Monotheism was: "admittedly syncretistic..

Peter Kirk Peter_Kirk at
Sat Jan 26 07:04:06 EST 2002

Jonathan, I agree that critical research on the biblical texts is
desirable. But it is also very difficult, because everyone comes with
their own presuppositions.


But you really cannot claim that Wellhausen succeeded in not introducing
his "own religious belief system". What do you think his belief system
was? Do you think he was an orthodox Christian just because he had (I
assume) been baptised as a Christian? No, his belief system, whether or
not you call it "religious", was based around popular 19th century ideas
of evolution and the inevitable progress of man from savagery to
perfection - ideas the fallacy of which were rudely exposed in 1914-18
and again in the Holocaust. His belief system is dead, or nearly so, but
for some reason his theories which are so dependent on it still live on,
even in your argument from "the development of Israelite religion" that
the Torah must depend on Hammurapi rather than vice versa because it is
more "developed".



Peter Kirk


-----Original Message-----
From: Jonathan D. Safren [mailto:yon_saf at] 
Sent: 26 January 2002 09:02
To: Biblical Hebrew
Subject: Re: Monotheism was: "admittedly syncretistic..


Dear Rolf,

You write:


[Rolf] in scientific research "God" as a *factor* must a priori be
excluded. We cannot seek recourse in something metaphysical ("God") if
we are doing scientific research. The problem, however, is that we
research documents that not only speak about God, but where several
authors explicitly say that they were inspired by God. So how can we do
an intelligent research on documents that are claimed to be rooted in
something that we a priori exclude?


[JDS] Nothing is or should be excluded from scientific research. I
realize that many, if not most, people have an emotional problem doing
research into the God they believe in. But, first of all the study of
ancient Israelite religion need not concern the validity or invalidity
of this or that belief system (that would be engaging in religious
polemics), but the phenomenology or historical development of Israelite
religion and its belief in God,

I realize that this is difficult for most people, even scholars to do,
without introducing one's own religious belief system (witness
Wellhausen!), but this is what must be done. Otherwise, it would be like
not investigating whether the earth was round because it interferes with
established belief. Moreover, I have known Orthodox Jewish scholars who
have had no problem with critical scholarship (for example my own
teachers Loewenstamm and Seeligmann); others did and do: At Bar Ilan
University in Israel, there are no courses in the books of the Torah,
only in commentaries to the Torah. They are afraid of what they might
get into. This avoidance, I might add, has been a cause of ridicule, in
at least one article I have read.

Secondly, why should shamanism, Buddhism, totemism, animism, Canaanite,
Babylonian and Ugaritic religions and their gods be investigated while
the Israelite God remains immune?




[JDS] Most definitely. And this should be explained in terms of the
development of Israelite religion. First of all, the various "law codes"
of the Torah function as stipulations in the Divine suzerainty treaty
with Israel, and are not at all equivalent with Codex Hammurapi or the
Laws of Ur-Nammu, which serve to demonstrate that the king was just. The
fact that the laws of the Pentateuch are treaty stipulations explain why
they include cultic-religious laws, as these are the ways of expressing
loyalty to the sovereign.

And, according to Weinfeld, this also explains the presence of apodictic
formulation, entirely absent in the ANE law codes, but quite conspicuous
in the suzerainty treaties (which also include casuistic formulations).

The fact that the Torah was later understood, both in Judaism and
Christianity, as the "Law", helped obscure the original nature of the
laws; but Rashi, citing R. Yitzhak, pointed this out already in his 11th
century commentary to Gen. 1:1.


Whew! Rolf, for me this  has been an exceedingly long discourse, and I
think I'll end it here. Sincerely,


Jonathan D. Safren 

Dept. of Biblical Studies

Beit Berl College

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