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Intro to Documentary Hypothesis (Part 1 of 7)

I’m excited to introduce Colby Townsend.  We’re going to jump into Old Testament scholarship and discuss how the Old Testament was put together.  Most scholars believe the Documentary Hypothesis is the best explanation. Colby recently graduated from Utah State University, and is headed to a Ph.D. program at Indiana University.  Over the next few weeks we’ll talk about how Joseph Smith may have been influenced by the Documentary Hypothesis as he translated the Book of Mormon.   Colby’s thesis won the Best Thesis Award this year at the Mormon History Association.  But first, we’ll introduce some terms used by biblical scholars.

GT:  I love to talk to regular people and say, “Have you ever heard of the Documentary Hypothesis?” They always say, “No, what’s that?”

Colby:  Right.

GT:  I know, in the scholarly world, everybody knows what that is. But for a lot of my listeners, we’re not scholars and so we talk to people like you, because you’re the experts. Can you give us a little bit of background? What is the Documentary Hypothesis? And then we’ll talk about your paper that talks about how it relates to the Book of Mormon. So that’s going to be really interesting. So, tell us about the Documentary Hypothesis.

Colby:  There are a handful of different terms that different people will be slightly familiar with, if they’re not too familiar with the Documentary Hypothesis right at the beginning.

Colby:  So, a lot of the time, people are going to be talking about historical criticism. So, when were texts written? Who were they written by? Those kinds methods and the tools that scholars use to be able to identify that kind of information. That’s historical criticism. I’m trying to remember exactly what it was in your post…. Sometimes people will use documentary hypothesis as an interchangeable phrase with historical criticism if we’re trying to understand different parts of it. [For example,] when was, text ‘X’ written in the Hebrew Bible? So, it’s important, because a lot of people will be familiar, probably even more so, with the phrase higher criticism. The purpose for that phrase, and the reason that it came about was that there was lower criticism and higher criticism. Lower criticism was the study of languages, philology, the way that Northwest Semitic languages all relate to each other. Part of the lower criticism is also textual criticism.

Colby:  Textual Criticism itself is finding all of the different manuscripts of a single given text. So if we wanted to engage with textual criticism of the Torah, the five books of Moses, we would gather together all of the manuscripts from Qumran, from the medieval [ages,] as far back as we could go, which before Qumran, the oldest manuscripts for the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible that we had only went back to about 1000 CE.

GT:  So Qumran is probably a better word, most people would probably [be more familiar with is] the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Colby:  Yes, thank you. So with the Dead Sea Scrolls, it shifted us back more than 1000 years in history as far as the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible goes, because we didn’t have any complete Hebrew manuscripts of the individual books of the Hebrew Bible that dated really very much further back from that.

We’ll learn other terms and get introduced to the documentary hypothesis.  Check out our conversation….

Colby Townsend’s thesis on the Documentary Hypothesis and Book of Mormon won the Best Thesis Award at this year’s Mormon History Association.

You might want to check out our previous conversation about the Documentary Hypothesis and the Adam-God Theory!

384: Documentary Hypothesis & Adam-God (Patrick-Shaffer)

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