I am reading again the part of Georg Fohrer’s Introduction to the Old Testament that deals with the Pentateuch (the five books Genesis-Deuteronomy with which the Bible begins). This a big part of the book–more than 90 pages.
Modern scholarship has departed from the tradition that Moses wrote the whole Pentateuch. This is because of what Fohrer calls the “nonhomogeneity” of these texts. In shorter words, he means that there are diverse, separate and contrary parts of the books.
Scholars have proposed three main solutions. One was the fragmentary theory: that someone compiled these books from a bunch of disconnected lists, laws, poems, and stories. Another was the supplemental theory: this usually claimed that the author was someone living after Israel’s exile to Babylon who wrote a prehistory for Israel and used some old documents and traditions to supplement his work. The one that had the most adherents was the documentary theory.
The documentary theory identified four documents that existed before editors combined them into our five books. This is sometimes known as the J, E, P, D theory after the letters assigned to the four documents. We do not have copies of any of these documents. Many people have pointed out that the theory is subjective and depends on reading things into the documents. And yet the “nonhomogeneity” of the Pentateuch is real and does not need to be read into the texts.
Fohrer adopts much of what we call the documentary hypothesis. But he rejects the term, “documentary.” He wants to talk about the composite nature of the books by saying that there are four or more “source strata” behind them. These strata include some continuous narratives, but these were not necessarily documents. His understanding of how they came together he calls the “addition method”.
He gives the example of the Noah’s flood story in Genesis. There were originally two complete stories of the flood. You can easily separate them out. In one story the flood lasted 40 plus 21 days (Genesis 8:7, 10-12). In the other it lasted twelve months plus ten days (Genesis 8:3-5). In one story Noah rescued seven pair of unclean animals and one pair of clean (Genesis 7:2). In another story he rescued one pair of all animals (Genesis 7:8). These were two complete stories, not isolated fragments. Someone just added the two together without fully harmonizing them.
Sometimes the same stories appear as separate events. For instance, there are three stories about the patriarch who passed his wife off as his sister (Genesis 12:10-20, Genesis 20, and Genesis 26:7-10).
Some texts show a preference for certain words. One stratum usually uses the name Yahweh for God. Another prefers the name Elohim. And still another uses Elohim for the prehistory and period of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; but uses Yahweh beginning with Moses (see Exodus 6:2). One stratum prefers to call the mountain of God Sinai. Two others prefer to call it Horeb.
There are codes of law with different purposes and perspectives. In Exodus 20- 23 there is a Covenant Code that differs from the Code of Deuteronomy in Deuteronomy 12-26 and from the Holiness Code in Leviticus 17-26.
These are just a few of the reasons for seeing three or four different sources behind the Pentateuch. Fohrer talks about the motives for the growth of these traditions. The motive was not to give a precise and scholarly history of the world and Israel.
The love of storytelling in folk cultures is one motive. Another motive may have been to use the stories in worship. Certain stories got told at Passover. Others may have related to other festivals. But Fohrer thinks that some scholars have gone too far in trying to make everything fit into worship and liturgy.
He respects Artur Weiser, the author of another German Old Testament introduction. But he thinks Weiser has built a speculative house of cards by claiming that much of the Pentateuch was put together to be a kind of lectionary for recitation at a covenant renewal festival. Fohrer says, “The elevation of a single cultic action to the status of the sole explanation for a history lasting at least a thousand years is, however, suspect from the very outset in view of the multiplicity of the data” (p. 119).
Fohrer assumes many motives behind the growth of the traditions. But he holds up one as not having received enough attention. Much of the early tradition has to do with claims of various tribes to land. This is taken up in the Abraham, Isaac and Jacob stories about the promise of the land. So a strong motive for many of the stories was to give a divine basis for claims to territory.