Posted By MSH on February 16, 2012
In my last several posts on this topic, I have tried to demonstrate via the data of the text of the Hebrew Bible why it is reasonable to argue (from the text) that Moses did not write all or perhaps even most of the Pentateuch (Torah). I have made it clear, though, that I don’t buy the consensus view of Mosaic authorship held by nearly all critical scholars, the Documentary Hypothesis. (I’m what used to be called a Supplementarian, but we’ll get to that).
For those unfamiliar with this hypothesis, known popularly as the JEDP theory, I was fortunate enough to find a PDF copy of the NY Times bestselling popular book on the subject: R. E. Friedman’s, Who Wrote the Bible (it sold over a million copies; we actually had to read this in my doctoral program, too). I would highly recommend reading Chapter 2 of that book to get into the subject along with the Wikipedia link above. In this post and others that follow, I’m going to be explaining why I think the theory over-reaches the data and falls victim to circular reasoning in several instances.
J and E (Yahweh vs. Elohim names for God)
In a nutshell, the JEDP theory posits that Moses didn’t write any of the Torah. Rather, the Torah is (in simplest terms) composed of four separate documents, named J, E, D, and P. J and E are named as such because the authors of those alleged sources respectively used Yahweh (J = Jehovah) and Elohim (or other El names) for God. That is, these authors didn’t use the other names. When the names are found combined in these respective sources (e.g., Yahweh-Elohim), that is the work of the editor who put the two sources together. Same for where the names are not consistent.
I’m skeptical of the name criterion for determining two of the Torah’s presumed sources. One significant reason is that the respective names are not consistent in other texts of the Hebrew Bible. That is, in other texts (namely the Septuagint) the “J” name is in E, and the E name is in J in many places. Friedman dismisses this fact of textual criticism in his Anchor Bible Dictionary article on the Torah:
Though periodically challenged in scholarship, this remains a strong indication of authorship. J excludes the word “God” in narration, with perhaps one or two exceptions out of all the occurrences in the Pentateuch; P maintains its distinction of the divine names with one possible exception in hundreds of occurrences; E maintains the distinction with two possible exceptions. (The LXX and Samaritan Pentateuch have minimal differences from the MT in divine names and have been shown by Skinner to confirm these authorial identifications.)
Friedman claims that there are “minimal differences” from MT (Masoretic Text) and LXX (Septuagint). Really? This isn’t the first time I’ve seen Friedman overstate a case. These days, anyone with the right databases can test this “minimal” claim. So I did. Frankly, I wouldn’t call nearly 100 instances minimal (by my quick-and-not-attempting-thoroughness search). You can check the results here. Granted, some of the divergences in translation choices in LXX *may* just be the whim of the translator, but it stands to reason (until coherently demonstrated otherwise — and I will get to Skinner’s article to which Friedman alluded) that most of these divergences reflect a different text. And that means that the original text of the Torah may not lend itself to the neat divine name criterion JEDP upon which JEDP is (in part, mind you) defended.
As you digest these results and read through Chapter 2 of Friedman’s book, I’m guessing other potential reasons for skepticism about the divine name argument for JEDP may become apparent.We’ll surely revisit its problems.