by -Jay- » Mon Oct 29, 2007 2:07 pm
This is an edit of some of Dean's excellent posts on the Documentary Hypothesis.
It's a fairly quick edit on my part, so I wouldn't be surprised if it needs tweaking.
The Documentary Hypothesis
The Documentary Hypothesis (DH) is a scholarly framework that seeks to explain the compilation of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible â Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) as an editing together of several disparate sources, generally known as J, E, D, and P.
This framework specifically contradicts the traditional conservative view that Moses was the author of the Pentateuch.
The DH is based on textual analysis of the Pentateuch, and as such is inherently independent of other lines of evidence often considered in Biblical studies. It should be noted that other lines of evidence, such as archaeological evidence, are consilient with the DH.
The material below was originally posted by Dean Anderson, and has been compiled and lightly edited by NinJay. Contributions to this material from other posters not specifically named are appreciated, and there is no intended slight to anyone missing.
A note about the history of the DH
The idea that Moses was not the author of the Pentateuch is not new. Tragically, it has been suppressed through history by both Christians and Orthodox Jews.
As far as we can tell (if there are older speculations than this then they have not survived), the first tentative steps towards the DH were made by Isaac ibn Yashush, who lived in Spain during the Moorish occupation, who pointed out the anachronisms in the Torah and said that Moses couldn't have written all of it.
He was thoroughly denounced for his heretical views, and his books were mostly burned.
Later, in the 12th century, Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra pointed out many places in the Torah that were clearly not Mosaic. He was more careful than Isaac, though. He called Isaac "Isaac the Blunderer" for his theories, and was careful to point out the inconsistencies only as a way of illustrating what Isaac was talking about, not as anything he personally endorsed. He did, however, make cryptic comments such as "and if you understand then you will recognise the truth" and "and he who understands will keep silent" - so it seems clear that he too was quietly proposing non-Mosaic authorship but was afraid to publicly endorse it.
In the 14th century, Bonfils of Damascus was prepared to openly say that the Torah could not be Mosaic. Even though he was careful to say that the Torah was still God's instruction and was careful to say that it was still probably written by later prophets, his books were censored and published with those parts excised.
In the 15th century, Bishop Tostatus of Avila got away with pointing out that Moses couldn't have written about his own death by claiming that Joshua had appended that part.
By the 16th century, Carlstadt was able to point out the stylistic similarity between the bits before and after Moses's death made the theory of additional information having been appended by Joshua unlikely, and point out that this "raised questions" - but either could not or dare not go further.
Also in the 16th century, Andreas van Maes was brave enough to suggest that maybe Moses wrote most of the Torah but other editors went through and "updated" place names to what would be familiar to readers in their later period. His book was placed on the Catholic Index of Prohibited Books.
The first person to be able to speculate that Moses was not the author of the Torah and get away with it was Thomas Hobbes.
Unfortunately, Isaac de la Peyrere - a contemporary of Hobbes - was not so lucky. When he wrote a book presenting evidence that Moses could not have written the Torah, his book was banned and burned; and he was held under arrest until he publically converted to Catholicism and personally recanted his heretical views to the Pope.
Baruch Spinoza published a book pointing out that the Torah must have been written by a person or persons living long after Moses. Not only was he excommunicated from Judaism, his book was also placed on the Catholic Index and had 37 edicts issued against it. An attempt was even made on his life because of outrage at his views.
Richard Simon, wrote a book attacking Spinoza's views - saying it was unwarranted to think that Moses did not write the Torah, and it was far more sensible to think that it was merely edited a bit after Moses's death. Even this was considered beyond the pale, and Simon was expelled from his Catholic Order and his book was placed on the Index and burned.
Even John Hampden, who merely translated Simon's book into English, was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London until he publically recanted his views.
By the 18th century, however, the Church had lost its grip and its ability to censor any ideas that didn't match dogma.
H. B. Witter, Jean Astruc and J. G. Eichhorn were all able to independently publish works pointing out that the Torah appeared to have two sources due to the differences in style without fear of inprisonment or censorship. At first, it was assumed that one source was Moses's own hand and the other was a document that Moses used - but as more scholars took an interest in the subject, it became obvious that both sources were post-Mosaic.
It was at this point when the theory stopped being the province of dilettantes and theologians and entered the realm of serious academia.
As many scholars began taking the idea seriously, it became apparent that what was thought to be a single Elohist source - whilst it was definitely distinct from the Jahwist - still had internal stylistic differences and issues. Consensus was quickly reached that some of what had been classified as the work of the Elohist source was by a different source - a Priestly source.
W. M. L. De Wette then published a doctoral dissertation arguing that Deuteronomy did not match any of the existing three sources, and should be classified as its own source - the Deuteronomist.
So where does Wellhausen come in to all this?
Well, contrary to Dave's innuendo, he did not invent the four-source DH, and it is not dependent on whatever his 19th century views and attitudes may or may not have been. As you can see from the above, it had been under slow development (despite the suppression of the Church) for most of the millenium, and had taken off and developed naturally as soon as people were free to look at the text objectively without fear of heresy charges.
What Wellhausen actually did was to take the four sources that scholars agreed that the Torah was made from, and expand on the work of Graf and Vatke (who had both independently come up with theories on the dating of the four sources; the former based on the historical clues in the documents and the latter based on the theological development between them - and those theories matched each other) to form a coherent story of when each of the four sources of the DH were written.
Wellhausen's work was an excellent step forward in understanding the text - and is the basis for modern versions of the DH (although some of his datings have been modified in light of archaeological findings since he was alive) but the DH has its beginnings long before him.
You may notice that I have avoided discussing the datings of the four sources in any detail in this thread. This is because whereas the four-source DH itself is well established, any individual hypothesis about the actual dates of each source is by its nature somewhat more speculative.
Evidence for the Documentary Hypothesis
The Documentary Hypothesis is derived from the text of the Torah, rather than from "basic assumptions" or pre-suppositions. It is the view held by the vast majority of mainstream Biblical scholars - most of which are either Christian or Jewish. This itself is prima facie evidence that the DH is not based on "anti-supernaturalism". Opponents of the DH have claimed repeatedly that support of the DH is declining rapidly amongst Biblical scholars, but - just like claims that support of Evolution is declining rapidly amongst scientists - such claims are merely empty assertions. Josh McDowell, who is an evangelical apologist, and most certainly not a Biblical scholar, has been offered as an authority on the refutation of the DH. An analysis of McDowellâs supposed pre-suppositions of the DH appears below.
Firstly, let's look at what the DH actually is.
The DH splits most of the Torah (and much of the post-Torah Deuteronomic History) into four sources.
'J' - or Jahwist.
'E' - or Elohist.
'P' - or Priestly.
'D' - or Deutronomic.
This split is done by a number of criteria.
1) Linguistic style and development.
2) Emphasis on particular themes (including the times at which different names are used for God).
3) Duplication of stories.
The vast majority of the Torah and Deuteronomic History can be split, using these criteria, and placed in one of the four sources. In practice, The majority of Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic Hstory is assigned to the D source and most of Genesis-Leviticus is split between the other three sources. There are occasional passages or stories that fit into none of the four main sources, and which can therefore be inferred to be other minor documents that have been incorporated into the text. Also, there are a few snippets of text which match no source and appear to have been inserted by the editors who patched the sources together.
Now, on to the evidence itself (most of the information here comes from Professor Richard Friedman's excellent books on the DH).
Basically, we can take a text as long as the Torah and split it up in a myriad of ways. The DH splits it up one way. The translators and scribes of the Bible usually split it a different way (into the 5 books Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). There are many, many other ways we could split the text up.
So how do we judge whether the way we have split the text is the way it was written? Well, if we look at lots of different aspects of the text where there is variation - and the variation correlates strongly with our splits - then it is likely that our splits match the structure of the document itself. Conversely, if we look at lots of different aspects of the text where there is variation, and the variation correlates only weakly (or not at all) with our splits, then it is likely that our splits are arbitrary and do not correspond to the structure of the document itself.
That's right. The DH is based on - wait for it - consilience between many independant measures.
So, without further ado, let's look at some of these measures (I am summarising heavily here. There is much more evidence than can be fit in a single forum post):
1) Theological Interests
a) Name of God - The multiple sources all use both Yahweh and Elohim (the claim that the DH splits the text between text that uses one name and text that uses the other is another strawman). However, if we look at all the J texts, they are consistent in that people started to call God Yahweh right from the beginning (Gen 4:1 and Gen 4:26). The P and E texts, however, are both consistent in that people only started to call God Yahweh when he revealed his name to Moses (Ex 6:2-3). Additionally, whilst the J author does call God Elohim, he only ever does this whilst narrating events - he never has a character refer to God as Elohim.
b) Nature and Role of Priests - In all the P text, priests of the line of Aaron are the only people with access/communication to God. There are no angelic visitations, dreams, talking animals, or anything else like that. All the other sources include God communicating with people via these means. E and D both repeatedly refer to prophets and prophesy. Neither P nor J ever does (P uses the word once - metaphorically - to refer to Aaron himself). P never mentions judges - only allowing Aaronid priests to mediate. P also does not classify non-Aaronid Levites as priests, and only allows the Aaronids have access to the Urim and Tummim. P only allows atonement for sins via sacrifices brought to Aaronid priests. In short, in P sources, the Aaronid priests and only the Aaronid priests have access to God. In D, on the other hand, all Levites are considered priests.
c) Nature of God - in P, as I have mentioned, the only contact with God is through priests. God never appears in person. He is never referred to as merciful or kind - indeed, the words "mercy", "kindness", "grace" and "repentence" are never used in P. The God described in P is implacable and all stories about him refer only to his wrath and justice; never to positive character traits. All the stories with positive (and more human) character traits of God are in J and E. In J, on the other hand, God makes frequent personal appearances. He walks in the garden in Eden, personally makes Adam and Eve's clothes, personally closes the door of the Ark, and so on. In E as well, God wrestles with Jacob and appears personally to Moses. In P, on the other hand, God never makes a personal appearance.
d) The Tabernacle is mentioned more than two hundred times. All except three of these are in P (where it recieves huge amounts of attention). E and J never mention it once.
e) J often refers to the Ark of the Covenant. E never mentions it once.
f) The Urim and Tummim, divining items that the High Priest holds, are mentioned only in P.
g) In E, it is only ever Moses's staff that performs miracles. In P, it is only ever Aaron's staff that performs miracles.
2) Doublets and Triplets
There are more than 30 cases of repetition of stories and/or laws in the Torah. Often the two (or occasionally even three) versions will be slightly different. There are also many apparent contradictions. When the Torah is split stylistically into the J, E, P and D sources; all these every single one of these repetitions ends up with the two or three different versions being in different styles and from different sources. I won't bother listing them all here. Similarly, the vast majority of the apparent contradictions disappear since the contradictory text is split between different sources.
3) Linguistic Evidence
In the same way that one can easily tell Chaucer from Shakespeare, Shakespeare from Dickens, and Dickens from modern authors by the changes in the English language that have taken place over the centuries, we can also distinguish between different ages of the Hebrew language used in the Bible.
a) The Hebrew used in both J and E is early Hebrew.
b) The Hebrew used in P is from a later development of the language, but still earlier than the Exilic period.
c) The Hebrew used in D is from a later still development of the language, from the Exilic period.
4) Narrative Continuity
a) We can take each of the four sources individually, and reading only the text that is stylistically assigned to that source in isolation we get a continuous narrative in more than 90% of the text breaks. For example, the J text taken individually - skipping over all non-J text - it shows a consistent narrative flow as if it were a single written document.
b) Additionally, the J and E texts show narrative flow when combined together. They also show ideosyncratic phrases at their joins as if they were combined by an editor who left traces of their handiwork as they stitched the two sources together.
c) Similarly, the places where J and E are joined to P show phrases that indicate traces of a (different) editor.
4) Similarity to other parts of the Bible
a) The language and terminology of D is very similar to the language and terminology of the book of Jeremiah. None of the other sources are.
b) The language and terminology of P is very similar to the language and terminology of the book of Ezekiel. None of the other sources are.
c) The book of Hosea quotes and/or refers to sections of the Torah. It only ever does so with regard to sections assigned to the E and J sources, however; not the P and D sources.
d) The Court History of David (most of 2 Samuel), as well as much of Joshua, Judges and 1 Samuel, is very similar in language and terminology to the J source - to the extent that some scholars believe it was written by the same hand.
5) Miscellaneous Stylistics
a) J and P both refer to Mount Sinai repeatedly. E and D refer to it as Mount Horeb. There are no exceptions to this.
b) The phrase "in that very day" is not found in any source other than P.
c) The phrase "with all your heart and with all your soul" only ever occurs in D.
There are a couple of dozen examples like these of phrases used only in one source and never in others. Again, I won't bother listing them all here.
Of course, if we wanted to go into detail, we can actually infer much more about exactly where and when each of the documents was written - but that is way beyond the scope of this current essay.
Evidence that Moses did not write the majority of the Torah
(Note: The biggest piece of evidence that Moses did not write the Torah is the archaeological evidence that there was no Exodus or Conquest, and therefore that it is incredibly unlikely that Moses ever existed. However, for the sake of argument, I am assuming in this thread that Moses did exist, and therefore my evidence and arguments here do not presuppose that he was merely a legendary figure.)
1) Evidence of multiple authors
The text of the Torah is clearly written in a variety of styles and in language of a variety of ages. This is clearly not the work of a single person, as has been explaind in the preceding sections.
2) Lack of any authorial claim
Nowhere in the Torah do any of the authors actually identify themselves. This, in itself, is not surprising. The authors of most texts do not go out of their way to introduce themselves.
3) The Point of View of the Text
The Torah does not talk from the point of view of Moses.
Firstly, the text never talks from the first person perspective when talking of Moses. It always refers to him in the third person.
Secondly, the Torah refers to states of events that occur during the narrative, and then says that they are like that "to this day". This is a clear indication that the writer is talking about events that happened in the past, not events that are happening as they write.
Thirdly, the text talks about what Moses did "across the Jordan". Since the text is clear that Moses died before ever getting chance to cross the Jordan and enter what would become Israel, then someone talking about what Moses did "across the Jordan" would necessarily be on the other side of the Jordan to where Moses was - i.e. the Israel/Judah side - and therefore could not have been Moses.
Moses lived - according to the Bible - from about 1660 BCE to 1440 BCE. However, as spin has already pointed out, the Torah makes many references to people and places that simply did not exist at that time. Therefore, whoever wrote about them must have lived at a later time, when they did exist.
As a side note, the time when these people and places did exist is a good match to the time periods that the Hebrew used in the different DH sources can be dated to - yet more consilience.
(Note: There are many other anachronisms in the Torah that would indicate it was written much later than the time of Moses - but to go into detail about them would derail this thread into yet another argument about archaeology and the accuracy of dating techniques.)
5) The book reports Moses's own death
This is a good indicator that he didn't write it. Of course, apologists over the centuries have often claimed that Moses could have written about his own death because he was a prophet - but this does not match the text. The Hebrew Bible is full of the utterings of prophets, and the text that includes Moses's death is not in the style of someone prophesying. It is in the matter-of-fact narrative style of the rest of the story of his life.
In fact, the style of the writing about Moses's death is such a good match for the style of the previous writing that it also makes the other common apologetic for this - that Moses wrote the majority of the Torah and then Joshua added a postscript about Moses's death - also improbable.
Assumptions and Presuppositions
Josh McDowell lists several alleged presuppositions of the DH in his Evidence.
So let's have a detailed look at the assumptions and presuppositions involved in both hypotheses.
Before we do, the terms assumption and presupposition need to be clearly defined:
An assumption is something that a person assumes, and in the context of theories it is something that someone assumes which leads them to develop the theory. The presence of an assumption in someone's thinking or attitude tells us nothing about whether their conclusion is correct or not. It only tells us what the thought processes that lead up to the conclusion were based on.
For example, if I wrongly assume that a mandarin is a type of apple (it is actually, of course, a type of tangerine) then I may come to the conclusion that a mandarin is therefore a type of fruit. My assumption was wrong, but this tells us nothing about whether my conclusion is right or wrong. To determine that, we must look at whether my conclusion fits the evidence. In this case, of course, it does. A mandarin is indeed a type of fruit. That my conclusion was based on an erroneous asssumption that I had is irrelevant. My conclusion fits the evidence, and therefore it is accepted as true.
A presupposition, on the other hand, is something that a statement or theory is based on. If I say "My wife is pregnant", the statement presupposes that I have a wife. The statement cannot be true if I do not have a wife. Therefore, unlike the assumptions of the person who came to a conclusion, whether or not the presuppositions behind a conclusion are correct is very relevant to whether or not the conclusion itself is correct.
This, in itself, is good enough reason to dismiss Dave's assertions that the DH is refuted because its "assumptions" are "shown" to be incorrect. Firstly, as we shall see, they have not been "shown" to be incorrect. Secondly - and more importantly - even if they had been shown to be incorrect, their veracity is irrelevant to the veracity of the DH itself. If one wants to show that one of McDowellâs assertions refutes the DH, one has to show not only that the claim is correct, but also that the truth of the DH is not compatible with that claim being correct. That is, one must show that the claim is not merely the refutation of an assumption that the inventors of the DH had; but also that the claim is a necessary presupposition of the DH itself.
Now, let's look at some of the assumptions and presuppositions that have been claimed for the two hypotheses; and look at two things for each one:
a) and b) Is the claimed assumption an actual presupposition of the hypothesis in question? In other words: can the hypothesis in question be true if the claim is true; and can the hypothesis be true if the claim is false? If the answer is "yes" both times, then the claim is not a presupposition - it is an assumption of the inventor at best - and therefore whether the claim is true or not is irrelevant. If the answer to one question is "yes" and the other is "no", then the claim is a presupposition of the hypothesis - and it is therefore relevant to determine whether it is true or not.
This pair of questions is the only thing we actually need to look at. However - for completeness - we can ask a third question of each claimed assumption.
c) Is the claimed assumption actually an assumption of the inventor of the theory? In other words: is it really something that guided the thoughts of the inventor of the hypothesis? Theoretically, this is not actually necessary. If the claimed assumption is a presupposition of the theory, then the theory depends on it regardless of whether or not the inventor of the theory took it into account. Similarly, if the claimed assumption is not a presupposition of the theory then the theory does not depend on it even if the inventor of the theory believed it to be true.
Claimed Assumptions Of The Documentary Hypothesis per Josh McDowell
1) Written sources should be given priority over archaeology
1a) If written sources are given priority over archaeology, can the DH still be true?
Yes. Although the original underpinnings of the DH (i.e. non-Mosaic authorship) were based on known history, the DH itself is based on the consilience between different ways of splitting the text.
1b) If archaeology is given priority over written sources, can the DH still be true?
Yes. It is possible that future archaeology could turn up something that contradicts the DH - for example it could unearth ancient documents from one or more of the authors of the Torah, and those documents could show that the actual authorial split was different to that of the DH. However, at the current time, there is no archaeological evidence that is incompatible with the DH.
1c) Was priority of written sources over archaeology actually an assumption of the DH inventors?
No. Although the DH conclusions are derived from the text, at no point has any DH scholar (to my knowledge, at least) said that if archaeology contradicts the text then archaeology must be wrong and the text right. Indeed, minor details of the DH (in terms of exactly when each source was written) have been updated in line with archaeological findings.
Therefore, the claim that this is an assumption is wrong, and would be irrelevant even if it were right.
2) A naturalistic (later expanded to "anti-supernaturalistic") view of Israel's history
2a) Is the DH compatible with a naturalistic view of Israel's history?
Yes. There is nothing in the DH which requires supernatural events to occur.
2b) Is the DH compatible with a supernatural view of Israel's history?
Yes. The DH talks about how the written sources that comprise the Torah were edited together. There is nothing in the DH about whether or not the supernatural events that happen in the stories contained in those sources are true. The DH makes no claims, for example, about whether or not there was a Flood survived only by Noah and his family. It only makes claims about how the two stories of the Flood were edited together to make a single account - not whether or not those stories are actually true.
2c) Is a naturalistic view an assumption of the DH authors?
Almost certainly not. Although a quote from an apologist who claims that Julius Wellhausen - who came up with a theory of when each source was written - was skeptical of at least one of the supernatural events in the Torah has been posted, we have been given nothing to indicate that the various monks, priests, rabbis and theologians that between them came to the realisation that the Torah was split into the four main sources of the DH had naturalistic assumptions.
Therefore, the claim that this is an assumption is almost certainly wrong, and would be irrelevant even if it were right.
3) No writing at the time that Moses allegedly lived (15th Century BCE)
3a) Is the DH compatible with there being no writing in the 15th Century BCE?
Yes. The DH makes no claims that any of the written sources were written before that date.
3b) Is the DH compatible with there being writing in and before the 15th Century BCE?
Yes. The DH makes no claims that there was no writing before the 15th Century BCE - and is perfectly compatible with the existence of such writing.
3c) Is the lack of writing before the 15th Century BCE an assumption of the DH inventors?
No. Dave has provided us with a second hand quote-mine from an apologist, and asserts that the apologist interprets this to mean that Julius Wellhausen believed there was no writing at that time, but this is not what the quote actually says. All the quote actually says is that Wellhausen believed that God's moral instructions to the Hebrews were not written at that time. There is nothing to indicate that any of the inventors of the DH actually believed that there was no writing before the 15th Century BCE.
Therefore, the claim that this is an assumption is wrong, and would be irrelevant even if it were right.
4) Legendary view of the patriarchal narratives
4a) Is the DH compatible with the patriarchs being legendary?
Yes. The DH only talks about how the sources were edited together, not about whether the stories within them are true or not.
4b) Is the DH compatible with the patriarchs being real?
Yes. The DH only talks about how the sources were edited together, not about whether the stories within them are true or not.
4c) Did the inventors of the DH assume that the patriarchs were legendary?
Possibly. We have been offered the barest snippet of a second-hand quote mine, not even a sentence, to support this. However, it is not an unreasonable assumption to make in the absence of evidence to the contrary.
Therefore, the claim that this is an assumption is possibly right and possibly wrong, but is irrelevant even if it is right.
As we can see, even if McDowell were correct in all his claims that these are "assumptions" of the DH (and he isn't), and all these assumptions were incorrect (which they may or may not be), they would still be irrelevant. The DH - as I have repeatedly said - stands or falls on the evidence. None of the above are actually presuppositions underlying the DH; so none of them are relevant to whether it is correct or not.
There is much more evidence than I have presented here, but this should be enough for starters.
It could be argued that any of the distinctions made above is arbitrary. For example, it could be argued that the reason doublets and triplets split between the sources is that the sources were deliberately arranged that way.
However, this misses the point. The point is the consilience between all the different measures. Whichever way you arrive at the split into J, E, P and D, the split agrees with all the other measures of difference within the text.
In other words, the DH explains the consilience between the different ways of dividing the text. Whether it is divided by author's theological interest or divided by age of language or divided to split duplications we arrive at the same source texts. And these source texts - that were derived by other means - each have consistency in phraseology and a consistent narrative flow. If the splitting of the text by any of these criteria was arbitrary, then we would not see such consistency with the other ways of splitting it.
Given the age of the Hebrew in each of these sources, and the presence of the "stitching" phrases between them, it would be unreasonable to come to any conclusion other than:
Originally J and E were written, telling the same stories with slightly different emphases. At some point these were edited together into a single JE document. Some time after the writing of the first documents, a P document was written - telling the same stories but with a very different theological basis. Some time later still, a D document was written telling the more recent history of Judah and Israel (and claiming that they were once a unified kingdom). At some point after this, all four documents were edited together into a single document that became the Torah we know.