PLAGIARISM FREE “A” WORK IN 8 HOURS Or LESS For this assignment you will analyze R. N. Whybray, “The Joseph Story and Pentateuchal Criticism,” (ATTACHED) V
PLAGIARISM FREE “A” WORK IN 8 HOURS Or LESS For this assignment you will analyze R. N. Whybray, “The Joseph Story and Pentateuchal Criticism,” (ATTACHED) Vetus Testamentum (Oct 1, 1968): 522-528. Write 2 pages of double-spaced, 12 pt. Times New Roman text.
Whybray, R.N. (1968). The Joseph Story and Pentateuchal Criticism, Vetus Testamentum, 18(1-4), 522-528. doi: https://doi.org/10.1163/156853368X00410 T H E JOSEPH STORY
A N D P E N T A T E U C H A L CRITICISM
R. N. WHYBRAY
The special character of the story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis *)
has long been recognized. Writers such as Bernhard LUTHER *) and
s) reached the conclusion that, although it may have been
compiled from a variety of sources, it differs fundamentally from the
loosely organized cycles of saga concerning Abraham and Jacob in
that its author(s) or redactors) brought to their material a superior
literary craftsmanship which enabled them to create a single, sus-
tained narrative work whose parts are organically related to one
The recognition that these chapters constitute a literary unity
which cannot be broken up into separate and independent incidents
did not, however, seriously call into question the application to them
of the usual methods of source criticism, since these do not neces-
sarily have to be applied “vertically”, separating one scene from
another, but may be used to distinguish “horizontal” layers, each of
which may contain, or at least may have contained in its original
state, all the elements which appear in a given narrative complex in
its present form. Accordingly it has usually been supposed that there
were originally two distinct versions of the Joseph Story (J and E),
each of which contained all or most of the incidents found in the final
version; and that these were fitted together, at some points by the
omission of material from one or other of the sources, and at others
by their conflation.
This hypothesis might at first sight appear to be entirely satis-
*) Here defined (following G. VON RAD, Genesis (OTL), London, 1961, pp. 342 f.)
as Gen. xxxvii; xxxix-xlvii; 1 without the short sections usually attributed to P.
*) “Die Persönlichkeit des Jahwisten” (E. MEYER, Die Israeliten and ihre Nacb-
barstämme, Halle, 1906 (reprinted, Darmstadt, 1967, pp. 105-173), pp. 142 ff.
8) Genesis (Göttinger Handkommentar %um Alten Testamenti 6th edn, Göttingen,
1964 (reprint of 3rd edn of 1910), pp. 396 ff.
THE JOSEPH STORY 523
factory: it seems to allow for the structural and artistic unity of the
story while successfully accounting for the existence of such pheno-
mena as repetitions, doublets, alternations in the use of the divine
names and of other vocabulary, roughnesses of style and other signs
of distinct sources which are the foundation of Pentateuchal source
criticism, and which have been “detected” no less here than else-
where1). Until recently only a few scholars have challenged these
The new approach to the Joseph Story which has been pioneered
in the writings of Gerhard VON R A D 8 ) suggests, however, that a
re-examination of the question of sources is needed. For his brilliant
analysis of its literary character, which places it for the first time
firmly in its Sit% im Leben in the wisdom school and so brings out its
purpose and significance more clearly than ever before, demands as a
corollary that we should recognize it as a literary unity in a stricter
sense than has previously been done. There can be few readers who
are not convinced by VON RAD’S thesis that it is “a novel through and
through” 4). He finds in it a consistently high level of literary skill,
especially in psychological subtlety and treatment of human character,
in powers of description and in style. Nor is this consistency confined
to purely literary traits: the Joseph Story exhibits from beginning
to end a distinctive view of the divine activity in human affairs, an
unusually broad interest in the world beyond the confines of Israel
and a distinct theological viewpoint. In short it is an outstanding
example of wisdom literature and a product of that cultural enlight-
enment which was characteristic of court circles in Israel in the reign
*) Details may be found in any commentary.
2) Probably the m o s t persuasive o f these was W. RUDOLPH’S special study in
“Die Josephsgeschichte” in P. V O L Z and W. R U D O L P H , Der Elobist als Erzähler:
ein Irrweg der Pentateucbkritikì (BZAW (Λ 1933, pp. 145-184. F o r o t h e r a t t a c k s o n
the documentary hypothesis as a w h o l e see O. E I S S F E L D T , The Old Testament An
Introduction, Oxford, 1965, pp. 166 f.
) Three works are relevant here: Genesis (sec page 522, note 1, supra; originally
p u b l i s h e d as Das Erste Buch Mose: Genesis Kap. xxv 19-126 (ATD 4 ) , G ö t t i n g e n ,
1953), p p . 342-434; ” T h e Joseph Narrative and Ancient W i s d o m ” (in VON R A D ,
Tbe Problem of the Hexateuch and Other Essays, E d i n b u r g h a n d L o n d o n , 1966, p p .
292-300; originally published as “Josephsgeschichte und ältere Chokma” in VT
Suppl. 3 , 1 9 5 3 , p p . 120-127); DU Josephsgeschichte (Biblische Studien 5), Neukirchen,
1954. Other recent work, especially L. RUPPERT, Die Josepbser^äblung der Genesis,
Munich, 1965, raises similar questions, t h o u g h in a rather different w a y ; but for
the sake of clarity the present discussion will be confined to the work o f VON R A D
and its implications.
*) “Joseph Narrative”, p. 292.
524 R. Ν . WHYBRAY
of Solomon and which was due to foreign, especially Egyptian,
In the article “The Joseph Narrative and Ancient Wisdom” VON
R A D does not deal with problems of source criticism; and the reader is
likely to receive the impression that he is here speaking of a single
writer of genius who, in an age of exceptional cultural achievement
created an entirely original novel worthy to be placed alongside such
other literary masterpieces of the age as the Succession Narrative
(VON RAD’S “Court History of David”) in the Books of Samuel and
). There is nothing in the article to suggest that this is in fact by
no means VON RAD’S understanding of the process of its composition.
It is in his monograph Die Josepbgeschichte, and above all in his
commentary on Genesis, both published within a year of the above
mentioned article, that VON R A D makes it clear that his views on the
composition of the Joseph Story are in fact those of traditional
source criticism. He there states that, like the rest of Genesis, it is a
conflation by redactors of earlier literary sources, principally of J and
E, each of which contained a complete and continuous version
J provided the majority of the material, but the excerpts from E are
substantial. In some instances the sources have been interwoven; in
others, one has been used in preference to the other. Allowing for
differences of detail, which are no greater than those between other
source critics, VON RAD’S position is the same as that of such earlier
writers as, for example, S. R. DRIVER or G. HÖLSCHER 3).
It would seem that VON R A D is not entirely unaware of the difficul-
ties of reconciling this view with his estimate of the literary and
theological uniformity of the work, for he makes some attempt to
defend his position. He stresses the exceptional skill with which the
redactor has combined his sources with the result that the uninstructed
reader is hardly likely, except in a few instances 4 ), to notice the joins,
though he claims that these are quite obvious to the trained scholar 5).
*) 2 Sam. ix-xx; 1 Kings i-ii. The t w o works are hailed as contemporary master-
pieces o n p . 292. Elsewhere (“The Beginnings o f Historical Writing in Israel”, in
The Problem of the Hexateuch, p p . 166-204; Old Testament Theology I, Edinburgh and
London, 1962, pp. 312 ff.) VON R A D recognizes the Succession Narrative as the
work of such a literary genius.
2) Josephsgeschichte, p . 5 ; Genesis, p p . 343 ; 344-428 passim.
8) S. R. D R I V E R , An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament, Edinburgh,
8th edn, 1909; G. H Ö L S C H E R , Geschichtsschreibung in Israel, Lund, 1952.
4) Genesis, pp. 3 4 3 ; 364.
6) Josephsgeschichte, p. 5.
THE JOSEPH STORY 525
But he bravely asserts that the process of conflation, in these skilled
hands, proved to be a positive advantage: “the redactor combined
them with each other in such a way that he . . . created an even richer
It must be questioned whether VON R A D has in fact succeeded in
reconciling these two aspects of his thought concerning the Joseph
Story, and whether, indeed, they are capable of being reconciled.
There are two fundamental objections to his position.
The first is of a literary nature. We are asked to believe that this
literary masterpiece, which “from the point of view of literary tech-
nique . . . displays resources far beyond those of the ancient sagas”
and “in this respect . . . has affinities with the Court History of
David” 2) is not merely of composite authorship but is a conflation
of two separate earlier novels. Composite authorship of a novel is
not entirely unknown; but it is, to say the least, very difficult to be-
lieve that a novel of superlative merit could be the result of a confla-
tion of two other novels, VON R A D speaks of, among other qualities,
the delicacy and subtlety of the Joseph Story’s style and characteri-
zation, the careful structure of its individual scenes and the intricate
connexions between its various parts 3). Such a work could surely
only be the work of a single controlling mind (or conceivably of two
minds in deliberate collaboration). The removal by a third person of
sections of one such work and their replacement with excerpts from
another by a different author, however similar the two might be,
could only have the effect of spoiling both. If the Joseph Story as
we now have it is a literary masterpiece in VON RAD’J sense 4 ), it must
be a complete literary unity both in conception and execution; if it
is a conflation of two sources, then VON RAD’S estimate of its high
qualities as a novel must be largely illusory.
A second and even more serious difficulty is raised by VON RAD’S
estimate of the work as an example of wisdom literature typical of a
particular period: the “enlightenment” of the early monarchy6).
He finds these characteristics in both the J and E strands. But, since
the E strand is clearly not simply a new edition of J but rather a
*) Genesis, p. 343. Italics mine.
2) “Joseph Narrative”, p. 292.
3) Genesis, p. 342; Josepbsgeschiebte, pp. 6 ff.; “Joseph Narrative”, passim.
*) It is not here denied that such composite works as the “J Document” or the
Deuteronomic History might be said to be masterpieces, but in a quite different
5) “Joseph Narrative”, pp. 293 ff.; Genesis, pp. 430 ff.; Josephsgeschichte, pp. 8 ff.
526 R. Ν . WHYBRAY
distinct version parallel with and independent of J *), there must
have been some common source, whether oral or literary, corres
ponding in general to Martin Nora’s G
), which already possessed
the characteristics of wisdom literature and of the Solomonic “en
Now for this common source we presumably have to look back
to a period before the early monarchy. It is a fundamental point of
VON RAD’S view of the composition of the Pentateuch that J (“the
Yahwist”) was a contemporary of the author of the Succession
Narrative and a member of the Judaean court in the time of Solomon
or possibly a little later
). But since it is highly improbable that he
composed a new version of a story which had only recently been
written, the date of the common source must be placed at least a
But it is just here that the special characteristics of the Joseph
Story create a serious difficulty. In the case of the other patriarchal
stories in Genesis there is no difficulty in assuming an early date for
the common source: the tribal traditions used by J in his presentation
of the stories of Abraham and Jacob are most easily understood as
pre-monarchical. But in the case of the Joseph Story as interpreted
by VON RAD an early date for the common material is impossible.
For him this story is not in any way based on tribal traditions. It is,
and must have been even in its earlier version, “a novel through and
through”, of a special kind which could not have been composed before
the beginning of the “enlightenment” of the early monarchy. In
other words, there was not enough time for the earlier stages of its
composition to have taken place
) This is generally admitted. Elsewhere VON RAD says of J and E in general
that “both the Yahwist and the Elohist rely on a complex of tradition which was
already firmly established as an independent entity in all essential features” (“The
Form-Critical Problem of the Hexateuch”, in The Problem of the Hexateuch and
Other Essays, p. 19).
) M. NOTH, Überlieferungsgeschichte des Pentateuch, 2nd edn, Stuttgart, 1948,
3) Genesis, pp. 16, 23; “Form-Critical Problem”, pp. 69 ff.
4) If, further, we hold with VON RAD that J did not himself compose his version,
but incorporated an already completed story into his work (“Form-Critical Pro-
blem”, pp. 59 f. ; Genesis, p. 434), we add yet another stage to the process of com-
position, making the common source (which would still be necessary) earlier still.
5) The same objections apply to some extent to NOTH’S views on the origin of
the Joseph Story (Überlieferungsgeschichte, pp. 262 ff.), except that NOTH’S estimate
of the work is less precisely expressed and therefore’perhaps allows for a somewhat
THE JOSEPH STORY 527
These difficulties would, it is true, disappear if the E version were
essentially different in character from the J version. It would then
be possible to suppose that the J version was an original composition,
hardly if at all dependent on any earlier source, while E was based on
a different, pre-Solomonic tradition about Joseph which J had not
used; and that the redactor combined these two very different versions
of the history of Joseph. But this is clearly not VON RAD’S view. Like
the other critics, he is unable to point out any differences between J
and E except in quite insignificant details. It is, indeed, essential
to his theory of redaction that they were so similar that their parts
were interchangeable; and in fact his analysis of the two sources,
which is fundamentally the same as that of other literary critics,
shows that each has exactly the same literary, cultural and theological
VON RAD himself seems to be aware that his theory of composi-
tion, if pressed to its logical conclusion, is inconsistent with his
views on the general character of the story. In speaking of an earlier
version (or versions) before J and E he expresses himself only in
extremely vague terms, saying that the story may have “developed
from an originally simpler form to its present size” 2); that it seems
to have undergone a “successive, preliterary growth”3); that “its
form as we have it in J and E is scarcely its original version” 4); but
he maintains that “with respect to such a process of growth, however,
one cannot go beyond vague conjectures” *). But in view of the in-
herent difficulties of his position it is indispensable that one should
go beyond vague conjectures.
*) Four characteristics are especially stressed by VON RAD (passim in all three
works): narrative and psychological skill, an interest in foreign customs, the
character of Joseph as the embodiment of the scribal ideal, and a particular view
of God’s activity in human affairs. In almost every case he takes his examples
from J and E passages alike: for narrative and psychological skill he cites the
portrayal of Jacob in ch. xxxvii (J), two sentences in xl 7 (E) and xlv 26 (J), and
the subtle creation of atmosphere in xliii 27-31 (J). Interest in foreign customs is
shown in xli 41-45 (J and E combined); xli 46-49, 53-57 QE); xlii 23 (E); xlvii
13-26 (?J); 1 26 (E). The character of Joseph as the ideal scribe is shown in his
outspokenness (xli 16, E ; xli 28-36, JE); his giving of good counsel (xli 33-36,
JE) ; his ability to speak well (xli 25 ff., JE) ; his godly fear (xlii 18, E) ; his resistance
to the temptations of women (xxxix, J); his ability to conceal his thoughts (xlii-
xliv, partly J and partly E); his selfcontrol (xlii 24, E ; xliii 30 f., J); his magna-
nimity and forbearance (xlv 5-15, JE; 1 15-21, E). Admittedly, all VON RAD’S
specific examples of the divine activity in human affairs are from one source, E
(xlv 5b-8; 117-21); but we should have to agree with him that the story as a whole
in all its parts is an extended demonstration of this.
») Genesis, p. 342. a) Ibid., p. 345. 4) Ibid., p. 428. 6) Ibid., p. 342.
528 WHYBRAY, THE JOSEPH STORY
From what has been said above it would seem that we are forced
to make a choice in our interpretation of the Joseph Story between
the documentary hypothesis on the one hand and the view that it is
a “novel” of genius belonging to the category of wisdom literature
on the other. For the present writer the choice is clear: VON RAD’S
appreciation of its literary and wisdom qualities can hardly be gain-
said, and this discovery is one of great importance for our under-
standing of Israel’s wisdom tradition and of the part played by the
early monarchy in the development of Israel’s thought and religious
faith. But this ought to drive us back to re-examine the whole ques-
tion of the documentary hypothesis, at any rate as it concerns this
part of the Book of Genesis.
This article is not the place for such a re-examination *). The
Joseph Story has generally been thought to provide particularly
striking evidence in favour of the documentary hypothesis, and it
would be foolish to deny that there are problems here. But these
chapters also provide an excellent example of the way in which that
hypothesis, even if it appears to solve some problems by the drastic
use of the knife, also creates new problems which are not necessarily
less acute. We must relinquish the old habit of regarding its conclu-
sions as absolute conclusions which must not be challenged by other
evidence but must prevail in all circumstances, whether through the
rejection of the other evidence or through some kind of modification
of it. The documentary hypothesis is fallible like any other hypothesis;
and VON RAD’S study of the Joseph Story, when its implications are
fully recognized, constitutes an additional piece of contrary evidence
which can only increase a widespread suspicion that source criticism
has been applied too rigidly and with an insufficient understanding
of the gap which exists between our modern standards of consistency
of narration and those of the ancient world. It may be that we shall
end by concluding with VOLZ and RUDOLPH that, in these chapters
at least, the idea of „Der Elohist als Erzähler” is indeed “ein Irrweg
*) An entirely new investigation may not be necessary. W. RUDOLPH, in the
study already mentioned, which has too often been rejected without receiving the
attention which it deserves, has already examined point by point the arguments
for the existence of a distinct Elohistic narrative source as applied to these chapters,
and has, in the opinion of the present writer, in many cases shown them to be
without foundation. One does not have to agree with RUDOLPH in every instance
to conclude that he is on the right track. For his conclusions and alternative
hypothesis, see his op. cit., pp. 176 ff.
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