Diachronic and Synchronic Approaches to the Pentateuch

The Documentary Hypothesis, or “four-source theory,” claims the Pentateuch was produced from four original sources, which can be described as follows:Source Theory.

 

i. The YAHWIST source (known simply as “J”). This source is characterized by material in the Pentateuch that consistently refers to God as “Yahweh.”

 

ii. The ELOHIST source (known simply as “E”). This source is characterized by material in the Pentateuch that consistently refers to God as “Elohim.”

 

iii. The PRIESTLY source (known simply as “P”). This source is characterized by material in the Pentateuch that reflects a concern for law, ritual, and statistics such as genealogical information.

 

iv. The DEUTERONOMIC source (known simply as “D”).

Characterized by an emphasis on the centralization of worship in the one place where God chooses (understood to be the Jerusalem Temple). The source is mainly found in Deuteronomy.

Following is an outline of biblical data to which scholars point as evidence of multiple sources (in this case, four sources) in the Pentateuch:

 

i. Different language, terminology:

Two different names for God (Yahweh, Elohim) Two different names for the covenant mountain

(Sinai, Horeb)

Two different names for the native inhabitants of

Palestine (Canaanites, Amorites)

 

ii. Duplications, repetitions:

Two creation accounts (Gen 1, 2).

Three stories of a patriarch who deceives others by claiming his wife is his sister (Gen 12, 20, 26).

Two accounts of Abraham sending out Hagar and Ishmael (Gen 16, 21).

Two calls of Moses to lead out people (Ex 3, 6).

 

iii. Stories which appear to blend two accounts: Flood story (Gen 6-9; 7 pair of clean animals vs.

just 1 pair of every animal).

Joseph being sold to Egypt (Gen 37; Reuben pleads for Joseph and he is sold to Midianites vs. Judah pleads for Joseph and he is sold to Ishmaelites)

 

1. Diachronic analysis of the Pentateuch and

 

 A “diachronic” approach is one that focuses on the history of a text. In the case of the Pentateuch, this approach has led to the investigation of possible historical sources that may have been used to form the writing of the Pentateuch.

 KEEP IN MIND: as we discuss these approaches, they are NOT A THREAT to the divine inspiration of the Scriptures. God could have used any author or number of authors to produce the inspired work of the Bible through His Holy Spirit!

 One of the major products of a diachronic approach to the Pentateuch comes through “source criticism” (the ivestigation of possible sources used to produce the Pentateuch). This major product is known as “source theory,” or specifically in the case of the Pentateuch, the “documentary hypothesis.”

Diachronic and Synchronic Approaches to the Pentateuch

 

 

1. Diachronic analysis of the Pentateuch and

Source Theory.

 

A “diachronic” approach is one that focuses on the history of a text. In the case of the Pentateuch, this approach has led to the investigation of possible historical sources that may have been used to form the writing of the Pentateuch.

 

KEEP IN MIND: as we discuss these approaches, they are NOT A THREAT to the divine inspiration of the Scriptures. God could have used any author or number of authors to produce the inspired work of the Bible through His Holy Spirit!

 

One of the major products of a diachronic approach to the Pentateuch comes through “source criticism” (the investigation of possible sources used to produce the Pentateuch). This major product is known as “source theory,” or specifically in the case of the Pentateuch, the “documentary hypothesis.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Display Resource 4-2: Documentary Hypothesis.

 

The Documentary Hypothesis, or “four-source theory,” claims the Pentateuch was produced from four original sources, which can be described as follows:

i. The YAHWIST source (known simply as “J”). This source is characterized by material in the Pentateuch that consistently refers to God as “Yahweh.”

ii. The ELOHIST source (known simply as “E”). This source is characterized by material in the Pentateuch that consistently refers to God as “Elohim.”

iii. The PRIESTLY source (known simply as “P”). This source is characterized by material in the Pentateuch that reflects a concern for law, ritual, and statistics such as genealogical information.

iv. The DEUTERONOMIC source (known simply as “D”).

Characterized by an emphasis on the centralization of worship in the one place where God chooses (understood to be the Jerusalem Temple). The source is mainly found in Deuteronomy.

 following is an outline of biblical data to which scholars point as evidence of multiple sources (in this case, four sources) in the Pentateuch:

i. Different language, terminology:

Two different names for God (Yahweh, Elohim) Two different names for the covenant mountain (Sinai, Horeb)

Two different names for the native inhabitants of Palestine (Canaanites, Amorites)

ii. Duplications, repetitions:

Two creation accounts (Gen 1, 2).

Three stories of a patriarch who deceives others by claiming his wife is his sister (Gen 12, 20, 26).

Two accounts of Abraham sending out Hagar and Ishmael (Gen 16, 21).

Two calls of Moses to lead out people (Ex 3, 6).

iii. Stories which appear to blend two accounts: Flood story (Gen 6-9; 7 pair of clean animals vs.

just 1 pair of every animal).

Joseph being sold to Egypt (Gen 37; Reuben pleads for Joseph and he is sold to Midianites vs. Judah pleads for Joseph and he is sold to Ishmaelites).

2. Synchronic analysis of the Pentateuch.

A synchronic approach is not concerned with the history of the transmission of a text, but rather focuses on the text as a whole literary unit. Some recent studies on the Pentateuch have begun to deny the validity of the documentary hypothesis (described above) and focus on the unity of the Pentateuch. Such “synchronic” studies emphasize significant ties within the Pentateuch that cross source boundaries and bind the Pentateuch together as a whole. Such studies recognize patterns and links throughout the text that demonstrate the unity of the material.

A simple example of this kind of synchronic analysis can be seen in the “envelope-type” pattern of “promise, wilderness, law, wilderness, promise” evident within the Pentateuch, from the patriarchs to Deuteronomy. I will try to illustrate this pattern as follows:

Refer students to Resource 4-3: Synchronic Reading of the Pentateuch.

 

A. Genesis 12-50: Contains God’s giving of the PROMISE of land, desc Diachronic and Synchronic Approaches to the Pentateuch

 

 

1. Diachronic analysis of the Pentateuch and

Source Theory.

 

A “diachronic” approach is one that focuses on the history of a text. In the case of the Pentateuch, this approach has led to the investigation of possible historical sources that may have been used to form the writing of the Pentateuch.

 

KEEP IN MIND: as we discuss these approaches, they are NOT A THREAT to the divine inspiration of the Scriptures. God could have used any author or number of authors to produce the inspired work of the Bible through His Holy Spirit!

 

One of the major products of a diachronic approach to the Pentateuch comes through “source criticism” (the investigation of possible sources used to produce the Pentateuch). This major product is known as “source theory,” or specifically in the case of the Pentateuch, the “documentary hypothesis.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Documentary Hypothesis, or “four-source theory,” claims the Pentateuch was produced from four original sources, which can be described as follows:

i. The YAHWIST source (known simply as “J”). This source is characterized by material in the Pentateuch that consistently refers to God as “Yahweh.”

ii. The ELOHIST source (known simply as “E”). This source is characterized by material in the Pentateuch that consistently refers to God as “Elohim.”

iii. The PRIESTLY source (known simply as “P”). This source is characterized by material in the Pentateuch that reflects a concern for law, ritual, and statistics such as genealogical information.

iv. The DEUTERONOMIC source (known simply as “D”).

Characterized by an emphasis on the centralization of worship in the one place where God chooses (understood to be the Jerusalem Temple). The source is mainly found in Deuteronomy.

Following is an outline of biblical data to which scholars point as evidence of multiple sources (in this case, four sources) in the Pentateuch:

i. Different language, terminology:

Two different names for God (Yahweh, Elohim) Two different names for the covenant mountain Sinai, Horeb)

Two different names for the native inhabitants of  Palestine (Canaanites, Amorites)

ii. Duplications, repetitions:

Two creation accounts (Gen 1, 2).

Three stories of a patriarch who deceives others by claiming his wife is his sister (Gen 12, 20, 26).

Two accounts of Abraham sending out Hagar and

Ishmael (Gen 16, 21).

Two calls of Moses to lead out people (Ex 3, 6).

 

iii. Stories which appear to blend two accounts: Flood story (Gen 6-9; 7 pair of clean animals vs.

just 1 pair of every animal).

Joseph being sold to Egypt (Gen 37; Reuben pleads for Joseph and he is sold to Midianites vs. Judah pleads for Joseph and he is sold to Ishmaelites).

2. Synchronic analysis of the Pentateuch.

A synchronic approach is not concerned with the history of the transmission of a text, but rather focuses on the text as a whole literary unit. Some recent studies on the Pentateuch have begun to deny the validity of the documentary hypothesis (described above) and focus on the unity of the Pentateuch. Such “synchronic” studies emphasize significant ties within the Pentateuch that cross source boundaries and bind the Pentateuch together as a whole. Such studies recognize patterns and links throughout the text that demonstrate the unity of the material.

A simple example of this kind of synchronic analysis can be seen in the “envelope-type” pattern of “promise, wilderness, law, wilderness, promise” evident within the Pentateuch, from the patriarchs to Deuteronomy. I will try to illustrate this pattern as follows:

A. Genesis 12-50: Contains God’s giving of the PROMISE of land, descendants, and blessing to the patriarchs and matriarchs.

B. Exodus 1-18: Contains the Exodus and wilderness wanderings from Egypt to Mount Sinai. God leading the people toward fulfillment of the PROMISE.

C. Exodus 19-Numbers 10: Contains the giving of the LAW at Mount Sinai. This law defines the relationship between God and His people.

B’. Numbers 11-36: Contains further wilderness wanderings from Mount Sinai to Plains of Moab. Still on the way to fulfillment of the PROMISE.

A’. Deuteronomy: Contains sermon on the plains of Moab, in preparation to receive the PROMISE.

Notice how the pattern above unites the material under the theme of PROMISE. The sections labeled A and A’ correspond, as one refers to the “giving” of the PROMISE, and the other refers to preparation for “receiving” the PROMISE.

 

Sections B and B’ correspond in the fact that both sections reflect “wilderness wandering” on the way to the fulfillment of the PROMISE.

Enveloped in the center of the pattern is section C. Section C is highlighted and emphasized by standing alone in the heart of this pattern. It emphasizes the central message that the fulfillment of the PROMISE depends on faithful obedience to the LAW and covenant with God.

The central message is confirmed at the end, in Deuteronomy, which is a sermon filled with warnings about keeping the LAW of God or else the nation will lose the land of PROMISE!

This kind of synchronic analysis of the Pentateuch suggests the biblical material often appears to contain patterns and related structures that demonstrate the Pentateuch is one united document (rather than the product of multiple sources).

3 thoughts on “Diachronic and Synchronic Approaches to the Pentateuch

  1. Boy, this is deep stuff! Mans way of rightly dividing the truth. Many of us really want to know what the Bible really says. These are man's ways of doing so. One on it's own or out of balance with the others looks like it would be dangerous. I'm sure this blog will cause great discussion. Looking forward to it to help me make sense of it all.

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