Posted by: Ken Brown | August 11, 2009

New Directions in Pooh Studies

Update 04/2013: Since this post still gets a steady stream of hits via Google, I should note that Clines’ lovely little essay no longer appears to be available in full online, but if you have access to a decent theological library it appears as the final essay in his collection of essays On the Way to Postmodern (Volume 2; JSOTSupp 293; Sheffield Academic Press, 1998), 830-39. At the moment, portions of the essay appear to be available through GoogleBooks.

I suppose this will reveal my thoroughly nerdy sense of humor, but anyone who has spent much time reading redaction critics ought to appreciate this parody by David J.A. Clines (HT James McGrath):

There is little need, at the present stage of scholarship, to attempt a justification of the principle that the dogma of unitary authorship for works of literature must be totally abandoned. In all confidence we may say that a priori we may expect the Pooh corpus (viz. Winnie-the-Pooh, hereafter abbreviated W, containing traditions of higher antiquity than the Deutero-Pooh book, The House at Pooh Corner, hereafter abbreviated H) to be of composite origin; even if there were such a person as A.A. Milne, traditionally the ‘author’, we may be sure that he did not write the Pooh books. His name does not occur once within the narratives themselves, and we can hardly be expected to take a title-page, manifestly a later addition, seriously.

I’m determined to include this on a syllabus someday.


  1. […] C. Orthodoxy) Darrell Pursiful posted this entry on Wednesday, August 12th, 2009 at 8:17 am. Posted in the […]

  2. I remember sitting in the first day of Fred Beiser’s seminar on Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, going through an amazingly-parallel set of arguments like those in Wellhausen for the Documentary Hypothesis or those in mainstream scholarship for several authors of Isaiah. The sad thing is that this was no spoof. Someone had applied those arguments to a work as obscure and idiosyncratic as Kant, as if anyone else would have even a remote chance of being able to pass off their own work as his. I think that says something about such arguments.

    • Incidentally, I actually do accept a form of the Documentary Hypothesis, and I’m fairly certain Clines does as well, but there are definitely some extreme (and pompous) attempts to reconstruct it, and I’ve not seen a better-done spoof of scholarly arrogance.

  3. I don’t think fragmentary approaches to composition of books is always going to get the wrong results. It’s pretty obvious even on the surface that Kings and Chronicles used sources, and there’s no way to deny common source materials in the gospels and the chapters Isaiah shares with Micah and Kings. So I’ve got nothing against this in principle. I just think the evidence is extremely thin to nonexistent for reconstructing the specific sources and even for subdividing certain sections that make perfect sense as they stand. I’m at best agnostic about particular source theories unless there’s evidence of the sorts I mentioned. But I’m aware that most scholars accept some version of the documentary hypothesis, even those who are incredibly hesitant to endorse details (e.g. Gordon Wenham) or who reject most of Wellhausen for a radically different source-composition history (e.g. James Watts).

    • I can’t say the evidence is thin. Even the Anchor Bible Dictionary’s very skeletal summary (see the second half of the article on Torah) includes dozens of points of evidence, including 27 doublets, 24 expressions distinctive to one strand or another, 15 contradictions between strands, 20 distinctive characteristics of one strand or another, 11 breaks in narrative flow between strands, and 38 historical distinctives pointing to a differing Sitz im Leben for each strand. While there is a lot of room for debate around all those (and many more could be added), the evidence is certainly not thin.

      That said, I too am extremely skeptical of attempts to divide up those sources too firmly (sometimes down to the half-verse!), or to deduce all manner of speculative conclusions about the religion of ancient Israel from such reconstructed sources. It’s not quite a fool’s errand (in fact, I’ve attempted a bit of it myself in the past), but it is very easily abused and too often lacks proper controls.

  4. I’ll agree that the number of items called evidence is not small. But I don’t think doublets, apparent contradictions, breaks in narrative flow, distinctive expressions in different kinds of passages or for different purposes, and so on are very good signs of multiple authors. Doublets can serve narrative purpose, and most so-called doublets are actually very different accounts with usually only one common theme and lots of details that are different (including different characters). Distinctive expressions often indicate different purposes or different focuses of characters (e.g. different names for God often correspond in large part to whether the focus is on the covenant people, relations with other peoples, God’s people acting sinfully vs. righteously, and so on). Narrative breaks certainly make sense in the overall narrative structure of the final form of a book, as recent narrative criticism has shown. But why couldn’t they have been put in by an original author of an entire work if a final editor could have done the same thing for the same purpose? And there’s been enough work by biblical theologians putting together apparent contradictions of theological emphasis that apparent contradictions at that level are easily seen to be possibly from the same author. Apparent contradictions on the level of numbers or spellings of names and such aren’t really signs of a different author, whatever else you’ll say about them. The author could have taken them from lists made at different times or might alternate two common spellings of a name that the author makes use of.

    None of these things seem to me to be definitive arguments for multiple authorship, whereas the indication of using sources as the authors of Kings and Chronicles do seems to me to be very clear evidence. We don’t have that for the Pentateuch and have no reason to think, as far as I’m concerned, that the law codes presented as having been given to Moses don’t go back to Moses (not that he’d have to be the author of the books for that to be true).

    • Surely a document does not have to identify its sources (as in Kings) or have an extant parallel elsewhere (as in Chronicles and the Synoptics) to conclude that sources were used. The Torah nowhere claims to be the unified composition of a single author; it does not even all take place in the same generation (at the least, Genesis and Deuteronomy 34 could not have been directly witnessed by any one man).

      You admit that “Apparent contradictions on the level of numbers or spellings of names and such” could derive from the use of “lists made at different times.” If we can admit the possibility that the text incorporates preexisting lists, why not preexisting stories and/or laws when similar “apparent contradictions” occur in larger matters?

      To be sure, no individual piece of evidence is unquestionable, but their combined force is substantial. When you have passages side by side that differ in several of these respects with little or no overlap (as occurs numerous times throughout the Pentateuch, beginning with Gen 1-2) it is hardly a stretch to conclude that we are dealing with, at the very least, an edited work drawing on prior information. But to my mind they case for a longer history of redaction seems too strong to ignore, even if we must be cautious about identifying its particulars (as Clines so well reminds us).

      Nor do I think the acceptance of a form of the documentary hypothesis necessarily means abandoning the literary and theological distinctives of the text as we have it. I often think redaction itself must have been an art, as very different stories (or sources) sometimes seem to be deliberately juxtaposed or interwoven for the sake of contrast. In fact, I think the apparent contradictions in the text are better seen to indicate differing perspectives among the one people of God than mere carelessness on the part of a single author.

  5. […] genius discovery in new directions on Pooh studies. Seriously, brilliant. (Thanks Jeremy for including this and the following 2 in the […]

  6. […] forgotten to submit anything to the last few Christian Carnivals, but Jeremy kindly included that spoof on Pooh Studies in this week’s anyway. Thanks […]

  7. […] Sources of The Lord of the Rings If you enjoyed David Clines’ Winnie the Pooh parody of redaction criticism, you’ll want to check out our friend Mark Shea’s similar […]

  8. here it is:,d.b2w

Conversation is what makes blogging worthwhile. Leave a comment.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: