August 15, 2004

Continued ... the Documentary Hypothesis

from - smijer

Before I begin today's sermon, I'd just like to take a moment to recognize the loss being experienced all across the state of Florida today. Residents are comparing Charley to Hurricane Andrew that devastated South Carolina the gulf coast years back. Many of those losses cannot be replaced.

Next, I'd like to acknowledge Buck's Sunday Sermon. I had no idea that he would be contributing to Sunday service. Despite his use of the oxymoronic phrase "Rational Mysticism", his words are very timely and welcome. Thank you, Buck!

This sermon is continued from last week, where I showed an example of how it is possible to cling so tightly to a doctrine that one may find onesself uninterested in pursuing the evidence about the truth. I was taken to task on several points. JosiahQ makes the contention that my epistemology is an insufficient basis for my conclusions, because it leaves out an epistemological basis for values. Kevin at Morphemics makes an argument that deals specifically with my dismissal of Biblical claims (not from the Pentateuch) as mere tradition centuries removed from the time of Moses. In our discussion, he suggests that deductions from faith are properly thought of as evidence to those who hold to faith. You may see the extent of our discussion in his comments, but due to a bug, you will have to click the preview button after the last visible post to see the full conversation. Chris McCartney has this post at Credu Ut Intelligam, also challenging my epistemology, and seeking to treat faith in the infallability of scripture as axiomatic. Short of challenging my reasoning, I notice that Maphet has taken notice and decided to sit this one out. I have to appreciate that, since I don't know that I can face more than three separate arguments simultaneously. Serendipitously, I find, by following his own links, a post on Baltimore Roll that expresses a view of faith and reason very similar to my own. Lastly, even Mrs. Smijer-lite chimes in with a quote from Dostoevsky of the "I'd show you, but you wouldn't believe me anyway" variety.

Since responding to all of these viewpoints and carrying on my own thesis is going to require and all day tent revival, instead of a mere Sunday Morning Homile, I will carry it on in th extended entry.


In my last entry, I showed that there was no reason (apart from faith or distantly removed tradition) to believe in Mosaid authorship of the Pentateuch, yet some were some (Answers in Genesis, for one) were so determined to support their doctrine over discovering the truth that they concocted some terrible arguments to try to defend their premise against the evidence. While I succeeded in showing that there was a lack of positive evidence for Mosaic authorship (apart from doctrine, or distantly removed tradition), I stopped short of providing the evidence against Mosaic authorship, as I had planned.

Most of what I had originally planned to include in this post will be old news to most of the newcomers mentioned above. I had not intended a detailed and scholarly critique of Mosaic authorship or defense of the Documentary hypothesis. I had merely intended to point out the evidence, why it mattered, and to move on to my conclusionary statements. In light of the controversy my first post generated, my first thought was to deviate from that plan, to get more detailed and in-depth. I will, however, stay with my original course of action, then provide links to arguments and counterarguments. With that, I present a summary of the evidence against Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch:

  • The Pentateuch refers consistently to Moses in the third person. In my opinion, this is one of the stronger pieces of evidence against Mosaic authorship. The plain language indicates some unnamed author(s) referring back in history to the person of Moses, and the structure of language strongly suggests that the use of the third person means that the author is not the subject of the narrative. Part of what religious education does (for some) is teach them to think of this evidence as trivial. After all, it is not impossible, or even strictly speaking inaccurate, for an author to refer to himself in the third person when the literary occasion demands it. Take that with a large dose of "we must believe Moses wrote...", and over time, the serious question of why Moses would have confused us by always referring to himself in the third person begins to fade into the world of imponderable mysteries that don't really matter. Despite the fact that an author can refer to himself in the third person, the simple fact is that the use of the third person ordinarily indicates that the author is referring to someone else, and no reason is given to explain why the author(s) of the Pentateuch would have done differently, in every single passage which refers to the person of Moses.
  • Deuteronomy refers explicitly to Moses' death, in the distant past. Even most conservative scholars admit that this passage was not written by the hand of Moses, but was added by some later priest or scribe (possibly Ezra). Beginning with the fact that our only positive evidence for Mosaic authorship is from tradition or faith, that all of the Pentateuch refers to him in the third person, and (as it will be noted in the discussion of the Documentary Hypothesis) the rest of Deuteronomy is written in a style similar to the pronouncement of Moses' death, this fact that we have nearly-conclusive evidence against Moses authorship of one specific passage is much more important. Why should we accept that Ezra (or whoever) wrote only that part of Deuteronomy which definitively could not have been written by Moses? I say nearly-conclusive, because Kevin pointed out to me the possible interpretation that Moses wrote of his own death as a thing of the distant past knowing that the book which he wrote would not be discovered until the distant future - whereupon what he wrote would be true. This hyopthesis strains credulity and even the admitted flexibility of the Hebrew language, but it must be acknowledged. Nevertheless Moses' obituary serves as another piece of evidence against his authorship of the Pentateuch.
  • Anachronisms. Genesis refers to the city that Moses would have known as Laish as "Dan". The city was not known as Dan until much later (at least according to history as presented in the book of Judges). The Pentateuch also refers to Edomite kings that ruled until the kings of Israel, a development which came long after Moses' putative time. Another place-name anachronism is Hebron, which was not so-called (at least according to the book of Joshua) until it was conquered by Joshua after Moses' death. These are representative of a much longer list of usages that would be common much later, but unheard of in Moses' time. Of course, the place name anachronisms could reflect errors in Judges or Joshua. I doubt those interested in defending Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch would wish to do so at the expense of the history recorded in Joshua and Judges. I am not yet very familiar with Old Testament archaeology where it concerns history as recorded in Judges and Joshua. I understand there is a wealth of research, and Finkelstein and Silberman have written The Bible Unearthed, offers very untraditional conclusions about Old Testament history from archaeology, and casts Moses as a mythic rather than historical character. I have that book on order along with a few who draw more conservative conclusions on my "wish list". Perhaps next year I will be able to preach a sermon on Old Testament archaeology. Nevertheless, those who insist on Moses authorship do not have many good choices. They can invent ad hoc explanations of why Moses would have used place names that did not yet apply, they can dispute the history of Judges and Joshua, or they can reject Mosaic authorship. Given that we have strong reason to believe that the list of Edomite kings up to the beginning of the monarchy is anachronistic without having to rely solely on Judges or Joshua, and given the lack of positive evidence for Mosaic authorship and the other evidence against Mosaic authorship, one must give weight to this as further evidence against Mosaic authorship.
  • Language that indicates the author(s) were situated west of the Jordan River. Genesis, Deuteronomy, and Numbers all refer to the land "beyond the Jordan" when referring to the east side of the Jordan. The Pentatuech and all of Bible history is clear that Moses never crossed the Jordan. His perspective would have put Caanan "beyond the Jordan", instead of the eastern lands.
  • Finally, internal linguistic evidence, supported by historical evidence, strongly suggests that there were at least two major authors of the Pentatuech, and at least one redactor. This is the Documentary Hypothesis, for which I will briefly summarize evidence. Since the Documentary Hypothesis in the forms suggested by the evidence conflicts with Moses as the primary author of the Pentateuch, I will count evidence for JEPD and certain other forms of the Documentary Hypothesis as evidence against Mosaic authorship. However, I would say that it should be apparent to anyone not already committed to the point that doctrine comes before truth, that Moses was not likely the primary author of the Pentateuch in any meaningful sense, even without considering the Documentary hypothesis.

    Moving on to support for the Documentary Hypothesis... I do not wish to reinvent the wheel here, nor do I wish to submerge myself or the readers in difficult scholarship, over what is essentially a simple issue. So, I will deal only with the best category of evidence for the Documentary Hypothesis, and then only with two representative cases. The best category of evidence is the presence of doublets (the same story told two or three different times in different ways, and sometimes with apparent contradictions, in the Pentateuch) - that each reflect a unique literary style. In other words, I say that the Documentary hypothesis of the origin of the Pentateuch best explains why stories are repeated more than once in distinct styles, which distinct styles can be identified throughout the Pentateuch. An overview of this view can be found here, with an outline of its application to the flood story here. You can use the handy concordance feature at Blue Letter Bible (click the C next to the verse to see what Hebrew word is used for "God" or "the Lord" in each passage that mentions God. You can see that the flood doublet includes two parallel stories, where each event is mentioned more than once. Each time, one version of the story uses the name YHWH, while the other uses the name Elohim. Could it be pure coincidence that a single author, repeating himself practically every other verse in this story, happens to also alternate the use of the name of God in each repetition?

    The second case is that of Abraham's deception in his sojourn with Sarah into foreign lands. The relevant passages are Genesis 12 and Genesis 20. In each case, Abraham fears that the beauty of his wife will make him a target, so he announces her as "sister" and let's the local king borrow her for his harem. Remarkably, God's response in each case is to deal with the deceived king, instead of the prevaricating Abraham (whose moral character is called into doubt by this (or these) incident(s) as well as his willingness to promote obedience over conscience in his near-murder of his son). The slight differences between the passages are:

  • Genesis 12 takes place in Egypt. Genesis 20 takes place in Gerar.
  • In Genesis 12, God deals with the pharoah by plaguing him on account of Sarah. In Genesis 20, God deals with Abimelech by letting him in on the secret.
  • In Genesis 12, the author consistently refers to God as YHWH. In Genesis 20, the author consistenly refers to God as elohim.
    This is the case over and over in the Pentateuch (though it is notable that large swaths attributed to the Deuteronomist do not repeat in doublets or triplets). Another puzzling feature of this doublet is that it may, in fact, be a triplet. Genesis 26 tells a very similar story, however Isaac and Rebekah are featured rather than Abraham and Sarah - and their story places them in the locality mentioned by Genesis 20. So we have an author that refers to God as YHWH in Genesis 12, telling a story about Abraham and Sarah in Egypt. In 20, we have an author who refers to God as elohim telling a story of Abraham and Sarah in Gerar with Abimelech, and in 26 we have an author who refers to God as YHWH again, telling the same story of Isaac and Rebekah in Gerar with Abimelech.

    Do the alternating names in the parallel stories have any significance, or are they just coincidence? And did the great Father Abraham have no more sense than to repeat his mistake of Egypt in Gerar, then fail to even warn his son away from making the exact same mistake?

    Were these two incidents of parallel doublets with consistently different use of language isolated, then perhaps we could write them off as a mystery. They are not the exception, however, but a very common occurrence, and nearly always following a similar pattern. Because the texts are so old, we so far removed from them in history, and the redactor's hand so difficult to unravel, we may never know exactly which parts of the Pentateuch were written by which of its source authors, but the evidence strongly suggests that there was more than one. This evidence is so much more weighty om the absence of the hint of hte one single piece of positive evidence one would expect if Moses wrote it in a single hand: the author of those books naming himself as Moses.

    And now, with apologies for leaving out most of what I promised to include in this sermon, I must close it. Hopefully Kevin will be pleased that I presented my case more strongly against Mosaic authorship and for the Documentary Hypothesis (though not as strongly as I had wished). Unfortunately, my day after church did not go as planned due to the membership in my family of a teenaged boy. Therefore, I will have to save my replies to all epistemological issues for a future post, the comment threads at the various blogs, or next Sunday's sermon - whichever format works best. Until then, we will close with the altar call: Hymn number 147, Honesty (is such a lonely word), by Brother Billy Joel.

    Posted by smijer at August 15, 2004 08:26 AM
  • Comments
    Despite his use of the oxymoronic phrase "Rational Mysticism", his words are very timely and welcome.
    The term was used with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
    Thank you, Buck!
    You are welcome.
    univar.jpg Posted by Buck on August 15, 2004 10:08 PM
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    The term was used with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

    Doesn't it hurt when you accidentally bite down?

    univar.jpg Posted by smijer on August 15, 2004 11:16 PM
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    When I get a chance to look over the material in more detail, I'll post a response to the literary evidence for the Documentary Hypothesis on my own blog. For now, I'll respond to the evidence against Mosaic authorship here.

    1) Third person Moses. If I were approaching the Pentateuch with no preconceptions, it would not be my first guess that anyone mentioned therein in the third person authored it. Preponderance of the evidence would lean against Mosiac authorship. But this would not be, as you have indicated, strong evidence. The weakest evidence that you are willing to accept, ancient tradition, would, in my estimation, override it. It wouldn't be proof, just enough to lean me back in the other direction. Just often enough, traditions are based on fact. If we assume that for this case, then the tradition is as old as the books themselves. The original audience for the Pentateuch consisted of Moses' contempories. Those who were eyewitnesses to his authorship would not have been confused by his choice of perspective. Subsequent confusion would only result from disbelief of the tradition. You note that "the use of the third person ordinarily indicates that the author is referring to someone else." Perhaps, but be careful not to import modern literary conventions into ancient literature. It may not have been so unusual at the time. Overall, third person reference makes for a pretty weak case against Mosaic authorship. But then, my own response up to this point is a basic "not necessarily." A stronger defense of Mosaic authorship, despite his use of the third person, will be found in what you termed "the literary occasion." The choice of perspective is not merely a matter of author identification. It can change the entire tone of the narrative. Moses is a major character in the last four books. A first person perspective could put too much emphasis on him. It would glue the focus on him at times when it should be on something else. In addition, considering the comment concerning how meek Moses was, it would follow that he would wish to write in the most self-effacing style possible. First person narrative is much less likely to accomplish this.

    2) Record of his own death. One would have to believe in inspiration in order to think that Moses wrote Deuteronomy 34. I'm not going to argue too much with those who think so. However, I do not think that he did, and this view is not incompatible with Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch as a whole. I wouldn't place the addition as late as Ezra, though. Someone more immediately contemporary to Moses would be preferable. And if the literary style really is that similar to the rest of the book, I can grant that the same person actually penned the rest of Deuteronomy. This book differs from the rest of rest of the Pentateuch, not in its ultimate source, but in its time constraints. Moses had forty years of wilderness wanderings to compose the other four books. The bulk of Deuteronomy, though, is made up of his farewell sermon just before he dies and Israel crosses the Jordan. It would not remove Deuteronomy from Mosaic provenance if a scribe had copied the sermon and added historical connectors. There is still the matter that the final chapter appears to refer to Moses death as a not so contemporary event . Vs. 6 states, "No one knows the place of his burial to this day." And vs. 10, "And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses.." Both of these do show the hand of a later editor. Biblical literalists who insist that Mosaic authorship means "every single word," are counterproductive. It's not that prophecy isn't possible, but that these verses are not meant prophetically. Readers closer to Moses' time would have been scratchig their heads at this one. Written scripture should have potential significance to everyone who reads it.

    3) Anachronisistic place names. You're right, I have no desire to argue with Joshua or Judges. And I don't think that Moses had any idea that Laish would one day be called "Dan." Some of the orthodox might argue that this would be an example of prophecy, but, if so, it has no purpose. But I do have an option other than rejecting Mosaic authorship. Editing. I've already admitted that this is perfectly compatible. The important point in the narrative is always found in the place names at the time it occurred, but in the geography. If later generations are calling Laish "Dan," then there's not a big problem if the scribes update the manuscripts. The list of Edomite kings may contain kings who lived after Moses. I haven't checked. But then, it wouldn't be a problem for future editors to complete the list. There is no reason, however, to beleive that Moses did not begin the list. It makes up one of the literary sections of Genesis, called "toledots" (marked by the phrase, "These are the generations of..." ). More importantly, there were already Edomite kings at this time. The Edomites were descendants of Esau, who was Jacob's twin brother. While Jacob's desendants were going to Egypt, being slaves, wandering around in the wilderness, and then living under the judges before ever getting a king, Edom already had an established Monarchy. In Numbers 20, there is a record of Moses' attempted negotiations with one of those kings.

    4) East, beyond the Jordan. Not quite. In Genesis 50, Jacob is buried in the cave of the field at Machpelah, which Abraham had purchased. It is located east of the Dead Sea and is described as "beyond the Jordan." It's not that they took a circuitous route in order to cross the Jordan- they were coming from and going straight back to Egypt. The description is for the perspecitve of the original readers of Genesis. It is the land that would be theirs after crossing the Jordan. Actually, this burial plot is the only piece of real-estate that already owned. Numbers 32 records the desire of the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh to inherit land east of the Jordan. Vs. 19, "For we will not inherit with them on the other side of Jordan and beyond, because our inheritance has come to us on this side of Jordan to the east." In Deuteronomy 3:25, Moses asks to enter the promised land, "Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon." Any thing west of Lebanon would put him in the Mediterranean. Moses perspective did put Canaan "beyond the Jordan," and he was quite right. The phrase refers to the west side of the river. The Israelites crossed over from the east.

    None of these counts as evidence against Mosaic authorship. At the most, they are compatible with non-Mosaic authorship. The first is answered by an appeal to literary intent and the humility of Moses. The second and third points are granted on the grounds that Mosaic provenance does not discount subsequent editors. The fourth point is just plain wrong. Care to try again?

    univar.jpg Posted by Kevin on August 16, 2004 07:52 AM
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    Kevin, I strongly disagree with your implied contention that ad hoc reconciliations of the evidence with Mosaic authorship cancel the prima facie status as working against the hypothesis of Mosaic aurhorship... unless there is positive evidence that specifically supports the veracity of your scheme of reconciliation.

    I also disagree that it is reasonable to believe that the use of the third person, which is a linguistic tool specifically designed to denote the person of the subject as other than the person of the speaker, might have had a different "literary" connotation in ancient times. Clearly, the tool has a very specific purpose, so we would need some very specific literary conventions to conceive of an author employing its use contrary to its function throughout five entire books.

    On the point of what can sensibly be referred to as "beyond the Jordan", I will have to do some double checking and get back with you. As I recall, there were numerous instances where this term was used to refer to the eastern lands - not just a single one. Perhaps we should be looking for an explanation for the exception if there is one, in fact.

    univar.jpg Posted by smijer on August 16, 2004 10:34 AM
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    Smijer, I realize that I am joining this argument a little late, but there are just a couple of points I would like to add. First is the contention that different literary styles always represent different authorship. This is not a standard that is applied to most ancient writings including Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” Different styles could just as easily represent differing moods or purposes of the author. Although this is beyond the burden of hard evidence, the belief that any difference in styles lend irrefutable evidence to the conclusion, which you state as, “However, I would say that it should be apparent to anyone not already committed to the point that doctrine comes before truth, that Moses was not likely the primary author of the Pentateuch in any meaningful sense…” I realize that you consider the linguistic evidence to “strongly suggest,” these conclusions, but this linguistic evidence is anything but hard science (as a science lover as yourself would note). A closer look at the break down of the JEPD Hypothesis has, if nothing else, some extremely questionable divisions of the completed passages, with sections of J and P in particular being divided not only in the middle of paragraphs, but also in the middle of sentences (Gen 2:4a being attributed to P and Gen 2:4b attributed to J). This would be a hard sell at best for any analysis on other ancient literature. Not to mention as a side note, the validity of a single author the Koran is not generally challenged, but the variations in style are just as evident (this is not my own observation being that I am no scholar of the Koran, but it is an important argument put out by opponents of JEPD).

    The idea that it is not reasonable to believe that third person was a used linguistic tool in the ancient world is also unfair. Kevin defended the hypothesized reasons for third person being used better than I could, but it was not a style that lacked use or documentation in ancient writings. This style was used by Josephus, Xenophon, and Julius Caesar from the 5th century BC to the 1st century AD (“The Wars of the Jews,” “Anabasis,” and “Gallic Wars” respectively). Once again, this is not a smoking gun, but your outright dismissal of this possibility is disingenuous.

    Kevin also covered the possibilities of editorial update by scribes accounting for the Edomite kings and passages containing “even until this day” denoting a long time after the life of Moses. Joshua is also considered by the NIV translation and other scholars to be the one responsible for added information including Moses’ death. This seems to be the view with more support from anti-JEPD theologians as opposed to Ezra, simply due to the closeness of Joshua to Moses and the first hand knowledge he would have of the situation.

    The argument about the uses of different names of God in different passages and doublets and triplets do not have the strength of evidence you lend them, in my opinion. Jewish tradition had a host of names for God, used in different instances depending on the context of the encounter. The best example of this is the two creations stories of Genesis, arriving at the J and P separation (YHWY or Jehova, Elohim, and YHWY-Elohim). The first being Lord, the second being God, and third Lord-God. From your link to AIG on your fist post, although I believe they are one of the weaker authorities on this topic (possibly chosen for that reason), their explanation for the uses and significance of God is at least defensible and not to be dismissed out of hand. The significance of a God of Creation, Elohim, having the meaning of higher exaltation, in comparison with YHWY, or Lord, being a conventional relationship is very plausible in the situations used. The fist being a detailed chronology of the Creation, showing God’s power, and the second being the personal Creation of man as the emphasis. This also starts to address the issue of doublets and triplets, with the creation story having two different purposes, one as a historical chronology and one to show the special relationship between God and man.

    The last point concerning factual evidence would be a question back to you. Where is the historical documentation that has been uncovered to support the different versions that would have existed in the JEPD hypothesis? In other words, have there been sections of the only J without the inclusion of P or vice-a-versa. Have manuscripts been found with even fragments of these original works or even copies that were used to patch them together? Because this, although a fascinating topic, is just conjecture about origins and divisions of linguistics on your point, making it as much a mater of faith as believing in the supernatural. For you to act as if hard proof of the existence of these independent forms is not necessary, your mantra of the scientific method vs. faith=opposition to truth is dishonest to some degree. Have theologians been able to reconstruct the independent documents, even with significant revisionist liberty, and obtain coherent results? As far as I can tell, this has not been accomplished even to the satisfaction of proponents, with E and P being the most difficult to separate and produce independently.

    The fact that you pass over in the argument is that what you will believe depends entirely on your world-view. If you believe that God doesn’t exist and there is no supernatural, then no matter the lack of evidence supporting an ulterior hypothesis, the fact that supernatural is impossible will only lend credence to these beliefs. Therefore, if God could not work supernaturally and establish a monotheistic relationship with the Jews from Moses’ time, then their religion must have evolved from animism to tribal worship, eventually landing on a monotheistic belief. The only possible explanation would be a patchwork of oral tradition, mysticism and tribal folk-lore adapted from those around them. This is not the view that I hold. My world-view believes in the supernatural and the ability of God to establish this type of relationship, no matter the environment or evolution of society at the time. That is my bias, which I admit freely. That doesn’t mean that accepting everything without hard study is acceptable, but when the situation calls for “faith” on one side or the other, I fall on the side of faith in God.

    Thanks for letting my join the discussion. I would love to hear your response, and although it may take a day or two, I will try to respond to your criticism. I disagree with most of the views expressed on your site, but I find your arguments to be engaging and I’m sure I will continue to check in.

    univar.jpg Posted by Haze on August 16, 2004 12:59 PM
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    But third person reference to oneself WAS common in ancient times. We know that. It's not just speculation. Read Caesar's Gallic Wars for instance.

    The fact that you seem so unaware of this makes me think you have not done much reading of ancient literature. I hope this doesn't sound impolite. Please understand that this isn't an ad hominem attack. The last thing I want to do is offend you. But when someone reports the results of modern scholarship, it is relevant to question the expertise of the reporter.

    By the way, I think you are right about AiG. It's really terrible argument. But I wonder if you will interact with some real scholarship on the conservative side. (AiG is not real scholarship). There's a very short article by J.W. Wenham in The New Bible Commentary : Revised (third edition), Ed. Guthrie & Motyer, Inter-Varsity Press, London, 1970, pp.41-43. Do you think your charge of dishonesty applies to him?

    univar.jpg Posted by chris on August 16, 2004 01:05 PM
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    Chris, Kevin, and Haze,

    I am not the sort of bookworm that remains cloistered in my attic reading ancient literature. I have read a reasonable share of ancient (and modern!) literature, including other portions of the Bible, that do employ use of the third person to refer to the author. However, I do not find that done in absence of a clearly discernable literary purpose, and a clear indication from the author that this is his purpose - in other words I do not see it done in such a way that the author leaves a question as to who was doing the writing. If you wish to introduce evidence of the third person narrative being used consistently by an author to refer to himself over a document as lengthy as the Pentateuch without ever revealing his true identity, then I will entertain it. I do not think it is fair or proper to dismiss the evidence from the text itself merely on the basis that it isn't unheard of for a similar structure to be employed in other circumstances for other purposes.

    Chris, I would have to make a trip to the library to review Wenham's article. I'm not sure when I will be able to do that, but I will be glad to have a look over it and see what you think.

    Haze, while your point is taken, you are not addressing the full weight of the evidence. We are not just talking about differences in literary styles, differences in names used for God, and the existence of doublets. We are seeing large patterns where stories are repeated as doublets, and where each time one version uses one style and name for God, and the other uses another style and name for God. This doesn't "rule out" a single-author hypothesis, but it certainly does make a multiple author hypothesis more credible on the face value of the evidence. You are quite correct that there is no manuscript evidence of the existence of any particular source document as an independent document. On the other hand, we don't have any manuscript evidence of the Pentateuch before about the second century BCE. And we don't have a shred of evidence, apart from tradition far removed from the fact, in favor of a single author in the person of Moses.

    Kevin, a final point to you: traditions are, as you say, often based on fact. That is far different than saying that facts are evident from tradition. We have a tradition of Paul Bunyan and King Arthur. They were most likely based on fact. It does not follow that Paul Bunyan and King Arthur probably existed as individuals and did those things that tradition attests to. Tradition, while often based on fact, remains poor evidence for the veracity of traditional beliefs.

    Sorry to be so brief. I have to eat lunch & get back to work. Haze, it's very nice to meet you, and welcome to the discussion!

    univar.jpg Posted by smijer on August 16, 2004 01:32 PM
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    I'm sorry. I had the impression from what you wrote that you were not familiar with the ancient literary convention of using 3rd person to refer to oneself in historical works. It looked that way from what you wrote:

    "The Pentateuch refers consistently to Moses in the third person. In my opinion, this is one of the stronger pieces of evidence against Mosaic authorship. The plain language indicates some unnamed author(s) referring back in history to the person of Moses, and the structure of language strongly suggests that the use of the third person means that the author is not the subject of the narrative. ... The simple fact is that the use of the third person ordinarily indicates that the author is referring to someone else, and no reason is given to explain why the author(s) of the Pentateuch would have done differently, in every single passage which refers to the person of Moses."

    I find it odd that you would consider this such a strong piece of evidence when you are aware of the convention. The idea that referring to oneself in 3rd personn throughout a historical narrative would be "confusing" to the original audience -- seemed like it would come from someone who hadn't read Caesar.

    Perhaps the problem is that you are putting your opponents in such a bad light. It gives the impression that you are unaware of the more serious objections to your position. I don't insist that you read Wenham in particular. I just ask that try to do a better job of interacting with the serious objections to your position, instead of always presenting the worst possible arguments your opponents could make, and presenting them in a rhetorically dismissive tone. Surely, Kevin's objections are not fairly represented by saying: "Part of what religious education does (for some) is teach them to think of this evidence as trivial. After all, it is not impossible, or even strictly speaking inaccurate, for an author to refer to himself in the third person when the literary occasion demands it. Take that with a large dose of 'we must believe Moses wrote...', and over time, the serious question of why Moses would have confused us by always referring to himself in the third person begins to fade into the world of imponderable mysteries that don't really matter." Or do you think this is fair?

    univar.jpg Posted by chris on August 16, 2004 04:42 PM
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    I didn't say that I was aware of the convention. I need to do a little bit of digging to see if there is a convention that would explain the Pentateuch. I just said I was aware that such a device is sometimes employed, under limited circumstances and for discernable literary reasons. I will look at Wenham when I get a chance to, and definitely look at the Gallic Wars to see if the use of the third person throughout the narrative without any indicators of its function or indentifiers of the author is a "convention" that it and other ancient literature commonly adheres to, or whether use of the third person in a limited and identifiable sense is more of a "device" that can be recognized by modern scholarship. I think the former use would undermine the syntax of the language (don't you?). The latter use is quite sensible, but doesn't detract from my case against Mosaic authorship very much.

    I am certainly not familiar with any scholarship that makes the case that such usage is a regular feature of ancient literature - and I was judging AiG and the arguments I encountered here and on the blogs on their own merits - not the merits of scholarship that I may not yet be aware of. If it is in fact the case that one could , in some cases, responsibly attribute such sytematic third person narrative as we find in the Pentateuch to the first person, then I would have to withdraw that particular evidence against Mosaic authorship.

    The characterization that you quoted from my earlier post (and I apologize if it seemed harsh toward Kevin in particular) was meant to reflect on the general state in which I find Christian apologetics. Perhaps I am wrong on this particular point - perhaps there is good reason to dismiss the evidence of third person narrative. I have found that often the merest hint of an alternative explanation for the evidence is enough to bring the apologist to dismiss the evidence entirely. The apologist (at AiG for instance, and to some degree Kevin as well) cannot be bothered to produce any positive evidence for Mosaic authorship apart from tradition or faith, but demands something close to absolute proof for the contrary position.

    My case is a cumulative one, and I do consider it compelling as a whole and accurate in its individual pieces. I will review the "beyond Jordan" issue that Kevin brought up, and the issues concerning ancient usage of the third person that you and he have both mentioned, but I think it is fair to say that the bulk of the evidence is on my side. I also think that a similar tradition that was not tied to doctrine would not even be a question for you. I think you would see the evidence from the third person as strong even if you knew that there was an occasional alternate usage available. After all, the mere possibility of an alternative doesn't show a likelihood of it.

    univar.jpg Posted by smijer on August 16, 2004 05:06 PM
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    P.S... just using Google, so take it for what it's worth, all of the references to GW cite it as among the first narratives to employ third person in an autobiographical piece. One source suggests that such a device was "arrogant", "coy" and "majestic". Just for what the Google results are worth I would not think this good support for the thesis that Moses wrote in the third person as a matter of humility.

    One further note - Caesar knew that his intended audience would understand. If the Pentateuch was meant only for a generation of Israelites and not for all time, then Moses could have known that his intended audience would understand his device. If it was intended for his own time and ours, he (or God) should have been aware of the potential confusion, and had every opportunity to address it. In that way, it seems unlikely that even this thesis really helps the case of Mosaic authorship qua Biblical infallability very much.

    univar.jpg Posted by smijer on August 16, 2004 05:37 PM
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    Insofar as this portion of the debate is limited to evidence against Mosaic authorship, I do not need to present a positive case. The burden of proof is yours. It is sufficient on my part to show that your arguments do not overcome any reasonable doubt. I am not attempting to introduce theories of divine inspiration or other doctrine; I am not arguing from my conclusion. At this point, I am not even claiming that Moses did write the Pentateuch. The issue here is not the validity of Mosaic authorship itself or even the validity of evidence in favor of Mosaic authorship. The issue is the validity of the evidence agaisnt Mosaic authorship. From an unbiased perspective, it fails the test.

    Thanks both to Haze and Chris for providing specific references of third person perspective. It's been some time since I've read ancient secular literature so no examples were coming to mind. If third person perspective is used as evidence against Mosaic authorship, it is sufficient to show the existence of other literary third person perspectives. Why Moses would decide upon this perspective is beside the point. [If the project is to provide a postive defense of Mosaic authorship, then his reasons would be to the point.]

    On the matter of the GW Google results, the statement that it is "among the first narratives to employ third person in an autobiographical piece," begs two questions. 1) Assuming that Moses did write the Pentateuch, was it intended as an autobiographical piece? Or was it intended to be a history of Israel in which the author just happened to be a major participant? This is a valid distinction that could account for the choice of perspective. 2) Are the people making this claim the same ones who don't believe that Moses wrote the Pentateuch? The question of a humility motive is specific to the piece in question and is not answered by a comparison to Caesar. Does Moses come off as arrogant?

    I take your point on the distinction between tradition based on fact, and fact being evident from tradition. But my argument was not intended to be that strong. I only contend that, all things being equal, tradition is strong enough grounds to investigate the possibility. [On the examples provided, I'm much more open to the historicity of King Arthur and his knightly exploits than I am to the clumsy blue ox hypothesis for the Great Lakes.]

    On the phrase "beyond the Jordan," your research will reveal Biblical examples in which it does refer to land east of the river. The term is indexical to the contemporary historical perspective. I have lived in several states and the significance of the phrase "beyond the Missippi" has switched back and forth at least eight times, with a current eastern connotation.

    univar.jpg Posted by Kevin on August 16, 2004 07:46 PM
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    Smijer, to address your criticism, I do believe that I am addressing the full weight of the evidence. I cannot conclude that some patterns of repeated stories and uses of different types of language is the definitive information to support your position (or the JEDP). I was simply trying to provide an explanation for the possibilities that are explained and studied by others with a much stronger basis in theology. It appears that Chris and Kevin (or from the ongoing debate on their blogs) have a sold understanding of the theology in dealing with specifics. You are also correct as to the lack of manuscript fully supporting the Mosaic authorship, but the traditional beliefs of the Israelites and the attribution of the scripture themselves should give more weight to the single authorship belief. I totally disagree with your belief that the burden of proof is on those who support the single authorship. To be more clear, if there are two possible explanations to the origination of a document in question and the traditional belief supports one version, the burden of proof would appear to be, at least more so, on the shoulders of those attempting to disprove this view. The argument, and arising questions concerning style is good discussion, but the complexity of arrangement need to create the final coherent work, and inability to construct the individual texts themselves, keep it in that realm. In other words, although you portray this to be solid evidence to dispute the conservative view, without good reason to change (sold documentation or even weak fragments of evidence); it follows that the original interpretation should be kept. You treat the tradition argument as “far removed from fact,” but you give the linguistic theories of today, requiring a huge leap of faith in our ability to discern the intention of style and mood, status of fact or more so at least. Like I said before, from your world-view, the divinely inspired is not a reasonable explanation, so any alternative is always going to be better. In conclusion, your refusal to admit some degree of faith in piece meal interpretation of an ancient document, that is rarely, if never applied to others, gives me the impression that the argument could continue for quite a while without ever reaching an acceptable conclusion (so go most arguments, even good ones). I fully admit my faith when the evidence leave room for one interpretation or another, but it doesn’t appear that you are ready to do the same. Thanks for the forum.

    univar.jpg Posted by Haze on August 16, 2004 07:58 PM
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    It appears that I was responding to some of Kevin comments inadvertently attributing them to smijer (I looked briefly and thought that smijer was claiming the burden of proof was upon the single authorship view…but I was actually agreeing with Kevin). Sorry for the confusion, but my point remains valid, although a bit redundant. Forgive the crossover posting.

    univar.jpg Posted by Haze on August 16, 2004 08:07 PM
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    I'm going to {shudder} resort to analogy here. If we found a letter which said "George Washington crossed the Potomac, and never such a perilous journey has been undertaken since", the most obvious interpretation would be that someone was later telling of the Washington's perilous voyage. It is very true that Washington could have written of his journey in the third person in this way. However, the third person is evidence against the view that Washington wrote it. Perhaps it is not conclusive evidence, but it cannot be dismissed.

    That said, the continuous use of it throughout the Pentateuch in spite of ample opportunities to at least clarify the point of authorship is stronger evidence. Third person might make sense as a literary device for some purposes, but considering the wide variations in style we find (remember some are suggesting Moses was using different styles for different purposes in place of the documentary hypothesis) one has to notice that no matter what style or purpose, nor which book - the author never reverts to the first person in a passage about Moses. That adds further strength.

    I must point out for Haze that when I referred to tradition long removed from the fact - I mean temporally removed. The first books outside of the Pentateuch itself (which is in dispute) are only even conservatively dated to about 800 BCE, putting 200-400 years between them and Moses' putative time. If the tradition of Mosaic authorship could be reliably traced to Moses' lifetime, then it would hold more weight.

    Lastly, again for haze, the Documentary hypothesis does not depend strictly on a view that the Hebrew faith evolved from earlier forms that were polytheistic and/or animalistic. In fact, there is little suggestion of an animalistic origin to the religion from the documentary hypothesis (though many of its defenders see what they consider traces of polytheistic religion there). I wish I could have a more informed opinion on those matters. What little education I have in the matter suggests that YHWH was the name of a God in the Canaanite pantheon, and elohim was possibly a derivative of a Sumerian name for God, and that there was an early blending of two traditions that placed YHWH in a unique position. But I don't treat any of that as particularly strong theory - it's more along the lines of speculation. I am interested to learn more.

    univar.jpg Posted by smijer on August 16, 2004 09:28 PM
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    The analogy is fine so long as unspoken assumptions about presidential correspondance do not cloud the issue. Do we have other evidence to inform of us of Washington's preferred perspective. Let's assume that we don't so as not to prejudice the analogy in either direction. First, what is the context of the letter. Is Washington being humorous or ironic? Assume that he is not. Interpreters would then have reason for questioning the provenance of the second phrase, "and never such a perilous journey has been undertaken since." They could conlcude it unlikely that Washington wrote it; however, in itself, this would not be sufficient evidence to discredit the entire letter, or even the first phrase in the statement, "George Washington crossed the Potomac." It woud either be the case that the entire letter was not by Washington, or that a subsequent reader inserted a comment about what Washington had done. Still, a simple third-person perspective would not settle the dispute.

    And your point that Mosaic authorship should have been clarified in the Pentateuch is specious. I cannot testify to your own views, but most liberals will not hestitate to assert that a particular biblical book is not by its self-proclaimed author. Besides that, if the Bible really is designed as a coherent whole, (nothing right here about inspiration), then it is sufficient unto Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch that this be mentioned elsewhere within the Bible's pages. Bottom line- who's confused? Certainly not any Christians reasonably conversant with the the content of scripture.

    univar.jpg Posted by Kevin on August 17, 2004 12:42 AM
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    Still, a simple third-person perspective would not settle the dispute.

    My point is that, in absense of a strong and clear internal or external reason to think Washington might have written it, that there would be no dispute to begin with. If the letter were left unsigned, or the signature page lost, no-one would be building speculative argument on top of speculative argument to show how Washington might have written it. That would change very little if we knew of a tradition that was first recorded 100 years later that said Washington did write the letter.

    You used the phrase "discredit the letter". I'm not talking about discrediting the letter. In this case, we know there was a Washington, we know he did cross the Potomac, we know that it was at least a little bit perilous. It isn't a matter of discrediting the letter: it is a matter of what the available evidence says about who wrote it. All things being equal, even if there had developed a later tradition to the contrary, an unbiased scholar would look at such a letter as being written by a later historian or biogragpher.

    If there was other, stronger evidence available, we might either re-inforce our view that it was written later or be forced to abandon that view. If, for instance, we found that the letter also referred to Washington's death, or to the city of Washington as the Capitol of the United States, we would more strongly believe that someone other than Washington wrote the letter. On the other hand, if we discovered an earlier copy of the letter in an envelope full of documents that were known to have been written by him, we might give more weight to the view that Washington wrote the letter.

    It's true that scholars do, because of reasons of style, consider some of the New Testament Epistles (and some of the Apocrypha and non-canonical Gospels) to be pseudepigraphical. Now, this isn't done arbitrarily, as witnessed by the fact that everyone agrees, strongly that Paul wrote many letters that bear his signature. Anyway, I want to turn this around on you.

    The Pastorals are signed by Paul. Would you say that because a) there was a "convention" during New Testament times of writing pseudepigrapha, and b) the "intended audience" at the time would have known it if Paul hadn't written the Pastorals, that Paul's signature is not good evidence of Pauline authorship? Reason I ask, is that is very similar to the argument you make to argue that third person references to Moses are not evidence against Mosaic authorship.

    Of all of the points I made in this post, each of the showed some evidence or another against Mosaic authorship. It is fair for you to show that the evidence is not conclusive because you can find an alternative explanation for it. It is not fair for you to say that it is not evidence! I am building a cumulative case, and each piece of evidence, while not conclusive, adds weight to the argument against Mosaic authorship. I presented five separate lines of evidence against Mosaic authorship, and you have only made any progress in challenging the veracity as evidence of one of them ("beyond the Jordan"... I exclude the internal evidence of multiple authorship - I see that Haze has begun to challenge it but has not made progress, except to show that it could have an alternative explanation. His project only weakens the evidence. What would challenge its veracity is to show that the internal evidence was more consistent with a single author hypothesis than a multiple author hypothesis).

    I still have four only slightly weakened lines of evidence against. You only have one piece of evidence from tradition long removed from the time in question in favor of. Yet, I have heard repeated pronouncements that my evidence is too weak to be considered, when it is only countered by evidence from tradition hundreds of years removed from the fact. In short, I think you may be inadvertently proving my point.

    Chris has challenged me to review other scholarship that makes a stronger case for Mosaic authorship. I do intend to do so. And I intend to pursue the issue you have brought up about beyond the Jordan. And I'll look forward to hearing more arguments from those of you who are commenting. For now, it's time to run - I'm late to work!

    univar.jpg Posted by smijer on August 17, 2004 08:01 AM
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    Unfortunately this will be my last installment on this topic, due to fact that I am don’t have the theological grounding to argue finer points like what “east of the Jordan” does to the argument or the literary knowledge to delve deep into the causes for using third person in ancient literature. These are fascinating topics, but the restart of graduate school and a full time job only permit so much free time reading and blogging (and although an area of interest, I don’t see myself doing in depth research on this topic in the immediate future). That being said, my final point would have to be that although you still find your points compelling, even if weakened a bit, your main premise that facts or hard truths are being overlooked for the sake of doctrine hasn’t been proven to me. You raise great points of argument, but these can have explanations that give other interpretations as to their purpose or value. If you don’t find them to be convincing to you, then you must maintain your original inclinations, but saying that they are not convincing at all is not true either. Many theologians, much more equipped than ourselves on both sides of the argument, see these as valid points and so the debate continues. Due to the lack of documentation proving one to be more true, to a reasonable degree, your belief that anyone holding the opposing view of multiple authorship is denying fact for doctrine is not fair. Chris and Kevin appear to be taking a much more academic approach, which they appear more able then myself to do, but I have maintained that in the lack of hard evidence proving otherwise, I will continue to believe the traditional view. This doesn’t mean that I believe that tradition alone is strong enough, but the evidence on the other side isn’t strong enough to push my position on that side of the line. The ability to separate the believed authorships into their individual components would be more compelling, but still not necessarily definitive. But the inability to do this, and the at times erratic separation of authors mid paragraph or sentence still seems a huge liability to the Documentary Hypothesis. I wish I could add more to the argument, but that will have to do for now.

    univar.jpg Posted by Haze on August 17, 2004 04:27 PM
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    Would it destroy your Faith if Smijers position could be proven beyond any shadow of a doubt to be the correct one?

    univar.jpg Posted by Buck on August 17, 2004 07:22 PM
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    In short, No. My faith is not just based on the validity of Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. But it carries a lot of weight to the position that the Bible is not just your run of mill collection of writing, but something inspired by God. But my faith is also based on, as JosiahQ put it in not quite the same words, a feeling that is innate telling me there is something greater and not in a mystic sense, but in a personal one. There is something deeper, beyond academics, that has the feeling of truth when the nature of God is pondered.

    univar.jpg Posted by Haze on August 17, 2004 09:32 PM
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    a feeling that is innate telling me there is something greater and not in a mystic sense, but in a personal one. There is something deeper, beyond academics, that has the feeling of truth when the nature of God is pondered.
    Beautifully worded.

    Personally I believe that the Word of God is not now, nor has it ever been, nor will it ever be a book.

    The words of the prophets are written on subway walls and tenement halls.

    It is my personally held belief that the inspiration of God is in all things.

    univar.jpg Posted by Buck on August 17, 2004 10:33 PM
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    I'm going to have to disagree with Haze on this one. If there is such proof for Smijer's position, I will stop believing. Faith may incorporate an innate feeling that tells me of something greater in a personal sense; however, it can never be based on this feeling. The Christian faith is based on the historical reality of Jesus Christ's death and resurrection, in fulfillment of the Law of God, for my sins. The Documentary Hypothesis, especially as originally formulated and intended in its JEPD form, does not merely deny Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. It substitutes a theory of authorship predicated on the assumption that the historicity of events claimed in the Pentateuch is invalid. Not only does it exclude the Exodus and giving of the Law at Sinai, but, more importantly, it excludes the Creation and Fall of Adam. If I did not actually and historically fall in Adam, then I am not actually and historically saved in Christ.

    To a different topic. I didn't mean 'discredit the letter' in the sense of questioning whether or not Washington actually made a perilous trip across a river. [Incidentally, I believe that it was the Delaware.] I was strictly speaking about whether he wrote the letter. Since this is an analogy, we need to keep all things equal and discount any evidence concerning Washington's letter that does not have a counterpart concerning Moses' Pentateuch. For instance, you mentioned [other] documents that we know to be written by Washington. No such other documents exist or are even claimed for Moses. In order not to prejudice the analogy, we're not allowed to know anything about Washington that does not correspond to potential knowledge of Moses. The only relevant points to the analogy in the Washington letter end up being the use of third person, the historical anachronism of the second phrase if he were the author, and the possibility of tradition. Taken alone, the third person would lead me to believe that other candidates are more likely authors than Washington; nevertheless, I would not be able completely to dismiss him. The historical anachronism would only be apparent if I thought Washington was the author of the letter. This can be explained by a subsequent interjection from another hand. I disagree that very little would change if we knew of a tradition first recorded 100 years after the fact. The first record 100 years later would not mean that the tradition started that much later. For all we know, the recipient of the letter started it. It would not be conclusive proof, but, in my estimation, tradition would shift the preponderance of evidence. If we keep the analogy relevant to the point being illustrated, it proves nothing.

    I don't quite follow you on the questions over Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles. As to point a), the convention of pseudonymous writings, I'll stipulate to it. I disagree with point b). The intended audience could have been fooled by a pseudonymous letter. There is reference to this sort of thing happening in 2 Thessalonians 2:2. The readers are asked "not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come." In 3:17, Paul assures them that he is the author, "I, Paul, wrote this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuiness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write." It doesn't serve the same function for us, but for the original recipients of Paul's letters, these could be verified when they saw that the greeting was in Paul's own handwriting. To your question though, of course I believe that Paul's signature is good evidence of Pauline authorship. What does this have to do with Moses in the third person?

    I never said that anything you presented to argue against Mosaic authorship was not evidence. Even the last point, which I determined to be false, was evidence. An example of something that is true but not evidence is what I just wrote about the Washington analogy. We may have access to all sorts of facts about Washigton that would prove beyond any doubt whether or not he wrote the letter. However, because this is an analogy to Moses, none of these facts may be entered into evidence unless they are relevant to the analogy. All of the evidence you presented against Mosaic authorship was relevant and I considered it point by point. By providing alternative explanations, I did show that the evidence was not conclusive. Because it was shown to be inconclusive, you have not made your case. Since it is your intention to disprove Mosaic provenance, your evidence needs to be conclusive. It wouldn't matter if Washington had written the Pentateuch, you still have not made your case. The burden of proof for "Moses did not write it" is much higher than that for "J,E,P, and D could have written it." As long as I can give plausible alternative explanations, you cannot build a cumulative case. You would have to demonstrate that these alternatives, though reasonable when considered individually, are virtually impossible in combination.

    I only challenged the veracity of your last point of evidence. The rest of your evidence is true. The Pentateuch does refer to Moses in the third person; the death of Moses is recorded from a relatively distant future perspective; there are city names that would not have been accurate during Moses life. Not only are your first three points of evidence true, but I have done nothing to weaken them as evidence. I merely challenged your interpretation. To the extent that the standard is conclusive proof, the inherent weakness in your evidence is not my fault.

    univar.jpg Posted by Kevin on August 18, 2004 05:09 AM
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    If every third sentence of the Pentateuch included the name of an author: "I, Jack, am recording this", "I, Ed, am recording this", "I, Patrick,...", "I, Doug"... I could still provide alternative explanations that could not be disproven and were compatible with Mosaic authorship. Perhaps Moses' full name was "Moses Jack Ed Patrick Doug Flanders"... That only weakens the impact of the evidence. It does not eliminate it, or disqualify it for a cumulative case. Yes it shows the evidence is inconclusive: all evidence is inconclusive. All evidence can do is strengthen or weaken confidence in a theory. Most good cases are built cumulatively with good - but not perfect - evidence.

    I've built a strong cumulative case on several pieces of evidence. It is not 100% conclusive, but there are several pieces of evidence all pointing the same way, and only one piece of evidence pointing the other. With that one piece of evidence (as with the Washington analogy), it is a tradition that can only be traced to some time at least a couple of centuries after Moses' lifetime. You are right. Perhaps it goes back further than that. That big maybe doesn't strengthen its evidentiary value. Tracing it back to the time of Moses would strengthen its evidentiary value but would not make it "conclusive" as you say. There are legends, IIRC, of Alexander the Great that can be traced very close to his lifetime, and yet are not believed to reflect actual events.

    My mention of finding the letter in a package with Washington's other writings was only meant to show an example of what would be strong evidence for Washingtonian authorship. In the case of Moses, we don't know of any other writings of his, but there could, in principle, exist better evidence for the theory that he wrote. Finding a piece of positive evidence in the writing itself that it was from Moses, and particularly a claim to Mosaic authorship would help greatly. Finding clay tablets together in eighth century BCE digs, that included parts or all: that would be strong evidence in favor of your view.

    Going back to Paul and the Pastorals. My point is very simple. Paul's signature is slightly stronger evidence of Pauline authorship than the third person of Moses in the Pentateuch is against Mosaic authorship. However, we can identify "ancient conventions" that would explain away both pieces of evidence. That doesn't mean that the evidence vanishes or loses all credibility. Both pieces of evidence are still strong for the position they support - they just aren't so strong as to remove all doubt.

    You insist that Paul's contemporary readers could have been fooled by Paul's signature. I could equally well insist that Moses' contemporary readers could have been fooled by his use of the third person, when you explain how the use of the third person could never fool anyone unless they were not already committed to believing in Mosaic authorship, because the "original audience" would have known better.

    I was also going to point out that, according to the Bible, "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God"... If you are including the Pentateuch in the word of God, and if the scheme described by that passage is to be relevant to converting the unbeliever, then I would be the "intended audience", and the third person most certainly does confuse me on the premise of Mosaic authorship. That could have been forseen and clarified quite easily, under your theory. The fact that it was not forseen and clarified raises real questions about your theory.

    univar.jpg Posted by smijer on August 18, 2004 07:36 AM
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    P.S. - you are quite right that it was the Delaware. I guess I'd better cover my blonde!

    univar.jpg Posted by smijer on August 18, 2004 09:46 AM
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    Kevin, well said and point taken. I guess I was thinging of Rom. 1:19,20 perspective, "since what may be know about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities-His eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." But that doesn't make you point invalid, just a quick response and not deeply thought out. I keep trying to leave this conversation, but I am have little luck doing so. Sorry for the side note, back to the topic at hand.

    univar.jpg Posted by Haze on August 18, 2004 10:04 AM
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    Sorry guys but all of this "Moses in the third person" makes me think of Bob Dole everytime I read portions of the Pentateuch.

    It has really hindered my worship.

    univar.jpg Posted by Buck on August 18, 2004 10:40 AM
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    You've got me on the conclusive evidence. A bit too strong on my part. Still, since you are on the offensive here, your standard does need to be beyond any reasonable doubt. I have offered reasonable doubt. Furthermore, your case is not cumulative. Had you been able to prove your point about the third person, you could then rest your case. If Moses could not have written from this perspective, and since the Pentateuch was written from this perspective, then Moses could not have written the Pentateuch. You did not, however, prove your point beyond a reasonable doubt. Consequently, you may not use perspective as part of a cumulative argument. Your only chance to do so is if you can demonstrate that the objections that I have raised are mutaully incompatible. If so, they would no longer be reasonable and you would be able to claim a cumulative case. You have not met the burden of proof against Mosaic authorship. In this particular forum, I have no burden to prove that he did write the Pentateuch.

    By your explanation of mentioning the package of other Washington wrtings, I see that this would be valid to the analogy. A similar find would provide equally credible evidence for Moses. But if that's the analogy, it is invalid to the limits of the present discussion. I don't care what would have strengthened the case for Mosaic authorship. It might be relevant if the point were proving Mosaic provenance to you, but, for right now, you are attempting to disprove it.

    The comparison between Paul's signature and the third person of Moses is invalid. The burden of proof is not the same. I believe that Paul's signature is evidence that he wrote a particular epistle. If you come along and mention pseudonymous convention, I may have some doubt. But then I counter with the convention of actually signing your own name to a letter. Your objection fails to meet the standards of reasonable doubt. If, however, you could prove that genuine letters were never signed and that those that were were all pseudonymous, then you would have met the standard and I would have to renounce Pauline authorship. In the case of the Pentateuch, you have offered evidence that presents some doubt and I have countered with evidence showing that this doubt is unreasonable. I'm still waiting on your counter-evidence.

    Paul's contemporaries would not have been fooled by Paul's signature, but by the signature of someone claiming to be Paul. There is no comparison to Moses. Moses' original audience was actually there with him as he wrote. He could verify his authorship in person. Paul was writing letters. It sort of destroys the main purpose of letter writing if the author accompanies it to verify provenance.

    The reference to faith and the word of Christ [the preferred translation over "God"] is in the context, not of private reading, but of the hearing of public preaching. Paul is talking about the efficacy of preaching, not of individual Bible study. Any competant preacher knows that a significant part of his job is to clarify scripture. One means of doing this is to consider all scripture in context. For instance, the section containing this verse begins, "For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law..." (Romans 10:5-17) Clarity is not the problem, just your dismissal of the inspiration of Romans.

    Haze, I can see why you would think that. It's the idea that general revelation is sufficient. The question, however, is "sufficient to what?" Be sure to distinguish between the subject matter of general and special revelation. General revelation reveals the wrath of the Creator towards a rebellious human race. Special revelation reveals God's plan of redemption. If special revelation were disproven, general revelation would still stand. When Paul writes in I Corinthians 15:19, "If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied," he is not speaking of his potential chagrin should naturalism be true, he is speaking of his potential misery should his proclamation of redemption be false. In verse 17, he writes, "And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile..." He concludes this thought, not with a shrug, but by saying, "and you are still in your sins." The wrath of God would still be true, even if the redemption of God were not. For Paul, and indeed for all those who testify to the resurrection, the situation would be worse. vs. 15, "We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised."

    univar.jpg Posted by Kevin on August 18, 2004 07:38 PM
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    I believe that Paul's signature is evidence that he wrote a particular epistle. If you come along and mention pseudonymous convention, I may have some doubt. If you come along and mention pseudonymous convention, I may have some doubt. But then I counter with the convention of actually signing your own name to a letter

    That's sort of circular. It is the convention of signing your own name to the document that makes you think Paul's signature is evidence for Paul's authorship in the first place. So, if I use the existence of a contrary convention to show "reasonable doubt" (as you put it), you aren't really countering by reminding me of the more common convention. You are just reminding me why your evidence is still good (and was in the first place), even if it doesn't exclude any and all "reasonable doubt".

    Try to remember that this isn't a jury trial. We are weighing two competing hypotheses. Both of them have room for "reasonable doubt". One has much more, and stronger evidence than the other.

    There is no such thing as a cumulative case where each piece of evidence is free from doubt. Cumulative cases are custom made for cases where single pieces of evidence are not free from doubt. It may be that Moses wrote of himself in the third person for literary reasons. However, the syntax of the language says that usually the third person is not used this way. It may be that the reference to Moses' death is one of a few minor later additions to what was before the exclusive work of Moses, but, unless it breaks style with the surrounding narrative and language, it is at least as likely that it was included in the document by a primary author. It may be that a later editor changed the names of city places to their modern form, but it is at least equally probable that the place-names were included in their current form by a primary hand. And it may be that there was an odd literary device that demanded repetition, alternative usage of the name for God,and other alternations of style, but we know of none, so we can also consider at least some probability that there was more than one hand at work on the text.

    But, what a coincidence! If all of the alternative explanations turned out to be true, even though none of them are any more likely than the more obvious explanations... what are the chances? I say the chances are very slim, and that's how a cumulative argument builds itself.

    Your argument is like each of mine: you have the evidence of tradition to present. It has some strength, because - after all - the tradition had to come from somewhere, and the authorship of Moses would explain its existence quite nicely. I also have a "reasonable doubt" - the tradition could have developed because people expanded on the idea that Moses wrote the book of the Covenant. Another explanation would be that the redactor claimed that the whole work was the book of Moses in order to encourage unity among factious groups of Israelites. Tradition, by itself isn't very strong, but if we had no other evidence, we would lean toward the claims of tradition in spite of the alternative explanations, and in spite of our knowledge that evidence from tradition isn't particularly reliable. We do have other evidence, and that evidence, taken cumulatively, is much stronger than the evidence from tradition. It makes sense, to accept the more probable cumulative case over the more fragile case.

    My case is not an "offensive one". I do take on the burden of proof, but you must recognize that the burden of proof is only absolute in mathematics. On the one hand, I have shown that there is little evidence to the contrary of my position - certainly none that comes close to falsifying my position. With little evidence to the contrary, the burden of proof should not be set sky-high. It should show that my thesis is probable on the evidence, in light of the evidence against my position. I believe I have done that.

    univar.jpg Posted by smijer on August 18, 2004 08:55 PM
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    Actually, my reliance on the evidence of Paul's signature is based on the premise that scripture is both truthul and infallible. If it says that Paul wrote it, then Paul wrote it. I will admit, however (to the current limitation of my knowledge of the implications), that this is not nearly as important an issue as Mosaic provenance. I could be convinced, while retaining my belief in the nature of scripture, that the convention of pseudonymous signatures had no necessary ties to deception. I would want to know that the recipients of these letters knew that Paul really did not write them. So far, the evidence has not been forthcoming. But let's lay aside the question of inspiration. Say that it is my purpose to prove that Paul wrote a certain letter. The burden of proof is on me. It is always on the one who has something to prove. I point to the signature and have a fairly strong case. You come along and offer the contrary convention. This is evidence. Strong evidence, in fact. But what can it do? Convince me that Paul did not write the letter? No. It just makes me admit that I don't know who wrote the letter. But say that we take it further. It is no longer sufficient that I admit ignorance concerning Pauline provenance, you want to prove that he did not write it. You're going to need a lot more than the contrary convention. In the same way, you are trying to prove that Moses did not write the Pentateuch. So far, the evidence that you have presented doesn't even approach the strength of that offered against Paul.

    This may not be an actual jury trial, but it is a debate over competing hypotheses. Forensic rules of evidence still apply. But we need to be clear about just what those hypotheses are. They are not "JEPD wrote the Pentateuch" and "Moses wrote the Pentateuch." They are "Moses did not write the Pentateuch" and "I don't know who wrote the Pentateuch." Granted, I think I do know who wrote the Pentateuch, but this is irrelevant to the current debate. This not simply the greater weight of evidence between two positive claims. You're trying to overcome my supposed ignorance. The alternative explanations I have offered for your evidence are sufficient to keep you from doing this.

    Evidence always has some doubt. The question is whether or not this doubt is reasonable. Cumulative cases have nothing to do with any doubt that might attatch to a single piece of evidence. They have everything to do with a single piece of evidence being too weak to make the case. Say that someone is murdered and I just happen to be the last one known to see him alive. Make this about an hour before the time of death. If that were all the evidence available, I would expect to be acquitted. Say the same thing happened five times in a row. I see 'em, they die, I see 'em, they die,... This would be cumulative and a much stronger case. Not conclusive, not impervious to reasonable doubt, but likely to get me convicted unless my lawyer is forthcoming with some of that doubt. He could either show stronger alibis for each case, or try to prove that I was being set up. That is, he could counter the cumulative case by knocking down each piece, or by postulating his own cumulative case and trying to make it plausible enough. The success of the second strategy is found in the plausibility. That of the first in each alibi. But say that each of these alibis, though considered alone constitute reasonable doubt, are just too great a stretch of the imagination to have all happened. Essentially, the prosecution builds yet another cumulative case against the likelihood of all of the alibis being true at once.

    Now to tie this to your own case. You have presented four pieces of evidence. All right, cumulative evidence. But what is it strong enough to accomplish? If you could prove your interpretation for any of the first three, you could prove your point. As it is, I have offered a reasonable alternative for each one, thereby destroying the cumulative nature of your case. You have two alternatives. 1) Offer more evidence. 2) Make another cumulative case suggesting that my alternatives cannot all be true at once. If you can do this until I can no longer offer a reasonable counter, then you have proven that at least one of them must be wrong. And if one of them is wrong, even if we can't identify which one, then, since it is true that your interpretation of any piece of your evidence would prove your point, you will have proven that Moses did not write the Pentateuch. Good luck. So far, since you have discounted the testimony of scripture as evidence and I'm playing along, the evidence you have presented is only strong enough to make me say, "I don't know if Moses wrote the Pentateuch." Still, this isn't much of an accomplishment since that was my hypothesis going into this.

    "It may be that Moses wrote of himself in the third person for literary reasons. However, the syntax of the language says that usually the third person is not used this way." 1) Literary purposes trump syntax. 2) Is there something about the Hebrew language that you're not telling me?

    "It may be that the reference to Moses' death is one of a few minor later additions to what was before the exclusive work of Moses, but, unless it breaks style with the surrounding narrative and language, it is at least as likely that it was included in the document by a primary author." I may have dealt with this one already. I am willing to admit that the entire book may have been written by someone else immediately following Moses' death. It is the record, interspersed with short narrative interludes, of a sermon delivered by Moses just before he died. For this book, I'm not so much concerned with Moses actually holding the pen as I am with timing and Mosaic authority.

    "It may be that a later editor changed the names of city places to their modern form, but it is at least equally probable that the place-names were included in their current form by a primary hand." True, but equal probability only gets us far as "I don't know if Moses wrote the Pentateuch." Since I've been intending it for a different post, I'm going to hold off on your point about literary devices.

    The chances are very good that all of the alternatives could turn out to be true. If people keep dropping dead after I see them, it would be legitimate to wonder at the coincidence. But this wondering would assume a cohesive plan behind the deaths. Barring virtually airtight alibis for each case, it is unreasonable to assume that five different unrelated criminals, who didn't know that I had just seen each of the victims, just happened to kill them after I had. The first obvious candidate to make such a plan would be me. But, for the alternatives against anti-Mosaic provenance, it would be no coincidence that they all be true. A cohesive plan could easily be assumed. A single author writes the first four books and dictates most of the content of the fifth. Since he is about to die, he authorizes someone else to pen the narrative conclusion to the pre-conquest portion of Israeli history. This narrative, which includes the death of Moses (there's no claim right now that Moses authored the first four books), is included in the final book. Subsequent Israeli scribes and leaders maintain copies of the Pentateuch. Moses is held in high regard. Eventually, the scribes add a tribute to Moses in the final chapter, thus accounting for the distant feel. Either the same scribes or others in the line of those preserving the Pentateuch update the place names as these change over time. All of the alternatives that I have offered can be tied together into a common narrative that makes sense in the context of putative Israeli history. Consequently, they are not unrelated pieces of incredible coincidence. You may be able to come up with a narrative for your own interpretaions of the evidence, but you're going to have to rewrite subsequent ancient Israeli history to do it (which, incidentally, is exactly what the framers of the Documentary Hypothesis have done). Even if you do manage this, we're still at an impass of equally likely hypotheses and I win, since mine is "I don't know who wrote the Pentateuch."

    I can't tell if you've taken it this way, so I'll make a clarification just in case: I did not mean "offensive case" in the sense that I'm hurt or offended. It was more that you're in the role of a prosecutor or plaintiff. Either way, I'm in a defending position. As you say, you do have the burden of proof and, if that burden were to question Mosaic authorship [barring inspiration], then you have met it. But it is not. Your burden is to disprove Mosaic authorship altogether against a defense of ignorance. That makes it much higher.

    univar.jpg Posted by Kevin on August 19, 2004 02:04 AM
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    The difference between a forensic standard of evidence and an ordinary standard of evidence is that the forensic standard is strongly biased against the positive case in favor of the defense. We never want to wrongly convict, so even if we have quite a lot of evidence against you, if we can find a reasonable doubt, we acquit.

    We would be no-where in history or archaeology if we used the forensic stanadard of evidence. We would be the ultimate agnostics. Very little from history (especially ancient history) is clear enough to warrant a conclusion "beyond reasonable doubt", yet we have very good reasons to believe or disbelieve various hypotheses.

    This doesn't leave us between two competing hypotheses: "Moses didn't write P" vs. "We don't know who wrote P". The competing hypotheses are "Moses wrote P" versus "Moses didn't write P"... the "we don't know" comes if there just isn't enough evidence to make up our mind.

    We aren't going to put Moses in jail if he did write P, or give him the gas chamber if he didn't write P. What I have done was show that there is very scant evidence in favor of Mosaic authorship, and substantially more, and more convincing evidence against Mosaic authorship. That was a response to the determination with which apologists casually dismiss all evidence against, while making a shadow case for Mosaic authorship. If I understand you, you are only wanting to defend the position of agnosticism on the issue. If you feel that the evidence I have put together against Mosaic authorship isn't strong enough, you are welcome to a position of agnosticism, but please don't appeal to a forensic standard of evidence to bolster that viewpoint.

    univar.jpg Posted by smijer on August 19, 2004 07:31 AM
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    What, forensic standards don't apply to civil trials requiring mere preponderance of the evidence? The high burden of proof for your case has nothing to do with a strong bias in favor of mine. It has to do with your attempt to prove a negative. You want the competing hypotheses to be 'he did' vs. 'he didn't'? Fine. But you've only succeeded in making the case that we don't know. Your case for 'did not' is no stronger than my case for 'did too.' It is, in fact, much weaker. It will remain much weaker until you switch your argument from "Moses did not" to "x did." Or, perhaps a compromise. Depending on what you think you can prove, you can switch your case to "It is highly unlikely..." or "somewhat unlikely..."or "a liitle bit unlikely." Okay, let's just say you only have to tip the scales. You haven't done it. At the moment, it seems to be in my favor. Not only have I given counter-explanations to all of your evidence, but I have connected these explanations in such a way as not to be mere coincidence. I have assumed a particular history of Israel and made a cohesive case. The question is not the unlikelihood of referring to one's self in the third person, it is the relative likelihood of our respective versions of Israeli history. I assume that the recorded history of ancient Israel is the actual history. You discount this, saying that the tradtion between the writing and the putative event is too weak for serious consideration. But what is your version of Israeli history based on? Nothing more than literary analysis, and not even that because the analysis needs to assume a version of history before it begins. Your argument begins with a circle. But I suppose a circle is no worse than mere assumption. How, then, should we decide who's version of history is the stronger? Agreed upon unbroken tradition. Mine goes back at least as far as the youngest age that you're willing to grant the written OT. I'll even move it up into the inter-testamental period just so we can allow time for everyone to be convinced. Your tradition dates back to Graf-Wellhausen in the 19th century. As long the claims for Mosaic provenance fit into the traditionally accepted view of Israeli history, then arguments to the effect that he would not have written in the third person and that there would not have been editorial updates as opposed to a patchwork late manuscript are not going to work. You're going to have to provide a non-circular alternative view of Israeli history that is somewhat more convincing than the traditional view before we can tip the scales in your favor. So far, you haven't come close. The preponderance of the evidence favors Mosaic authorship.

    univar.jpg Posted by Kevin on August 20, 2004 06:34 AM
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    I don't have a "view" of Israeli history, and my conviction that not-a-single-hand, nor a contemporary of Moses wrote P does not rely on my view of Israeli history. Parts of JEPD do interpret some of Israeli history in light of P's various threads, but that is a very separate issue. Even if JEPD made no claims about Israeli history, the internal evidence for multiple authorship upon which JEPD rests still exists.

    I would like to see how you get from your view on the history of the Israelites to "the third person in P was a literary device throughout". If anything, your various viewpoints are mrerely non-contraditory. I do not see where you have explained away the coincidental nature of your various alternatives. Why is it that Moses' need to write in the third person coincides with later redactors' decisions to insert anachronistic names, the narrative of Moses' death, etc.?

    On the other point, it would appear your alternatives are slightly at odds with one another. You claim that literary diversity is part of the explanation for the various doublets, alternations of God's name, etc. Yet, you claim the third person usage was a literary device. If both claims were the case, it would be more likely for us to see alterations between first and third person references to Moses in P to reflect that literary diversity.

    I don't have much sympathy for your absolutism in dealing with the evidence. Evidence only ever goes towards showing likelihood, except in mathematics and logic. To claim the evidentiary value of a tradition removed temporally from the events described is greater than the evidentiary value of the text itself (alternative explanation of the text considered) is very far-fetched. I'm not convinced. If you are, you are welcome to the view. I don't think that those who are not prejudiced by doctrine will be convinced.

    univar.jpg Posted by smijer on August 20, 2004 07:13 AM
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    As long as you hold to the conviction that not even a contemporary of Moses wrote the Pentateuch, then you do have a view of Israeli history. It may be a poorly developed view, a view that you haven't thought much about, but you do hold to it. Take P, the priestly source, for instance. This chiefly deals with the Jewish cult (i.e., the sacrificial system). If it was written by a non-contemporary of Moses; if it was a development of a later time, then the extant record of a continuous cultic practice from the Exodus to the Exile, which is a major thread in ancient Israeli history, is in error. Actual Israeli history does not correspond with recorded Israeli history. As a matter of logical consequence, your view of Israeli history is different than mine, even if you have no conscious clue of what that view is. Scholarly proponents of P's late arrival do have a conscious view of Israeli history. They flat out deny that it happened the way scripture records it. They know the importance of such a view to make any sense of their literary analysis of scripture. Literary analysis is a science. There needs to be a theory in place to explain the evidence. If the historical theory were correct, then their explanation of the evidence would be credible. If you're really serious about defending your position that the authorship of the Pentateuch was not contemporary with the historical events professed therein, then you need to have a conscious alternative view of the historical facts. For those whose affirmation of Mosaic provenance is understood in the context of recorded Israeli history, your evidence amounts to nothing more than a series of pot shots. For that matter, the more serious proponents of the Documentary Hypothesis would view your evidence in the same light. Come on, present some arguments that are more substantive than a liberal counterpart to AiG.

    If the recorded view of Israeli history is correct, then, at the least, the Pentateuch was written by someone contemporary with its later historical events. The historical record claims Moses, and if "Moses" means Moses, then the use of third person is not a consideration. If you're still dead set against Moses referring to himself in this way, then "Moses" can mean a scribe writing under the direct authority of Moses. The alternatives I presented all revolve around the single purpose of providing a complete record of Israel's pre-conquest history that remains understandable to subsequent generations. Purpose removes coincidence. The original authorship, the updated place names, the insertion of a death narrative by another hand (assuming that Moses himself actually penned the rest of it) all revolve around this single purpose. The question of third person authorship itself might be valid, but the question of the relationship between these other factors and Moses' need to write in the third person is not. If Moses had written in the first person, if someone else had written in the first person, if a Mosaic scribe had written for Moses referring to Moses in the third person, or if Moses had written in the third person: none of this would be relevant to a later desire to preserve the work and make it more understandable to a contemporary audience.

    Your suggestion that "it would be more likely for us to see alterations between first and third person references to Moses in P to reflect that literary diversity," is true as long as you have not assumed diversity for diversity's sake. The point of literary diversity is to communicate an idea in a better manner than would be possible with literary uniformity. Once the rules of a particular genre are set, there is no reason to arbitrarily switch back and forth. The Pentateuch comprises several kinds of genre, such as narrative, legal, didactic, or poetical. Things such as doublets, divine name changes, or authorial perspective are literary devices used within a particular genre. The references to Moses in the third person occur either in an extended narrative genre or in narrative interludes within other genres. Where Moses is a character in a genre other than narrative, there is a switch to first person. This happens in a poetical genre, such as Exodus 15, or in a didactic genre, such as the greater portion of Deuteronomy. Legal genre, if it did have any reason to mention a particular person, would most likely use third person.

    My alleged "absolutism" in dealing with evidence is related only to the degree of proof required for a particular case. The proposition "Moses did not write the Pentateuch" is an absolutistic claim demanding the strongest scrutiny of the evidence presented. If you'll notice, once I recognized your proposition as "It is not likely that Moses wrote the Pentateuch" the standard for the evidence dropped. As to the evidentiary value of the text itself, this is on my side. I am claiming that the evidentiary value of tradition coincides with and is supported by the evidentiary value of the text. Your own interpretation of the literary evidence is valid only on the presupposition that the evidence of what the text actually says is not. You have not established sufficient grounds for dismissing this evidence. You cannot just say that the record of scripture is nothing more than "tradition removed temporally from the events described." You need some evidence that this is actually the case. This is not normal practice when considering written histories. Normally, the standing assumption is that these are basically reliable until proven otherwise. The assumption that the biblical record of history is unreliable because it is removed from the events described is unfounded. It is not based on empirical evidence or necessary deduction from demonstrable fact. It is nothing more than liberal doctrine masquerading as truth.

    univar.jpg Posted by Kevin on August 20, 2004 07:45 PM
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    So much to address. I'm not going to be able to follow every rabbit trail, as much as I would like to. Let me hit the high points:

  • My only view of Israelite history at this point is agnostic. I have recollections of testimony for and against a few specific events, and I am not especially friendly to the traditional view of Israelite history, but my view of the Pentateuch does not depend on or derive from my view of Israelite history. It is just as possible that every word of the Pentateuch is true and accurate history if it was written by more than one hand at more than one time, or all written by Moses at some point after the Exodus. In fact, of all the events that were recorded, Moses would have only had a specially clear perspective on those that involved his own life.

  • My "potshots" go together to make a case against Mosaic authorship, and for later authorship by possibly more than one author.

  • The original authorship, the updated place names, the insertion of a death narrative by another hand (assuming that Moses himself actually penned the rest of it) all revolve around this single purpose. The question of third person authorship itself might be valid, but the question of the relationship between these other factors and Moses' need to write in the third person is not. If Moses had written in the first person, if someone else had written in the first person, if a Mosaic scribe had written for Moses referring to Moses in the third person, or if Moses had written in the third person: none of this would be relevant to a later desire to preserve the work and make it more understandable to a contemporary audience.

    I see you pushing a square peg into a round hole, here. The biggest problem is the notion that Moses could have influenced later events to accomplish such a purpose. What? Yes, you are reading a purpose beyond what a single author could have had in mind - you are reading a theological purpose, and making the existance of YHWH a presupposition upon which you tie together your various alternative interpretations of the evidence. If you are willing to do that, you are willing to let faith be the deciding factor to begin with. If you are willing to let faith be the deciding factor, it is disingenous to affect a regard for the evidence on its own merit.
    Even so, I do not notice the Pentateuch being updated for audiences of the second century BCE, or the first century CE and on, save by lingual translation. I do not notice the addition of the deaths of Joshua and other major figures of the Exodus to the Pentateuch by another hand: I see those deaths being narrated in books that postdate the figures. It is still a coincidence that the decision was made to add to the pentateuch rather than make a recording in one of the subsequent books. It is still a coincidence that only those place names that had changed between the time of Moses and ~5th century BCE are anachronistic in P.

  • You cannot just say that the record of scripture is nothing more than "tradition removed temporally from the events described." You need some evidence that this is actually the case.

    Even conservative scholars date the earliest non-P books (including those that suggest Moses was the author of P) to ~800 BCE or later. That is temporally removed from the time of Moses purported writing by ~300 years. Unless there is some evidence that traces the tradition of Moses' authorship all the way back to Moses' purported time, then that tradition does not have the evidentiary value of a tradition that does date to Moses' time. Even then, tradition is not given a blanket "benefit of the doubt" among any serious scholars. How could it? We all know how unreliable tradition is from experience with it. We may give certain elements a benefit of the doubt unless there is contradictory evidence, but no-one seriously believes that ancient tradition is likely to be especially reliable in particulars, unless they do so out of a faith-based prejudice.

    univar.jpg Posted by smijer on August 20, 2004 10:24 PM
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  • If your view of Isralei history isn't anti-traditional at the least, it can only be because you're not thinking through the implications of your view of the Pentateuch. It is true that a written history can be accurate even if written much later and by more than one author. This is the case, at least as far as the timing, for many of the historical books of the OT. But the Pentateuch, although a record of history, does not belong with the historical books. The Pentateuch was the legal foundation of Jewish religious and civil society. Simple histories have the luxury of waiting to be written. The Pentateuch, on the other hand, is analogous to the US Constitution. Had it just now been written, the US wouldn't have been the same country. The intended function of the Pentateuch was not only to record pre-conquest history, but to shape post-conquest history. If your view of the Pentateuch is right, then the recorded view of Israeli history is wrong. And not just the view recorded in the Pentateuch, but that in those historical books that record pre-exile history. On the other hand, if the recorded view of Israeli history is right, then your view cannot be right. The reasons you listed against it are not strong enough for serious consideration when considered separately from a supporting history. You need to develop concurrent and coherent theories of religious development and Jewish history if you are going to have any hope of building a convincing case.

    There is nothing supernatural in the idea that there was a single purpose guiding the development of the Pentateuch. It is only required that its function as the foundational document of Jewish society be recognized by those charged with preserving it. This would have been both a civil and a theological purpose. But even the theological purpose wouldn't make me guilty of basing my arguments on faith. It was their purpose, not mine. That they had such a purpose is no necessary indication that they were right.

    The option to update at one time does not make it mandatory at others. The historical parameters for the Pentateuch end on the eve of the conquest of Canaan. It would make no sense to record the death of Joshua in its pages. The reverse is also true, the insertion of Moses' death at the end of the Pentateuch is due to the timing of his death, not so much the timing of the record.

    It's not a simple matter of saying that there is a gap of unsubstantiated tradition between the time Moses is supposed to have lived and and the first subsequent historical record. The viability of the claims in these books to Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch stands or falls with the veractiy of the history recorded. It is the timing of original publication that is important, even over Mosaic authorship in itself. There are two possibilities: 1) either the recorded history is true and the claim to Mosaic provenance has more than than the support of unaided tradition; or, 2) the recorded history is false and questions of tradition are irrelevant. What conditions would have to be true if the record of Israeli history is true? The Pentateuch would exist as the foundation of the society whose history was recorded. Its existence as the foundation presupposes that it dates back to the foundation of the Jewish nation, which was the period between the Exodus and the conquest. Mosaic provenance is established as a consequence of the actual history, not as a mere tradition at the time that history is recorded.

    What about the reliability of the historical record? The Pentateuch would still be in existence as the foundational document. How would a writer from this point in time know when the Pentateuch became the foundational document? It could, after all, have been a forgotten development of more recent history. The authors did not depend on mere oral tradition. There is testimony to the use of written source material. These include the book of Jasher, Book of the Acts of Solomon, Chronicles of the Kings of Israel (not the same as that in scripture, which covers the kings of Judah), the chronicles of King David, Chronicles of Samuel, Chronicles of Nathan, and the Chronicles of Gad. Most of this source material chronicles kings and prophets. It is not unlikely that a running chronicle of the official activities of high officials was the norm. It is highly unlikely that all of these official chronicles would be free of any reference to the foundational documents regulating those activities. The combined testimony of this official source material combined with the contemporary existence of the Pentateuch would be sufficient cause to assume Mosaic provenance. The other option is that the recorded history of Israel is somewhere between an extreme modification or a complete fabrication. In JEPD, the Deuteronomist is responsible, not only for Deuteronomy, but for subsequent history books. These are the only two options possible. It would not be the case that the history would be basically true while the tradition for Mosaic provenance was unsubstantiated. The history and its legal foundation are too intertwined. You can disprove one if and only if you can disprove the other.

    univar.jpg Posted by Kevin on August 21, 2004 07:08 AM
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    If the various authors relied on earlier oral tradition and such written documents as the book of the covenant, and possibly a list of purity laws that came down from earlier generations, then P could have served the purpose that is required of it from traditional history.

    That is not to say that I am sympathetic in the least toward the traditional history; it is merely to point out that there is no inherent conflict between traditional history and non-Mosaic authorship.

    In fact, the ancient history of Israel may be lost forever in the mists of time. If there was strong archaeological evidence for a particular view of Israeli history, that view of history would inform our ideas about authorship of P. However, there is not one, that I know of. I am waiting on my copy of The Bible Unearthed to arrive, but I don't think it makes a positive case for a particular view of archaeological history of the Israelites. I expect it to contain mostly an argument from silence to a later than traditional history of Israel's origins.

    I appreciate your attempt to make your hypothesis about Israelite history an econoical explanation for all of the evidence that doesn't seem to make sense under Mosaic authorship. You've done a fair job of it, but the coincidences are still coincidences. My point in showing that some names and history were changed and updated and some were not (under your scheme) was to show that these features aren't necessary to your hypothesis of Israelite history (as you have now confirmed). Since your proposals are not necessary to the unified model, they remain ad hoc proposals that are merely consistent with your view of purpose and Mosaic intent, and it remains an odd coincidence that we see a product that looks like P even though the author was among its protagonists.

    I also think it is an unusual tack to propose a single author, yet take into account the historical or theological purposes of multiple authors and/or redactors as part of your defense of the notion.

    There is a fine line between apologist and scholar. I see that you are doing your best to keep this a scholarly discussion, and I appreciate that. I do sense an apologists' motivation, though, behind the scholarly methods. Am I mistaken in thinking that you are trying, consciously or unconsciously, to bend the methods of your scholarship to produce a desired result?

    univar.jpg Posted by smijer on August 21, 2004 09:16 AM
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    First, would you please clarify something? Are you using P to mean "Pentateuch" or "priestly source"?

    Going on. What you seem to be suggesting in your first point is that a variety of written sources from which the Pentateuch is eventually compiled would be no different than the Pentateuch itself as a foundation for Israeli society. That depends. If these various source documents were conflicting, as is suggested by the Documentary Hypothesis, then this would not have been the case. It's not going to work for them to be composed at different times in the early history and eventually become a foundational document. The history wouldn't be the same. The various sources would have to originate at the same time and be immediately recognized in their intended function. If various contemporary authors wrote them, if, as separate sources they together became Israel's foundational documents, if they were eventually compiled by a redactor, then, perhaps, this would work. However, we would no longer be talking about the Documentary Hypothesis but about Mosaic provenance in an unecessarily complicated form, which, to me, is an altogether different and pointless discussion. The inherent conflict is specifically between recorded history and non-Mosaic provenance, not necessarily the more restricted non-Mosaic authorship. It may be that much of the ancient history of Israel is lost. The question, though, is whether or not the recorded history is accurate or a post-exilic fabrication as suggested by JEPD. If the book you're waiting on actually does try to make an argument from silence to any conclusion, whatever that may be, please ask for a refund.

    It looks like your understanding of my historical defense is backward. I'm not suggesting that my proposals are necessary to the unified model, but that the unified model is sufficient to explain the non-coincedental nature of the proposals. An intact Pentateuch, available throughout Israel's post-wilderness history, is both necessary and sufficient to the unified model. If Israeli history happened the way that scripture says it happened, then these proposals are not ad hoc. And what is so unusual about a single purpose being carried out in time by several other people? I return to the analogy to the US Constituition. It has a specific provenance and contains within itself the parameters for interpretation and amendment. Subsequent generations of governing authorities are expected to abide by these conditions. I don't see the difference.

    I admit to an apologetical motivation. I stated it when I first entered the debate: the Documentary Hypothesis is fatal to the redemptive-historical efficacy of the work of Christ. That being said, I am making a conscious attempt not to bend my methods to suit any one result. I can't speak for the unconscious me, but everything I've said is available for anyone to call me on it. I am open to correction, even to the point of changing my mind on important doctrine.

    univar.jpg Posted by Kevin on August 21, 2004 11:37 PM
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    Doh! I was using P to mean Pentateuch, because I was tired of typing out the word. Didn't even occur to me that it would normally mean Priestly source in the context of this discussion.

    The broad Documentary Hypothesis does not depend nearly so much on contradictions of fact as contradictions of narrative. It does not depend so much on contradictions at all, as it does on style, repitition and language. To a lesser degree, the same is true of JEPD, though the JEPD is reinforced in places with limited historical context that is not always compatible with traditional history. Nevertheless, JEPD still stands fairly well without the need to emphasize contradictions of fact or narrative.

    The Bible is full of narrative contradictions. Apologists who work from a viewpoint of infallability or inerrancy often seek to demonstrate ways in which those contradictions do not represent contradictions of fact. The former can be stylistic differences. The latter are fatal to infallaiblity (but not, as many conservatives maintain to Biblical authority or inspiration).

    I'm fairly sure that I understand your historical defense in the way you intend. However your historial scheme does not make any of the peculiar features of the Pent. necessary. It gives them all a unified explanation of "purpose", but:

  • The purpose does not require those particular features. The purpose would be equally compatible with a Pentateuch that lacked those features entirely. That's why I say the use of the "purpose" hypothesis still leaves each explanation ad hoc toward explaining the coincidence.
  • You are postulating more than one hand, motivated by the same purpose, but there remains a mystery as to why the various hands did not work from independent purposes. If they were temporally removed from Moses they did not confer with him, and their mere recognition of his purpose does not require them to adopt it for their own use.

    The result is that we don't adequately explain the coincidence of features, and we add a new coincidence of purpose.

    I don't have an anti-apologetic motive for accepting non-Mosaic authorship on face value. Mosaic authorship would in no way weaken my atheistic stance. Non-authorship is, in my view, quite compatible with a main-line Christian view (a view which I find just as unbelievable as the more conservative Christian beliefs).

    The reason I hammer on your apologetic motivation to the point that I fear I am being rude is that, in light of the lack of positive evidence for Mosaic authorship (apart from tradition of unknown provenance), and in light of several independent pieces of evidence that are most economically explained by an author that wrote some time after Moses' death, you seem very committed to finding some defense for Mosaic authorship. The bulk of my evidence, you attack by building up a conspiracy of hypotheticals to inflate the potential doubt about the meaning of my evidence. From my perspective, the evidence is compelling, and I have a difficult time seeing how you are not similarly compelled. It may be unfair for me to blame your apologetic motivation, but I am all-too-familiar with the ability of an apologetic motivation to influence methods and conclusions. I've been on that side of the debate a time or two, myself.

    univar.jpg Posted by smijer on August 22, 2004 08:13 AM
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  • Thanks for clearing that up and continue on, now that I know what it means.

    I am not going to distinguish between the broad Documentary Hypothesis (DH) and JEPD. While such a distinction might be useful in another context, it doesn't help in this one. My chief problem is not with the idea of multiple authors per se, nor is it with the idea of a later redactor editing various original documents. So long as all of those authors operated under Mosaic provenance and all of their writings, whether redacted or not, existed in a readily available form since the initial entrance into Canaan. I would think such a view unnecessarily complex and, thereofore, would disagree with it. But I wouldn't find it worth my time to debate the matter: nothing would change if this view were true. On the other hand, if it could be proven that "Moses" did write the Pentateuch all by himself but "Moses" turned out to live, not during the Exodus but sometime later, this would present the same problem to Christianity as any DH. The DH, as far as for purposes of this discussion, is anything that denies Mosaic provenance.

    The DH may not need to depend on contradictions of fact: but only insofar as a particular individual working on it is not thinking about matters of historical fact. The DH originated with people who consciously denied the historicity of the OT. There may be several people today who have adopted it out of the mere thrill of playing with words, whose view of history is either agnostic or ignorant. For that matter, it's making it's way into the broader evangelical church among people who claim not to be liberals. That they can hold to it and still maintain some sort of faith is a testimony to their basic inability to think. Belief in the DH may not imply a contradiction with historical fact; understanding of the DH does. If the factual history of ancient Israel matches the recorded history of the OT, then documents containing the same content as the Pentateuch must have existed since its inception. The Pentateuch does not merely record early Israeli history, it explains all of biblical Israeli history. If the DH is true, then the Pentateuch enters history too late for recorded biblical history to be factual.

    You're not getting away with saying that the Bible is full of narrative contradictions without providing specific examples. If anything, I'd like to know for sure what you mean by the term. I agree that contradictions of fact would be fatal to infallibility; I would add to the list of fatalities both Biblical authority and inspiration.

    If you do understand my historical defense in the way that I intend, then you certainly don't agree with it. Otherwise, you couldn't make the statement "Mosaic authorship apart from tradition of unknown provenance." If this defense has any merit to it, then there are only two options: 1) The authors of the historical books (Joshua - II Chronicles) were honest. They claim original written sources from the time period in question. Consequently, there is no tradition of unknown provenance back to the time period of which they write. The recorded histories, based on original sources, all describe a world in which the Pentateuch must exist. If these histories are factual, then the Pentateuch did exist throughout the actual history of Israel. If it existed throughout the history of Israel and if, throughout this history contemporary records were being kept which would later be used as the original sources for the written history of Israel, then the Pentateuch cannot be of unknown provenenance. It is Mosaic. 2) If the Pentateuch is not of Mosaic provenance, then it wasn't there for a substantial portion of Israel's history. If it wasn't there during this history, then this cannot have been a history dependent upon the existence of the Pentateuch. The historical books record a history that would have been dependent upon the Pentateuch. They claim original written sources from the time period in question. If Mosaic provenance were wrong, then original sources from the period of the time in question would describe a world in which the Pentateuch did not exist. The recorded histories, which claim to be based on these original sources, do not agree with what they would have said had there been no Mosaic provenance. If the authors had been honest, the written histories would have describd a world with no Pentateuch at the time in question. They do not describe such a world. Therefore, the authors are dishonest. Either factual history of known provenance all around, or complete fabrication. There is no room for tradition of unknown provenance.

    If the recorded history is true, then Mosaic provenance is true. The following worlds, in which both recorded history and Mosaic provenance are true, are possible: a) any combination of the death of Moses and anachronistic city names are not recorded and Moses writes in the first person; b) any combination of these three things is the way it is in the real world and Moses wrote them himself under divine inspiration; c) any combination of these three things is the way it is in the real world and they are the result of later additions and changes by editors. In this sense then, none of these peculiars is necessary. They could have not been the case under my historical scheme. However, seeing as how there are anachronistic names and the record of Moses death and third person narrative, it cannot be the case that any of these disprove Mosaic provenance as long as the record of history is true. If the record of history is true, I don't really even need to explain them. I don't need to come up with inspriation or editor theories; I don't have to come up with literary reasons for third person. If recorded history is true, then none of these things can touch Mosaic provenance. They cannot disprove Mosaic provenance by virtue of the impossibility of the contrary. Your independent pieces of evidence "are most economically explained by an author that wrote some time after Moses' death" if and only if recorded history is false. As long as there is no credible challenge to the veracity of recorded history, then your evidence cannot be compelling. It is, rather, impossible. First things first: if you want any chance of making a compelling case against Mosaic provenance, then disprove recorded history. My failure to see your case as compelling has nothing to do with my admitted apologetical motivation. It has to do with the compelling nature of my own case agaisnt the possibility of tradition of unknown provenance for recorded history. Either this history is reliable enough to believe in Mosaic provenance, or it is an intentional lie. Either find the flaw in my historical argument so that, at least, you can reintroduce the idea of unreliable tradition; or, provide enough evidence to demonstrate that the authors of recorded biblical history did, in fact, lie.

    I'm hardly surprised that non-authorship is compatible with a main-line Christian view. But then, with some individual exceptions floating around in their churches and, perhaps, a few churches within their denominations, there is no difference between a mainline Christian and a non-Christian. Liberal Christianity is a joke and quite undeserving of the name. [This means liberal theology, which either denies or redefines to impotence the redemptive-historical truths of the Christian faith. I am not referring to Christians who merely subscribe to liberal politics.] And I have no fear that agreement with Mosaic authorship would weaken your atheistic stance. The opposite is true: adherenece to non-Mosaic provenance can and should weaken one's Christian stance. But Moses make you doubt your atheism? Not a chance.

    univar.jpg Posted by Kevin on August 23, 2004 10:36 PM
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