JEDP’s Death Throes: Part II Language and Style

OT and History

Cassuto and JEDP’s Death Throes: Part II, Variations in Language and Style

Today we take up the task of deciding whether variations in language and style will lead us to conclude that different sources (JEDP) were combined in order to form the Pentateuch.  The idea is that authors have a recognizable style with favorite words and a set vocabulary.  This would include the use of one word over its synonym.  For example, when writing, one may prefer–either by habit or by conscious choice–to use the word awesome instead of cool.  Or, you may have a coworker that always refers to their coffee as “Joe,” and another who refers to it as “Starbucks.”  No one would claim that your coworker (in keeping with the analogy) will never use the terms coffee or espresso, but just that their language is predominated by the terms “cup of joe” and “gotta get my starbucks this morning.”

Second, authors will tend to have favorite words or a theme that rests on certain words.  A clear biblical example of this is found in the gospels where a quick word search reveals that Mark, in his gospel, uses the word immediately 36 times in 16 chapters whereas Luke uses the word 12 times in 24 chapters.  Mark triples the usage in eight less chapters.*

Third, spelling differences can also be evidence that one text was written by another author.  For example, I Sam. -Kings uses דָּוִ֥ד for the name David and Chronicles spells it דָּוִ֖יד. The difference is a yōd (y) inserted.

In terms that are related to our subject (The Pentateuch), no one of the variations in language and style is considered as evidence for different authors/sources.  Rather, the evidence is considered as every factor taken as a whole.  So, it is not only that two different terms are used in reference to covenant making–but also that two different names for God are used (Yahweh & Elohim, see last weeks post).

I mention this because I’m not keen on attacking strawmen.  The evidence Cassuto brought forward from the Old Testament will put an utter end to some of these so-called variations.  So much so that the reader might think that these documentary theorists are not so smart.  But we must remember that the theorist is considering ‘evidence’ from five separate pillars and when this happens, she or he might see evidence for something where none exists (and these theorists are smart).

Enough of this.  On to the arguments.  Remember, I’m bringing evidence that may be found in Cassuto’s work which is referenced at the bottom.  I will put page numbers in parentheses so that the interested reader may know where to find it.

Pillar II:  Variations in Language and Style are Evidence for a Composite Composition

While there are more than three accusations of ‘obvious’ changes in literary style and vocabulary, only three will be mentioned in this post.  This is to keep it brief.

Accusation:  The terms used to “make a covenant” are different throughout the Pentateuch.  The use of two these two different phrases  or words which mean the same thing is evidence (when taken with all the other evidence) that the Pentateuch is made of at least two sources.

1. One source had an original author that preferred hăqîm, and the other source had an author who preferred kārat when recounting someone making a covenant.

First, it is impossible to tell if one author had preference for hăqîm and another for kārat.  Consider the story with Noah:

8 Then God (Elohim) said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “Behold, I establish (haqim)  my covenant with you and your offspring after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. 11 I establish (haqim) my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ge 9:8–11.

We notice in the text that Elohim is the name used and that the term hăqîm is used.  But in Genesis 17:7, Yahweh and Elohim have both been referenced, Yahweh is the only term not used in a phrase (i.e. God almighty, El Shaddai and ‘I will be their God’) which argues for a narrative.  But hăqîm is used here as well.  So, even if it were true that two different sources were combined and that one source used hăqîm  and another used kārat, it would be impossible to tell who preferred which.

Secondly, these words are not synonyms as once supposed.  They actually have different meanings that are indeed derived from their roots.  The word kārat means to cut off or cut down.2  Hăqîm, on the other hand, is a derived form of qûm which means to arise, or stand.3  The form that qûm takes is called the Hiphil stem and usually gives a causative4 connotation or meaning, e.g. to make stand or to make one arise.  The ESV will translate this as establish (and good for them).

The term kārat is used when one is actually initiating or starting a new covenant.  The phrase to cut a covenant is used because an animal may be cut in half when a covenant is initiated.   This is what happens in the narrative with Abraham.  Hăqîm is used, however, only when causing a previously initiated covenant to stand, come to pass, be fulfilled, re-established, etc.

Thus, the variation between these words is not indicative of one author favoring one synonym over the other, but of word usage according to each words distinct meaning.

2. Two different first person pronouns (I) are used, anî and anōkî.  (Perhaps, they argue, there was a regional difference in pronunciation and this shows that parts of the pentateuch were composed in different places)

Cassuto shows, however, that there are actual rules of usage in how the 1st person pronoun is used.

RULES OF USING THE PRONOUN

  1. When the pronoun is the subject of a verbal-clause, that is, of a clause containing a verb in the past tense or future tense and regardless of which comes first (pronoun or verb), anōkî is used
  2. When the pronoun is part of a compound subject (others and I) and follows a verb, it is always anî.
  3. When the pronoun is nominativus pendens at the beginning of the sentence and the sentence appertains to the speaker, anî is invariably employed. As in the phrase, “As for ME, behold my covenant is with you” Gen 17.4.
  4. If pronoun is not the subject, but comes to emphasize the pronominal suffix of the preceding verb, it is invariably anî, as in “Bless me also” 27.34,38.
  5. In noun clauses, if it is desired to emphasize the subject, the pronoun is anōkî. But if the subject is not to be stressed, then anî is used.(50-51)

3.  The use of ṭerem and bṭerem

At some point, these two words were considered stylistic variations.  The word ṭerem has a meaning that refers to time: not yet, ere, before that.5  But Cassuto notes that a consistent usage, like that of hăqîm and kārat, holds not only in the Pentateuch, but throughout the whole Old Testament.  Simply, ṭerem means not yet and bṭerem means before. (51)

These are different meanings, not different sources. Sure, they are both related to time and the latter is the same word with a preposition, but that preposition serves a purpose that changes the meaning to the extent that it cannot be considered a stylistic difference.

Addendum

Numerals:  The different method of writing numerals in the Pentateuch shows that the work is made of sources written by authors who didn’t share the same system for writing numbers.

The Hebrew of the Old Testament didn’t use our numbering system (1,2,3, etc.) but wrote their numbers with words.  Because of this, the writing of numbers were lengthy and could be done in two ways, ascending and descending.

value: 318 (Gen 14:14)
ascending: eight-ten (18) and three hundred
descending:  three hundred and eight-ten

However Cassuto,

“Upon investigating all the compound numbers in the Bible, I discovered that the ascending and descending orders are used according to definite rules that hold good for all books…when the Bible gives us technical or statistical data and the like, it frequently prefers the ascending order, since the tendency to exactness in these instances causes the smaller numbers to be given precedence and prominence.  On the other hand, when a solitary number occurs in a narrative passage or poem or in a speech and so forth, the numbers are invariably arranged…the descending order.” (52)

Conclusion

The common arguments against the unity of the Pentateuch in reference to language and style appear to be based on an effort to find ‘facts’ that fit the theory or as a result of not understanding how Hebrew literature functions.  There are indeed words that are used as synonyms.  However, using the existence of synonyms as evidence for composite authorship is itself tenuous.  We do often use synonyms just to give variance to our own writing so that we don’t sound so repetitive.  I often refer to the Documentary Hypothesis or JEDP Theory, et. al.

Therefore, there is a lot going against this argument levied against the unity of the Pentateuch.  Actual evidence of one author’s word choice over another can’t be found.  Supposed evidence can’t be tied to one supposed author or the other. And in order to make an argument from style and variation requires a mountain of supporting evidence.  For example, if one were to argue that the uses of natan and shîm for the meaning “to give” are evidence for different authors, then you would need to show how this variation developed.  It’s not enough to assert, you must name the child.  Did the south use natan for give and the north shîm? One would need to provide the evidence for that.  Otherwise, you just have synonyms breaking monotony or, better yet, purposeful word switches to give a more exact meaning or connotation.

 

Next week we look at the third pillar, “Divergent Viewpoints.”

 

*The search was done in English ad hoc, and so the two predominant Greek words that may mean immediately were not searched for independently.  Although, Luke uses both words, Mark always uses euthus.

1. Umberto Cassuto, The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch, (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1961)

2. Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, electronic ed. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 2000), 503.

3. Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, electronic ed. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 2000), 877.

4.See Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1910), 144.

5.Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, electronic ed. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 2000), 382.

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