Thursday, 26 August 2010

The Documentary Hypothesis (Partly) Explained : Part 1

I'm not necessarily saying the Documentary Hypothesis is accurate or correct on all points of Biblical authorship and I'm not even supporting the truth of the DH (right now). I also am not saying that the DH necessarily leads to denial of the divinity of the Torah or of Judaism. Those are discussion for other posts. All I want to do here is show what the DH actually says (as opposed to various strawmen used in many Orthodox apologetics) and what evidence it's supporters bring in it's favor. That's all. An Orthodox Jew should take a particular interest in this discussion , because IF s/he wishes to deal with various religious problems supposedly posed by the DH, s/he MUST have a complete understanding of what the DH really says. Attacking a straw man of the DH is just stupid and disingenuous.

Let us start with a common strawman that the Orthodox often use when discussing the DH:

The Documentary Hypothesis MERELY says that God is sometimes called YHWH and sometimes called Elohim and ASSUMES that that implies multiple authors.

A large part of the DH is based on the cycling between God being called YHWH and Elohim. That is true. However, it is not JUST based on the fact that this change occurs. Rather it is based on the similarities and differences between the narratives in which the names are changed.

It all starts with some curious verses in Shemot. (6:2)

ב וַיְדַבֵּר אֱלֹהִים, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה; וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו, אֲנִי יְהוָה. ג וָאֵרָא, אֶל-אַבְרָהָם אֶל-יִצְחָק וְאֶל-יַעֲקֹב--בְּאֵל שַׁדָּי; וּשְׁמִי יְהוָה, לֹא נוֹדַעְתִּי לָהֶם.

And God spoke unto Moses, and said unto him: 'I am the LORD; 3 and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as El Shaddai, but by My name YHWH I made Me not known to them.
Now these verses make a very interesting assertion. They say pretty explicitly that God never "made known" his name YHWH to the patriarchs. However the problem with this immediately apparent. As we all know God, in various places in Genesis in fact DOES reveal himself with the name YHWH and even sometimes uses the same terminology of "I am YHWH".

Edit: Examples:

Genesis 15:7
וַיֹּאמֶר, אֵלָיו: אֲנִי יְהוָה, אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאוּר כַּשְׂדִּים--לָתֶת לְךָ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת, לְרִשְׁתָּהּ

7 And He said unto him: 'I am YHWH that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.'
Genesis 28:10
יב וַיַּחֲלֹם, וְהִנֵּה סֻלָּם מֻצָּב אַרְצָה, וְרֹאשׁוֹ, מַגִּיעַ הַשָּׁמָיְמָה; וְהִנֵּה מַלְאֲכֵי אֱלֹהִים, עֹלִים וְיֹרְדִים בּוֹ. יג וְהִנֵּה יְהוָה נִצָּב עָלָיו, וַיֹּאמַר,
אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי אַבְרָהָם אָבִיךָ, וֵאלֹהֵי יִצְחָק; הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה שֹׁכֵב עָלֶיהָ--לְךָ אֶתְּנֶנָּה, וּלְזַרְעֶךָ.

12 And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of Elohim ascending and descending on it. 13 And, behold, YHWH stood beside him, and said: 'I am YHWH, the God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac. The land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed. 1

We could perhaps say that the narrative doesn't actually mean that the patriarchs did not know the name of YHWH at all. Perhaps they merely did not understand the MEANING or the IMPLICATIONS of the holy name. However there are certain passages in Genesis which seem to fit PERFECTLY with a literal interpretation of this passage in Exodus.

I am referring to two revelations one to Avraham and one to Yaakov let us take a look.

Genesis 17:1

א וַיְהִי אַבְרָם, בֶּן-תִּשְׁעִים שָׁנָה וְתֵשַׁע שָׁנִים; וַיֵּרָא יְהוָה אֶל-אַבְרָם, וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אֲנִי-אֵל שַׁדַּי--הִתְהַלֵּךְ לְפָנַי, וֶהְיֵה תָמִים

And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, YHWH appeared to Abram, and said unto him: 'I am El Shaddai; walk before Me, and be thou wholehearted.
and Genesis 35:9-11

ט וַיֵּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶל-יַעֲקֹב עוֹד, בְּבֹאוֹ מִפַּדַּן אֲרָם; וַיְבָרֶךְ, אֹתוֹ. י וַיֹּאמֶר-לוֹ אֱלֹהִים, שִׁמְךָ יַעֲקֹב: לֹא-יִקָּרֵא שִׁמְךָ עוֹד יַעֲקֹב, כִּי אִם-יִשְׂרָאֵל יִהְיֶה שְׁמֶךָ, וַיִּקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמוֹ, יִשְׂרָאֵל. יא וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ אֱלֹהִים אֲנִי אֵל שַׁדַּי, פְּרֵה וּרְבֵה--גּוֹי וּקְהַל גּוֹיִם, יִהְיֶה מִמֶּךָּ; וּמְלָכִים, מֵחֲלָצֶיךָ יֵצֵאוּ

And Elohim appeared unto Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram, and blessed him [....] 11 And Elohim said unto him: 'I am El Shaddai. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins

In both these revelation God specifically refrains from using the name YHWH when talking to the patriarchs he ONLY, and let me stress that again, ONLY uses the words Elohim and El Shaddai when referring to himself. (In 17:1 the word YHWH is used to describe God in the third person but when he actually speaks he uses the other names exclusively never using the name YHWH again in the whole passage)

Isn't it interesting that on the one hand we have various accounts in Genesis where God seems to "break the rule" that he made in Exodus, while in other places he keeps the rule "religiously".

Let us make a hypothesis and at this point it is JUST a hypothesis. PERHAPS there are two versions of God's public relations policy with the patriarchs. PERHAPS we are looking at the writings of two different people both telling basically the same story but with slightly different details.

What kind of evidence would we need to substantiate this hypothesis?

Surely different writers would have different writing styles and use slightly different expressions. In theory we should be able to find some difference between the "literary style" of the supposed "E author" and the supposed "J author". (To use the terminology of the DH)

Assuming that Exodus 6, Genesis 17, and Genesis 35 comprise a distinct literary unit which is different than various other revelations employing the name YHWH there are indeed some unique stylistic features.

Some things G17 and G35 have in common:

1. Both bless the patriarchs with "kings coming from them"
2. Both discuss being fruitful and multiplying
3. In both of them "Elohim goes up" after he is done with his chat.
4. In both the names of Avram and Yaakov are changed to AvrAHam and Yisrael respectively

Some things G17, G35, and E6 have in common:

1. The use of El Shaddai (as mentioned)
2. The use of the term "And I will establish this covenant"

These similarities are interesting but far from conclusive (or even convincing at this point). We will have to further investigate Genesis to substantiate our hypothesis of TWO or more authors or documents and see if we can find any other evidence for this theory or if it is what many Orthodox call it - a "failed hypothesis".

To Be Continued.... (maybe)


Gamzoo said...

>As we all know God, in various places in Genesis in fact DOES reveal himself with the name YHWH and even sometimes uses the same terminology of "I am YHWH".

maybe, but you should add one example in your post for completion sake

Shilton HaSechel said...

will do

david a. said...

try gen 15:7 & 28:13

Shilton HaSechel said...

Already added thanks

AW said...

'Good, intelligent stuff.

(Some may think simple positive feedback unnecessary, but I believe it's important for the blogger to know that their efforts are seen and appreciated, beyond those who contribute substance-related comments.)

But on a substantive note, perhaps you could incorporate into future posts on the DH some points of Cassuto who, though his arguments against the DH may not be seen by all as compelling, was far from simplistic.

Keep up the good work.

Avrahamrose said...

the ibn ezra held from the dh. though some people try to explain him away the fact remains.

Shilton HaSechel said...


(I will consider, perhaps, addressing Cassuto after I've made a good case for the DH, we'll have to see)

david a. said...

>>>> the ibn ezra held from the dh

You mean he held of A dh, not THE dh.

I think, though, he still believed that a good deal of the Torah was written by Moishe. Of course, we’ll never know more precisely what he really held as he likely was, on account of communal pressure, afraid or unwilling to express his true thoughts about Moishe’s authorship.

Avrahamrose said...

The way I see it he expressed himself as clearly as possible. "The Canaanite was then in the land" "the secret of the twelve" etc.
He must have held (like me) that the Torah is Divinely inspired but not written (at least all) by Moshe

Shilton HaSechel said...

What does secret of the 12 have to do with the DH? I have heard two interpretations of what the "secret" is:

Classic: The Canaanite verse and other problematic verses are similar to the last 12 verses of the Torah - authored later.

Spinoza: The Law was supposed to be written on the 12 stones and the Pentateuch is just too big.

The former sense is pretty far from the DH. Do you intend the latter?

Avrahamrosenblum said...

i meant that it seemed to me he meant the secret of the twelve last verses. But that he was using that idea in other places in the Torah to show it was not written by Moshe.
I saw a book from H university about the Ibn Ezra and other Medieval Jewish philosophers and the effect of Aristotle on them but I forgot the name of the book. In that book the author brought down a few opinions about what the Ibn Ezra really held but it just seemed to me pretty clear that the orthodox apologetics were just that apologetics

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