[b-hebrew] Looking into the Wellhausen JEPD Theory

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Mon Dec 24 01:43:08 EST 2007

Dear Edward,

Please don't missunderstand; no-one here has claimed that it is "not 
permitted" to question the Documenary Hypothesis. Quite the contrary - 
Yitzhak has mentioned the many changes and ammendments that have been 
proposed over time, as our understanding of the archaeological, 
geographical, historical, literary and linguistic background of the biblical 
world has evolved. In any kind of science, a theory/hypothesis (and that 
really IS all we are discussing here) is only valid as long as it is the 
most reasonable way to understand the evidence as it is known at the time. 
As new evidence comes in, the theory must be either updated or abandoned. In 
the field of biblical studeis, the past 150 years have produced more 
evidence than did the previous 1500 years, and yet the basic methodology 
behind the DH has proven to be sound. So that while present-day renderings 
of the DH are as similar to the "original" Graf-Wellhausen theory as 
present-day biology is to Darwin's original theory of evolution, it can 
certainly be said that (in both cases) the "original" still stands. Of 
course, an astonishingly new discovery this afternoon may force all of us to 
eat our hats, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

You are also correct, that in all sciences (not just "hard science") someone 
does occasioally come along and revolutionalize the field. Even if a 
person's "radical new" ideas eventually turn out to be wrong, "rocking the 
boat" and frosing everyone to re-think their positions is a good thing. 
However, the difference between humanistic studies, especially biblical 
studies, and the "hard sciences" is that no-one would dare claim that the 
accepted theories that guide physics are wrong, without first aquiring a 
proper education and the approprate degrees in those theories. In the case 
of biblical studies, many people feel free to criticize without first really 
studying what they propose to knock down. Of course, this is met with 
antagonism from the "professionals". Now it is still possible that someone 
from "left field" might actually be right - but for every persecuted 
Galileo, there are a hundred more would-be wanna-be's who just do not get 

The main part of your message claimed that the Graf-Wellhausen theory should 
be discounted because its propnants were anti-semites, predecesors of the 
Nazis. While it is true that every scholar is a product of his or her 
society and generation, and some of them may have actually been despicable 
human beings, the scientific meathod that I was taught says that one should 
evaluate a theory by what it says, not by who said it.

Yigal Levin

----- Original Message ----- 
From: <belaga at math.u-strasbg.fr>

> Dear Ytzhak and Yigal,
> I do not agree with the currently dominant academic interpretation of
> the historical roots of the Biblical narratives. Such disagreement is
> permitted in hard sciences where the modern upheavals have
> demonstrated the value, if not necessity of sometimes apparently
> "crazy" ideas.
> How then could I discuss with you my doubts ? Your strict adherence to
> the currently dominant academic positions and norms has finally
> convinced me to expose here my supra-academic worries in the case, the
> real source of my anxiety. Sorry if it might sound for your ears as a
> heavy metal music. But let me start.
> If it is permitted to question the accepted for centuries authenticity
> of the Patriarchal Narratives and, more generally, of the Hebrew
> Bible, as well as the good faith of its "creators", it is surely
> permitted to question the academic authenticity and the academic good
> faith of the Graf-Wellhausen JEPD Theory.
> The problem is that, starting with at least Arthur Schopenhauer, the
> German school of thought, the academic school of thought including,
> has been slowly approaching the vision and the will which, at the
> hands of the Nazis, became the academic theory and will of the
> extermination of the Jews, starting with their mental and intellectual
> extermination from the religious, cultural, and intellectual scenes.
> In his book "The World As Will and Representation" (Volume I, Dover
> Publications, New York 1969. Translated from the German by E. F. J.
> Payne), Schopenhauer writes, as always very eloquently (page 232):
> "Historical subjects have a decidedly detrimental effect only when
> they restrict the painter to a field chosen arbitrarily, and not for
> artistic but for other purposes. This is particularly the case when
> this field is poor in picturesque and significant objects, when, for
> example, it is the history of a small, isolated, capricious,
> hierarchical (i.e., ruled by false notions), obscure people, like the
> Jews, despised by the great contemporary nations of the East and of
> the West. Since the great migration of peoples lies between us and all
> the ancient nations, just as between the present surface of the earth
> and the surface whose organisms appear only as fossil remains there
> lies the former change of the bed of the ocean, it is to be regarded
> generally as a great misfortune that the people whose former culture
> was to serve mainly as the basis of our own were not, say, the Indians
> or the Greeks, or even the Romans, but just these Jews."
> This, in my opinion, explains in particular the primary super-cultural
> and meta-scientific motives and purposes of the Graf-Wellhausen JEPD
> Theory. These relatively modern (from two hundred to fifty years old)
> ideological undercurrents of their and their followers and peers
> theories are much better documented and easier verified than those of
> the supposed late "creators" of the Biblical narratives. As to the
> Archeological data left to itself, it is certainly very far from
> speaking so obligatory and single-mindedly in the favour of the
> Graf-Wellhausen JEPD Theory or any other similar theory.
> This said, I do not simplify, and surely not negate the importance of
> the problem of the Bible historical, literaty, and linguistic origins.
> I am actually working on an article related to these origins (but not
> to the Graf-Wellhausen JEPD Theory, sorry).
> It would be certainly a mistake to construe these my remarks,
> difficult even for me - a "hard scientist" as I am - to spell out, as
> an accusation of those who today believe in, and work on the
> Graf-Wellhausen JEPD Theory to be Jews-haters or Jews-bashers. Too
> historically guillible ?
> Edward G. Belaga
> ******************************************************

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list