The Best Evidence for the Documentary Hypothesis is in the Psalms

Students of the Bible learn about the Documentary Hypothesis, the view that the Pentateuch was put together using multiple earlier written sources, traditionally identified using the abbreviations JEPD. Sometimes challenges have been raised to such source criticism on the grounds that varying the way one refers to God is quite common within unified religious traditions and their musical expression of their faith.

For me, the strongest support for the Documentary Hypothesis’ distinction between sources based on different ways of referring to God comes from the Psalms, specifically Psalm 14 and Psalm 53. If you read them both side by side, you’ll see that they are both essentially the same psalm, the only major difference being that one addresses God using the divine name YHWH, and the other does not.

I don’t see any way of accounting plausibly for these two psalms being part of this collection other than in terms of there being different groups, or regions, or kingdoms, which had different preferences regarding how to refer to and address God. And that makes it seem plausible to account for the different passages in the Pentateuch which refer to God in different ways in terms of those same distinct traditions or groups.

Here’s a graphic which I found on the web page I link to here, which explores the two psalms and conveniently provides both in interlinear form with differences highlighted.

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  • Yep, the Elohistic Psalter!

  • Gary

    The strongest evidence, two separate kingdoms existing for a long time. Time to develop two separate versions of everything. Two of everything, two kingdoms, two kings in a line, two priesthoods, two holy locations. I still like to compare it to two versions of a story…..democrats say one thing, republicans say something else. Some low level scribes writes everything down, since the words of the leaders are too important to delete. You can only add to them. So two of everything….and sometimes more.

  • Michael Wilson

    I think it may be more a case of divergent tradtions. their seem to be a whole complex of religious ideas going around those states, plus the ones arond them. Yahweh certainly seems popular in israel judah, but their is some evidence for Yahweh cults in surounding regions, like edom, or syria. I think there was a sense of mutual acceptance and and interchange. but without the power of a centralized goverment to encourgage communication, the lines developed in their own ways. I see little evidence that the Israelite Elosit (and remember, the Elosit call god YWHY as well, they just retain a tradtion that he used to be called ELohim. The psalm using El, i would say is eithier later, when the Jews stasrt to refrain from using the holy name, or is an earlier hym to Elohim, reflecting the earlier belief that YWHW is El’s son.) had any offical copaccity as the royal cult as YWHism seemed to have in Judah, there even the Yaweh alone group held power for a couple of brief periods. In the North, Eloist have only a couple of brief periods where the cult of El has any royal support.

    It seems the collaps of the kingdom of Israel sent yawhist to judah from Israel and their text circulated among Judah’s Yawhist circles. the combination is a harmonization of tradtions, but yes, they do have a lot of revrence for the precise words, this is no free hand retelling.

  • A Documentary Hypothesis supporter has responded to Dr McGrath’s quite astonishing (even courageous?) post on the Vridar blog:

  • Interesting choice of passage — the one used as a main tool to call non-believers evil fools.  These passages not only illustrate the Documentary Hypothesis (I loved Friedman’s book) but also illustrates the horrible ignorance within texts treasured by two major religions.   I wonder if you could have chosen other texts too?

    • Sabio, there are obviously many texts within the Pentateuch that work well as illustrating source criticism along these lines. What is significant about these two psalms (which are put to notirious use nowadays by some Christians) is that they provide corroboration external to the Pentateuch for differing traditions which resemble and presumably bear some relation to the traditions that produced and passed on the different Pentateuchal sources. That fundamentalist Christians who are likely to still quote the opening line of these psalms at people today, and yet have never paid enough attention to them to notice the support they give to Pentateuchal source criticism, is a wonderful irony, illustrating well how superficial the fundamentalist reading of their own Scripture is.

      I do hope people will click through and read the post Neil Godfrey linked to. That he and his guest poster are happy to explain the differences between these two psalms as accidental changes in the copying process illustrates well just how willing mythicists are to embrace thoroughly implausible and outdated scenarios which border on the miraculous in their unlikelihood, if and when it suits them to do so.

  • Just Sayin’

    Who let the troll in?

  • Tim (who is not a mythicist) has responded to Dr McGrath’s remarks above and demonstrates that Dr McGrath’s argument supposedly for the “best evidence for the DH” is grounded in an abysmal misunderstanding of what the DH actually is. His comment is here:

    It is a habitual ploy of Dr McGrath to resort to the technique of Poisoning the Well whenever he has no reasonable response to make to the logic and facts of an argument. He regularly resorts to simply attempting to pre-condition any would-be readers to be prejudiced against posts that expose his ignorance and fallacies. (I have also demonstrated that McG has not read more than most superficially quite a few scholarly works that he claims support his various assertions and met with the same response.) That’s the best he can do. At his worst he resorts to ridicule and insult. He also regularly employs that other logical fallacy of “guilt by association” by bringing up, quite irrelevantly, his despised epithet “mythicist”. Tim is not a mythicist and the DH argument has nothing to do with mythicism.

    One thing is clear, however. If anyone wants to understand the scholarly grounds for the DH and understanding of what the DH actually says, they will read the post of one who has actually seriously engaged with the scholarship on the question and consult Tim’s post.

  • Michael Wilson

    I agree with Tim on this one, as a remarked in my post above, “and remember, the Eloist call god YWHY as well, they just retain a tradition that he used to be called Elohim. The psalm using El, I would say is either later, when the Jews start to refrain from using the holy name, or is an earlier hymn to Elohim, reflecting the earlier belief that YWHW is El’s son.” Personally, I wouldn’t expect a professor of the New Testament to be that familiar with DH, while it is still the most popular theory for the Pentateuch’s composition, there has been a distancing from efforts to divide it into precise boundaries. I personally like Friedman a lot and had some useful exchanges with him when I was considering Thomas Thompson’s own ideas about the Pentateuch (apparently Thompson just doesn’t address the sort of issues with language that Friedman and others have pointed out, both common phrases used thought sources and changes in Hebrew over time, or the current theories offering common themes in the sources). If James’s mistook Tim for a mythicst, I suppose that is understandable, I had that impression to. And you know, you expect jokes in MAD magazine, and you expect articles supporting mythicism and brutal authoritarian states in Vridar.
    score one Tim

    • I think some may be forgetting that the P source, which is generally dated late, perhaps exilic or postexilic, had a preference for the use of Elohim, i.e. referring to God rather than using the name Yahweh. Genesis 1 is the classic example of that. And so, while I am perfectly happy to acknowledge that as a New Testament scholar I could quite easily botch a matter related to the study of the Hebrew Bible, I do not believe that I have done so in this instance.

      • Dr McGrath, your opening sentence is: “Students of the Bible learn about the Documentary Hypothesis, the view that the Pentateuch was put together using multiple earlier written sources, traditionally identified using the abbreviations JEPD.”

        But if you had learned about the DH as an undergraduate you should have learned that it is a common popular (not scholarly!) mistake to characterize the DH is “a matter of terminology: namely that different sources use different names for God.” (Friedman)

        The DH is not about different sources traditionally referring to God by different names. That is a popular misunderstanding that any real student of the Bible should know is simply flat wrong.

        Excusing yourself because you are a NT scholar and not a specialist in the OT doesn’t wash.

        I recommend you actually read Tim’s post and follow up his even simpler explanation as a basic refresher in what the DH is so you can correct your original post and not risk misleading any unwary students who look to you as a teacher.

        • It is because of this sort of childish nonsense that I have, alas, had to abandon any hope I once had that it might be possible to interact with Neil Godfrey in the manner in which I believe human beings ought to behave towards one another – even if they hate the other person as much as Neil seems to hate me.

          Would anyone with normal reading comprehension skills, and who lacks the ire that Neil brings to such interactions, care to let me know if they see somewhere where I asserted that Pentateuchal source criticism is a matter of simply looking at the way God is referred to? I thought surely that anyone who actually read the psalms I referred to would see that, while one uses Yahweh, both use generic terms for God. Was I wrong to assume some prior knowledge of the Documentary Hypothesis (not just as Wellhausen made the case for it, but in the form in which contemporary scholarship views things) and an ability to find out more information if one needed it? Did I leave too many things unsaid for my meaning to be clear?

          Or could it be, perhaps, that mythicists read blog posts the way they read Paul’s letters? If something isn’t stated explicitly, the author can safely be assumed to have had no knowledge of it or to not give assent to it; and if what is said can be twisted to mean what they want an author to have said, asking what it is likely that the person meant is apparently considered a waste of time?

          • Ad hominem and poisoning the well are not valid methods of argument, Dr McGrath, and nor is guilt by associaiton. Tim is not a mythicist and you are welcome to point out — he even invites — corrections to his post in which he demonstrates your professional ignorance of the nature of the DH.

            This is not about mythicism. It is about professional responsibility of public intellectuals.

          • One might also add that fabricating an accusation that I am motivated by personal animosity against you is like a student complaining that he was failed because the teacher hates him. It’s rubbish. It’s also simply another victimhood ploy to allow you to walk away from addressing the arguments and criticisms against your position.

      • Dr McGrath, you are digging your pit deeper with each attempt to get yourself out of it. You wrote:

        I think some may be forgetting that the P source, which is generally
        dated late, perhaps exilic or postexilic, had a preference for the use
        of Elohim, i.e. referring to God rather than using the name Yahweh.
        Genesis 1 is the classic example of that. And so, while I am perfectly
        happy to acknowledge that as a New Testament scholar I could quite
        easily botch a matter related to the study of the Hebrew Bible, I do not
        believe that I have done so in this instance.

        Should I believe what you assert about P or should I go with R. E. Friedman who writes of P:

        The E and P sources identify God as El or simply as “God” (Hebrew: Elohim) until the name is revealed to Moses. After that, they use the name YHWH as well. — p. 10 of Friedman, 2003.

        I then read in the remainder of “The Bible with Sources Revealed” Friedman’s translation of the Pentateuch as verification of this: P uses “God” in Genesis but after Moses one is just as likely to read YHWH in P.

        You owe it to students who may be reading your blog to get your facts straight.

        P.S. With apologies to Tim for stepping into his arena — after posting this comment I saw he had made his own response to this bit of professorial ignorance about P in another venue:

  • @ James :
    Great answer on the choice of verses. Thanx.

    But I have to agree in part with Neil Godfrey’s analysis of your attack on him.

    As to the issue about the real meaning of the Document Hypothesis.  I did not realize there was controversy.  I would have to take time to read both issues carefully to understand.  Godfrey’s guest post went over my head a bit.

    Ah, I wish I had more time to read and study.  I wish I were a religion prof!   Smile.

  • @ James
    Do you agree that you made some errors in this post?  Did you correct those errors?  Or do you feel Tim totally misread your post.  [Let’s leave Neil out of the conversation so as not to get distracted by long-established poor relations between you both but stick to the issue at hand].

    After reading Tim’s post, I am still a bit confused on the DH even though I have read RE Friedman — which I thought I understood when I read it, but like many things, that knowledge quickly leaked away.

    Nonetheless, Tim seems to have made a crucial point that the Psalms (in the Ketuvim) in not in the Torah (5 Books of ‘Moses’) and thus not the object of the DH.  And indeed the Ketuvim were entered into the canon 700 years after the Torah was already canonized and had been copied multiple times since without DH influences.

    I am ignorant on these things but curious.

    BTW, here is a link to a picture that helps me visualize the Jewish canon.

    • Sabio, I am open to the possibility that I have made errors in the post. I would be delighted if some of my readers who do research in the Hebrew Bible would comment on this.

      But as yet, the Vridar crowd have not pointed out any errors. What they have pointed out is that I did not adopt the view of the Documentary Hypothesis advocated by either Wellhausen or Friedman, which of course is typical of the crowd that gathers on that blog: they read at most a few scholars, and treat the ones they like as normative and anyone else as making mistakes or having misunderstood because they disagree with or view things differently than those few scholars the Vridar crowd has read or approves of.

      There are a wide range of views on the Documentary Hypothesis, and there are some really excellent scholars who (wrongly, in my opinion) reject this source-critical explanation for certain phenomena in the Pentateuch.

      As for what I was saying, I thought clearly, I was not suggesting that the Documentary Hypothesis has sources which extend into the Psalter. I was suggesting that the existence of psalms which seem to have been deliberately tailored for different groups which prefer to refer to God in different ways lends support to the view that such divergent traditions existed. In essence, I was offering possible external confirmation for what source critics posit in relation to the Pentateuch.

      The question of whether either E (which has gone out of fashion in certain circles lately) or P in the Pentateuch used YHWH after Moses’ time, or whether one of those sources might have had a preference for simply using “God” with some uses of the tetragrammaton being added to their material by the Pentateuch’s final editor/compiler, is probably besides the point. One of the suggestions is that the Penateuchal editor was weaving together these sources precisely in an attempt to take separate traditions among the Israelites and weave them into a single one that could unite around shared stories. One possibility is that the divided kingdoms had such separate traditions, and that either when Josiah sought to extend his rule into the norern territories, or after the exile in an attempt to give diverse groups a sense of shared identity, or perhaps both. I was not trying to solve that complicated question, merely to point out, largely for the benefit of those conservative religious believers who tend to be dismissive of source criticism, that what some Pentateuchal scholars see in the Torah may be related to and find support in other parts of the Jewish canon.

      One reason I post about Hebrew Bible topics is that I teach about them, and yet I am by no means an expert in that field to anything like the extent I am in New Testament. I post about topics hoping that the readers of this blog who do research in Hebrew Bible will comment and if necessary challenge and correct my understanding and views. I thus find it ironic that any of the Vridar crowd would take exception to this, since on the one hand, they post about things that they know less about than I do, while on the other hand, when someone who actually knows something more about a topic they post about raises objections, their response is not typically to welcome the criticism and delight in having learned something. And so if I seem not to take criticisms from the Vridar crowd very seriously, that is certainly true – and it is in every instance because those folks have merely read a few books and formed an opinion based on their superficial impression as outsiders. As someone who teaches Biblical studies, I need feedback of a less superficial and better-informed sort. And when that is offered, longtime readers of this blog will know, I welcome it.

  • Michael Wilson

    James, thanks for the clarification.  Apparently it isn’t until the inter-testament period that YHWH falls out of favor.  Last night I was thinking the Persian period, but I looked into, and nope, even later.
    Regarding “The DH is not about different sources traditionally referring to God by different names. That is a popular misunderstanding that any real student of the Bible should know is simply flat wrong. Excusing yourself because you are a NT scholar and not a specialist in the OT doesn’t wash.”
    I’m not sure how reliable Neil is as a judge of what washes in NT circles. He has a fondness for really old, discredited, and armature/armchair history and archeology that I doubt is used by any accredited university.  I know that one of the criticisms of T.L. Thompson’s Messiah Myth (was that the name?) was his own lack of acknowledgement of the development of the NT tradition, and he was writing a book, not a blog post.  I’ve learned from working with my professors that they don’t necessarily know everything I do, and generally their knowledge is confined to their specialty. When it comes to the Bible, while I’m sure there are Bible specialist, the tendency is to divide NT from OT and specializing in one means learning a lot of specialized languages and extra biblical text.  For the generalist, the problem comes from not knowing detail in any area, and I think Joseph Campbell sometimes falls into this. Had he known more about the world of the NT he wouldn’t have made the observation that John the Baptist might be a take on Oanes (some still haven’t noticed the problems) and I did a paper challenging classist Adrian Mayor’s hypothesis on the inspiration for the Griffon, a mistake she made because as a classist, she simply hadn’t looked into the history of the idea in the ANE.

    • Indeed, there is often a high degree of compartmentalization in academia. I saw this in my article on history and fiction in the Acts of Thomas – the impression of some scholars who work mainly in the study of ancient Christianity was very different from historians working primarily on ancient India. And so that is but one more reason why it is important to get feedback from experts when dabbling in or doing interdisciplinary work that intersects with an area outside one’s own domain of expertise.

  • Gary

    James is consistent and correct. I think Neil is making a tempest out of a teapot. James said, “One of the suggestions is that the Penateuchal editor was weaving together these sources precisely in an attempt to take separate traditions among the Israelites and weave them into a single one that could unite around shared stories”…which is something Friedman emphasized in “Who Wrote the Bible”. The Redactor played a major role. Some misc comments from Friedman:
    Concerning Psalms (which shows JEDP + Redactor) could influence Psalms, since they (Psalms) are older…pg 134 “Davidic covenant traditions appear in some biblical Psalms that were composed before the Deuteronomist ever picked up his quill”.
    Pg 81, “In J, the deity is called Yahweh from the beginning to end. The J writer never refers to him as Elohim in narration. In E, the deity is called Elohim until the arrival of Moses”.
    Pg 218 “The person who assembled the four sources into the Five Books of Moses is known as the redactor”.
    Pg 219 “The Book of Generations was a Priestly document. Like the P stories in Genesis, the Book of Generations refers to God as Elohim, not as Yahweh….That is, the redactor used a Priestly document as the structuring of text of the Book of Genesis…The Redactor also used a Priestly text as the structure for the next fifteen chapters of the Bible”…
    Talking about the Redactor, pg 225 “He did it, presumably, for the same reasons that J and E had been combined about 250 years earlier. By this time, all of his source texts were famous. J and E had been around for centuries and were quoted in D. P had been around since Hezekiah’s days, it had been associated with a national reform, and it had the support of the priesthood that was in power. D had been read publicly in the days of Josiah, and it contained a law requiring that it be read again publicly every seven years. How could the redactor have left any of these out?”
    Pg 231, “This redactor was an Aaronid priest like the person who produced P. But, ironically, his task was the exact opposite of that earlier person’s. The person who produced P was fashioning a work that was an alternative to earlier sources (JE). The redactor was fashioning a work that reconciled opposing sources.”

  • @ James,
    Thanx, I did not realize that there were several versions of the Documentary Hypothesis and that Friedman’s (the only one I have read) was only one and apparently one with which you disagree.  But it is not my area and too complex for me to imagine who is more right.  Both sides (here and on Vridar’s blog) the arguments are often persuasive for both sides.  Us poor lay people are thus, as with many areas of knowledge, only persuaded by those who we happen to read.

    I am won’t decide which side is right — because I can’t.  But thank you for taking time to explain.

  • I would like to know what alternative versions of the DH Dr McGrath now informs us he was relying on all along. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for him to be specific.

    Meanwhile, Tim has taken up Dr McGrath’s  comment and listed the specific errors made by Dr McGrath, and addressed Dr McGrath’s characterization of “outsiders” who really have read a little more than he would like to think:

    I know I have not read as many books on certain topics as Dr McGrath has and I am always learning from a wide range of authors on topics of interest. But Dr McGrath has no grounds for dismissing my questions and arguments as unworthy of serious responses. I have read much more widely than he clearly would like to think, and I have read as one trained (not self-taught) in historical and literary studies. And I have often asked Dr McGrath to explain his views from his own learning and it is this that has led him, ultimately, not to reply accordingly but to resort to abuse.

    Meanwhile, do have a look at Tim’s address to Dr McGrath:

    • The post Godfrey links to describes my clarifications as “backpedaling”. Need I say more?

      • Yes, Dr McGrath, you do need to say more. Tim has replied with the substance you asked for. If you are not backpedaling then here is your opportunity to address the substance that specifies your errors clearly and succinctly — and for you to demonstrate your assertion that you are not backpedaling.

        Once again, you walk away from addressing the substance of the criticisms that you yourself even asked for.

      • Would you like to inform us of the DH theories you specifically had in mind when you wrote your post?

        It would be a good opportunity for you to show “the vridar crowd” how much more they need to learn about the DH.

  • Readers can click through and see why I have given up trying to deal rationally with Neil Godfrey. The post he links to on his blog is devoted to, among other things, an attempt to treat my reference to “the Vridar crowd” as having something to do with their personal hygiene or lack thereof.

    By “the Vridar crowd” I of course meant that mutual appreciation society that seems to have a penchant for those sorts of distortions, misrepresentations, and distractions from substance.

    If any of that gang were interested in actual scholarly discussion, they would be addressing whether the possibility of different communities or traditions with different preferences regarding names for God makes sense and fits relevant evidence, not asking whether others who’ve written on the subject happen to agree with me or not.

    Ironically, when it comes to their own views, if you point out that someone who is a mainstream scholar sees matters differently, it means nothing to them. So why this hypocrisy? Are these people really to be regarded as though they were sane, rational people, given their behavior?

    • Dr McGrath, you might like to cordially respond, with civility and good professional grace becoming a public intellectual, to Tim’s response to your comment here:

    • Dr McGrath, I asked if you would be so kind as to inform us of the particular DH theory or DH scholar you had in mind when you wrote your post about the DH – especially since I, as a layman, am unaware of a DH theory that contradicts the fundamentals that Tim addressed in his post as a critique of yours. We are sincerely keen to learn from you since you have certainly read more books about such things than I have on the documentary hypothesis (I have only read about half a dozen dedicated to this topic exclusively and I am sure Tim has read many more than that since it is a topic of special interest to him). But I appeal to you as a professor to guide us to the particular DH view that is clearly not in accord with anything I have read in Wellhausen and Friedman and that was guiding the argument of your own original post.

      I ask this because Tim has also asked what the particular alternative DH hypothesis is that you had in mind when you wrote:

      What they
      have pointed out is that I did not adopt the view of the Documentary
      Hypothesis advocated by either Wellhausen or Friedman, which of course
      is typical of the crowd that gathers on that blog: they read at most a
      few scholars, and treat the ones they like as normative and anyone else
      as making mistakes or having misunderstood because they disagree with or
      view things differently than those few scholars the Vridar crowd has
      read or approves of.

      There are a wide range of views on the
      Documentary Hypothesis, and there are some really excellent scholars who
      (wrongly, in my opinion) reject this source-critical explanation for
      certain phenomena in the Pentateuch.

      This, I am sure you can agree, is not a fact or piece of information you have previously supplied to anyone on this blog. So I do believe you will not dismiss my and Tim’s queries on the grounds that either of us has ignored or failed to accept your previous explanations.

  • Dr McGrath, Tim asked you in all sincerity the following question:

    “Will you please have the common
    decency to address the issues and not dwell on your pathologically
    distorted view of the source?”

    I take your responses to mean that your answer is No, you have no intention of addressing the substantive issues even in that same post.

  • Gary

    Neil said, ”
    But I appeal to you as a professor to guide us to the particular DH view that is clearly not in accord with anything I have read in Wellhausen and Friedman”…I don’t want to get sucked into this, but…Wellhausen and Friedman don’t agree on everything as well. Just one example, after that I am done…
    “Who Wrote the Bible”,  chapter 12, “Quoting P”, “P had to be written by the time of the Deuteronomistic writer….They accepted the Wellhausen hypothesis that P was not yet written in Jeremiah’s days…All because they thought that P was not written yet. But it was.” This is in regard to Friedman’s opinion that Jeremiah and/or his scribe were the D authors. The interesting quote from Friedman which has implications for literalists, I think, is…
    “Jeremiah knew the Priestly laws and stories. He did not like them, but he knew them. How hostile he was to them can be seen in an extraordinary passage in the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah says to the people:
    “How do you say, “We are wise, and Yahweh’s torah is with us”? In fact, here, it was made for a lie, the lying pen of scribes” (Jer 8:8)
    The lying pen of scribes! Jeremiah uses even tougher language than the modern Bible critics “pious fraud”)”.

    Friedman also suggests that the Redactor was probably Ezra, and the J author could have possibly been a woman. In his preface, Friedman tells a story about an orthodox rabbi teacher he had. When a student said I disagree, the rabbi said I can sit with people with whom I disagree and study together. His summary, “people can disagree strongly in matters of religion and still not be enemies”. So there are many versions of the DH.

    • Gary, thanks for your reply. But you have overlooked the key point of my request. Yes there are variant explanations for certain details of the DH but we are talking about the foundational understanding of the core basics that are found in common in Wellhausen and Friedman and that actually define what the DH is for everyone.

      Dr McGrath’s post conveys an understanding of the DH — that it is a question of the different uses of the name for God — that directly contradicts any explanation for the DH of which I am aware and seems to contradict the very nature of the DH itself. Everyone (at least everyone who knows about the DH, as I understand it, knows, for example, that P uses both names for God and is not defined by any single use or preference for one name at all. The key point is that different sources had different views on when the name YHWH was revealed or used.

      But I know my knowledge is limited so I would like to be informed by more learned people. So perhaps you can encourage Dr McGrath to inform us both of the particular DH he had in mind when he wrote his post and that contradicts the very understanding of the DH as presented by Wellhausen and Friedman. I am sure he would not mind sharing his knowledge with laymen.

  • Gary

    BTW, my buddy Howard is commenting over on the vridar blog. I’d comment there too, but I already waste enough time commenting on this and Joel’s blog. I need to get a life.

  • Michael Wilson

    I’ve noticed the vridar crowd sure like to translate what people say into whatever sort of distorted message they really wanted to see

    “Crowd — Unwashed. Uneducated. Mouth-breathing loonies.
    Those folks — Outsiders. Others. People not like us. Those people.
    merely read a few books — Largely unread. Cherry-pickers. Unruly. Undisciplined. Probably guided by ulterior motives. Possibly on some kind of conspiracy kick.
    superficial impression as outsiders — Incapable of having the deep understanding that he has, because they are those people who are outside the guild. The “outsiders” see through a glass darkly.
    better-informed sort — If evidence comes from the wrong people — those people — it may be justifiably ignored. He needs feedback from better people. Cleaner people. Smarter people. People like him.”

    I think may want to stop translating messages into paranoid fantasy and just read them. For instance the last sentence accused Neil of living in a paranoid fantasy, but my computer gives me no idea what he smells like, nor would I assume he is part of some unruly mob as he has offered his support for Bashir Assad and the Ayatollah, and those guys have shown how little they care for unruly mobs. Anyhow, given the lack of decency that Neil carries out discussions, I’m not surprised James isn’t interested in having one. That he hasn’t stopped him from posting is puzzling. It’s what he would do in the same position (well, maybe not the same, I’ve demonstrated my reasoning for saying Neil is a creep and douche, though I should apologies for bringing down the level of conversation, so let me just say that he is dishonest and discourteous and let the reader fill in their own favorite vulgar pejoratives), but I suppose James isn’t worried that anyone will get carried away with his ranting.

    • Michael, since I have been accused of “abusive” comments merely for saying another commenter’s argument is circular or invalid, I do not bother to ask for evidence of my discourtesy or abusive tone from one who stoops to the crudities you do.

      But I do ask you to link to a specific post and comment where I have been guilty of the dishonesty of which you charge me.

      Dr McGrath would merely hand-wave and say “read all those threads over there” but he calls me insane if I would insist in specific evidence. I would like you to do what is beyond Dr McGrath’s power and actually supply evidence for your accusation of dishonesty or withdraw your slander.

      • Michael Wilson

        This exchange between Jonathan Burk and Neil is fairly instructive. Jonathan has to correct you a number of times for trying to twist his statements.
        Then there is this attempt to enlist Dale Alison into supporting your position about HJ scholars and circularity:
        “Here is what Dale Allison writes on page 60 of Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet:
        ‘Jesus turns out to have been a proponent of an apocalyptic eschatology. This result is of course contained in the methodological premise, according to which Jesus was an eschatological prophet. But in this regard history is not different from hermeneutics: circularity we will always have with us.’
        Allison calls in Hahn as a supporting witness:
        ‘Compare Hahn, “Methodologische Überlegungen,” pp. 37-38, who observes the problem of interpreting the individual pieces of the Jesus tradition without first having a total picture of Jesus and the problem of having a total picture of Jesus without first interpreting the individual pieces. His method is similar to my own in that he enters the circle from generalizations about Jesus and the Jesus tradition.’
        It is encouraging to read scholarly literature by academics who are intelligent, honest and humble enough to acknowledge such a weakness in their methodology. (What one sometimes encounters on internet blogs by a few scholarly types can be rather depressing by comparison.) One can (generally) respect such scholarly works and read them with some assurance that they are reading works by authors aware of their limitations and ultimate fragility of their findings.”
        Here is what Dale says immediately following “circularity we will always have with us”
        At the same time, some sayings with an apocalyptic world view may be deemed authentic not just because they illuminate or are illumed by the paradigm of Jesus as eschatological prophet but also because they satisfy other indices…(dale includes an example of this)…So the conclusion that certain apocalyptic sayings go back to Jesus is not just a product of the premise. The final conclusion also fortifies the opening supposition.
        From Dale Allison page 60 of Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet:
        This is hardly an acknowledgement of scholars working on the historical Jesus being circular. A circular argument is one where the conclusion is a product of the premise, which he flatly denies his argument for Jesus being a proponent of apocalyptic eschatology is.

        • Pointing to a post with 116 comments is not what I call pointing out where I supposedly and presumably deliberately twist a person’s arguments. That is Dr McGrath’s style of handwaving — “the evidence is there somewhere if you care to look through the haystack.”

          As for your supposed evidence of my dishonesty in relation to what Dale Allison says you really have me mystified. Where is my dishonesty? Allison makes it plain that his argument is not simply derived from the premise, the assumption — but the conclusion also supports another supposition. That is hardly by any stretch of the imagination a independent control.

          Dale Allison is using something found among postmodernist historiography — just relying on the impression of the gospels and saying well, even an impression conveyed by fictions can give us a true idea of what Jesus was like — and then adding various suppositions from this view. Hey presto — everything he assumed and pre-supposed is found there in the evidence. How lucky! 

          Of course that’s circular. How is it not circular? (Even if it weren’t you could at least give me the benefit of the doubt on not understanding the argument — as I think you have failed to understand it. But I don’t jump in and accuse someone of dishonesty just because they have a different understanding of what someone says or the logic of their arguments.)

          I have certainly gone well beyond Dale Allison and shown that even E.P. Sanders and others simply begin with the assumption that there is a historical Jesus to study and find out about. That’s exactly what Dale Allison does, too. All his methods are about trying to find out the sort of person this Jesus was. There is at no point any question whether there was a Jesus. That is assumed — simply assumed — from the outset.

          Dr McGrath then says that we can only know that someone existed by what others say about him. But that is quite shallow reasoning. The same applies to any character, fictional, mythical etc. No, I argue that a valid methodology should follow the principles set out by those authors Dr McGrath rightly and sagely recommended we read: Howell and Prevenier.

          It is by using their methods that we can ascertain the certain historicity of Julius Caesar and probably historicity of Socrates by means of valid — non-circular — reasoning. No assumptions of the kind we use for Jesus are needed.

          Now that is NOT an argument for Jesus being mythical, either, as I have attempted to point out a goo-zillion times.

          • Michael Wilson

            One only needs to scroll though to find the conversation between you and Burk, took me a about a minute, as it is quite a long exchange, I haven’t pasted it over here. Anyone who doubts your deceptive nature should take the time to read it. On Alison, you haven’t misunderstood his argument; you misrepresented it by partially quoting it. I mentioned it to you before and you have continued to use this to say that even HJ scholars believe what they are doing is circular reasoning, but the passage does not say this. You want evidence you’re dishonest, and there you have it. It could be that you are stupid, but I don’t think that this is the case.

          • Well Michael, the details you added from Allison’s words are only further confirmation of the same point about circularity. Simply saying your conclusion matches other suppositions you bring to the debate IS circular. My fault was in trying to keep the guts of his argument succinct with the key words. You appear to not grasp the concept of circularity.

            I stand by what I have said and argued from Allison’s words and larger argument. I have not misrepresented him in the least but have concurred with what other biblical scholars also say, along with Allison, that circularity is at the heart of the HJ enterprise.

            If you disagree then disagree in a civil manner and bring a logical argument to the fore but there is no need to call me dishonest.

            I do not accept that I at any point attempted to distort anyone’s argument. Why would I want to do that to their faces? That would be stupid and pointless. If there was a difference in understanding — and you cannot point me to any post to confirm that there was (simply doing McGrath style handwaving is not providing me with evidence) — then I can accept that. Sometimes people do not always understand one another and an argument does ensue.

            But to call one of the parties dishonest without clear evidence is not helpful and is not scholarly.

  • Gary

    Neil, “that P uses both names for God and is not defined by any single use or preference”..
    as I had quoted Friedman earlier, “Pg 219 “The Book of Generations was a Priestly document. Like the P stories in Genesis, the Book of Generations refers to God as Elohim, not as Yahweh.”…so I’d call that a preference, at least in Genesis. I don’t particularly obsess over what other people believe.

    • Gary, you have failed to understand the argument being made. Friedman is pointing out that the P source uses Elohim up until the time that YHWH is revealed as the name of God and from then on it uses either name at will. The P document has no preference per se for a name of God. The question is WHEN the divine name is revealed. Until then Elohim will be used but after that time there is no distinction. Have you read the arguments? I would encourage you, however, to persuade Dr McGrath to give us the name of the DH variant that apparently rejects this idea.

    • Michael Wilson

      Gary,that’s a good point. While the use of Elohim in Genesis is attributed to P following E’s lead on Elohim being the gods name before Yahweh is revealed, the book of generations does seem to be a separate document. Could it be that as Judaism saw god as more transcendent and unique they moved away from the personal name and more toward the generic El out of the belief that Yahweh was the only Elohim to exist? El then wouldn’t be used because exclusively because the Elohim of Israel is Yahweh and the taboo against using Yahweh had not developed yet. Yet in the hands of the people that produced the Book of Generations Elohim is not a separate deity who is Yahweh’s father at it seems to be in some early sources. In such a scenario the earlier psalm castigating those who say there is no god may have been rewritten for a community that wants to universalize Yahweh as the sole god, not simply a community that thinks their god’s name is Elohim. Interestingly it also eliminates 14’s plea for the poor.

      • Gary

        Michael, I was just quoting Friedman on the Book of Generations. Don’t know about what deep meaning it has to the name of God. Friedman was addressing the redactor’s use of it to give continuity to Genesis. To quote Friedman, Capt 13, “An Aaronid Priest”, “Frank Moore Cross demonstrated that the Book of Generations was originally a separate document. The person who assembled the Torah cut it into several parts and then interspersed the parts through the book of Genesis. This arrangement gave the stories from the different writers organization and continuity. The redactor took the part of the document that covered the ten generations from Adam to Noah and placed it between the Adam story and the Noah story, then he took the part that covered the ten generations from Noah to Abraham and placed it between the Noah story and the Abraham stories, and so on. This gave the stories of Genesis a sensible framework, setting all of them into a flow of history.” So my opinion on it, and my opinion does not mean much, Ezra as the redactor, did this late in the game, to the priestly document, the Book of Generations, which was done earlier. So it shows one thing only. How complicated the DH and its various versions can become. Every expert has an opinion. Ezra, as an Aaron priest, would have edited/redacted with the mind of a priest source, even though he was editing much later than the actual priestly source, source. How confusing is that? So if you did a flow chart of the processes, there’d be interconnecting arrows all over the place. So tendencies are one thing you can point out, but you can’t decide that x=y in all cases, as Neil seems to demand in his petulant manner. Friedman has an opinion, but that is just one expert. No one knows for sure, other than the fact that there are different sources….not just one, Moses.

        • Michael Wilson

          It is complicated and there are a lot of opinions. you get the same thing with Q. Effectively, any work may have elements that were not composed by the author but are lifted from some other source. this sort of thing is a fun investigation for those that like that sort of thing. sometimes there is pretty good evidence to sugest that an earlier source is being used, often the evidence is not so clear. Without clear evidence, I think one should assume that a text is a whole. However, we posses so little knowledge on the transmission hisdtory and authorship of the biblical text, any stements regarding what was meant by the text are going to have large margins of error.

  • I am not an expert in New Testament languages but I am pretty good with English, having taught it to senior students, including would-be teachers of English as a second language, and having studied at a post-graduate level educational and philosophical questions surrounding indoctrination and propaganda. I am also a native speaker of the language.

    So perhaps I have something to contribute to a clearer understanding of Tim’s comments that seems to have escaped some commenters here.

    The English language is rich in synonyms. This is a result of it having evolved through influxes of many other languages over some generations: Anglo-Saxon, Danish, French, Latin, Germanic . . . . The English dictionary, I believe, contains many more words than comparable dictionaries of other languages.

    So users of the language very often have a wide choice of words to select from to represent their meanings.

    And public relations experts and educators and newspaper editors and politicians and propagandists are keenly aware of the psychological power that attend the subtleties — usually working at a subliminal level — of different word choices.

    So describing someone as belonging to “a gang” or “a crowd” or “a mob” carries different psychological connotations from describing the same person as belonging to “an academy” or “a point of view” or “a fellowship” — or even more significantly, it contrasts with simply not describing them as part of any collective but, rather, addressing them respectfully as an individual in their own right.

    What Tim actually did in his comment was to bring out the subliminal associations that are typically associated with certain negative choices of words. Choosing negative words like this to label an opponent is known in the business as “muddying the waters” and is sometimes acknowledged as a logical fallacy. It is certainly a pejorative and invalid way of arguing a point.

    I hope this little explanation of the subtleties of the use of the English language is clear. Would anyone now like pick up and address the substantive content of Tim’s post in which he listed the very specific errors made by Dr McGrath?

  • Gary

    Neil, with all do respect, you are turning into a spammer. I know exactly what Friedman is point out.

  • The Ubiquitous

    Psalms are not part of the Pentateuch. I am unsure why this works as evidence for the post-Mosaic composite authorship of the Pentateuch, and that is really the controversial part of the Documentary Hypothesis.

    Background: I personally favor a Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, piecing together pre-Mosaic traditions with verve and subtlety, especially for Genesis (with all its chiasms being suited for a people wandering the desert.) I would account for the last verses of Genesis as appended after Moses’ death, as well as framing devices in Deuteronomy.

    Beyond the Pentateuch, I have no difficulty with Ezra or someone piecing together the Old Testament as we know it. That is, excepting the later writings included in the LXX.

    • I am sorry to hear that you didn’t understand the post. The point was that the Psalms provide evidence that among the Israelites one had preferences for different ways of referring to and addressing God, and those differences are also reflected in the Pentateuchal sources.

      Having people prior to Moses refer to kings in Israel, and to the Canaanites having been in the land, and to Moses as the most humble man in the world, creates even more difficulties than positing that Moses wrote them.

      • The Ubiquitous

        Oh, I understand the post. It’s just really bad scholarship.

        Why can’t the preference for the titles post-date Moses? Christians say Jesus and Jesus Christ and Christ, and all three versions are found throughout the New Testament, but the ideological wars about the titles post-date the New Testament. This would be reflected in the composition of a psalm basically identical to another with a single word changed, much as Christians mess around with the texts of their own hymns.

        • All sorts of things are possible. What you need to show is why your view is more probable than alternatives.

          • The Ubiquitous

            Not at the moment I don’t. At the moment I just need to disprove the notion that “the Psalms are the best evidence for the documentary hypothesis.” By this I’m taking you to believe that you’re saying these two particular psalms. This has been shown by the fact that you’re pulling from other examples (Moses calling himself humble, &c.) If these two Psalms were the best evidence of the DH, then why would you need to pull from other traditions and add an interpretive spin not found in the psalms themselves? Surely the interpretive spin would be evidence in the psalms themselves! And, if it were, why would that say anything about the Pentateuch? Well, no, it doesn’t, and if this is the best evidence — I specifically was looking up the best evidence when I came across this blog — then there isn’t any good evidence at all.

            Regarding the Psalms themselves, I would say that though some Psalms are Davidic, others were written after the split between Judah and Israel, and maybe even one was repurposed by the other.

            This is more plausible than the DH regarding these two psalms because it demonstrates behavior we already know exists in religious contexts, including a) the changing of one watchword to another when borrowing from an opposing ideological faction, b) a later radicalization of a text into warring camps from a single original unity.

            Where the DH is wrongheaded is in supposing that the later radicalization is evident in the Pentateuch, especially Genesis. It is not wrong in talking about radicalization or propagandists, which is plausible in regards to, say, the four books of Kings versus the two books of Chronicles. Extending this radicalization to the early history of the Hebrews, however, is an unnecessary step.

          • I’ve rarely seen someone take such a literalistic approach to the title of a blog post, or any headline for that matter. But be that as it may, whether one makes a case for Mosaic authorship, or the Documentary Hypothesis, the case has to deal with lots of evidence, even if one considers this or that piece particularly important.

            But I can understand why, as someone who dogmatically adheres to Mosaic authorship despite the evidence to the contrary, you would choose to fixate on this post. It is easier to stick to the Psalms than to explain how Moses could have written “at that time the Canaanites were in the land.”

          • Guest

            So … you’re saying you’re wrong? Apology accepted and I agree.

          • The Ubiquitous

            OK, this time without the snark. I regretted it as soon as I posted it.

            Fact of the matter is,

            1, Literally is only way to engage an argument. This isn’t poetry.
            2, Literalistically is not really a meaningful slur because not one bit of content in this post has anything to do with other evidence, and the whole is organized in favor of the clarity of this one example making the DH plausible as it relates to the Pentateuch — which it doesn’t.
            3, Dogmatic defense of Mosaic authorship isn’t my fixation. I’m trying to learn about the DH at this stage and, as I’ve learned about it, have become sort of overwhelmed with the poor reasoning supporting it. It is a weak thing on which to hang so much speculation. Therefore, I argue, not because I believe my view perfect, but because I observe that , and in arguing what is actually true may emerge.

            The DH is not actually theoretically a problem for me. However, that it can’t be proven is, and I will give the presumption to the peculiar fixation of the orthodox Jew over weak scholarly speculation.

            If the DH can’t be defended, then it is indefensible. I have so far found nobody capable of defending it, certainly in the popular literature, so I’m finding those who are capable of arguing about it. If you are not, or are unwilling, then I will happily continue to live my life.

          • Are you saying that you have not consulted any major scholarly treatment of the question? For whatever reason, you keep simply saying the same thing over and over again, without addressing the evidence, including two obvious questions: (1) what do you do with those passages in the Pentateuch which make reference to post-Mosaic states of affairs, like kings in Israel, or the exile, or the presence of Canaanites being a thing of the past, and (2) why, other than slavish adherence to tradition, would you suggest that Moses’ contribution to the Pentateuch involves anything more than, at most, writing the things whch the Pentateuch says that Moses wrote? Why would you also posit that Moses wrote about Moses writing those things?

  • commenterjoe9999