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As part of our continuing work on the JEDP theory, we will be
taking a look at specific passages said to offer evidence in favor
of it. One common example involves the supposed "doublet" (the same
story told twice) of Abra(ha)m's covenant with God in Genesis 15
At first glance this seems to be a clear victory for the JEDP
camp. Throughout the G15 pericope, "Yahweh" is used. This passage
is usually assigned to J and E redacted together. In G17, only
"Elohim" is used. This passage is assigned to P. Both are (so it is
said) accounts of God's covenant with Abra(ha)m.
A closer look at
these stories, however, and a view that keeps in mind the highly
probable oral background of these stories (which is to say, not
necessarily that they began as oral compositions, though they might
have; but rather, that they were intended mainly to be read
aloud), refutes the notion of a JEDP separation.
- It is clear, to begin with, that G15 and G17 are part of
entirely different storytelling units. G15's story arguably begins
with Genesis 12; but at the very least, it is clear that the
extension goes back to at least the story of Abram's war in G14. If
it did not, then Yahweh's assurance that He is Abram's "shield" and
"reward" doesn't make a lot of sense. (The main assurance relates
to the preservation of Abraham's line [15:2,3,8]. We may well expect
Abraham to be concerned about his lack of an heir after the pitched
battle described in G14.)
On the other hand, what of G17? The hinge point for saying that
this is a doublet is verse 2, where God announces that he will make
a covenant with Abram -- in a way that seems to suggest, to modern
reading critics, that this is the first time the issue is being
But if G17 is part of an oral pericope that began with
G16, or even if the stories were simply meant to be (or had to be)
read aloud, then the "reminder" of a covenant is quite
understandable: It serves in essence as a "flashback" to the actual
covenant scene-enactment in G15, as an "aural cue" reminding the
listener of what preceded.
G17 cannot really be described as a
repeat anyway, since G15 has to do with a covenant for land,
whereas G17 is concerned with giving Abraham an heir.
- But what of the other factor that supposedly distinguishes
these stories -- the use of divine names? Here it is worthwhile to
first review the matter of divine names as a whole and explore some
of the weaknesses of the criterion, courtesy of the analysis by
Whybray [Why.MP, 64ff] -- which was what really got the whole JEDP
thesis going with Astruc so many years ago.
- The J and E division isn't universal throughout the
Pentateuch. Some critics may leave the impression in popular
presentations that the divine name division is clear throughout the
Pentateuch -- but in fact, it is only good through Genesis and a
few of the first chapters of Exodus. After that, "Yahweh" is almost
always used, although "Elohim" does make appearances.
JEDPists contend that E and P stopped using "Elohim" so much
after a certain point where Yahweh reveals Himself to Moses by the
name Yahweh (Ex. 6:3), and this explains why the names no longer
alternate the same way. But this explanation is countermanded not
only by uses of "Elohim" later than this passage, but also by these
- The alteration of divine names also occurs in later works in
the OT, and in works of pagan literature in reference to pagan
gods. In books like Jonah and the works of the biblical
historians, Yahweh and Elohim are used back and forth, yet these
are works that no one would think of dividing up in the same way.
Likewise, pagan texts vary divine names of pagan gods: Whybray
offers the example of a poem that uses the names "Baal" and "Hadad"
interchangeably. This leads to the last item:
- There are other suitable reasons for the alterations.
Whybray suggests two:
- Theological reasons. This explanation is often used,
perhaps overused, suggesting that "Yahweh" is used to express God's
covenant relation with Israel and for His acts as a personal God,
whereas "Elohim" is used in senses of power and majesty, for
example. This also fits with ancient practice of honoring deity, as Neyrey points out in Render to God : "...it was a mark of honor for a Greco-Roman deity to be 'many-named'" and it was no doubt the same in the agonistic setting of ancient Israel.
- Stylistic reasons. To put it simply, writers (and later
copyists, as some evidence shows) may have altered divine names
simply for variety, or unconsciously. Whybray points to the way
passages like 2 Samuel 16 alternate referring to King David as
"David," "the king," and "King David" -- apparently just for
variety. For my part, I recall reading Chuck Colson's book Born
Again and being aware of how Colson (or his ghostwriter?)
switched between how he named a friend of his in the text by either
first name alone ("Tom"), last name alone ("Phillips"), or by both
names ("Tom Philips"). But such name-switching can also be done
unconsciously - Whybray notes that many lecturers switch between
the divine names while teaching, with no apparent motivation!
It is our contention here that theological reasons are
sufficient to explain the name variation between G15 and G17. G15
depicts God as the "covenant God" of Israel. G17, however, follows
upon Abram's attempt in Chapter 16 to give God's promise a little
kick by having a child by Hagar.
And so, in G17, Yahweh appears
again -- only this time, he identifies himself and says, "I am the
Almighty God!" (17:1) -- and thereafter, God is called "Elohim" for
the rest of the episode. Why? Because Yahweh is now proclaiming his
power to do what Abram was trying to do on his own.
We therefore conclude that these two passages offer no support
for the JEDP thesis. At the same time, we assert that there is no
reason to deny that Moses was responsible for assembling these
stories: Which is to say, as is the case with much of what is in
Genesis, he certainly had sources at his disposal which he used,
for he was obviously not writing from personal experience!
A final sidebar concerning a critical divisional hinge-point
deserves notice from within the text of G15 itself. It concerns
verses 15:5 and 9-12:
He brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars,
if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be..."
He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years
old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." He brought him
all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other;
but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses,
Abram drove them away. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon
Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.
Critics allege an redactional foul-up as proof of multiple
authors: Verse 5 indicates it is night time, and then suddenly the
sun is setting in verse 12. Of course if a redactor was this
"stupid" then there is no reason why an original author could not
be also; but in fact this is a mountain made of a molehill.
easily see the events of verses 1-4 taking place during a sleepless
night of Abram contemplating his childlessness; verse 5 might well
take place early in the morning while stars are still visible, and
verses 7-11 can be seen as a summary of events of the day time
An ingenious, but probably unnecessary, solution is
proposed by Noegel in The World of Genesis: Persons, Places,
Perspectives - Sheffield Academic Press, 1998 - in which he
analyzes the use of the phrase 'im tukat ["if you are able"]
and finds that it is used in places where the deed implied is
thought impossible, and actually serves as a taunting test of faith
or ability; it is then followed upon by a surprising turn or twist.
(cf. Gen. 13:16, 1 Sam. 17:8-9, Job 33:5, 2 Kings 18:23-4//Is.
36:8) The twist here, Noegel argues, is that Abram cannot count the
stars precisely because it is day time. The solution is
interesting, but I think it is hardly necessary.
- Why.MP - Whybray, R. N. The Making of the Pentateuch: A
Methodological Study. Sheffield Academic Press, 1987.