of a book are distributed by various scholars over many cents. and are assigned to many different hands. Multiplicity of theories, often mutually contradictory, does not preclude possibility that 1 theory may be correct, but it indicates the highly subjective character of the investigation and its lack of scientific checks and criteria.

19. Modern archaeol. has also had a sobering effect on the claims of higher criticism. Results of excavations have had direct bearing on some literary questions, as in the case of the Ras Shamra inscriptions. But it is above all in the hist. field that archaeol. has shown some higher critical theories to be unreliable. WR

See also Fenton, Ferrar; Wilson, Robert Dick.

O. T. Allis, The Five Books of Moses (Philadelphia, 1943); G. W. Anderson, A Critical Introduction to the Old Testament (London, 1959); A. Bentzen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 5th ed., 2 vols. in 1 (Copenhagen, 1959); U. Cassuto, The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch, tr. I. Abrahams (Jerusalem, 1961); J. Orr, The Problem of the Old Testament (New York, 1926); R. H. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament (New York, 1948), abridged ed. The Books of the Old Testament (New York, 1957); J. E. Steinmueller, A Companion to Scripture Studies, 2d ed., II (New York, 1942); E. J. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament, rev. ed. (London, 1964).

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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