Being Honest to the Texts of the Bible (Part 2b)


Continued from Being Honest to the Bible’s Texts (Part 2a).

2. The Documentary Hypothesis: What is a Hypothesis?

Some readers here (one in particular with a new alias) rather than commenting on my posts are caught up in a game of disclosing and then responding to their own assumptions about the intended aims of my work and the aims and methods of biblical scholarship in general by referencing misleading and inaccurate views about the Documentary Hypothesis and then insisting that these mistaken views are the aims of my work. In the present case this is rather disconcerting since the Documentary Hypothesis is not even mentioned nor alluded to in my initial post, Being Honest to the Bible’s Texts, which again reflects the fact that these particular visitors are caught up in a game of responding to their own misguided assumptions and ignorance about our object of study rather than to the actual content of my posts and/or the biblical texts themselves! Nonetheless, let me attempt to respond to these misguided few.

First, a couple definitions:

A hypothesis is a conceptual structure which serves to organize and render intelligible a mass of otherwise disparate and disordered observations.  (Campbell & O’Brien, Sources of the Pentateuch)

A scientific hypothesis is presumed to be sound until it is challenged by another hypothesis that explains the current data equally well and also accounts for the inconsistencies that the prevailing one cannot account for.  (source unknown, cited from an SAT)

Before addressing our object of study—the biblical texts—let me briefly present an analogy to consider. If my memory serves me well, the Bohr model of an atom that we all learn of in high school is nothing more than a hypothesis! No one has ever seen an atom. One cannot verify this model from direct observation! It is a hypothesis—a conceptual model—that best explains the observable data collected from photon accelerators I believe. Indeed this hypothesis has even changed over the last few decades and is no longer the reigning hypothesis. Nonetheless, with this simple hypothesis, we have successfully explained numerous chemical, biological, and physical properties and phenomena, built satellites and iphones, skyscrapers and operating tables, genetically modified crops, DNA, etc. Basically we’ve built a lot of shit upon this hypothesis. Now imagine for a moment a group of individuals that did not allow the human species to develop and advance its knowledge because they were stuck on the hypothesis part. Since our notion of an atom is just a hypothesis—not verifiable through direct observation—then other advancements ought not be built upon this fabrication such individuals might argue, while undoubtedly using all of the comforts of society built upon this hypothesis! One easily grasps through this analogy just how intellectually and conceptually bankrupt these individuals’ thinking is. Indeed, all sorts of hypotheses are rendered valid on a daily basis and have helped to create the world we currently live in—hypotheses that are in essence merely conceptual models that explain such-and-such observable data and/or phenomena.

It should furthermore be noted that this hypothesis as well as others are drawn from the observable data as objectively as possible. It is not based on subjective beliefs, but drawn from the observable data collected from the object of study—what we would call the scientific method. Moreover, this objectively drawn hypothesis (from our object of study’s observable data) is radically different from a subjective belief claim about the nature of atoms such as, for example, that held by the Greek philosopher Democrites who speculated that atoms had little hooks on them to combine with other atoms and thus create larger compounds. This view is no longer tenable because the observable data drawn by later generations and built upon ever increasing advancements and knowledge about the object’s field of study display that such subjective beliefs are no longer tenable. Not surprisingly, all of these same principles also apply to the biblical texts as an object of study!

So with respect to our object of study—the biblical texts (note: our object of study is not the interpretive assumptions embedded in the label “the Holy Bible,” not God, not faith, not the reader’s subjective belief claims, etc., but the texts themselves)—the Documentary Hypothesis is likewise a conceptual model drawn and continuously redrawn for more than 300 years (going back to Witter’s 1711 work which hypothesized 2 sources) from the observable textual data! That’s a longer and more pronounced track record as a hypothesis that best explains the observable data than the hypothesis of an atom from which my readers’ iphones were built! That is to say, the biblical texts themselves have lead to, and continuously substantiate, this hypothesis which is the only reigning hypothesis that has successfully explained the observable textual data the Bible reveals when objectively studied—its differing styles, Hebraic lexical and grammatical differences, differences in vocabulary and phraseology, duplicate stories, anachronisms and other historical references, anomalous chronologies and genealogies, duplicate itineraries, anachronistic geographical landscapes and cities, differing geopolitical worldviews, and finally differing,  competing, and/or contradictory theologies, ideologies, law codes, worldviews, and beliefs about Israel’s god, sacrifice, the cult, salvation, the priesthood, kingship, prophecy, Christ, and so on and so on and so on. Some of these textual data were even observed and commented on by early church fathers who proposed theological and/or subjectively-oriented explanations for them. But like Democrites’ views on the atom, these ancient views have also been largely debunked by our increased knowledge of the Bible’s texts, other texts of the ancient world, the hows and whys behind scribal schools and their compositions, who wrote ancient texts, why, and to whom, and most importantly our increased knowledge of these texts on linguistic, philological, stylistic, theological, thematic, and even ideological grounds. Being ignorant about this knowledge and its field of study is no excuse for arguing that the conclusions it draws from the observable textual data is untenable. Being ignorant of the textual observable data—that is, being ignorant about these texts—does not invalidate the hypothesis drawn from this textual data! It is incumbent upon the readers to acquire this knowledge before they make pronouncements about these texts—otherwise their pronouncements are little more than subjective belief claims about the nature of these texts forged by their own whims and their ignorance of the textual data, and/or by the influences of later and exterior reader-focused interpretive traditions or theological convictions! See Part 2a.

Furthermore, this website and my scholarship in general is not dedicated to substantiating the Documentary Hypothesis. There is over three centuries of literature that has and continues to successfully do this. It is the responsibility of readers to acquaint themselves with this knowledge. A good start is Joel Baden’s recent book, The Composition of the Pentateuch: Renewing the Documentary Hypothesis (2012), whose aim is to reacquaint the public with this field of scholarship and to illustrate through the biblical texts why the Documentary Hypothesis is still the prevailing model in explaining the Pentateuch’s observable textual data, even if scholars nowadays do not strictly hold to Wellhausen’s initial thesis.

As for myself, I’m less interested in saying look here is J and here P. I’m more interested in saying look here, how this later version of a traditional story had been modified when it was retold or rewritten by a later and perhaps different scribal guild or in a different geopolitical world. Let’s understand that! Why and how did this later author modify the tradition that he himself inherited, etc. The focus is always on understanding the text on the terms of the text. And again, there are loads of books out there by biblical scholars more proficient than myself showing how this hypothesis is confirmed and supported by the textual data. See, to name a few: Knohl, The Sanctuary of Silence: The Priestly Torah and the Holiness School (1995); Carr, Reading the Fractures of Genesis: Historical and Literary Approaches (1996); Levinson, Deuteronomy and the Hermeneutics of Legal Innovation (1997); Campbell & O’Brien, Unfolding the Deuteronomistic History: Origins, Upgrades, Present Text (2000); Crawford, Rewriting Scripture in Second Temple Times (2008); King, The Realignment of the Priestly Literature: The Priestly Narrative of Genesis and Its Relation to Priestly Legislation and the Holiness School (2009); Person, The Deuteronomic History and the Book of Chronicles (2010); or any one of the Anchor Bible Commentaries (Yale University Press) on the books of the Pentateuch!

In point of fact, I am not much of a proponent of Wellhausen’s Documentary Hypothesis. And indeed the paradigm in biblical scholarship has changed a bit (which I have discussed in limited fashion here). That said, I much prefer to speak of a Source Hypothesis, whether those sources are documents, oral traditions, or other scribal traditions. For who could refute this (and why would they?). For any glance at the Bible’s table of contents only reinforces this fact. The Bible is a compilation of different sources, literary or otherwise! So yes, I’ve quickly moved from hypothesis to fact, visually verifiable from the evidence that this collection of ancient literature’s once independent scrolls and codices bears witness to. Indeed, in many circumstances we are no longer talking about a hypothesis but real, genuine, verifiable fact!

First, the Bible’s table of contents irrefutably reveals that its content are diverse and once independent documents—all of which were collected together at a later date to form the Bible in the late 2nd c. BCE, at the earliest. Prior to this we had a collection of ancient scrolls that were identified as the Law and the Prophets, attested as earlier as the 1 c. BCE, which were made up of a lesser selection of these different textual sources and documents. And prior to this there is evidence of a collection of edited scrolls coming from Babylon in the early 5th c. BCE which was labeled by these same editors as the “Torah of Moses” (Neh 8:1). Regardless how this collection of documents was viewed and labeled by its 5th century readers, this “Torah,” like the collection “the Law and the Prophets” and the even later collection “the Bible,” also reveals a composite textual nature.

Second, many of the authors of the Bible’s texts also inform us, per the conventions of ancient literary practices, that they themselves used sources in composing their compositions! The author of the gospel of Luke, for example, informs us that he had sources which he readily used, the author of Jude identifies Enoch as a “scriptural” source. Obviously Matthew and Paul used the LXX as sources for their compositions, and so on. But more than these trite examples, are those of our Old Testament writers. For example, the author of (parts of) the book of Numbers uses material from a source which he identifies as “the scroll of the wars of Yahweh” (Num 21:14). We also hear of “the scroll of Jashar” which was used as a source for the author of Joshua 10:13. Whoever wrote much of the genealogical lists in Genesis identifies his source as “the scroll of the genealogy of Adam” (Gen 5:1). The authors of the books—scrolls—of Kings frequently reference a couple of their sources, “the chronicles of the kings of Israel” and “the chronicles of the kings of Judah” (1 Kings 14:19, 14:29, 15:7, 15:23, etc.). The author of the books of Chronicles, which is a later, and as we shall see, divergent historical narrative covering the same period depicted in the books of Samuel and Kings, not only uses these books as sources, but mentions others as well: “the chronicles of David” (1 Chr 27:24), “the chronicles of Samuel the seer” (1 Chr 29:29), “the scroll of Gad” (1 Chr 29:29), “the scroll of Jehu” (2 Chr 20:34), etc. “The scroll of the records of your fathers” is mentioned by the author of Ezra (Ezra 4:15), and so on. That the biblical writers—or perhaps seen in this perspective, scribes who transmitted traditions—used sources is evident from the biblical texts themselves. The texts and their authors tell us this fact! There are even specific incidences where a scribe has disagreed with a source that he has incorporated into his composition, and there were even specific literary conventions that scribes used to indicate to other scribes where they inserted other textual material—the resumptive repetition is one such scribal feature. Fundamentalist readers can only ignore the biblical texts for so long. Or can they just keep ignoring these texts indefinitely? Because God knows (now I’m making a theological assertion, more rhetorical than anything) that these readers’ beliefs about the Bible’s texts are more important than what the texts themselves say and do not say on their own terms! So I suppose they can indefinitely go on like this—to the detriment and neglect of the very texts themselves, their authors, and their competing beliefs, worldviews, messages, ideologies, etc.

Third, add to this textual evidence our growing knowledge about the scribal culture of the ancient Near East and this hypothesis finds even more supporting data. We know from biblical and extra-biblical texts that scribes often added variant or different traditions onto existing scrolls that were handed down through traditions and scribal culture. Scribes were not authors in our sense of the word. They were transmitters of tradition and they often reinterpreted or made amendments to the traditions that they themselves inherited! For example, laws codes that witnessed changes due to later kings or under changing geopolitical worlds were simply added to existing scrolls that contained earlier and often obsolete law codes. We have examples of this practice well into the Persian period! Scrolls, in other words, often preserved earlier traditions/sources, even when, and perhaps especially when, they were preserving variant traditions! The Bible as a whole bears witness to this on numerous occasions. Let’s get this straight—that is its textual data bears witness to these variant and even competing traditions, ideologies, emphasis, etc. That which is assumed in the title “the Holy Bible” does not! And that is the nature of the real issue here. But before we get to that conversation, my plea is that we first learn how to be honest to these ancient documents and the literary conventions and scribal culture that produced them, and that starts by just acknowledging them on their own terms—not the terms dictated by later traditions and theological constructs.

The reader should start to see that the real problem here is ignorance! Biblical illiteracy—and what I mean by this phrase is ignorance about the texts of the Bible, the scribal cultures that produced them, ancient literature in general, who wrote it, why, to whom, according to what scribal conventions, etc.—is a growing and systemic problem in this country. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly worse! We have actually been moving in the wrong direction—towards more biblical illiteracy and ignorance. Again, ignorance of the textual data and three-hundred years of knowledge does not invalidate the Source Hypothesis—especially when, as we just saw, the scribes of these texts explicitly inform us that they used sources!

To therefore hypothesize that the book of Genesis, for example, was composed of different sources seems more like a given than a hypothesis—even more so when one has equipped oneself with our growing knowledge of ancient literary conventions and how scrolls were composed and transmitted, and by whom and for what purposes. What we today call the book of Genesis wasn’t created until the 2nd century BCE! That’s a whole 7 centuries after what scholars estimate are the oldest layers of texts in this so-called “book”! When I say Genesis wasn’t conceived until the 2nd century I am specifically referring to the title “Genesis”—a Greek title that gets imposed onto this scroll in the 2nd century BCE when the Hebrew scroll whose conventional name was its first word, bere’shit, gets translated into Greek and even later when this translated scroll gets reformatted as a codex—our modern book! Indeed, it is perhaps this form—the book—which was a later creation, that imposes the most sway on modern misinformed readers in thinking that Genesis is a book with a unified narrative, a single message, and single author. They have fallen prey to the oldest adage: they’ve judged a so-called book by its cover which says “Hey, I’m a Book,” and not its content which declares otherwise!

Prior to this we have to ask, when was the scroll bere’shit composed? And more pertinent, how? Looking at the extra-textual data first, our earliest textual reference to such a scroll comes from the 1st century BCE! That is, no reference to the existence of such a scroll is made prior to this date. Indeed, although not explicitly stated, Ezra, a priest of the Babylonian captivity who returned to Judah to offer instruction (torah) to the Israelite community returning there, brought with him what for the first time gets identified as “the Torah of Moses” (Neh 8:1). This Torah, scholars surmise, must have been compiled (or written in part) by the educated priestly community in captivity during the 5th century BCE, most likely as a means to preserve and provide teaching for the exilic community in the face of their near extinction. If we assume that Ezra’s Torah was similar to the Torah as it now stands, then we might also assume that that the scroll bere’shit may have existed as earlier as the 5th century in some form or another. But even here we are granting much.

But beyond this we can’t say anything! In the Pentateuch alone, the only text that makes reference to itself as a text are specific passages from Deuteronomy (but see Exodus 17). So the texts of the Bible themselves do not bear witness to their own textualization (see Schniedewind, How the Bible Became a Book: The Textualization of Ancient Israel) until at earliest the 7th century text of Deuteronomy (again there is a plethora of literature available pertaining to why scholars date the core of this text to the 7th century based from its internal textual evidence and external textual comparisons). In other words, bere’shit as an individual scroll or unified whole document that existed prior to the 5th century is not even a possible hypothesis! There are no textual or extra textual data to buttress such an assertion!

Consequently then, our knowledge about the compositional nature of the scroll bere’shit must ultimately come from the study of the text itself—our object of study. And once again the observable textual data strongly suggests and has reaffirmed for over 300 years that Genesis is a composite text! Period. Either you are honest to the texts and what it is telling us on its terms, or not.

Analogously, say we had an anonymous film. It was black and white, and the cinematographic quality and even acting—all the observable cinematographic data that we could collect—led us to the conclusion that the film was composed prior to the 1950s. Likewise for an anonymous film that references certain historical events, or say has the Twin Towers in its setting, we could conclude that it was composed prior to 2001. This is just one of the ways that biblical scholars make assessments about the ancient texts of the Bible. Not only does its Hebrew witness differing styles, syntax, vocabulary, tone, and lexical register—imagine an anonymous English text that at parts displayed Shakespearean English and at other parts modern English, and at others British English, and imagine furthermore that when each one of these styles reoccurred specific themes and ideologies only found in each style also resurfaced. You might start to get an idea of what biblical scholars working on the Hebrew text have discovered. Or said different, what the Hebrew text reveals when studied objectively.

It is from these observable textual data that we are able to confidently hypothesize that the text of Genesis is composite in nature, especially when these differing styles also display differences in content, theology, etc. And this conclusion is buttressed by the fact that other biblical scribes explicitly mention sources that they used in their composition, as well as our increased knowledge about how traditions were recopied and different textual traditions were amended onto existing scrolls, and how different communities in different geographies or chronologies retold their traditional stories in varied manners, from our expanding knowledge about ancient literature in general. Just because a reader of the Bible is ignorant of this knowledge—that is, ironically, ignorant about the text itself!—doesn’t mean that this knowledge does not exist and it doesn’t mean that this particular reader’s beliefs about the text without this knowledge holds any weight at all.

Another textual tool that helps scholars understand the compositional history and nature of say the scroll of bere’shit is looking closely at the geography, the cities mentioned, borders, and other place names referenced in the stories in this scroll. Often when a scribe of say the 8th century BCE narrates a story or event from the archaic past, in his narration he projects into the past the geopolitical world of his own time period! How was this conclusion arrived at—again the texts tell us so. So it is no coincidence that the source identified by scholars on textual, linguistic, and content grounds as the Yahwist for example, displays a keen interest in the geopolitical world of Judah as it was during the 9th and 8th centuries BCE. The place names invoked in this text: the borders of cities, of Judah, and her neighbors described in these stories all represent the borders of Judah and its environs as they were in the monarchic period—reaffirmed by other texts, Amos, Hosea, or even Kings. So in effect, Abraham is walking around ancient Canaan as its borders and place names where known to scribes of the 9th and 8th centuries! Levine (Anchor Bible) even discusses a specific incident involving the borders of Judah and Edom, which was Judah’s southeastern neighbor. There was only one point in history when Edom’s border expanded westward and rested upon the Judean city of Kadesh. So stories in Numbers 13-14 for example where the narrator identifies the Edomite border resting on Kadesh, along with other textual data, reveals that this text was composed by an author who had knowledge of Judah’s borders as they were in the 9th century when Judah was occupied with skirmishes with its northern neighbors Israel and Aram, and Edom took advantage of that by pushing its border westward. These are but a tiny example of the textual data that has lead scholars to make claims about the compositional nature of these texts and their authors. Again, when readers lack this knowledge, pretend its not there, or dismiss it—that is dismiss the texts!—and then have the audacity to proclaim anything about these texts, their authors, and their messages, then they are just being dishonest and negligent toward these texts, their authors, and their once independent messages.

If as a culture our most cherished beliefs about these texts—beliefs handed down and forged by powerful, longstanding and authoritative interpretive traditions—are called into question by what the texts themselves reveal and have revealed for over 300 years when objectively studied, then we have an obligation to these texts and their authors to acknowledge that, and move forward. This is what I’m calling Being Honest to the Texts and the Beliefs and Messages of their Authors.

40 thoughts on “Being Honest to the Texts of the Bible (Part 2b)

  1. Great article Steven, and it’s sad that you have to spend so much valuable time addressing the rhetoric of the evangelicals who don’t wish to learn biblical history.

    One little item I would suggest you change is with regard to the Bohr atom. I would restate that the data was collected from experiments using a variety of methods. There is no such thing today as a photon accelerator. Photons can’t accelerate as they always travel at the speed of light :-)

  2. Why just not learn that darn Hebrew so there would be no speculations what this text is all about .
    Every version of the bible out there is a generalized translation from Masoretic interpretation that has been altered with the addition of niqquds , qere – ketive techniques and theological hermeneutics .
    Bible is a history written in backwards projection during Hellenistic times – it’s all spelled out in Jewish sources ( Artapanus , Philo , Talmud ) – and this is why it doesn’t match histories of other nations of antiquity .
    Hebrew language was unknown till Roman- Greco period . Phoenician dialects preserved on inscriptions are not Hebrew , regardless of what is the wishful theory of some scholars . Let alone there is no such thing as ” Hebrew language ” in the entire bible .
    Hebrew evolved from Phoenician , just like Greek or Assyrian – in that order . Neither followers of LOM were known to nations who used hieroglyphs , cuneiform or Phoenician dialects . The biblical ideas and themes got plagiarized from religious epics or histories of people who worshipped multiple gods and are well documented in history .
    The readers of this site , who have problems with the biblical contradictions , are mostly people of faith doctrines based on corrupted translations of the bible , who have no historical , linguistic or archeological awareness – so why even bother to address them ?
    You do a great job , Dr. Steven , rational people surly appreciate your scholars efforts .

  3. …the Documentary Hypothesis is likewise a conceptual model drawn and continuously redrawn for more than 300 years (going back to Witter’s 1711 work which hypothesized 2 sources) from the observable textual data!

    Actually, information that I have indicates that belief that an author other than Moses wrote parts of the Torah.Septuagint dates back much further than Whitter:

    11th Century CE: Isaac ibn Yashush suggested that the list of the Edomite kings in Genesis 36 was added by an unknown person after Moses died. For this assertion, he became known as “Isaac the Blunderer.

    15th Century: Bishop Tostatus suggested that certain passages were written by one of the prophets, not by Moses.

    16th Century: Andreas van Maes suggested that an editor added additional material to some of Moses’ writings.

    17th Century: Thomas Hobbes prepared a collection of passages that seemed to negate Moses’ authorship.

    Often when a scribe of say the 8th century BCE narrates a story or event from the archaic past, in his narration he projects into the past the geopolitical world of his own time period!

    When we read, in Genesis, of Abraham leaving ‘Ur of the Chaldees,’ and history tells us that the Chaldeans didn’t occupy the area around the Mesopotamian city of Ur (Sumerian for “City”) until about 700 BCE, it becomes obvious that the passage was written during or after that era.

    I found it interesting that the Catholic Church, in explanatory portions preceding the scripture (as well as in various of its footnotes) of its publication, “The New American Bible,” fully accepts and acknowledges the Documentary Hypothesis.

  4. “Moses ” / drawn ( MSHH in Hebr. ) did not write any part of Pentateuch – he is mythological character inspired by Sargon of Akkad / the first one who was DRAWN from water as the legend goes .

  5. I see Moses as a Mesopotamian composite – from the Akkadian King Sargon, who was placed in a reed basket coated with bitumin, and the Amurrite King Hammurrabi, the great lawgiver.

  6. The first set of 10 commandments is mocked from Egyptian Maat’s code , “levitical” law is more like Hammurabi’s .

  7. A very well-stated case for your position, Dr. DiMattei. Of course, I say this as someone who was already convinced by your earlier writings, so maybe I’m biased ;-) But to make a serious point here, the truth is that bias is unavoidable in life unless we never make up our minds about anything. So when commenters on here disparage other commenters for being followers of the author of this blog, or for being biased secularly, it seems really hypocritical to me. We are all following someone else’s teachings or tradition in some areas of our life, and probably in all of them. The real question, the crux of the matter, is how we *arrived* at our present position that we are biased towards.

    Hard-line Christians arrived at their position, almost always, by being raised as Christians. Children accept unconditionally what their parents teach them. So it’s not surprising that people raised in a religion seek to defend their holy book; it’s because, rather than defending a text, they are really defending their tribal culture. They don’t need to ever open the book they carry — its contents are not important; all that matters is that it represents their family, their lineage, in a leather-bound, gold-leafed physical embodiment. To “attack” the Bible, that is, to question their specific beliefs about it, is actually attacking their family tradition, not the Bible, even if they don’t register this on a conscious level, only on an instinctual emotional level.

    Thus it’s no wonder that many get aggressive when the Bible is challenged. But personally I have much more respect for people who arrive at their views without slavishly following whatever their parents taught them. A child raised without belief in the supernatural, without the assumption that the Bible is a book from God, will almost never move towards religion as they get older (as long as their basic emotional needs are being met). But this is an inconvenient fact for those who are determined to avoid having any doubts about their childhood upbringing. It’s much easier for them to attack the motives of the other side, or just plain try to talk over the other side. Fortunately, those methods don’t work as well in textual form on the Internet as they do in a conversation (instead of talking over someone, for instance, this simply leads to interminable comments that are 90% sermonizing/yarn-spinning and 10% real content, which do not prevent anyone else from commenting after them).

  8. archaeopteryx wrote: Actually, information that I have indicates that belief that an author other than Moses wrote parts of the Torah. Septuagint dates back much further than Whitter…

    There’s a difference between realizing that Moses didn’t write the entire Torah and formulating the Documentary Hypothesis, and Steven is aware of the difference:

  9. Good to know, John – considering that there is no evidence that Moses ever existed, I would be very disappointed if Dr. DiMattei believed that a fictional character wrote the Torah entirely by himself. I also don’t believe that Sherlock Holmes wrote all of The Hound of the Baskervilles, but I accept that I could be wrong about that —

  10. As someone who has been involved with various forms of evangelical Christianity, and who still identifies as Christian most of the time, and who incidentally really appreciates this website, I have a few observations.

    First, as Dr. DiMattei has observed, “Contradictions in the Bible” is a name that many Christians are going to find provocative. It’s understandable that some Christians are going to assume this is a hostile environment and react accordingly. I think a lot of Christians also have a bit of a bunker mentality. They don’t trust Bible scholars because they believe the scholars are trying to disprove God — which, to be fair, some of them are.

    Next, in my experience most Christians who read the Bible are not scholars of Ancient Near Eastern cultures and don’t know Hebrew (as much as I would love to learn Hebrew it’s just not something I can make time for) but do try to understand the text as it was presented to them as best as they can. So I think Dr. DiMattei is a little unfair when he refers to Christian “readers” using scare quotes. On the other hand, there is also a segment of Christianity that spiritualizes everything so that what is important is not the text but what the Holy Spirit reveals through the text. I remember one person who said that God promised we’d have clean teeth. The text he used was from Amos where God says He will give the Israelites cleanness of teeth because there won’t be any food. This person could not have read the scripture reference without knowing he was taking it wildly out of context, but he used it anyway without giving the context.

    Just some observations, for whatever they are worth.

  11. archaeopteryx, you might have missed John Kesler’s point, which was just to show you that Dr. DiMattei has already discussed the pre-Documentary Hypothesis conjecture by folks like Isaac ibn Yashush (also posted here on this blog:

    Robert M, we could use more commenters like you. My earlier comment (and much of what Dr. DiMattei is writing here) is in response to the fundamentalist type of commenter that has been most outspoken on this blog. They don’t make Christians look good. Personally, although I don’t identify as Christian anymore, I think my upbringing (besides all the wacky fundamentalism) did teach me some positive lessons, and I think Christianity is a net positive in the world. The condescension and borderline hate speech from some commenters here is not a fair representation of the religion.

    Anyway, Dr. DiMattei simply wants to see Christians accept the general evidence for the Bible’s complicated authorship and adjust their views as necessary, which clearly you have done. Unfortunately we’ve seen a *lot* of commenters who fall under your “spiritualize everything” category, which is another way of saying that they have a whole castle in the air that they’ve built in their heads over the course of many years, they believe that they have true spiritual insight into the meaning of the scriptures, and there’s simply no conversation to be had with them.

    Ironically, very few of them would actually agree with one another if they discussed doctrine amongst themselves, which begs the question of why God would write a book that requires readers to come to their own personal interpretation of the Bible using all sorts of symbolism and letter-counting. He is not a God of confusion!

  12. Biblical authorship is not complicated at all . The main authors behind the Hebrew Bible were Assyrian scribes .
    In antiquity it was a scribal elite who wrote religious texts for themselves , for the rulers and non literate crowds for public reading . These professionals were writing anonymously ( except for Jesus ben Sira – excluded from cannon) , which was a common practice of ancient world , and the names were assign later to give it some sort of authorship ( Isaiah , Jeremiah …etc.)
    Pentateuch is a base legend developed later into other books which give away scribal authorship – it clearly comes across from the biblical writings as well ( Jer 8:8.9 ) .
    The misinterpretations and mistranslation of this text is what makes bible a religious book . If it was translated correctly there wouldn’t be any god , Moses and contradictions .

  13. KW, thanks for your comments. Unfortunately, very few Biblical scholars actually agree with one another, either, which makes me wonder if we can ever draw any definitive conclusions from scholarship. So far I find Baden’s arguments about the existence of P as a source rather than a redaction layer pretty convincing, but what do I know?

    Another issue is that what you get out of the text is going to depend on what assumptions you bring to it. If you assume the text is describing a continuous narrative of events you won’t see a contradiction or multiple sources in something like the two accounts of Moses getting water from a stone, you will just think it is something that happened twice. Same thing with Joshua and Deborah both defeating a King Jabin of Hazor. I know I never saw a contradiction in the length of the flood — I just read it as a flood lasting 150 days in which it rained for 40.

  14. Robert M , if you don’t want assumption about the text then you need to take your time and learn its original language .
    It’s like all of you here , with all the respects , are debating on Brothers’ Grimm interpretation of “swine- with- ham and mick jager” , while their story was about schneewitthen and jager” aka “snow white” . Why she was “snow white” ? Because she was fairest of them all , just like a baby who got drawn out of the water was called “drawn” / Hebr. Mshh/ westernized moses or “abrHM” = father of multitude , because he got multiplied .
    There is no shortage of words in English vocabulary to translate foreign texts correctly . These descriptions are not abstract names , they come across from the narrative of the legend .

  15. Robert M, it’s true that for someone coming in with an assumption of divine inspiration, it can be easy to gloss over many of the contradictions that this site points to. Dr. DiMattei acknowledges that he is going for thoroughness on this site rather than highlighting only the definite, major contradictions. And I was raised with all kinds of apologetics to defend even some of the larger contradictions, as I expect you were as well. Since I never saw those contradictions as issues, this site would not have convinced me to drop my belief in the Bible as God’s literal Word. I only began to appreciate what source criticism had to say after I changed my mind about my religion for other reasons.

    Anyway, it’s true that Bible scholars don’t totally agree with each other. But the same is true in scientific fields; scientists can argue over specifics in their field, but will almost always agree on the general concepts. So I think that all we can do is decide for ourselves if the Bible seems more like a unified work or a collection of writings by men with different viewpoints, and then consider the details after that point to be just a matter of interesting speculation. Fortunately, as long as we can agree with the basic thrust of one viewpoint or another, then we know enough to make important decisions.

    For instance, I’d really like to know exactly what Jesus said and didn’t say. We know for a fact that *some* of “his” sayings were inserted later because they aren’t found in earlier manuscripts, and a lot of his other sayings read like they *might* be retroactive insertions. But at least I know enough about the composition of the texts (by unknown authors, decades after Jesus lived) to know that I shouldn’t be treating all his attributed sayings like they really came from the son of God, and that’s all I need to know in order to avoid making bad decisions about my life (e.g., my former religion takes advantage of people who were raised to trust the Bible by using cherry-picked scriptures to ensnare them and then bully them into submission).

    It’s hard to let go of certainty; I know I personally miss the feeling of knowing all the answers in black and white. But this just places religion on the same level of uncertainty as every other area of life (career choices, romance, deciding who to vote for, etc.). So I guess that I can at least feel grateful to be living closer to reality than when I was a fundamentalist. There’s definitely advantages to that :-)

  16. KW , what Jesus character said or did it was already said before , in passages of OT . This website shows how the old story was copied into a new story : jesusisamyth.blogspot com . Just take your own bible and compare .
    The inventor of the idea “the word made flesh” / Jesus was PHILO of Alexandria >> Philo ” On Confusion of Toungues” (146) who also proposed “the image of God is the Word , by which all the world was made ” ( Philo “The Special Laws , I ” , 81 ) , which Jewish authors developed into gospel stories .

  17. Ania, I don’t disagree that accurate translation matters. For instance, when someone knows the meanings of Bible names, it tends to make it clear that some of those figures must be mythical (either that, or God foresaw their future and made sure that they would be named in a significant way!). Probably one of the examples that, when I was young, troubled me the most was Nabal. I was taught growing up that it meant “foolish”, which led me to wonder what parents would name their child Foolish. It made the whole story sound a lot more like an Aesop’s Fable than a real historical account (and it probably is exactly that — a story borrowing the name of one of David’s wives that shows the importance of being hospitable, and of marrying a discerning woman).

    However, knowing the meanings of names doesn’t help at all in some of the questions that this site considers. For instance, you are fond of pointing out that “Moshe” means “draw out” or “drawn”, but is it referring to Moses being drawn out of the Nile, or being selected by God to lead His people, or to Moses drawing out the Israelites from Egypt? Some scholars theorize that there are two historical “Moseses”, one a military commander and one a powerful priest in early Judaism. Or perhaps the priest was real and the other was based on earlier myths, as mentioned already in some comments here. This shows that there are issues pertaining to contradictions and seams in the text which can’t be answered simply by knowing exactly what the Hebrew text says.

  18. KW – In his book, “The New Testament, a Historical Introduction To the Early Christian Writings,” Bart Ehrman, in discussing biblical criticism, informs the reader of his belief that the older scriptures are the closest to the truth, as sufficient time hadn’t passed for legends to form. He accepted that the book of “Q” (which no longer exists, but Ehrman has managed to identify remnants of it in the scriptures) and the “Gospel of Thomas,” both of which were never canonized, both comprised, not of a literary story, as with the four gospels, but rather nothing more than sayings attributed to Yeshua, and that these were likely to actually have been his words.

    Interestingly, the story that now appears in the most recent of the gospels, “The Gospel of John,” – the story of the woman taken in adultery – didn’t appear in any of the gospels until sometime in the 4th century, and then it first appeared in the “Gospel of Luke,” until it was determined that it sounded more like something ‘John” might say, and so it was moved.

  19. KW , trust me , knowing how to understand this language ( Hebrew ) makes a whole lot of difference , otherwise you’re duped by religious interpretations of this text and scholarly speculation that do not reflect its true meaning . Most of the scholars in general don’t even know how to read Hebrew .
    This is a story of “drawn”/ mshh , who got inspired by ” existing strengths , forces”/ yhvh alhim , who led the ” prevailing-strenght ” /ISHRL from “suffering” / mitsrayim ( misinterpreted as Egypt ) . It couldn’t be Egypt – legendary mount and wildness of “sinai” ( hoarding-ones ) was on Egyptian territory with Egyptian government at the time of alleged exodus !
    In other words ; biblical legend can apply to any nation of antiquity.
    If you take any text in foreign language , use the same alteration techniques such as niqquds , qere and ketive and interpret it as you wish , you will end up with similar ideas .

  20. KW – I read somewhere that the name, “Mose,” which we find in other Egyptian names, such as Tutmose, was simply Egyptian for “baby.” Further, according to “The New American Bible” footnotes on Genesis, “Jacob” actually meant ‘usurper’ – I always tried imagining growing up with that kind of name – “Yo, Usurper, pass the salt –!” What kind of future would you predict for a child you named, “Serial Killer”?

  21. KW , sorry , sir , I do disagree . Bart Ehrman has hard time to let Jesus myth go – he can’t even see there are five men by the name Jesus in the Greek text of NT , enough for his claims that he speaks Greek . He also misses the fact that before gospels were written there were other Jewish myths about God impregnating women , Philo ” On the Changes of Names”(134) .

  22. Bart Ehrman has hard time to let Jesus myth go” – That’s a fact, Ania, and while I normally agree with most of what you say, your other claims against Ehrman are not correct – in the book I mentioned, he mentions all of those Yeshuas, not missing them at all.

  23. KW , this is probably the best source of meaning of biblical words :
    Not only you get the original meaning of the word , but also its biblical interpretation and Assyrian etymology from which most Hebrew words have evolved . It’s not unusual that Hebrew names got borrow from Egyptians as you mentioned : Djehudi>> Yehudi >> Yhvh >> Yah , AbRAKeme= father Ra of Egyptian people , Torah= tau RA >> worship of RA …etc .
    There are at least 5 pages of Hebrew words of Egyptian origin in Budges hieroglyphic dictionary .
    IOQB/ jacob means circumventing, somebody who finds a way around .
    Archeopteryx , I have to say I haven’t read any of his books . I had an opportunity to attend his lecture years ago and ask him couple questions . He seemed to be lost for words when somebody else brought the issue of multiple Jesuses in NT and Septuagint .

  24. I had an opportunity to attend his lecture years ago and ask him couple questions . He seemed to be lost for words when somebody else brought the issue of multiple Jesuses in NT and Septuagint .

    What can I say, Ania? I know much more now than I did ‘years ago’ – wouldn’t you say that is true of you as well?

  25. I agree , we learn as we go . Btw, would you mind to cite the chapter ( and pages) of his book in which he acknowledges multiple Jesuses in the bible ?
    I’m really curious to read how he actually put it together remembering his reaction to this question back then .

  26. Btw, would you mind to cite the chapter ( and pages) of his book in which he acknowledges multiple Jesuses in the bible ?

    I really haven’t time, Ania, to do an exhaustive search – here is one of them: Chapter 17, p.269 “Another Apocalyptic Jesus” – if you want more, you know where to look.

  27. Thank you , I’ll try to find this chapter . So far I’ve just noticed that poor Ehrman doesn’t know the difference between ” chrestos ” and “christos” page 187, chapt 13 – both words appear in the gospel Greek version . It will take me a while to find it , it’s a long book . I appreciate your help , thnx again .

  28. Archaeopteryx , I scrolled four times through chapter 17 ( and two previous and two past chapters as well ) of Ehrman’s book :
    I don’t see him mentioning anything about the other Jesuses in gospels . All he talks about is Jesus of gospels and his different roles : the prophet , the messiah , the martyr , the teacher… etc .
    I don’t see he is aware of any other Jesus , besides the ” Jesus christou” .

  29. Sorry, Ania, but page 187 of Ehrman’s text is located in chapter 12, not 13, and mentions neither a “chrestos” nor a “christos”.

  30. The confusion becomes clear, Ania – obviously we are discussing different books. I thought I had made it clear earlier when I said I was referring to Ehrman’s, “The New Testament: A Historical Introduction To The Early Christians Writings.

  31. I said Ehrman doesn’t see the difference between these two words ; he says Tacitus was talking about ” Christos” , while every historian knows this is a forgery . Tacitus was talking about ” chrEstos ” / merciful ones , not “chrIstos” / Christ followers to anointed-ones . Let alone Christians didn’t exist until like way after 200 AD .
    To see these are two different words you have to know how to read Greek . The usage of both words is shown in verses of NT and Septuagint .

  32. I don’t care for Ehrman at all , dear , IMO he makes up staff to cover up for biblical nonsense and his historical and linguistic knowledge is quite obscure .

  33. We should be able here to use reference links in our posts or edit our comments or otherwise it gets confusing trying to explain things .

  34. People believe what they need to believe. The harder they need to believe the harder they will fight against what’s actually there. Doesn’t mean that what is actually there is the truth as to the nature of the universe. We may have evolved towards the real Truth or evolved away from it, there is just no way of knowing. However for many their beliefs in what the Bible is and what is says is a lifeline, and the truth about the Bible and how it evolved and who wrote it threatens to cut it off, leaving them adrift in chaos. Ignorance is preferable to chaos, especially since it actually does what the writings of the bible were always meant to do- give people something to hold on to when life gets rough.

  35. Carmen, To some extent this is really the conversation that I’m heading toward, that I hope all of us as sentient beings are heading toward. Once one realizes the fact the one’s beliefs about this collection of ancient texts, which were forged by long-standing interpretive traditions, are actually contrary to what these ancient texts and their authors professed on their own terms, then we move into a more interesting and certainly more difficult conversation, which is far wider than just biblical scholarship.

    I’ll address this through an experience I had while teaching Herodotus’ Histories and the book of Revelation in the same course—the theme was the interpretive framework culture’s use to make sense of the world (particularly ideas of divine justice), and those interpretive frameworks are fictions! In Herodotus’ case he understood the defeat of the Persians by the Greeks, well not only as a victory of democracy versus tyranny, but more through an interpretive understanding of the world—namely that the cosmos operated via divine justice. For Herodotus and many Greeks that usually was understood in terms of human hybris. When humans exerted their hybris, as was the case for the Persian king Xerxes, the gods or God will strike him down, put him in his place. What fascinated me about this was that this was purely an ancient interpretive framework that not only gave meaning to the world, but also created how their reality was understood and in sum was an interpretive lens through which to understand the cosmos as governed by divine justice. My students and I mused over the fact that this interpretive framework, or what I started labeling as a narrative, was a fiction created by that culture, but a fiction that then defined their reality. If we stop and think about this—fictions that define our realities and truly do provide meaning and justice to our reality, or how a culture perceives reality—this is quite provocative and paradoxical. This is more of my literary studies coming through here, but I think that’s what defines being human—making sense of the world through narratives that we/culture’s create. And this phenomenon is not unique to religious narratives, but I feel all of us. This is the conversation I’m really interested in, but to get here Christians (in general) first need to start being honest to these ancient texts and the beliefs and worldviews of their authors.

    The same phenomenon is happening in Revelations. Our author’s cultural context is one wherein Christians are unjustly being persecuted. Again, like Herodotus and the Greek culture, this author and culture perceived the cosmos operating according to divine justice. But from where our author stood—the unjust persecution of his people—there seemed to be no justice operating in the world. Thus one of the main aims of Revelation was to relay to its audience that despite the apparent injustices happening, there was a larger (and more invisible) divine justice operating in the world. Here that was expressed in terms of future vindication and punishment for those who were unjust. So here too this “narrative” defines our author’s reality and gives meaning to those who were being persecuted. It too is an interpretive lens, a fiction, that also serves to define and even create reality and give meaning to it. Just a final word; I don’t use the word fiction to mean lie or falsity. See, the issue is really more complex here; that’s why it’s truly intriguing and truly human. For that fiction is real and true from the perspective of those for whom this particular narrative defines, creates, and gives meaning to their reality. It’s truly an interesting phenomenon. I’d like to do more with this at some later time.

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