Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Human Drama of Family History Work

Charles Watson was born in 1844 in the village of Old Brampton in the county of Derbyshire, England. He was the fourth of seven sons. Brampton was a small farming community two miles outside of Chesterfield, the second largest town in the county. His father was a farmer and Charles grew up on his father's farm.
A central teaching of the Church of Jesus Christ is performing vicarious religious ordinances or rituals for those who have died. We consider these ordinances, properly performed by those who have authority, to be essential for salvation and even those who may have been baptized in another church while they were alive needs to have a properly authorized baptism performed for them. While the choice to accept the ordinance still rests on each individual, we believe that a physical action must be done for each and every individual ever born.
Hannah Parsons was born in the village of Old Brampton in 1846, three weeks before her parents were married. Because her parents were not married at the time she was born, she did not officially have her father's last name, and had only the maiden name of her mother. But later in life everyone just assumed, including perhaps Hannah herself, that her name was Hannah Fretwell. But the "Parsons" part of her name was remembered and appeared in later records. She was the first of ten children.
In support of the endeavor to find each individual and perform religious rituals for them, members of the church do extensive family history work, or genealogy, to find the names of those who have died and have not had the opportunity to have the proper authorized ordinances performed while alive. In doing this work we tend to focus on the work of sifting through records, finding the names and dates, and making sure our sources are correct before we submit the names to the Temple so that the proper, authorized religious rituals are performed for them.
Hannah and Charles both lived in the small village of Brampton, and in 1870 they were married. At the time Charles was working as a coal miner. His father had passed away before Charles was married, and the family had sold the farm. All of Charles's brothers were working as coal miners to fuel the raging industrial revolution in England.
While most of genealogy work may be dry and boring, sifting through records and names, looking at images of records and trying to decipher the cryptic handwriting of some parish priest, every once in a while a story comes out of records. It is a story told not in verse or sweeping epics, but in names and dates. In the middle of the most boring historical records imaginable, emerges a tale of human drama, death, heartache, and uncertainty that would be fit for any dramatic tale.
Hannah and Charles had their first child in 1869, and they named her Sarah Parsons Watson. At that time and place it was unusual for people to have three names, but Hannah, who was born Hannah Parsons, kept that part of her name in the name of her first daughter. Over the next seven years they had three more daughters, Mary, Emma Parsons, and Charlotte.
As members of the Church we are encouraged to remember our ancestors. But there are some ancestors who tend to get more coverage than others, while there are those who quietly fade into the background. In these less commonly traversed branches of the family tree are found the quiet human dramas that make up the human experience.
In July 1878 tragedy struck the Watson family. Charles died. There is no record of how he died, only that he was buried in the church yard of St. Thomas in Brampton. Given his work as a coal miner it is possible his death was related to that. This left his wife a widow with four small daughters aged 8, 6, 4, and 2. As a widow living in a poor working class community it would have been very difficult.
There is a perception that history is made by well known, great individuals who through force of will or strength of character form the axis of history. But most of human history is made up of normal people, going about their lives, quietly living out the everyday dramas that make us human.
Within two years Hannah had remarried. Her new husband, William Gregory, was a widower with six children of his own. William was also a coal miner. The marriage produced no more children and it may have been a marriage of convenience. Hannah needed a way to support her daughters, and William needed someone to watch his small children while he worked in the coal mines. 
However the family did it, all 10 children lived in a modest house in poor working class conditions. That is, until 1887 when Hannah passed away. Again there is no record of how she died, or even where she was buried. We do not even know the exact date of her death since it is only recorded in a England death registry which only gives the year and quarter (range of three months). At the ages of 17, 15, 13, and 11 Hannah's four daughters were left orphans. At the time they were living with their stepfather and his six children. 
There is very little known about what happened to Hannah's four daughters in the intervening years, but I managed to find all four of them in the 1891 census.
Sarah Parsons married Isaac Burt in 1890. She would go on to have eight children, with the last two born in Illinois in the United States. Her husband Isaac was a coal miner, and near the end of the 1800's the coal in Derbyshire was running out. In 1905 they emigrated to the US so that Isaac and his sons could work as coal miners in Braceville, Illinois.
 
In 1891 Mary Watson, Charles and Hannah's second daughter, was working in a cotton mill while living with her grandparents Francis and Fanny Fretwell. In 1893 she married Daniel Hughes and they had four children. They stayed in Chesterfield, Derbyshire their entire lives. 
By 1891 Emma Parsons Watson, the third daughter, was 16 years old and was living as a domestic servant to a well-to-do family in Chesterfield. After this she disappears from the record and I can not trace her life after that. I do not know if she got married, had a family or died alone. Her life, right now, is an unknown drama. 
Shortly after her mother died, Charlotte Watson went to live with another family. At the age of 11 she began working as a domestic servant. Shortly after moving in with her employers the family moved to somewhere near Sheffield, which is in Yorkshire, the county next to Derbyshire. She was still living with them four years later in 1891 when she appears in the census. Like her sister Emma, she disappears from the records after this and I can't trace her. 
Encapsulated in the family of Charles and Hannah is great portions of modern human history. There is the disruption of traditional farming communities by the industrial revolution, and the fuel of the revolution was coal. The families lived in poor conditions in a town that grew around industry and coal. Chesterfield expanded because of the industrial revolution, and while it ultimately helped lift people out of poverty, the process was difficult and painful. There were families who lost their fathers, and children who were left orphans. We only have to read a Charles Dickens novel to learn of harsher side of the industrial revolution.

After becoming an orphan, their eldest daughter, survived and started her own family. That family now lives in the US and they may not remember where they came from.

The second daughter stayed in England and navigated the changes that came after the industrial revolution. They were a working class family where the children dropped out of school by the age of 12 and started working.

Anyone who does enough family history work knows that sometimes people disappear from the written record. The other two daughters, Emma and Charlotte, and emblematic of those who quietly disappear in the milieu of history. Hopefully they can be found someday, because everyone should be remembered.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Laman and Lemuel Did Not Think of Themselves as Apostate

In Sunday School lessons in the Church when we discuss Laman and Lemuel we tend to portray them as faithless, scheming, disobedient reprobates who still mummer and complain even after they are shown miracles and angels. Many seem to have a cartoon image of Laman as the stereotypical cartoon villain, complete with evil goatee, and Lemuel as his whiny, dimwitted sidekick.

This simple portrayal seems so obvious, because how else could someone see an angel, experience miracles, hear the word of the Lord, and still not believe? Obviously they had to be faithless schemers or why else would they reject the plain truths as taught by Nephi? They don't even bother to pray, and if they can't even do something as simple and fundamental as that, then obviously they don't have faith and care nothing for religion and eternal truths. Right? Are they really just the faithless, wayward sons of a good man and a prophet? 

Previously I have written about the complex social and religious environment that produced what we now know as the Old Testament. The time of Lehi was an interesting period in history. There was major political upheaval, a previous king of Judah had pushed through some major religious reforms, new histories were being compiled, and differing strands of religious thought were vying for supremacy.

If we read Jeremiah in the Bible we can get a sense that there was disagreement between groups of priests about political matters. There seems to be one group who were very much in support of the king and another that supported Jeremiah. While we may look back and say, "Obviously they should have supported Jeremiah." For those living at the time it may not have been so clear since those opposed to Jeremiah included the High Priest. But even this "picking sides" was not so straight forward since even those who opposed Jeremiah held him in high regard. When the king learned that Jeremiah was in prison he arranged for him to be rescued.

We learn from Nephi that his father Lehi supported Jeremiah, while Laman and Lemuel probably supported the monarchists and the High Priest. One of the harshest criticisms that Lehi leveled against his sons was that they were planning to do to him what the Elders had done to Jeremiah. This was not a criticism that Laman and Lemuel took lightly, but in fact took very seriously. By reading Nephi's account we can easily get the impression that Laman and Lemuel never listened to their father. But if we read carefully we can see that they listened to his prophecies and followed his commands. They did after all go get the brass plates, and they did attempt to buy them with all that they had. They did hold reverence for the word of God.

While some have tried to explain Laman and Lemuel's obedience to their father as some manifestation of the high regard that their culture gave to obedience to parents, that seems like a gross over simplification of the culture at the time, and still does not explain why they chose to follow Nephi at many points.

When we consider the interaction between Laman, Lemuel, and Nephi we unknowingly impose our modern biases on the story. To illustrate this let us consider perhaps the most over used but entirely misinterpreted interaction between Nephi and his brothers.

In 1 Nephi 8 we have recorded Lehi's famous vision of the tree of life. Immediately after this experience Nephi "desired to know the things that [his] father had seen" and thus sought and received the revelatory experience recorded in 1 Nephi 11-14. Upon returning to the camp where his family was staying Nephi found Laman and Lemuel debating the vision of their father. Prompted by Nephi's questions Laman and Lemuel responded, "Behold, we cannot understand the words which our father hath spoken concerning the natural branches of the olive tree, and also concerning the Gentiles."

This response prompted Nephi to ask the question that forms the basis of so many seminary, institute, Sunday School lessons, Sacrament meeting talks and question prompts in church manuals.
"And I said unto them: Have ye inquired of the Lord?"
"And they said unto me: We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us."
To us, Nephi's question is so blindingly obvious, and Laman and Lemuel's response so typical of non-believers that it may not occur to us that Laman and Lemuel could very well have a rational reason for not praying to know the interpretation. In our culture we are accustomed to the concept of praying. For us the most fundamental way we interact with the divine is to pray. It is so ingrained in our culture that we do not realize that in a different culture it may not be so obvious.

In our culture it is natural for us to ask, "Have ye inquired of the Lord?" We would think it very odd to go looking for someone who could use divination to answer our questions. In our culture the practice of using peep stones, divination in cups, and seemingly magical items is not considered socially acceptable or valid for divine communication. But in the culture at the time of Lehi not only was divination acceptable, but firmly entrenched as the preeminent method of divine communication.

In 1 Samuel 23 there is the story of David on the run from King Saul. Wanting to know the King's plans, David consulted with the priest Abiathar. In order to get an answer, David asked Abiathar to bring the ephod (part of the high priest's clothing associated with the Urim and Thummim) so that they could receive revelation from the Lord. There are other instances where questions directed to the Lord could not be answered without the use of the Urim and Thummim.

At the time of Lehi praying to ask the Lord questions was not ingrained in the culture. If someone wanted to ask the Lord a question they would have to find someone with a sacred object to be used for divination. Thus for Laman and Lemuel, if they wanted to know the interpretation of Lehi's vision, an obvious course of action would not be to pray and ask, but to find someone with a Urim and Thummim, or similar item, that could divine the answer.

When Nephi begins to explain the vision Laman and Lemuel are not passively listening, but actively asking questions. In fact they ask better questions than you would find in most Sunday School lessons about Lehi's vision. These are not the actions of non-believers who failed to ask questions. They did apply themselves and attempt to understand the vision, but because of their culture it did not occur to them that they could pray and ask the Lord for answers. They were keeping firmly within their religious tradition and thought that these were answers that could only be answered by a seer with some sacred object for divination.

It is particularly telling that after this experience, but before they traveled into the desert Lehi was given the Liahona, which was a sacred object that could communicate the word of the Lord. It was like the ephod for David, or the Urim and Thummim for the priests. It validated Lehi's position as a seer in the eyes of Laman and Lemuel. As a seer that had an object that could he could look into and see sacred communications, Lehi and his visions were established as divine. Hence Laman and Lemuel could follow him into the desert.

Also years later when they were in danger of starving in the desert Laman and Lemuel murmured against Lehi, partly because he had failed to use the Liahona. They eventually followed Nephi because he could use the Liahona, the sacred object that provided divine communication.

Sometimes there are things that are "obvious" to us and we wonder how anyone could be so dimwitted not to see the obvious. But it is important to remember that people like to think they have a good reason for doing what they do. For Laman and Lemuel praying to know the interpretation of a vision was according to their culture "weird". Using a sacred object to divine the answer was just as normal and obvious to them as praying is to us.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Carl Sagan and the Tree of Knowledge

In his book Pale Blue Dot, Carl Sagan talks about mankind's fraught relationship with the unknown, and our curiosity with the unknown. At one point in the book he says:
"To our ancestors there was much in Nature to be afraid of—lightning, storms, earthquakes, volcanoes, plagues, drought, long winters. Religions arose in part as attempts to propitiate and control, if not much to understand, the disorderly aspect of Nature."
"How much more satisfying had we been placed in a garden custom-made for us, its other occupants put there for us to use as we saw fit. There is a celebrated story in the Western tradition like this, except that not quite everything was there for us. There was one particular tree of which we were not to partake, a tree of knowledge. Knowledge and understanding and wisdom were forbidden to us in this story. We were to be kept ignorant. But we couldn’t help ourselves. We were starving for knowledge—created hungry, you might say. This was the origin of all our troubles. In particular, it is why we no longer live in a garden: We found out too much. So long as we were incurious and obedient, I imagine, we could console ourselves with our importance and centrality, and tell ourselves that we were the reason the Universe was made. As we began to indulge our curiosity, though, to explore, to learn how the Universe really is, we expelled ourselves from Eden. Angels with a flaming sword were set as sentries at the gates of Paradise to bar our return. The gardeners became exiles and wanderers. Occasionally we mourn that lost world, but that, it seems to me, is maudlin and sentimental. We could not happily have remained ignorant forever."
By using the story of the garden of Eden, Sagan sets up an interesting image of mankind moving from a state of ignorance where we are blissfully ignorant of the true complexity of the universe, to a point where we become cognizant of our place in the cosmos and find out just how insignificant we really are.

But as I read Sagan's description of our abandonment of the Eden of our ignorance, my attention was drawn to a seemingly minor but important detail.
Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. Stained glass in the Salt Lake Temple.
I have read a few responses to Sagan's comments but one thing that no one has pointed out is that in the Garden of Eden there was no tree of knowledge, there was only a tree of knowledge of good and evil. While this may seem like a superficial difference, just think how "superficial" the difference is between the phrases "the President", and "the president of the Rotary Club". That extra qualifier can make all the difference.

Unfortunately most of us who read Sagan's words would not even stop and think that the Bible only mentions the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and never just the tree of knowledge. With that knowledge, Sagan's imagery is slightly undermined because the expulsion from the garden is no longer about giving up a state of ignorance about the universe. Adam and Eve were not expelled for being too curious. Even if you only view the story of the garden as symbolic and not historical, we, as a human race, were not cast out because, "we found out too much". We were cast out because we became moral creatures, like the Gods, and thus we were given a space to be free that we might learn by our own experience to distinguish the good from the evil.

When Sagan addresses the story of the Garden of Eden he very subtly equates the religious world view with the ignorance of Eden, and gaining the modern scientific world view as the hard, but good and necessary expulsion from Eden. For those who desire to return to the religious and spiritual world view, Sagan cautions, "Occasionally we mourn that lost world, but that, it seems to me, is maudlin and sentimental."

But is the new worldview offered by Carl Sagan really all that new? Sagan implies that if we stand at the edge of the cosmos and look and see the wonder, extent and grandeur of the universe we will know discover our own insignificance. But according to Sagan we can only do that by abandoning the paradise of ignorance brought on by a religious worldview. But is this the case? Does a religious worldview preclude feeling a sense of wonder about the cosmos and realizing our own insignificance?

There is a passage from Isaiah in the Bible that is perhaps applicable here.
"I have even from the beginning declared it to thee; before it came to pass I shewed it thee.... Thou hast heard, see all this; and will not ye declare it? I have shewed thee new things from this time, even hidden things, and thou didst not know them. They are created now, and not from the beginning; even before the day when thou heardest them not; lest thou shouldest say, Behold, I knew them."
This new thought from Carl Sagan is perhaps not really all that new. As we read about Moses,
"And it came to pass that Moses looked, and beheld the world upon which he was created; and Moses beheld the world and the ends thereof, and all the children of men which are, and which were created; of the same he greatly marveled and wondered.... And he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed."
Carl Sagan is not the first to stand at the edge of the cosmos and view the insignificance of man.

This is the message that has been taught since the beginning of time, that man is nothing, and the work of God is greater than just this earth and those who dwell on it. As God said,
"For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them."
For Carl Sagan the religious world was created to give people comfort in their ignorance of the powerful forces of nature. The religious worldview was not meant to give understanding. When confronted by the uncontrollable nature of the cosmos the religious worldview was to provide a paradise where we could safely stay in ignorance. But when Moses was confronted with the whole of creation he had a distinctly different response.
"Moses cast his eyes and beheld the earth, yea, even all of it; and there was not a particle of it which he did not behold, discerning it by the Spirit of God. And he beheld also the inhabitants thereof, and there was not a soul which he beheld not; and he discerned them by the Spirit of God; and their numbers were great, even numberless as the sand upon the sea shore. And he beheld many lands; and each land was called earth, and there were inhabitants on the face thereof. And it came to pass that Moses called upon God, saying: Tell me, I pray thee, why these things are so, and by what thou madest them?"

This intense desire to know and to understand the whole of creation does not seem like an incurious retreat into the ignorance of a religious worldview.

But this is not all. There is another half to this story that we all too often do not tell. Mankind was not expelled from paradise to forever live out our lonely existence on some forgotten lump of rock. We were given a way back. The central message of Christianity is that the expulsion from Eden is not permanent. The gates to Paradise are not eternally barred. We are not condemned to be "exiles and wanderers" for all eternity. The message of Christianity is that there is a Savior who can save us from our fallen state, and bring us back into the presence of God, where we now have the benefit of knowing good from evil. What started in Eden, with the fall and acquiring knowledge of good and evil and becoming as the Gods, shall continue into the eternities. And that is more hopeful than any view Carl Sagan might offer.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Approaching Higher Criticism from a Faithful Perspective, Part 3

So far I have written posts addressing the Documentary Hypothesis (DH), and a series of posts (Part I, Part II) discussing how to approach biblical criticism from a faithful perspective. In this final part of the series I will discuss how ideas such as the DH and biblical criticism can give us insight into LDS scriptures.

In the DH there are four primary sources, and at least one major editor known as the redactor, for the text of the first five books of the Bible. The idea is that the four sources were written in different geographical, social and political contexts, and thus tended to approach stories such as the flood, or creation, or Moses and Aaron in different ways. At some later date all four sources were edited and compiled into a single work to create a single coherent document that is now included in the Bible.

These editorial changes were completed sometime before the 2nd century BC because we know from the Dead Sea scrolls that the text of the first five books of the Bible have not changed significantly since then. There are minor variations, but nothing on the scale implied by the DH. This gives a hard final date of about 150 BC for the compiling of the Torah. Discussions about when the four sources were written and when the redactor did his work refer to dates as being either early or late. Generally a late date for a source is some time after the end of the Babylonian exile in about 500 BC up until the earliest date of the Dead Sea scrolls in 150 BC. If a Biblical scholar says that a source has a late date they are generally saying that it was written sometime between 500 and 150 BC*. An early date for a source generally refers to it being written sometime between 900-600 BC*.

[*This is the only asterisk I will put in. I have read a few scholars who are willing to argue about what it means to have an early or late date for a source. Some will say an early date is 600-500 BC and a late date is 200-100 BC. Some also break it down into early middle and late. For the most part I will avoid all those discussions and stick with 900-600 BC as early dates and 500-150 BC with late dates.]

There are a few major possible timelines for the timing of when the four sources (J, E, P, and D) were written and when the redactor (R) did his work. Some of these timelines require more than one redactor since some sources (J and E) were combined before all four were combined by the final redactor. Here are a few possible timelines (TL) for when the sources were written and redacted.

Moses Early Late
TL1 JEPDR
TL2 JEP DR
TL3
JEPDR
TL4
JEPD R
TL5
JEP DR
TL6
JEPDR

There are obviously a range of possibilities and what I have included in the table does not even begin to encompass them (for example, my own preferred timeline is not on the table). Generally Biblical scholarship centers on timelines 4-6, which assumes that none of what we now call the five books of Moses were actually written by Moses. Traditionalists, most believers, and biblical literalists insist on timelines 1 and 2 (or some slight variation of those timelines), which assumes that most of the first five books were written by Moses at a very early date. There are of course other possibilities, for example, P and portions of J and E written by Moses, and then redacted at an early date, with D written some time before 600 BC with the final redactor doing his work after 500 BC. I should also point out that even with timelines 3 and 4 that means even though J, E and P were written at an early date, the could have been based on on even earlier unknown sources.

So how is this related to an LDS understanding of scripture? As I mentioned in Part II, some of these possible timelines, namely the ones preferred by many Biblical scholars, present problems for a historical Book of Mormon, because if the first five books of Moses had not been written by 600 BC then Lehi and his family could not possibly have carried those books with them when they left Jerusalem. That would mean all references to the brass plates would be an anachronism. This has lead some members to view the Book of Mormon as not literally historical in order to reconcile their faith with the consensus of modern Biblical scholarship. But there are assumptions with a late date for all sources that I do not think matches with what we know from archaeology. I think the weight of evidence points towards an early date (at least!) for all four sources and a late, post-exile date for the redactor.

If the harmonization happened after the exile and the redactor was Ezra as proposed by Richard Elliott Friedman, then the obvious question is, "What was on the brass plates?" We know there were writings of prophets not even mentioned in the Bible, but it would also mean that what we now know as the five books of Moses was radically different than what Lehi and his family read on the brass plates. There may be important differences, and there may be major stories or prophecies left out.

For example, in Nephi 1 and 2 Lehi mentions and quotes from some of the writing of Joseph of Egypt that do not appear in the Bible. Also we know that both Lehi was descended from Manasseh, and Laban who was keeping the brass plates was related to Lehi, which means the brass plates most likely contained the version of the writings of Moses and the story of creation, the patriarchs and the history of Israel that was preserved by the Northern Kingdom. This may explain why the redactor, who was from the tribe of Judah, did not include the writings of prophets found on the brass plates mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Either the redactor, who did his work after the exile, did not have those writings because they were working from sources primarily from the Kingdom of Judah, or they chose not to include those writings due to political, theological or historical bias.

Understanding the basics of the Documentary Hypothesis can help us the rich historical context that saw the beginning of the Book of Mormon.

Another interesting point is that many of the ideas that we now associate with Judaism, such as an extreme adherence to monotheism, a firm belief that the temple can only be in Jerusalem and that it is heretical to build one outside of Jerusalem, along with many traditions surrounding Sukkot, Passover, Yom Kippur, and Rosh Hashanah, were not cemented into Jewish tradition until after the exile. This means that many of the things that we might associate with being Jewish or following the Law of Moses may not have been particularly important, influential or even in existence when Lehi and his family were living in Jerusalem. Thus many of the customs that we associate with the Law of Moses may not have been taken with Lehi and his family to the New World.

For those who have studied the Old Testament we know that the covenant that God made with King David was important and prominent in the history of the Kingdom of Judah. But the Davidic covenant would not have been something written or talked about in the Kingdom of Israel, because the descendants of King David only ruled in the Southern Kingdom. Thus Lehi whose family came from the Northern Kingdom, and who took with him the brass plates, which were most likely contained mainly records from the Northern Kingdom (with a few exceptions), would not have preserved the idea of the Davidic covenant. Because of this we find no mention of the Davidic covenant in the Book of Mormon (except for a passing reference in a Isaiah chapter quoted in its entirety), while we do find plenty of mentions of the Abrahamic covenant, and the covenant that God made with Moses. The only time King David is mentioned, is by Jacob to point out that both David and Solomon committed wickedness, abominations, and whoredoms. Not really the high praise for David normally found in the Old Testament.

By knowing that Lehi and his family may have been pulling from a different set of scriptures from the ones we have now goes a long way in explaining some of the differences.

Also many critics of the Book of Mormon are quick to point out that no self respecting Jew would think of building a temple outside of Jerusalem. But Nephi, who built a temple in the New World, never called himself a Jew, and may not have been Jewish. Also the idea that only Jerusalem could have a temple (and only one Temple) was an idea still very much in debate at the time Lehi left Jerusalem. It was King Josiah that had instituted many of the "one temple" reforms that we now associate with being part of Judaism, but that idea may not have been cemented until the work of the redactor after the exile.

Before the exile there were many different understandings about what was allowed under the Law of Moses. There may have been a few different traditions and sets of scriptures with the writings of various prophets either included or not depending on who was keeping them. What survived and ultimately became the basis for the Old Testament represents only one of those sets, which was further harmonized by someone (Ezra) who was not known for being particularly willing to have opposing views (imagine if there was some great catastrophe and Bruce R. McConkie was in charge of putting together the standard works, and a history of the church, with commentary).

By realizing that there was a complex social, political, and religious milieu surrounding the formation of the Bible can help us appreciate the complex social, political, and religious milieu surrounding the formation of the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon may appear very internally consistent, but that is due to the fact that the Book of Mormon only had one redactor. We know that Mormon drew from many different records because he mentions them, but he makes the book into one complete narration with very few loose ends. It is very well constructed. But given what we know about the formation of the Bible, we can surmise that if someone else acted as the redactor to the Book of Mormon then it may be a very different book. Even Nephi 1 and 2, Jacob, Enos, Jarom and Omni are all very different stylistically from the rest of the book, and that is because those are the only parts that Mormon did not edit.

There is a much richer history just beneath the edited surface of the Book of Mormon. By applying the principles of higher criticism we can begin to unpack the rich history of the Nephites and Lamanites. But as we do this we must proceed with caution because we should learn from the mistakes of modern Biblical scholarship. While the consensus of scholars who engage in textual criticism is converging on a late date for the writing of the Bible, actual archaeological evidence is pointing ever more towards an earlier date, and the disparity is only growing.

As long as we stay away from the extremes we should be OK.

As we learn about the origin of the Bible through higher criticism we can apply the same principles to understand the context from which the Book of Mormon emerged. We can even apply the same concepts to the Doctrine and Covenants and understand the revelations in context.

We must remember that the scriptures were written at a certain time and place, in a certain context with the understanding of the authors. If we are willing to have charity and humility then we can have the depths of those complex environments exposed to our understandings so that we may more fully appreciate the work of God and His prophets.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Approaching Higher Criticism from a Faithful Perspective, Part 2

If you look up the entry for "Higher Criticism" in Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie, this is what you will find: "See Apostasy, Bible, Evolution, Revelation, Scripture." That is followed by an article about higher criticism that goes on for a page and a half and concludes, "In the final analysis [the conclusions of higher criticism] are doctrines of the devil, doctrines which destroy faith and prevent acceptance of the full gospel of salvation."

So what was it about higher criticism that made Elder McConkie call it a "doctrine of the devil"?

When McConkie included a cross reference to Apostasy he was not necessarily saying that anyone who engages with higher criticism is apostatizing from the church (though that also may have been the case), but rather the conclusions of higher criticism were the effects of the great apostasy. In his brief entry McConkie lumps the conclusions of higher criticism with all other false doctrines taught in other churches. The fact that a preacher or doctor of the church would even consider the implications of the documentary hypothesis is evidence that they do not have the spirit of revelation and are blinded by the effects of the great apostasy.

So what was it about the documentary hypothesis that prompted such a strong reaction from Elder McConkie? To bolster his claim that it is a "doctrine of the devil", McConkie points to the prophetic statements of Joseph Smith, which include the Book of Moses and the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. Thus he is responding to the issue of authorship and authority discussed in Part 1. By highlighting the prophetic statements of Joseph Smith, McConkie is reaffirming the identity and authority of the author of the Pentateuch. He is unwilling to budge on the question of authorship, and therefore the authority of totality of the Pentateuch, and by extension the rest of the Old Testament. So McConkie rejects the documentary hypothesis on the grounds that it calls into question the authority of scripture. It is a laudable cause. He has a healthy respect for God's Word, but I find that such an uncompromising position is at odds with how God normally interacts with His children.

So how does evolution fit into all of this? Elder McConkie cross referenced evolution in his entry on higher criticism, which when you think about it is rather odd, unless you understand how the conclusions of the documentary hypothesis can potentially impact our understanding of the creation. Without that it would seem that Elder McConkie is simply applying one of the dirtiest epithets that he knows. But there is more going on here, and this brings us to the issues of Timing and Historicity.

Timing and Historicity

These two are interrelated so I will address them together. In my introduction to the documentary hypothesis I mentioned briefly the issue of when the different sources were written. Some scholars favor later dates (meaning in the range of 800-200 BC), while theologians tend to favor early dates (closer to 1200 BC). The issue with later dates is that it opens the way to first question whether the stories are accurate, and second to question whether to people in the stories really lived at all. The thinking goes, the more removed the actual writing is from the people in the stories the greater likely hood that they never lived at all. Perhaps Abraham was invented for political reasons? To justify political control of Canaan perhaps.

The example of Abraham being invented is not hypothetical. There are many scholars who consider Abraham to be an invention of the Jews to justify political control of Canaan. This view is so widely held that even the Wikipedia article on Abraham reports, "it is widely agreed that the patriarchal age [including Abraham] ... is a late literary construct that does not relate to any period in actual history." I'll lay aside the rather cavalier attitude of the Wikipedia author to the issue a historical Abraham, and just use this as an example of how the timing and historicity are linked. A late writing of the Pentateuch can easily translate (in their minds) into the patriarchs being nothing more than literary constructs (a nice way of saying fairy tales).

There are multiple issues with this view that I will not unpack here, but I will point out that the non-existence of Abraham is not based on multiple historical sources failing to mention him, or mentioning him in an entirely different context, or on hard archaeological evidence, but on a "careful" reading of the Pentateuch. It is a bit like watching Kenneth Branagh's version of Henry V and concluding that, based on a careful analysis of the dialogue, Henry was a fictional person.

A general trend I have observed is that as soon as one scholar proposes a late date for a part of the Bible, another one comes along and uses that as evidence for the non-existence one or more people in the Bible. In other words, using higher criticism there is a popular trend to systematically undermine the historicity of the Bible.

This trend manifests itself in interesting and odd ways. For example, there was an intense debate about whether or not King David was a real person. That debate has largely died down due to archaeological evidence for his existence and reign. As a more extreme example, I was part of an online discussion once where one commenter attempted to argue using higher criticism that Jeremiah was not a real person. That position is thankfully rare but there is a significant number of scholars who argue that because portions of the Bible were composed at a late date the main characters before David are nothing more than "literary constructs" at worst or fictional retellings of oral tradition at best. According to this way of thinking there may have been someone named Moses, but the exodus never happened, or it was severely limited to a few hundred priests or tribal leaders, without any miraculous occurrences.

In every field of study there is a drive to push the envelope, to be the researcher who finds the first, the highest, the newest, the strongest, the oldest, or the largest because that is what gets published and cited. In the field of Biblical scholarship the current fad of higher criticism is to show a later and later date for different parts of the Bible. For example, one Biblical scholar, David P. Wright, argued in a recent book that the Covenant Code (Exodus 20:23-23:19) was not written at an early date, but much later during the Neo-Assyrian period (740-640 BC). It may have been well argued but as one reviewer pointed out, "If the discovery of a piece of Mesopotamian law code in ... 2010 at Hazor is followed up by more such discoveries, Wright may have to do some quick backtracking on his proposed date. In fact, Wright's volume full of data can be explained better by an early date than by a Neo-Assyrian date."

In other words, a single archaeological find can overturn just about any argument based on higher criticism. It does not matter how complex, well thought out, or elegant the argument is, if evidence indicates otherwise it doesn't matter. The archaeological evidence prompted Cyrus H. Gordon, a noted Biblical scholar to declare arguments based on higher criticism to be untenable. "Though Bible scholars live in an age of unprecedented discovery, they stand in the shadow of nineteenth-century higher criticism, . . . even though archaeology has rendered it untenable." (Cyrus H. Gordon, "Higher Critics and Forbidden Fruit," Christianity Today, 4 (1959): 131).

In a drive for ever decreasing notoriety it has become fashionable to argue for later and later dates for Biblical authorship, but that has divorced many of the arguments from the archaeological record, and has increasingly relied on even more tenuous arguments about what was and was not possible three thousand years ago in Israel.

In part a major motivation for this was to remove the wondrous and miraculous as a possibility from history. If Moses never existed then you don't have to deal with whether or not he parted the sea. If Adam was nothing more than a mythological figure then arguments about the creation disappear. By undermining the historicity of the Bible the more miraculous aspects of the Bible do not have to be dealt with. Thus Elder McConkie equated higher criticism with evolution, because scholars were using higher criticism to give naturalist explanations to the Bible. This is what prompted such a visceral reaction and got it labeled a "doctrine of the devil".

But not all Mormons are ardent Biblical literalists in the vein of Elder McConkie. While the issues of when certain parts of the Bible may have a minor impact on how an LDS audience interacts with the Bible, the big issue is the question of historicity. If the J and E sources were written down 400 years after Moses it is not an insurmountable problem for Mormons, but if Moses and Abraham never existed then there will be major theological implications. As Latter-day Saints we may be willing to accept new arguments about certain events such as the Exodus, but on the basic issues of historicity we will not budge.

The question of when the Bible, as we know it, was written is of particular interest to Mormons since a major part of our faith is the Book of Mormon. As related in 1 Nephi, Nephi and Lehi carry with them the brass plates which contain "the five books of Moses.... And also a record of the Jews from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah; And also the prophecies of the holy prophets, from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah; and also many prophecies which have been spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah."

If major portions of the Pentateuch were written after the Jews went into exile then it would have been impossible for the brass plates to contain those things. This would be a major anachronism for the Book of Mormon. Thus a late date, as proposed by many scholars, would invalidate the historical claims of the Book of Mormon. But there would be no problem with an early or even a middle date. As Mormons we already have a built in theological mechanism to incorporate additions, commentary and redaction made at a later date from when the events actually occurred. The Book of Mormon is an excellent example of how someone can take many different sources and splice them together into a coherent narrative several hundred years after the fact and still have it be valid as scripture. With this in mind it is not that big of a leap to accept that portions of the Bible were written much later than we supposed, and were the work of editors and redactors. Latter-day Saints would generally have no problem with most timelines for the writing of the Bible, as long as basic historicity was preserved.

Some, such as Elder McConkie, and his fan club might object, but I would think that most Latter-day Saints would have no problem as long as historicity and authoritativeness of the Bible were clearly delineated by proper authorities.

In this post I have briefly mentioned some of the difficulties Latter-day Saints will have with higher criticism and how it relates to when different parts of the Bible were potentially written and how that impacts whether or not the people involved were historical figures. In Part 3 I will point out some of the ways the Documentary Hypothesis can help Latter-day Saints understand the Book of Mormon and and give us some perspective into how scripture is written. This can help us digest how more modern scriptures came to be. Using insights from both the Documentary Hypothesis and the Book of Mormon, we can begin to understand the complex world that produced the scriptures we know and use.

In the meantime I would recommend Reflections on the Documentary Hypothesis by Kevin L. Barney. It gives a very good break down of the issues (with references) for an LDS audience.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Approaching Higher Criticism from a Faithful Perspective, Part 1

Introduction
In my previous post I introduced the Documentary Hypothesis (DH), which is the idea that the first five books of the Bible, collectively known as the Pentateuch, are actually a combination of four original source documents written at various times and places. While there has never been any direct evidence for these sources (i.e. the sources existing as separate documents) by carefully reading the text we notice certain peculiarities which are best explained by there being multiple original sources that were combined at a much later date. This method of critically analyzing the text for indications of the original sources is referred to as Higher Criticism. In its most general sense, higher criticism is a method of analyzing a text to understand who wrote it, why they wrote it, and when they wrote it. With higher criticism there is more interest in the world and society that produced the text, and what its original meaning was, than how the text is interpreted and applied today.

Since our scriptures were mostly produced in a much different society it is necessary to "translate" the concepts into terms that we can understand. In order to do this we need to understand the original context of what was written and the intent of the authors. But if a great distance in time, society and space separates us from the original context we will have a hard time understanding the scriptures. To get around this we must reconstruct the original context from any textual clues available to us. This is the basis of higher criticism.

From this perspective it would seem that higher criticism would be a natural fit with religious study, and in fact there was a point in history when higher criticism was closely aligned with religious scholarship, but over the past 200 years there has been an apparently intractable separation between the two. This has lead to intense criticism from one camp towards the other, with the sometimes bitter criticism likewise being returned. So what is the source of this disagreement?

The points of conflict generally fall under four categories:

  • Biblical Inerrancy
  • Authorship
  • Timing
  • Historicity
Underlying all of these issues is the implications for modern doctrine and religious practice. While a general survey of the conflict between religious scholarship and higher criticism would be enlightening I will only focus on how it manifests in an LDS context. Therefore I will not consider the ramifications for biblical inerrancy since that is a non-issue for Mormons.

Authorship
The question of who wrote what in the Bible is a subtly important question for an LDS audience. Mormons have a strong sense of authority when it comes to scriptures and religious writings. Who wrote what, and what authority they had to write it, are important questions for Latter-day Saints. Embedded in our understanding of scripture is a complex hierarchy of authority that determines what takes precedence over other writings, and to what degree.

For example, what is written in scripture takes precedent over the words (spoken or written) of any single apostle or prophet, with the exception that modern revelation supersedes any and all previously written words*. [*with some exceptions to the exception. I told you this was complex.] In all things the Bible and Book of Mormon are considered to be on equal footing, with the exception that if there is something from the Bible that does not mesh with our understanding, then, while not rejected outright, it is given a caveat that it may not have been "translated correctly". But if the same happens with the Book of Mormon then generally the text wins out and informs our understanding. The same holds true for the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price.


All this complexity comes from our idea that the statements of a higher authority supersede the words of a lower authority. When this is applied to scripture it becomes a complex question of who said what, and with what authority. So the question of Biblical authorship poses a difficult question to many members of the Church. If the author is known, and is someone who has proper authority, then what is written can easily be placed in the hierarchy of authority. If the author is unknown then it reverts to a default level of authority which will afford it some authoritativeness by association.

This is further complicated when someone in authority compiles or edits works which may or may not have been authoritative. The authority of the compiler, perceived or actual, passes to the edited material which means that even if the original work was not authoritative, it becomes so since someone who had authority included it in the final edit. For this reason Mormon is nearly always referred to as a Prophet Historian, not not just a historian. It has the effect of elevating the authority of everything he compiled, even if the original material was not authoritative or inspired. The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible because it both elevates portions of the text as authoritative, while demoting others*. [*Nothing is ever that simple.]

When it comes to Biblical authorship some things may seem straight forward but with the Documentary Hypothesis, Mormons are presented with an interesting conundrum. Among members of the Church, the Pentateuch is established as relatively authoritative due to the supposed source, but if Moses is not the actual author, the the authority of the author(s) would be in question. But the question may be irrelevant if, and only if, the sources were combined authoritatively, and without knowing the identity of the redactor we cannot make that judgement.

For some Mormons, the question of Biblical authorship as proposed by the DH will not produce more than passing interest, but for some it will be a major issue since it potentially undermines scriptural authority. While almost all Mormons are comfortable assessing the authoritativeness of individual passages relative to others, we are hesitant to reexamine our ingrained assumptions of the authoritativeness of whole books. For something that important we look to established structures of authority in the Church, as we should, for guidance.

But in the case of Biblical scholarship and the DH, that reassessment of authoritativeness is coming from outside the recognized structures of authority and that may lead members to automatically reject the conclusions of authorship without considering the evidence. Because it is not a small thing to reconsider the authority of certain passages of scripture, especially considering the context where it is most important, we should be hesitant when working through these questions of Biblical authorship.

I should point out that the answers to the question of Biblical authorship are not firmly established. While there may be general consensus, that consensus can be overturned by new research, or an incredible archaeological find. For these reasons I think it is advantageous that Church leaders exercise caution before speaking authoritatively or even semi-authoritatively with regards to these matters. Because of our complex hierarchies of authority if a particular viewpoint is given a veneer of authority, it will be difficult to change if the consensus shifts.

Any shifts in our understanding of Biblical authorship are not fundamentally destructive to an LDS viewpoint because we already have the framework in place to accept any modifications given enough evidence and the guidance of our structures of authority. But it is a transition that is best handled gently so as to not generate confusion and undue spiritual consternation.

For members of the Church there are some non-negotiable points to the question who authored the Pentateuch, namely that even if portions of it were written after the death of Moses, and compiled much later, portions of it must have been written by Moses, and it should depict actual historical events, even if the story has been distorted through time, there must be a kernel of truth to it. This will become important when I address the question of historicity. So even if other authors wrote portions of the Pentateuch, there needs to be some basis in fact for what they wrote, and at least some part of it containing the original writings of Moses. Unpacking the writings of Moses from those of later authors may be a difficult task, and it may add modifications to how we structure the hierarchy of authority for the different parts of the Pentateuch, but we are theologically prepared for that. If we consider these questions then it will enrich our understanding of how God has worked with His people and how He allows those in authority to have stewardship over everything given to them, including the scriptures.

For part 2 of this post I will cover the question of timing, that is, when the different parts of the Pentateuch was written, and why that generates conflict for an LDS audience. I will also address the issue of historicity. These are the two main sticking points when it comes to the conflict between current Biblical scholarship and LDS belief.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Who Wrote (The Hebrew) Bible? The Documentary Hypothesis

To some the question of who wrote the first five books of the Bible, collectively known as the the five books of Moses, is so transparently obvious that it barely registers as a question worth considering. But as we read the final chapter of Deuteronomy we note that most of what is recorded could not have been written by Moses since it details what happened after he died (or was translated). Many theologians throughout history have noted this and have cited it as proof of Moses's prophetic gift that he could write what would happen to the children of Israel after he died, while others have simply said that it was an editorial note added afterwards by Joshua or someone else.

But if we delve a little deeper we may note the addition of a few other notes most likely not added by the original author, whomever he may be. Plus, if we really pay attention we may begin to notice that the entire book of Deuteronomy is stylistically different from the other books of Moses, and in fact is stylistically closer to the Joshua and Judges, both not written by Moses, than the other books. It also covers many stories and ideas found elsewhere, as if it was written as a short condensed version of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers.

Some scholars have noted this about the book of Deuteronomy and have theorized that Deuteronomy is the "Book of the Law" found by King Josiah in the 7th century BC. If that is true then that would mean Deuteronomy was kept separate from the other four books of Moses for much of their existence, and quite possibly was written, or at least compiled, by someone other than Moses.

The duplication of stories, and the difference in style, between Deuteronomy and other parts of the Torah leads us to suppose that the "five books of Moses" were not written all at the same time, and may not have all be written by Moses. Furthermore there are some duplicated stories found in Genesis that indicate that there may be more than one original source for the text that we now know as the Bible. The presence of editorial content in Deuteronomy leads us to suppose that there may be some editorial content in the other books that we are overlooking. This poses an interesting question, because if not everything in the "five books of Moses" was written by Moses, then how much of it was, and who wrote the rest of it.

The idea that Moses did not write everything in the five books Moses is not new, in fact it has been accepted as normal among biblical scholars for more than 150 years. Even then there has been some discussion of this going back almost 2000 years if not more. But in the past 200 years scholars have applied a level or type of critical analysis to the Bible that previous generations of scholars have not. This has lead to an intense focusing on the question, "If Moses did not write everything, then who did, and what and when did they write?"

About 150 years ago a German biblical scholar named Julius Wellhausen compiled all the insights into biblical authorship that had been growing for many years and set out what would come to be known as the Documentary Hypothesis (also called JEPD, for reasons which will be explained shortly). The fundamental insight of the Documentary Hypothesis is that what we know as the five books of Moses are actually a compilation of four different parallel sources, each written at a specific point in Israel's history, either by single author or by a group of authors. The four sources are:
  • Source J: Written in Judah, the southern kingdom, sometime in the 9th or 10th century BC. This source received its name from the fact that it consistently uses YHWH (or Jehovah in both German and English, hence it is called the J source) to refer to God. In the King James Version you can identify when the name YHWH is used since the KJV renders it as "LORD". Major themes of the J source include a promotion of the tribe of Judah over the others, an anthropomorphic God with a body ("And the LORD [YHWH] spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.") and willing to change and repent, with human emotions ("And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart"). In the J source animals can talk (i.e. the serpent in the garden, or Balaam and his talking ass). Biblical scholars posit that this version was written in the royal court as an official history of the Israelites and to highlight the role of Judah (the man) in establishing the tribe of Judah's right to rule. In the account of the flood the J source gives a much more limited scope to the extent of the flood. It is a mere local affair, though still devastating.
  • Source E: Written in Israel, the northern kingdom, sometime in the 9th century, possibly to counter the official history being promoted by the tribe of Judah (or "official" history depending on who you ask). The E source consistently uses Elohim for the name of God, and tends to highlight stories from Israel's history that occurred in the north. The E source does not mention anything before Abraham. This source also tends to have angels giving messages from God rather than God speaking directly to anyone. Source E also contains the important Covenant Code (Exodus 20:19–23:33), which is considered to be one of the earliest legal codes in existence. Some scholars argue that the Covenant Code was actually written much earlier and then incorporated into E when it was written.
  • Source P: This source receives its name from the fact that it is written to highlight priestly matters. It deals heavily with genealogies, names, dates, number, exact measurements, rituals, laws and punishments. It uses Elohim to refer to God, which is never depicted anthropomorphically. The God depicted in the P source deals with great cosmic events and is the source for much of the creation story. As one scholar put it, the God of the P source makes Heaven and Earth, the firmament and everything that is in them. The God in the J source plants a garden. The story of the flood in P deals with a great cosmic realignment, the waters which were above and below the firmament return to the earth and everything is covered. P is the source for a good portion of the second half of Exodus, 99% of Leviticus and most of Numbers. This covers all of the legal code stuff, such as the intricate washings for uncleanliness, and sacrifices. It also deals significantly with the tabernacle, including the details of construction.
  • Source D: This one is not so much a source as it is the work of a single author known as the Deuteronomist, because he wrote the book of Deuteronomy (hence the D). In the Documentary Hypothesis the Deuteronomist is seen as the author of not only Deuteronomy, but also Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, and 1 & 2 Kings. Consequently all those books can be seen as a complete history written with a specific purpose in mind, which is to highlight the principles of righteous leadership in Israel and to demonstrate that none of the kings in Israel or Judah managed to live according to the law as it applies to the kings (with the possible exception of Josiah). The Deuteronomist refers to God as "YHWH Eloheinu" which in English is rendered "The Lord our God". This phrase only appears a few times in Exodus, but is used heavily in Deuteronomy. The timing and identity of the Deuteronomist is a matter of debate. Wellhausen identified the Deuteronomist as Ezra, while Richard Elliott Friedman identifies the Deuteronomist as either the prophet Jeremiah (1st edition of his book Who Wrote the Bible?) or Baruch, Jeremiah's scribe (in Friedman's 2nd edition of his book). This would place the writing of the book of Deuteronomy in the second half of the 7th century BC during the reign of King Josiah, shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile into Babylon. There is some debate among scholars that the Book of the Law (i.e. Deuteronomy) "found" in the temple during the reign of Josiah was actually written to bring about a religious and political revival. The subsequent histories were written to demonstrate how the various kings, and Israel in general, had failed to live up to the Law given by Moses, until Josiah, and his priests, including Jeremiah, came and brought everyone back to the true fold and way of believing. Proper sacrifices and worship were restored to Jerusalem and all was going well and the line of David would have an eternal kingdom with Messianic kings such as Josiah to rule over Israel forever...until Josiah was killed by a stray arrow in battle. There is evidence that an editor made minor changes to the histories after the death of Josiah in an attempt to explain the failure of Josiah to establish an eternal kingdom. There are a few chapters (40-66) of Isaiah scholars assume were not actually written by Isaiah but were written later and then attributed to him. These chapters are collectively known as Deutero-Isaiah.
  • The Redactor: This is not another source, but rather a single person (or group of people depending on who you ask), known as the redactor, who edited the sources and combined them into a single text that we now know as the "five books of Moses". The work of the redactor can be found all throughout the five books weaving them together into a single coherent story. Because nothing was apparently left out this lead to multiple versions of the same stories, sometimes with minor or even major differences, such as two versions of the flood, two accounts of creation (one from the P source of a great cosmic event, the other from J on a much more limited scale where God plants a garden), Moses striking the rock and having water come out (in one version he hits the rock and water comes out, in the other he is commanded to speak a word and have water come out, but instead he hits the rock and is rebuked by God), and many other stories. Wellhausen identifies the redactor as an unknown scribe in the 2nd or 3rd century, while Friedman identifies the redactor as Ezra in the 4th century.
As you may have noticed, there is not always agreement among scholars regarding the identities of the authors or the dates of when JEPD were written, but generally there is agreement with the process. J and E were written in the Southern and Northern Kingdoms respectively sometime in the 9th or 10th century. J and E were later combined, presumably after the destruction of the Northern Kingdom, during the reign of Hezekiah, perhaps as an attempt to incorporate the refugees from the north officially into his kingdom. P has the biggest uncertainty of all the sources with estimates ranging from the 8th century all the way to the 2nd century BC. Most scholars date D to before the exile, though some date it to shortly after the exile. The dating of the redactor ranges from the 6th century all the way up to the 2nd century. The redactor could not have lived any later than the 2nd century because the Dead Sea Scrolls contain the work of the redactor.

JEPD still stands as the preeminent explanation of who wrote the first five books of the Bible despite what some critics will say. The biggest issue currently under debate is the timing of when each part was written. The current winds of biblical scholarship are currently blowing towards a late date (post exile) for most portions, but that is not universal. There is good evidence pointing towards an earlier date for certain sources, and the debate is still out for others.

Ever since Wellhausen published his work in the 1870's there has been very little change in the consensus. Basically all biblical scholarship consisted of footnotes to Wellhausen's work, until about the 1980's when scholars such as Richard Elliott Friedman started to challenge some long held assumptions. Since then there has been a flowing of biblical studies which has allowed many different ideas to be presented, not all of them bound by the documentary hypothesis. But for the better part of 110 years, if you wanted any part of biblical scholarship you had to "toe the line" and accept the work of Wellhausen as "the gospel truth" as it were. But the field is not so strict now. Still the Documentary Hypothesis is still the default position in the field.

Some elements of the Documentary Hypothesis may present problems for members of the Church and for the Book of Mormon as a historical document. Basically the Documentary Hypothesis as formalized by Wellhausen was in direct contradiction with the Book of Mormon, but since the 1980's the field has changed and some of the new ideas are not antithetical to the Book of Mormon as a historical document and I plan on addressing those issues in a future post. But this post should serve as a brief introduction . For further reading I suggest:
  • Who Wrote the Bible? by Richard Elliott Friedman (2nd edition, the correct edition is important)
  • Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis–Deuteronomy by David Bokovoy (this was written for an LDS audience)