82 Comments

The Documentary Hypothesis

The 8th Article of Faith for the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints states:

8 We believe the aBible to be the bword of God as far as it is translated ccorrectly;

This has to be one of the most oft-quoted articles of faith by members of the LDS church.  In one of my previous posts on Scripture Literalism, the comments referred to Biblical inerrancy and literalism.  Some evangelicals believe that the Bible is both inerrant and literal, and take great issue with the Mormon stance on the Bible.  They don’t believe there are any mistranslations, and that every word in the Bible was spoken by God.  Many of these people discount any contradictions in the Bible.

The Documentary Hypothesis is a theory that seems to identify at least four different authors/editors of the first five books in the Bible (also called the Torah in Judaism, or the Pentateuch.)  I think many Mormons would find great agreement with the Documentary Hypothesis, though they might not agree with every part of the theory.

Tradition has it that Moses authored the first 5 books of the Bible.  This is somewhat problematic, because Deuteronomy records Moses death in Deuteronomy 34:5, so Moses certainly couldn’t have finished writing that book.  Obviously someone else recorded his death (though there is a Jewish tradition that Moses did actually write the words of his death, and cried while he did it.)

There is an old A&E series called Mysteries of the Bible, and one of their episodes is called “Who wrote the Bible?”  I’d like to quote some of the information referencing the Documentary Hypothesis.  I downloaded the episode from Amazon, but apparently it is no longer available for download.  The documentary starts by looking at some of the stories which are told twice in the Bible, with different (and sometimes contradictory) tellings of the story.

There are numerous examples of the same story told twice, sometimes with conflicting details.  Scholars have long referred to these as doublets.  There are two separate accounts of the creation of the world, two versions of the covenant made between God and the Patriarch Abraham, and even two distinct versions of Moses obtaining water from a rock at a place called Mirabar, during the Exodus.

In most instances of these so-called doublets, the two versions of the story each refer to God by a different name.  In the Hebrew text, sometimes the deity is referred to as Elohim, the usual Hebrew reference to God.  But in the alternative version, the term used is often used is Yahweh, or Lord.  For centuries, scholars have puzzled over the appearance of these distinct differences.

Richard Elliot Friedman, Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature, University of California, San Diego.  “The key piece of evidence in this is that different kinds of Jews converged with each other.  So that you have doublets of stories-that proves nothing.  You have different names of God-that proves nothing.  But when all the doublets of stories line up into two groups, one of which uses one name of God, and the other uses the other name of God, consistently, then that’s strong evidence that something is going on.”

By the early half of the 19th century, many scholars were convinced that the five books of Moses were written by three different authors.  The writer of the version which referred to Yahweh, was named “J” because early European translators were ignorant of the correct pronunciation of Hebrew names.  Many inadvertently referred to the name of God as Jehovah instead of Yahweh, and ironically, the name has stuck.

The author of those texts referring to God as Elohim was named “E.”  A third writer was identified as “P”.  This author was thought to be a priest, and wrote in a different style than J and E.  His passages seemed to be especially concerned with the establishment of the priesthood, after the people of Israel left Egypt.

Friedman, “All these texts are written in Hebrew, but in a different stage of Hebrew that we can identify.  Each has its own favorite terms, words that occur 50 times in P, but never occur in E or J, that sort of thing.  Each has its own style.”

The differences are immediately obvious in Hebrew, the language in which the text was originally written.  The disparities virtually disappear in the English translation.  But this example comes from the book of Exodus.  The text relates how God appeared in a burning bush.  The passage was written by J, who in Hebrew refers to God as Yahweh, or Lord.  Exodus 3:2, “And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked and, behold, the bush burned with fire and the bush was not consumed.”

 

When the E writer, discusses Moses and the burning bush, the name is now only Elohim, “God”.  Exodus 3:6, “Moreover, he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.  And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.”

 

Subtle, though the differences may be, the texts clearly seem to reflect a compilation of sources.  In 1807, the German theologian, Wilhelm DeWitt announced the discovery of a possible fourth author.  His examination of the text indicated that the language, tone, and content of the entire book of Deuteronomy were the work of a different person to J, E, or P.  Scholars have since come to this author as D, for Deuteronomist.  Over the years, the theory has come to be known as the Documentary Hypothesis.

Friedman, “Once you have identified a text and said, ‘I think this is J, I think this is E, I think this is P, I think this is D’, then you place it up against other texts in the Bible where we have some idea of the date, and see if there is any development in the language.  It’s not just that you can tell the difference between the way I speak and the way Shakespeare did.  It’s that if you heard someone who lived in the 18th century, you could tell that that person was somewhere halfway between Shakespeare and me.  So you can see the stages of Biblical Hebrew in growth.”

In a stunning retraction of early church intolerance toward the hypothesis and the issue of biblical authorship in 1943, Pope Pius XII, surprises religious leaders and academics alike.  He issues an edict and encourages the scholars to fully investigate the question, ‘Who wrote the Bible?’  The directive was heralded as a magna carta for Biblical study, initiating unprecedented research into the origins into the holy book.  The quest would open up how the words of the divine have traversed the centuries.

The documentary goes back to the time of Moses, and states that there were no scriptures for the Hebrews at this time.

While the 10 commandments were always in the constant possession of the people, there may have been no other written words at the time, though the Bible indicates that the scrolls of Moses may have accompanied the Israelites.  Many scholars believe that the first 5 books of the Bible had not yet been written.

After the advent of the monarchy in about 1000 BCE,  King David eventually becomes ruler, and establishes his capital at Jerusalem.  It is then, that the matter of authorship enters the story.  The king breaks with tradition, by appointing two high priests, in charge of religious affairs, instead of one.

Friedman, “It’s not so strange to have two high priests; in Israel today, there are two chief rabbis.  The problem you have is that when you have two chief priests instead of one, each one spends more time of his day sitting there trying to get rid of the other one.  ”

Not only are there two high priests, but toward the end of his reign, two of King David’s sons are vying for the throne.  It is uncertain which of them will be appointed the royal successor.  A struggle for power ensues, and this embroils the high priests.  Each one supports a different royal candidate.  When David dies, it is Solomon who is chosen to wear the crown.

Now the question is, will Solomon retain the services of both priests, or return to the traditional practice of having only one man in charge of the religious affairs.  Not surprisingly, the priest who was loyal to Solomon and his candidacy was chosen.  At the same time, the second high priest is removed from power and banished from the kingdom.  “And unto Abiathar the priest said the king, Get thee to Anathoth, to thine own field, for thou art worthy of death.  So Solomon thrust out Abiathar from being priest unto the Lord.” 1 Kings 2:26

Thus the priest retained by Solomon retains an exclusive role.  He and his assistants would soon take on new responsibilities as the king begins constructing the first great temple in Jerusalem.  The deposed priest and his followers enviously watch from their place of banishment.  They are now cut off from any possible new duties in the temple.

Friedman, “They had no place in the royal kingdom in Jerusalem, and so a priest of that priestly house, initiated the rebellion that ultimately led to the formation of the kingdom of Israel in the north, and the Kingdom of Judah in the south.  They wanted their own place where they could get to be the priest as well.

Thus in 922 BCE, the ten northerly tribes sever their ties from Jerusalem, and succession splinters the nation in two: Israel in the north, and Judah in the south.  So two kingdoms born of a nation, oppose one another in an uneasy truce.

Friedman, “Each had its own king, each had its on traditions, its own places of worship.  At the same time, we’re talking about a region that’s the same size as a large American county, so people were close to each other, people had relatives north and south, they both spoke the same language, and they both had the same ancestors of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and events in Egypt, and events at Mount Sinai, and so it is thought that each kingdom produced its sacred text, or at least one person living in each kingdom produced his version of the sacred text.”

If this is so, is it possible that different versions of the Bible were taking place at the same time?

Friedman, “It’s as if in America during the Civil War, a historian in the north, and a historian in the south each wrote a history of North America.  They would cover a lot of the same events and some different events, and they would tell it from their own perspective.

Daniel Smith-Christopher, Professor of Hebrew Bible, Loyola Marymount University, “We think that the J material was first gathered together under King Solomon.  It represents Solomon’s attempt to gather up the stories of a people, to knit them together in a coherent narrative, to tell the story about how the people of Israel came to be a people.  So it became a kind of national epic.  Now here’s one of the interesting mysteries:  was it an official national epic?  Some scholars say, the majority I think, would say that Solomon commissioned this document to be written.”

In answer to Solomon and his history of the people of Judah, the people of the northern Kingdom of Israel, now begin to amass their own collection of historical stories.

Christopher, “What they want to do is they want to add to this material that is more northern in orientation.  So they add material, and we think that this material is what we call E, because they tend to use the word Elohim for God.  Now we have somewhat more sophisticated theological stories.  But interestingly enough, we also have stories that tend to emphasize the significance of the second son.  Many people who read Genesis ask, ‘how come it’s always the second son that comes out better?’  Isaac was after Ishmael, Jacob, Cain and Abel, I mean all of these stories seem to emphasize the second son as the important one, or the preferred son.  It very well could be that the northern kingdom, after their break, wanted to emphasize the second son because in a sense they were the second son.   They were the breakaway kingdom.  So, they wanted to portray themselves as the preferred of the two.

Unlike the Bible’s favored second son, however, the Kingdom of Israel slips into the grip of paganism.  As time passes, people begin to worship Canaanite gods.  They would suffer a long and difficult history under 19 kings, eight of whom would die violently.  Despite the warnings of prophets, moral decay and corruption continue to enslave the people.

Then seven and a half centuries before the birth of Christ, the prophecies come true.  An invading Assyrian army sweeps in from the north and conquers Israel.  Forever scattering the 10 tribes to the winds, never to be seen or heard from again.

….

But an unremitting spiritual downfall has now gripped Judah too.  Without any consolidated religious precepts, no laws, no sacred texts, Paganism becomes rife throughout the land, until King Josiah takes the throne.  He tries to usher in change, by outlawing idol worship, and by a return to the holy covenant made with God at Mount Sinai.

Christopher, “Josiah was the young king who, as soon as he comes to the throne, decides that he wants to reform the religion of the people towards a more spiritual attachment to Yahweh, the national god.  So Josiah starts this campaign:  he even cleans up the temple, he wants to re-employ the people in reconstructing the temple and making it more glorious, and making it more spiritual.  Well, along the way, they discover a book.”

While cleaning out the buildings, the king’s high priests find a temple scroll deep within the temple vaults.  “And Hilkiah the high priest said unto Shaphan, the scribe, I have found a book of the Law, in the house of the Lord.  And Hilkiah gave the book to the scribe, and he read it” 2 Kings 22:8

Friedman, “The document that Hilkiah is understood to have read to Josiah on that date is thought by many of us to be the laws of Deuteronomy.  They are laws that say that you should worship God in only one place.  So Josiah destroys all the other places.  These are laws that say that you should not have pagan worship, so he destroys idols, and removes pagan worship from his country.  He is the king that follows that law code, it’s an extraordinary group of laws from ritual matters down to sacrifice to moral matters of how you should treat one another, that you should be just, that you shouldn’t oppress a widow, or an orphan.  They should take care of the poor-it’s an extraordinary body of laws.

Some contemporary Biblical scholars regard the supposed discovery of the Book of Deutoronomy with skepticism.

Christopher, “Was Josiah genuinely shocked at finding the Book of Deutronomy in the temple or was this perhaps the first Academy Award performance recorded in history?  Did Josiah in fact know that that book was in the temple, and that if he assigned his people to begin cleaning it up, that they would find it.  Many scholars suggest that Josiah was in on planting the book in the first place.  What better way to push forward his reform campaign, than to plant a book that suggests that his campaign is based on the very laws of Moses themselves?”

The laws reveal that the people had deviated from their faith.  The author of the book was clearly writing from that perspective, and was concerned with where society may be heading.

Friedman, “He writes in a very definite, observable, style that you can see in Deuteronomy, and see in 2 Kings, and you see it in one other place in the Bible, it’s in the prose of the prophet Jeremiah.  So, I have suggested the likelihood that the same person is the author of the prose parts of the Book of Jeremiah and the history that runs from Deuteronomy to 2 Kings. ”

The Bible tells us that the person responsible for writing much of Jeremiah’s work was his trusty scribe, Baruch.  “Then took Jeremiah another scroll, and gave it to Baruch the scribe, the son of Naraiah.” Jeremiah 36:32

Could Baruch, the son of Nariah, have been more than a mere scribe?  Could he also have written the Book of Deuteronomy?  His work probably speaks for itself.  Many passages of text he wrote for Jeremiah are strikingly similar to words used in Deuteronomy.  Perhaps the same author may have had a hand in the writing of both books.

Deut. 10:16

“And it will be, if you really listen to Yahweh’s voice…”

Jer. 17:24

“And it will be, if you really listen to me says Yahweh…”

Deut. 4:19, 17:3

“…to all the host of the heavens…”

Jer. 8:2, 19:13

“…to all the host of the heavens…”

Deut. 4:20

“…and he brought you ought of the iron furnace, from Egypt…”

Jer 11:4

“…in the day I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace…”

If so, archaeology has uncovered an artifact that has finally brought us into direct contact with one of the earliest authors of the Bible.

Friedman, “We in recent years, recovered a clay seal that is now in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem which is stamped in a script that we do identify as seventh century Hebrew script, late 7th, early 6th century Hebrew script, and the name on that seal is Baruch, son of Nariah, the scribe.  If it’s true that Baruch is our Deuteronomistic historian, what that means is when you look at that seal, you are looking at nothing less than the autograph of one of the authors of the Bible.

Baruch seal

Could this tiny, clay seal be the personal signature of the writer of the Book of Deuteronomy?  If it is, it is a unique object that reaches out to us beyond 26 centuries of history, the only link ever found connected to an actual author of the Bible.

Act V

The tangled web of history surrounding the writing of the five books of Moses may one day be completely untwined.  But a loose thread remains:  who was it who gathered the original manuscripts together?  In the course of writing a book, any book, a lengthy process of editing, and alteration is involved.  In our search, it may not be a question of who wrote the Bible, but of who re-wrote it?

Friedman, “People usually talk simply about this as if there’s four sources and as if there were only four writers and that’s misleading because even if we count those as only four writers, there’s still key editors in the stages of this.  Editors are as important as authors in the process.”

If there was an editor, who was he?  To pick up the strands we must return to the Kingdom of Judah, to the days when under a new king, Jehoiakim, the people had retrogressed once again to worshipping idols.  A prophet by the name of Jeremiah has now become one of the most outspoken critics of the weakening moral fiber of the people and he foretells their fate.  “Ye have done worse than your fathers.  Behold, ye walk everyone after the imagination of his evil heart.  Wherefore I will cast you out of this land, into a land that ye know not, neither ye, nor your fathers.” Jeremiah 16:11.

A daunting prophecy, in 586 BCE it comes true.  From Babylon, King Nebudchadnezzer’s army surged down into Judah, and lay siege to Jerusalem.  So begins more than a century of bitter exile for the people of Israel in Babylon.  But eventually, even mighty Babylon falls to a mightier power, the powerful armies of Cyrus the Great absorbed Babylon into the Persian Empire.  But Cyrus is conciliatory towards the exiled Jews.  He issues his now legendary edict of restoration, allowing the people of Israel to return to Jerusalem, and restore their temple, and their faith.

Cyrus CylinderThis stone cylinder, dating back to the event five and a half centuries before Christ, bears the text of Cyrus’ edict.  “The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, King of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and put it also in writing, saying, ‘Thus saith Cyrus, King of Persia, the Lord God of Heaven, hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he hath charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.” Ezra 1:1

It is a derelict homeland to which the people return.  Much of their religious tradition has been eroded during the long years of exile.  Their faith is it a threateningly low ebb.  According to some scholars, it is time for the great redactor, the final editor of the books of Moses to enter the scene, and leave his mark.

In Jerusalem, a party of exiled Jews returns under the leadership of a man called Ezra, a scribe.  He sees the spiritual weakness of the people, and he resolves to reintroduce them to the ancient religion of Moses.  They have not been exposed to the Hebrew laws for almost a century.  So Ezra calls for a mass public gathering in the city.  “And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation, and he read therein from the morning until mid-day before the men and the women, and those who could understand.  And the ears of all people were attentive to all the words of the law.” Nehemiah 8:2

Was Ezra history’s elusive editor?  Perhaps under his guidance, various religious texts were combined and read together for the first time, forevermore to be consolidated as the five books of Moses.

Friedman, “These were laws that had not been publicly read in any way like this before.  The laws of Deuteronomy had been publicly read at least from Josiah’s time, but now we’re talking about the full five books of Moses.  We’re not talking about P or J or E.  We’re talking about the five books of Moses as people read it today.

The compilation of the texts more than 2,500 years ago was one of the most significant events in a long history of persecution and conflict for the Jews.  In the ensuing centuries, they would suffer occupation, defeat, and destruction on an unprecedented scale.  But, the essence of their religious identity would forever be enshrined in the anthology enshrined, known as the Torah, the five books of Moses.  We may never know all the mysteries of the earliest writings of the Bible, but the study of the texts, the so-called Documentary Hypothesis has provided some insights into its origins.  However, the matter is far from resolved.

The hypothesis is only one possible answer.  It is merely a concept.  There is as yet no consensus on the theory.

Christopher, “At this point, I would say that the Documentary Hypothesis is the best explanation for many of the difficulties that are presented to us by the first five books of Bible as we now have them.”

Lawrence Schiffman, Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, New York University, “In my mind, the Documentary Hypothesis does not really solve the problem that it sets out to solve, in which case we simply get left with the question of faith.  One who wants to believe that the Torah is a divine document and given by God, can do so; one who wants to believe that it’s a human document subjected to documentary or other types of similar analysis can do so.  I think it’s a question, a mystery, to which we’ll never really know the answer.”

As Orthodox tradition has it, the five books of Moses contain the divine words of God, though were written in the hand of man.  The books that follow differ fundamentally from them.  The rest of the Hebrew Bible is generally perceived to be a series of historical documents, a chronology of people written by many authors.  So our search for authorship must now come from another perspective, posing a different set of questions.

At this point, I want to stop.  I’ll probably post again on authorship of other books of the Bible.  So what do you think of the Documentary Hypothesis?  Does it agree with the 8th Article of Faith?

Advertisements

Comment navigation

Newer Comments →

82 comments on “The Documentary Hypothesis

  1. Please show me where prophets have said that they were the same thing. I know that John Taylor stated that “Celestial Marriage” (read plural marriage) was PART of the New and Everlasting Covenant, but that is not saying they are the same thing. There is the law and covenants (which don’t change) and then there are commandments that pertain to the law. Plural marriage for the early Saints was a commandment pertaining to the New and Everlasting Covenant, but it was not the New and Everlasting Covenant itself.

  2. Also, I’ve never said I believed everything that was said by the prophets nor have I jumped on MH for not believing everything they’ve said. My problem comes when canonized doctrines are challenged as misguided.

    But doesn’t it strike you as odd that something so essential to exaltation would be required today and not tomorrow? It doesn’t make any sense to me.

    I missed this question so I’ll respond to it now. No it doesn’t strike me as odd. Laws and covenants don’t change, but commandments do, as I stated previously. Sometimes God gives commandments that pertain to laws and covenants, but they are not in and of themselves essential to the laws and covenants themselves except when the commandment has been given in connection with the law and covenant.

    Let me try to illustrate. In D&C 132 we read:

    34 God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife. And why did she do it? Because this was the law; and from Hagar sprang many people. This, therefore, was fulfilling, among other things, the promises.
    35 Was Abraham, therefore, under condemnation? Verily I say unto you, Nay; for I, the Lord, commanded it.
    36 Abraham was commanded to offer his son Isaac; nevertheless, it was written: Thou shalt not kill. Abraham, however, did not refuse, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness.

    If taking a plural wife was “the law,” which Abraham was bound by, then this analogy makes little sense, because it is not a law to murder. The “default setting” for the law is not to kill. But, Abraham was commanded to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham took a plural wife not because it was the law, but because he was commanded. (BTW, the law which Sarah obeyed in verse 34 was not the law of plural marriage but “the law” which requires a righteous man to give his wife a chance to approve of a plural marriage, and not proceed unilaterally.)

    Commandments are sometimes (in a sense) incidental. The command to practice plural marriage was the Saints burden and trial; their Abrahamic sacrifice. It was not “the law”, although it was required as a sacrifice for their exhaltation.

  3. If we’re going to get into a full-fledged argument about polygamy (again), we should probably continue this on My perspective on polygamy. My purpose in bringing up polygamy and Abraham was to discuss it’s relevance to the Documentary Hypothesis.

  4. I just found out about an interesting 12-part youtube video that also discusses the Documentary Hypothesis. It’s produced by the BBC.

  5. Hi MH

    I was just over at Stay LDS and am responding to your invitation. I am posting now just to let you know I am here. As you are clearly aware there is lots here to work through and I will do that before posting any substansive material (if I in fact can think of anything once I read all the stuff here, wow! thanks for doing this). In general I would say that the 8th article of faith covers us for this BUT our church manuals then ignore that and basically treat the Bible as inerrant — go figure? More once I have worked through your material.

  6. Welcome Bill! I hope you see all the comments here–there are 2 pages worth so far. You might want to join the Hammurabi thread too, since it’s related to this topic as well.

  7. Hi MH!

    Well I have worked my way through all the posts and to start I will ask Andrew’s question again because it would give us “Hebrew challenged” people a better chance to understand the Documentary Hypothesis reasoning. So, do you know of an English translation of the Bible that is more faithful to the Hebrew such that the differences in style, use of God’s title (Yahweh, Elohim), and perhaps grammatical construction (???) can be seen readily. I am thinking off the top of my head that the KJV version uses “God” for Yahweh and “Lord” for Elohim but I could have that backwards and it could be wrong too boot.

    I am off to You Tube to watch the BBC version and will have more to say after that.

    Again thanks for this thread, by the way, I think that Joseph Smith “the translator” during his lifetime, pretty well blew apart the standard definition of what we would consider “translation”. He was clearly more of an “interpreter” than a simple “translator” (however just to muddy the waters, my sense of good modern translators indicates that they try to immerse themselves in the culture of the people’s language so that they can better “interpret” the meaning and therefore get a more accurate “translation” ).

  8. Bill, I don’t claim to be a Hebrew scholar either. But I will say this. Go to the KJV and look at Exodus 3 in particular. Notice how many times the verses change between “Lord” and “God” (and sometimes “Lord God”). As Dr Freidman says above, this is an example of where Elohim and Jehovah are interchanged in the English version. We don’t even notice a difference between Lord and God, but if you understand that Lord means Jehovah, and Elohim means God, it is interesting to see that our current KJV Bible seems to be a compilation of the 2 sources.

    I own this 4 translation Bible which allows you to compare KSV NIV AMP, and NASB side by side. I also recommend the Blue Letter Bible website–it has 14 versions (and is free)–though I don’t read Latin, so that doesn’t do me any good….

  9. MH, thanks for the Blue Letter Bible website, though it is a bit cumbersome it does allow one to get at the Hebrew underneath the English and see what you are talking about with Exodus 3. As part of the journey this morning I finally ran into Harold Bloom’s “J” which if nothing else shows one reason why the Church would be cautious about scholarship intruding into Sunday School. As you probably already know Bloom’s book is a presentation of all of the J material but since that material sees Yahweh in a human light, is more energetic, tells good stories, actually likes women and talks about them etc. etc. Bloom makes a major effort to persuade us that J was actually a woman (which, don’t get me wrong, would be fine by me, it even makes sense seeing as all the other elements like E, P and D are very stiff and formalistic) but one can see the LDS Correlation Committee all having to take the day off to recover from the shock of thinking that one of the source documents of the “Books of Moses” was written by a woman.

    Do you want me to keep this up? I am just getting underway to prepare for Sunday School Gospel Doctrine in January which is theoretically the Old Testament, so I will be looking into all of this in the hopes of working out some way to present the ideas and even excitement of discovery to at least partially relieve the incessant moralizing of the manual.

  10. Interesting Bill, I hadn’t heard of Bloom’s book. I’ll have to add it to my “to read” list, which seems to get much longer than shorter. Any insights you have are certainly welcome!

  11. MH
    So J is a collabloration between Harold Bloom (probably the most famous literary critic in America at least) and David Rosenberg. They have done a new translation of the J material and it may be a bit more free form than a Biblical scholar would like.

    Just to be helpful, here is the Amazon.com link: http://www.amazon.com/Book-J-Harold-Bloom/dp/0802141919 there the Library Journal short review indicates that the book is certainly worth reading as literature but seems to be a bit hesitant about its translation quality.

    And here is a pretty good review of the book to help you make up your mind: http://www.thesatirist.com/books/BookOfJ.html for the cost I will be ordering it myself, it seems like a wonderful kind of relief for someone to recognize Jehovah as an imp. However I don’t expect to take any of the quotes to Sunday School.

  12. Bill, I checked out the reviews. I’m confused about this translation. Bloom claims the book dates from 900-950 BC (time of Solomon), but we have no evidence Solomon existed, let alone this author J. Is this some invention of a J book? It seems like a lot of speculation on Bloom’s part.

  13. Hi MH

    No question about it, Bloom is heavily into speculation on this topic. He is a literary critic and with the new translation from the Hebrew with his co-author he is essentially placing “the book of J” with Hamlet or Milton’s Paradise Lost. His placement of J in the Davidic court period does not seem to match very well with the more traditional Documentary Hypothesis scholars but it seems to be a well reasoned argument according to reviews I have seen. Bloom doesn’t really want to make an “academic” statement except in the sense that he feels that if you isolate just the J material, get yourself a modern, somewhat looser translation from the original Hebrew, you have what is according to him a true masterpiece of literary creation that should be valued if only on those terms, finally freed from all of the welter and confusion of the full text of the standard Bible.

    By the way Dialogue has had two good articles that I have found so far. My searches on their web site doesn’t seem to turn stuff up so here they are:

    Dozeman, “The authorship of the Pentateuch” 32: 4, Winter 1999
    This seems to be a good review of the “history” of the Documentary Hypothesis that covers from the Rabinical scholars in the middle ages up till the time of writing. Good stuff with charts of what people considered to be in each of the strands.

    Barney, “Reflections of the Documentary Hypothesis”, 33:1, Spring 2000
    This looks at the DH in specifically Mormon terms and how it might affect how we look at the OT. I haven’t read it all yet but it seems excellent so far.

  14. I’ll definitely have to check it out. I don’t know if you saw this post from Valoel about the Old Testament class offered free online from Yale. I think you’ll find it interesting, though I doubt you can use much of the info in Sunday School. Go to http://oyc.yale.edu/religious-studies/introduction-to-the-old-testament-hebrew-bible/

    I’m sure I’ll be posting on these podcasts in the future.

  15. MH, thanks for the reminder, I’m in the process of downloading the mp3 files so that I can listen to them on my ipod. I’ve listened to the first few yesterday while loading and moving hay and the content is excellent. She (Christine Hayes the professor) is excellent, good speaker and good voice (which is important when you are listening to an ipod in a tractor believe me) and she is explicit about it being an academic course that need not interfere with a student’s faith but that they are going to approach the material with an academic and literary focus.

    Her approach is very upbeat and at times very emotional, these are powerful stories for here with lots of meaning and lots of wisdom to share with all of us no matter what our faith. So it may be that many of her insights can come into a Sunday School class: for example her explication of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac is very powerful, she really brings Abraham alive faced with multiple dilemmas: is he really going to carry out God’s command and kill the child who is the embodiment of God’s promise, why is this man who haggled with God over the destruction Sodom and Gohmora (getting God to finally agree that if 10 innocents were found the place would be saved pleading with God that innocents should not have to pay for other’s evil) about to obey something that does exactly that, kill a complete innocent, and how does Isaac feel about all of this? Excellent stuff.

  16. Hi MH

    How about this as a preliminary Mormon approach to the Documentary Hypothesis. First we accept the scholarship more or less at face value, recognizing that Welhausen (the 1910 ish guy who put the basic theory into its current form) had a Protestant distaste for priests and temples and therefore devalued the Priestly material and the Redactor. Also recognizing that Form criticism (which I suppose might become its own topic here if you wanted, we certainly don’t want to start talking about that in the midst of this thread) and other approaches have modified the impact of the Doc Hypothesis.

    Anyway, what we have as Mormons is the recent experience as a people of witnessing just exactly how a prophet does operate in the face of new circumstances and a new beginning. As a people we don’t have a lot of problem with the Inspired vesion of the Bible nor with some reservations the Book of Moses, nor with even more reservations the Book of Abraham. We have in our recent experience as a people the clear example of Joseph Smith who not only edited the “holy words of God” but was prompted by the editing to create entirely new scripture (which by and large we have collected up into the Doctrine and Covenants). This is what prophets do, they value and it seems that Heavenly Father values current revelation over the “holy writ” (in stark contrast to say Evangelicals who look at the Bible as the dictated word of God that should not be touched). So think in terms of Ezra, back from Exile in Babylon (Baruch his scribe should also likely be thought of as a prophet but maybe he was just a Oliver Cowdery analogue) with a pile of accumulated scriptural documents and having the need to put it all together into something that would inspire and lead the Church forward. What did he do? Well he did what prophets do, he edited the Holy Writ but in this case rather than writing all of his new insights from revelation into his own book (that had other things to accomplish and other purposes) he added them into the Pentateuch that he was “constructing” for use by his people.

    What I am saying is that whereever the underlying documents and oral stories in the Pentateuch came from, no doubt much of it from Moses but not exclusively so in my opinion, Ezra or some other prophet or set of prophets or school of prophets (we simply can’t know) did what we have so recently seen Jospeh Smith do which is to bring the scriptures up to date, ready to be used in their time for their purposes. The “Redactor” then is not some faceless, nameless (though he is that, naming Ezra is a good guess but certainly not the only possibility) scribe intentionlly trying to trick an entire people with his changes to the Bible but a prophet doing what prophets do.

    This still leaves room for other scribes who intentionally dumped stuff out or radically reedited to fit political or spritual purposes but does suggest that the putting together of the Pentateuch could well have been the work of an inspired prophet.

  17. Bill:

    Very good insights.

  18. Oops!

    Baruch was not Ezra’s scribe but Jeremia’s scribe, sorry about that. But much on the same topic, he may well have been part of the production of the Pentateuch as well.

    I am off to do a search on “Redactor criticism” which I just heard about in one of the Yale lectures from Christine Hayes. Will report shortly.

  19. Bill, I don’t really have much of an argument with anything you’re saying (thanks for the clarification on Baruch–from my studies, he seems like a very important figure in editing the Bible.)

    I just listened to class #2 from the Yale series, so you’re way ahead of me there.

  20. So my update on the current status of the “Documentary Hypothesis” after some travelling on the Internet and listening to much of the Yale OT course.

    First the Documentary Hypothesis still seems to be the core approach of Biblical scholars though it has been much updated from its initial presentation. Wellhausen’s summation of the theory in 1883 is still the foundation though both his underlying theory of how religions develop and his clear Protestant distaste for priests and temple worship have been recognized and worked with. It seems like you could get general modern concensus with a three author/school approach that assumes the Priestly strand, the Deuteronomy strand and the “Everything else” (my vesion not something you will find in the literature) strand which is basically the older J and E strands.

    Placed beside that development has been three other approaches that have become important. Presented here in approximate order of their development though they have all really happened together.

    1. Form criticism
    This approach is an explicit attempt to look at the Biblical text and isolate the underlying oral traditional forms that were pulled together by J, E, D, P and R to develop the Pentateuch (and other books of the Bible for that matter, so for example there is a great deal of work on the New Testament material). A good example would be the “Song of the Sea” in Exodus 15:1-18 which is arguably of very ancient origin and part of the oral tradition that was used by the early writers in telling the story of the exodus. It seems to be alive and well as an approach and supplements the Documentary Hypothesis by trying to look even further back. It is a particularly good explantion for poetic elements that suddenly turn up in otherwise very prose sections.

    2. Tradition criticism
    This is a sister to form criticism and looks at the oral history on a somewhat larger scale. Whereas form criticism pulls out individual snippets of text that seem to have a clear oral origin the tradition critic looks at a larger “folklore” level, seeking the old “storyteller” material that would have been memorized from generation to generation and passed on until finally committed to paper.

    Both Form and Tradition criticism are “deconstruction” activities and there are lots of arguments over the material that is selected and analyzed.

    3. Redaction criticism
    In response to all of the “deconstruction” implicit in all of the above approaches which essentially characterize the redactor as a faceless, nameless manipulator of the text, redaction criticism instead insists, lets get back to the text that we actually have in front of us and see what the redactor/editor was up to.

    Mormons have a very good example of a very important redactor in Mormon himself who is clearly evident throughout the whole of the Book of the Mormon, constantly inserting comments on what is going on and pounding home his overall theme of “righteousness brings blessing, wickedness means trouble and distruction”. So redaction critics actively look for “editorial comments” and framework sections that bridge gaps or explain significance. They then try to see what the editor was up to, what the purpose was for the creation of the text in the way we see it and what it accomplished.

    In tbis approach the redactor/editor is seen to be an active, creative force shaping the existing available text into a form that will help move the people forward. My earlier comments on Joseph Smith and what prophets do would fit quite well into this kind of an approach. Seeing the redactor as a more creative element may also help to explain some of the difficult “seams” where people have insisted there are chiasums that cross the seam and therefore purportedly show that the material is a whole, not a composite of several authors. The redaction critic instead sees the editor as himself carefully constructing the chiasm out of two strands of material to accomplish just that kind of link and bridge between materials.

    So thank you MH I have learned a lot over the past few weeks and I am comfortable with the Pentateuch not necessarily being “the five books of Moses”. Afterall very few of the materials even claim to be written by Moses themselves. I am also beginning to see how the insights from the Documentary Hypothesis and the other modern criticisms can be built into a gospel doctrine lesson without undue upset to the “standard approach of the manual”.

  21. Hi all

    I hope this isn’t overwhelming the topic MH, tell me to stop if you want to.

    Anyway I got as far as the Yale course’s stuff on the Book of Ruth (around #20 or so) and was introduced to “canonical criticism” which I thought I should add to this just to get stuff more complete.

    Canonical criticism is once again a reaction to the deconstruction of text and instead asks questions like: why did this text get into the scriptural canon? how did it function for the faith community , how did the faith community percieve it and work with it, and further on in the time sequence how has it continued to function for other faith groups or other times. The basic idea is that it accepts the canonical text as presented and tries to understand its importance for various groups.

    A good example is the Book of Ruth. On the surface it is a lovely tale of devotion and faithfulness on Ruth’s part and an indication that righteousness will be rewarded even if one can’t see that in their immediate circumstances.

    However the context makes it much more interesting. It was placed into the canon, or at least certainly around and in common use after the return from the Babylonian exile. One of the major and controversial reforms made by Ezra and Nehemiah was to demand that all men divorce their wives who were not of Judah. It was seen as crucial because Ezra framed the whole exile and the loss of the ten tribes as coming from the fact that Israel married foreign wives and those wives led them into worship of false gods. Now, here they were back in their land and the practice was in place all over again.

    However, somehow the Book of Ruth was added to the mix, perhaps it was an already accepted oral tale from before the exile and already accorded status (it was about the Davidic line and that would argue for its importance) but here we have Ruth a Moabite (you need to know that the Cananitie, Moabites and Amorites were specifically singled out by the Torah as women who should NOT be married) and not only does she marry Boaz (who does so partly to follow the law in the Torah that enjoined a kinsman –usually a brother — to marry a widow and bring up children) but she turns out to be the great grandmother of David himself. So using the connection to the Davidic line which was also one of the returnee’s goals and concerns they were able to get in this book which is a counter argument to the offical policy of Ezra. It served to provide the people as a whole with an effective counter and in fact it seems fairly clear that the Jews through largely adhering to Ezra’s demand did continue to marry outside of the faith. This is one of those tensions that is held so successfully in the Old Testament to maintain a sensible balance between the demands of the religion and the demands of living life now, in the present.

  22. Wow Bill, I think you’ve taken a step past me here. I’ll have to catch up–I only have time to listen to about 1 class a day, and on my way to work, the battery was dead on my iPod, so I missed class today. I’m still on class 3.

  23. MH, don’t sweat it, I cheat.

    I’ve spent the last week moving round bales from a field about 15 miles from my farm with truck and trailer, about 10 bales a trip and lots of trips to make. So for some days, depnding on what needs to be done and who is around I can listen to my ipod for 3 to 4 hours while I am “working”. It helps to keep my mind active and I still get all the work done. So, as I said, I cheat, I listen while I work which is likely not an option for you.

  24. MH

    Margaret Barker is a Methodist Biblical scholar who has specialized in “restoring” the First Temple worship practices of the Hebrews which she claims were one of the main targets of the Deuteronomist revisions of the Hebrew Bible. I’ve just ordered a few of her books including: The Older Testament: The Survival of Themes from the Ancient Royal Cult in Sectarian Judaism and Early Christianity. She uses the full range the apocrapha and other works including material from the Gnostics since she sees that the “refugees” from the Deuteronomist reforms scattered into Arabia and Egypt. You can see a quick overview at her web site: http://www.margaretbarker.com/index.html and of course there is a wikipedia article as well.

    She is interesting in the context of the Documentary Hypothesis because she not only reinforces that insight she gives a sense of the motivation behind the major revision of the Biblical text to conform to a more radical version of monotheism and Mosaic law.

  25. This sounds really interesting. I’d love to hear more about temple practices. I think they were much different than LDS temple practices. I went to a fireside by Wilford Griggs, and Egyptologist from BYU. It was really interesting. Apparently he makes the case that early cultures had a big temple worship service, and he tries to draw parallels to LDS Temples. I need to read his books, but they are usually over $100 used!

  26. MH

    I have some of Margaret Barker’s books on order from Amazon and will let you know what I find as I get into them though that will probably not be till sometime in November. She seems to argue that the early temple worship was quite different from that of the temple worship at the time of Christ so that will be interesting. I am going to go back and look at my Nibley stuff on the temple which I read almost a decade ago and see how it might fit in to all of this. I guess what I am seeing however is some of the motivation behind at least the Deutoronimist revision of the scriptures and understanding just a weeeeee bit just how much that is “plain and precious” might have been lost. Not to undervalue the Deuteronomist’s work though, by moving the worship practice from a focus on the temple (in a single location , a location they would not have access to for millenia, they allowed the Jewish religion to survive incredible catastrophes, so who is to say that they were or were not inspired?

  27. Let me know! That sounds interesting. I’d like to get into the Bible a bit more. With my book club, we’re doing quite a bit of Mormon history (which is why I’ve been posting on history so much lately.)

  28. Just a pointer to another source of reasonably good mp3 lectures on the Old and New Testament, this comes from a site called World Wide Classroom : http://worldwide-classroom.com/ which is an evangelical site. Most of the courses seem to come from Covenant Theological Seminary professors but the ones I have listened to so far ( Judges, Psalms and Wisdom ) though slanted are fundamentally sound as far as I can tell. They at least acknowledge and understand all of modern Biblical criticism and have a response. Dr. Phil Long has been my main choice, he does have an interesting look at Saul which was useful.

    In general Long’s defense of the continuity of the books of the Bible as opposed to the fragmentation hypothesized by the Documentary Hypothesis is based on his analysis of the literary structure found in the books. So for example where the Documentary Hypothesis sees the poetic Song of Deborah in Judges 5 as a very early poetic fragment inserted into the Book of Judges after the prose explanation of Judges 4 of the very same event Dr. Long sees it as simply the author’s way to highlight the event by using poetry. I don’t know enough to make a judgement but it is an interesting exploration and at least a partial reply to the Documentary Hypoethesis.

    MH I will cross post the resource reference to StayLDS in case they want to look at it so don’t be surprised.

  29. Thanks Bill. I love this sort of info. I’m reading too many books right now, but I will get to these. I have enjoyed listening to speakers from Covenant Theological Seminary in the past, so I am sure I will enjoy them.

  30. Hi guys, sorry to post on an old area. But I’ve been studying documentary hypothesis and redactor theory ever since I read Bloom & Rosenberg back in the mid-1990s. It is not ‘speculation’ on Bloom’s part when he locates the Book of J in Solomon’s time, but instead an effort to trace the literary roots of the book. Bloom never pretends to be an archaeologist or a historian of ancient Hebrew. But he does know how to trace patterns of literary influence. He insists that there is not a time period likely to support stories like those in the Book of J with anything like the time period responsible for the stories of David & Solomon. His arguments about the time period of Shakespeare being necessary to support the works of Shakespeare are an example of his type of argument. There is often a preference among LDS scholars for ‘archaeology’ or other types of empirical results over the literary. The way Bloom’s book favors the study of narrative should be the eye-opener for LDS students of the Old Testament.

  31. Thanks for the notes Jim. I need to get back to my study of the Old Testament. I’ve been involved in more recent Mormon history lately.

  32. […] presentation was interesting, he fell apart during the Q&A session.  I asked him about the Documentary Hypothesis.  In brief, the hypothesis states that Elohim and Yahweh are interchangeable terms for God. […]

Comment navigation

Newer Comments →

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: