Friday, April 20, 2007

Who Wrote the Exodus – a Case of Academic Fraud?

[Moses with Tablets by Marc Chagall]

According to the Documentary Hypothesis, the Exodus story, one of the foundations of Judaism, is primarily based on the E document. So it is interesting to explore, who wrote the E document?

Richard E. Friedman in “Who Wrote the Bible” page 48 writes that at the time of the schism of Rehoboam and Jeroboam, “At Dan there existed an old, established priesthood founded by Moses’ grandson according to the book of Judges. It probably continued to function there.” On page 79, Professor Friedman explains that one sign that the E author was descended from these priests is the favorable light that Moses is shown in the E document. After all, in E, Moses is the savior of Israel.

Now all this is written as if it were well know established facts. No sources or footnotes are given. We are just told that in the Kingdom of Israel there functioned a sect of Levite priests who were descended from Moses and that’s that.

But what is the actual source?

As far as I know, the source is Judges 18:30 where Danites set up an idol at Dan served by Jonathan son of Gershom son of Manasseh, a Levite. How is Moses connected to this? The Talmud Bava Basra 109b says “Manasseh” actually means “Moses”, however scripture wrote it incorrectly because Jonathan was as wicked as King Manasseh.

In other words, apparently what happened is this: Bible critics for whatever reason decided that the Exodus story is a separate “document” called E. They then began wondering who wrote this document. They had to find some group in ancient Israel which was particularly sympathetic to Moses. So someone discovered the Talmudic statement that the descendents of Moses were priests to an idol in Dan. This Talmudic statement happens to contradict I Chronicles 23:16 and 26:24 where the son of Gershom the son of Moses is named Shebuel not Jonathan, but no matter. Since this Talmudic statement supports their theory, it is accept as historical fact, although under other circumstances no skeptic would dream of taking it seriously. And then this “fact” is included in popular books like “Who Wrote the Bible” without any explanation. The innocent reader may assume it is based on clear archeological findings.

I think this demonstrates the quality of scholarship involved in Bible criticism. The moral is: Question everything.


avrum68 said...

Ha. I had the exact same reaction when I learned about JEPD at McGill University. I told my prof: "You need the same degree of faith in the Documentary Hypothesis that you need for Divine Revelation."

Agutten Shabbos folks.

zal said...

I was wondering this myself. By way of background for others, many (but not all) DH'ers make reference to a supposed "Mushite priesthood" that descended from Moshe and were active in Shiloh in the north. Shaul tried to destroy them, but David attempted to placate them by appointing both an Aaronid and a Mushite as co-kohanim gadolim. Shlomo then fired Abiather, the Mushite priest, and handed the reins to the Aaronid priest Zadok. This rivalry contributed to the eventual division of the northern and southern tribes. The Torah is a composite of documents written by these two factions (e.g., P is from an Aaronid, written during the time of King Hezkiyahu; Aaron plays a more important role than Moses in this document.)

It's actually a very interesting story but never answers the most important question: where is the evidence that Abiathar descended from Moses?? The claim is specious, yet it is linchpin of his thesis!

beepbeepitsme said...

Whether or not the people who called themselves hebrews, jews or israelites moved from egypt, is beside the point.

In other words whether this is hisorically accurate or not, it is not evidence that the god they believed in existed. Let's say for arguments sake that they did move from egypt. This is not evidence that what they believed about a god is correct.

It takes faith to believe that a disembodied voice which represented an all-powerful entity, spoke to a man on a mountain.

That is why religions require faith above all else.

littlefoxling said...

Belive it or not, I happen to more or less agree with this post. You are correct that much of what REF is baseless speculation. I would just point out 3 things:

1. It is speculation and I don;'t think REF would treat it any differently. He wouldn't tell you that E is obviously from the family presented in Judges. He's just giving it as a speculation.

2. It's not only based on the gemorah. It's also based on the facts that the nun is printed wierdly, menashe sounds like moshe (especialy without the nun) the person was a Levi, and had a son named gershon. Of course, this doesn't prove anything. But, it is enough to speculate. and that's all it is. REF is not basing himself off of the talmud. Rather, both the talmud and ref are based off of similar arguments.

3. While you critique of REF is valid, this is not a valid critique of DH generally, or biblical critisism even more generaly. I had the same problem with your last post on DH. many of the critiques you bring up on REF are valid. but, the equation of REF = DH is completely invalid. REF does not in his book present any evidence or even discuss DH seriously. He takes DH as a given and then extempts to expand on it, like finding out who the authors are. you are correct that these expansions are generaly baseless, but they are also quire irrelevent to the theological questions raised by DH. Even if we don't know who wrote E, it's existance is the issue here.

Even if you will argue, as some do, that the entire DH is false (and, i would not agree with you at all in that case, but even if I did, for argument's sake) you would still need to admit that the traditional orthodox view of one complete book written by moses via the word of God is completely irreconciable with the book itself, certainly with all the external evidence that exists.

littlefoxling said...

sorry, gershom not gershon

also, could you remove this word thing. it's very annoying and you probably won't get much spam without it (many bloggers don't have it and don't get spam). if you do ever get spam you can always delete it

(that is, if you don't consider comments from BHB and I as spam)

jewish philosopher said...

I didn't say in this post that REF was all wrong - just "let the buyer beware".

The fact is that I think that DH is probably on to something. It could be that God wrote the first three books of the Torah using several different styles of writing for some reason. However I have to research this further.

badrabbi said...

I have read REF's books carefully. I must say that the evidence given for the multiple author theory is not entirely convincing, though there are some intriguing questions raised. For me, the questions that need to be answered are as follows:

1. Why are there two tales of the same event mentioned in the Torah, often with different details? A perfect example of this is Abraham's visit with a King in Egypt. The story is mentioned twice but the details are different.

2. Why does the language differ so much throughout the Torah? I am not a Hebrew expert but REF mentions that there are parts of the Torah that are written the Hebrew equivalent of modern English, and there are parts that are written in the Hebrew equivalent of Shakespearean era English.

The above is powerful evidence of something – just I am not clear what the evidence leads to. One thing for sure, though, saying that God wrote in different styles is absurd and non-sensical. We either are trying to find things out or not. Adding absurd ideas in order to cling to our faith is not helpful.

jewish philosopher said...

It’s interesting to note that the Documentary Hypothesis basically applies only to the first four books of the Bible. And, according to the Talmud, this is precisely the only section of the Bible actually written word for word by God Himself. I would suggest that different passages are written according to God’s different character traits – mercy, justice, etc. However I need to research this further.