The Undead Hypothesis: Why the Documentary Hypothesis is the Frankenstein of Biblical Studies -- By: Duane A. Garrett

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 005:3 (Fall 2001)
Article: The Undead Hypothesis: Why the Documentary Hypothesis is the Frankenstein of Biblical Studies
Author: Duane A. Garrett


The Undead Hypothesis:
Why the Documentary Hypothesis is the
Frankenstein of Biblical Studies

Duane Garrett

Duane Garrett is a professor of Old Testament at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. He has served the International Mission Board by teaching in Southern Baptist seminaries in both Korea and Canada. Dr. Garrett is the author of many articles and books, including two Old Testament commentaries in the New American Commentary series. He is currently working on a commentary on the Song of Solomon for the Word Biblical Commentary series.

A stock feature of the classic “grade B” horror movie is the undead creature who relentlessly stalks innocent people and terrorizes an otherwise quiet village. Whether it be Frankenstein, the Mummy, Dracula, or simply crude, grotesque zombies with rotting flesh falling off their limbs and faces, these villains share a common trait. They all have already died and usually have already been buried. But then, either through the blunder of some investigator or the work of some evil genius, they rise and walk again. The dilemma posed by these undead monsters is obvious: How do you kill someone who is already dead?

A similar creature stalks the halls of biblical studies. It is routinely raised up from the grave in classrooms and it haunts textbooks and monographs that deal with the Hebrew Scriptures. Wherever it roams, it distorts the analysis of the text of the Bible, confounds readers, and produces strange and irrational interpretations. This undead creature sometimes goes by the quasi-mystical sounding sobriquet “the JEDP theory,” but it is better known by its formal name, the documentary hypothesis.

The time has come for scholars to recognize that the documentary hypothesis is dead. The arguments that support it have been dismantled by scholars of many stripes—many of whom have no theological commitment to the Bible. The theory is, however, still taught as an established result of biblical scholarship in universities and theological schools around the world. Books and monographs rooted in it still frequently appear. Laughably, some of these books are touted for their “startling new interpretations” of the history of the Bible while in fact doing little more than repackaging old ideas.1 If the sheer volume of literature on a hypothesis were a demonstration of its veracity, the documentary hypothesis would indeed be well established.2 Nevertheless, while the dead hand of the documentary hypothesis still dominates Old Testament scholarship as its official orthodoxy, the cutting edge research of recent years has typically been highly critical of the theory.You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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