I am reading Robert Karl Gnuse’s The Elohist, where he defends the existence of a contributory document to the Pentateuch, called the Elohist or E.
Some of the critics of E deny the whole theory about documents. Some of these are conservative scholars who cling to Moses as the author or the Pentateuch. They hold that editors added a few things later–like the record of Moses’ death– but that, for the most part, Moses wrote it.
Some other scholars view the Pentateuch as an inventive, unsourced and non-historical construct by a late author. One that Gnuse deals with and I have also read is Norman Whybray. He criticized the methods of those who reconstruct documents behind the text. The variation in vocabulary such as between Elohim and Yahweh as the name of God and the designation of the holy mountain as Sinai in one place and Horeb in another, he says is just the literary variations of one author. He thinks the same thing is true of doublets, like the similar stories about the incident involving a Patriarch’s wife in Egypt or Gerar.
Gnuse’s impression of Whybray’s work is similar to mine. Whybray is plausible only in the abstract. Yes, a single author could have played around with different words and enjoyed telling the same stories in different contexts. But when you actually read the Pentateuch, common sense leads you to see sources, or at least fragments, woven together there.
That Moses was the single author or that the stories were a late literary construct by a single author, are both theories make for more problems than a theory of sources.
Gnuse defends the older reasons for thinking there was an E source. He also adds some that I had not considered. For instance, he points to several places that refer to events that must have been part of E, but have been edited out of our text. An example is Genesis 46:4 where God gives Jacob a prediction about his death, including that his lost son, Joseph, will close his eyes. There is no story in Genesis that says Joseph did this. The story fulfilling that prediction would fit at about Genesis 50:1-2. But it isn’t there. So Gnuse thinks that there was a document that told the story of Joseph closing his father’s eyes. But it has not survived into our version of Genesis.
Another new argument to me is one that Gnuse has picked up from Joel Baden. According to Baden, Deuteronomy 1-9 quotes stories about the wilderness wanderings that come from E but not J. In other words, it looks like the author of these chapters used the Elohist, but not the Yahwist. Therefore, he must have known it as a separate document.
Gnuse deals with a number of individual passages in a way too detailed for me to get into here.
Probably later in the book, he will deal with what I think is the most striking argument. That is that each of the strands of the Pentateuch has a different portrayal of God. At some point a single person, like Ezra, put these all together. But it seems to me that we can also separate movements and communities within ancient Israel where these traditions about God had their own life.
I should stress that Gnuse has a distinct kind of documentary theory. EDJP is his sequence for the dating of the documents. But he is also open to the idea of Baden that the sources may have developed separately and not built upon each other before they were combined in order to introduce the whole work to the public as in Nehemiah 8.
But Gnuse’s own theory is this:
. . .the Yahwist has used Elohist material in a Yahwist history and has partially rewritten the Elohist accounts, supplemented the Elohist accounts, and omitted some accounts, to give us that coinfused and blurred appearance in the Elohist narratives (this appears 16% into the Kindle book).
He compares this to the way Luke used Mark according to Synoptic Gospel studies. Even more extensively than Luke, the Yahwist added, rearranged, and omitted accounts while revising the vocabulary.
Unlike the old Wellhausen theory, Gnuse does not have an editor splicing together two documents. It is the Yahwist himself (or herself, I would say, since it is a serious theory that the Yahwist was female) who is using E “in piecemeal fashion.”