[b-hebrew] Wellhausen

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Tue Dec 25 15:37:57 EST 2007

On Dec 25, 2007 3:40 PM, Moshe Shulman wrote:
> At 07:00 AM 12/25/2007, you wrote:
> >On Dec 25, 2007 2:17 AM, Moshe Shulman wrote:
> One of the problems I have with the DH you have very aptly affirmed.
> It is a theory that is applicable to only one book: The Bible. And
> excuses are made as to why it can only apply to that as if there is
> some a priori difference in the Bible and any other text, secular or
> religious.

There is no problem with DH applying only to the Pentateuch just like
there is no problem with the Copernican theory of heliocentrism applying
only to the solar system.  A theory is scientific even if it applies or is
developed in order to explain only one phenomenon and leaves other
phenomena to be explained otherwise.

> So you admit that the 'theory' has an a priori premise of multiple
> authors? Why could it not be, for example, the work of a Mr X, who
> rewrote various stories he has heard? A similar text would be
> produced without the ability to 'reverse engineer' it.

As I see it, yes.  In fact, that is how I understand the term "The Documentary
Hypothesis."  I see no reason or problem with it, and I don't understand
what your problem with this is.  I don't understand your attempted counter-
example.  If J, E, P, D, and the final redactor are all one and the same
person, that does not change the theory one bit.  It makes sense, however,
in light of the different viewpoints espoused by each of J, E, P, and D, that
each of them was a different person, probably even living elsewhere or in a
different period of time.  The attempt to place the different sources in their
appropriate historical contexts can only come after we have a good idea
of the division of the separate sources.

> Were it not for our ability to verify it as error, the best
> explanation for astronomy is that the sun goes around the earth.
> Ptolomaic astronomy is a good example of a 'best explanation' which
> required some very absurd contortions to make it work.

No.  We still haven't seen the Earth going around the Sun.  To do that,
we need some stationary observer with regards to the Earth's movement
around the Sun.  Even the international space station is not in a position
to do this.  Heliocentrism, as advocated by Copernicus, suggests that
the movement of the Earth and other planets around the Sun is the
simplest way to explain their observed movements.  In this sense, the
DH is very similar -- it suggests that many duplications and contradictions
in the Bible can be explained by assuming four different sources that were
slightly at odds with one another and yet conflated at a later time to give
the Pentateuch.  This is in fact simpler than anything the classical
commentators came up with.  Some of the problems

> I would make a suggestion. Please list all the assumptions necessary
> for a text to have the possibility of having this method applied to
> it. Then explain to me why it cannot be applied to for example: Homer.

Again, a discussion of the DH as regarding Homer can be found in Van
Seters, as well as in this review of Van Seters:
There is no reason why literary analysis cannot apply to the Iliad.  That
doesn't mean it will have the same success in explaining the literary
development of the Iliad, just like most books of the Bible do not lend
themselves to the same process of analysis.

> Religion and Religious texts are a very touchy subject. It is not
> just the believers who are biased and unwilling to see that their
> biases create a priori 'facts' that may, in fact, not be provable, or
> true. For example the 'best' explanation of the Bible for an atheist
> is not going to agree with a believer, even if both approach it in a
> logical manner. It is their a prioris that get in the way.

I do not understand what place the above paragraph has in this
discussion.  Have you concluded that I am atheist, or that you can
tell a believer or not simply by reference to the DH?  Many "believers"
as you put it accept the DH.  As this is not about believers vs atheists
at all, and as I made no comment about your religious views, and as this
discussion has so far dealt only with apparently scientific objections
to the DH, my guess would be that your scientific objections are not
purely objective but are heavily intertwined with personal religious

> Again that assumes that the 'final editor' received multiple texts
> when making his text and edited that. Everything is based on your
> assumptions. As to why I disagree with this view I will give one
> name: Diatessaron.

I will give you one study:
"An Empirical Basis for the Documentary Hypothesis," by J. H. Tigay

> There were multiple versions of chapters. These were put together by
> his son. I am certain that the DH method could never work for that,
> but we do have all the material that the son used in putting this
> together. It might be a lot of work, but someone could theoretically
> go from the sources to the final product.

I don't know if a documentary hypothesis can't be suggested for his sons'
works.  Who knows?  It might be fun to try.  But like I said, the DH is not
a theory that attempts to be generally applicable to all texts, because it
doesn't (and couldn't) claim that all texts underwent the same editorial
process.  If you want reproducibility, it is to be found in the
ability of others
to divide portions of the Pentateuch along similar lines, after having been
exposed to the main hypothesis, and an application to a few other portions
but without having been exposed to the whole division.

> Actually his inspiration came from Germanic legends and mythology (of
> which he was quite familiar) and not the Bible.

Tolkien was Catholic, and there is extensive literary influence of the Bible
in his books.  Just because he was also influenced by all kinds of various
European legends does not mean that the Bible had no influence as well.

> My final question here is:
> Name me one text that by using this method of reconstruction the
> results yield the known sources the text was made from.  (How about
> the Diatessaron. It would be a great candidate.)

Like I said, I have identified five sources in a Biblical book, which in one
translation contains only and exactly three of those five sources.  This
seems to suggest that the Biblical book is a conflation of an earlier
conflation of three sources which was independently translated, as well
as two additional sources.

> I am certain that you can not do this.

Interesting that you are so certain when the above was explained to you
in the previous post.

> The DH is useful. It does
> point out many interesting things in the text. But almost all of
> these are already discussed in classical commentaries without the
> needs to assume multiple sources as the DH does.

Again, the DH's power is in providing a much simpler explanation for all
those phenomena that must be discussed separately by the classical
commentaries, and then only to various degrees of success, not always
very great.  It is hard to describe what makes for a good scientific theory.
But one thing that is often mentioned is that a theory that is simple and
yet provides an explanation for a large number of otherwise unexplained
phenomena.  In this sense it is much like the Copernican theory of
Heliocentrism.  The paths of the Sun and the planets around the Earth
can be explained, but it would be much more complex, and must be
explained individually, than the simpler theory of the Earth revolving
around the Sun.  The same goes for the DH vs. the classical
commentaries.  Besides, we can only guess whether, for example, Ibn
Ezra would have accepted the DH.

Yitzhak Sapir

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