Thursday, November 22, 2018

Source criticism of a dream?

PROF BARUCH J. SCHWARTZ: Did Jacob Meet Yhwh by the Stairway to Heaven in Beth-El? (
On his way to Haran, Jacob stops at a place, later named Beth-El, and sees in a dream angels going up and down a staircase to the gateway of heaven. In the story, Jacob also notices Yhwh standing beside him and and Yhwh speaks to him. Examined closely, this short story is beset with literary difficulties that suggest it is composed of two independent narratives.
Many years ago, when I was a doctoral student, I went through the Hebrew of the Pentateuch verse-by-verse to decide whether I thought that the Documentary Hypothesis worked. I decided that it more or less does.

I was less convinced of the distinction between J (the Yahwist) and E (the Elohist) than that P and D were separate traditions. But J and E usually did seem to work well in the book of Genesis.

I haven't revisited the question since in any detail, so I don't know what I would think now.

All that leading up to saying that this is an interesting essay, but this story in Genesis 28 doesn't strike me as the most convincing example of the case for J and E as originally separate narratives. Much of the argument involves finding inconsistencies in a dream narrative. My dreams are pretty internally inconsistent. I bet yours are too. And sometimes I dream that I'm doing something and still know that I'm asleep dreaming. The story of Jacob's dream seems to me to be skillfully crafted to read like an actual dream.

The narrative may well still be a combination of J and E but, in my opinion, this particular example doesn't provide a very strong argument for the source division.

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