Melchizedek (More Dave) (Peter's response)

peter_kirk at peter_kirk at
Fri Dec 24 11:53:08 EST 1999

Dear Niels Peter,

Thank you for your contribution. Maybe Ian and I confused you, but the 
point you are commenting on is Ian's not mine. For it seems that Ian 
is happy to follow the principle you make here when he is trying to 
knock down anyone else's arguments, but doesn't allow it to be applied 
to his own arguments.

I take your point and Diebner's, and I have to accept that we cannot 
prove beyond a shadow of doubt that anything is older than the 
earliest manuscript we possess of it. Yes, Ian has actually persuaded 
me of that point. So what can we do? We can give up and go home, or we 
can work on the balance of probabilities, which for some may be tipped 
by their personal faith. But surely there is a difference between the 
balance of probabilities and guesswork?

To oversimplify, there are three main hypotheses around for the 
composition of the bulk of the Hebrew Bible as we know it:

1) The Copenhagen approach, if I may correctly so call it, that most 
was written in the 2nd century BCE, or not long before;

2) The traditional scholarly approach of dating books over a range 
from roughly the 8th to the 4th century;

3) The evangelical approach, attributing the Pentateuch to Moses and 
dating other books as more-or-less contemporary records.

Approach 2) has been rightly criticised as lacking real evidence. The 
problem to me is that I have not seen any real evidence for approach 
1) (but then I have not read your books, I am afraid). I know that 
approach 3) cannot be proved, but at least it has the possible 
evidence of the self-attribution of the books and of ancient 
tradition, and also some support from the archaeological record 
(although that is of course also dubious). So I see no good reason to 
abandon approach 3), though I have to admit that one reason for 
preferring it is the presuppositions of my personal faith.

Peter Kirk

______________________________ Reply Separator _________________________________
Subject: Re[5]: Melchizedek (More Dave) (Peter's response)
Author:  <npl at> at Internet
Date:    24/12/1999 13:00

> From:        peter_kirk at [SMTP:peter_kirk at] 
> Sadly we have to work with the data we have. ...
> The situation however is relatively simple. We have a number of documents 
> that are principally before the second century BCE.
        [Niels Peter Lemche]
        You are talking about data available. Please, tell me what kind of
data say that we have a number of documents from before the 2nd century BCE? 
Yes, inscriptions from Palestine in the Iron Age, of course, Elephantine 
papyri also ... talking only of Hebrew literature, but when we approach the 
Bible, what 'data' do we possess that proves anything to be 'principally pre 
2nd century BCE'? Never forget the often quoted (by me) line from Bernd J”rg 
Diebner of the Dielheimer Bl„tter: 'We cannot prove it, but it is a fact!' 
-- the addition to that line (again Diebner) is 'Speech of figure instead of 
argument within OT scholarship' (Sprachfigur statt methode in der 
Erforschung des AT'.)

        This mail is principal in character. I do not say that there cannot
be anything older than the 2nd century BCE. But it is hard to prove if we 
have no data, as you may see it. the oldest MSS for the Hebrew texts are 
still DSS, i.e. presumably 1 cent. BCE, or perhaps 1st cent. CE, which means 
that the ungoing discussion about the dating of the DSS is very important 
also for the dating of biblical texts. Whenever we moves beyond the time 
limit set by the date of the earliest manuscripts, we are depending on 
personal ideas, wishes, guesses etc.


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