[b-hebrew] Yahwism (was: their altar)

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at email.com
Tue Mar 15 03:46:51 EST 2005

Dear Yitzhak:

I stand by my original assertion, that _unless there is good evidence to the contrary_ we should take ancient documents at their word, the same as we take modern documents. The problem I have with JEPD is that the only "evidence" they have produced is ideological, not historical nor linguistic in nature.

As for science, using the historical definition I was taught (has its definition changed since then?) is that it deals only with repeatedly observable phenomena (e.g. cf. George Gaylord Simpson "Life, an Introduction to Biology" introduction). As a result, science can tell us very little about history, as the event of history are no longer observable. By the same definition, mathematics is not a science (much to the disgust of my father, a math prof.), rather it is the logic of science. The problems are compounded with archeology, which can study only fragments that survive from ancient life - the older, the fewer surviving fragments.

Secondly, the Bible has a theme it wants to impart (or rather its aurhors), therefore though it has much information, it is by no means exhaustive. You mentioned the battle of Qarqar which you think was important, while the author(s) of Kings thought irrelevant enough to omit any mention of it. In fact, the history presented in Kings and Chronicles is very abridged, a bare introduction by modern standards, which does not make it wrong. Anyway, Kings and Chronicles, both internally and linguistically, indicate that they were written post Exile.

As for when Moses lived, that is still inexactly known. Corrolating ancient dates to our modern calandar is an inexact art, true dates may be off by a century or more. From different sources, I have seen dates for Nehemiah's rebuilding of Jerusalem's walls from 390 - 440 BC, so how close are our guesses for Moses' life's dates? We aren't told how much time there was from year zero of our calandar to those events. Add to that copyest errors, an exact chronology is cannot be made, to say the least.

Likewise your questions concerning the text is a red herring, best answered by those who specialize in textual criticism. The evidence for the text of Tanakh is levels of magnitude better than for other important literature from the past, like the Odyssy, for example. Even taking the LXX and Samaritan Torah into account, they deviate only in minor details.

You are making assumptions about what I assume. Isn't that a bit presumptious of you?

You can't make any determination of dating from spelling. Because the language had ceased to be a native tongue (learned as the only and/or main spoken language) after the Exile, the spelling was frozen to that used in the most important texts in Tanakh, namely Torah. I see the same pattern with children and grandchildren of immigrants; when the main spoken language is American English (local to me) the spelling of their ancestral languages, in so far as they know them, is frozen to when their ancestors immigrated. So when the returnies from the Exile made Hebrew the language of religion, legal and high literature, they froze the spelling (in so far as there were spelling rules) to that which was used in the oldest and most important books. In fact, this is one of the evidences I see for my claim that the returnies from the Exile were no longer native speakers of Hebrew (Ezra's efforts notwithstanding).

You mentioned specific passages, Genesis 36:31-39 for example, do you have a list of Moabite kings telling their chronology in a way that can be corrolated with our modern calandar? If not, why can't this list be one of kings that reigned before Moses? And Numbers 21:28-30 mentioned an event that occured during Moses' lifespan, so how is that evidence against Mosaic authorship? In other words, without evidence, your claims are mere speculation.

In closing, you have provided no historical evidence that should make us claim that Tanakh is pious fiction written long after the internal dates listed, where there are listed authorship dates. True, not all the dates can be corrolated exactly with our modern calandar, but that does not rule out a general dating. And if we treat Tanakh just like we treat any other document, considering it to be accurate (as far as textual criticism can tell for ancient documents) except where there is clear evidence (evidence, not speculation) to the contrary, there is no reason that I can see to claim authorship other than the periods claimed internally.

Karl W. Randolph.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Yitzhak Sapir" <yitzhaksapir at gmail.com>
> Karl,
> "Innocent until proven guilty" may be a good policy for judicial
> use, since we don't want to hang the innocent.  But it's a bad
> policy for scientific work, because we don't want to assume
> that which is baseless.  In the end, any science must, of
> course, take certain axioms upon assumptions -- even
> mathematics, the most exact of all sciences.  Generally, though,
> we try to minimize that which is assumed to the bare minimum.
> Another problem with this policy of "innocent until proven guilty"
> is that it assumes a black or white scenario - either the bible is
> innocent or it is guilty.  If I point out that the battle of Qarqar is
> not mentioned in Kings and this is important information that
> changes our entire perception of Ahab, you might conclude that
> the bible is "innocent" as it simply was selective in the
> information it provided.  I might conclude that it is "guilty"
> because I find out I cannot make useful historical assessments
> based on the information it provides.  An "innocent until proven
> guilty" also assumes that one manuscript is correct over another
> without particular substantiation.  For example, why should
> we pick the Massoretic over the Septuagint or the Samaritan?
> Lastly, by assuming the Pentateuch is dated to Moses, you
> are first making assumptions about when Moses lived, which I
> pointed out is not that clear.  However, you are also assuming
> that when the Pentateuch refers to "this torah" it refers to the
> Pentateuch in its entirety and not specific verses.  Thus, you
> are assuming a specific interpretation of the words is correct
> in order to date your text.  One can read the Pentateuch
> without making this interpretation and based on various verses
> (such as Gen 36:31-39, Nu 21:28-30) that reference events
> that occured during the Monarchy as events of the past or
> present, conclude that the Pentateuch is no earlier than the
> Monarchy.  These are just some examples of "doubting the
> Tanakh's authors" based on historical grounds.  There are
> many others, and you should read modern critical
> commentaries to get some ideas of the issues.
> Now, would you be willing to provide your methodology for
> determining how to prove if the bible is "innocent or guilty?"
> for if you don't even set out to prove or put the bible "on trial,"
> you are in effect simply assuming the bible is "innocent."
> But I think where you are definitely wrong is in trying to make
> an historical analysis of the language based on your beliefs
> of the date of the books.  I think today it is possible to make
> some reasonable historical reconstruction of important parts
> of the language based on inscriptional evidence alone, and
> this is much more useful than a reconstruction based on
> supposed datings.  This would show that even the
> Pentateuch (and the entire Bible, actually) is written in
> spelling that does not predate the exile.  This provides the
> linguistic grounds for doubting the authorship.
> Yitzhak Sapir
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