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)

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Educational YouTube Channels: TheBackyardScientist

The Backyard Scientist channel may be lean a little towards the "let's blow some stuff up because it's cool" but he does do some practical projects that are fun to watch. Now that I have a backyard I am seriously thinking about trying some of his projects out for myself.

Here are a few of the more interesting projects that the Backyard Scientist has done.

Molten aluminum in water beads.

Ping-pong steam engine (with liquid nitrogen).

Sending a GoPro to space.

Did you know molten salt explodes when it comes in contact with water?

Wood etching/burning with lightning.

There are plenty of "let's blow stuff up" channels on YouTube, but the Backyard Scientist tries to do science in the same style as the MythBusters. It may be for entertainment, but there is a commitment to be curious and to explore, and to test ideas and see what works. So it may not be publishable science, it does stay true to the idea of scientific exploration.

There are also a few cool ideas that would be fun (and safe) to try with young children. So if you need ideas for fun summer projects to help your children learn this is a good place to get a few ideas.

As a safety note: having worked with a few dangerous substances, and electricity before, the Backyard Scientists do not always take the best safety precautions. So as with anything hot, explosive, electrical, corrosive, or toxic, know the hazards and use common sense. But don't let that stop you from trying.