Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Thinking Critically for George.

It’s both sad and amusing to watch skeptics like George bury themselves under their own argumentation. It’s also rather ironic that while George wants us to think critically, it becomes painfully apparent he has not thought critically himself. This is especially true of the claims he makes about the authorship (and by extension dating) of the Pentateuch and the New Testament.

Of course, this should come as no surprise, after all liberal commentators don’t really interact with conservative scholarship. So, while demanding we interact with what he writes, George, displaying his manifest incompetence, doesn’t stop to think that the liberal commentators rarely, if ever, interact with their conservative peers. Thumb through any critical commentary from the liberal side of the aisle, and what do you find? You find a monologue. They talk to each other, but not to others. Look through the index of a conservative commentary, and what do you find? You find a dialogue. They interact with liberals at length. We have to thank the liberals for their behavior in this matter, as it keeps skeptics like George in blissful ignorance of other points of view, and this, as George’s latest spate of comments directed to Paul Manata demonstrate, amuses us no end. If this is the best skeptics can do, then we must thank for doing us a great service.

“You mistakenly believe that by worshipping a somewhat arbitrary collection of ancient writing by countless authors and editors, most of whom are anonymous, you are worshipping something called ‘god’.”

“You believe this huge collection of ancient, anonymous Hebrew folklore…”

“Many ‘reasonable’, ‘liberal’, modern Christian scholars, have come to accept the fact that the Genesis “garden of Eden” story is a mythical allegory of our ancient ancestors, and that it has been completely contradicted by the rational logic and inference of our modern scientific investigation and empirical evidence for the slow evolution of species over the 3+ billion year history of life on this planet.”

As Steve mentioned, George makes this and that assertion with no argument. What editors? Which modern scholars?

Skeptics like George do this all the time. In the midst of calling us irrational, they make wild claims that display their ignorance for all to see, and while demanding evidence of us, they make asssertion without argument.

Let’s do some critical thinking for George. This, George, is why we have books and classes called “OT Introduction” and “NT Introduction.” The point here, George, is not to attack your theory of authorship, per se. Rather it is to point out that if you're going to make an argument in public then you need to do your homework first. I, and I would think Steve, Jason, and Paul, all have far more respect for a critic who is actually informed about the material he is discussing than one who displays their ignorance for all to see. At present, George, while observing you and Steve interact, I feel like I'm watching Duke University (Steve) play Forsyth Tech (George) in basketball. So, consider this some advice from the other side of aisle to help you improve your game.

As a matter of fact, we have a pretty good idea of the authorship of quite a few OT books. The Psalms carry their own authorship monikers. It’s rather well known that the school of the prophets that functioned in the days of Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Elisha, Hosea, had a hand in writing the OT, its redaction, etc. and it does not conflict with conservative scholarship to say that the text was redacted and updated, especially from proto-Hebrew to more modern language forms. Moreover, Mosaic authorship, or at a minimum, single author with occasional edits for readability over time is now very highly favored theory of authorship of the OT coming from modern ANE archaelogy. Its "liberal scholarship" that is behind the ball in catching up; ergo when you appeal to them, the appeal rings very hollow.

Let’s take a quick look, since the Pentateuch is of particular interest here, at some recent work:

Author: Larsson, Gerhard

Title: The Documentary Hypothesis and the Chronological Structure of the Old Testament.

Journal: Z fur die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft

Year: 1985

Volume: 97(3); pages: 316-333

Surveys criticism of the documentary hypothesis and notes the more recent, synthesizing approach. This includes studies of pericopes as units and studies of internal connections between narratives to find common structural elements. A closer study is also made of the feasibility of using the chronological dates to shed light on the structural design and internal connections of the Pentateuch.

Author: Tengstrom, Sven

Title: Exegetisk metod och dateringsproblem i pentateukforskningen (Exegetical Method and the Problem of Dating the Pentateuch in Recent Research)

Journal: Svensk Exegetisk Arsbok

Year: 1989

Volume: 54, pages: 207-225

Recently scholars (Van Seters, Schmid, Rendtorff, Rose, Lemche) have challenged both the documentary hypothesis of the Pentateuch's composition and even the presuppositions supporting literary-critical analysis itself. Likewise thus the dates of the Pentateuchal material come into question. But these studies are not informed by modern structural and linguistic approaches. An approach to exegesis so informed leads to dating the Yahwist's work far earlier than is usually done, well back into the premonarchical period. (Swedish)

Author: van Dyk, P. J.

Title: Current Trends in Pentateuch Criticism.

Journal: Old Testament Essays,

Year: 1990

Volume: 3(2), pages: 191-202.

It is now accepted that the documentary hypothesis is hampered with serious difficulties. Redaction history and tradition history are now considered more fitting points of departure than literary criticism in explaining the origin of the Pentateuch. There is a preference for the view that much of the Yahwistic material was written later than originally thought, implying a much longer period of oral and written transmission of many of the Pentateuchal narratives. The way literary criticism and tradition history were applied in the past is largely invalidated by current folklore research which should be used as a corrective as well as to devise a new theory on how the Pentateuch originated.

Author: Rendtorff, Rolf.

Title: The Paradigm Is Changing: Hopes - and Fears.

Journal: Biblical Interpretation,

Year: 1993

Volume: 1(1), pages: 34-53.

Wellhausen's Documentary Hypothesis has come to an end. Other major scholarly views of the 20th cent., e.g., Gunkel's concentration on the smaller units, and Noth's and von Rad's Israelite amphictyony are cratering. Nothing substantial, however, has replaced these views. Several contemporary scholars advocate "fearful" concepts: Israelite religion was little different from Canaanite religion; one can write a history of Israel without using the Hebrew Bible; more and more OT texts are exilic and postexilic, and their historical allusions are not reliable. Still, a "hopeful" aspect of present work is the tendency to deal with the text as it is.

George should also read here:

and here:

And lest he choose to caricature what it means to affirm Mosaic authorship without bothering to read:

The assertion that Moses is the principal author of the present text of Genesis need not mean that it came from his hand exactly as we have it now. To the contrary, one may confidently assume that the work has undergone post-Mosaic redaction. The main reason such a redaction would have taken place was not to substantially change the book in any way but rather to make it intelligible to a later generation of readers. (Duane Garrett).

I’d add that liberals make this mistake all the time, and insist on large redactions in order to sustain an argument with conservative Christians. Skeptics like George swallow these theories, which pass like fashion fads, and then make ridiculous unthinking claims. If they say that they were redacted in a manner that reflects a particular element of Jewish theology prior to the time of redaction, then they must state that they were redacted faithfully and not unfaithfully, in order to successfully sustain the assertion that the texts paint a faithful picture of views of God prior to the period of redaction, and this further made it past the most likely view of God by the redactors themselves, but this thesis of composition was asserted to attack the faithfulness of the text to its sources, not maintain it, and that the text is setting forth a view of God that is that of the redactors, not necessarily the source texts. What’s more, this happened without any evidence, including evidence of a split in Judaism, for which we have evidence of many splits through the centuries over much smaller items than this would be.

Yes, I know, God forbid George take time to read through current scholarship. He may want to read over the work of Cyrus Gordon. (Hint: George, you don’t have to be a Christian to disaffirm liberal scholarship. Gordon was a Jew). I’d further add that ANE scholarship itself has largely left the old Documentary Hypothesis in the dust...but if George wants to believe 19th century criticism that has been abandoned long ago by liberal scholars themselves, he’s more than welcome to do so. George, don’t call us antediluvian for our beliefs on these while holding to outmoded theories. That’s just lazy.

As Gordon stated:

"When I speak of 'commitment' to JEDP, I mean it in the deepest sense of the word. I have heard professors of Old Testament refer to the integrity of JEDP as their 'conviction.' They are willing to countenance modifications in detail. They permit you to subdivide (D1, D2, D3, and so forth) or combine (JE) or add a new document designated by another capital letter but they will not tolerate any questioning of the basic JEDP structure.

"I am a loss to explain this kind of 'conviction' on any grounds other than intellectual laziness or inability to reappraise.

"A professor of Bible in a leading university once asked me to give him the facts on JEDP. I told him essentially what I have written above. He replied: 'I am convinced by what you say but I shall go on teaching the old systems.'

"When I asked him why, he answered: 'Because what you have told me means I should have to unlearn as well as study afresh and rethink. It is easier to go on with the accepted system of higher criticism for which we have standard textbooks."

The real irony here is that George talks about science, but then he fails to realize that much of liberal scholarship, with which he so infatuated, is contradicted by the science of archaeology.

“Perhaps you don’t realize that the collection of ancient musings you call the bible was written by countless MEN, Paul. Not by any “gods”, not even by “Jesus of Nazareth”. That’s why we call them the “gospel of Mark” (whoever that is) or the “epistles of Paul”, and not the “gospel of god, and the epistles of god”.”

A. What Christians, George, say that the text was written by God, not men? Inspiration takes that into account. Do you ever bother to read what you criticize?

B. What Christian says that the text was written by Jesus?

C. Mark, according to external witness, was Peter’s stenographer. One supposes you are affirming Markan authorship. Thank you.

D. Nice to see you affirm Pauline authorship. Thank you.

E. For one who appeals to science you are remarkably ignorant of the science of textual criticism, George. If you dispute the authorship of the gospels, then lay out your arguments. Skeptics are always crying for evidence. Well, where is your evidence of another author? Where is the textual tradition to the contrary? Why do you disbelieve the external evidence supporting traditional authorship ascriptions? Where is the paper trail proving your objection is valid? What of the internal evidence? The same can be said with reference to the OT. In short, George, before taking Mr. Manata to task for his allegedly uncritical acceptance of the biblical text, why don’t you acquaint yourself with the relevant body of literature and at least make an informed argument? Until you do, all you’re doing is making us Reformed Protestant theists look good, and, as I reach for another bag of popcorn to watch from my vacation, I'd like to at least see a better ballgame.

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