While traveling, I visited McKay Books in Nashville. This is a huge used bookstore. Students at Vanderbilt Divinity School are the former owners of many of the theology books. I was able to pick up a copy of Georg Fohrer’s Introduction to the Old Testament. I already have his History of Israelite Religion. In that book he mentioned his theory that the Torah source strata that we call J actually reveals another source behind it, which Fohrer calls N, and referred to his Introduction.
I know that the whole idea of documentary sources for the books of Moses has become less influential today. And yet the document Deuteronomy exists and the document Leviticus exists and both coincide with material in other books. At least D and P look like documentary sources. So I am still interested in the old hypothesis. It has been fruitful for the attempts of people like Stephen L. Cook, Israel Knohl, and Jacob Milgrom to understand Hebrew Scripture. And Richard Elliot Friedman has given several lively defenses of a form of the documentary hypothesis.
Therefore, I am still very interested in ideas like those of Fohrer. Of course, I may conclude that he speculates beyond the evidence.
Before I write some posts about Fohrer’s work, I want to give some history of the line of Old Testament introductions that Fohrer’s work concludes. In 1910 Ernst Sellin published in Germany an Introduction to the Old Testament. He then, up through the 1950‘s, issued several revisions of his work often disagreeing with his previous editions.
The reason for this is that he payed much attention to the background material from other ancient Near Eastern cultures. The twentieth century brought to light more and more new material from Mesopotamian and Hittite sources. This caused Sellin to keep altering his positions. The attractive thing about him was that he wasn’t so attached to his own theories that he couldn’t change when new information came to light.
In the 1950‘s Sellin joined with Martin Rost to publish another Introduction. Rost was going to continue the revisions, but really wanted to concentrate on other projects. (I am most familiar with his work on the court history of David in Samuel/Kings. That may have been the project he wanted to concentrate on.) So Rost persuaded Georg Fohrer to do a new Introduction in the Sellin-Rost line. Fohrer published in 1961. The English translation came out in 1963.
So it is an old book. But the only major new discovery of a bunch of relevant texts since then has been at Ebla. Since he bases so much on the Hittite archives and the libraries at places like Ugarit and Mari, and since I can’t see where the Ebla texts would alter anything in a major way, the work is not that out of date. He knew about most of the relevant material.
I find it inspiring that this series of books got written and published in Germany during a period that went from relatively low key anti-Judaism to genocide. Writing sympathetically about the Hebrew Scriptures must have been unpopular and eventually dangerous.