[b-hebrew] Documentary Hypothesis

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Tue Jan 27 11:14:41 EST 2009

Dear George,

As usual I find your comments balanced, and I 
would like make some comments of my own. The 
comments turned out to be rather long, but I hope 
they may be of interest to some list-members

An important point to remember is what is called 
"Systemzwang" (the obligation to conform to the 
system). The problem is not the situation itself 
- Systemzwang works more or less in all areas of 
society, not only in Academia - but the problem 
is that people are not aware of it. When students 
start their University studies, they are given a 
set of conclusions, and in order to get their 
exams, they must accept these conclusions- they 
must conform to the system. Usually the 
curriculums require so much reading and work that 
the students have little time to do independent 
thinking. So many students to some extent simply 
are parrots, and they do not realize it.

In the introductory studies of Hebrew, for 
example, students learn the traditional view of 
Hebrew verbs with  WAYYIQTOL as a past tense, and 
they have few opportunities to make critical 
tests of the view. So the student continues to 
believe in what he or she has been taught all the 
years at the University. And if the person later 
becomes a university teacher, this is what his or 
her students are taught. As for me, I started my 
studies in Semitic languages as a grown man, 
after I had done some studies in the natural 
sciences, where I  learned the principle that we 
always should start with the study of the 
smallest units. Therefore I did not buy 
everything I was taught, but I did some 
independent studies myself. In linguistics, a 
fundamental distinction is the one between 
semantics and pragmatics, i.e., which meaning is 
caused by intrinsic properties of the parts of 
language, and which meaning is caused by the 
context. In the study of verbal systems, this 
means that we need scrupulously to distinguish 
between *time* and *tense" (grammaticalized 
location in time"). In other words, when a verb 
form very often has past reference (this is its 
time), is this caused by an intrinsic property of 
the verb for itself, or is it caused by the 
context. I was really shocked when I realized 
that no study of the Hebrew verbal system (or of 
the verbal system of any of the old Semitic 
languages) with a systematic distinction between 
time and tense existed. This caused me to make a 
study of all the 80.000 finite and infinite verbs 
of Classical Hebrew where a scrupulous 
distinction between time and tense was sought. 
And the result was a dissertation suggesting a 
completely new understanding of the verbal system 
of Classical Hebrew.

On the background of the points above I proceed 
to the Documentary hypothesis, the hypothesis of 
the Deuteronomistic History, the three-author 
views of Isaiah, and the view of a second century 
writing of the book of Daniel. I group these 
together because they have something in common 
pertaining to the issue regarding the Silver 
scroll, and because they are excellent examples 
of the principle of Systemzwang.

In 1689 Campegius Vitringa (Observationes Sacrae) 
suggested that when Moses wrote the Pentateuch, 
he used several old sources. This was a logical 
suggestion because of the nature of the material. 
Jean Astruc (1684-1766) suggested that what Moses 
wrote down were delivered from father to son for 
several hundred years before it was written down, 
and he distinguished between what scholars today 
call J and E.  J.G. Eichorn (1780-1783) continued 
the work of Astruc, and later K. H. Graf and J. 
Wellhausen proposed more radical theories, which 
led to the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis (the 
Documentary Hypothesi). However, a very important 
change was introduced some place between Vitringa 
and Wellhausen.

The views regarding the author(s) of the book of 
Isaiah throw light on the mentioned important 
change. J.C. Döderlein (1745-1792) introduced the 
view that Isaiah 1-39 had one author, and 
chapters 40-65 had another author. Why? Because a 
prophet by the name of Isaiah in the 8th century 
could not foresee details regarding the fall of 
Babylon 200 years later (BTW, there are details 
about the fall of Babylon in chapters 1-39 as 
well). (B. Duhm (1847-1928) suggested that 
chapters 56-66 was written by a third author). 
Here we are at the core of the issue. Both the 
natural sciences and the humanistic sciences deal 
with natural phenomena, and metaphysics is 
excluded. The questions about the existence of 
God or gods are metaphysical questions, and 
therefore they are barred from scientific 
research. So the scholar who wants to do 
*scientific* research in the Bible must do so on 
the basis of a non-god approach. It is of course 
a rather ironic situation that scientific 
research on a book where all the authors indicate 
that they got a part of, or all their messages 
from God, must a priori exclude God. But this is 
science! It is possible to do some source 
criticism without excluding God - Vitringa, for 
example, believed in God. But the modern approach 
has no room for God. So, both Bryant and Karl 
have a point when they say that faith has played 
and plays a fundamental role in connection with 
the Documentary Hypothesis, and the same is true 
with the Deuteronomistic History and the writing 
of Isaiah and Daniel. Let me elucidate this.

Interestingly, the question regarding the 
existence of God/gods, even if it per se is a 
metaphysical question, can be approached 
scientifically. The Tanach exists and we exist, 
and both must have an origin. The origin of the 
Tanakh is studied scientifically on a basis of an 
a priori exclusion of God, but what will the 
result be if we also approach the question of 
human origins scientifically? Many years ago I 
did just that, and my work with the questions 
equals 4 full semesters of study.

In the natural sciences the hypothetic deductive 
method is used: A hypothesis is formed, and it is 
tested on the basis of its predictions. If the 
predictions turn out to be wrong, the hypothesis 
is falsified. But if they turn out to be right, 
we have not proven anything, because there can be 
so many different causes of particular phenomena. 
However, we have made the hypothesis more likely. 
Now, if we have a situation where we can be 
certain that there are only two possible answers 
and one is falsified, the other answer must be 
the right one. In connection with origins we have 
such an ideal situation. The origin of life on 
earth is either caused by chance (a random 
accumulation of matter) or by one or more living 
entities outside of the earth.

To study the question one has to do the following.

1. Calculate the amount of  atoms of the elements 
occurring in living matter that occur on the 
earth (carbon, phosphorus, hydrogen etc).
2. Make calculations regarding the amount of 
energy that could come from the possible energy 
sources on the young earth (particularly the 
sun), because energy is necessary for a synthesis 
of matter.
3.On the basis of quantum mechanics find out 
which quantum of energy each atom (and 
biomolecule) can absorb (most energy quantums are 
4. Find the equilibrium constants of each element 
in water (how much of the matter can be dissolved 
in water before it starts to precipitate),
5. Apply all the relevant physical and chemical 
laws to all the possible young earth scenarios.
6. Apply the laws of probability and calculate 
how much complexity/information that is possible 
to accumulate on the basis of chance (how many 
bits of information a molecule can get by chance).

These are some of the main approaches, and I did 
follow these. The conclusion I reached was that 
it is completely impossible to the completely 
impossible degree that even one of the smallest 
proteins could evolve by chance, let alone a cell 
that are hundreds of million times more complex 
than a protein. One the basis of my study I was 
forced to conclude that the hypothesis that life 
originated by chance was falsified. Therefore, 
the other possibility must be true - the origin 
of life was caused by one or more living beings. 
But scientifically speaking, the living being(s) 
need not be the God of the Jews.

What bearing has this on the Documentary 
hypothesis? Well, it indicates that the 
scientific a priori exclusion of God in biblical 
studies is either based on a strong faith - that 
what is scientific impossible one time happened 
after all, or it is based on Systemzwang - one is 
ignorant of the impossibility of the origin of 
life by chance, but one conforms to the 
scientific system where this is believed by most 
people. So, those who believe that the Bible is 
inspired by God build on faith, but the same is 
true of those who take a strictly scientific 
approach without God.

I see no problems in doing scientific source 
criticism of the Tanakh on the basis of an a 
priori rejection of the existence of God - 
provided that all parts (the scholar, the 
students, and the readers) are aware of this 
premise. Only with an awareness of the premises, 
can the conclusions be rightly evaluated. But the 
problem is that the reality is different, and the 
students very often are not told about the basis 
for the accepted conclusions - a basis that is 
nothing but educated guesses.

Martin Noth introduced in 1943 the hypothesis 
called the "Deuteronomistic History". It is 
believed that Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 
1 and 2 Kings constitute one independent 
historical work, with Deuteronomy as an 
introduction. It is further believed that an 
author living in the exilic period gathered 
together a variety of oral and and written 
traditions and put these together as one 
comprehensive work. What is the evidence? 
Absolutely no hard data, only educated guesses! 
But I am quite certain that in European 
universities the Documentary Hypothesis and the 
Deuteronomistic History are presented to 
theological students almost as facts, and they 
are not told that these hypotheses build on a 
strong faith, (diametrically opposite of the 
Jewish and Christian faith) and on educated 

There are several different approaches to a philological study of the Tanakh:

First, we have the approach of the 
fundamentalists, who believe that each word in 
the Bible is dictated by God, who a priori reject 
a scientific study of the book, and who believe 
without doubt everything that each book says.

Second, we have the the strictly scientific 
approach, where all that is metaphysical is 
excluded, and the sayings of each book regarding 
its author and when it was written at the outset 
is doubted or rejected.

Third, we have what may be called a cautious 
philological approach. This approach neither  a 
priori rejects God, nor uses God as an alibi ( or 
as an "excuse") when they meet problems in the 
text. But those using this approach cautiously 
accept what the text says until data definitely 
showing that some saying is wrong emerge 
(evidence from silence is not accepted, i.e., "no 
evidence is found for this or that, and therefore 
the information regarding it in the Tanakh is 

Personally I prefer the third approach.  And what 
do we find when we follow this approach? We find 
that the claims of Deuteronomy that there was a 
man named Moses who wrote the books, and the 
claim of 1 Kings 6:1 that this happened 479 years 
before Solomon started to build his temple, i.e., 
the writing occurred in the 15th century B.C.E., 
cannot be falsified by evidence. And further, we 
find that the claim of the book of Isaiah (1:1) 
that the book was written by one prophet called 
Isaiah in the 8th century B.C.E., and the claim 
of the book of Daniel that a prophet called 
Daniel received visions and wrote these down in 
the 6th century B.C.E., cannot be falsified. 
Everyone is free to reject the mentioned claims, 
and the point here is not to argue that the 
claims are true, but rather to show that those 
rejecting them do so on the same basis as the 
fundamentalists belive in them, namely, on the 
basis of faith! This is also true in connection 
with supernatural reports, such as Joshua 10. It 
requires much more faith to believe that life 
developed by chance - something which is 
completely impossible - than to be open for the 
possibility that the light of the sun was 
reflected by some means and was seen on the earth 
almost for a whole night. (I remember a plan from 
the Vietnam war to place a satellite with huge 
mirrors above the country, in order to reflect 
the rays of the sun and make parts of the country 
lighted up during the night.)

Then what about the silver scroll?  I agree with 
the words in one of Yigal's earlier posts:

"What DOES this find prove? It proves that a forumla very similar to Num.
6:24-26 was used as a blessing in late Iron Age Jerusalem. It does NOT prove
that the entire text of the Torah was already known. It does NOT prove that
Num. 6:24-26 was recited by priests in the Temple. It does not even prove
the existance of Solomon's Temple. All it DOES prove is that the author of
whatever source Num. 6:24-26 was taken from knew of a blessing-formula and
used it as part of his composition."

This is a balanced scholarly assessment, but - 
and this is important - it is the same kind of 
assessment I use when I say that the data we have 
at present do not contradict the writing of Moses 
in the 15th century, of Isaiah in the 8th 
century, and of Daniel in the 6th century.

Best regards,

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

>Bryant Williams wrote:
>Furthermore, since all we have is the text 
>itself showing no signs whatsoever of a JEDP 
>make-up, then it requires more evidence to prove 
>that the text was edited/redacted beyond what 
>was already given by the text itself.
>Bryant, I think that is overstating things. The 
>text arguably does show signs of JEDP make-up. 
>These signs formed the basis of the Documentary 
>Hypothesis. Surely you would agree at the least 
>that there is a book of Deuteronomy! You have a 
>D source right there!
>I'm quite skeptical of the Documentary 
>Hypothesis, but I can see what fuels the theory. 
>Whether the theory is right or not is another 
>issue, but it was certainly not proposed without 
>any basis at all.
>Moore Theological College (Sydney, Australia)
>b-hebrew mailing list
>b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org

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