William Henry Green and the Authorship of the Pentateuch: Some Historical Considerations -- By: Peter E. Enns

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 45:3 (Sep 2002)
Article: William Henry Green and the Authorship of the Pentateuch: Some Historical Considerations
Author: Peter E. Enns


William Henry Green and the Authorship of the Pentateuch:
Some Historical Considerations

Peter Enns*

* Peter Enns is associate professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, P.O. Box 27009, Philadelphia, PA 19118.

I. Introduction

One of the dominant figures from Princeton Theological Seminary of the late nineteenth century was William Henry Green (1825–1900), Helena Professor of Oriental and Old Testament Literature.1 His many writings on the Pentateuch,2 Hebrew grammar,3 and other topics4 readily attest to his scholarly acumen and the profound degree to which he had internalized the primary and secondary literature. Green’s reputation, however, was largely built around his defense of Princeton’s doctrine of Scripture in the context of shifting views in the world of OT scholarship in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

The purpose of this essay is to engage Green on one specific issue, his understanding of the authorship of the Pentateuch, and I wish to do so with an eye toward the historical-intellectual context in which he lived. I am interested not simply in outlining what he thought about pentateuchal authorship (an issue that becomes readily apparent in his writings), but also in why he argued the way he did. In this brief essay, which admittedly can hardly do justice to Green’s life and work, I hope to encourage greater understanding and appreciation of Green’s position while also providing a critical assessment of the place of his arguments in the current intellectual climate, which has shifted significantly since Green’s day.

There can be little question that Green has done subsequent conservative scholarship a service in outlining the weaknesses of the critical arguments of the time. In fact, many of his observations are still pertinent today and stand as lasting contributions to Christian thought, so much so that those still wishing to take to task current source theories of the Pentateuch would have to begin with the writings of William Henry Green before proceeding with their own. Nevertheless, what constitutes at least part of the motivation for this study is my firm belief that scholarship today should benefit from the work of the past without at the same time being uncritical of that past. As I hope to demonstrate, the manner in which Green defended mosaic authorship was influenced at least in part by a doctrine of Scripture that, ironically, shared certain assumptions with the vi...

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