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Religious Studies Department, SCU
 
 
 
 
  Source Criticism

  Definition
Source criticism is the study of the different components of a literary text.  It is assumed that the biblical texts are composite works, and that their components originated in different historical periods and exhibit different themes.  It is also assumed that, in antiquity, authors were not worried about copyright privileges; sources were never footnoted or otherwise acknowledged.  Given these assumptions, the task of the source critic is to filter out the various ideological strains, to locate these in their historical settings, and to evaluate the meaning of the complete text in light of the results.

  Method
To discern the discrete sources of a text, apply these three steps to it:
  1. Search for textual anomalies (irregularities):

    1. Thematic inconsistency - does the main theme or tone of the text change suddenly?

    2. Repetition - do you suddenly find yourself reading another version of the previous story, one that perhaps contradicts something in the first account?  Look for duplicate stories, overlapping time references, unnecessarily repeated narrative introductions ("X said...").

    3. Digression - does some explanatory comment or story interrupt your main text?

    4. Different vocabulary or style - does the text include certain words, expressions and idioms characteristic of a certain groupís perspective?  Does the text shift "persons" (e.g., from narrative third person [they did X] to second person address [you have done X])?
     
  2. Isolate the anomaly from the surrounding text.  If you have found a repetition, it may be helpful to lay the accounts out side-by-side, so that you can see the differences and similarities more easily.
     
  3. Discern and list the themes important to the anomalous passage and to the surrounding text.
 
A source critic would then integrate these results with his/her knowledge of Israelite history and literary production, in order to discern the date and meaning of each passage.  You will not need to do this step; rather, this information will be provided for you as your starting point.

  Bibliography
Method
Habel, Norman C.  Literary Criticism of the Old Testament.   Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971.
 
Applications
Brodie, Thomas L.  The Quest for the Origin of John's Gospel: A Source-Oriented Approach.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
 
Cassuto, U.  The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch.  Jerusalem, 1961.
 
Dupont, J.  The Sources of Acts.  London, 1964.
 
Kloppenburg, J.  On the Formation of Q.  Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987.
 
Neirynck, F.  The Minor Agreements of Matthew and Luke against Mark, BETL 37.  Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1974.
 
Wellhausen, Julius.  Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel.  Cleveland: World, 1961; original 1957.
 
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