Friday, December 06, 2013
De Wette's 16 page dissertation
Image: W. M. L. De Wette (1780-1849)
I’ve been reading Mark S. Gignilliat’s A Brief History of Old Testament Criticism: From Benedict Spinoza to Brevard Childs (Zondervan, 2012). As the title indicates, the book offers a survey of modern historical-critical approaches to the OT by surveying the contributions of seven key scholars (Spinoza, De Wette, Wellhausen, Gunkel, Von Rad, Albright, and Childs).
I found one note on De Wette (1780-1849) to be interesting. His 1804 doctoral dissertation from the University of Jenna was 16 pages in length! By contrast my 2002 NT dissertation was 341 pages. De Wette’s dissertation title was A Critical-Exegetical Dissertation by which Deuteronomy, Different from the Earlier Books of the Pentateuch, Is Shown to Be the Work of a Later Author. Gignilliat observes: “The work was measured by its quality, however, not by its length” (p. 44). He points out that several ideas in the dissertation became widely accepted in subsequent OT scholarship , such as a later dating for Deuteronomy than the rest of the Pentateuch and the idea that the law book discovered in the days of Josiah c. 622 BC was the book of Deuteronomy (neither of which I am personally endorsing).
Maybe the lesson of the 16 page dissertation is that we might say more with less.