Saturday, 4 August 2012

The Documentary Hypothesis

This is Week Twelve of Giford's Bible Study Programme.
In the beginning God created the Heaven and the earth...
- Gen 1:1 - 4:1+
Length: 5/5
Controversy: 5/5
Top Verses Rank: 7 (The most popular verse in this series, by some way!)

There are two main words used to refer to God in the OT. The first is Elohim, which simply means 'God' (or 'the Gods', but let's not go there). The second is YHWH (sometime given as Jehova or Yahweh), the four letters that represent the personal name of the Hebrew God. In the KJV - and most other English Bibles - the former is translated as 'God' and the latter as 'LORD' or 'LORD God'. Now flick through the first few chapters of the Bible (or better still, go through with two coloured highlighters). It is noticeable that - with the exception of the words spoken by the serpent - Elohim is used throughout Gen 1:1, whereas YHWH is used for the next few chapters.

Why might this be? There certainly seems to be some significance to it. If nothing else, it shows a break between Gen 1 and Gen 2-3. So it seems that there is some kind of break here. It is noticeable that this coincides with a break in the narrative. Up to Gen 2:3 is one complete, self-contained creation story. From Gen 2:4 onwards is another, separate story that contradicts the first. (For instance: in the famous six days of creation of Gen 1, the animals are formed before Adam; in Gen 2, they are formed after him and he names each one as it is created.)

So it appears that the first few books of the OT are compiled from several sources which are not always in agreement. This is supported by other evidence from other parts of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). One of these sources is called the Jahwist and another the Elohist, and of course there must have been a Redactor (editor) to combine them, and who seems to have left a few contributions of his own. Although there is still discussion about how many sources were used, how reliably they can be identified and in what order they were combined, it is generally accepted among OT scholars that this is how the first five (or six, seven or even eight) books of the OT came into their current form. Most also believe that another two sources - called the Deuteronomist and Priestly sources - can be detected

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