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The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies Provides a comprehensive survey of Biblical scholarship in a variety of disciplines.

Redaction Criticism

1. Methodological Categorization

The last step for analysing the content of a text is, according to Richter's method (1971), ‘to explain the literary fusion and editing of the individual units and compositions’ (1971: 165). This analytical step presupposes the following obligatory operations: (1) literary criticism, in which the parts of the texts have been established and placed in their relative diachrony; (2) form criticism, in which the textual contexts and texual horizons and the units that are eventually formed are recognizable; (3) genre criticism, which makes it possible ‘to establish the upper limits, namely, the transition from pre-existing units to literary compositions’ (1971: 166). As in these preceding operations, redaction criticism concerns itself with form and not with content. Composition and redaction are, according to Richter, to be distinguished through the intensity of editorial work. Composition can be recognized by a more intensive engagement with the units and the way that they are fitted together and built into episodes to achieve a desired end. Redaction tends to put the individual texts next to each other, but in an uncoordinated way (cf. Richter 1971: 166 n. 4). Because both composition and redaction concern the editorial working of pre-existing literary units, both are subjects for redaction criticism. Barth and Steck differ from Richter in methodological procedure. Indeed, they make literary criticism precede redaction history rather than form criticism, in whose place comes tradition history (1987: 50–3). According to Weimar (2001: 302), redaction criticism absolutely presupposes literary criticism as a synthetic procedure. In the process he does not mention form criticism and genre criticism expressly as further prerequisites. Prematurely opposed to redaction criticism, because he is diverted by a concern for the content, he makes redaction criticism inquire after the ‘establishment of the literary theological profile’ of the redactional interventions. Fohrer et al. adhere closely not only to Richter's methodological procedure, but also to his terminological and practical separation of composition and redaction (1993: 139–42). Kratz also seems to require as a prerequisite for redaction criticism ‘the determining of the literary and factual unevenesses’ (1997: 368), but avoids the term ‘literary criticism’ in this connection. This he wants to confine to ‘alterations in the course of the genesis of the text on the written level’. Against this he distinguishes the Vorlage (source text) from the redaction (1997: 367). However, Vorlage (source text) is in this connection as much open to misunderstanding (as also used in other senses) as ‘genesis of the text on the written level’. A redactionally edited small unit already documents in its original version a textual origin on the written level. These unclarities of terms in Kratz's exposition are no isolated instance. Dohmen lists a whole series of composition and redaction-critical attempts in connection with the narrative of the Flood (2001: 92–5). Because of their divergence, he regards them as well as the traditional source criticism as inadequate to shed light on the genesis of the narrative of the Flood. In view of Kratz's terminological unclarity, it is difficult to avoid the suspicion that the divergences in the redaction-critical and redaction-historical investigations of the narrative of the Flood which Dohmen has pointed out are to be traced back to a deficit in method and methodology (cf. Meurer 1999 and also Utzschneider and Nitsche 2001: 213–85). Under the general term ‘history of the text’ one can find in the latter work ‘combining methods’ and ‘mutation’). As a result in what follows, the term, the criteria, and the function of redaction criticism must be established precisely.

2. The Term

Redaction (from redigere in the transferred meaning of ‘to make something in some form of composition, to bring or make or turn it into a state or condition’, compare Georges 1962 sub voce) is understood here as the last editorial stage of a written text. Its result marks the final text. Regardless of whether this editorial work is compositional activity or indicates a looser joining together of given texts, it aims to produce a whole. Redaction criticism is the methodological step which seeks to uncover and indicate the prerequisites for the course of redaction which have been named above in section 1 (cf. Richter 1971: 167–8; Barth and Steck 1987: 51 n. 73; Fohrer et al. 1993: 142; Kaiser 1975: 24; Weimar 2001: 302).

3. The Criteria

The initial criteria are provided by the small units and their diverse formal construction, as well as their aims and horizons. On the basis of these initial criteria, further criteria of given and constructed units can be distinguished. The examination of their relationship to each other indicates a further point of difference. This yields information about whether it is a case of compositional intentions or merely unconnected juxtapositions. In the case of self-sufficient units (‘traditions’), questions are asked about the nature of their editing (enlarged or framed through an addition or additions). From form criticism (aim and horizon) the criteria are obtained for ordering the parts of the text or the editing. With such criteria it is possible to distinguish composition from looser redaction (cf. Richter 1971: 167 f.) and also but with different emphasis Fohrer et al. 1993: 143–7). Units without context can be of various kinds (additions, interpolations, glosses).

4. Function

The assembling and designation of criteria is not sufficient for a redaction-critical evaluation. The function that can be read from them goes further. Information about this is given by the structures into which the individual elements determined by form criticism have been edited. If these structures are now examined in connection with the putting together of the parts of the text through redaction, it becomes apparent ‘that not only each unit, but also each composition, stratum and redaction indicates a structure’ (Richter 1971: 170). The whole structure presents itself either as unique or refers to parallels. In the latter case it is possible, as in form criticism, to look for fixed expressions which possibly belong to a genre. Out of the complete structure it is further possible to discern the aim or an intention. ‘With them it is possible to determine the Sitze im Leben (basis in reality) of the compositions and redactions, and their authors and redactors. Thus at end of redaction criticism [my emphasis] it is possible to recognise the various sociological and intellectual historical backgrounds of the individual works and redactions and their authors right down to the final hand’ (Richter 1971: 172).

5. The Mutation of Terms and Methods

The lack of clarity of terms which has been described in section 1 above, as well as the presumed deficits in methods and methodology are connected with the main point about the various attempts to explain the origin of the Pentateuch either through modifications of the ‘newer documentary hypothesis’ or by means of ‘an extensive new analysis of the Pentateuchal narrative fund’ (von Rad 1972: 362). Such concerns are understandable and necessary for large areas of the Pentateuch, the clarification of whose origin can hardly, if at all, be supplied by the documentary hypothesis. The great divergences in the results of the literary-critical analysis as source criticism undermine the high regard in which this hypothesis is held. An extensive new analysis has been undertaken above all by R. Rendtorff (1977) and E. Blum (1984 and 1990). The high-profile publications of these two scholars cannot here be given an appropriate evaluation. They are, however, symptomatic of the aforementioned mutation of terms and methods. Factually, remarks about Rendtorff and Blum are pertinent in an essay on redaction criticism to the extent that they use terms and criteria which to some extent touch upon redaction criticism and to some extent upon form and genre-critical aspects. The ‘tradition-historical problem of the Pentateuch’ leads Rendtorff to a solution in which he sees the great ‘tradition complexes’ as comprehensively edited (1977: 42–57). If one considers these greater complexes of tradition which are obtained by the content-orientated criterion of ‘the narrative substance’ (1977: 69 and frequently), these themes are de facto only obtained from the postulated content. For the ‘editing’ of these themes, ‘formulaic expressions’ (1977: 43 and frequently), are presumed. Since these expressions are mostly components of divine speeches (as promises), they are ascribed the main function for the ‘composition of the patriarchal narratives’ and are compared with ‘a theological editing of the text corpus’. ‘Formulaic expressions’, a term from form and genre criticism, is mutated here to a criterion for editorial work. What editorial work?! The term ‘composition’ makes it possible to suppose that what is meant is a stage in the redaction on the way to a written final text. But this is in fact not so, since what is meant is the editing of themes (traditions). Both Blum's monographs contain in the title the term ‘composition’ as a key concept. As in the case of Rendtorff, this term is not meant as an object of redaction criticism, even if Blum wishes to go further than Rendtorff by ‘leaving open the limits of the transmitted units’ (1984: 1). Through many detailed analyses, Blum follows his own postulate. He deliberately does not follow the analytical steps of Richter, Barth and Steck, Fohrer et al., Gross, and many others, but pursues further the line of Rendtorff. Apart from the fact that Blum is concerned primarily with the content (‘narrative substance’, 1984: 34), he makes no secret of his individual mutation of methods, when he understands literary criticism as a possible aspect of ‘tradition-historical analysis’ (1984: 2 n. 3). In the 1990 monograph Blum pursues this path even more consistently. ‘Methodologically it is necessary … as I understand it, to undertake the attempt … to combine holistic experience of text and interpretation with a kind of diachronic relief description’ (1990: 4). This ‘relief description’ is not only again determined primarily by content, but remains methodologically undefined. The term cannot be subject to verification and falsification, according to Karl Popper (1984: 26–8, 47–59) the most important criteria for the scientific nature of a hypothesis. Compare on this the reservations of Zenger (2001: 117). Whether one can accept the comparison of Blum grounds of inadequate verification and falsification with regard to the Blum hypothesis, is questionable (Dohmen 1996: 354). Without question, the ‘newer documentary hypothesis’, which Wellhausen was substantially involved in developing, did indeed fulfil Popper's criteria.

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