The Maccabee – Against the Documentary HypothesisOctober 15, 2011
‘Is not my word like fire,” declares the LORD, ‘and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?’
- Jeremiah 23:29
Understanding the Documentary Hypothesis
Historically speaking, the theory that Moses ‘did not write the Pentateuch actually has been around for more than a millennium.’ Even so, the vast majority of believers, both Jew and Christian, ‘still maintained that Moses was its author’ well into the 17th century. It was around this time that the Dutch-Jewish philosopher Benedict Spinoza began to attack this common-held belief about Moses. This led to his eventual excommunication from Judaism by the Rabbinnical authorities some years later. This ‘questioning’ of the authorship of the Bible continued in the following manner:
- French physician Jean Astruc created the original Documentary Hypothesis in 1753 by listing the different names of God used in the Torah.
- After many changes and alterations, Karl Graf came out with a revised version of the ‘initial hypothesis in the mid-nineteenth century.’
- Julius Wellhausen then resummarized Graf’s Documentary Hypothesis and proceeds to preach and promote it ‘in European and American scholarly circles.’
- In the end, the refutation of Moses as author of the Torah, known as as the Documentary Hypothesis, also became ‘known to many as the Graf-Wellhausen Hypothesis.’
Since these earlier times, attacks upon the Judeo-Christian belief in the authorship of Moses and the first five books of the Bible have, in fact, ‘been thrust consistently into the faces of Christians.’ A staunch belief in the Documentary Hypothesis has become near universal in secular settings. One sources notes that this still unproven theory has garnered a cult-like belief in others, especially non-believers:
It is becoming increasingly popular to believe this theory…Numerous commentaries, religious journals, and Web sites consistently promote it. And many professors who teach religious courses espouse it. Undoubtedly, it is champion among the topics discussed in classes on a critical introduction to the Bible. In most “scholarly” circles, if one does not hold to the Documentary Hypothesis (or at least some form of it), he is considered fanatical and uneducated.
To sum it up, the Documentary Hypothesis boldly claims that, instead of being written by Moses around 1,200-1,500 years ago, the ‘Pentateuch was compiled from four original source documents -designated as J, E, D, and P.’ It further contends that these four theoretical documents were all created ‘by different authors, and eventually were compiled into the Pentateuch by a redactor (editor).’ According to the classic Documentary Hypothesis, the conjectured dates of authorship can be seen in the following manner:
Alleged Authorship of the Torah
I. The J (Yahwehist) document was supposedly written around 850 B.C
II. The E (Elohist) document was supposedly written around 750 B.C.
III. The D (Deuteronomist) document was supposedly written around 620 B.C.
IV. The P (Priestly) document was supposedly written around 500 B.C.
V. The R (Redactor) document, or final version of the Torah, was supposedly written around 200 B.C.
These unproven, and basically unprovable, source documents, have now been accepted as historical fact by nearly all of those who ascribe to the Documentary Hypothesis. In many ways, the main point of their claims has to openly and boldly deny that Moses wrote the first five books of the Holy Bible. This is spite of the fact that these dates have no scientific validity whatsoever. As one scholar notes:
Every dating of the pentateuchal ‘sources’ rests on purely hypothetical assumptions, which ultimately only have standing through the consensus of scholars.
- R. Rendtorff
Some believe there is an underlying reason why the followers of the Documentary Hypothesis insist on such late dating of the authorship of the Torah. Their real goal may little more than an attempt to discredit Scriptures and, with it, Christianity. The denial of Moses as the author of the Torah usually provides a stepping stone for further denials concerning the Bible. Here are just a few statements by those who believe in the Documentary Hypothesis:
One of the certain results of modern Bible study has been the discovery that the first five books of the Old Testament were not written by Moses.
- Gottwald, 1959
It is obvious that the Book of Genesis was not written by a single author (Moses).
The most determined biblicist can see that there is no way Moses could have written the Torah.
- McKinsey, 1995
At present, however, there is hardly a biblical scholar in the world actively working on the problem who would claim that the Five Books of Moses were written by Moses – or by anyone person.
- Dr. Richard E. Friedman, University of California at San Diego
This conventional wisdom and denial of Moses’ authorship has now managed to permeate the entire world of academia and Biblical scholarship. Indeed, it is a given that statements such as those just cited ‘have made their way into thousands of classrooms.’ The results are quite tragic, as more and more students become non-believers due to this pernicious fallacy known as the Documentary Hypothesis. One source notes: ‘Sadly, before hearing skeptics and liberal scholars present their ineffectual arguments for such beliefs, students frequently become so spellbound by the intellectual façade and bold affirmations of certainty that they rarely even consider the evidence at hand.’ The evidence, if seen and studied carefully, still seems to indicate that Moses was indeed the real author of the Pentateuch. The scholarly facts, even today, are as follows:
The fact is that there are Old Testament specialists who have been trained in schools like Harvard and Princeton and Chicago University, who have received earned doctorates, who have become skilled in all of the relevant languages and archeological discoveries, who have attended and participated in all of the leading scholarly conventions, and who have authored texts that are studied by college and seminary students all over the world, who still adhere to the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.
Given all of the misleading scholarship out there these days, it should come as no surprise that when Andrew Brown, author of The Darwin Wars, wrote about a conversation he had with England’s leading Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, he became flabbergasted when ‘Dr. Sacks defended the proposition that Moses wrote (or dictated) the first five books of the Bible’. Andrew Brown surprised response was simply: ‘That is the most shocking thing I have ever heard an intellectual say.’ Nevertheless, more and more prominent scholars are now beginning to break with Wellhausen’s Documentary Hypothesis and even going so far as to attack it as illogical and irrational. Here is one disgruntled scholar on the need for change:
Redaction history and tradition history are [not helpful]…in explaining the origin of the Pentateuch. There is a preference for the view that much of the Yahwistic material was written later than originally thought, implying a much longer period of oral and written transmission of many of the Pentateuchal narratives. The way literary criticism and tradition history were applied in the past is largely invalidated by current folklore research which should be used as a corrective as well as to devise a new theory on how the Pentateuch originated.
- Van Dyk, P. J., Current Trends in Pentateuch Criticism.
Most importantly, scholars of various stripes are also beginning to tear away at the specifics of the Documentary Hypothesis, most notably the four source document theory (J, E, P and D), which presupposes four unique original sources for the Pentateuch. Noted scholar Professor Kitchen now admits that ‘even the most ardent advocate of the documentary theory must admit that we have as yet no single scrap of external, objective…tangible, evidence for either the existence or history of ‘J’, ‘E’, or any other alleged source-documents’. His admission of error is starting to become more typical among the liberal circles of secular Biblical scholarship. Indeed, one writer claims that ‘certain liberals have been forced to admit that the JEPD hypothesis is really without merit.’ Just recently, a man named Umberto Cassuto, a professor at the University of Jerusalem, wrote a book called The Documentary Hypothesis. In the book, he freely confesses that the main arguments for Wellhausen’s theory are ‘without substance.’ Furthermore, he states that the entire Documentary Hypothesis field of study happens to be ‘founded on air’ and will inevitably become ‘null and void’. In summary, ‘there simply is no support for the documentary theories of the higher critics, and there is much evidence against them.’
Refuting the Documentary Hypothesis
The Documentary Hypothesis, sometimes called ‘the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis after the two men, K.H. Graf and Julius Wellhausen, who gave it its classic expression’, presupposes that the five Books of Moses, namely the Torah or Pentateuch, are actually derived from four different source documents, called J (Yahwist), E (Elohist), D (Deuteronomist), and P (Priestly Code). These original sources can be organized in the following manner:
J- Starting with Genesis 2:4, it includes large portions of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy
E- Includes Genesis 15 and Exodus 3:15 for example
D- Includes most of Deuteronomy
P- Starting with Genesis 1:1, it includes large portions of Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers and all of Leviticus.
When going about the business of refuting the Documentary Hypothesis it is necessary to organize the arguments in fairly precise manner. One Biblical scholar R.N. Whybray, as well as others, has concluded that ‘the Documentary Hypothesis is founded on four presuppositions.’ Those four assumptions, with the pertinent refutation just beneath them, can be listed as follows:
ASSUMPTION: An evolutionary, unilinear approach to Israelite history.
REFUTATION: Most scholars agree that ‘Wellhausen built his theory on a now-discredited evolutionary philosophy with its roots in the thought of G.W.F. Hegel.’ Since then, the whole philosophy of Hegelianism has been thoroughly discredited. Because of this, it seems more than likely ‘that the history of Israelite religion cannot be portrayed in the simple, highly evolutionary manner that Wellhausen thought possible.’
ASSUMPTION: The possibility of dividing the Pentateuchal texts on the basis of stylistic criteria.
REFUTATION: Some of the earliest proponents of the Documentary Hypothesis claimed ‘they could easily separate one text from another on the basis of style.’ In reality, the entire Torah is written in standard Biblical Hebrew. The only real way a single style could ever really be found for each source document, namely J, E, P, and D, ‘would be if each monotonously and rigorously maintained a highly idiosyncratic style.’ This has not been the case when it comes to the Pentateuch.
ASSUMPTION: A simple compilation of documents by redactors.
REFUTATION: According to the claims of the Documentary Hypothesis, later editors of the Torah, called redactors, supposedly used the documents they had availible and then proceeded to use a ‘cut-and-paste’ procedure where they simply cut ‘up each document and then joining the whole into a continuous narrative.’ There is no actual proof that this sort of organizational effort ever existed. Indeed, ‘no true analogy to this somewhat bizarre editorial procedure is available.’
ASSUMPTION: Easy determination of the purposes and methods behind the documents and redactions.
REFUTATION: The founders of the Documentary Hypothesis believed they would be able to easily ‘deduce the purposes and methods of the redactors, despite the fact that enormous cultural differences existed between the scholars who studied Genesis and the men who wrote it.’ Scholars then began to speculate in a somewhat bizaare manner about the aims of the original writers and later editors (redactors). To be specific ‘it was assumed that each writer aimed to produce a single, continuous history but would tolerate no inconsistency, repetition, or narrative digressions.’ However, the editors (redactors) ‘were said to be utterly oblivious to every kind of contradiction and repetition.’ These strange assumptions bear no historical accuracy or proof that they are true.
It must be emphasized that the Documentary Hypothesis blithely assumes that the Torah was originally made up of four documents which were all ‘first composed as continuous, single narratives and only later were brought together and edited into the present work.’ This false assumption led to many errors in Biblical analysis. To bolster the arguments of the Documentary Hypothesis, many different ‘modifications were proposed.’ Problems with the original Hypothesis just caused their reasoning to become that much more complex and illogical. Some of the ‘modifications’ included ‘dividing the four sources into even smaller sources…whereas others reduced the number of sources, questioning the existence of E altogether.’ When it comes to the authorship of the Pentateuch, here are the seven major claims of the Documentary Hypothesis:
The Seven False Claims of the Documentary Hypothesis
1. TWO NAMES OF GOD: Torah Passages which refer to God as Yahveh originate from the J source document, while passages which refer to God as Elohim originate from the E (or P) source document.
2. DUPLICATION AND REPETITION: Genesis contains some duplicate stories and repetitions suggest they were originally portions of two different documents woven together into one text.
3. CONTRADICTION AND CONFUSION: Genesis contains contradictions which ‘indicate the existence of the separate documents.’ This implies ‘that one document had one tradition, but a second had another.’
4. LANGUAGE AND STYLE: The language and style of the original source documents vary. J is a masterful storyteller, while P is prosaic and wordy. Each document also seems to have its own preferred vocabulary.
5. MEANING AND THEOLOGY: Each original source document, ‘when extracted from the present text of Genesis, shows itself to have been a continuous, meaningful piece of literature.’ The source documents appear to have ‘a specific literary and theological purpose behind each.’
6. COMMON SENSE: Even a simple, basic reading of the Torah seem to indicate that the text ‘obviously involve more than one source.’ The best example is Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, ‘which can hardly come from a single source.’
7. PRIESTS AND LEVITES: The confusion over the ‘Israelite priesthood found in the Pentateuch is best explained by the Documentary Hypothesis.’ While some passage imply that all levites are priests, other passages state that only the descendants of Aaron are. This suggests at least two separate sources.
To summarize, it has been these seven claims that the Documentary Hypothesis has done fairly well in trying to explain. The fact of the matter, is that Wellhausen’s theory explains problematic parts of the Torah without ever suggesting that they may not be problems at all. What follows are detailed refutations of the seven false claims of the Documentary Hypothesis.
FALSE CLAIM #1: TWO NAMES OF GOD:
- The theory that passages using Yahveh (J source) or Elohim (E source) for God come from separate sources ‘has been challenged from several directions.’ To cite one example, Genesis 22:11 uses the name Yahweh even though it is considered to be a part of the E (Elohim) source document. Also, at the very beginning of the Torah, there is a combination of the two names into ‘the unusual Yahweh Elohim.’
- Biblical scholar M.H. Segal also shows that the two different divine names, Jahveh and Elohim, are used interchangeably in other Scriptures which are definitely known to have originated from a single source. In short, later Biblical passages use the two names for God as if the author saw the two names as simply different terms for the same God.
- The so-called decision of E and P sources not to use the name Yahveh (J) is simply a fictitious assumption. Likewise, there is ‘absolutely no reason that J should avoid’ using the word Elohim.
- The unexplained use of the two different names for God can also be surmised without resorting to the Documentary Hypothesis. In sum, Biblical scholar Umberto Cassuto claims that these two names simply ‘bring out different aspects of the character of God.’ Yahweh is seen as the covenant name of God, emphasizing his special relationship to Israel, just as Elohim speaks of God’s universality as God of all earth. Seen simply, ‘Elohim is what God is and Yahweh is who He is.’
- Another scholar named Segal also contends that ‘the interchange of the divine names is often for the sake of variety or reflects popular usage’.
- Biblical scholar Whybray proposes that ‘the alternation of names may be unconscious because of the [singular] identity of the two names’.
- It can rightfully be claimed that Yahveh and Elohim have ‘semantic overlap’. When the emphasis is about God as the ‘universal deity…Elohim is used’. Similarly, when a passage that mentions ‘God as covenant savior…Yahweh is more likely to be utilized’. Also, when neither aspect of God ‘is particularly stressed, the names may be alternated for variety or indeed for no specific reason’.
- The use of Yahveh and Elohim as different names of God doesn’t necessary imply two different sources for the text. Indeed, it appears there are ‘many examples from Egyptian and Mesopotamian sources of a single god being called by several names in a single text.’ It should be also noted that no ‘Egyptologist would ever use divine names for source criticism’.
- In conclusion: ‘the criterion of divine names, the historical and evidential starting point for the Documentary Hypothesis, is without foundation. It is based on misinterpretation, mistranslation, and lack of attention to extrabiblical sources’.
FALSE CLAIM #2: DUPLICATION AND REPETITION
- Some believe ‘the use of doublets and repetition as evidence for multiple documents in Genesis is perhaps of all the arguments the most persuasive for the modern student’. In reality, it is ‘the most spurious and abused piece of evidence’. Given everything, the use of duplication and replication in Biblical passages simply signifies ‘rhetorical concepts’ which made use of these exact forms of expression.
- On the contrary, when it comes to many ancient texts ‘there is no stronger indication that only a single document is present than parallel accounts.’ The use of what is called ‘Doublets’, menaing ‘two separate stories that closely parallel one another, are the very stuff of ancient narrative.’ They are, in fact, precisely ‘what the discriminating audience sought in a story.’
- Given the examples of other documents, it can be rightfully claimed that ‘simple repetition, first of all, is common in ancient Near Eastern literature.’ This can be seen ‘in the Ugaritic Epic of Keret’ where a certain King Keret receives specific instructions to go to the land of Udum, ruled by King Pabil, and then demand to marry the King’s daughter named Hurriya. The carrying out of these instructions is simply a repetition of what the original instructions actually state in the text.
- Repetition in the Bible is found in both the Old and New Testament. One involves the Book of Genesis 24, where the servant of Abraham meets the future wife of Isaac and the encounter is then repeated as a story. In the Book of Acts, Paul’s encounter with Christ on his way to Damascus is described three different times (Acts 9:1-19, 22:3-16, 26:9-18).
- In summary, and ‘in light of the love for repetition and parallelism in Hebrew narrative and poetry’, it should come as no surprise that ‘Hebrew narrative is sometimes redundant even within a single story.’ This practice may seem meaningless or pointless in the English language, but in its original tongue it is considered to be quite beautiful.
FALSE CLAIM #3: CONTRADICTION AND CONFUSION
- The Biblical account of Noah and the Flood first states in Genesis 6:2 that he should bring one pair of every kind of animal, but then it says in Genesis 7:2 to bring seven pairs of clean animals, This contradiction can easily be explained in that ‘provision had to be made to ensure that there would be sufficient livestock after the flood.’
- The entire flood story, according to the Documentary Hypothesis, is actually two sources (J and P) combined together to create one contradictory story. The reality is that ‘recent research has demonstrated the whole narrative to be far more coherent than was once recognized.’
- Some followers of Wellhausen’s theory have attempted to cite a discrepancy between the flood’s 40 days of rain and also its apparent 150 additional days of rain. This argument is completely wrong-headed and a misreading of Genesis. In reality, ‘the present chronology in the text is not the confusion it is sometimes implied to be.’
- One scholar named Emerton still insists that ‘there is a discrepancy between the 150 days of rain and the 40 days of rain’ in the story of Noah and the flood. To be sure, ‘the text nowhere implies that the rain lasted 150 days.’ Instead, the 150 days refers to ‘the time from the beginning of the flood until the water had abated enough for the ark to ground.’ With this in mind, the flood story can be said to be both ‘structurally unified and formally of a type of literature (flood narrative) that is far older’ than Wellhausen’s theory dates it.
- In conclusion, the story of Noah and the flood uses an ‘ancient narrative technique, as evidenced in its profound concern for narrative structure’. Given everything written down in Genesis concerning the flood, this account also ‘cannot be said to be chronologically confused.’
FALSE CLAIM #4: LANGUAGE AND STYLE
- The Documentary Hypothesis claims to have found ‘radically different styles’ of writing in the Pentateuch and finds this to be proof that it actually had at least two different sources (J and P). This is simply the ‘result of artificially dividing the text.’
- So-called differences in writing style found in the Torah cannot be proven because nobody knows anything ‘of the common speech of the people of ancient Israel’. Differing word choices could simply be ‘for the sake of a special nuance in a given circumstance, or indeed for the sake of variety’.
- Recent development of computer analysis of the Biblical text now shows that the so-called triple authorship underlying the Book of Genesis is unlikely. Instead, ‘there is massive evidence that the pre-Biblical triplicity [J, E, and P] of Genesis’ may well be a unity instead. The Documentary Hypothesis claim that Genesis was ‘worked over by a late and gifted editor into a trinity’ is basically considered to be false.
FALSE CLAIM #5: MEANING AND THEOLOGY
- The original Documentary Hypothesis contended that the evidence for multiple source documents, which then became the Pentateuch, included differences in metaphysical meaning and theology found in the texts themselves. The fact remains, however, that splitting a text into two opposing sources is actually quite easy. In short, opponents of Wellhausen have clearly proven ‘it is not difficult to separate a single Biblical narrative into two artificially complete documents.’ Because of this, any ‘theological analysis’ becomes ‘all the more tenuous.’
- Even the most staunch supporter of the Documentary Hypothesis has trouble these days in taking seriously any of the broad or sweeping generalizations concerning ‘the theological background of Genesis’.
- Under continuing assault by recent Bible scholars, the theological arguments promoting ‘the Elohist has disappeared from view entirely and the Yahwist is fast fading from existence.’ One scholar named Whybray has gone far in showing that ‘consensus for a theology of the Yahwist among critical scholars is collapsing.’
- In conclusion, the hypothesis claiming theological differences in the Pentateuch ‘has no value as a guide for continued research.’
FALSE CLAIM #6: COMMON SENSE
- Appealing to their view of the first five Books of Moses, which presupposes Moses did not write it, the Documentary Hypothesis and its adherents claim that common sense dictates in determining that the Pentateuch must have had more than one author who lived much later than Moses. However, recent authors who support the Documentary Hypothesis are now urging more ‘caution’ strongly suggesting that confidence in Wellhausen’s theory is waning and ‘that confidence in the criteria has eroded considerably’.
- In growing desperation, supporters of Wellhausen are starting to rely heavily ‘on specific texts as justification for continued adherence to the hypothesis.’ This is spite of the fact that interpretation of these specific Biblical passages are quite varied and heavily disputed today.
- One scholar makes the point that, even though it may be possible that Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 may originate from separate sources, these particular sources most probably have ‘nothing to do with the four documents of the Documentary Hypothesis.’
- In conclusion, no matter what is involved ‘there is no text in Genesis which is best explained by the Documentary Hypothesis.’
FALSE CLAIM #7: PRIESTS AND LEVITES
- The Documentary Hypothesis contends that, since there is a discrepancy as to who is actually a Priest (a Levite or descendant of Aaron), there must be at least two authors responsible for the Torah. It also claims to have the ‘best explanation of why the term Levite is used inconsistently in the Old Testament.’ Nonetheless, there is little historical evidence to prove this to be the case.
- The reality is that, when it comes to the question of who exactly is a Priest, ‘a better solution can be obtained by reading the Pentateuch as a work that was substantially produced, as the text affirms, during the period of the Exodus.’
- Similar attempts at finding original source documents underlying the Greek classics the Iliad and the Odyssey proved to be popular in the last century, but are now considered little more than ‘antiquarian scholarly curiosities.’ It is to be hoped ‘that the same fate awaits their sister theory, the Documentary Hypothesis.’
Judaism’s Refutation of the Documentary Hypothesis
Although critics accuse biblical writers of revealing erroneous information, their claims continue to evaporate with the passing of time and the compilation of evidence.
Remember, the main theory of Wellhausen and company is that the Torah ‘was written by several different authors between about 950 BCE through 450 BCE, at which point it was assembled into the present single document, probably by Ezra.’ One should keep in mind that ‘this hypothesis is pretty much universally accepted by secularists.’ Even so, Judaism has a few resounding refutations to this theory. They can summarized as follows:
The Samaritan Pentateuch- The Samaritans have their own five books of Moses which is nearly identical to the Torah. However, Somaritans ‘have not shared a common tradition with Jews since the division of the United Monarchy following the death of King Solomon.’ This means that their Torah, and indeed both Torahs, must have written previous to Ezra (450 BC). This is because the Samaritans ‘would not have accepted a book composed by Ezra.’
Mention of Jerusalem- There is absolutely no mention of Jerusalem in the Torah, meaning that it was probably written at the time of Samuel or before, because the city of Jerusalem had become ‘the center of Judaism from the time of King David (1000 BC) up until the present.’
Religious Documentation- If Ezra (450 BC) assembled the Torah from different documents (J, P, E, and D) then there would most probably be evidence of their existence somewhere in the historical record (950-450 BC). This has not occurred. In fact, ‘no copies of the alleged pre-Ezra documents have ever been discovered anywhere, nor are they ever mentioned in any ancient literature.’ Logically speaking, if the pre-Ezra had been considered so religiously important to Judaism ‘it is implausible that they quickly and entirely disappeared.’
Talmud Without Torah- At the same time that scholars of the Documentary Hypothesis reject the Torah as historically false, they also place great emphasis on a certain passage in the Talmud (Bava Basra 109b) that speaks of the existence ‘in ancient Israel a priesthood descended from Moses’. From this single verse, they claim that these priests must have written the E source document.
Two Names for God- The Talmud many times mentions God’s two character traits – the trait of mercy and the trait of justice. Mercy is represented by the name YHVH while justice is represented by Elohim (Midrash Braishis Rabbah 73:3).
Different Styles in the Torah- Advocates of the Documentary Hypothesis point out that different parts of the Torah are written in different styles. There is a simple explanation for this. The Talmud Tractate Megilah 31b states that ‘Deuteronomy was written by Moses – it is a speech given by Moses, rather than having been simply dictated to him by God. Based upon this, we can understand why different portions of the Torah are written in different styles although they actually have a Mosaic authorship.’
In conclusion, the scholars who developed the Documentary Hypothesis were woefully ignorant of Judaism and Jewish folk-lore. Because of this, Judaism’s refutation of Wellhausen’s theology is especially convincing and accurate. Amused by all the fuss, one Jewish scholar simply states: ‘Rather than refuting the single authorship of the Torah, Bible critics have merely rediscovered the midrash.’
The Slow Death of the Documentary Hypothesis
If new approaches to the text, such as literary criticism of the type advanced here, deem the Documentary Hypothesis unreasonable and invalid, then source critics will have to rethink earlier conclusions and start anew.
- The Redaction of Genesis by Rendsburg
Is the Documentary Hypothesis a dying theory? Does this mean that Biblical scholarship can now move on into the 21st century, instead of being stuck in a discredited 19th analysis made by Wellhausen and others? Did Moses, in fact, write the first five Books of the Bible? According to some scholars, the answer to all these questions is yes. Even the on-line reference site Wikipedia, which is still in favor of the Documentary Hypothesis, is honest enough to admit it:
While the terminology and insights of the documentary hypothesis-notably its claim that the Pentateuch is the work of many hands and many centuries, and that its final form belongs to the middle of the 1st millennium BC-continue to inform scholarly debate about the origins of the Pentateuch, it no longer dominates that debate as it did for the first two thirds of the 20th century.
- Wikipedia, Documentary Hypothesis
The number of former believers and ex-followers of Wellhausen, and his theory concerning the authorship and dates of the Pentateuch, happens to be growing larger with each passing day. Many of them have realized that the general claim about the Torah being based upon four sources, namely the J, E, D and P source documents, is, in the end, utter nonsense. Some have gotten quite angry with Wellhausen’s continuing success and acceptance among modern Biblical scholars. Here are just a few opponents of the Documentary Hypothesis as it stands today:
The time has long passed for scholars of every theological persuasion to recognize that the Graf-Wellhausen theory, as a starting point for continued research, is dead. The Documentary Hypothesis and the arguments that support it have been effectively demolished by scholars from many different theological perspectives and areas of expertise.
Gorden J. Wenham points out that there has been a significant change regarding the Wellhausen documentary hypothesis. In the past, rejection of this hypothesis had been from orthodox Jews and conservative Christians. However, questioning of the documentary hypothesis today has come from mainline scholarship.
- HISTORICAL CRITICISM OF THE BIBLE: METHODOLOGY OR IDEOLOGY? by Eta Linnemann
The whole structure of the Documentary Hypothesis is so vitiated with obscurantism and circular reasoning on the basis of unproved and unprovable hypotheses that it hardly deserves the status of true scholarship at all. It appears rather to be an exercise in biased subjectivism that shuns any serious consideration of conflicting evidence.
- Who Wrote the Bible? A Summary Critique, by Gleason L. Archer, Jr
The Documentary Hypothesis must be abandoned. Regardless of the theological presuppositions with which one approaches the text, and regardless of whether one wishes to affirm the tradition of Mosaic authorship or move in new directions, one must recognize the hypothesis to be methodologically unsound.
Wellhausen’s Documentary Hypothesis has come to an end. Other major scholarly views of the 20th century…are cratering. Nothing substantial, however, has replaced these views.
- Rendtorff, Rolf, The Paradigm Is Changing: Hopes – and Fears
It is now accepted that the documentary hypothesis is hampered with serious difficulties.
- Van Dyk, P. J., Current Trends in Pentateuch Criticism.
We must reject the Documentary Theory as an explanation of the composition of the Pentateuch. The theory is complicated, artificial, and anomalous. It is based on unproved assumptions. It uses unreliable criteria for the separation of the text into component documents.
- Moses H. Segal, professor emeritus at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem
The Wellhausen hypothesis...must be perceived as an exercise in subjectivism rather than a scientific treatment of the objective data bearing upon the date of the composition of the Pentateuch. The whole concept of differing recensions of the Mosaic tradition, a J-document originating in Judah and an E-document developed in the Northern Kingdom, has in this century been called into serious question by disillusioned Wellhausians like Wilhelm Moeller, B.D. Eerdmans, Johannes Pedersen, and Ivan Engnell, all of whom completely reject the whole Documentary Hypothesis as an artificial, modern occidental type of interpretation totally unsuited and irrelevant to ancient Semitic literature.
- Who Wrote the Bible? A Summary Critique, by Gleason L. Archer, Jr
These days, the old truths of Wellhausen’s Documentary Hypothesis are becoming less and less accepted with each passing year and continue to be thoroughly discredited by a growing number of scholars and researchers. Indeed, the assumptions of the past concerning the actual origins of the Pentateuch ‘have disappeared, and in their place scholars are confronted by competing theories which are discouragingly numerous’ as well as ‘exceedingly complex’. The simple historical facts of Wellhausen’s theory are now gone with the wind. As one noted scholar opines:
The theories current in Old Testament studies, however brilliantly conceived and elaborated were mainly established in a vacuum with little or no reference to the Ancient Near East, and initially too often in accordance with a priori philosophical and literary principles.
- Kenneth Kitchens, Ancient Orient and the Old Testament
The tried and true J, E, P, and D source documents, which continues to be the foundational cornerstone for the Documentary Hypothesis have also become invalidated by more and more current researchers. In his work The Redaction of Genesis, scholar Rendsburg openly proclaims that ‘the standard division of Genesis into J, E, and P strands should be discarded’. He blames their inadequacy on the fact that the Documentary Hypothesis is an old 19th century theology that has been hopelessly outdated. With today’s growing knowledge about the ancient world, Rendsburg states ‘there is much more uniformity and much less fragmentation in the book of Genesis than generally assumed’. This means that scholars are once again facing the same conclusion of the past, that Moses truly is the author of the Pentateuch . In the meantime, the Documentary Hypothesis, and all that it came with it, continues to pass away, to die, slowly but surely.
Moses Wrote the Torah, the Pentateuch
An objective and truly scientific handling of the evidence can only lead to the conclusion that Jesus Christ and the New Testament apostles were absolutely correct in assuming the genuineness of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.
- Who Wrote the Bible? A Summary Critique, by Gleason L. Archer, Jr
When one finally becomes convinced that the Documentary Hypothesis is indeed a incorrect theory, the question remains as to who wrote the Torah, also called the Pentateuch. Traditional Judaism has always believed that Moses was the author of the first five Books of the Bible and Christianity followed suit in the centuries after its formation. There is still every reason to believe that this is the historical truth even though the existence of Moses still cannot be scientifically proven. Considering the severity of laws espoused in the Torah, many Bible researchers say this indicates that it must have been written by Moses, before the people ever slipped into idolatrous practices. One auther states the following:
Consider the implications of Moses’ instructions to his people as recorded in Deuteronomy 13 and 17…In these two chapters we find the death penalty prescribed for any individual, family, or community that became involved in idol-worship. In the time of Josiah, or even in the time of Hezekiah, there was scarcely a community in all of the kingdom of Judah that was not infected with idolatry. Had such a law been propounded and carried out with rigor, it is safe to say that at least 50 percent of the total population would have been stoned to death. No school of prophets or priests would ever have ventured to propound such severe measures…these passages in Deuteronomy fits only a time in the history of Israel when the entire nation was committed to the worship of Yahweh alone. There is no known period which fits into this framework but the time of Moses and Joshua.
Two recent books also bolster the claim that the Book of Genesis may well be a unified document with only one actual author. One of these is called Before Abraham Was, by Kikawada and Quinn, and it shows ‘an INCREDIBLE thematic unity and artistry of the composer of Genesis 1-11.’ The other book is The Redaction of Genesis, by Rendsburg. This book goes far in proving that there truly ‘an INCREDIBLE linguistic unity and artistry of the composer of all of Genesis.’ Slowly, more and more modern scholars are returning to the belief that the Torah was written at a much earlier date than that espoused by the Documentary Hypothesis. Here is just one example of this phenomenon:
In the light of these considerations, the objective evidence of the text and of all pertinent historical records bearing upon the career of Israel leads us back to the genuineness of the Mosaic date as the only plausible period for the composition of the Pentateuch…Suffice it to say that the indications in the Pentateuch of a pre-Conquest time of composition of the books of Moses are altogether compelling.
- Who Wrote the Bible? A Summary Critique, by Gleason L. Archer, Jr
In Judaism, Genesis through Deuteronomy was always considered to be a singular work, usually called the Book of the Law. This is cited in 2 Chronicles 25:4 and Mark 12:26. This makes good sense because even a quick glance at the content ‘of its individual components will confirm that each book presupposes the one that precedes it.’ One scholar notes astutely:
Without Genesis, Exodus reads like a book begun midway; without Exodus, Leviticus is a mystery; and so on. They were not intended to be five separate volumes in a common category, but rather, are five divisions of the same book. Hence, the singular references: “the Law” or “the Book.”
Given this tradition, it seems incredible that the Documentary Hypothesis was ever believed or copied. One should remember, however, that the propenents of Wellhausen’s theory were neither Jewish nor Christian believers. It is safe to assume that they had ulterior motives in creating the Documentary Hypothesis. They knew full well that to prove that Moses did not write the Torah was to also discredit, and perhaps eventually, destroy the Judeo-Christian tradition. As one author contends:
Prove that Moses did not write the books of the Pentateuch and you prove that Jesus was totally mistaken and not the infallible Son of God he claimed to be. Upon your faith in Moses as the writer of the five books attributed to him rests also your faith in Jesus as the Son of God. You cannot believe in Jesus Christ without believing what Moses wrote.
- Genesis and Evolution, by M.R. DeHaan
One should also take into account the fact that the authorship of Moses is a given througout the Holy Bible, including the New Testament. Within the Pentateuch itself, one can read numerous times about how Moses wrote the law of God. Here are just a few pertinent passages from Scriptures:
- Moses wrote all the words of the LORD. (Exodus 24:4)
- The LORD said unto Moses, ‘Write thou these words…’ (Exodus 34:27).
- Moses wrote their goings out according to their journeys by the commandment of the LORD. (Numbers 33:2).
- Moses wrote this law and delivered it unto the priests. (Deuteronomy 31:9).
- The law was given through Moses. (John 1:17)
- And beginning from Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:27)
- For Moses from generations of old hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath. (Acts 15:21)
In addition, authors of the New Testament ‘showed no hesitation in affirming that Moses wrote the Pentateuch.’ Even Paul agreed with this, stating: ‘For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law,’ It is rather ironic that ‘both Jesus’ disciples and His enemies recognized and accepted the books of Moses.’ Christian believers should take care to understand that the authorship of the Torah should not be taken lightly and should feel assured in the belief that Moses wrote it. One scholar notes:
A final reason that one must defend the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, instead of sitting by idly and claiming that “it doesn’t really matter who wrote it,” is because Jesus Himself acknowledged that “the Law” came from Moses….The truth is, by claiming that Moses did not write the books of the Pentateuch, one essentially is claiming that Jesus was mistaken.
May the LORD God bless you in the name of St. Judas Maccabaeus.