Source Criticism (biblical Studies)

Source Criticism (biblical Studies)

Source criticism, as the term is used in biblical criticism, refers to the attempt to establish the sources used by the author and/or redactor of the final text.

Biblical source criticism originated in the 18th century with the work of Jean Astruc, who adapted the methods already developed for investigating the texts of Classical antiquity (Homer's Iliad in particular) to his own investigation into the sources of the Book of Genesis. It was subsequently considerably developed by German scholars in what was known as "the Higher Criticism", a term no longer in widespread use. The ultimate aim of these scholars was to reconstruct the history of the biblical text, as well as the religious history of ancient Israel.

In general, the closer a source is to the event which it purports to describe, the more one can trust it to give an accurate description of what really happened. In the Bible where a variety of earlier sources have been quoted, the historian seeks to identify and date those sources used by biblical writers as the first step in evaluating their historical reliability.

In other cases, Bible scholars use the way a text is written (changes in style, vocabulary, repetitions, and the like) to determine what sources may have been used by a biblical author. With some reasonable guesswork it is possible to deduce sources not identified as such (e.g., genealogies). Some inter-biblical sources can be determined by virtue of the fact that the source is still extant; e.g., where Chronicles quotes or retells the accounts of the books of Samuel and Kings.

Out of source criticism developed the Documentary Hypothesis. The Documentary Hypothesis considers the sources for the Pentateuch, claiming that there were four separate sources that combined to create the first five books of the bible. These sources are the Yahwist, Elohist, Deuteronomist, and Priestly source. The Jahwist source is characterized by the use of the name YHWH, has a human like God, and is especially concerned with the kingdom of Judah. The Jahwist source is thought to be written c. 950 B.C. The Elohist source is characterized with God being called Elohim, and deals more with the kingdom of Israel. The Elohist source is thought to be written c. 850 B.C. The Deuteronomic source is characterized by a sermon like style mostly concerned with law. The Deuteronomic source is thought to be written c. 721-621 B.C. The Priestly source is characterized by a formal style that is mostly concerned with priestly matters. The Priestly source is thought to be written c. 550 B.C. While there are many opponents to the Documentary Hypothesis, the majority of biblical scholars support it. Some of the other hypotheses that have been raised by source criticism are the fragmentary and supplementary hypotheses.

Related to Source Criticism is Redaction Criticism which seeks to determine how and why the redactor (editor) put the sources together the way he did. Also related are form criticism and tradition history which try to reconstruct the oral prehistory behind the identified written sources.

Read more about Source Criticism (biblical Studies):  See Also, Further Reading

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