The Pentateuch in the Twentieth Century: The Legacy of Julius Wellhausen Hardcover – 29 Jan 1998
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the publication of this book is quite welcome. Nicholson does not merely survey the history of the field ... He reviews many studies in great detail and subjects their assumptions, their reasoning, and their treatment of sample passages to a close analysis. This well-written book is both crucial reading for Pentateuch specialists and an excellent aid for other biblicists who need to keep abreast of the revolutions and counter-revolutions that have taken place in Pentateuchal criticism. (Benjamin D. Sommer, Review of Biblical Literature.)
This book ... treats the gamut of modern Christian scholarship on the Pentateuch in the last two centuries, and this comprehensive approach proves extremely useful. (Benjamin D. Sommer, Review of Biblical Literature.)
the book genuinely helps make recent challenges to the Documentary Hypothesis more accessible even as it defends the older view. (Benjamin D. Sommer, Review of Biblical Literature.)
Regardless of whether one agrees with Nicholson's judgements ... his comprehensive analysis of modern Christian scholarship on the Pentateuch renders this book crucial to all further discussion; the book must be placed on reading lists for all graduate students and scholars.
Throughout the book he is in dialogue with the major scholars in the biblical field. Though most of them are German, their positions are carefully explained so that the reader will readily understand the argument ... the book should be in theological libraries. (The Bible Today, vol 37, No 5 September/October 1999)
It is a clearly written description of a complicated topic. The volume is a significant contribution to contemporary Pentateuchal studies. (W. H. Bellinger, Jr, Religious Studies Review)
About the Author
Ernest Nicholson is Provost of Oriel College, Oxford --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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In Part 1, Nicholson begins with the original questions asked by Wellhausen, Graf, DeWette, Vatke et al. He thereby describes the beginnings and subsequent development of the documentary hypothesis. He then surveys the approach of the early form critics like Gunkel who sought to understand the pre-textual traditions which are reflected in the final form of the text. In the final section of his historical overview, he describes the approaches of vonRad and Noth in an effort to better understand how scholars assessed the work of the "Yahwist" - recognized as a creative theologian in his own right.
In Part 2, Nicholson proceeds to describe more recent developments in Pentateuchal studies. Working through the views of such scholars as Rolf Rendtorff, John VanSeters, Erhard Blum and others, he clearly describes their views, summarizes the textual arguments used to support their views, and offers his own nuances and critiques. He spends an entire chapter devoted to the question of whether or not "P" can be considered an independent source, another important matter in present day Pentateuchal studies, and concludes with a chapter moving back toward synchronic questions, now better informed by an understanding of the preceding diachronic discussion.
This book is not for everyone. If one is looking for a simple overview of the first five books, any number of introductions to the Pentateuch are available that can assist in such studies. Introductions by Terence E. Fretheim, R.N. Whybray, Robert Alter and Joseph Blenkinsopp will provide readers with scholarly approaches that will not bury the non-technician in the labels and jargon required for students in academic settings. Furthermore, many readers hold to the approach that the Pentateuch is a single document, written by Moses sometime in the late bronze age. Any number of homiletical and confessional commentaries will meet the needs of these readers.
For the new scholar who needs an introduction to academic work done on the Pentateuch over the past several centuries, Ernest Nicholson's volume is simply a must read. One will find that they are better prepared to dive into the important works of Wellhausen, Noth, von Rad and Gunkel (to name a few) simply by a close read of Nicholson's critical summary. Though the price of this volume may seem a bit steep, it is worth every penny for this thorough summary. By making concise such a vast corpus of secondary literature, Nicholson has saved students an inestimable amount of time.
Unfortunately Wellhausen started with tenets that have been overturned by archaeology -- a subject cited only once in this book and not inclusively of all its results.
Further having read Cassuto (see my review) I find Nicholson scientifically illiterate. Having just read A.H. Sayce's The "Higher Criticism" and the Verdict of the Monuments in 2011, I find he shares this opinion. He goes further; he charges that the work that led up to Wellhausen's Prolegomena was a deliberate attempt to put Bible scholarship on a scientific basis that equally deliberately ignored every archaeological find going on in southwest Asia and northwest Africa within 30 years after the Prolegomena -- except the Mesha stone. See my review of Sayce.
This book talks a lot about the hypothesis but says little about Pentateuch.
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