Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

The Father William Most Collection

Critique of the Documentary Theory

[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]


1. Creation is told twice: in Gen. 1.1 to 2.4a and in 2.4b to 2.25 (end of chapter).

2. Two genealogies of Adam's descendants: in chapter 4 and in chapter 5.

3. The Flood is told twice:

a) From Yahwist (with some later additions) 6: 5-8, 7:1-5, 7:7-10, 7:12, 7:16b, 7:17b, 7:22-23, 8:2b-3a, 8:6-12, 8:13b, 8:20-22

b) Priestly Source--remainder

Therefore: Some duplications e.g., J 6:13-22 besides P 7:1-5.

J: (From RSV): And God said to Noah: "I have determined to make an end of all flesh; for the earth is filled with violence through them; behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark of gopher wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark 300 cubits, its breadth 50 cubits, and its height 30 cubits. Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above; and set the door of the ark in its side; make it with lower, second, and third decks. For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives with you. And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring 2 of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds. of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, 2 of every sort shall come in to you, to keep them alive. Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up, and it shall serve as food for you and for them." Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.

P: (RSV): Then the Lord said to Noah, "Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation. Take with you 7 pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate; and 7 pairs of the birds of the air also, male and female, to keep their kind alive upon the face of the earth. For in seven days I will send rain upon the earth 40 days and 40 nights; and every living thing that I have make I will blot out from the face of the ground." And Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him.

Some inconsistencies:

a) The number of animals--2 vs. 7, as above;

b) The timetable of the flood:

P: (8:3-5 and 13f): At the end of 150 days the waters had abated and in the 7th month, on the 17th day of the month, the ark came rest upon the mountains of Ararat. And the waters continued to abate until the 10th month; in the 10th month, on the 1st day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen.... In the 601st year in the 1st month, the 1st day of the month, the waters were dried from off the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dry. In the 2nd month, on the 27th day of the month, the earth was dry.

J: (7:4 & 10 & 12 & 17b plus 8:6 & 10 & 12): In 7 days I will send rain upon the earth 40 days and 40 nights. [Noah entered the ark] And after 7 days the waters of the flood came upon the earth.... And rain fell upon the earth 40 days and 40 nights.... The flood continued 40 days upon the earth; and the waters increased....At the end of 40 days [terminus a quo unclear: for sure, ark had settled on Ararat. Also 8:5 says waters abated until 10th month, and on 1st day of 10th month tops of mountains were seen.] Noah opened the window of the ark. [Sent out raven, then a dove, which returned.] He waited another 7 days and again sent forth the dove out of the ark and the dove came back to him in the evening and lo, in her mouth a freshly plucked olive leaf; so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. Then he waited another 7 days, and sent forth the dove; and she did not return to him anymore.

c) Noah enters the ark twice:

7:7: And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives with him

went into the ark.

7:13: On the very same day Noah and his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah's wife and the three wives of his sons with them entered the ark.

4. Abraham sends Hagar away twice (chapters 16 and 21).

5. The sending of Moses is given twice, in Exodus 3 and 6.

6. Miracle of Manna and Quail is given twice, Ex 16 and Nm 11.

7. Legal doublets:

a) Decalog given twice, in Ex 20 and Dt 5.

b) Law for slaves twice in Ex 21 and Dt 15.

8. Two accounts of selling of Joseph into Egypt:

a) By brothers to Ishmaelites (Gen 37:25 and 28b cf.45:4 & 5)

b) By Midianites who took him from the pit (Gen 37:28b and 36 cf.40:14 & 15)


I - General

1. Concentric circles in Scripture:

a) J. Schildenberger, Vom Gehemnis des Gotteswortes, Heidelberg, 1950, p. 163ff (cited from Le Frois, p. 190): "As a consequence of the Hebrew's thinking in totalities, it is easy to see that in presenting his subject-matter, the Hebrew does not develop it so much in logical order step by step from general to particular, but rather from the very outset he has the complete topic concretely in mind, and not being able to present it all at once, he keeps coming back to it, letting it be seen from various aspects, now emphasizing this angle, now that, until in the end the full picture, which we saw totally but not clearly from the very start, has been imbibed with full grasp and satisfaction." (other authors cited in notes of Le Frois, 190-191)

b) John 1:1-18 comes in three waves:

1-5: General statement: the Word was God, in the beginning, made all things. Had life for men, but darkness did not overcome it.

6-13: John witnesses to the true light coming into the world, who had make the world, but the world did not know or accept Him.

14-18: The Word became flesh, John bore witness to Him. We receive fullness through Him who makes the Father known.

c) Apoc 12, according to Le Frois:

1-6: The woman in the sun, with child, dragon appears, casts down 1/3 of the stars, wants to devour her son, she flees to refuge, 1260 days.

7-12: War in heaven: dragon cast down. Authority of Christ has come, accuser is cast down. Blood of Lamb ensures victory. Rejoice, dragon's time is short!

13-18: Dragon when cast down pursued the woman. The great eagle took her to refuge in wilderness for a time and times and 1/2 a time. Serpent tried to flood her, but earth helped. Dragon went off to war on rest of her offspring.

d) Genesis 1-13 and 1:14-31: Suggestion of N. Habel, Literary Criticism of OT, Fortress, 1971, p. 69---shows that the first 3 days are filled in by the last 3 days thus:

1. Light

2. Firmament separates waters

3. Dry land, vegetation

4. Light-bearing bodies

5. Life populates the firmament and waters

6. Life fills dry land, man made, vegetation food for man

2. Doublets in other Near Eastern Literature:

a) Urartu: In many royal inscriptions there is an initial paragraph attributing the defeat of certain lands to the god Haldi--then the same victories are repeated in detail as achieved by the king. (from Kitchen, AO & OT p. 117) in: Handbuch der chaldischen Inschriften pp. 61-63; 86-100; 119-32--these are weak parallels—just attributes to god.

b) Egypt: Gebel Barkal Stela: (Kitchen op.cit.p.117) (ZAS pp. 24-39--back of notes)

Lines 3-9-- General terms on royal supremacy.

Lines 9-27-- Specific triumphs in Syria-Palestine.

Lines 27ff-- Tribute.

c) Egypt: Karnak Poetical Stela: (Kitchen op. cit. p.117. Erman pp. 254-58--back of notes)

Amon-Ra addresses Tuthmose III

Lines 1-12-- General, "I have given you power over all".

Lines 13-22-- Fills in details, specific lands.

Lines 23-25-- General statement (restatement) of power.

II - Specific Cases Of Doublets

1. Genesis 1 and 2. It is claimed

a) Doublet--the repeat shows two sources.

b) Difference of style--transcendent God in Gen 1, but naive anthropomorphisms in Gen 2.

c) Difference in words for God-- Elohim in Gen 1, Yahweh Elohim in 2.

COMMENTS: a) On Doublets: Concentric rings seem to be a Biblical pattern. Kitchen shows some plausible, though not conclusive examples of same in Urartu and Egypt.

b) Difference in style: There are also anthropomorphisms in Gen 1 --God called by name, saw, blessed, made man, who is bodily, in His image.

Further, the argument from style is partly circular -- the P source has arid precise style partly because just such matter was assigned to P because the matter was such.

Finally: Arguments from style are flimsy –cf. the case of Tacitus' Dialogus, and Inscription of Uni (Kitchen AC and OT p.125).

c) Difference in words for God: It is at least probable from Ebla (see separate sheet) that Yahweh and El are interchangeable. -- Genesis 2 actually uses both most of the time, together, and the fact that the second concentric ring is fuller could be a reason. –The LXX does not adhere so closely as does the MT. MT has Yahweh Elohim in 2,4,5,7 --LXX has only Theos in each case.

Further: Chapter 3 is considered all from J --yet it uses Elohim alone 3 times (verses 1,3,5).

Chapter 4 is all J --has Elohim alone in 25.

Chapter 5 is all but 29 from P --29 alone has Yahweh.

Chapter 6: 1-8 are J --but include 3 times Elohim alone (verses 2,4,5).

Chapter 7 is a medley, they say --much slicing and re-gluing, even cutting verse 16 in two since it has Elohim and Yahweh separately in two parts of the verse.

Chapter 8 includes much of the same slicing and re-gluing--has E 3 times, and Y 3 times.

Near Eastern usage also shows variations in divine names. In the Enuma elish in tablet 1 --Tiamat 13 times, Khubur once. In tablet 2, 15 times T once K, in tablet 3 --9 times T, twice K. In tablet 1 --5 times Ea, twice Nudimmud. In tablet 2, 4 times Ea, once N. In tablet 3, N twice, Ea not at all. In tablet 4, N twice, Ea not at all. In tablet 4 Marduk 4 times, Bel once.

In Tale of Aqhat V --Kothar-wa-Khasis is 6 times, Hayyin - 3 times.

In Prolog to Lipit-Ishtar Code --Enlil 2 times, Nunamnir once.

In Code of Hammurabi (ANET pp.164-65) --Inana/Ishtar, Telitum are same - respectively: 4 times/2 times/ 1 time. In same, Nintu/Mama, respectively: once each.

In Stela of Ii-kher-nofret: Osiris/Wennofer, Lord of Abydos, Khent- amentiu (Foremost of the Westerners) are same. Respectively: 5 times/once/4 times/4 times.

2. The two genealogies in Gen 4 and 5 (4 is all J; 5 is P except v. 29):

COMMENTS: 1) The genealogy of 4 is brief, that of 5 is much more detailed--could be a case of concentric rings.

2) In addition, 4 reports just on the descendants of Cain and Seth, while 5 wants to bring it down to Abraham, probably to show the lineage of the chosen people before Abraham (since it goes through Noah, who was chosen specially). The purpose of many genealogies is theological. The fact that there are ten generations before the Flood, and ten after it shows the stylized character. Cf. the 3 sets of 14 generations in Matthew's genealogy of Christ. --The Abydos King List of Egypt omits 3 groups of kings (9th to early 11th, 13th to 17th dynasties) and separate points in an otherwise continuous series.

3) As to the long lives--The Sumerian King Lists give two sets of kings, before and after the flood. Those before the flood have reigns from 43,200 years (En-men-lu-anna) to 18,600 years (Ubara-tutu). After the flood the longest is Etana of Kish (1560 or 1500 years). Enmebaragisi king of Kish had 900 years--we reject that total, but know he was real, for he left some inscriptions. The figures are probably symbolic. Cf. Kitchen AO & OT p.40.

3. The two accounts of the flood: These also show some inconsistencies, in the timetable of the flood, the number of animals, and Noah enters the ark twice.

COMMENTS: 1) To get two accounts, one needs much scissors and paste work. The J account includes: 6:5-8, 7:1-5, 7:7-10, 7:12, 7:16b, 7:17b, 7:20-22, 8:2b-3a, 8:6-12 8:13b. Remainder is from P.

2) The time table is not a real problem at all, if one tries: Check every item in the OT against this list, and it will be found to contain all: (1) Flood was promised in 7 days, rain for 40 days and nights (a 2nd month, 17th day of month--does that mean 2nd month of his 600th year, or of the civil year?). (2) Noah entered, rain started 7 days later. (3) Rain fell 40 days and nights. (4) Waters prevailed (dominated) 150 days (not clear if that includes the 40 days or not). At end of 150 days waters had come down some, not much-- in 7th month, day 17, ark landed. (5) Water continued to drop until 10th month--then tops of mountains seen. (6) After 40 days (counting from when: unclear) sent out raven (7) In year 601, 1st of 1st month, land is somewhat dry. (8) Land fully dry on 27th day of 2nd month. --Total length of flood: from 600 year, month 2, day 17 to 601, day 27, month 2--is 12 months, 10 days.

3) About entering ark twice (& 7 & 13): This is merely a small instance of the repetition found in the concentric ring treatment.

4) Alleged inconsistency on number of animals: One could say either (a) that the first statement is preliminary, in the first part of a concentric ring presentation, with details filled in in 7:1 ff, where distinction is made of clean and unclean, or (b) that in 6:19-20 the word shenayim (which is a dual) is used collectively, for pairs--one could not add a plural ending to a dual--it would give the impossible or nonexistent word shenayimim.

4. Legal doublets--Decalog given twice (Ex 20 and Dt 5) and law for slaves given twice (Ex 21 and Dt 15) etc.

COMMENTS: As the NAB observes in its introduction to Dt., "The historical portions of the book are also a resume of what is related elsewhere in the Pentateuch." So, no problem at all.

5. Two accounts of selling Joseph into Egypt (one, by his brothers, to the Ishmaelites: Gen 37:25 and 28b-- the other, by Midianites who took him from the pit (Gen 37:28a and 36).

COMMENTS: 1) Ishmaelites and Midianites overlap-- cf. Judges 8:24 which refers to the Midianites (against whom Gedeon had fought) are referred to as Ishmaelites.

2) Here is 8:28: "Then Midianite traders passed by; and they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver." --The pronoun "they" need not refer to the nearest preceding noun--can refer to the brothers, who drew him out of the pit. Otherwise an odd picture: Midianites came by, they were traders and the Midianites drew Joseph up, and sold him to the Ishmaelites (who were not on the scene at all if not the same as the Midianites). As Kitchen notes (AO & OT, p.119-20) if such a pronoun reference were not possible in Hebrew, then in Dt 22:19 the phrase "he has brought an evil name" would

refer to the innocent father. Cf. also the use of "his" and "he" in Dt 22:29.


It is claimed that the variation between Elohim and Yahweh is due to the use of two sources.

COMMENT: See above ("Comments on Specific Cases of Doublets Ib.II.1.c).


The style of the Yahwist contains unified scenes bound together by a continuous thread. He prefers the concrete and picturesque and is good at character portraits. He is a good storyteller, and a psychologist who is concerned with the secrets of man's heart. –The Elohist lacks the lively picturesque manner, has less dramatic vigor, less warmth of nationalism, is simpler, smoother, even more disciplined, and perhaps somewhat of an archaizing manner.

Further, the Yahwist goes in for anthropomorphisms, which the Elohist does not do.

COMMENTS: 1) The reasoning is partly circular --parts were selected precisely for reason of the style. As we saw above (Ib.II.1.c) the use of Yahweh vs. Elohim is not strictly observed as a criterion. In fact, there is much disagreement about which verses belong to which writer --and a lot of scissors and paste reassembling to locate each document.

2) There are at least some anthropomorphisms in E--("Rested" 2.2-3) God saw, He called by name, He made man (who is bodily) in His own image.

3) Arguments based on style are always inconclusive, and often flimsy --cf. the case of the Dialogues of Tacitus.

4) Kitchen (AO and OT p.125) asserts style variations are common in Near East and mentions:

a) Biography of Uni (c 2400 BC Egypt) which has flowing narrative, summary statements, a victory hymn, two different refrains repeated at suitable but varying intervals.

b) Royal inscriptions of kings of Urartu --9th to 8th centuries BC (through at least 4 reigns) which include fixed formula for the going forth of the god Haldi, a triple formula and variants for that of the king, compact statements of success, or first person narrative, at times statistics of forces of Urartu and of prisoners and booty.


1. Rendtorf --see the sheet on him, p.

2. R. N. Whybray, "Response to Professor Rendtorf" in JSOT 3, 1977, p. 14, "Are we at least witnessing the demise of the Documentary Hypothesis? Probably not...but the evidence against it continues to grow (see for example, the strictures most recently in J. Van Seters, Abraham in History and Tradition.)."

3. Bruce Vawter, On Genesis, Doubleday, NY, 1977.

p. 15: "...there is no longer a comfortable scholarly consensus to communicate."

p. 16: "Today their once thin ranks have been increasingly swelled by other distinguished scholars who...for various and sometimes contradictory reasons...have cast serious doubt on the validity of the neat J, E, and P divisions of Genesis.... The judgments... forbid us from pretending to a consensus that no longer exists. We remain convinced of the documentary hypothesis, nevertheless.... One reason for the present- day questioning of the basic premises of the documentary hypothesis...has been the growing challenge asserted against the antiquity [p.17] and reliability of much of the traditional data preserved in Genesis. The hypothesis assumes the antiquity and long oral transmission of these traditions in order to account for the variations which whey separately took on before they became the literary sources of Genesis. The Assumption is still that of probably most Old Testament scholars today. Against it, however, are now some ably argued reassessments of the evidence which maintain that nothing in Genesis antedates the mid-first millennium BC, or in other words, that there is no pre- literary Genesis to speak of and therefore no parallel sources could have developed." [note refers to T. L. Thompson, The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives...and J. Van Seters, Abraham in History and Tradition.]


1. King Tudiya: First on the Assyrian King list. For long the early sections were thought to be artificial, corrupt or merely invented. But now it is known from Ebla that he made a treaty with the King of Eble, Ebrum, about 2350 BC. The Assyrian King list dates from about 1000 BC --a gap of 13 centuries.

2. Hammurabi's ancestor list: Less well transmitted, but goes back 7 centuries, and includes some who were not kings, but minor family chiefs.

3. Hittite archives of 14-13 cent.: These preserved copies of an Annalistic Report by King Anittas of Kussara who was supposed to have reigned before the Old Hittite Kingdom, in 19-18 centuries BC Now tablets of his contemporaries naming him have been found, and a spearhead inscribed "Palace of Anittas."

4. King List of Uragit: A ritual tablet from just before 1200 once had a list of about 36 consecutive kings of Uragit, spanning 6 centuries, to the founder Yaqaru in 19th century. A dynastic seal of Yaqaru has been found.

5. Family Records in Egypt: A private lawsuit was finally settled in year 20 of Ramesses I (c 1270/1260) which was fought for a century by rival wings of one family over some land given their ancestor Neshi about 300 years before the time of Ramesses II. Cf.G.A.Gaballa, The Memphite Tomb Chapel of Mose, 1977 --for the legal text of the official Mose.



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