DH 14: Falsifiability?

DH 14: Falsifiability? April 16, 2014

A major methodological problem facing proponents of the Documentary Hypothesis—the Documentarians—is the question of methodology.  Since there is no empirical evidence supporting the hypothesis, the question arises, by what set of criteria can we determine if the Documentary Hypothesis accurately describes the pre-Pentateuch sources from which the Pentateuch was supposedly composed?  The answer is: there are none.  The reality is that the use of the same set of assumptions and methods by equally competent scholars has produced a wide range of incompatible results.  I’ll discuss this issue later.

A fundamental characteristic of a useful theory is falsifiability.  That is: are there a set of criteria by which we can demonstrate that a theory is false?  This method is widely used in the empirical sciences, but is much more difficult and complicated to apply in the humanities.  Unfortunately for the Documentary Hypothesis, the speculation of the existence of multiple Redactors (R1, R2, R3, JER, etc.) permit any evidence which contradicts the theory to be attributed to a Redactor. The result is that Documentarian theories remain inherently unfalsifiable.  How can you disprove that a passage belongs to the Yahwist when any evidence which contradicts the theory of Yahwist authorship is attributed to a Redactor?  The result is an infinite capacity to theorize and speculate, with absolutely no empirical controls, and almost no methodological or theoretical control over the data.

Here’s an example.  Richard Friedman’s The Bible with Sources Revealed contains all the different Documentarian sources in different colors and fonts for easy identification.  He uses blue highlighted text to represent insertions of the Redactor.  Genesis 2 and 3 are attributed to the Yahwist (green), but are noticeably peppered with highlighted blue text almost every time the word God/Elohim appears.  As I noted earlier (DH 12), throughout Genesis 2 and 3, the creator is  not called Yahweh, but Yahweh-Elohim, the “LORD God.”  But although, according to the theory, the Yahwist does not use the name Elohim for the deity, it nonetheless appears throughout these chapters.  Since a fundamental criteria for distinguishing between the Yahwist-J and Elohist-E is which name of God they use, the appearance of both names for God together in these two chapters would seem to undermine the theory, especially compounded by the inconsistencies in the Septuagint translation I mentioned earlier (DH 12).  These two facts together should provide grounds for skepticism of the validity of the theory—at the very least for these chapters.  What is the Documentarian solution to this problem?  Do they revise their theory to match the data?  Rather, they claim that throughout these two chapters the name Yahweh/LORD originally appeared alone, precisely as their theory requires.  A Redactor later added the name Elohim/God to Yahweh, creating the phrase Yahweh-Elohim/“LORD God” that we find throughout these chapters.  Thus, by attributing all inconsistencies to Redactors, the original text can always be found to be precisely the way the Documentarian theory requires it to be.  Thanks to the invention of the Redactor, the Documentary Hypothesis can never be disproven.

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