Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The "Deuteronomic history"

I'll comment on a post by Arminian theologian Randal Rauser:
The problem is that they never address the glaring question: why think God ever uttered these commands as they are recorded? 
Why think this happened…? 
In order to appreciate the knotty nature of this historical question, consider how evangelical apologists typically press the importance of history, particularly as it regards the resurrection of Jesus. Evangelical apologists are keen to argue that New Testament documents (e.g. the creedal formula in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5) bring us to within years of the purported events themselves. (As an introduction to this literature one might begin with Paul Copan’s treatment of the resurrection in Loving Wisdom: Christian Philosophy of Religion (Chalice Press, 2007), 116 ff.) 
The contrast with the Deuteronomic history could hardly be greater for here the gap between event and report shifts from years (as in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5) or decades (as in the Synoptic gospels) to centuries. Philip Jenkins explains:
“Even by the most optimistic estimates, J [According to the Documentary Hypothesis “J” is the Yahwist source, one of four sources that comprise the Torah] would not have been written down until 900 or 850. Deuteronomy itself did not take its final form until five hundred years after the massacre of King Sihon and his subjects. That book’s authors were as far removed from the conquest as we today are from the time of Martin Luther or Christopher Columbus. Any approach to Deuteronomy or Joshua has to read it in the context of around 700 BCE, or even later, not of 1200.” (Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can’t Ignore the Bible’s Violent Verses (HarperOne, 20011), 53-54, emphasis added.) 
Think about that: the proximity of the events narrated in the Deuteronomic history to the final form of the texts is equivalent to the distance from Christopher Columbus to today! Given that the period covered by the narrative occurred centuries earlier than the final form of the Deuteronomic history, one would think Copan and Flannagan would be centrally concerned with the historical question: Do we have a historical ground to think these events occurred? Instead, Copan and Flannagan appear to accept the basic historical veracity of the Deuteronomic history in much the same way they would accept the reliability of the Gospels and Acts.
Three basic problems:
i) The argument is circular. Jenkins (whose views Rauser rubber-stamps) simply denies the historical setting of the Pentateuch (or Hexateuch). He takes the Documentary Hypothesis for granted. He then cites his disbelief in the ostensible setting of the Pentateuch as justification for disbelieving the historicity or historical accuracy of the Pentateuch. 
But why should we have more confidence in the Documentary Hypothesis than the self-witness of the Pentateuch? The Documentary Hypothesis is a conjectural reconstruction by modern scholars who weren't alive to witness what really happened, either according to the original setting or the setting they reassign to the composition of the Pentateuch. 
ii) Even if, for the sake of argument, we say the Pentateuch was written centuries after the fact, notice how divine inspiration doesn't register in Jenkins' explanation. He treats the narratives of Scripture as merely human documents. His outlook is secular. 
iii) Finally, even if, for the sake of argument, we treat the Pentateuch as an uninspired source, his skepticism is ironic coming from a church historian. He cites Luther as an example. Well, what about that? Does he think that due to the passage of time, we lack reliable information about the life and work of Luther?


  1. It's incredible to me how much confidence scholars can have in such a speculative theory as the documentary hypothesis, especially when men like Umberto Cassuto tore a hole in it years ago

    1. Likewise, Cyrus Gordon was a secular Jew who rejected the documentary hypothesis years ago:


  2. As frequently as Arminians have to resort to the "Did God really say...?" tactic, it's no wonder they can't provide exegesis for any of their views.