I am continuing to read Israel Knohl’s The Divine Symphony. He thinks the Hebrew Bible has several different voices arising from historical factions in ancient Israel. The faction I discussed in my last post was that of the priests who maintained the inner sanctuary of Solomon’s Temple. This pretty much corresponds to the P document of the documentary source hypothesis.
The whole documentary hypothesis that says there were several documents that got stitched together to make up the first five books of the Bible comes under withering fire from scholars these days. You often read that this whole theory has been debunked. Conservative scholars say this. R. N. Whybray said this.
To me the problem with both the conservatives and Whybray is that they have single author theories. For conservatives the author is Moses–with a few later additions, so that somebody other than Moses records Moses’ death, for instance. Moses would have had to use older traditions for Genesis. For Whybray the single author is an unknown person hundreds of years later who pulled together oral traditions. There are a number of German scholars who reject the documentary hypothesis for more complicated theories that don’t talk about authors, but about traditions, complexes and strands that built up over time.
For me, someone who for years has read and interpreted the Bible, the variations in the Pentateuch do not seem to come from one author. Leviticus and Deuteronomy do not sound at all like the same author. The first part of Exodus and much of the last part of Exodus–the same thing. So I still find it helpful to use the designations J, E, P, and D; even if I don’t think they were exactly documents cut and pasted together. (When I was in seminary back before word processing, one student had a project where he actually used real scissors and paste to put together a version of each of the sources.)
Knohl uses the sources to isolate factions within ancient Israel that had different theologies. You don’t need to believe in a full-fledged documentary hypothesis to notice that there are two stories and two different theologies in the seven days of creation in Genesis 1 and the Eden story in the next chapters. In Genesis 1 God creates man as male and female on the sixth day after the plant world and the animal world. But in the other story, God makes a garden, then the man, then the animals, and finally the woman. In the first story, God says that everything he has made is very good. In the second, YHWH says that it is not good that the man should be alone.
Knohl sees Genesis 1 as characteristic of the Priestly Torah and the Eden story as characteristic of the Yahwist.
One of the differences in theology has to do with the divine name. The Priests call God Elohim in Genesis, but YHWH after the revelation to Moses. They worship YHWH as lofty and distant. The Yahwist puts the name YHWH back into Genesis so that the patriarchs know God by that name as well. YHWH is even known in Eden. And YHWH is not so lofty and aloof. He walks in the garden and personally makes clothes for Adam and Eve.
A second difference has to do with the understanding of evil. For P, evil has been suppressed by the good creation. The Temple rituals aid in keeping it suppressed. But for J, evil has its place in creation. The serpent is God’s creation. Adam and Eve are like children who grow up and come to “know good and evil” under the coaching of the serpent. God did not mean for them to stay children. Evil was like leaven for bread, mysterious and a little creepy, but necessary for the process.
The threat is that humans will become immortal and be like God. Death, for J, rather than seeping up from primordial evil, has a purpose in keeping humanity from overstepping its bounds. I found it very interesting that Knohl sees the cheribim having different roles for J and P. In P representations of the cheribim stand above the Ark of the Covenant as symbols of God’s presence. But in J, the cheribim’s role is to separate man from God. The cheribim prevents a return to Eden.
What kind of faction were the Yahwists? For Knohl, it seems the palace is their venue. In Jerusalem, there would have been scribes at the Temple and at the royal court. Did the two write down divergent traditions and have different understandings of God? That is the implication of Knohl’s thought.
In closing, since Knohl is not shy about expressing some relatively outside-the-box conjectures, let me express an idea I have played with. Perhaps, J as well as some of the court history material we find in Samuel and Kings, arose in the circle of the queen mother rather than the king. Bathsheba seems to have orchestrated Solomon’s seizure of power and the queen mother remained so powerful an institution that king Asa had to overthrow one in order to institute reforms (1 Kings 15:13). More than one scholar has suggested that J was a woman. Perhaps there were scribes who served the queen mother.