Source Criticism as Interpretive Crutch

“The point is not whether 1 Sam 31 and 2 Sam 1 originate from one source or two, but that this line of inquiry does not help us to understand the story. For regardless of its origin, the material has been reworked into an integrated narrative–one that must be understood as it stands now. To unravel it into its (hypothetical) original sources is to destroy it. “This approach, espoused now in many literary treatments of the Bible, is not a pious rejection of source criticism. In a sense it is even more radical. For source criticism, perhaps to compensate for its apparent lack of reverence, has always stressed the fidelity of the redactor, who, not being free to edit his sources, faithfully recorded all that was before him (oral and/or written). But to overestimate the piety of the redactor is to underestimate the literary value of his product. To view the story as it now stands as an integrated whole, an intentional composition of literary merit, is to give the redactor or author total freedom over his material. This puts the burden on the interpreter. He may no longer abdicate his responsibility as a critic by assigning passages to different sources when he fails to perceive the relationship between them. It is his job, often difficult, to make sense of the present arrangement of the text. One of the ways of making sense out of certain texts is to acknowledge certain kinds of dissonance and understand this as representing different narrative point of view. This may not be the reason for all doublets in the Bible, but in the case of 1 Sam 31 and 2 Sam 1 we seem to have Saul’s death from the narrator’s objective point of view, concluding the story of Saul’s life, followed by Saul’s death from David’s point of view, who now deals with Saul in death as he did in life.”

Adele Berlin, Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1994 [1983]), 81-82.

About Benj

I’m a native North Jerseyan, transplanted to Pennsylvania...lived and taught in Eastern Europe for six years…Old Testament professor, ordained minister, occasional liturgist…husband to Corrie…father to Daniel and Elizabeth.
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