Monday, March 10, 2008

'who wrote the bible?' redux

A friend of mine took exception to my recent assetion that the Documentary Hypothesis of biblical authorship is widely accepted among biblical scholars. To the contrary, he says, the prevailing sentiment is that Moses wrote the books of the law, as tradition has held for thousands of years.

Now I'll be the first to admit that I'm not keyed into the debates going on at seminaries, and philosophy and religion departments today, but I haven't got the impression that JEDP is anything but widely accepted in scholarly circles. It's what my religion professors taught me back in the 1990s when I attended college, it's what I've read in history books on ancient Israel, and it's what I've read in every book like "Who Wrote the Bible?" that I've read.

Friedman, whose book I just finished two days ago, notes:
Until the past generation there were orthodox Christians and Jewish scholars who
contested the Documentary Hypothesis in scholarly circles. 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 any
one person.

He also comments in his endnotes:
There are many persons who claim to be biblical scholars. I refer to scholars
who have the necessary training in languages, biblical archaeology, and literary
and historical skills to work on the problem, and who meet, discuss, and debate
their ideas and research with other scholars through scholarly journals,
conferences, etc.
Now it may be that Friedman has defined "scholars" in such a way as to marginalize people who disagree with him. I can share from my own experience that generally the people the most hostile to the JEDP hypothesis are evangelicals or others who see it as undermining an article of faith where the inspiration or authority of Scripture is concerned. In such a situation, the argument for Mosaic authorship stems mostly from the notion of finding support for a traditional view rather than seeing where the evidence leads; i.e., seeking arguments to bolster a predetermined conclusion, which is intellectually dishonest.

As I've aged and grown less defensive about textual criticism, I've had to concede that JEDP makes a lot of sense and doesn't really affect my view or understanding of how God speaks through Scripture. It explains the doublets, the inconsistencies in the narrative (Jethro or Reuel, Sinai or Horeb, and so on), and the distance that often exists in the narrative voice. Phrases like "as it is to this day" reflect something that has endured, not something that just happened, as would have been the case were Moses the author; the death of Moses is hardly something Moses is likely to have reported himself; there is little reason for Moses to rehash the entire Torah in Deuteronomy, in some cases changing the rules governing one sacrifice or another; and on and on and on.

Still, as I said, I don't keep my ears to the debates in scholarly circles as much as I might if I were in seminary or in a religion department. If anyone reading this is aware of compelling arguments that Moses really did author the Penteteuch, I'd be interested in hearing them.

No comments: