Friday, August 22, 2008

The Documentary Hypothesis - an introduction

Keep in mind while reading this that Christian apologists are not biblical scholars and they make many ridiculous assertions (about the DH and other things) that are not backed up by facts. The most common assertion is that the DH is losing ground in the academic world. I am part of the academic world and let me tell you that is not the case. There are no academic journals that make a case against the DH and the only websites you will find that make any claims against the DH are also websites that take the creation accounts in the Bible are literally true (I mean, give me a break, Theistic Evolution FTW). The DH is the most popular and plausible way to explain apparent contradictions and doublets (sometimes triplets) in the Bible. The DH gives the Old Testament new and clearer meaning. This is especially true when you learn more of the history and archaeology behind the events. For people who are worried about the DH effecting their theology, it doesn't. 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. I personally think that the DH is the best defense against apparent contradictions in the Bible.

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 – 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 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.

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&183;

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.

4) Anachronisms

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.

The following are pairs of verses which contradict one another in
the books of the Jews: (This is just a quick list to demonstrate the DH)

2 Samuel 8:4(7 HUNDRED horsemen)
1 Chronicles 18:4(7 THOUSAND horsemen)

1 Chronicles 21:12(THREE years famine)
2 Samuel 24:13(SEVEN years famine)

Deuteronomy 2:19 & Deuteronomy 2:37(Moses deprived land of
Joshua 13:24-25(Moses gives land of Ammon as inheritance)

2 Samuel 24:9(800,000+500,000)
1 Chronicles 21:5(1,100,000+470,000)

2 Chronicles 36:9(EIGHT years, three months +10 days)
2 Kings 24:8 (EIGHTEEN years, three months)

2 Samuel 10:18(700, 40,000 HORSEMEN)
1 Chronicles 19:18(7000, 40,000 FOOTMEN)

1 Kings 7:26(TWO thousand baths)
2 Chronicles 4:5(THREE thousand baths)

2 Samuel 6:23(Michal had NO children)
2 Samuel 21:8(Michal had FIVE sons)

Genesis6:3(mankind shall not live past 120 years)
Genesis 11:10-32 (500,438,433,464,...etc.)

2 Chronicles 9:25(4,000 stalls)
1 Kings 4:26(40,000 stalls)

Isaiah 40:28 (God does not FAINT nor WEARY)
Exodus 31:17 (God RESTED, and was REFRESHED.)

Genisis 1: (God creates Plants, THEN animals, THEN man and
Genesis 2: (God creates man, THEN plants, THEN animals, THEN

Ezekiel 45 and Ezekiel 46 (DOCTRINES of offerings and sacrifices)
Numbers 28 and Numbers 29 (CONTRADICTORY DOCTRINES of
offerings and sacrifices)

1 Chronicles 8:29-38 (One list of NAMES)
1 Chronicles 9:35-44 (A CONTRADICTORY list of NAMES)

2 Samuel 5 and 2 Samuel 6 (David brought the ark AFTER fighting
the Philistines)
1 Samuel 13 and 1 Samuel 14 (David brought the ark BEFORE
fighting the Philistines)

Genesis 6:19-20 (Noah was to bring onto the ark "of EVERY living
thing of all flesh, TWO of EVERY sort shalt thou bring into the ark,
to keep them alive ....male and female....of fowls....of cattle....of every
creeping thing of the earth...").
Genesis 7:2-3 (Noah was to bring onto the ark "Of every CLEAN
beast thou shalt take to thee by SEVENS, the male and his female:
and of beasts that are NOT CLEAN by TWO, the male and his
female. Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the

2 Samuel 8:1 ("David took METHEGAMMAH out of the hand of
the Philistines").
1 Chronicles 18:1 ("David...took GATH and her towns out of the
hand of the Philistines").

2 Samuel 8:8 ("And from BETAH, and from BEROTHAI, cities of
Hadadezer, king David took exceeding much brass").
1 Chronicles 18:8 ("Likewise from TIBHATH, and from CHUN,
cities of Hadarezer, brought David very much brass").

2 Samuel 8:10 ("Then Toi sent JORAM his son unto king David")
1 Chronicles 18:10 ("He sent HADORAM his son to king David")

2 Samuel 8:12 ("Of SYRIA, and of Moab, and of the children of
Ammon, and of the Philistines, and of Amalek").
1 Chronicles 18:11 ("from EDOM, and from Moab, and from the
children of Ammon, and from the Philistines, and from Amalek.

2 Samuel 8:13 ("And David gat him a name when he returned from
smiting of the SYRIANS in the valley of salt, being eighteen thousand
1 Chronicles 18:13 ("And he put garrisons in EDOM; and all the
EDOMITES became David's servants").

2 Samuel 8:17 ("and SERAIAH was the scribe")
1 Chronicles 18:16 ("and SHAVSHA was scribe")

1 Kings 15:33-16:6 ("In the THIRD year of Asa king of Judah began
Baasha the son Ahijah to reign over all Israel in Tirzah, TWENTY
FOUR years..... So Baasha slept with his fathers, and was BURIED
in Tirzah"). 3+24=27.
2 Chronicles 16:1 ("In the THIRTY SIXTH year of the reign of Asa,
Baasha king of Israel came up against Judah"). But he died in the
twenty seventh year!. Was he resurected?. So how did he invade
Judah 10 years after his death?.

Ezra 2:6 (2812)
Nehemiah 7:11 (2818)

Ezra 2:8 (945)
Nehemiah 7:13 (845)

Ezra 2:12 (1222)
Nehemiah 7:17 (2322)

Ezra 2:15 (454)
Nehemiah 7:20 (655)

Ezra 2:19 (223)
Nehemiah 7:22 (328)

Ezra 2:28 (223)
Nehemiah 7:32 (123)

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