Wednesday, January 31, 2007
[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.
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.