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Documentary Hypothesis

Subject: Re: Modern Criticism/3
Date: Tue, 01 Jun 1999 12:43:35 GMT
From:  (Nigel B. Mitchell)
Newsgroups: aus.religion.christian

In this post, unlile the previous two, there is actually some argument
and presentation of evidence.


>(a)   Lack of external evidence
>At the outset liberal criticism requires us to accept as real number
>of documents, authors and compilers without the slightest  scrap of
>external evidence. They have not left behind them any trace either in
>literature or in Hebrew tradition, tenacious as that tradition is of
>the memory of its great names. When we consider
>the power and originality of these writings and their deep effect on
>the national life, this alone is sufficient to discredit the theory.
>Nor has any reliable writer offered to explain how the diverse
>documents of the Pentateuch, which they discover or create, acquired
>their sanctity and authority'.l Is it really probable that the name of
>the author of Deuteronomy was completely forgotten, whereas those of
>the minor prophets of the eighth century B.C.
>were so carefully preserved?

The documentary hypothesis deals with this. It is a mistake to think
of JED&P as entirely separate documents. None represent the work of a
single author or a single movement, any more than the Torah as a whole

represents such a work.

J is the designation for the traditions, mostly oral, of the origins
of God's people. It represents the tradition of the first temple, the
court of King David, and the emerging identity of the Israelite people
some 10 centuries BCE.

E is the designation for the traditions of the separate, northern
ingdom of Israel - where the same God was worshipped, but a different
national and religious identity emerged during the eight and seventh
centuries BCE.

D is the work of History which re-tells the story of Mount Sinai, and
goes on to recount the occupation of the Land and the emergence of the
nation in the books of Joshua and Kings. It was probably written just
before or during the Babylonian exile.

P is the designation given to the editorial work of the Priest sin the
second Temple, some 5 centuries BCE, who compiled the various strands
above, provided additions and clarifications where necessary, and
edited the final text much in the form we know it today.

This theory is not set in concrete. Some scholars argue that E never
existed as an independent source, and is really part of the editorial
work of the Priests. Wellhausen thought that the book of Deuteronomy
and the historical books were all, and only, the work of D, whilst
modern schoalrs have found elements of the J source in the books of

It is difficult to either defend or destroy the documentary hypothesis
in a debate such as this. Those who hold as an article of faith that
the fruits of scholarship cannot be permitted to contradict the
received teaching of the Church (or Synagogue) will, and do, reject it
out of hand. But such rejection is quite unconvincing to those who
approach the subject with an open mind. 

>(b) Unsound foundations

>Wellhausen built his critical theory largely upon two foundations,
>both of which have proved to be unsound.3

Is the 3 a footnote? If so, it would be useful to see them, given that
there are no verifiable references in any of these posts. (graeme is
well aware, but for other readers 'verifiable references' are the
details of in-print or readily accesible published sources, and/or the
contact details or position held by the author and their dates.

> The first was that the
>narratives of the Old Testament could not have been written before the
>days of the monarchy, but were handed down for long ages by oral
>tradition. The second was that the religion of Israel began as a
>totemistic animism, ascended through a stage of polytheism closely
>parallel to that of their Canaanite neighbours, and became
>monotheistic only in the prophetic era.

>The first of these assumptions has been demonstrated to be false, and
>is now generally abandoned. In Abraham's city of Ur and in his day
>writing was commonly practised.  The existence of early
>inscriptions containing law-codes prove that the laws of a people are
>among the first things to be reduced to writing, and Sir L. Woolley
>has pictured Abraham supplying his family with a selection of written
>laws for their guidance, and many of the precepts of the Mosaic law
>find a parallel in Hammurabi's code.

Is Sir L Wooley Bernard's father?
Writing in the time before the monarchy was mostly done on stone, and
in royal courts or temples. According to the books of Exodus and
Deuteronomy, the people of Israel before the monarchy were Nomads,
refugees, slaves, and invaders. Is there any evidence that such people
produced enduring literature before the 10th century BCE (or since -
even today??)

>Dr. E. Robertson, Professor of Semitic Languages in Manchester
>University,  in a series  of scholarly monographs,  has argued that
>the whole Pentateuch existed in writing in, or before, the days of
>Samuel. 1

Where can I find a reference for this?

>The second of these assumptions, that the religion of the Old
>Testament was the product of a natural.ascent from animism, has no
>more basis in fact. 

This is not a constituend part of the documentary hypothesis.

>(c) The dating of documents is dependent upon the theory of religious

No, the dating of the documents is dependent upon a theory of
progressive revelation and ongoing experience of God in the world.

>The only safe means of fixing dates is through facts recorded in the
>documents themselves or derived from the monuments. 

True. For example, the book of Deuteronomy records the death of Moses,
so we can say confidently that Moses did not write the whole book of
deuteronomy. Every passage which says "And the ... can still be seen
today" is written much later than the events it records. and so on.

>Some authors, with
>little regard for history or tradition, fix the date of each chapter
>or verse according to its 'religious outlook'. If this be 'universal',
>origin in the Persian period is denoted; if the law is mentioned, the
>date cannot be earlier than the exile; and only those parts which are
>coloured by 'crude ideas of Jehovah' are
>allowed to belong to the monarchy.


>This involves considerable re-adjustment of the evidence. Jeremiah's
>insistence on the sabbath, for instance (Je. xvii. 21-27) is dealt
>with as a later interpolation. The ideas of Is. xxiv.-xxvii. are
>considered too advanced for Isaiah's time, so they too are an
>interpolation belonging to the exile, or 300 B.C., or even later
>(critics differ) although Delitzsch says that all possible grounds
>combine to indicate Isaiah's authorship if it be once granted that 'no
>human critics can determine a priori the measure of divine
>revelation'.  In like manner one reason given for the late date of P
>is the absence of reference to the Levitical law in the prophetical
>writings.  To strengthen this argument various passages which indicate
>a knowledge of the law, and have every appearance of genuineness, are
>stated to be later interpolations. 


>Another difficulty which the critical theory has to surmount is the
>presence of elements, such as the genealogies, which have every
>appearance of being very ancient.   It is conceded, for instance, that
>'there are very early elements in P', but the late date is maintained
>nevertheless.   No explanation is offered why these genealogies were
>overlooked, or neglected, by J and E, who are supposed to be so much

No suggestion is made that the genealogies are the "early elements" in

>At one time it was the fashion to see in the account of the flood in
>Genesis a re-shaping of Babylonian legends undertaken by an exilic
>author.  Further study has shown their independence, and now it is
>conceded that 'the creation and flood narratives in P are derived from
>a source which. . . must go back to an early period in
>Canaanite culture, though they were profoundly modified in the course
>of centuries, and now bear little resemblance to what must have been
>their original form'.

Is the last sentence above meant to be a quotation? If so, where from?

> s No shadow of proof for the latter part of this
>confident statement is given, but it is needed to reconcile the late
>date of P with the early character of its contents. There is,
>moreover, a very subjective element in dating the documents by means
>of the writer's 'outlook'.  This is witnessed by the
>various dates assigned by different critics to the book of
>Deuteronomy, to say nothing of speculations about the Psalms.

Quite. It is not easy in many cases.

But a lot can be discerned about the world view of an author by
reading what they have written. Any reader can test this by choosing
half a dozen posts at random from this newsgroup. The distinction
between atheist and Christian is easy to see, and the distinction
between conservative Christian and Liberal Christian is almost equally
easy. People who have been reading this newsgroup for any length of
time will be able to recognise my posts, and differentiate them from
graeme's, Ables, Rowland's and Tigger's without even looking at the
header in almost every instance. 

The documentary theory says that the Torah is like a long thread on
the newsgroup, in which at least four people have participated, and
where someone has edited the whole thread, removing the attributions.
I suspect that if anyone were to do this just for fun, it would not be
all that difficult to see the work of each author within the whole.

>(d) The method of analysis is by nature arbitrary and indeterminate

>It is certain that some of the Old Testament writers made use of
>existing documents, for such are mentioned by name (e.g. 2 Sa. i. 18),
>and it is legitimate to point to evidences of such use. But this is
>quite different from the postuiation of documents, otherwise quite
>unknown, or of schools of Deuteronomic or priestly writers. In the
>latter case the analysis cannot be effected until the style of each
>separate document is assumed, and this is by nature arbitrary.

This highlights one of the deficiencies of the documentary hypothesis
as it was originally presented by Wellhausen and co. Today, although
the various literary strands may be discerned in the text, scholars
acknowledge that we can really only speak with confidence about the
intentions and outlook of the final editors. To put it simply, we can
be more confident of P, and less confident of JE&D than Wellhausen
presumed to be.

>Even when an author's style is well known from his acknowledged
>writings, the determination as to whether a document is his or not is
>difficult enough, as is witnessed by the great variety of opinion
>obtaining among critics as to Pauline or Johannine writings.  


> But
>where a book which has the reputation and appearance of having but one
>author has to be divided among four, the whole process must depend
>upon the initial assumptions
>regarding their respective styles and vocabularies, and every change
>in these assumptions must vary the analysis accordingly. The analysis
>is therefore entirely dependent upon the assumptions that are adopted.

Also true.

>The assumption underlying much of the analysis, that no writer can use
>more than one style,  is fundamentally false, Newton wrote on
>mathematics and prophecy, and treated these subjects very differently;
>Scott wrote in poetry and prose.  The  critics allow that Hammurabi
>left behind him both narratives of his exploits and codes of laws; why
>may not Moses have done the same?

This is a valid criticism of the documentary hypothesis. It does not
destroy the theory altogether, but it certainly should always be kept
in mind. We cannot assume that writings in two or more different
styles are written by the same author, and we cannot assume that
writing which seems to be in a consistent style is not written by a
careful committee.

>The agreement among scholars of the critical school upon the style and
>outlook of P and the reconstruction of the Priestly document is urged
>as a reason for its acceptance. But how has this consensus of opinion
>been attained?   Prior to Wellhausen there was much disagreement
>until, by the change over of a large number of passages, and the
>splitting up of verses, a fairly coherent scheme was obtained. The
>unanimity of those who have since adopted it no more proves its truth
>than the unanimity ot those who reject it proves the contrary.




Nigel B. Mitchell


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