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Chapter 6


The Plan of the Pentateuch

Back in the middle of the eighteenth century, back before the Documentary Hypothesis became popular, two men were puzzled by the repetitions in the Old Testament. Both men solved the puzzle as best as they could and both men published their solutions in 1753. But their solutions were as different as night and day.

The first man was Jean Astruc, the court physician for Louis XV in Paris. He was interested in the repetitions he had found in Genesis. Like all good doctors, he was a keen observer and had a scientific mind, but he had one failing: he simply could not diagnose why a single author would want to use repetitions. He theorized that Moses must have come across two complete memoirs, or documents, and ten fragmentary memoirs which he then placed in four columns so that they could be compared; later copyists mistakenly merged the four columns into one.[i] The documentarians never did adopt his theory in all its details, but they did accept his observations and his idea that the repetitions resulted from a collation of documents. For this reason, some scholars call him the father of the Documentary Hypothesis.

The second man was Robert Lowth, who at the time was Professor of Poetry at Oxford. He naturally was interested in the repetitions he had found in Biblical poetry. Because he specialized in literary studies, he had a better feel for what an author would do than did Astruc. He did not see the poetic repetitions as evidence of multiple authors; instead, he saw them as evidence that the Hebrew poets often employed a literary device which he called parallelism.[ii] His views were adopted by many scholars, including the documentarians. But that is because the documentar­ians have not fully comprehended the implications Lowth’s theory has for the study of the Pentateuch….

[i] Jean Astruc, Conjectures sur les memoires originaux dont il parait que Moyse s’est servi, pour composer le liver de la Geneses (Conjectures on the Original Memoirs which Moses Seems to Have Used in Composing the Book of Genesis), 1753.

[ii] Robert Lowth, Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews, reprint edition (Georg Olms Verlag, 1969).

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