Review of J. S. Baden, J, E, and the Redaction of the Pentateuch

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 9 (2009) - Review

Baden, Joel S., J, E, and the Redaction of the Pentateuch (FAT 68; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009). Pp. xi + 339, Cloth. € 99.00. ISBN 978-3-16-149930-2.

J, E, and the Redaction of the Pentateuch is a revision of Joel S. Baden’s dissertation, completed in 2007 at Harvard University in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations under the direction of Peter Machinist. It also exhibits throughout the strong influence of Baruch J. Schwartz of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Comprised of six chapters, this volume’s first concern is to debunk the claim, popularized by Julius Wellhausen and almost uniformly held by subsequent adherents to the Documentary Hypothesis, that the pentateuchal Yahwistic (J) and Elohistic (E) sources were compiled into a “JE” document prior to their combination with D and P. Yet this initial focus gives way to a larger treatment of the method of pentateuchal source criticism, a defense of the existence of the E source, an explanation of the relationship of J and E to the Deuteronomic (D) source, and an outline of the principles that governed the compilation of the four pentateuchal sources in a single event. Baden’s study demonstrates the inadequacies of existing source-critical treatments of the Pentateuch even as it argues for the correctness of the Documentary Hypothesis’s fundamental tenets.

After a brief introduction to the study, Chapters 1 and 2 sketch the origins of the so-called “JE” document in nineteenth-century pentateuchal research and its significance for twentieth-century Documentary and anti-Documentary approaches. Baden demonstrates that the JE document and its necessary corollary, the Redactor of J and E (RJE), were little more than scholarly accidents, unattended by specific argumentation and rarely challenged. He also argues that the more recent trends in pentateuchal scholarship that have increasingly moved away from the Documentary Hypothesis are plagued by misconceptions of what the Documentary approach should be, a situation largely created by poorly executed source criticism. Thus, while indictments of many source-critical conclusions are well-founded, a dismissal of the Documentary Hypothesis itself is not.

This analysis of the scholarship sets the stage for Baden’s evaluation of the primary material, which encompasses Chapters 3–5. Chapter 3 demonstrates that D relies upon J and E as separate documents, a point that undermines the claim that J and E were combined prior to the composition of D. Along the way, Baden presents his own source analyses for the J and E pericopae that D exploits. He also offers an excursus that demonstrates the independence of P from J and E. Correspondences among these sources are better attributed to a common Israelite tradition. Chapter 4 argues that the texts regularly attributed to RJE are actually better assigned to either J, E, or even P. Baden also demonstrates that scholars have employed RJE opportunistically when they have encountered an impasse in the admittedly difficult division of J and E. Alongside the attribution of larger amounts of material to a redactor came an analysis of this material in its own right, which led to misguided ideological characterizations of the redactional process.

In Chapter 5, Baden presents his theory of a single redaction (or, as he prefers, compilation) of the pentateuchal sources. In his view, the compiler is fundamentally conservative with the sources: he attempts to combine the events in his sources chronologically while saving as much of each source as possible and intervening in the most minimal ways possible. The rare insertions that the compiler makes hardly address the full range of discrepancies in the text and indeed are not meant to do so. They are instead “factual corrections” (the harmonization of character names or event locations when narratives from two sources are combined to create a single event; an example is the insertion of the burning bush into the E story in Exod 3:4b); “derivative additions” (the insertion of details from one source into another when an event is known to more than one source but the two sources’ treatments are not combined; an example is the insertion of “I will harden his heart,” a P feature, in J’s foreshadowing of the plagues [Exod 4:21]); and “pattern corrections” (the insertion of a pattern or formula from one source into another when two sources are combined in a single event or narrative complex; an example is the insertion of kol ḥālûṣ and ḥălûṣîm, which serve as Leitwörter in the E narrative in Numbers 32, into Num 32:29–30 [P]). Finally, Baden highlights the rare deletion of source material by the compiler, a practice employed when virtually identical sentences from two sources are combined or in cases when an event could not logically be narrated multiple times (e.g., births and deaths of characters). Alongside the lack of evidence for a JE document, the consistency of the compiler’s method across the sources suggests to Baden that the simplest, most plausible conclusion is that a single redactor is responsible for the simultaneous compilation of all four pentateuchal sources.

Chapter 6 examines unstated assumptions of those who adhere to a JE redaction. Baden highlights the bleeding of historical reconstruction into questions of pentateuchal source division and redaction, which he identifies as fundamentally literary issues. He is particularly critical of claims for the early authority of J and E or even knowledge of these sources in ancient Israel and Judah. In his view, because J and E (unlike D) neither make any internal claim to authority or propagation nor appear as cited texts elsewhere, no cultural status should be ascribed to them until long after their composition (indeed, basically until the final compilation of the Pentateuch).

The book concludes with a summary of the foregoing arguments as well as a tentative proposal for the historical circumstances of the Pentateuch’s redaction. Looking to Ezra and Nehemiah, Baden views the Persian authorization of indigenous law as the impetus for a compilation of a single Torah. In his view, the conservative method of compilation evidenced in the text reflects an attempt to unite factions, which are represented by the individual sources, into a reconstituted Judean community.

Baden’s study is a landmark in Documentary scholarship. It is the most compelling presentation of the Documentary Hypothesis currently available. This is due in part to the neglected scholarship, both old and new, that Baden engages. Particularly noteworthy in this regard is his interaction with relevant portions of Menahem Haran’s magisterial The Biblical Collection, a work that is inaccessible to many European and American scholars because it is written in modern Hebrew. Even more important to his study’s success, however, is Baden’s insistence upon a plausible and consistent method, especially as it relates to the compilation of the sources. Baden applies Occam’s Razor at every turn; the result is a streamlined and highly logical argument. Because of its provocative claims and formidable challenges to current pentateuchal studies, this book will no doubt attract a considerable response (both positive and negative).

There are a few critiques of Baden’s study that I would raise. The first is one of presentation rather than substance. While Baden is aware of newer, non-Documentary pentateuchal theories and interacts with them in a limited way, he formulates his arguments about specific texts within a strictly Documentary framework. This is particularly noticeable when he attributes texts to the E source (a source that many pentateuchal scholars no longer accept). Thus, statements such as, “Scholars are virtually unanimous in assigning Exod 18:13–27 to E” (108) should be read, “[Documentarian] scholars [who accept the existence of the E source] are virtually unanimous…” Yet what also should be recognized is that the study’s claims are not diminished by Baden’s avoidance of non-Documentary treatments of the texts he examines. Indeed, his comprehensive theory provides what most source-critical studies do not: a fully-formed challenge to anti-source-critical analyses.

A second critique concerns Baden’s dismissal of any cultural status for J and E at the time that D exploited them (295–301). It seems to me that D’s revision of J and E provides indirect evidence of precisely the sort of audience knowledge (if not full-blown textual authority) that Baden rejects. Bernard M. Levinson (Deuteronomy and the Hermeneutics of Legal Innovation [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997]) has argued on the basis of D’s method of revision that its authors deem their source(s) “prestigious” and that, through lemmatic citation, they simultaneously borrow and subvert their sources’ status. The polemical nature of D’s literary reuse is particularly suggestive in this regard (e.g., Deut 4:12; 5:3; 12:13–14). Baden softens his claim in his concluding remarks on this subject (“The idea of early authority for the sources J and E, then, should be discarded, or at the very least strenuously doubted” [emphasis mine]) (301), but further consideration of the evidence as well as the categories of cultural status and authority may be warranted.

A final critique concerns Baden’s claim that D is the only pentateuchal source that interacts literarily with any other source (296). If this assertion is limited to narrative rather than law (and narrative is indeed Baden’s focus), he is almost certainly correct. Yet if the legal material is included, the Holiness Legislation (H) stratum of the P source in particular belies the full isolation of the non-D sources.

These criticisms, however, take nothing away from the impressive achievement of this study. Its importance is immediately evident, and Baden should be commended for it. Baden’s formulation of the Documentary Hypothesis is a starting point for all future work on the pentateuchal sources.

Jeffrey Stackert, University of Chicago