Thursday, September 30, 2004

Bible or Babel?-2

8. Exod 6:3.

Regarding the use of the third-person, Moses was not penning a formal autobiography. Moreover, the third-person viewpoint was an accepted literary convention of the historical narrative genre. As to Exod 6:3:

i) This appeal confounds the narrative viewpoint of the writer with the historical viewpoint of the characters within the narrative. In composing Genesis, it would be quite natural of Moses to refer to God as Yahweh, given his relative position in redemptive history. So this objection commits a level-confusion between the knowledge of the narrator and the knowledge of the characters. In fact, the patriarchs employ certain forms of address (El Shaddai, El Olam) that the narrator does not employ in his own voice or in the post-patriarchal history.

ii) Apropos (i), the narrative will also reflect the linguistic tradition of the narrator. Since, for example, Abraham spoke Akkadian rather than Hebrew, Moses would have to adapt the record to Hebraic speech-conventions--just as an Arab Christian will refer to God as "Allah."

iii) The narrator wishes to prepare the reader for the Exodus by laying stress on the common identity and covenantal continuity between the God of the Patriarchs and the God of the Israelites (e.g. Gen 15:7).

iv) It is also arguable that 6:3 has reference, not to knowledge in general, but to different modes of knowledge (e.g. miracle, oracle). Cf. C. Eslinger, "Knowing Yahweh: Exodus 6:3 in the Context of Genesis 1—Exodus 15," L. de Regt et al., eds., Literary Structure and Rhetorical Strategies in the Hebrew Bible (Eisenbrauns, 1996), 188-98.

The Israelites will come to know God in a new way by his miraculous deliverance of the nation. And Moses writes from that retrospective vantagepoint.

v) Apropos (iv), in OT usage, both concepts of naming and knowledge frequently connote more than mere nominal or notional acquaintance with the bare facts; rather, naming figures in the personal character or social role of an individual (whether human or divine), while knowledge involves a relational and/or experiential dimension.

vi) To cite this as evidence that P was ignorant of J is incoherent even on liberal grounds, for the redactor of the final edition would have been conversant with each.

9. Deut 34. We don’t need to go behind the text to recognize a post-Mosaic addendum. When the editor says that no one knows "to this day" where the grave of Moses is located (v.6), he takes for granted a shift from the time-frame of the preceding narrative to the vantagepoint of the editor (Joshua?) and his audience. Indeed, this is just the sort of abrupt transition that we would expect a creative redactor to smooth over. And it’s not that phrase alone ("to this day") but the phrase in combination with the past tense descriptions ("died," "was buried," "never since then") which assume a distinction between the preceding and the succeeding narrator. It is preparatory for the next book, as the role performed by Moses is handed off to his successor. There’s some overlap as well between the changing of the guard at the leadership level and the point at which one narrator takes up from where his predecessor left off—depending on whether the narration is about a single leader (Exodus-Deuteronomy; Joshua) or several (Judges, Samuel-Kings). Although, moreover, Moses could have foretold the circumstances of his own death, yet by that same token he couldn’t very well deny a knowledge of his burial site (v.6), for prescience and nescience are not readily reconcilable. The chapter doesn’t claim Mosaic authorship and its postmortem character lies right on the surface.

While it’s possible that the Pentateuch contains a few parenthetical updates (e.g. Deut 3:14?), one cannot generalize from this phenomenon, for if the Pentateuch were not by Moses we would expect to run across many more cases of amosaica than the handful of inconclusive candidates that several centuries of hostile criticism has managed to scrape up.

Moreover, the possible presence of occasional anachronisms is not even evidence of a later hand (e.g. Exod 16:34). For the Torah is not a journal in which Moses made daily entries. It was written at some distance from the immediate events. It is not unexpected, therefore, if Moses were to retroject certain details. It is a basic blunder to confound the order of occurrence with the order of the narrative or the order of composition. There’s a difference in perspective between the way I write about a trip while I’m on the road and how I write it up after it’s over. While I viewed the events from beginning to end, I review the earlier events in light of later events.

10. Textual criticism.

i) The composition of Scripture is not comparable to the literary license exercised by the high priest of Marduk in fabricating or redacting a national mythology.

ii) The composition of Scripture is not comparable to the literary license exercised by a breakaway (Samaritan) sect that is editing its own doctored version of the Scriptures in order to justify its schism--the very definition of a tendentious translation.

iii) Evidence that an OT book may have been issued in more than one edition is not evidence for scribal redaction, per se, inasmuch as the primary author is capable of issuing a revised edition of his own work.

In addition, this phenomenon is genre-sensitive. A collection of speeches is naturally subject to expansion and revision, for the oracles of a prophet accumulate over time. Jeremiah is a classic case in point:

In 36:2 he dictates the first edition of his oracles to Baruch. This copy is destroyed, so he dictates a second edition. The second edition is a revised edition, incorporating new material (v.32). Yet this can’t be identical with the final edition, for it only covered the time up to and including this point in Jehoiakim’s reign, whereas we must make allowance for the later oracles addressed to Jehoiachim, Zedekiah and Gedaliah. We read of a later document in 51:60ff. Note the postscript rounding out v.64, followed by a historical appendix. We run across references to earlier editions in 25:13 and 30:2, as well as a set of correspondence in chap. 29 that originally circulated separately. 46:1 may preface another corpus.

The prophetic books are not books in the modern sense, but anthologies. Baruch may well have a hand in compiling the prophecies, but notice that there’s no creative collaboration between prophet and secretary. His job is to take dictation. He doesn’t add or subtract a word (36:7-8). This is all the more striking given what a close friendship he and Jeremiah enjoyed.

Kenneth Kitchen proposes that the Book of Jeremiah was originally issued in installments on separate scrolls. Cf. On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003), 381-84. And there's no reason why some other OT books could not have been serialized--by the same writer. Incidentally, the availability of sufficient writing materials would also affect how much could be published at a given time and place. Much that we take for granted was not always a given in times past.

What may make Jeremiah’s case exceptional is the interval between the original reception and delivery of the oracles and their systematic commitment to writing (36:1). This occurred some twenty years into his prophetic career, whereas other prophets seem to have written down their oracles on the spot (cf. Exod 17:14; 24:3-4; 34:27; Deut 31:9,24-26; 1 Sam 10:25; 2 Sam 1:17-18; Isa 8:1,16; 30:8; Ezk 43:11; Dan 7:1; Hab 2:2). That could well give rise to smaller collections of their output in circulation. And this would explain why we find parallel material distributed in more than one canonical book (e.g. Ps 14/53; 16:34-36/57:8-12; 40:14-18/70; 2 Sam 22/Ps 18; 2 Kgs 18:13-20:11/Isa 36:1-38:8; 2 Kgs 24:18-25:30/Jer 52; 1 Chron 16:8-36/Ps 96:1-13; 105:1-15; 106:1,47-48; Isa 2:2-4/Micah 4:1-3).

Likewise, anthologies that are admittedly of composite authorship (e.g., the Psalter, Proverbs) are naturally subject to expansion and revision as well.

So far I've been rebutting objections to the Mosaic authorship of Scripture, but there are, of course, many positive arguments as well--not only for the unity of the Torah, but of the OT as a whole. We must never lose sight of the fact that the unfolding of Scripture makes perfect sense as it stands. God delivers his enslaved people on account of his covenant with Abraham (Gen 50:24; Exod 3:6ff.). They are to comprise a religious state, governed by his covenantal law. This occasions the composition of the Pentateuch by the mediator of the covenant (Moses)—supplying the backstory of the true God’s identity, purpose and deeds, the charter documents of the religious state, sanctions in the event of non-compliance, a typical cultus and provision for a prophetic institution (Deut 18:15ff.).

This record will serve as a witness against the people (Deut 31:26ff.), and sets the precedent for subsequent histories (Joshua-Esther) documenting the religious life and decline of the nation from the Conquest to the Restoration, and its failure to comply with the terms of the covenant. Likewise, the historical books provide background information on the social conditions under which the prophets labored (cf. 2 Kgs 19-20; 2 Chron 22-24; 35:25; 36:12,21-22; Ezra 5:1; 6:14).

The Law supplies the supporting material for the covenant lawsuit (Isaiah-Malachi), returning an indictment against Israel while pointing towards the final redemption. The centralization of worship in the royal capital furnished the infrastructure for David’s lyric genius to find canonical expression and establish a vibrant liturgical tradition (1 Chron 25:1ff.). Solomon’s brilliance, brilliant court and international commerce sponsored an artistic fluorescence— introducing a new genre (wisdom literature) to the canon. The entire OT corpus introduces a series of typical themes that await the NT for their final fusion and resolution.

Or, to approach all this from another angle, The Pentateuch constitutes a bloc of Scripture that lays the cornerstone of what follows. And here are internal continuities as well. The Toledoth -formula--"these are the generations of..." (Gen 2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10,27; 25:12,19; 36:1,9; 37:2)--serves as a structuring device. Joseph’s farewell address (esp. 50:24) supplies the anticipatory rationale for the Exodus (cf. 3:6ff.), while Exod 1:1-5 is a résumé of Gen 46:8-27 (cf. 35:22-26). For other internal parallels, cf. "Exodus (Book)," New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, T. Alexander, ed. (IVP 200), 146b-149. Exod 1:1 begins with "and," connecting it with the preceding narrative. Cf. ibid. 146b.

The latter chapters of Exodus had dealt with the material arrangements of the Tabernacle while Lev 1-17 deals with its staffing and activities. Lev 18-27 is preoccupied with laws that anticipate the conditions of the Conquest and settlement. Numbers takes up the narrative thread where Exodus left off. Deuteronomy is a document of covenant renewal. Chaps 1-3 succinctly recapitulate the prior narrative of Israel’s wilderness wandering. Chap 18:18ff. makes provision for a prophetic order. Chap 28:15ff. makes provision for Israel’s apostasy. Chap 31 hands off the reins of authority to Joshua. Josh 1:1 takes up from where Deut 34 (the obituary of Moses) leaves off. The ending of Joshua is taken up in Judges 1:1; 2:6-9. Ruth is situated in the period of the Judges (1:1) and sets the stage for the Davidic kingship. 1 Kgs 1-2 continues the transition of power from 2 Sam 9-20. Chronicles reviews the history of Samuel-Kings from a post-Exilic perspective, while its genealogies reach back to the beginning of canonical history (1Chron 1:1f.). 2 Chron 36:22-23 is taken up in Ezra 1:1-4. Ezra and Nehemiah are obviously complementary. Esther updates the mortal enmity between the Israelites as the Amalekites—represented by Haman (3:1; cf. 1 Sam 15; Exod 17:16).

Or, to come at this from yet another angle, The Pentateuch is also held together by various unifying devices such as narrative/poetry/epilogue sequencing and narrative typology. Cf. J. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative (Zondervan, 1992). His monograph also affords further examples of intertextuality.

On the basis of concentric symmetries in the internal organization of the OT, derived from word counts as well as the order and division of the books (according to the Allepo and Leningrad Codices), David Freedman has argued that the OT canon, exclusive of Daniel, was finalized before the Intertestamental period. Cf. "The Symmetry of the Hebrew Bible," ST 46 (1992), 83-108.

All this unfolds with a flawless inner logic. But liberal criticism scrambles the order of historical causation—which is why it lurches from one dating scheme to the next. Cf. G. Wenham, "Pentateuchal Studies Today," Themelios 22/1 (Oct 1996), 3-13.

There are internal evidences for the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch besides its explicit self-witness. The references to fauna and flora in the wilderness narrative include some situated outside the Promised Land (cf. Exod 25:5,10,13; Lev 11:16; Deut 10:13; 14:5). This fits well with a record written in the Sinai desert, but is too ingenuous to serve as a successful archaizing device. Likewise, acacia wood is used in construction of the Tabernacle and its furnishings (Exod 25:5,10,13; 26:15,26; 27:1,6) whereas cedar wood is used for the Temple. That makes perfect sense inasmuch as acacia was the only source of wood available in the wilderness of Sinai.

In a book review, Gleason Archer draws attention to some of the following data:
" Suffice it to say that the indications in the Pentateuch of a pre-Conquest time of composition of the books of Moses are altogether compelling. The references to Palestine in those five books are all of hearsay character, indicating a carefully preserved oral tradition retained by an emigrant people dwelling in a foreign land, namely Egypt.

For example, in Genesis 13:10, where Lot is considering which territory to choose for his cattle to graze in, he looks with favor upon the Jordan plain, which is described as being "like the land of Egypt as you go unto Zoar" (a fertile district in the Delta). According to Friedman this passage was composed by "J," at least five centuries after Israel had settled in Canaan. But why should the readers of Genesis have to be told what the Jordan Valley looked like after they had already been occupying it for 500 years? And why should they have to visualize it in terms of a region in Egypt? There is no other way to explain this except on the supposition that both the writer and his readers were personally acquainted with Egypt, but not with Palestine. Or again, in Genesis 33:18 the reference is made to Shalem, "a city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan." Why should the readers have to be told that Shechem was in the land of Canaan 500 years after it had been taken over as a capital in the tribe of Ephraim? Or again, in Numbers 13:22 the city of Hebron is said to have been built seven years before Zoan in Egypt. Obviously the readers were more familiar with the date of Zoan’s founding than with Hebron’s — even though Hebron had served as the capital of the tribe of Judah for several centuries before "J" was allegedly written in Judah itself. It is difficult to see how anyone can come to any other conclusion in the light of these evidences but that Genesis and the Pentateuch in general were composed prior to Israel’s settlement in Canaan.

So far as Deuteronomy is concerned, the internal evidence points unmistakably to the eve of the Conquest as the time of its composition. If we consider the implications of Moses’ instructions to his people as recorded in Deuteronomy 13 and 17 we cannot avoid this conclusion. In these two chapters we find the death penalty prescribed for any individual, family, or community that became involved in idol-worship. In the time of Josiah, or even in the time of Hezekiah, there was scarcely a community in all of the kingdom of Judah that was not infected with idolatry. Had such a law been propounded and carried out with rigor, it is safe to say that at least 50 percent of the total population would have been stoned to death. No school of prophets or priests would ever have ventured to propound such severe measures as these and pretend that they originated with Moses himself. The Sitz im Leben implied by these passages in Deuteronomy fits only a time in the history of Israel when the entire nation was committed to the worship of Yahweh alone. There is no known period which fits into this framework but the time of Moses and Joshua.

The same is true of Deuteronomy 12:2-4, which mandates the destruction and total obliteration of every idolatrous temple, shrine, or altar throughout the length and breadth of the land of Canaan. A program of this sort predicates an overwhelming superiority of the Israelite armed forces, for the idolatrous populations would certainly have put up the fiercest resistance to the total destruction of their religious centers. At what other time in the history of Israel was the Hebrew military power capable of achieving this goal? With the possible exception of the reigns of David and Solomon, there is no other point in history when this could have been accomplished but in the time of Joshua (of whom it is recorded in the book of Joshua that he never lost a battle except for the episode at Ai). Here again, the only setting that fits for such a stern and unsparing mandate is the time of the Conquest. Never afterward, from the time of the Judges onward, would it ever have been conceivable that the Hebrew armies could have carried out such an assignment. To disregard such factors is to abandon all pretensions of dating a work of literature on the basis of internal evidence (as Friedman and the Documentarian critics have always claimed to be doing), and to locate the composition of a document in a setting completely unsuited to it. It is simply unthinkable that either Hezekiah or Josiah (to say nothing of Zerubbabel or Ezra, as Gustaf Hoelscher maintained with his theory of a post-exilic date for Deuteronomy) could entertain the notion that, at a time when Judah was a vassal nation to Babylon or Assyria or Persia, it was capable of wiping out idol-worship throughout Palestine. For the Hebrew state in those days it was merely a matter of surviving as a free people.

So far as social and economic conditions are concerned, the internal evidence of the text of Deuteronomy definitely points to a period of composition much earlier than the time of the Divided Monarchy. As George Mendenhall of the University of Michigan points out in Law and Covenant in Israel:

It is hard to conceive of a law code which could be more at variance from what we know of Canaanite culture than the Covenant Code (Exod. 21-23 JE)....The Canaanite cities were predominantly commercial, rigidly stultified in social structure....The Covenant Code shows no social stratification, for the slaves mentioned are not members of the community, with the single exception of the daughter who is sold as an amah or slave-wife (who is herself strongly protected by law . . . . The laws of the Covenant Code reflect the customs, morality, and religious obligations of the Israelite community (or perhaps some specific Israelite community of the North) before the monarchy….since it exhibits just that mixture of case-law and apodictic law.… which we find in covenants from Hittite sources and in Mesopotamian codes as well: any study which assumes that it is a later, artificial composite from originally independent literary sources may be assigned rather to rational ingenuity than to historic fact (pp. 13-14)…

As to Friedman’s argument that Deuteronomy must have been composed by Jeremiah or his amanuensis Baruch (to whom he credits also Joshua, Judges, and Samuel as the final portions of the so-called Octateuch, or "eight books," including Genesis through Samuel), he follows the familiar Documentarian line of reasoning that Jeremiah’s authorship is strongly indicated by the frequency with which terms and phrases used in the prophecies of Jeremiah occur in Deuteronomy itself. However, by this line of reasoning one could prove that Milton or Bunyan was the author of the King James Version of the Bible, because they too contain so many expressions in their literary compositions which were also found in the Authorized Version. Friedman completely overlooks the familiar pattern of influence exerted by the holy books of any culture upon the language and phraseology of later authors who belong to that tradition.

Moreover, he fails to observe the extreme unlikelihood that the Samaritan sect would have refused canonicity to the book of Joshua, as they did (along with all other books besides the Pentateuch), had it been composed at the same time as the final recension of the Pentateuch. It is hardly conceivable that a book which featured the career of the great tribal hero of Ephraim would have been rejected by the Ephraimites and their Samaritan descendants had it been contemporaneously published with Genesis through Deuteronomy. The prominence given to Mount Gerizim in Joshua 8 would surely have been sufficient to warrant its inclusion had it been available.

Yet for all of his dutiful adherence to the well-trodden track of traditional Wellhausianism, our author takes a very surprising change of direction when he comes to Chapter 9: "A Brilliant Mistake" (pp.161-73). He advances a strong argument for redating the so-called Priestly Code to a period prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. On p. 186 (in Chapter 10) he stoutly affirms: "P had to be written before the first Temple was destroyed." He follows this up with a devastating question: "Why would a priest write a law code that said that sacrifices can only be offered at a place that did not exist any more?"…

In support of this position he points out that Jeremiah in fact quoted from Genesis 1:2 (a section assigned to P) when he said, "I looked at the earth, and here it was unformed and void, and to the heavens, and their light was gone" (Jer. 4:23)…

On page 164 he raises a very obvious objection: "How could this writer [i.e., Mr. P] compose a story in which God gives Moses laws about a Temple when no Temple was actually built until over two hundred years after Moses was dead?" He then goes on to discredit the Wellhausen dictum that the Tabernacle never really existed, but was only a fiction, a symbol of the second Temple (p. 164). In the subsequent pages he casts serious doubt upon Wellhausen’s solution to P’s failure to teach centralization of worship in any explicit fashion; Wellhausen had argued that after the return from Exile everyone would understand that they could only sacrifice at the Jerusalem temple. This could not be the case, Friedman points out, since Jeremiah did in fact refer to the Priestly sacrificial system as having been composed prior to his own time," A Summary Critique: Who Wrote the Bible? Richard E. Fridman (Summit Books 1987).

For further reading:

Allis, O. The Old Testament: Its Claims & Its Critics (P&R, 1972). His magnum opus.

Archer, G. (Moody 1994). A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. Strong on inerrancy, weak on creation.

Cassuto, U. The Documentary Hypothesis (Magnes 1961). By a conservative Jew and gifted philologist.

Gordon, C. "Higher Critics and the Forbidden Fruit," Christianity Today 23 (November 1959). Attack on the documentary hypothesis by a brilliant scholar and secular Jew. Reprinted in A Christianity Today Reader (Meredith 1966), 67-73.

Harrison, R. Introduction to the Old Testament (Eerdmans 1988). Moderate. Extensive exposition and critique of the documentary hypothesis.

Kitchen, K. On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 2003). Moderate. Strong on primary source corroboration in contrast to thin-air critical theorizing.

Sailhamer, J. The Pentateuch as Narrative (Zondervan, 1992). An inductive study in the thematic unity of the Pentateuch.

Young, E. An Introduction to the Old Testament (Eerdmans 1977).
_____, Thy Word is Truth (Eerdmans, 1981)


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