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Arguments Against Documentary Hypothesis (Part 4 of 7)

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.”

Colby:  Probably.

Colby Townsend describes why some scholars don’t like the documentary hypothesis, the divide between American and European scholars, & implications for Book of Mormon.

Check out our conversation! Don’t miss our previous conversations with Colby!

428:  Exodus & Israelite Polytheism

427:  Old Testament scholarship 101

426:  Intro to Documentary Hypothesis

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Dating Old Testament (Part 2 of 7)

A lot of us have heard of biblical terms like Pentateuch, Torah, textual criticism, documentary hypothesis, but we probably don’t understand what they clearly mean.  In our next conversation with Colby Townsend, we’ll define these terms and get more acquainted with Old Testament scholarship.  We will start off with how scholars determined the different authors of the Torah, and dating Old Testament events.

Colby:  So someone like Jean Astruc, actually wasn’t trying to create a new academic method for explaining why Moses didn’t write the Bible or something like that. He was actually somewhat of an apologist as well. He was trying to defend the Bible against the more critical work. So, for him, as he explained himself, the solution for him was to actually take the first part of Genesis, and to separate it into two columns. This is where you get the different sources. So, he started to notice the different use of the Divine Name.

So you have YAHWEH, as I pronounce it, most likely in Hebrew, and you have Elohim. He noticed that in Genesis 1, it is just Elohim. In Genesis 2, at least after verse four and on, it’s just Yahweh. I should note too, that often, in Christian circles, that name is just thrown around as either that pronunciation, similar to that or Jehovah, but it’s a very delicate name within Judaism, Hashem, or Adonai. Hashem is the name, usually what’s most commonly used. Bu Jean Astruc notices that the names are used completely differently. So he separates it into two columns. That’s where you first get the approach, to have what I think what he called was P–well, he didn’t call it that yet. He basically just called it the two…

GT:  It was J for Yahweh or Jehovah.

Colby:  Yes, but, early on, the other one was called E. You’re right. It wasn’t until much later, maybe even Wellhausen in the late 19th century, that it then becomes J and E, but E is no longer Genesis 1, P is.  Then you have J, E, P, D. But it’s a long development to get to the actual documentary hypothesis.

Check out our conversation….

We continue to get acquainted with scholarly terminology of the Old Testament and discuss when it was likely written.

426:  Intro to InIntro to Documentary Hypothesis


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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)