Dr. Mike Russell from In Search Of Arete recently wrote this excellent series on higher criticism based on a question I posted on Theologica. The posts poke fun while doing a great job explaining the different forms of higher criticism applied to Scripture. He graciously allowed me to repost them here at The Bible Archive. This is Post 3 of 4.
I earlier defined Source Criticism as a discipline that seeks to find other documents, both real and hypothesized, that might have been used by a writer in producing the text we have. It has its own unique contributions to the study of our text,
We have already demonstrated through the use of Form Criticism that Rey’s missive did not suddenly appear in its final form as a result of him sitting down and simply typing the text. It was the result of a collaboration of his community with various members providing their own oral traditions that resulted in the text as we now have it. Those oral stories would eventually have come down in written form, and Source Criticism will help identify the sources the author must have used in putting together his own retelling of the accounts.
When studying something like the Synoptic Gospels, which allow us to compare and contrast the differing accounts of the life of Christ, it is easier to identify various sources. Such is not the case with the text in front of us, which means we will have to rely on what we already know about use of sources by authors.
The text reflects disparate sources connected by transitions such as “and” and the use of punctuation, particularly “.” (period). It is safe to say that Rey had before him at least five sources: (1) information about the time of day, (2) some sort of weather report, (3) a meteorological report showing both sunrise and sunset times for the date of the incident, (4) evidence from an unknown source about the status of the grill (whether “turned on” or not), and (5) a document or portion of a document revealing the existence of something called “online,” which is apparently a state that human beings can enter into and become.
It is very likely, however, that later collections that included some but not all of the aforementioned fragments were extant at the time and available to the author. These may be referred to as S (for “Situation”) and P (those documents pertaining to the “Petition” itself). A Two-Source Theory (no longer held by conservative scholars) maintained that Rey had at his disposal S and P but none of the other source materials. A more recent and thus truer theory-become-fact position is known as the Two-Plus-Some-Others Theory. This position (held by most at Theologica) reveals that the author relied on S and P, plus an unknown number of specific fragments (ranging in number from 1 to 43,234).
Whatever the number of sources, however, the priority of S – which simply means that it was written first – is maintained by all. It was the first source to come into the author’s possession and served as a template for all additional information, even though some of the later sources might have been earlier.
Equally obvious to the Source Critic is the absence of any sort of search engine that the author might have used to discover recipes for his family’s meal that did not involve time, weather, astronomy, grills, or “onlines.” It goes without saying that, had the author had such information or access available, he would have utilized it and we would not now have the text we have. Rather, it would have taken the form of “Hey, I found a cool recipe for boiling catfish” or some such thing.
With the enlightenment of Source Criticism, therefore, we can now understand that Rey relied on written documents no longer in existence to compile his account as we now have it in the text. The individual sources, upon with the author heavily relied, contributed to the final form of the passage.
Finally, we will look at Redaction Criticism to further enhance our understanding of the text. Only then will we be able to say with confidence that we understand the story, whether historical or not, as written by Rey.