Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Documentary Hypothesis

First of all, I have to admit that I haven’t really studied the DH in any great depth, so I can’t speak with firm authority on its validity as a theory.

But my gut feeling, based on a light examination of it, is that much of the DH is speculation. The specific attribution of particular parts of the Torah to different authors seems somewhat arbitrary and less than purely scientific. There seems to have been an orthodoxy established (if you’ll pardon the word) since the 19th century dividing up the Torah into these various hypothetical authors, and very little has changed in the DH since then.

However, that’s just my opinion of the answers that the DH posits. Its questions are extremely valid. The inconsistencies, lack of archeological and geological evidence, anachronisms, are all strong contradictions of its word-for-word divinity. And as such, it seems unlikely that the Torah came, whole cloth (or parchment) word-for-word, directly from God. It seems that there were very likely several different human authors. The DH is simply some intelligent speculation on who those authors might have been and which of them wrote which part.

The DH also usually comes with an assumption that since the Torah is not what traditional Judaism claims it to be; an exact dictation from God, then that means that God had no part of it, if there is a God at all.

I believe that despite its human authorship, the Torah is at least divinely inspired. Call it what you like – prophecy, ruach hakodesh, etc. There’s too much in there that strikes a deep chord with me and with millions and millions of others throughout history. (Yes, I know that’s unscientific, but I’m talking religion here, not science.) There was some kind of divine revelation, whether at Mount Sinai or elsewhere. That revelation may have been a single event, continuous, or punctuated, but there was something. Various authors wrote down their interpretation of that revelation, incorporating their own bises and knowledge of their own times, and Ezra later combined it into the Torah that we know today.

Again, this isn’t scientific by any means, but things like the fact that the Torah was far more compassionate than contemporaneous societies, the story of creation that seems to eerily fit our current models of cosmology (if you read between the words), and many other things help me see the divine in the Torah.

Stay tuned - tomorrow I'll post on Torah She-Bichtav vs. Torah She-Ba'al Peh


  1. Hi,

    do you have any posts or thoughts regarding what you consider to be "divine"? Are you aware of the changing nature of the concepts of divinity throughout history? In early biblical times people did not consider God to be beyond time and space. He had a body of sort which was visible to man. As time went on God has become more and more detached from physical reality to the the point where it has no connection at all to it. You probably know all this, but I find it fascinating and like to repeat it

  2. oh, and happy new year, may you be blessed with more people commentating on your blog. :)

  3. Aryeh:

    Thanks & happy new year to you too.

    Actually, belief in God having a physical body was still widespread in early medieval times and even persisted into late medieval times. Many have posited that Rambam's 3rd principle was in response to this.

    I actually like the evolution of our concept of God within Judaism. It feels like it's a process that over the centuries constantly brings us closer to the truth. Initial monotheism simply saw a God that was different from the myriad gods f the time only in His uniqueness as the only god. That was just the first step in our developing understanding of God's nature.

  4. I'm wondering if this changing concepts of God preclude the idea of revelation. Does the idea of revelation only really make sense with the God of old?

  5. It makes sense if the revelation was filtered through human biases and ideas. God revealed a form of truth and humans transcribed it in ways they could understand. Yes, I know this sidesteps all questions, by just inserting human bias into any distasteful part of Torah, but that's the way I understand it nevertheless.

    Human beings just weaned off of slavery and a very anthropomorphic polytheism communicated the idea of Hashem in ways they could understand.

  6. >and Ezra later combined it into the Torah that we know today.

    My understanding is that the earliest we know of a whole torah is when they went into their first exile. This is before Ezra

  7. HH:

    I'm not an expert on the topic. I'm just basing this on what I've read in my continuing study of these ideas.

    According to the DH, (which, admittedly, has a lot of speculation in it, as I wrote in my post) there was a redactor, R, who put together the various narrative streams of what became the Torah.

    Many scholars feel that Ezra was a likely candidate for R. It makes sense to me, since from a plain reading of Perek 8 in Sefer Nechemia, that Ezra was presenting a document to Jewish people that they were formerly unfamiliar with, at least in a textual form. They likely had some sort of oral tradition that made them receptive to accepting the Torah as the original source of that tradition, but it doesn't seem that they knew of the text before.

    As I said, I'm not an expert. Where is the source that shows that the whole Torah existed over 100 years before Ezra? Thanks.

  8. I don't have a specific source. Its more of stuff I read here and there and talk to people like S that the Jews were already reading a torah in Bavel.
    But I have noticed that scholars have moved away from Ezra being the redactor.