Ancient Hebrew thought and culture: its impact upon the multiple redactor hypothesis of the Pentateuch narratives

While many fundamentalist Christians and conservative Jews still generally accept that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, the prevailing view in the field of Biblical scholarship and religious studies for the past three to four hundred years has been that Moses did not write these books. The consensus of this scholarship is that the Pentateuch is a compilation of intricately woven and elaborately layered texts collected by numerous editors over an extended period of time involving hundreds of years. Although numerous elaborate theories as to the authorship of the Pentateuch have been promulgated over the centuries, the most generally accepted theory, known as the Documentary Hypothesis, (also called the Graf-Wellhausen Hypothesis) holds that the Pentateuch is a composite work containing at least four major documentary sources or strands that were written over a lengthy period of time by multiple editors (or "redactors" as scholars prefer to call them). The four strands have been assigned the letters J (Yahwist), E (Elohist), D (Deuteronomist), and P (Priestly), each representing a different document or source that was woven into the fabric of the Biblical narratives. Ongoing research continues to tackle the thorny issues involving the disparate and confusing layering of the narrative versions contained in the Pentateuch. However, as problematic as it is to understand the codification process of the Pentateuch narratives, it is possible to promote the notion that these narratives, despite being written in a sequence that suggests to the contemporary reader a chronological progression, do not occur chronologically, because the ancient Hebrew redactors had a world view that differed significantly from that of a contemporary reader. According to this interpretation, a single editor of the Pentateuch could have cut and spliced oral narrative details to present a multifaceted truth concept by setting in sequence two different written versions that bring into focus two different dimensions of the issue or event being discussed. Additionally, the linguistic quandaries, reiterations, discrepancies, stylistic disparities and unexpected gyrations in theological viewpoint that characterize the Pentateuch narratives would not create misunderstandings for the typical editor and reader of the second millennium B.C., since apparently conflicting versions of the same event set side by side, far from disturbing their original audience, would have been perfectly justified in a form of logic that many contemporary readers no longer subscribe to. These narratives incorporate multiple facets of "truth" in a story that although disjointed logically, chronologically and substantively (at least from the perspective of many readers), would make sense to the ancient Hebrew listener and reader. Thus, contemporizing the ancient Pentateuch texts by squeezing them into a mold that advocates contemporary methods of analysis, which in turn promote notions of unity and logical coherence (as determined by Western societal and literary norms) does not accept these texts for what they are: a purposeful patchwork of texts that have their own definition of literary unity and comprehensiveness that is in agreement with the ancient Hebrew world view and which may or may not encompass our own contemporary explanatory systems. David Parsons CSUSM, May 2005 Keywords: narrative logic, multiple facets of truth, Pentateuch narratives, Documentary Hypothesis, Hebrew thought, Hebrew culture, time