Nov 20, 2017



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The Documentary Hypothesis
Jerusalem: Shalem Press
Reprint of 1961 ed. (Hebrew, Torat HaTeudot, 1941; English translation, 1961): Amazon review/s
Summary: In a series of eight lectures delivered in Jerusalem in 1940, renowned Israeli scholar Umberto Moshe David Cassuto destroys Wellhausen's Documentary Hypothesis, the theory that the text of the Pentateuch was edited from four independent source-documents. This work remains a classic in the field of biblical studies. Summary in form and popular in presentation, it provides a masterful exposition of the documentary hypothesis and subjects its exegetical methods and conclusions to a critical review. Based on a comparison of the Pentateuch to ancient Near Eastern literature, an investigation of Hebrew grammatical structures, and brilliant literary analysis, Cassuto argues for the integrity of the biblical text. Cassuto describes the development of the theory, and the evidence on which it is based: the use of different names for God in the Pentateuch, variations of its language and style, apparent contradictions and divergences, duplications and repetitions and signs of composite structure in the text. Cassuto argues that these pieces of evidence, individually and cumulatively, do not render the Documentary Hypothesis probable. Cassuto provides simpler explanations of the evidence. These explanations also fit in better with our background knowledge, including knowledge of the style of ancient Near Eastern texts. For example, Cassuto points out that the different divine names are used consistently in different contexts. This is best explained by the divine names having different meanings (but the same reference). Further literature of the ancient Near East evinces similar context-sensitive usage of different divine names. If the Documentary Hypothesis is not true, we would find precisely the usage of divine names that we do find. Cassuto defends his claims with numerous sources, his extensive knowledge of ancient literature and Biblical Hebrew. In contrast, the proponents of the Documentary Hypothesis resort to circular reasoning and outlandish explanations of the text, as Cassuto shows. Cassuto's understanding of the details and rules of Biblical Hebrew is profound, and there is much to learn here that is not found elsewhere. This includes five rules used in the Bible to determine which first person pronoun is to be used, how the Bible decides to use descending or ascending order in compound numerals, and the difference between expressions such as "karath berith" and "heqim berith." The beauty of Cassuto's style of writing is matched only by the clarity of his exposition. Cassuto's opinion on the origin of the text does not appear to be religious. Rather, he believes that the Pentateuch selected and refined ancient traditions; Cassuto compares this to Dante who transforms material derived from many sources into a unique harmony. Whether or not one believes in the divine origin of the Pentateuch, however, Cassuto's book is an unanswerable attack on the Documentary Hypothesis and a powerful defense of the unity of the text.

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