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.

17 comments:

Baal Habos said...

>Reading the “The Bible with Sources Revealed”, it is a little hard to see this.

Check out LittleFoxling blog.

http://littlefoxling.blogspot.com/2007/01/intro-to-dh-post-i-of-ii.html

I'm reading Who Wrote the Bible by the same author, and what he shows is that by simply dividing the text into J/E/P/D according to Lingusitics, it's explains the sociological and religious meaning behind each Author and it actually fits.

So you might say, it's random based on the words, but then explain how in Genesis, Elohim always refers to a story that is advantagous to and reflects the concerns of Israel and YHVH reflects the concerns of Judah.

I'm not sure where you see the Elohim as placed by the redactor.


>In a way, the Documentary Hypothesis is reminiscent of the famous Bible Codes – Professor Friedman is trying to find new authors hidden somehow in code in the Biblical text.

No way, REF did not make these divisions, they were created by prior critics (unless in your book REF changes some), but REF rather shows (in my book) how those divisions based on kinguistic considerations just happen to co-incide with political concerns. Now what are the odds of that?

>It’s also interesting that according to Professor Friedman the redactor of the Pentateuch was Ezra, however Jerusalem, so central in Ezra’s time, is never mentioned.


Interesting, I'm curious as to what he says. But don't forget the redactor is not an author.

littlefoxling said...

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.

Patently false. The Septuagint in the Vatican does divide up one chapter of Joshua according to DH. Moreover, irrelevant. DH claims the text was unified well before the earliest manuscript we found. So, you would not expect it to be broken up like that.

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.

I didn't read “The Bible with Sources Revealed,” so I can't comment on that. However, I did read "who wrote the Bible." And, I agree with your critique in that case. That book doesn't present the evidence of DH. But, that doesn't mean there isn't evidence for DH. It just means REF doesn't present it. And, as BHB explained to me. He is not attempting to present the evidence.

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.

Are you crazy?? That is one of the most compelling parts of DH. The nomenclature, writing style etc. of JE, P & D are all very different. There are hundreds of words that are either limited to one source or are very common in one source and very rare in another.

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,

Yes. It looks that way to you since by your own admission you are ignorant about this subject so kindly withhold judgment.

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.

I don't know what REF says but most scholars would not say that. The general assumption is that J used both names.

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.

You are getting it all wrong. The main point of DH is a division between JE, P, & D. The division between J & E is an add on that is not the main point of the theory. If you want to discredit DH, you need to discredit that division. Discrediting J vs. E is pointless.


Anyway, from the piece it really seems as though REF is the only thing you’ve read on the subject. But, REF doesn’t present the evidence to DH. So, by your own admission you have not even seen the evidence of DH. In that case, how can you pass judgment on it if you haven’t even seen the evidence? Don’t you think it would make sense to study it and then comment?

jewish philosopher said...

In the “Collection of Evidence” chapter, Friedman does explain all the proofs, which sound quite reasonable in theory, however seeing the actual results in this book is not very convincing.

Using a different word here or there (let's say "PC" instead of "computer") is not really a different dialect.

In the past, I have received email responses from Professor Friedman very promptly, but I'm still waiting this week.

joshua said...

"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."

This is false. The Dead Sea scrolls contain additional chapters of Isaiah which we don't have, don't contain megillat esther, have other seforim we don't have in our tanach, several pesukim are phrased differently. Hate to burst your bubble. Just go to the dome of the scroll or w/e it's called in the israel museum yourself and you can read the actual scrolls.

joshua said...

And the biggest proof against what you said. CHAZAL HAVE DIFFERENT PESUKIM THEN WE HAVE. See Kiddushin, Shabbos, Sanherin. Tosofos answers that Chazal had a different girsa of the CHUMASH then we have. The chumash chazal used was not the same we have!!! imagine that. They quote pesukim at times we don't have.

joshua said...

"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."

I should of put this all in one post I apologize. But this just cries out to me. The DH isn't about who actually wrote the Torah, some say Ezra, some say Chizkiyahu, ect. Wrote actually isn't the right word, redcator is. That's the point of the DH. It's many different tales, the flood tale, creation tale (2 creation stories), ect. combined together into one book. Not that one guy wrote one verse then he called over to J to come write the next verse. That it was just all placed together which is why Chumash seems so out of place at times with events seemingly happening randomly out of order and with no logic. For us frum jews we darshen all of these events, for those without such a mesorah, it makes much more sense to attribute this poor literary style to different authors and stories. You can't honestly read sefer breishis and then read sefer vayikra and tell me they read anything alike. The contradictions of descendents in breishis versus divrei hayamim ect.

jewish philosopher said...

Josh, my point is that no one has every discovered any copies or any mention anywhere of these alleged J, E, P and D documents. It's suspicious that they and all memory of them just evaporated.

For someone who assumes that Judaism is bogus, then the idea that the Pentateuch evolved over many centuries is natural. That is really the basis for the Documentary Hypothesis. However there is nothing about the text that forces you to believe in it. Someone reading the Bible, even in the original Hebrew, is not going to immediately say "Wow, whoever wrote Genesis 25 couldn't be the same person who wrote Exodus 10! The language is so different!"

Breishis and Divrei haYomim do have different authors, Moses and Ezra.

Baal Habos said...

> my point is that no one has every discovered any copies or any mention anywhere of these alleged J, E, P and D documents. It's suspicious that they and all memory of them just evaporated.

Why is it suspicious? Haven't countless other documents been lost completely? If they were not canonized, them might not be copied and eventually they'd be lost. Who knows, maybe there were regulations banning ownership of these documents. Remember, History is written by the winner; in this case the redactor.


For someone who assumes that Judaism is bogus, then the idea that the Pentateuch evolved over many centuries is natural. That is really the basis for the Documentary Hypothesis.


I don't believe this is factual. From my little reading, the concept of DH was born by religious Christians who were bound to Judaism but not to Talmudic Judasim. They believed in a historic judaism. See REF's Who wrote the Bible.

>However there is nothing about the text that forces you to believe in it. Someone reading the Bible, even in the original Hebrew, is not going to immediately say "Wow, whoever wrote Genesis 25 couldn't be the same person who wrote Exodus 10! The language is so different!"


Correct, I never in my life realized there were doublets and triplets becaused we only analyzed it in the way we were tauhgt in Yeshiva. Textual Analysis. But now, it's obvious and these questions of doublets, anachronisms, contradictions, stare at me in the face.

jewish philosopher said...

Dear Bos, there is no questions that Jewish leaders after Ezra would have suppressed non-canonical mini-Pentateuchs, if they would ever have existed. But we don’t have any record of them or of any suppression. Compare that to the Wisdom of Ben Sira which was excluded from canon, supressed by the rabbis but you can read an English translation today on the web.

The repetions and apparent contradictions in the Pentateuch may have been unnoticed by you in your yeshiva career, however they are dealt with intensively by Jewish commentaries from the Talmud to the present day, and I think satsifactorily.

yitz.. said...

to me the Documentary Hypothesis is interesting because God has many names and many attributes, the fact that two parts have different styles is more simply explained by different attributes being expressed than by two totally different authors.

that's for my own perspective of course.

what other people want to do with it, well if they didn't have the documentary hypothesis, they'd just use something else instead, their goal is to say what they want to say, not connect to God.

Ben Tzur said...

I have published this comment elsewhere, but it is directly to the point here, too, so with apologies for its length, which requires breaking up the text into many separate posts, here it is:


The Documentary Hypothesis itself is deeply flawed and implausible, on its very own terms. One can use general reasoning acceptable to secularists to demolish its claims. That is the best sort of refutation: using the scholarly assumptions, tools, results and claims of the challenger to demonstrate the unsustainable absurdities that result, a self-refutation that the challenger cannot dismiss nor answer. Of course, to do this, one must master the field that is so modestly self-described as “Higher Biblical Criticism.” It is not enough to be a master of Rabbinic literature.


The best refutation of the Documentary Hypothesis (DH, I will call it) is by Umberto Cassuto, The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch (Heb., Torat HaTeudot, 1941; English translation 1961) — see the summary of it at the Wikipedia article on “Umberto Cassuto.” It demolishes the DH in less than 200 pages of exceptionally clear, logical and learned prose. Also see his volumes of commentary on the various books of the Chumash, in which he goes into more detail than he could do in his general critique just mentioned, about passages offered as “proofs” by DH advocates, and refutes their arguments. Cassuto had exceptional qualifications for this subject. He was not only a specialist on the text of the Hebrew Bible and also thoroughly familiar with Rabbinic literature down through the ages, but was also a world-recognized and leading authority on Semitics and ancient Near Eastern languages generally (with books to his credit on various ancient languages), and in addition, he had thoroughly mastered “Higher Biblical Criticism” and general standards of secular scholarship — a combination rare if not entirely unique in “Higher Biblical Criticism.” He also wrote concisely and logically, with exceptional elegance, clarity and wit. It is not necessary to agree with Cassuto’s brief speculation made in passing, at the end of his book, about the historical emergence of the Torah text, since his book is devoted almost wholly to another topic, i.e., simply on the untenability of the “several documents” hypothesis in itself. One does not need to be either Orthodox or non-Orthodox to accept his devastating analysis of the DH. It is notable that his criticisms of the DH have not been refuted by any of the “Higher Biblical Critics.” They cannot handle it, even though his high academic reputation requires some acknowledgement. So they cite his book in their footnotes and bibliographies to give the semblance of scholarly breadth and depth, but never ever discuss and respond to what he actually wrote. Perhaps this is also because Cassuto is a Jew, and therefore an interloper in their own secular/Christian domain.


Nevertheless, a number of less systematic but still very strong and detailed refutations of the DH have emerged in the “Higher Biblical Criticism” camp itself, from both Christian and secular scholars, the most significant probably being Ivan Engnell, John Van Seters, Rolf Rendtorff, Gordon Whybray and Gordon Wenham.

Ben Tzur said...

I have published this comment elsewhere, but it is directly to the point here, too, so with apologies for its length, which requires breaking up the text into many separate posts, here it is:


The Documentary Hypothesis itself is deeply flawed and implausible, on its very own terms. One can use general reasoning acceptable to secularists to demolish its claims. That is the best sort of refutation: using the scholarly assumptions, tools, results and claims of the challenger to demonstrate the unsustainable absurdities that result, a self-refutation that the challenger cannot dismiss nor answer. Of course, to do this, one must master the field that is so modestly self-described as “Higher Biblical Criticism.” It is not enough to be a master of Rabbinic literature.


The best refutation of the Documentary Hypothesis (DH, I will call it) is by Umberto Cassuto, The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch (Heb., Torat HaTeudot, 1941; English translation 1961) — see the summary of it at the Wikipedia article on “Umberto Cassuto.” It demolishes the DH in less than 200 pages of exceptionally clear, logical and learned prose. Also see his volumes of commentary on the various books of the Chumash, in which he goes into more detail than he could do in his general critique just mentioned, about passages offered as “proofs” by DH advocates, and refutes their arguments. Cassuto had exceptional qualifications for this subject. He was not only a specialist on the text of the Hebrew Bible and also thoroughly familiar with Rabbinic literature down through the ages, but was also a world-recognized and leading authority on Semitics and ancient Near Eastern languages generally (with books to his credit on various ancient languages), and in addition, he had thoroughly mastered “Higher Biblical Criticism” and general standards of secular scholarship — a combination rare if not entirely unique in “Higher Biblical Criticism.” He also wrote concisely and logically, with exceptional elegance, clarity and wit. It is not necessary to agree with Cassuto’s brief speculation made in passing, at the end of his book, about the historical emergence of the Torah text, since his book is devoted almost wholly to another topic, i.e., simply on the untenability of the “several documents” hypothesis in itself. One does not need to be either Orthodox or non-Orthodox to accept his devastating analysis of the DH. It is notable that his criticisms of the DH have not been refuted by any of the “Higher Biblical Critics.” They cannot handle it, even though his high academic reputation requires some acknowledgement. So they cite his book in their footnotes and bibliographies to give the semblance of scholarly breadth and depth, but never ever discuss and respond to what he actually wrote. Perhaps this is also because Cassuto is a Jew, and therefore an interloper in their own secular/Christian domain.


Nevertheless, a number of less systematic but still very strong and detailed refutations of the DH have emerged in the “Higher Biblical Criticism” camp itself, from both Christian and secular scholars, the most significant probably being Ivan Engnell, John Van Seters, Rolf Rendtorff, Gordon Whybray and Gordon Wenham.

Ben Tzur said...

E.g., the last-named scholar, Wenham, in his A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, 2 vols. (1961-4), pushes some of Cassuto’s arguments further, showing for example that a favorite “proof” of multiple authorship, the Flood narrative, actually has a tight chiastic structure (i.e., verses and meanings unfolding in ABCBA form). It is a single, very ingeniously constructed text, in which every phrase and practically every word before the central point, “C” in the formula I gave, is echoed and amplified by an identical or similar word or phrase after it, in reversed order. Revealed in this way, there are no contradictions or incongruities in the text at all. Chiastic style is found throughout the Torah and is a distinctive and chief form of Biblical narrative. Wenham’s brilliant analysis is also available in his “The Coherence of the Flood Narrative,” Vetus Testamentum, XXVIII, 3 (1975): 336-348, available on-line at http://www.scotthahn.com/downl…. I recommend it to those unduly swayed by the DH.


Again drawing on “Higher Biblical Criticism” itself, studies show that the earliest post-Joshua historical and prophetic writings already make reference to written texts and also to a written Torah from Sinai, and there is much reference as well to Torah teachings as having unquestioned and authoritative, long-standing and traditional status in other books of the Tanakh. For example, see R.W.L. Moberly, The Old Testament of the Old Testament (1992). Again, it is not necessary to accept all of Moberly’s views to grant the central point that the Torah text and its authoritative account of revelation and history is recognised already in early times in Biblical Israel, and is taken as an established “given” by the earliest prophets themselves.


Nor is this surprising. After all, one of the key absurdities of the DH is that it ignores completely the fact that ancient Israel was a literate culture. There were scribes from the beginning of ancient Israel (indeed, the alphabetic script of proto-Hebraic dates at least to 1,850 BCE, and was used in ancient Canaan, so naturally ancient Israel also had it from the start), and yet the DH requires us to believe that the Biblical Jews never bothered to write down, preserve nor read any account of the Sinai revelation, the central account of the origin and identity of themselves, the core of their religion and beliefs, for at the very least some 300 if not 400 years, The “J” document, the first of the four documents hypothesized, is said to have been written around 950 or so BCE. That non-existence of a Torah text, or very very late composition of any version of it, quite simply, is unbelievable.



Furthermore, close study of the Hebrew of the Chumash shows that many of its terms are used in ways that no longer had the same application or meaning even in the early monarchical period; writings from that period use the terms differently. But these terms have a similar meaning to those found in Ugaritic proto-Hebraic texts from the 13th century BCE. On this, see Jacob Milgrom’s commentaries on Leviticus and Numbers. (This also shows that Rashi’s explanations, which often specify meanings that were archaic already in the Middle Biblical period and that connect with what we now know from Ugaritic archives, preserve an authentic scribal tradition going back to the Mosaic period, just as Orthodoxy has always said.)

Ben Tzur said...

These are not the only blatant absurdities in the DH claims, even beyond the determined omission of consideration of Israel’s literate culture. Let me name a few more. The DH claims a composition process about the Pentateuch that allegedly makes use of general reasonings applicable to all writings and all Scriptures, from which the Torah text cannot be exempted, but unfortunately for the thesis, there is no example of any other scriptural text in world religions that shows the alleged process. I.e., the uniqueness of the Torah text and its contents is supposedly undermined and even delegitimized and destroyed, by the use of a “generalizing” and “neutral” method which in fact actually relies on the uniqueness of the Torah text itself in comparative religious terms. (Some commentators have seen in the J,E,P,D documentary “sources” an attempt to read back into the Jewish Scriptures the quite different format of the Four Gospels of the New Testament, thereby legitimizing to some degree the Christian Scriptures.)


A further absurdity: the interweaving of the various sources, in particular J, E, and P, the ones applying to Genesis through Numbers, in which each is retained verbatim but merely cut-and-pasted into a single text interleaving sentences and sometimes even just sentence clauses together, is supposedly due to the sanctity of each text for its own community. These texts are so revered that they cannot be paraphrased, and even seeming contradictions must be retained when putting a sentence or phrase of one after a sentence or phrase of another. In other words, the sanctity of each means that each must be ripped to pieces and the pieces patched together into a “better” version. The desecration and disintegration of each source is because it is already sanctified in custom. This, of course, is a self-refuting nonsense. And, as mentioned, there is not a single example of such cut-and-paste treatment of sanctified texts anywhere else in world religions.


It is important to mention that even advocates of the DH admit to rather self-contradictory aspects of the hypothesis. E.g., the method used to determine the existence of four separate documents leads to a reductio ad absurdum, just by itself. For why stop when you have precisely four documents? Why not continue to apply the methodological criteria for separate sources? And then what happens? “J” divides into at least two different documents (Smend) or three (Eissfeldt, Morgenstern, Pfeiffer, Fohrer) or more, “E” either multiplies in similar ways (even into 12 different “documents”) or disappears entirely (Procksch, Volz, Rudolph), and so on for each of the other “source documents,” producing when enthusiastically applied to “its logical, not to say lunatic limits … a veritable alphabet soup of algebraic signs” (Joseph Blenkinsopp, The Pentateuch [1922], p.14 — Blenkinsopp nevertheless wishes to retain some form of the DH). Sustaining the DH is therefore like suspending the theory in mid-air and preventing its fall to the ground purely by faith alone, abandoning the methodology when it becomes a self-refutation. Advocates also admit the antisemitic and dubiously evolutionary assumptions behind Wellhausen’s own thinking — they just think that with whatever modifications are necessary it still has no alternatives. Cassuto, as I said above, shows otherwise.


A “pillar” of the DH, as Cassuto calls it, is that each supposed “source document” shows itself by a different style and even terminology. But I myself use a different style and terminology when I write scholarly essays, poems, private letters to friends, to my wife, my children, and to my bank, compose shopping lists, contribute to blogs, and so on. That does not make me a multitude of different authors. The intended audience or recipient, wider context and especially the topic determine the style used by every accomplished author.

Ben Tzur said...

Yet another absurdity: although the supposed authors of the separate sources were intelligent enough to present in their own compositions a unified text without any seeming contradictions, we are to believe that the priests who brought all this together (according to Wellhausen), or the final Redactor(s) (according to other versions) were dumbbells who could not see a self-contradiction when it stared them in the face. They just mindlessly pasted it all together as a pretended single text, creating a lie without any hesitation: such was their fidelity and truthfulness.


We are often told in the Torah itself, in Rabbinic midrash and in Jewish disputations with Christians in the Middle Ages that the Torah revelation was witnessed not by a single person or small group, whose testimony could be challenged or distorted in transmission by others, but by an entire people, who together have preserved this testimony in exactitude and continue to study it closely, thus testifying down through the ages to the authenticity of that Torah revelation and text. This brings up another absurdity in the DH. We are supposed to believe that a novel account of the Sinai revelation, containing a description of the creation of the universe, the history of humanity, the formation of Israel and the laws and teachings that defined Israel as a people, which was supposedly written very many centuries after Sinai and finally edited into its present form in Babylonian Exile in the 6th century BCE by some scribes or under Ezra and his disciples from the 5th century BCE on, would be accepted holus-bolus not only by other Babylonian Jews and all their learned authorities, but also by the entire Jewish people throughout the world without demur. Presumably, the Jews elsewhere in the Diaspora, which then already existed and who were independent of Babylonian Jewry, had no Torah preserved amongst themselves by their scribes and elders that might compete with this final edited “account of Moses,” with all its alleged self-contradictions. They were too dumb and ignorant to see those novelties and self-contradictions. And they were too illiterate, passive and indifferent to reject this as an authentic narration from Moses. They all apparently suffered from short-term memory loss, even their own priests, scribes, judges and learned elders. All previous accounts vanished from their minds; the novel “revelation” became the ancient “Revelation.” The whole Diaspora fell into line with not a even a flicker of known resistance or protest. The Jews of Egypt, for example, presumably readily accepted this novel account of their own identity and sacred teachings from the rival community of Babylonian Jews, without rejecting it. Jews further afield also had no earlier counter-documents or views. That is simply impossible, on the face of it.


Considering all this, we might well ask how it can be that the DH has convinced generations of highly learned Christian and secular scholars? I have just mentioned that in fact there have been dissenters. But the reality is that the entire field of modern Biblical scholarship is deeply compromised by Judeophobia and partisan bias. It is a remarkable thing about this entire discipline, pursued chiefly in Christian seminaries in former times but now also in secular universities, that all of its key terms for Biblical Israel and its religion are calculated to draw a sharp antithesis between Judaism/Jews and Biblical Israel. The terms for God, the religion itself, the people who follow it, the land they live in and even the Scripture they possess, are made to be different from the Jewish ones, archaizing and de-Judaizing pre-Exilic Israel. This is too general and consistent to be a coincidence. It extends to wilful anachronisms to achieve its effect, but often excuses itself as necessitated to avoid anachronisms.

Ben Tzur said...

So we are told that the God of ancient Israel is really a national god like unto Baal and Ashtarot, whose personal name is constantly employed in scholarly discussions, namely “Yahweh.” This practice not only relegates HaShem to a mere status as a “Tom, Dick and Harry” god within a polytheistic environment, but also makes crystal clear that Orthodox or even just observant Jews are not welcome in the discipline — for there is an explicit prohibition on the casual use of this term in the Mosaic Torah and Jews have refused for two thousand years to pronounce YHVH, saying just Adonai or HaShem. It also ignores the philological fact that the Tetragrammaton is a descriptive verb rather than a name in the usual sense.


However, according to “Higher Biblical Criticism,” the religion of Biblical Israel is “Israelite religion,” which is allegedly altogether different from later “Judaism” due to its full or quasi-polytheism or genial, tolerant “henotheism,” not the later, post-Exilic monotheistic Judaism with its supposedly fierce, punitive and “legalistic” God. 
 (Naturally, this must suppress the much more merciful, inclusive and universalistic Noahite Covenant teaching in the Torah and in post-exilic and Rabbinic Judaism than the exclusive Christian version of salvation, consigning all the rest of humanity to eternal hell-fire.)


The people who follow this pre-Exilic religion are “Israelites” (comparable, it is often said, e.g., by Johannes Pedersen in his still much cited book Israel: Its Life and Culture, to contemporary Arab Bedouin tribalists): they are emphatically not “Jews” (for, it is said, the “Jews” only take over the religion at and after the Exile).



The land these “Israelites” or “Hebrews” live in is “Canaan” or “Palestine” (entirely anachronistically, since the term “Palestine” does not appear either in the Jewish Scriptures nor even in the New Testament). In any case it is clear that they do not live in “the land of Israel” as Biblical texts say they do, and certainly they are not in “Judea” or “Israel” unless talking about the specific kingdoms.


And the scripture these Israelites develop is the “Old Testament” (another blatant anachronism pointing to and presuming the “New Testament”) which Jews have alleged distorted into the “Law” of later “Judaism” (the terminology of “Law” is itself a wilfully false and anachronistic translation of the word Torah, “Teaching” and also implies a contrast with a supposed New Covenant of “Grace”). This Judaism is an unjustified new religion, in which particularistic “nationalistic” and/or “legalistic priestly” religion has taken over, and drives genuine spirituality, i.e., the “prophetic” religion, underground (or at least so it was said up to the end of the last century even by such an otherwise sympathetic Biblical scholar as John Bright, in his The History of Israel [1959], currently in its fourth edition). 


Ben Tzur said...

So we see that if you want to accept “Higher Biblical Criticism” you are obliged by the basic terminology of the discipline to presume that the God, the religion, the people, the land, and even the Scriptures of Biblical Israel are all radically different from “later Judaism” and from what Jews have made of it. In a word, this is anti-Judaism in action, a kidnapping of the Jewish sources and appropriation of them for non-Jewish and even anti-Jewish goals and agendas. This does not mean that all or even most scholars working in this field are antisemites per se or at the least Judeophobes, but it does mean that what historically originated and still frames the whole discipline of “Higher Biblical Criticism” and shapes its discourse, willy-nilly, is Judeophobia. It has served a Christian desire to appropriate the “prophetic” strand in pre-Exilic Judaism from the Jews and deny it to “later Judaism,” to claim it as a kind of proto-Christianity, or a secular motivation (beginning with Spinoza even more than with Hobbes) to undermine the influence and legitimacy of the Bible in Western culture and of Judaism as a religious heritage in the modern world. As mentioned already, Wellhausen himself, the author of the DH, is a relevant case in point, and exemplifies all these motivations. Thus the popular acceptance of his theories can be understood, however strained and absurd they may be.



Having said all that, the positive fruits of modern Biblical studies must also be granted, and the work of scholars of good will. There are many such scholars in contemporary Biblical studies, and there is much that can be learned from them. Wenham, for example, writes out of a strongly Protestant perspective, but his commentaries on the Torah are often very good.



In conclusion, I mentioned above that Cassuto’s refutations have not even been addressed by DH scholars. Let me give an instance of this. One of the most Teutonically elaborate Christian treatments of Biblical literature is Otto Eissfeldt, The Old Testament: An Introduction; 3rd ed. (1965). His elaborate footnotes and bibliographies, and pedantic style, in this nearly 900-page book, indicate that he wishes to convey the impression that he has read everything relevant and gives the conclusions of full, fair and definitive scholarship. He notes, for example, that there have been critics of the DH. “Many of these attempts, as for example those of Möller, B. Jacob, Cassuto, Aalders and Young, with all their differences in detail, declare so unreservedly not only in favour of the literary unity of the Pentateuch, but also for its derivation from Moses, that although they contain in detail useful and correct observations, they hardly come into consideration as serious contributions to the solution of the Pentateuchal problem.” That’s it. There is no further reference even to those grudgingly admitted “useful and correct observations” regarding the DH from Cassuto, Jacobs, or the others named, elsewhere in the book, so we are given no idea what they might be. The faint praise is perhaps merely a cover for the bias of not treating those critics seriously. Moreover, the dismissive comment regarding the Mosaic origins of the Torah is in fact incorrect, at least as far as Cassuto is concerned, since he did not argue for that, only for the untenability of the DH hypothesis about multiple documents as such. As an aside, he does not in fact date the Torah as a written text to the Mosaic period. That is why I wrote above that: “One does not need to be either Orthodox or non-Orthodox to accept his devastating analysis of the DH.” So Eissfeldt misrepresents Cassuto. His excuse for ignoring him does not hold water. The same seems likely to be true for his treatment of other DH critics, judging from this evidence.