- Prologue to History: The Yahwist as Historian in Genesis (review)
- Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies
- Purdue University Press
- Volume 13, Number 4, Summer 1995
- pp. 137-139
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Book Reviews 137 understood by others, and in this way served various political, social, and perhaps individual creative causes. Ellen Koskoff Eastman School of Music University of Rochester Prologue to History: The Yahwist as Historian in Genesis, byJohn Van Seters. Louisville, KY: Westminster!.John Knox Press, 1992. 367 pp. $28.00. How did the books of the Bible come to be written? Are books like Genesis the result of centuries of gradual growth in several stages, beginning early in Israel's history and ending sometime in the Second Temple period? Or is the early core and structure of the Genesis story the result of one writer's genius who borrowed and creatively reshaped traditions from Israel and Israel's neighbors sometime during or shortly after Judah's exile to Babylon? Foe the better part of two decades, John Van Seters, who is Professor of Biblical Literature at the University of North Carolina, has sought to answer those questions. Many biblical scholars since the nineteenth century have accepted the theory that the Pentateuch of Genesis-Deuteronomy grew through four stages or layers called 1) the Yahwist oe J source (dated as the earliest layer to the time of David and Solomon), 2) the E or Elohist source (dated to a century after theJ source), 3) the Deuteronomistic or D source (from the seventh century B.C.E. shortly before the exile ofJudah to Babylon), and 4) the Priestly or P source (dating from the exile to Babylon sometime after 587 B.C.E.). This so-called documentary hypothesis of four documents or stages cr, E, D, and P) in the growth of the Pentateuch has come under considerable attack recently, and Van Seters has been at the forefront of the offensive. In Prologue to History, Van Seters replaces the JEDP hypothesis with his own proposal which may be summarized with the letters DJP. A singular Deuteronomistic writer (D) wrote the books of Deuteronomy through 2 Kings as the first example of ancient nationalist historiography in the seventh century n.C.E. Then sometime after the. Babylonian exile in the sixth century B.C.E., a J or Yahwistic writer added a universalizing prologue to this Deuteronomistic history in the form of a story running from the creation of the world and nations in Genesis 1-11 through the wilderness wanderings of the book of Numbers. Van Seters denies the existence of any E source and so he is left with a later P or 138 SHOFAR Summer 1995 Vol. 13, No.4 Priestly source sometime in the Second Temple period. The most important part of Van Seters' program is his relatively late dating of the J writer, placing J in the period of the Babylonian exile rather than in the period of the united monarchy of David and Solomon. In support of his position, Van Seters argues that literacy and writing could not have been advanced far enough in Israel's culture for a historiography of such complexity to have been written before the seventh century B.C.E. Prologue to History seeks to trace some of the important traditions which this J writer used to write the Genesis story. Some borrowing from Mesopotamian myths and materials has often been acknowledged by scholars in the book of Genesis (e.g., Noah and the flood story). What is unique about Van Seters is his claim that the Yahwistic 0) writer of Genesis also borrowed from early Greek models of historiography such as Hesiod and others. Van Seters makes much of a Greek work entitled the "Catalog of Women," which uses genealogies as a literary structuring device in a way not found in any earlier ancient Near Eastern writings or history. The Yahwistic writer in Genesis, argues Van Seters, must have borrowed this genealogical structuring device from the Greeks. Prologue to History is divided into three parts. Part One studies the histories of the primeval world from ancient Near Eastern cultures outside Israel, namely, Mesopotamia and Greece. Part Two turns to the Yahwist's version of the primeval history in Genesis 2-11. Van Seters seeks to demonstrate that this material belongs to a unified literary work he calls J, that this material...