[b-hebrew] Documentary Hypothesis

George Athas George.Athas at moore.edu.au
Wed Jan 28 02:19:42 EST 2009

Hi Rolf!

I must admit to skipping a little bit of your post. However, let me respond to what I did read.

I am in agreement with you about Systemzwang. The Hebrew verbal system is one of the most obvious cases, as you yourself note.

With regards to the Torah, Isaiah, and Daniel - I beg to differ.

While many today might simply rest on the conclusions of a previous generation without reconsidering the assumptions, etc., not all scholars do this. I came to critical study of the Bible from a particular faith perspective, and had all my assumptions challenged in the process. The ensuing learning and research which this engendered was invaluable, and I think I can safely say that I didn't fall into the Systemzwang trap you mention. Indeed, one of the ways I teach my own students now is not to feed them my own conclusions (or anyone else's), but rather to raise issues and possibilities. I grade their work on their ability to interact critically with arguments rather than their ability to duplicate past views.

In the case of Torah, Isaiah, and Daniel, I think the arguments for Mosaic authorship (Torah), 8th century BC (Isaiah), and 6th century BC (Daniel) are highly problematic. There are historical issues, literary issues, as well as theological issues which, in my mind, militate against these dates. This does not mean it is impossible to argue for these dates. But, as I've said many a time, there is a big difference between possibility and probability.

For example, the arguments that the historical difficulties and ambiguities in Dan 1-6 can be overcome such that a 6th century BC date can be maintained is like a house of cards - possible to erect, but quite flimsy. To me, the argument sounds a bit like saying, "Well, if there is a left-handed albino midget from Tanzania who plays ukulele on Tuesdays in Buenos Aires, then yes, Daniel is a 6th century BC work."

Nonetheless, the way to overcome Systemzwang is not to propose traditional dates of authorship, but to acknowledge probability and to have the epistemic humility to acknowledge that there is always at least a modicum of doubt to our conclusions, meaning they are always provisional. That includes your conclusions and mine.


Moore Theological College (Sydney, Australia)

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