Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Problems with E and J

There is a potential problem with separating out J and E that needs to be discussed. According to the DH, J and E were edited together into one text (appropriately called JE), and it is often hard to separate the strands. There are some stories or passages where characteristics indicating J are found right next to other characteristics indicating E. For example, the burning bush story in Exodus 3, and the revelation at Sinai in Exodus 19 both have combined sections from J and E. This problem is resolved by splitting the passage sentence by sentence, or sometimes even clause by clause.

In general, there are two possibilities here. It might be the case that the DH is correct and J and E were edited together this way. Alternatively, it might be the case that the DH is wrong and this is in fact a single text. If the former, it is quite difficult to show that this is the case. After all, one of the stronger arguments for the DH is that some passages are complete by themselves, show an internal consistency in style, wording, and content, but show an inconsistency with other passages. However, if a passage has elements of both J and E thoroughly mixed throughout, then it is much more difficult to show that they were originally separate texts. One would have to show that particular sentences or clauses show multiple characteristics of one source but not the other, and this gets difficult to show this persuasively at the sentence level.

One way of handling this problem is to treat J and E as a single combined source called JE, and contrast that with the other sources P and D. After all, most scholars believe that it is fairly easy, at least in most passages, to separate between P, D, and the combined JE.

That approach is fine as far as it goes. But the problem is that sometimes J shares characteristics with one of the other sources and E with another source. For example, J and P both refer to the mountain where God appears as "Sinai" and D and E both refer to it as "Horeb", and noted here and here. But if J and E are combined together, then that means that the combined document JE sometimes uses "Sinai" and sometimes uses "Horeb". That is obviously a less persuasive argument than if J and E were cleanly separable.

This is less persuasive, but not unpersuasive. After all, P uses
only Sinai, and D uses only Horeb. That's a pretty compelling distinction by itself. And if we have multiple reasons to think that particular sentences or verses in JE are actually J or E, then that separation, although not as clean as the separation between P and D, is still somewhat persuasive.

Like always, this argument cannot be resolved in the abstract. The details are important. But it is something to watch carefully as we work through the text.

blog comments powered by Disqus