Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Bible with Sources Revealed

Prof. Richard Friedman’s The Bible with Sources Revealed is a highly accessible presentation of the documentary hypothesis.

The first part sets out the evidence for the documentary hypothesis. The hypothesis in the form Friedman endorses being that the J (Yahwist) text was composed in the southern kingdom of Judah and the E (Elohim) text was composed in the northern kingdom of Israel, each in the period of the divided kingdoms (922 – 722 BC). With the destruction of Israel in 722 BC, J and E were combined in a single text. The P (Priestly) text was then composed in the surviving kingdom of Judah. Friedman argues that linguistic evidence now rules out P having been composed during the Babylonian exile (p.4) and maintains his contention that it was composed during the reign of Hezekiah (c. 722 BC). During the reign of Josiah (c. 622 BC) the D (Deutronomist) text was composed, with a slightly edited later version (Dtr2) being produced after the destruction of Judah in 587 BC.

All these sources were then put together during the Babylonian exile by the Redactor (R).

The evidence for the hypothesis is presented as being: linguistic (the forms of Hebrew used); terminology (use of specific terms); consistent content (such as when in the narrative YHWH as the name of God becomes known); continuity of texts (narrative flow); connection with other parts of the Bible; relationships among the sources to each other and to history; and convergence (of several lines of evidence).

The rest of the book is taken up with presentation of the first five books of the Bible using different typefaces and fonts for the different sources. Which conveys the narrative flow argument very powerfully.

Of course, just because specific sources were composed in particular periods, it does not mean they were not using information from earlier periods. It is an obvious temptation of the documentary hypothesis – a la Finkelstein – to do so, but given Kitchen provides much evidence for the Old Testament having reasonable historical reliability (even if there are grounds for thinking that he overstates his case), the temptation to do so should be resisted. Conversely, that the Torah contains material which is clearly quite old and surprisingly historically accurate does not mean that particular parts as it has come down to us were not set down in identifiable versions in later times. All the authors could be (and presumably to be plausible to their audience, had to be) using older material. Indeed, reading through the text, it is obvious that this is precisely what was happening.

If one is seriously interested in the documentary hypothesis and the arguments over when the first five Books of the Bible were composed, this highly accessible text is indispensable.

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