The Great Utility of the Documentary Hypothesis
Someone asked me about the Documentary Hypothesis (DH) yesterday. In the course of explaining the hypothesis, I realized, yet again for the thousandth time, how useful and important the DH really is. During my undergrad there was hardly a course in which the DH did not come up. Three hundred level Dead Sea Scrolls course? Check, DH. Hundred level OT class? Check, DH. Israelite religion? Check, DH. Hermeneutics? Check, DH.
Again, and again, and again, the DH is a necessary concept to make sense of the textual development of the Torah, and the internal evidence of the Torah.
I thought perhaps modifying a quote from a post last week might be in order today:
The Documentary Hypothesis is not a theory in crisis. It is not teetering on the verge of collapse. It has not failed as a scientific explanation. There is evidence for the DH , gobs and gobs of it. It is not just speculation or a faith choice or an assumption or a religion. It is a productive framework for lots of historical and textual research, and it has amazing explanatory power. There is no conspiracy to hide the truth about the failure of Mosaic authorship. There has really been no failure of the DH as a scientific theory. It works, and it works well.
Of course, Wellhausen’s original hypothesis has been modified and added to. This does not demonstrate its weakness, but rather its explanatory strength: he was on the right path! Adding an H source or splitting J into J1 and J2 does not in any way strengthen a single argument against JEDP as opposed to single authorship. One might as well suggest that the colour blue proves Moses wrote the Torah.
This is the strength of the scientific process: it modifies in light of new evidence and seeks to work better! You love this when it comes to your computer, technology, and especially medicine. You love the fact the scientific process works better when you go to a hospital and get a pill, and do not have to go to an apothecary and have to eat goat penis ground into a delicious powder while sacrificing a dove during full moonlight!
Simply put: The DH. It is a productive framework for lots of historical and textual research, and it has amazing explanatory power.