The Documentary Hypothesis, by Umberto Cassuto

December 18, 2011 at 17:20 (Book Reviews, Bronze Age, Highly Rated Books, Historical, Theology) (, , , )


There is very little in The Documentary Hypothesis that is particularly groundbreaking. Cassuto does not really present any unique research, but takes a very simple and deliberate approach. His setting forth of the Hypothesis as a metaphorical “structure” held up by certain pillars could certainly be seen as overly simplistic or even childish, but despite his crustiness his earnest desire does seem to be for plain-speaking, and a dislike for over-convolution. For the layman reader, the pillar approach is very helpful, and although this book is probably not the final word on the composition of the Old Testament, it sets out a convincing case.

“This is a case not of inconsistency, but of a general statement followed by a detailed account, which is a customary literary device of the Torah.”

-The Documentary Hypothesis

Although written (obviously) from a Jewish perspective, Cassuto is floridly literate when it comes to explaining the purposes behind the divergences in the biblical text. He is very aware of the poetry in the biblical narrative, and presents several extremely convincing possible explanations for the various names of God used, or for the existence of overlapping narratives. It is very important to realise while reading Cassuto’s lectures that he is writing conjecturally; that there cannot be empirical proof in his support or against him; but that where there is corroboration, he will display it proudly. Likewise, where proponents of the Hypothesis have offered up corroboration, he will not prove that it cannot have been (for that is impossible); only that there is no reason to insist upon it.

Finally, although there are probably better books that give a more balanced view of the cases for and against the Documentary Hypothesis (for this is most definitely a refutation) as a prerequisite to more general books on biblical hermeneutics (for instance, The New Testament and the People of God), this book is excellent and useful.


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