The 8th Article of Faith for the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints states:
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.
“And it will be, if you really listen to Yahweh’s voice…”
“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…”
“…and he brought you ought of the iron furnace, from Egypt…”
“…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.
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.
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.
This 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?