Monday, December 04, 2006

Cassuto and Hypotheses of the OT

I've been reading Umberto Cassuto's The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch, an assault on the Modern interpretative hypothesis of the Old Testament that took the scholastic world by storm. Below is my review as posted in LibraryThing.
Wow... "Classic" doesn't do this book justice. With seven swipes of his historical-literary sword, Cassuto beheads the Documentary Hypothesis. As we stare in disgust on the bloody corpse which once was the greatest knight of the realm, we suddenly find ourselves experiencing that historical shift in biblical studies which began here. Short, powerful, and easy to read--Cassuto's lecture series is a tour de force for the layman and scholar alike.
Here is where the proud--and many said invincible--knight falls and where a new hero arises. Literary Criticism. The methodology which seeks to understand the parts of the Old Testament in light of the whole (with help, of course, from ancient near eastern narrative) instead of a set of unique and confused texts pasted together into a disparate mosaic.

It is interesting, however, that as Cassuto lambastes the Documentary Hypothesis, he is beset by the very same Modernist epistemology that handicapped Wellhausen. Wellhausen and his ilk thought that they could examine the Old Testament objectively or without bias. Wellhausen wrote, "our vital concern is research without presuppositions." It has now been unquestionably shown that this was not the case, but that, to use Cassuto's own words, "the investigators' conceptions are not based on purely objective facts...they were appreciably motivated by the subjective characteristics of the researchers themselves." And yet--quite astonishingly--Cassuto is either unable to recognize this characteristic in himself or thinks that he can somehow bypass the prison of his own limited perspective. He writes, just two sentences after the quote above, "We must approach this task with complete objectivity marred by no bias..." Then, continuing, "it behooves us to conduct our investigation without prejudgement..." I commented at this point in the margin of the book, "Famous last words? This is the same thing Wellhausen said."

An alternative to both Cassuto's holistic narrative and Wellhausen's mosaic methodologies is something called the Supplement Hypothesis. This is only briefly mentioned (and dismissed) by Cassuto, but nevertheless piques my interest. I hope to look into this in the near future.


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