Courtesy the Union Theological Seminary Archives, The Burke Library, NYC

Julius Wellhausen. A strange genius, this 19th-century (1844–1918) German scholar inaugurated modern biblical scholarship by asserting that the Pentateuch, or five books of Moses, is comprised principally of four strands. These four he designated J (for Yahwist; Jahwist in German), E (for Elohist), P (for the priestly code) and D (for the Deuteronomist). These components, in Wellhausen’s view, were joined together and edited by R, the redactor.

In a reaction to Wellhausen’s theories, archaeology became—for a time—the darling of biblical literalists. In the first half of the 20th century, just as the view that the Bible was written by humans during discernible historical periods was gaining ground among scholars, the newly emerging field of archaeology appeared to be validating a key tenet of the Bible: At site after site archaeologists were uncovering destruction levels that seemed to prove that the Israelites conquered Canaan in a swift military campaign as described in the Book of Joshua.