This book does what the title claims. It describes the history of the interpretation of the Pentateuch in the 20th century. Actually it starts just before the 20th century, with Wellhausen. Nicholson traces the rise of the source critical theory beginning with the precursors to Wellhausen. Moving on from Wellhausen and his JEDP theory, Nicholson presents Eichhorn and the JEPD theory. The reader also finds description of Noth’s understanding of the Tribal Amphictyony and how it impacted the development of the Pentateuch. Noth proposed that the patriarchal narratives were given shape (along the lines of which patriarch was whose son) according to tribal importance.

After these major players whose work is behind the text (many of which I haven’t named), Nicholson moves to newer models which examine the final form of the text. He mentions Rendtorff’s method in which the theme of promise unites this work together. For Rendtorff and Blum, the patriarchal tradition (elected in Abraham) and the exodus tradition (elected through exodus), are hard to reconcile, thus the difficulty in certain places (like Moses call narrative).

After evaluating the newer approaches like Rendtorff and those who want to redate the Yahwist or raise issues regarding P, Nicholson returns to his interpretation that Wellhausen is still the best paradigm for approaching the Pentateuch.

This is a slow read, because of all the names and theories. I would only recommend this for advanced students. The material is too technical for beginning students, and too sensitive for average parishoners. Yet, for one wanting to gain a good overview of Pentateuch studies this is a good start. After reading this book, one could certainly give an adequate lecture about the subject to advanced students.


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