Source Criticism of Genesis 12-24

Lyn Perry
Feb. 1, 1991
OT Criticism

A Reaction to Source Criticism methodology as applied to Genesis 12--24

The source criticism method involves breaking the given text into sections based on a given set of criteria and assigning each of these sections to a theoretical source document. The criteria include the use of the divine name and other distinctive vocabulary, but also account for distinctive theological approaches and literary styles of the sources. In Genesis 12--24, only the J, E, and P documents were found, of course, though a D source also exists. The J and the P sources appear frequently in these chapters, with the E source appearing much less frequently and only toward the middle and end of the section of chapters. There don't seem to be any transitions between the sources, and in fact, there appears to be an extremely large amount of "cutting and pasting" of sources within a story, and even worse, within a verse or unit of thought.

While theory indicates that the sources originated from different parts of the land of Israel, I don't see any evidence that would pin-point one source as being written in the north and another in the south. Certainly, there are indications that the sources are provincial, but I don't see enough evidence to be able to say which source came from what area. The J document assumes the reader knows where "the oaks of Moreh" are (12:6), and that the reader knows southern hill country geography such that they would have a good idea which mountain is meant when the text says, "the mountain on the east of Bethel" (12: 8). The P document must have been written in a location different from the J document, for when it uses Kiriath-Arba (23:2) and Mamre (13:18, 18:1, 23:19), the text has to explain that this is also known as Hebron.

It seemed to me that, for the most part, the source critical method could be valid, if the criteria is not just the divine names but also the other vocabulary, literary and theological considerations. However, in chapter 24, there is so much apparent interleaving of documents that it seems a little ridiculous. For example, the same splice of ". . . LORD, the God of my master Abraham" is used four times. Each time, the J document is interrupted by a phrase of the P document before being allowed to continue.

Though the method seemed to be reasonable most times, it still left me with a few questions of how to handle pieces of the text. What should be done with double divine names such as "LORD God"? Is it really reasonable to think that one word from another document would be inserted right into the middle of a thought from another document? How does one decide which document is the default document? In other words, when there are not any truly distinctive markers, which document do you assume? Do you assume that the last document used continues so as to create as large a chunk as possible from one document? I decided to default to the J document because it is known as being a storyteller, but I really didn't see any definite markers to justify this.

In summary, I think that, as long as multiple criteria are used to help determine separate documents, the method is fairly reasonable. But there are several places in this small sample of the Torah where the method seems to become unreasonable since it forces a large amount of interleaving of documents.