Source Criticism is one of the three major “higher-critical” methods of reading scripture. The so-called “historical-critical” method is often used to refer to this or the other two major “higher-critical” methods, namely, redaction criticism and form criticism.
Here, we consider source criticism. The treatment is brief, while the tomes about the subject are immense and legion. But the treatment is also meant to go the heart of the matter in a suggestive, provocative way. It is the beginning of a question, an incisive interrogation.
Source criticism inquires whether the final product – say, the Gospel of Luke, or the Book of Genesis – was indeed always a single literary unit or rather a plurality of literary units put together. Source critics usually think in terms of written sources, although it is not alien to the method to think in terms of oral sources. If the final product is a construct of several, then these “sources” are primordial, anterior to the final product that we see.
There are numerous examinations one can undertake to ascertain answers to these questions. One of the most noteworthy examinations involves the question: Are there contradictions in the final account? In fact, this question analogically runs through every examination. Stated so baldly, it stands on its own. However, other interrogations presuppose this primary question. Such other interrogations include: Are there diverse names for God? Diverse conceptions of God? Diverse conceptions of man’s relation to God? Of the monarchy? Etc. Diversity presupposes the contradiction “this is not that.” Hence, the note of contradiction is primary.
Example. In reading Genesis, one can ask whether there are contradictory accounts of the flood. At first studied glance, it seems so. One set of texts reads “a pair” of animals while another set reads “seven pairs”. Since one is not seven, there seems to be a contradiction. But the same man cannot reasonably affirm a contradiction. We take it the man who wrote was reasonable. Ergo, there must have been more than one author.
more to come.