Not everyone believes the Documentary Hypothesis explains the first five books of Moses. There appears to be a divide between American & European scholarship. Colby Townsend will tell us more about the differences in scholarship. And we will also see what implications this has for the Book of Mormon.
GT: Alright, so where are we at today? Because it seems like some scholars don’t like the documentary hypothesis, and then we’ve also got the biblical literalists, who I assume would hate it.
Colby: Right. No, a lot of people really don’t like it still. And there have been a handful of different attempts by more traditionally-minded scholars to come up with new methods and new approaches to explain all of the problems that we’ve been talking about, about the formation of the Pentateuch particularly. So, a lot of people really don’t like it. But really, a lot of the time, there are a handful of scholars that try to say, “Oh, well, this fragmentation of the scholarship obviously makes it so that the documentary hypothesis goes away. And then we don’t have the problem of, the five books being written later.” But none of that goes away.
If you don’t accept the documentary hypothesis, that’s fine. There’s a whole lot of evidence to support a version of the documentary hypothesis. So really the main competing arguments right now within scholarship are what I described. So you can either go with the documentary hypothesis, which tends to argue that the different sources were written a little bit earlier. So maybe the earliest of those would be eighth, ninth century BCE, which I haven’t mentioned yet, is really early for lengthy writing in Hebrew, at least. Because one of the main arguments that really shuts down the possibility of Moses being the author of the Torah, is the fact that written Hebrew didn’t develop until after Moses’ life.
GT: Moses didn’t speak Hebrew?
Colby: He would have spoken it, probably a version of it, a much earlier version of it.
GT: He wouldn’t have written it.
Colby: But yeah, he wouldn’t have written it, not in the form…. (Linguistic form, I guess is really the best phrase I should have used) that the Torah is written in. It doesn’t develop until after his life. So there are continuing debates about that as well. What does that mean for the writing of it? But really most scholars, pretty much all scholars that are really engaged in Pentateuchal criticism, agree that Moses couldn’t have written it, and that the five books of Moses couldn’t have come together until at the very earliest, the return from the Babylonian exile, which also has other implications for…
GT: What year is that, approximately?
Colby: That would have been 530 BCE or so. So toward the end of the sixth century BCE, and so that’s the earliest that they would have been compiled together. That’s more conservative.
GT: So the Torah would have been compiled, and I’m going to try to put this in Book of Mormon terms. The Torah, the five books of Moses would have been written long after Lehi left Jerusalem.
Colby: Compiled into five books. Yes.
GT: And that’s an interesting [point.] That leads into your paper, doesn’t it?
Colby: A little bit. Yeah, there’s definitely some connections there. Yeah, if we’re shifting gears here.
GT: Before we go there, I still want to hit this idea of what do faithful Latter-day Saints, and even faithful Christian scholars do? Because it seems like at least in my Sunday School classes, when we do talk about the Old Testament, there ain’t nobody talking about the documentary hypothesis.
Colby: Yeah, no.
GT: We’re just going to take it on faith. Moses wrote the first five books, take it or leave it and we’re going to take it.
Colby: Right, and even if it comes up.
GT: Yeah, and so, people might get into did the flood really happen? Were Adam and Eve real people? But nobody’s going to spend any time on a documentary hypothesis. And I think most people are going to just say, “Moses wrote all five books.”