OT and History
Cassuto and JEDP’s Death Throes: Part I, The Divine Names
Having previously introduced and described the current moderate-to-liberal presuppositions, beliefs, theories, and views of the the Old Testament scripture (especially the Pentateuch). I will now post a series of articles that critique their views and also seek to establish my (conservative) position. Today, I will introduce the man that I believe is responsible for showing that the Documentary Hypothesis (JEDP) is completely bankrupt. I will also share how he proved this in a five post series (starting today).
In 1961, Umberto Cassuto’s 8-part lecture over the Documentary Hypothesis was published in English by Magness Press in Jerusalem. Cassuto, born in Florence, was a Rabbi, and eventually moved to and lectured at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It is my opinion that Cassuto’s work definitively puts to death the Documentary Hypothesis. Cassuto’s 8-part lecture is actually a shorter representation of his fuller argument found in La Questione della Genesi.
In an earlier post describing the Documentary Hypothesis, I referred to Cassuto’s five-pillar categorization of the hyptohesis. They are:
(1) Different terms used for the Divine Name (Either Elohim/El/El shaddai, etc or Yahweh)
(2) variations of language and style (e.g. terms used for covenant making Haqim berit/Karat berit)
(3) Contradictions & Divergent viewpoints
(4) duplications and repetitions (think of Abraham lying to a king about Sarah being his wife (twice), and Isaac doing the same to rebekah)
(5) signs of composite structure (signs of merging two different types of documents)
Cassuto shows that none of these stand. As I give Cassuto’s evidence, I will cite the page number of his book where the argument may be found in parentheses.
Pillar I: Preference for One of the Different Terms for the Deity in the Pentateuch Shows Different Authors or Different Source Traditions which have been Merged
The JEDP theory rests on the belief that Yahweh and Elohim were two names that could simply replace each other in any particular narrative. So, for example, It could have just as easily been, in Gen. 15:7, “I am Elohim who brought you out from Ur…” But this text happens to be from a source that used the term Yahweh when referring to the deity. So when we evaluate the theory, we need to look at every occurrence of the term Elohim, and its variants, and Yahweh.
However, when reading through the Old Testament (if you want to have an eye for how the names are used), you will see phrases such as “Man of God” referring to the deity. These are phrases, and are neither here nor there in regards to the theory itself. There are three types of occurrences of the Divine Names that the theorists and we who oppose them are concerned with.
1. The occurrence of Elohim (or its variants, El Shadday, et. al) where it might have been possible to substitute Yahweh
2. The occurrences of Yahweh where it might have been possible to substitute Elohim (or its variants, El Shadday, et. al)
3. The times they occur together. E.g YAHWEH Elohim (LORD God, in English)
Cassuto looks at all occurrences of the Divine names in three categories: Law, Prophets, and Narratives. He concludes that the uses of the names Elohim (and variants of El) and Yahweh conform to rules of Hebrew composition. Elohim is a general name for deity, pagan and Israelite alike, and Yahweh is the personal name for Israel’s God.1 This is analogous to “city” and “Jerusalem.” If I were to live in the suburbs of Jerusalem, I could refer to Jerusalem as either “city” (I’m going to the city) or as Jerusalem. People around me in the suburbs would know that I mean ‘Jerusalem’ by city because it would be the only city near me. However, if I were in Egypt, I would, of necessity, have to use Jerusalem because ‘city’ would naturally refer to the nearest and biggest city in Egypt.
Here is Cassuto’s conclusion: “We may assume that in each case the Torah chose one of the two Names according to the context and intention, precisely as follows” (31)
- It selected YHWH when the Israelite conception of God is reflected. (esp. ethic)
- It preferred Elohim when the passage implies abstract Deity prevalent in international circles
- Again, YHWH when characterized by simple faith and prophetic spirit
- Elohim when thinkers meditate on the lofty problems connected with the existence of the world and humanity (Wisdom lit. for example)
- Again, YHWH when the Divine is depicted in lucid, palpable terms
- Elohim in more superficial, hazy, obscure terms
- Again, YHWH when the writer wants to arouse sublimity of Divine Presence
- Elohim when it mentions God in an ordinary manner.
- Again, YHWH when in relation to Israel’s ancestors
- Elohim when spoken of in relation to someone not of His people (31)
- Again, YHWH when concerning Israel’s tradition
- Elohim when universal tradition (32)
LORD God is used, Cassuto notes, when Elohim needs to be specified as Yahweh.
Cassuto then shows how these points are true across all of Hebrew scripture, not just the Pentateuch. When the author of the Pentateuch is speaking of the deity in general, then we find the term Elohim. But when the deity is mentioned as the God of Israel (or ancestors, Adam, Abraham, et. al), then Yahweh is preferred.
In Genesis 1, we have the sublime creation of the “heavens and the earth.” But, starting in Gen. 2:4, we have covenantal relations and moral injunctions from God to Man, and therefore YHWH is used. Interestingly enough, Gen. 2:4 is the first time LORD God is used, and it is exactly where we would expect it to be used. Genesis 1 deals with the creation of the world, and, in use with the general term for deity, Elohim is used throughout. But in Genesis 2, the covenantal relationship between God and man begins and Yahweh is the appropriate term. Therefore, in order to let the reader know that there are not two gods (one Elohim and the other Yahweh), the author of Genesis puts both names together at the beginning of Genesis 2. This lets the reader know that the Elohim who created the world is known personally as Yahweh.
Psalm 19 is another excellent example of this rule in action. (34) Consider:
1 The heavens declare the glory of God, (El)
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
4 Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
7 The law of the LORD is perfect, (Yahweh)
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure, (Yahweh)
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the LORD are right, (Yahweh)
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure, (Yahweh)
enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the LORD is clean, (Yahweh)
the rules of the LORD are true, (Yahweh)
and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
12 Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. (Yahweh)
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ps 19.
Notice, now, how the different terms are used for God. When speaking of the deity in general, as the sublime creator, El is used. But as soon as the deity’s relationship with Israel is brought to the fore, Yahweh is used. This Psalm, just like the Pentateuch, is not the result of an editor piecing together two documents that have different names for God. Rather, this is the consistent work of one author using the names for the deity according to custom.
Gen 9:24 When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said,
“Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”
26 He also said, “Blessed be the LORD (Yahweh), the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant.
27 May God (Elohim) enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant.”
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ge 9:24–27.
Shem is the ancestor of Abraham and the Israelites. Therefore we would expect to see Yahweh. Japheth and his descendents are not viewed as being in covenant, therefore the general term, Elohim, is used. (36)
When personal, covenantal, or religious actions are narrated by the author between men and God, Yahweh is used. Cassuto notes that in Sifre Num § 143, The “Talmudic Sage” acknowledges that sacrifice (i.e. with Cain and Abel) are always made to YHWH. Not to El/Sadday/Sebboth with one exception in Ex. 18:12 where a stranger offers without complete knowledge. (35) The one exception even proves the rule. The foreigner, not being among YHWH’s covenant people, is narrated as offering sacrifice to Elohim. Jethro was a Midianite Priest. This fact beautifully illustrates Cassuto’s argument. When something is mentioned about the deity in general (i.e. a Midianite priest is sacrificing, or a philosophical treatise on the purpose of life–Ecclesiastes), Elohim is used. Only when referring to Israel, Israel’s ancestors, and those who know God personally is Yahweh used.
Next week we will look at Pillar 2: Variations of Style and Language used in the Pentateuch.
1. Umberto Cassuto, The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch, (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1961), 18.