Tag Archives: source criticism

The divine names in Genesis 1–2: a medieval solution to a modern problem

Dead Sea Scrolls Psalms fragment with the Tetragrammaton written in Paleo-HebrewAs most Higgaion readers probably already know, Jean Astruc’s “conjectures” about the alternation of divine names in the book of Genesis eventually gave rise to the modern Documentary Hypothesis, given classic expression by Julius Wellhausen and rapidly adopted by a majority of nineteenth- and twentieth-century scholars.

Several centuries before Astruc, however, the great medieval Jewish philosopher and commentator Abraham Ibn Ezra (1089–1164) transmitted a different explanation:

Note that from the first verse of the Torah until the word made (Gen. 2:3), Scripture refers to the Deity as Elohim. Afterward, the honored and revered name (the Tetragrammaton) is coupled with it. How precious are the words of the ancients of blessed memory who said that the complete name of God is used over a complete world. Prior to the completion of creation there was no power to receive this name. (Ibn Ezra, commentary on Genesis, trans. Strickman and Silver, 1988: 57)

Although he celebrates here “the words of the ancients of blessed memory,” we must not think of Ibn Ezra as some sort of hidebound traditionalist (a tautology, I know). We might even credit Ibn Ezra with inventing source criticism by attributing Isaiah 40–66 to a different prophet than Isaiah of Jerusalem, son of Amoz. Yet here he offers readers an explanation of the “delay” in the Tetragrammaton’s appearance that coheres well with the content of the text of Genesis 1:1–2:3. His explanation may not accurately reflect the text’s history, but it does give us some caution about hitching our wagons too tightly to 19th-century solutions just because they’re “newer” than 12th-century solutions.