Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Documentary Hypothesis

[Julius Wellhausen 1844 - 1918 architect of modern Bible Criticism]

I have recently been studying a book called “The Bible with Sources Revealed” by Richard Elliot Friedman. This book probably explains the Documentary Hypothesis in more detail and more clearly than any other book in print. The entire text of the Pentateuch (in English translation) is printed with different fonts and different colors to indicate which source document each word is from, in the opinion of Professor Friedman.

The basic problem I have with the book is that there seems to be no compelling reason to believe in the existence of any of these earlier documents.

First of all, every copy of the Pentateuch ever found, whether the Masoretic text, the Septuagint, the Samaritan Pentateuch or the Dead Sea Scrolls, has been in the form of one unified document. No reference appears anywhere in any source to any earlier mini-Pentateuchs or to any final redaction being made by Ezra or anyone else.

Second of all, the entire Pentateuch is written in the same language and dialect of Classical Biblical Hebrew. There is no obvious shift from one dialect to another, as if a book would be written partially in a Southern American English dialect and partially in a British English dialect, or partially in 17th century English and partially in 20th century English. The Pentateuch is all written in the same, clear, simple Hebrew. Only certain brief sections of poetry are in a different style.

The essence of the Documentary Hypothesis, as Professor Friedman explains in the “Collection of Evidence” chapter of the book, seems to be that using certain objective linguistic and terminological criteria, it is possible to dissect the Pentateuch into several separate documents, each of which, separately, makes more sense and is more readable than the Pentateuch we have today.

Reading the “The Bible with Sources Revealed”, it is a little hard to see this. Although I am certain that Professor Friedman is a very learned and sincere man, it looks to me almost as if someone took the Pentateuch and at random printed different paragraphs, and even different words, in different colors and fonts. For example, Genesis 2 and 3 are presumed to have been written primarily by the J author, since they use YHVH as God’s name. However the word “God” (Elohim) alone is marked as being inserted by the Redactor each time it appears. Genesis 35 is divided up between 4 authors: verses 1 to 8 and from the middle of 16 to 20 is E, 9 to 15 is P, 21 and 22 is J, the middle of 9 and the first half of 16 is R.

Perhaps the most implausible part of the documentary hypothesis is the fact that, in order for it to work, different sentences in one paragraph and even different phrases on one sentence must be attributed to different documents. Why would the author of the Pentateuch have taken the trouble to splice together verbatim small phrases from various documents into one paragraph rather than just rewriting it in his own words?

In a way, the Documentary Hypothesis is reminiscent of the famous Bible Codes – Professor Friedman is trying to find new authors hidden somehow in linguistic hints in the Biblical text. It's also interesting that even among the supporters of the hypothesis there are widely different theories.

According to Professor Friedman the redactor of the Pentateuch was Ezra, however Jerusalem, so central in Ezra’s time, oddly is never mentioned in the Pentateuch.

On 1/29/2007, I sent Professor Friedman the following email:

Dear Professor Friedman,

I recently purchased a copy of your remarkable book "The Bible with Sources Revealed". I have read the Collection of Evidence chapter where you explain the basis for the Documentary Hypothesis. While studying the main section of the book, however, I am sometimes a little confused regarding why certain passages are attributed to different sources. For example, the 28 verses of Genesis 35 are attributed to 4 different authors, E, R, P and J, even though the chapter seems to read quite coherently as one narrative written by one person. (I am fluent in Hebrew, incidentally.)

Another thing which has occurred to me is that certain unusually spellings appear consistently throughout the Pentateuch but nowhere else in the Bible. I am thinking in particular of the male pronoun "hoo" always being spelled "he" in the Pentateuch.

Also, it seems very odd to me that if the Pentateuch was redacted in the time of Ezra, why the city of Jerusalem, so central in Ezra's time, is entirely unmentioned. (The Samaritans have of course included prominent mention of Mt. Gerizim in their scroll.)

Thank you for your patience.

Jacob Stein

I received his response on 2/1/2007:

Dear Mr. Stein:

Thank you for your good letter and your kind comment about BSR. To get right to your questions:

In Genesis 35, the first section (vv. 1-8) has three references to Elohim and one to El in prose narration. This never happens in J. The story refers explicitly to God's having appeared to Jacob at Beth-El. This happens in J and E (back in Genesis 28) but never in P. The section must therefore be E.

The section describing Rachel's death in childbirth (vv. 16b-20) is the fulfillment of the curse that Jacob had unwittingly put on her when he told Laban that whoever has stolen the teraphim should die. That occurred in a story that is entirely E in Genesis 31. (Note for example that it begins and ends with references to Elohim in prose narration in 31:24; 32:2,3.) The Genesis 35 account therefore appears to be E as well.

The section that comes in between these two must be P. It identifies God as El Shadday, and it uses the phrase "be fruitful and multiply," which are marks of P. It also is a story of how Beth-El got its name, but this had happened already in J and E. (It is a triplet.) It also is a story of Jacob's name being changed to Israel, but this had happened already in E. (It is a doublet.)

The notice that Reuben sleeps with his father's concubine (vv 21-22a) is J. It is referred to later at the end of J, when Jacob demotes Reuben from the birthright because "you went up to your father's couch." This is mentioned briefly in BSR on p. 19, and it is treated a bit more fully in my Who Wrote the Bible?

The final section (vv. 22b-29) is P. It is a doublet of the births and namings of Jacob's sons, which had already been covered at length in J and E. And it says that Jacob "expired" and "was gathered to his people," which are P terms.

The problem of hû’ and hî’ is an old and complicated one. In the Pentateuch the feminine is usually, but not always (there are eleven exceptions), written with the consonants hw’, but then the Masoretic scribes inserted the vowel that would direct people to read it as a feminine. Outside the Pentateuch the feminine is usually, but not always (see 1 Kings 17:15; Isa 30:33; Job 31:11)), written with the consonants hy’. There are various hypotheses for this phenomenon, but none that I have seen has sufficiently explained why there is such a statistical difference between the Torah and the rest of the Hebrew Bible.

The city of Jerusalem was central in the time of the composition of J and P as well as in the time of the Redactor. It is mentioned in the Torah by its original name, Jebus, in the many references to the Jebusites. Jebus is the name of Jerusalem in the period of the Torah. See Judges 19:10 and 1 Chronicles 11:4. Some think that Jerusalem is also what is meant in the reference to the city of Salem in Genesis 14:18. It could not be referred to by the name Jerusalem in the times of the authors and redactors because that would have been an obvious anachronism.

I'm sorry that I was not able to give all the reasons for the identification of each passage with a particular source in BSR. That would have made a large task even larger — and the book quite big. Perhaps someone else will do it someday.

I hope this helps.

Richard Elliott Friedman
Davis Professor of Jewish Studies, University of Georgia
Katzin Professor of Jewish Civilization Emeritus, University of California, San Diego

I thanked Professor Friedman for his kind response, however I have to admit I am not very strongly impressed. It would appear that using the Documentary Hypothesis, verses are ascribed to different authors using the slightest pretext. I personally think that the traditional Jewish commentaries provide more reasonable explanations for differences in wording, repetitions, apparent contradictions, etc. I have myself suggested an explanation for the so called repetition of the creation story.

The issue of Jerusalem is also interesting. In fact, the city is called “Jerusalem” in Joshua 10, and throughout the Bible afterwards. Why would Ezra have been afraid to use the name Jerusalem in the Pentateuch itself? A commandment “You should build a temple in Jerusalem” would have been very convenient. The Canaanite nation of the Jebusites is mentioned nine times in the Pentateuch, however not their city.

I believe that the Documentary Hypothesis does make some interesting observations about the Pentateuch and it analyses the Pentateuch in a novel, non-traditional way. I am inclined to believe, however, that there is more to be gained from Rashi and the Ramban than from the Bible critics.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Achieving Happiness

I think that a common reason for leaving Judaism is the belief that Judaism is a sad, unhappy way of life and the secular, atheistic life is so much happier.

Actually, nothing could be farther from the truth. The secular lifestyle is miserable and Judaism can be truly joyous. To put it another way, if you are miserable as a Jew, you will in the long run be twice as miserable as a non-Jew. And I was once a non-Jew, so I should know.

This quote is revealing:
“People who believe in God are happier than those who don’t. A study shows that the faithful are less likely to abuse drugs, commit crimes or kill themselves.”
“Some Dark Thought on Happiness” by Jennifer Senior (who is an atheist) in New York magazine 7/17/2006 page 30

“The Pursuit of Happiness”, by a highly respected social psychologist, Dr. David G. Myers Avon Books 1992, mentions that important factors to build happiness are: a strong faith and trust in God (page 183), belief in an afterlife (page 200), focusing on spiritual rather than material accomplishments (page 188). It’s a worthwhile book in general.

I believe that Judaism will make you happy because it will:

Provide you with a more meaningful purpose in life.

Provide you with a feeling of self esteem and self respect.

Provide you with hope for life after death.

Provide you with a belief in justice in this world.

Provide you with a feeling of control over your future.

Help you increase your self control.

Help you have a better relationship with friends and develop a good family life.

Give you more constancy in life.

Even if you cannot believe that being a good Jew will improve your situation in the afterlife (and it will), it is surely easily provable that it will enhance your life in this world. Why deprive yourself of that? It’s truly a pity.

What if for some reason you are unable to believe? Then practice Judaism, study Torah, pray for the wisdom to find the truth and repent and you will believe.

Just click on the Links listed on this blog and get started.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Contradictions within the Torah

Exodus 12:40 states “The habitation of the Children of Israel during which they dwelled in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years.” [This verse will be publicly read in Orthodox synagogues this coming Saturday morning.]

This verse clearly contradicts Exodus 6:18-20 which states that Kohath lived 133 years and Amram lived 137 years. Kohath came to Egypt with Jacob (Genesis 46:11). Moses, the son of Amram, died at the age of 120 (Deut. 34:7), which was 40 years after the Exodus, making Moses 80 years old at the time of Exodus. Therefore the Egyptian exile could not have lasted more than 350 years. (In fact, according to the Talmudic tradition, it lasted only 210 years.)

This contradiction has been addressed by many Biblical commentaries, from the twelfth century to the present. Personally, I have not yet found an explanation which I feel is very plausible. Needless to say, critics of Judaism have used this verse as proof that the Torah was not written by God, since obviously God would not have made a mistake and the number 430 is clearly a mistake.

I believe, however, such a conclusion is unwarranted.

The evidence in favor of the divine origin of the Torah is overwhelming. Exodus 12:40 is a single verse which I don’t understand. In my opinion, this does not outweigh the evidence in favor Judaism.

This same type of logic is commonly applied in any other area of research.

Take for example the discovery of DNA in dinosaur bones. This would seem to contradict the well established fact that dinosaurs lived tens of millions of years ago, because soft tissues can never survive that long. However rather than contradict the massive evidence of the age of dinosaurs, scientists must simply accept the fact that somehow in this case soft tissue did survive 70 million years, although we don’t understand how.

Only when the preponderance of evidence would favor a much younger age for dinosaurs, something almost inconceivable, would that conclusion be accepted. By the same token, in regarding Judaism, only when the preponderance of evidence would shift to a human authorship of the Torah, something almost inconceivable, could that conclusion be accepted.

In other words, as the old Yiddish saying goes, “Fun a kasha shtorbt man nischt”. “You don’t die from a contradiction.”

Friday, January 12, 2007

Kefirah Clowns

(kefirah – in Hebrew, denial, heresy, atheism)

In a few more days it will be a full year since I began writing this blog and this has been one of the most fascinating and enjoyable projects of my life.

One of the best parts of this activity has been my constant interaction with people who are bitterly and completely opposed to all that I believe in, many of whom are intelligent, educated and even (formerly) Orthodox Jews themselves. Corresponding with these people has reaffirmed my beliefs time and again, because never once has anyone produced a convincing atheistic explanation for the origin of the universe, the origin of life or the origin of Judaism; not even one decent explanation which would convince an intelligent, fair-minded person. The atheists have no answers.

How did the universe originate?
Atheist #1: We cannot understand that.
Me: Sure you can’t understand it, if you irrationally insist that nature is all there is, there is no way nature could have gotten started. However if we acknowledge the existence of an intelligent force outside nature, for example God, there is no problem. God did it.
Atheist #2: The universe has always existed. The Big Bang is not the beginning of the universe, but rather merely the beginning of one little bubble in an endless chain of multiverses.
Me: What about entropy? Is the universe a perpetual motion machine which will never stop? That’s impossible.

Why is the universe fine-tuned in a way which makes life possible?
Atheist: There are an immense number of universes and this one just happens to work this way by chance.
Me: There is no evidence of that. You are just trying to avoid the obvious fact that God designed the universe.

How did the first life originate?
Atheist: We don’t know.
Me: You don’t know because there is no natural way for simple chemicals to form living things. However if we acknowledge the existence of an intelligent force outside nature, for example God, there is no problem. God did it.

How did complex life develop?
Atheist: Darwinian evolution! That’s it! I’ve got one answer!!
Me: No one has every seen one new organ or limb develop as a result of Darwinian evolution, not in a laboratory or in a fossil bed. It’s a myth.

Why are we conscious of ourselves and how can we make free choices?
Atheist: I don’t know why we feel self conscious. We don’t make free choices, we just imagine we do.
Me: We have a God given soul.

How did Judaism originate?
Atheist: Just like any other religion. Somebody made up a story, then a bunch of foolish people believed it.
Me: Wrong. Judaism did not begin with someone making up a story. Judaism began with an entire nation, a community of tens of thousands of people, believing a story. A few people could make up a lie. An entire nation cannot unanimously conspire together to falsify history. If you think they can, then join the Holocaust deniers and the Moon landing hoax believers.

So the kefirah clowns have an answer for everything, but they are all bad answers. Anything pointing to God is a mystery, an illusion or a conspiracy. But I guess you can believe anything if you are angry enough, arrogant enough or addicted enough to an irresponsible lifestyle.

Some “tough” questions atheists have asked me:

Where did God come from?
He has always existed.

How did fossils originate?
They are remains of earlier, pre-Adam worlds.

Why does the Torah allow slavery?
Where the government permits slavery, the Torah allows us to purchase a slave and force him to work, but not to maim him, kill him or sexually abuse him. This is far more humane than any other nationality. However to ban Jews from owning slaves where gentiles routinely did would put them at an unfair disadvantage economically.

Why did Jews kill the Canaanites?
The only source for that is the Bible, and if you believe the Bible then you can believe that God told the Jews to do it.

Doesn’t Judaism consider women to inferior to men?
I think Judaism considers women to be on the average slightly more childish and emotional than men and therefore in most cases it is preferable for men to make important decisions. Orthodox Jewish women, however, are almost never raped, beaten, impregnated before marriage and are almost always married by age 30. I think many secular women would envy that situation.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Agnosticism: a Cosmic Cop Out

[Thomas Huxley 1825 – 1895; coined the term “agnostic”]

Agnosticism seems to mean as follows: Throughout history millions of people have made endless different claims about the supernatural while others, more recently, have simply claimed that there is no such thing as the supernatural at all. Considering this, it would appear that the supernatural is something simply unknowable to the human mind. If it were something comprehensible, then surely we would already have some definite conclusions by now, however we apparently don’t. Therefore, the wisest choice is to just avoid the entire subject. We don’t know and we cannot know, so just forget the whole issue.

There are approximately a million agnostics in America.

Agnostics may be the only people who truly have no religion. (Atheists, I contend, do have a religion, however it is a naturalistic religion.)

Personally, to me, this seems to indicate a terrible mental laziness.

Take for example, diet and fitness. There are surely endless crackpot claims being made every day for all sorts of diet pills, fitness equipment, etc. However should a wise person just throw up his hands and say “Forget it! No one knows what is really healthy and what isn’t, so I am just going to eat and do whatever I want to do.” It would seem much wiser to examine all claims critically, attempt to separate the truth from the scams and behave accordingly. By the same token, regarding religion, there is plenty of nonsense and innumerable scams out there, however with careful, logical study one can reach a foundation of truth. This is what we all must strive for.

To do otherwise is to cop out on the cosmic purpose of our lives.