A Layman’s View of the Critical Theory -- By: Herbert W. Magoun

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 070:277 (Jan 1913)
Article: A Layman’s View of the Critical Theory
Author: Herbert W. Magoun

A Layman’s View of the Critical Theory

Herbert W. Magoun, Ph.D.


The critical theory here referred to began with Genesis. It was not long before it was applied to the Pentateuch, and it has since been extended in various directions. It assumes that certain ancient documents are of much later date than has ordinarily been supposed and that they are really compilations from different sources by other than their traditional authors. While its scope has been so broadened as to include not only additional books of the Old Testament but also some other ancient writings outside of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Pentateuch has been made so prominent in the general discussion that the words, “The Critical Theory,” at once suggest it; and this paper will therefore have special reference to that portion of the Bible and the application of the theory to it.

Before proceeding to the elucidation of the matter in hand, it is necessary to deal with certain preliminary questions; for many will at once assume that a layman has no business to have any views on this subject, to begin with, and that he is inexcusably presumptuous if he dares to express them. This, at least, appears to be the case, if one may judge from the attitude of some members of the clergy when a layman ventures to mention the subject. To meet the difficulty, it will be necessary to speak with the utmost frankness and direct-

ness, a thing from which modern usage makes one’s whole nature instinctively shrink, unless it is a positive necessity. When such is the case, it should settle the matter, and the plunge should be made without further ado.

It has already been made clear in these pages1 that the critical theory originated with a layman. Jean Astruc, a French medical writer, born in 1684, occupied a professor’s chair, but he had no affiliations with the clergy as such. The “Century Dictionary” has this to say of him: —

“His most celebrated work is ‘Conjectures sur les memoires originaux, dont il paroit que Moyse s’est servi pour composer le livre de la Genèse’ (Brussels, 1753), in which he divided the book of Genesis into two parts on the basis of the use of Elohim or Yahveh (Jehovah) as the name of God, holding that this difference in usage pointed to the fact that Genesis was made up of two parallel, independent narratives. His memoir formed the starting-point of modern criticism of the Pentateuch.”

This should make it tolerably clear that the whole matter began as a layman’s question. The work referred to was published in 1753, as stated, and a few years later, in 1780, J. G. Eichhor...

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