January 28, 2013 by Jason Hood
Tomorrow night I begin another semester of teaching the Pentateuch. One of the first tasks is introducing students to critical approaches to Genesis-Deuteronomy. I’m not a plenary Mosaic Pentateuch guy (I doubt he mentioned his own death, or that “Dan” in Genesis 14:14 is original to him). But I do think Moses had a major hand in this material, and I have little regard for the critical reconstructions of Wellhausen and others (including the JEDP theory).
I’ve previously pointed out many of the flaws that haunted early reconstructions–flaws that haven’t always been rejected. One early view held that the Jahwist (or Yahwist), being very early, had a more pristine, natural (dare we say romantic-era Protestant) faith that was abandoned by D and P. You know, the usual bad guys: priests, lawmakers, and despotic kings, in contrast to prophets and the less powerful.
This, of course, is a peculiarly hyper-Lutheran, Enlightenment sort of heresy. But this lunacy wasn’t just directed at the Bible. Last summer’s Religious Studies Review contained a review of recent literature of scholarly approaches to Tibet’s demons. The review begins,
It was once common for Euro-Americans who came to the study of Tibetan religion to see its macabre rites and concern for demonic forces as corruptions, the result of deviation from true, pure Buddhism. The authentic Buddhism they imagined was, we know, largely shaped by their Protestant presuppositions.
This mythical pristine Buddhism–now widely rejected–was of course very much like the faith to which many Protestants in the 19th century aspired, which they forced on the Bible: a pure, “natural” faith unencumbered by overly supernatural approaches to religion, content to concentrate on personal feeling and internal sense, despising externals, constraints, and the demon of law. You can of course find that sort of religion in the Bible, provided you are willing to run it through a sieve a few times.
For those keeping score at home, these influences are still around today; note Sailhamer’s anti-Moses approach, where he favors prophets over priests and faith over law. It’s no accident that Sailhamer relies on German scholarship influenced by these dichotomies.