BESIDES those already treated we find evidence of another separate stream of tradition. This source is so distinct from the other sources both in style and spirit that in the great majority of cases it can be separated from them to the very letter. This collection also is not limited to Genesis; on the contrary, the legends of the beginnings and of the patriarchs are to it merely a brief preparation for the capital matter, which is the legislation of Moses. The Priestly Codex is of special importance for us because the entire discussion of the Old Testament has hitherto turned essentially upon its data. It is Wellhausen's immortal merit (Prolegomena,4 p. 299 ff.) to have recognised the true character of this source, which had previously been considered the oldest, to have demonstrated thus the incorrectness of the entire general view of the Old Testament, and thus to have prepared the field for a living and truly historical understanding of the history of the religion of Israel.
The style of P is extremely peculiar, exceedingly detailed and aiming at legal clearness and minuteness, having always the same expressions and formulae, with precise definitions and monotonous set phrases with consistently employed outlines which
lack substance, with genealogies and with titles over every chapter. It is the tone of prosaic pedantry, often indeed the very style of the legal document (for instance xi. II; and xxiii. 17, 18); occasionally, however, it is not without a certain solemn dignity (especially in Genesis i. and else-where also, cp. the scene xlvii. 7-11). One must really read the whole material of P consecutively in order to appreciate the dryness and monotony of this remarkable book. The author is evidently painfully exact and exemplary in his love of order, but appreciation of poetry was denied him as to many another scholar.
The selection of material both in large and in small matters is highly characteristic in P. The only stories of any length which he gives us are those of the Creation and the Deluge, of God's appearance to Abraham and of the purchase of the cave at Machpelah; all else is details and genealogies. From by far the greatest number of narratives he found use only for separate and disconnected observations. One has only to compare the ancient variegated and poetic legends and the scanty reports which P gives of them, in order to learn where his interests lie: he does not purpose to furnish a poetic narrative, as those of old had done, but only to arrive at the facts. This is why he was unable to use the many individual traits contained in the old legends, but merely took from them a very few facts. He ignored the sentiments of the legends, he did not see the personal life of the patriarchs; their figures, once so concrete, have become mere pale types when seen through his medium. In times of old many of these legends had been located
in definite places, thereby gaining life and color; P has forgotten all but two places: the cave of Machpelah, where the patriarchs dwelt and lie buried, and Bethel, where God revealed himself to Jacob. On the other hand, he has a great predilection for genealogies, which, as we have seen, were the latest elements to be contributed to the accumulation of the legend, and which are in their very nature unconcrete and unpoetical. A very large portion of P's share in Genesis is genealogy and nothing more.
Even those narratives which are told by P at length manifest this same lack of color. They are narratives that are not really stories. The account of the purchase of the cave of Machpelah might have been nothing but an incidental remark in one of the older story-tellers; P has spun it out at length because he wanted to establish as beyond all doubt the fact that the cave really belonged to the patriarchs and was an ancestral sepulcher. But he had not the poetic power necessary to shape the account into a story. In the great affairs of. state which P gives instead of the old stories, story-telling has ceased, there is only talking and negotiating (Wellhausen). Even the accounts of the Creation, the Deluge and the Covenant with Abraham manifest a wide contrast with the vivid colors of the older legends; they lack greatly in the concrete elements of a story. Instead of this P gives in them something else, something altogether alien to the spirit of the early legend, to wit, legal ordinances, and these in circumstantial detail. Another characteristic of P is his pronounced liking for outlines; this order-loving man has ensnared the gay legends of the olden
time in his gray outlines, and there they have lost all their poetic freshness: take as an illustration the genealogy of Adam and Seth. Even the stories of the patriarchs have been caged by P in an outline.
Furthermore P attaches to the legends a detailed chronology, which plays a great role in his account, but is absolutely out of keeping with the simplicity of the old legends. Chronology belongs by its very nature to history, not to legend. Where historical narrative and legend exist as living literary species, they are recognised as distinct, even though unconsciously. This confusion of the two species in P shows that in his time the natural appreciation for both history and legend had been lost. Accordingly it is not strange that the chronology of P displays everywhere the most absurd oddities when injected into the old legends: as a result, Sarah is still at sixty-five a beautiful woman whom the Egyptians seek to capture, and Ishmael is carried on his mother's shoulder after he is a youth of sixteen.
There has been added a great division of the world's history into periods, which P forces upon the whole matter of his account. He recognises four periods: from the creation to Noah, from Noah to Abraham, from Abraham to Moses, and from Moses on. Each of these periods begins with a theophany, and twice a new name for God is introduced. He who is Elohim at the creation is El Shaddai in connexion with Abraham and Jahveh to Moses. At the establishment of the Covenant certain divine ordinances are proclaimed:
first, that men and beasts are to eat only herbs, and then, after the Deluge, that flesh may be eaten but no men be slain, and then, especially for Abraham, that he and his descendants shall circumcise themselves; finally, the Mosaic law.
In connexion with these, certain definite divine promises are made and signs of the Covenant given. What we find in this is the product of a great and universal mind, the beginning of a universal history in the grand style, and indeed P shows a genuinely scientific mind in other points: consider, for instance, his precision in the order of creation in Genesis i. and his definitions there. But the material of the legends which this grandiose universal history uses stands in very strong contrast with the history itself: the signs of the Covenant are a rainbow, circumcision and the Sabbath, a very remarkable list! And how remote is this spirit of universal history, which even undertakes to estimate the duration of the entire age of the world, from the spirit of the old legend, which originally consists of only a single story that is never able to rise to the height of such general observations: in J, for instance, we hear nothing of the relation of Abraham's religion to that of his fathers and his tribal kinsmen.
Furthermore, we cannot deny that this reflexion of P's, that Jahveh first revealed himself in quite a general form as "God," and then in a concreter form as El Shaddai, and only at the last under his real name, is, after all, very childish: the real history of religion does not begin with the general and
then pass to the concrete, but on the contrary, it begins with the very most concrete conceptions, and only slowly and gradually do men learn to comprehend what is abstract.
It is characteristic of the religion of the author P that he says almost nothing about the personal piety of the patriarchs; he regards only the objective as important in religion. For instance, he says nothing about Abraham's obedience on faith; indeed does not hesitate to report that Abraham laughed at God's promise (xvii. 17). The religion that he knows consists in the prescription of ceremonies; he regards it of importance that the Sabbath shall be observed, that circumcision shall be practised, that certain things shall be eaten and others not. In such matters he is very scrupulous. He abstains, evidently with deliberation, from telling that the patriarchs offered sacrifice in any certain place, and this evidently for the reason that these places were regarded as heathenish in his time. Similarly, in his account of the Deluge, he does not distinguish the clean and the unclean beasts. It is his opinion that established worship and the distinction of clean and unclean were not introduced until the time of Moses.
But in this we hear the voice of a priest of Jerusalem, whose theory is that the worship at his sanctuary is the only legitimate worship and the continuation of the worship instituted by Moses. The Israelitish theocracy--this, in modern phrase, is the foundation thought of his work--is the purpose of the world. God created the world in order that his ordinances and commandments might be observed in the temple at Jerusalem.
The theophanies of P are characterised by their inconcreteness; he tells only that God appeared, spoke, and again ascended, and leaves out everything else. In this, then, he follows the style of the latest additions to JE, which also contain such speeches attributed to God without any introduction. It is evident that in this there is expressed a religious hesitation on the part of P to involve the supermundane God with the things of this world; it seems as though he suspected the heathen origin of these theophanies. At the same time we perceive what his positive interest is; he cares for the content of the divine revelation, but not for its "How." Moreover, it is no accident that he conceives of these speeches of God as "covenant-making": evidently he has in mind this originally legal form. This union of the priest, the scholar, and the distinctive lawyer, which seems to us perhaps remarkable at first, is after all quite natural: among many ancient races the priesthood was the guardian of learning and especially of the law. And thus it surely was in Israel too, where from primitive times the priests were accustomed to settle difficult disputes. P developed his style in the writing of contracts--this is quite evident in many places.
But it is especially characteristic of P that he no longer refers to the sacred symbols, which had once possessed such great importance for the ancient religion, as may be seen particularly in the legends of the patriarchs; in him we no longer find a reference to the monuments, the trees and groves, and the springs at which, according to the ancient legends, the divinity appeared. P has expunged all such matter from the legend, evidently because
he considered it heathenish. Here we see plainly the after-effects of the fearful polemics of the Prophets: it is the same spirit which branded the ancient sacred place of Bethel as heathen (in the "reform" of Josiah) and which here rejects from the ancient legends everything that smacks of heathen-ism to these children of a later time.
This much, then, is certain, that the conceptions of God in P are loftier and more advanced than those of the old legends; and yet P is far below these older authors, who had not made the acquaintance of the sacerdotalism of Jerusalem, but who did know what piety is. Just as P purified the religion of the patriarchs, so did he also purge their morality. Here, too, P adds the last word to a development which we have followed up in J and E. The old legends of the patriarchs, being an expression of the most primitive life of the people, contained a great deal that those of a later time could not but regard as wrong and sinful, if they were quite honest about it.
And yet, the belief of the time was that the patriarchs were models of piety and virtue. What pains had been taken to eliminate at least the most offensive things in this line so far as possible! When it comes to P at last, he makes a clean sweep: he simply omits altogether what is offensive (for instance, the quarrel of the shepherds of Abraham and Lot, Lot's selfishness, the exile of Ishmael, Jacob's deceptions); he even goes to the length of maintaining the precise contrary to the tradition: Ishmael and Isaac together peacefully buried their father (xxv. 9), and so did Jacob and Esau (xxxv. 29). Facts which cannot be obliterated receive a
different motivation: thus he explains Isaac's blessing of Jacob as a result of Esau's sinful mixed marriages (xxvi. 34 f.; xxviii. i ff.), and he lays the crime against Joseph at the door of the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah (xxxvii. 2).
From all of this it appears clear that P dealt very arbitrarily with the tradition as it came down to him. He dropped old versions or changed them at pleasure; mere incidents he spun out to complete stories, and from whole stories he adopted only incidents; he mingled the motives of various legends, declaring, for instance, that the blessing received by Jacob from Isaac was the blessing of Abraham, which had been entirely foreign to the thought of the old story-tellers (xxviii. 4; other instances may be found pp. 237, 247, 350 of the Commentary); from the stories of the old tradition, which stood in loose juxtaposition, he formed a continuous narrative with close connexion,--this, too, a mark of the latest period. In place of the legends he placed his chapters with regular headings!
This narrator, then, has no conception of the fidelity of the older authors; he probably had an impression that it was necessary to lay on vigorously in order to erect a structure worthy of God. The older authors, J and E, were really not authors, but merely collectors, while P is a genuine author; the former merely accumulated the stone left to them in a loose heap; but P erected a symmetrical structure in accordance with his own taste. And yet we should be wrong if we should assume that he deliberately invented his allegations in Genesis; tradition was too strong to permit even him to do this. On the contrary, he simply worked over the
material, though very vigorously indeed; we can often recognise by details how he followed his source in the general outline of events when no personal interest of his own was involved (see p. 139 of the Commentary). But this source, at least for Genesis, was neither J nor E but one related to them.
After this portrayal of the situation the age of P is evident. It belongs by every evidence at the close of the whole history of the tradition, and certainly separated by a great gap from J and E: the living stream of legend from which J and E, the old collectors, had dipped, must by that time have run dry, if it had become possible for P to abuse it in this fashion for the construction of his history. And in the meanwhile a great intellectual revolution must have taken place,--a revolution which had created something altogether new in the place of the old nationality represented in the legends.
P is the documentary witness of a time which was consciously moving away from the old traditions, and which believed it necessary to lay the foundations of religion in a way differing from that of the fathers. And in P we have revealed the nature of this new element which had then assumed sway,--it is the spirit of the learned priest that we here find expressed. Furthermore, this also is clear to us from the whole manner of P, and particularly from his formal language, that we have not here the work of an individual with a special tendency, but of a whole group whose convictions he expresses. P's work is nothing more nor less than an official utterance.
It is the priesthood of Jerusalem with which the document P originated. Hence the applicableness of the designation "Priestly Codex." Wellhausen has revealed to us the time to which this spirit belonged. This is the epoch following the great catastrophe to the people and the state of Judah, when the people, overwhelmed by the tremendous impression of their measureless misfortune, recognised that their fathers had sinned, and that a great religious reformation was necessary. Only in connexion with this period can we comprehend P with his grandiose want of respect for what had been the most sacred traditions of his people. We know also well enough that it was the priesthood alone in that day which held its own and kept the people together after all other authorities had worn themselves out or perished: after its restoration the congregation of Judah was under the dominion of priests.
In keeping with this period also is the remarkably developed historical scholarship of P. The older epoch had produced excellent story-tellers, but no learned historians; while in this period of exile Judean historiography had lost its naive innocence. Under the powerful influence of the superior Babylonian civilisation Judaism also had acquired a taste for precise records of numbers and measures. It now grew accustomed to employ great care in statistical records: genealogical tables were copied, archives were searched for authentic documents, chronological computations were undertaken, and even universal history was cultivated after the Babylonian model. In Ezra and Nehemiah and Chronicles we see the same historical scholarship as
in P, and in Ezekiel, Haggai, and Zechariah the same high value placed upon exact chronology. The reckoning of the months also, which is found in P, was learned by the Jews at this time, and probably from Babylonia. The progress represented by this learned spirit as compared with the simplicity of former times is undeniable, even though the products of this learning often fail to appeal to us. It is probably characteristic of the beginnings of "universal history" that such first great historical constructions as we have in P deal largely with mythical or legendary materials, and are consequently inadequate according to our modern notions. In this respect P may be compared to Berosus.
The emphasis laid by P upon the Sabbath, the prohibition of bloodshed and circumcision, is also comprehensible to us in the light of this period: the epoch in which everything depended on the willingness of the individual emphasised the religious commandments which applied to the individual. Indeed it may be said, that the piety of the patriarchs, who are always represented as gerim (strangers), and who have to get along without sacrifices and formal ceremonies, is a reflexion of the piety of the exile, when those who lived in the foreign land had neither temples nor sacrifices.
P's religious criticism of mixed marriages also, especially those with Canaanitish women, whereby the blessing of Abraham was forfeited (xxviii. 1-9) connect with the same time, when the Jews, living in the Dispersion, had no more zealous desire than to keep their blood and their religion pure.
Much more characteristic than these evidences taken from Genesis are the others derived from the
legal sections of the following books. Finally there: is to be added to all these arguments the late origin of the style of P 1. And in accordance with this the fixing of the date of P as coming from the time of the exile is one of the surest results of criticism.
We need not attempt to determine here in just what century P wrote; but this much may be said, that the Law-book of Ezra, in the opinion of many scholars, upon which the congregation took the oath in 444, and in the composition of which Ezra was in some way involved, was P. Hence we may place the composition of the book in the period from 500 to 444. P, too, was not completed all at once, though this is hardly a matter of importance so far as Genesis goes.
The final redactor, who combined the older work of JE and P, and designated as RJEP, probably belongs, therefore, to the time after Ezra, and surely before the time of the separation of the Samaritan congregation, which carried the complete Pentateuch along with it--though we are unable, indeed, to give the exact date of this event. The fact that such a combination of the older and the later collections was necessary shows us that the old legends had been planted too deep in the popular heart to be supplanted by the new spirit.
Great historical storms had in the meantime desecrated the old sacred places; the whole past
seemed to the men of the new time to be sinful. And yet the old legends which glorified these places and which gave such a naive reflexion of the olden time, could not be destroyed. The attempt of P to supplant the older tradition had proven a failure; accordingly a reverent hand produced a combination of JE and P.
This last collection was prepared with extraordinary fidelity, especially toward P; its author aimed if possible not to lose a single grain of P's work. We shall not blame him for preferring P to JE, for P never ceased to dominate Jewish taste. Especially notable is the fact that the redactor applied the chronology of P as a framework for the narratives of J and E. In Genesis there are a very few features which we can trace with more or less certainty to his hand: such are a few harmonising comments or elaborations like x. 24; xv. 7, 8, 15; xxvii. 46; xxxv. 13, 14; and further some retouching in vi. 7; vii. 7, 22, 23; and also vii. 3a, 8, 9; and finally the distinction between Abram and Abraham, Sarai and Sarah, which is also found in J and E, and some other matters.
We have now covered the activities of all the various redactors of Genesis. But in smaller details the work on the text (Diaskeuase) continues for a long time. Smaller alterations are to be found in xxxiv. and in the numbers of the genealogies, in which the Jewish and the Samaritan text, and the Greek translation differ. More considerable alterations were made in xxxvi. and xlvi. 8-27; while the last large interpolation is the narrative of Abraham's victory over the four kings, a legend from very late times, and of "midrash" character.
Thus Genesis has been compounded from very many sources. And in the last state we have described it has remained. In this form the old legends have exercised an incalculable influence upon all succeeding generations. We may perhaps regret that the last great genius who might have created out of the separate stories a great whole, a real "Israelitic national epic," never came. Israel produced no Homer. But this is fortunate for our investigation; for just because the individual portions have been left side by side and in the main unblended it is possible for us to make out the history of the entire process. For this reason students of the legend should apply themselves to the investigation of Genesis, which has not been customary hitherto; while theologians should learn that Genesis is not to be understood without the aid of the proper methods for the study of legends.
One word more, in closing, as to how Genesis has obtained the undeserved honor of being regarded as a work of Moses. From primitive times there existed a tradition in Israel that the divine ordinances regarding worship, law and morality, as proclaimed by the mouth of the priests, were derived from Moses. When, then, these ordinances, which had originally circulated orally, were written down in larger or smaller works, it was natural that they passed under the name of Moses Now our Pentateuch consists, in addition to the collections of legends, of such books of law from various periods and of very diverse spirit. And because
the legends also, from the time of the Exodus, have to do chiefly with Moses, it was very easy to combine both legends and laws in one single book. Thus it happened that Genesis has become the first part of a work whose following parts tell chiefly of Moses and contain many laws that claim to come from Moses. But in its contents Genesis has no connexion with Moses. These narratives, among them so many of a humorous, an artistic, or a sentimental character, are very remote from the spirit of such a strenuous and wrathful Titan as Moses, according to the tradition, must have been.
157:1 Wellhausen, Prologomena, p. 393, ff. Ryssel, De elohista pentateuchici sermone, 1878. Giesebrecht, ZAW, 1881, p. 177 ff. Driver, Journal of Philology, 1882, p. 201 ff.