Autographs, MSS and REAL Historiography Re: Methods in biblical scholarship

Ken Litwak kdlitwak at
Tue Dec 28 02:37:42 EST 1999

Basically here, as elsewhre, Niels Lemche (along iwth others) have
stated tat since there are no biblical MSS from before the 2nd century
BCE (a later dating for many DSS would really invalidate all the factors
used to decide the dating of MSS, unless of course one conisdres Frank
Moore Cross and colleagues to b unscholarly).  If we grant that there
are no biblical MSS from before the 2nd century BCE, this is supposed to
proe sometihng, Nields would have us believe.  I reject this as patent
nonesense in anoy other area where MSS are involved.  If The Copehagen
position is valid, I would like to invie any of its adhernets to go to
next yearr's annual SBL meeting and attend the "Septuaint and COgnae
Studies group" meeting.  Stand upa nd ell them taht because the earliest
complete LXX MS is Vaticanus, dated aorund the 4th to 5th century AD,
that this is when the Septuagint originated or very close to it.  
Go to a meeting of classicists. Telll them that since there are no MS of
classical writers such as Plato, Aristotle, Seutonius, Thycidedes, etc,
from before aout 700 AD, that these works acame into ein at or just
before the 8th cent AD.
IN boht cases I predict you'll either be laughed out of he room or
simply ignored as a nut case.  Virtually no one in LXX studies, no NT
textual criticism or classical studies or Shakespeare studies or any
other area of historiography or literatrystudes equts the date of the
earliest MS with the date of the autorgraphs.  If no one else makes this
assumption, that there must be some connection, an assumption Niels has
made, and assertd, but never given real argumentation for, is there any
reason whatsoever that we should treat the Hebrew Bible as an
exceptoin?  No, we should act like scholars in all other disciplines and
specialties.  The date of the earlisest MS is completely irrelevant to
the date of the composition of its autograph.  

   This makes the assumption, drawn from this indefensivle position,
that therefore the texts can't be reliabvle history, quite specious as
well.  The corollary, that any text from the subject time period, like
tablets from Assyria, must be completely true, is equally unjuustified. 
One need look no further than 1999 to see official documens from the
government of hte United Sates apparently stating that known facts are
not true (I rfer to the many speeches from Bill CLinton's impeachment
proceedings).  It's in the COngresiojnal Record.  Events for which there
are wintnesses and testimony from participants is rjecected by members
of Congress and a totally different version of the narrative is given. 
If you can't trust taht, why on earth would you trust documents written
for thee sake of the king over 2000 years ago?  It's all state
propaganda.  If Assyrian and Babylonian annalssay anything which is
true, i's only ecause it presents the king in a good light, not because
the chrnonicler was committed to the truth.    It is interesting in that
light to comapre Assyrian records to 1 Samuel or 2 Kings.  Assyrina and
Babylonian records would never have the criticisms of the king that
biblical histories do.  

    ANother matter that springs from this is taht those who make the
assumption taht MS date somehow relates to auttograph date is that we
should not have a prolem with saying the biblical texts are not
historical while treating stelas as plain, objective truth.  The texts
have been robbed of the chance to speak of what happneed.  So to deal
with this, they are givne genres completely out of keeping with what
they internally show of htemselves.  1 Samuel is historiography.  Read
Albert Cook, Histoyr/Writing, before you disagree.  It is not simply
eidfying litrature or fictiojn just because one wishes to pan its
accounts as unhistorical.  

   Regarding hard evidence, I would place this challenge.  What
constitutes hard evidence?  I have already argued previously that mere
artifacts are incapable of reconstructing events.  They are simply data
and there is no suc thing as uninterpreted data.  The biblical texs are
not somehow epeccially ideologica, as though either Assyrian texts or
books from the Copenhagen school were not.  If postmodernism, in any
form, has tuaght us anything, it is that all texts are ideological. 
There is no such thing as neutrality or objectivity.  It's a muyth.  So
what constitutes hard evidence and who gets to decide what qualifies?  
    Let's just soppose, though, for a moment, that the illogical,
unshcolarly positoin that composition and earliest MS are somehow
connected is valid. The offical langauge of the Persian empire is
Aramiac.  The Trgums and later rabinic material is largely in Aramaic. 
If there was no nation of Israel in the 10th cent. or 89th cnet or 4 th
cent BC (defined according to what the biblical texts present), and this
material was invented exnihilo in the 2ndcentury, why oh why is it in
Hebrew, a langauge that was not used by any group to compose its
religious literature because all taht literature was invented by
Persians or Pesian puppets in the 3rd cent. or something like that, or
worse still by Seleucid puppets.  How would they even know Hebrew>? 
After all, we want to reject the hard evidence of Hebrew in Palestine
prior to the introduction of the MSS.  So all those Hebrew ostraca which
Richard Hess has written on at length from the 10th to the 7th cent.,
though not numerous, actually don't exist.  After all, the post I'm
quoting says ther's no hard evidence.  I'm only making the only possible
logical conclusion.  There was no Israel so there was no group that
spoke Hebrew or used it for religious purposes.  Thereforee, there is no
logical reason for the persian authors to either know nor use Hebrew but
should have consistently used Aramaic as found in Ezra and Daneil.

    Let's talk finally about anoher piece of hard evidence.  It's the
HOuse of David inscription.  One principle often used in scholarship is
Occam's Razor.  The idea is taht given multiple, possible hypotheses,
the simplest one, with the least amount of special pleading, is the one
most likely to be correct. So here are the contestants.
1.  COntestant one is the reading "House of David".  This contestant is
found in other documentws in Hebrew, just like the origianl
inscription.  THose docuemnts, whose extant copies date from the 4rd
cent. BC and laer, descrie a dynasty under David, a king, and place it
in the right time period for this inscription to make perfect sens.  
COntestant number two is a palce name BTDWD or some hapax legomnon.  IF
i's a palcename, it has absolutely no  evidence to support its
existence.  It is otherwise completley unknwon.  Of couse, calling it a
hapax legomenon means you don't have to deal with the data.  You can
make it quietly go away.  How scholarly.

The votes are in.,  Occam's Razor says that contestant number one is
clearly the winner by 9 centuries.  Contestant number two didn't stand a

     So please don't tell us aain that there' sno hard evidence.  Also,
pleas don't tell us that because the earliest bob;oca; <SS date from the
3rd or 2nd centruy BC, again referring to work by obvious incompetents
like Frank Moore Cross, that this somehow proves somethin.  Also before
you make the argument "thjere is no hard evidence" please define exactly
what that means and what would qualify.  here's an example.  How could
you ever prove by artifacs not texs) that the battle of Qar QWar took
place?  It's not in the iblical reocrd, but I accept its validity, from
texts alone, because it makes sense and explains how the narrative in
teh biblical narratives got tis facs.  yet, I can't fnd a sword fromthe
battle.  I don't have a souvnir chariot.  I only have texts.  

  What kind of evidnece could be adduced to show that Israel and Syria
fought? There are no sowrds, or spears or other weapons in museums that
say,"Property of hte Syrian army, minted 800 BCR".  So it's going to be
really rather tough, except from texts, to show that this happened.  If
only a biblical text is the extant witness to the event, htat does not
ipso facto, make the account unreliable.  

  I would like to suggest, in fact, that tring to approach this
scientifically, is a wrong-headed model. You can't prove history
scientifically.  You assess records in more of a legal way, or ougyt
to.  You deermine, whre you can, when th witnesses have told the truth
and try to determine how true their accounts are or how problematic
their accounts are.  Based onw aht I read in Assyiran or Egyptian
history, I'd say it's all wrong because pharoahs and Assyrian rulers
don't lose -- ever.  They live from thousands of years.  Hey never lose
battles.  Everyuthing is great under them.  Yeah, right.  

Then, there are the biblical texts, which note errors and faults in
leaders, tell aout leaders doing stupid things, tell about leadcers
losing attles, living reasonable amounts of time, etc.  WHich sounds
more trustworthy?   The second, clearly.    A lgal context of calling
and appraising witnesses is th correct model for historiography, not
seeting MS dats which is completley irrelevan.  

Ken Litwak
Univesity of Bristol/Trinity College
(and Java instructor in California)


Niels Peter Lemche wrote:
> Trying to get the 'subject' right.
> > From: peter_kirk at [SMTP:peter_kirk at]
> >
>         ....
> > 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.
>         [Niels Peter Lemche]
>         Just the case that proposal cover more than 500 years (as a matter
> of fact from 10th century BCE to 4th or 3rd centirues BCE) tells us that
> there is no hard evidence available. The tendency has been also outside of
> my circle to downdate to the exilic post-exilic periods. This may because of
> lack of hard data change tomorrow, as it has done before.
> >
> > 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).
>         [Niels Peter Lemche]
>         The hard data is first of all the age of the oldest manuscript, the
> discovery (not really new) that the text tradition was not finally settled
> in the 1st century BCE (DSS evidence). More recently we have started asking
> questions about what I call the profile of the authors of biblical
> literature: What did they know, what stuff did they use, and does this say
> anything about their education or place of living?
> > 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.
> >
>         [Niels Peter Lemche]
>         Right, there is no other defense of such a view than personal
> beliefs.
> > Peter Kirk
> >
>         [Niels Peter Lemche]  And a merry Christmas to you people
>         NPL
> >
> ---
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