Archeology and Biblical Criticism: Part I: Is Rationalistic Biblical Criticism Dead? -- By: Joseph P. Free

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 113:450 (Apr 1956)
Article: Archeology and Biblical Criticism: Part I: Is Rationalistic Biblical Criticism Dead?
Author: Joseph P. Free


Archeology and Biblical Criticism:
Part I:
Is Rationalistic Biblical Criticism Dead?

Joseph P. Free

From time to time one hears the statement, “Wellhausen is dead,” and if we think only superficially of the matter, we may be tempted to think that this whole area of thought has gone with other outmoded theories and we no longer need to concern ourselves with Wellhausen and Wellhausenism (Julius Wellhausen, 1844–1918, summed up the nineteenth century development of rationalistic criticism and literary analysis of the Bible in his Prolegomena to the History of Israel, 1878). Wellhausen, it is quite true, died in 1918, nearly forty years ago, and most of his significant works were completed by the beginning of the twentieth century. However, the type of rationalistic Biblical criticism which he summed up and epitomized still forms, with some variation, the basic approach to the Bible and Biblical study in practically all areas characterized by radical, liberal, “conservative-liberal,” and neo-orthodox views.

Tenets of Rationalistic Criticism

What are the main tenets of rationalistic Biblical criticism, as summed up by Wellhausen in 1878 and developed during the last three quarters of a century by liberal scholars and teachers? They have been well summarized by Professor J. Coppens of Louvain University in his book, The Old Testament and the Critics, 1942, and include: (1) Skepticism toward the documents giving the history of ancient Israel (i.e., much of the Old Testament is unhistorical); (2) The application of the theory of evolution to the religious and cultural history of Israel; (3) Rejection of the supernatural intervention of God; (4) The late date and documentary composition of the Pentateuch, and the late date and

unhistorical character of many other parts of the Old Testament (pp. 25-37ff).

To realize that rationalistic criticism and the documentary theory are alive and dominant, one has only to read current periodicals and books in the field of Biblical research, examine recent Bible translations and read their preface and footnotes, or attend the learned society meetings in the field of Biblical studies.

Skepticism toward Historicity of Old Testament

Let us examine each of the above tenets of Biblical criticism in the light of mid-twentieth century Biblical works, and illustrate the type of attitude we find. In accordance with the first tenet (skepticism toward the historicity of much of the Old Testament), many parts of the Bible were categorized by the liberal in the past as unhistorical or even mythical. In an earlier day, the German writer Schultz said that the Book of Genesis was “a ...

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