[b-hebrew] Wellhausen

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Wed Dec 26 18:22:51 EST 2007

On Dec 26, 2007 8:48 PM, Michael Abernathy wrote:
> Yitzhak,
> Thank you for responding. You answered in part,
> "But there are ways to prove it wrong. One can find a section
> that is indisputably to be attributed to Source 1 (S1) and show that it is
> dependent on a section that is indisputably to be attributed to a second
> source."
> That answer sounds quite reasonable in theory but I specifically asked
> for an objective test for a reason. It appears to me that the decision that
> any passage belongs to a specific source is subjective, open to the
> interpretation of the reader.  In my mind the response from  some of the
> others on this list confirms the subjective nature of such determinations.

Not any section of text.  Some passages may be debatable, but others
are not.  Furthermore, one can argue strongly that it belongs to one
source, showing various consensus positions that features the passage
displays are found only in that source.  While it won't be completely
objective, it will have strong persuasive power, especially when several
such cases are placed before the reader.  Thus, the reader may say,
"yes, this case may not necessarily be S1 -- it could be argued it is S3,
and that case may be S4 and not S3, even though the author (you)
makes a good case they are S1 and S4, respectively, but the sum of
all the cases together is stronger than the parts."

I just gave one example -- but there are all kinds of ways to try to
prove the DH wrong.  The way to prove it wrong is by attacking the
very structural concepts which it presents.  However, you should
realize that it may not be possible to do this, because the DH may
be right.

> I am certain that this approach seems quite sensible to those who have been
> trained in it. From my limited background DH seems to be more a matter
> of faith than science, being impossible to prove and nearly impossible to disprove.

I don't know who gave you this background, but it's wrong.  Most of the
objections on this list seem to derive from people whose familiarity with the
theory comes from negative publications by religiously-motivated individuals
and groups.  There seems to be an idea that there is a case of either-or:
either DH or the Mosaic Authorship.  But this is wrong.  Even if DH is proved
wrong, and some theory displaces it, it won't be Mosaic Authorship.  Mosaic
Authorship is a position that is incompatible with modern knowledge of
linguistics, archaeology, and other facets of ancient Israelite and Judahite
society.  There is also no "theory" of Mosaic Authorship.  Mosaic Authorship
was a position held before scientific theories were applied to the literary
structure of the Bible.  Thus, for example, there are various several datings
of the different sources of the DH -- but these are relatively few, and the
differences are at times restricted to a length of time of some 300 years --
thus, P may be anywhere from the 7th to the 4th centuries BCE.  But you
do not have this for the Mosaic Authorship.  If one particular dating of
Moses is proved wrong, then the proponents of Mosaic Authorship will
just shrug and say, "OK, so maybe he lived in some other period."  As it
turns out, a dating of the Biblical texts to before the 1st millennium BCE
is accepted on various grounds, even without the DH, and the proponents
of Mosaic Authorship don't care.  "Maybe some theory which seems crazy
will come up in the future."  "Maybe there will be new data that surfaces."
No theory will come up.  No data will be discovered.  There is data that
is at conflict.  It takes quite a stretch of "silence of evidence" to read this
as non-existent data, but proponents of Mosaic Authorship do just that.
If the DH will be replaced, it won't be by a theory of Mosaic Authorship.
It will be something else, better than both DH and the earlier position of
Mosaic Authorship that it replaced.

> And while I suppose you must find it of some value, I am perplexed as to
> how a theory which encourages the interpreter to divorce material from its
> literary context is a particular benefit to interpretation.

There is no divorcing from the literary context.  The theory in fact claims
that the true original literary context of some passages is different than
that the composite text you are reading, which divorced them from their
original context.  The theory therefore aims to restore the passages to
their true original context, and understand them on two levels - the
first, their original context, and the second, their later context in the
composite work, by understanding the changes the text went through
to become part of the composite work.

Yitzhak Sapir

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list