- Unified until Proven Disunified?Assumptions and Standards in Assessing the Literary Complexity of Ancient Biblical Texts
Serge Frolov’s response to Philip Yoo’s article on Deuteronomy 34 purports to “expose [the] source-critical approach as self-contradictory” and to raise “serious doubts about its [source criticism’s] epistomological validity.” I argue here that Frolov’s article does nothing of the sort. Instead, both Yoo’s and Frolov’s articles show how a researcher’s specific assumptions—whether those of Yoo or of Frolov himself—can limit that researcher’s analysis. Yoo stratifies Deuteronomy 34, a text that Frolov rightly states “has never been pivotal to the source-critical project,” based on a set of assumptions that derive from his specifically Neo-Documentarian approach. Frolov’s response discards all source-critical assumptions and presents a somewhat harmonizing, “inductive” reading of Deuteronomy 34 that smooths over some mild problems within the chapter itself and also its contrasts with some other biblical traditions.1
Yoo begins with an unstated assumption that the Pentateuch was created out of four source documents, and he moves on to state that three of the sources—J, E, and P—“included an account of Moses’ death,” and he is “open to the probability that D includes a death account of Moses.”2 This is his sole reason for assigning the two words reporting Moses’ death, (“and Moses died”; 34:5*), to all four [End Page 677] sources.3 In most other cases (including the rest of 34:5), Yoo assigns parts of Deuteronomy 34 to J, E, D, and P by comparing these parts of Deuteronomy 34 to other pentateuchal passages assigned by him to these four sources as they are contained in a database of assignments of pentateuchal texts to J, E, D and P that he does not give in his article. For example, Yoo (following others) assigns Moses’ ascent of Mount Nebo in the plains of Moab in 34:1a to P based on its connections to Deut 32:49, a verse Yoo assigns to P but which many other contemporary source critics would not.4 Sometimes he adds additional arguments. For example, he presupposes a complete source analysis of the Pentateuch (not given or referred to in the article itself) in arguing that the description of Joshua’s succession to Moses in Deut 34:9 cannot be assigned to J because of “the lack of mention [in J] of a character named Joshua up to this point.”5 Furthermore, he notes connections of 34:9 to P materials anticipating this “laying on of hands” in Num 27:18, 23, while arguing that 34:9 is not compatible with the description of Moses’ commissioning of Joshua in 31:7 (assigned by Yoo to D) and Yhwh’s commissioning of Joshua in 31:14, 23 (assigned by Yoo to E). Finally, a major assumption for Yoo is “that R, whenever possible, fully preserves and uses his sources,”6 and this leads him to make sure that his source assignments connect with each other as much as possible and produce maximally readable texts.
In sum, Yoo presupposes that Deuteronomy 34 is a conflation by a redactor (“R”) of four sources found across the rest of the Pentateuch—J, E, D, and P—each of which is preserved virtually completely across the Pentateuch, whose parts can be recognized primarily through similarity to other parts of the same source (as analyzed by Yoo), along with occasional conflicts of parts of Deuteronomy 34 with other pentateuchal source materials (as assigned by Yoo). Since Yoo neither gives nor cites an overview of the pentateuchal source texts that are the basis of his analysis, it is ultimately impossible for any reader of his article (without access to his source database) to verify crucial parts of his argument (the distribution of criteria, the plausibility of the source attributions used to derive them, the absence of certain features from a source) or his general claim that the Pentateuch is created out of the four sources by a redactor who preserved them almost completely.7 [End Page 678]
Frolov is not as explicit about his assumptions as Yoo, but his...