On the New Pentateuch-Criticism.

By Prof. E. Benj. Andrews,

Brown University. Providence, R I.

Taken from THE HEBREW STUDENT Volume 2 Issue 4 December 1882


Whatever, in general, we may think of the movement whose acquaintance we make in Professor Robertson Smith’s “Old Testament in the Jewish Church,” we cannot but be thankful for the lively interest which the new departure marked in the book is sure to awaken in Old Testament study. Heretofore the feeling has had shameful prevalence that the New Testament could be well enough understood apart from the Old; so that, even for the Theologian, fine knowledge of the Old was pretty nearly superfluous,—rendered necessary through fashion and tradition far more than by the veritable needs of his work, while the preacher could, at best, hardly afford so costly an acquisition, and might even sin by expending the time necessary to make it. Theological students have too generally considered the effort spent upon Hebrew to be almost lost, and, as a class, have consequently shown well-nigh total lack of enthusiasm in this part of their work. Among the noble army of martyrs, the glory and crown of the Christian Church, surely none will more richly deserve the eternal rewards promised to that patience which is proper to saints, than the Professors of Hebrew in our Theological Seminaries.

The new criticism will do much to banish this apathy. It will greatly aid all to see that anything like mastery of the New Testament is out of the question aside from large study of the Old. In addition to this, it will bring those hitherto remote topics more vividly into sight, exhibit them in their intrinsic interest, and reveal the study of Old Testament history, literature and antiquities as one of the most improving,, helpful and entertaining of all Theological pursuits.

Another gain, still more valuable, is to be this, that the Theological world will in due time come to possess a far more precise and solid knowledge touching the development of Jewish literature and institutions, and upon Old Testament matters at large, than has been had hitherto. Most opinions and statements regarding these matters have been thus far based largely upon tradition. Many such judgments are probably correct and destined to stand, but, since they have been framed without that fiery proof of data to which, now, all the data are certain to be subjected, even the most critical Hebrew savans can scarcely boast that certitude concerning them with which the ordinary Theological Student may easily provide himself when this fierce war of criticism is over. Up to the present time a vast number of questions in Old Testament Introduction, questions whose solution is indispensable to the satisfactory use of that venerable volume, have been in the same state in which the master topics of New Testament Introduction were until F. C. Baur. For example, Christians before Baur, as since, supposed, of course, that each document of the New Testament hailed from the first century; but to make out in any case a thoroughly valid and evident proof of this was what, perhaps, not a scholar on earth could then do. Now it is far otherwise. The suit which that rash and radical investigator Baur, invoked, has been decided against him at almost every point,1 his ultra position having been refuted in many cases even by his own pupils, recipients of his own able training, and working upon his own historical method. So tough a campaign of criticism has resulted similarly in respect to New Testament science in general. At last we know where we are. Undecided questions remain, to be sure, even here, but they are relatively few and rapidly becoming fewer still.

This increased solidity of knowledge, the outcome of critical warfare in the New Testament realm, teaches what ought to be the attitude of all Christians, and especially of all Theologians and Ministers, toward the new criticism. We ought not to discourage it, but, rather, to help it on in every way. We want the highest obtainable certainty upon every Old Testament question, be it what it may; and such certainty can only come through the resolute carrying forward both pro and con, of that study and discussion into which the new criticism has plunged us. If the old views are correct, as we firmly believe they will, for substance, prove to be, we wish to know that fact. If any of them are incorrect, still more, were it possible, do we wish to be certified of that. A passive, tacit assurance about beliefs which exists only because the beliefs have never been challenged, will not suffice Theology in these days of inquiry. We can be Satisfactorily sure of any proposition theologically, only after it has been questioned, and valid grounds for it established. So that, if we are wise, we shall do nothing to discourage, except by refuting him, even the radical critic. Why should all the perilous and difficult investigations in Theology be forced into infidel hands ? There is, perhaps, one chance in a thousand that the ultra critic is wholly in the right; if so, we desire, of course, to be with him. It is as good as certain that he will tell us something true. Even if he should prove to be totally in the wrong, our joust with him will attest the strength of our arms and our cause as nothing else could possibly do. Had F. C. Baur and his allies been silenced by either force or gibes, the Church’s present sweet and triumphant consciousness of possessing authentic records of incipient Christianity, would be impossible. So, for our part, we thank God for F. C. Baur. And precisely because we long for this same comfortable conviction about the Old Testament do we plead that all may have the fullest liberty, without persecution even in the form of sneers or disparaging innuendoes, to investigate and discuss these newer questions. In the interests of faith we ask that even scepticism be not bridled. However, we believe it fully as unwise as it is unchristian to insinuate that sharers of the new view of the Pentateuch are necessarily sceptics, or that they are siding with sceptics, plotting to overturn the basis of revealed religion, or on the “down grade” of religious conviction. Such allegations are, perhaps, true in certain cases. That they are as often false, one needs only personal acquaintance with the critics in question to be fully assured. Even did we know these men to be at heart infidels in every case, that fact is quite aside from the important question. They might be infidels, yet possess correct knowledge of the Pentateuch. Let us sift and judge their facts and reasonings, leaving their motives and characters to God.

It is even more hazardous and gratuitous to assert, as, either explicitly or virtually, is often done, that this or that view of the Pentateuch will overthrow Christianity, rendering impossible belief in the divinity of Christ, or in the divine authority of the New Testament. The history of the church discloses sadly much of this pious gambling over Christianity. Once all belief in revealed truth was, by some, staked upon the presence or absence of bad rhetoric in the Bible. Again, Christians have been assured that the prevalence of Calvinism or of Armenianism would be fatal to Christianity in a little time. Many were, a few years ago, fully convinced that proof of the doctrine of Evolution in any form, would necessitate the rejection of belief not only in revealed religion, but in a personal God as well. Even now one may hear it as good as asserted that, were our canon to lose a single Scripture, or the slightest historical or scientific error in any Scripture to be proved, Christianity would be hopelessly gone, the moral law become invalid, the Sermon on the Mount a dead letter, and murder and hatred as justifiable as love. Christians who utter such things are soldiers firing into their own ranks.

For our part we have a far stronger faith in Christ and his truth than this, and feel not the slightest fear that Pentateuch-criticism, whatever its conclusions, can permanently affect Christianity in the least, otherwise than favorably. Let even Wellhausen’s view be adopted: there are several ways in which, we are happy to think, every recorded utterance of Christ touching the Pentateuch might be explained in accord with the perfect truthfulness and supernatural character of his teachings.

Professor Delitzsch of Leipzig is a writer whose zeal for Christianity and revealed religion certainly none will think of impeaching, just as none will call in question his unsurpassed ability to render judgment upon the points of Old Testament science now in dispute. It is plain from recent utterances of his that he does not think it necessary to remove his faith in Christ or in the revealed character of the Old Testament, although adopting absolutely the critical method, as well as many, if not the majority of what seem to us Wellhausen’s most dangerous conclusions. He says:2 “In my Commentary on Genesis,

“wherein, from its first appearance in 1852, I have maintained the right of cutting up the Pentateuch, rejoicing to be in this at one with Heinrich Kurtz, I have pointed out time and again that the Pentateuch, Thorah corresponds to the fourfold gospel, and that it should give no offence to view its five books, or with the addition of Joshua, six, as having arisen after the same manner with the four, or adding the Acts, the five. New Testament histories, which when closely surveyed pre-suppose a multitude of preparatory writings.. Luke in his introduction

says this expressly. To these numerous preceding sketches of what the Lord had said, done and suffered, are to be compared the numerous historical and legislative sketches, the numerous Thoroth having “origin within the priesthood that was called to the propagation of the “law, Thoroth which now lie before us in the Pentateuch in extracts and wrought out into one whole. True, I was for long of the opinion that “it sufficed to let the activity of these cooperating hands reach only “to the time of Joshua and the Judges. Now I am thoroughly convinced that the course of origination and development from which the Thorah in its present final form proceeded, reaches on into the postexilic “period, and perhaps was not fully terminated at the time when the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Greek translation arose. In this respect the gospels, whose origin stretches across one century only instead of “ten, are certainly very unlike the Pentateuch. The theme of the two sorts of works is also essentially different. After the earthly life of Jesus Christ has once come to an end and been caught up in the mirror of written history, it has for the Church a fixed and ended objective “character. But the Thorah contains not only a people’s history, but also their ordinances of life. It could not possibly have been otherwise than that the ordinances of life, once for all given by revelation, “should, by means of authentic interpretation and legal development through organs called to the work, receive, as already in the lifetime of the (original) law-giver, so also later on, all sorts of specializations and modifications, which could in good faith carry themselves hack by the same revelation-source with those basal elements that had been handed down. The Thorah mirrors a process a thousand years long, of the onward movement of the Mosaic law in Israel’s consciousness and practices. We concede (einrœumen) that it contains the precipitate of this process; but so much the more firmly do we maintain the Mosaic origin and the revealed character of its foundation, without which foundation, the people of the law, their prophecy and their religion that speaks itself forth in the songs of Deborah, David, etc., remain “incomprehensible. * * * * My aim3 (in the articles “for the Zeitschrift) has been threefold. First, I wished to show that one can, with full surrender to the drawing of the scientific sense for “truth, enter into the dissection of the Pentateuch without getting into error upon the divine side of holy scripture or losing confidence in its “trustworthiness; and to show at the same time, that one can handle all the questions of historical criticism which here confront us, without impairing through degrading and profane speech, the sacred reverence which the primitive sources of revelation make our duty. Secondly, I desired to show that the Pentateuch-theory proceeding from Reuss “and Graf is not without elements of truth, still, as yet, is far from having solved all the enigmas in the history of the origin of the Mosaic Thorah, that the self-confidence with which the theory here and there delivers itself lacks all sense for variation in degrees of assurance and certainty and that only shortsightedness, credulity and lack of independence can be bewitched by its bold reconstructions of history. If I have attained this aim, I am satisfied; for, though, thirdly, I too on my part, have endeavored to advance in some measure, insight into the course by which the Pentateuch came into being, I am too modest to assume that it has fallen to my lot to contribute to this end aught of significance. However, as guaranty that no polemic or apologetic zeal has swept me along upon a false road, I may mention that Dillmann's Commentary to the Books of Exodus and Leviticus, appearing while I was writing the eleventh article, agrees with me in nearly all main questions and in many details.”

Dillmann also, another highly conservative and trustworthy as well as able critic, surrenders without reserve to the critical method, and divides the Pentateuch into fully as numerous “layers” as even Wellhausen does.4 So far as we can discover, Delitzsch and Dillmann differ from the more advanced critics only in regarding the Mosaic substitute of the Pentateuch somewhat larger in compass and more emphatically theistic and levitical in character. Even upon these points as well as the others. Professor Bernhard Stade of Giessen, assures us, “a large number, if not the majority of the working Old Testament theologians (in Germany) have taken sides with ” Wellhausen as against the above-named conservative authorities.5 That all these favorers of the new view are upon the “down grade” of faith in Christianity we cannot believe.

It was no part of our purpose in the present article to discuss the proper merits of the question dividing this great parliament of scholars. We shall limit ourselves to the mere mention of two points, one indicating, we venture to think, the vulnerable place in the conservative theory, the other, that in the advanced. The change of scene, of customs, of atmosphere—the very change of worlds, as you pass from the Hexateuch to the later books of the Old Testament, conservative criticism has, so far utterly failed to explain. Israel’s backsliding increases, instead of abating, the mystery. Departure from God inspires, not diminishes, assiduity in observing ceremonial. Witness the Pharisees. Every person who has ever seriously tried to “integrate ” the Old Testament has had somewhat the same experience which Wellhausen describes in the following: “At the beginning of my studies I was attracted by the “ accounts concerning David and Saul, Elijah and Ahab, and taken by “the speeches of an Amos and an Isaiah. I read myself into the prophetic and the historical books of the Old Testament. Guided by the “ helps that were accessible to me, I believed that I understood those books tolerably at any rate; but at the same time I had an evil con- “ science, as if I were beginning at the roof instead of the foundation; for I was not acquainted with the law, which I used to hear represented as the basis and presupposition of the other literature. Finally I plucked up courage and toiled my way through Knobel’s Leviticus and Numbers, and even through Knobel’s Commentary upon them.

But in vain did I wait for the light which they were to prove upon the historical and prophetic books. Rather did the law ruin my enjoyment of those writings. It brought them no nearer to me, but thrust itself in as an intruder, a ghost, making confusion without being visible or active. Where points of contact were found, differences were connected with them, and I could not bring myself to see what was upon the side of the law as primitive; e. g., to regard the consecration of Samson or Samuel as advanced stages of the Mosaic Nazarite-vow. I dimly perceived a universal dissidence as of two different worlds. However, I nowise attained to a clear view, but only to a comfortless confusion, which was simply increased by Ewald’s investigations in the second volume of his History of the People of Israel. Then, upon a chance visit in Gottingen in the summer of 1867, I learned that Karl Heinrich Graf assigned to the law its place after the prophets, and almost, as yet, without ascertaining the grounds of his hypothesis, I was won over to it. I was able to vow that Hebrew antiquity could be understood without the Book of the Thorah.”6

On the other hand, the inimitable virtuosos that espouse the radical theory have almost as completely failed to show how even the priestly portion of the Pentateuch could have arisen so late as they assert. Their theories upon this point, one and all, appear to us in the highest degree artificial and bizarre, and are far from inclining us, at present, to cast aside the guidance of so careful and thorough a scholar as Delitzsch. We wait for further light, convinced meantime and ever that Foundation of God standeth sure” in revelation as in his natural works, so that investigation, be it hostile or friendly, can have no other permanent result but to reveal its depth unfathomable and its solidity eternal.


1) Thus, Mr. W. R. Soriey in his “Jewish Christians and Judaism,” London, ’81, scarcely more than translating; Ritschi's arguments in the sacred edition of his Entstebuag der aitkatholisehen Kirehe, shows that Baur was only relatively correct even in his best attested position, i. e. touching the schism between parties in the Apostolic Church, the ’’pillar-apostles” as well as the entire class of Jewish Christians having been far more in sympathy with Paul than with the Jews.

2) Ze1tschrift fuer Kirchicht Wissenschaft u. Kirchliches Leben. 1880. VII. Ss. 620 pp.

3) s. 6..5.

4) See Theoligische Literatuneitung for 1881. 370. Touching this question of “layers” In the Pentateuch, Prof. Green, in his recent powerful article in the Presbyterian Rev. Is brave enough to “face a frowning world” of Old Testament scholars, all the ablest critics of every school being against him.

5) Ibid, S. 369.

6) Geschichte Israels, I. S. 3. f.