Monday, October 06, 2008

Seven Unconvincing Arguments for the Documentary Hypothesis

I've seen it mentioned in a few places that the strongest arguments for the Documentary Hypothesis can be found in Richard Elliott Friedman's introduction to his book, The Bible With Sources Revealed. I thought I would take a few moments to share my thoughts about these arguments. Here are his arguments, what he calls "a tabulation of the evidence that has emerged that establishes the hypothesis" (p. 7).

His seven arguments are as follows:Click here to read more

  1. Linguistic - The Hebrew from the various "sources" match the Hebrew of the time period to which each sources is attributed.

  2. Terminology - Specific words and phrases occur predominantly in specific sources.

  3. Consistent Content - Certain topics appear consistent within each source, for example who the priestly leader is or which objects are sacred.

  4. Continuity of Texts - If you read each source independently, it more or less flows continuously.

  5. Connections With Other Parts of the Bible - Certain prophetic books have distinct parallels with one and only one source.

  6. Relationships Among the Sources - The sources have connection to specific events in history from the time of their supposed authorship.

  7. Convergence - The different lines of evidence above all converge to the same splitting of sources.
Of the list of 7, I think 1-3 are simply based on an error in logic and can be immediately discarded. There is an old joke about how to shoot an arrow and get a guaranteed bullseye: Let the arrow land wherever it does and then paint the target around it. That is what is going on here. The whole basis for the division of the text is linguistics, terminology and consistency of content usage in other biblical books. To then turn around and marvel at how consistent the sources are in those aspects is to ignore the very exercise of creating the sources. It's like taking marbles out of a bucket, separating them into piles of different colors and then marveling at how each pile contains only marbles of a single color. You just separated the marbles by color; how can you marvel that each pile is consistent by color? And in this case, the marbles weren't even discrete pieces but a single text that you had to cut up.

The fourth argument may or may not be true. It isn't particularly impressive and is largely a subjective judgment.

The fifth: That a particular prophet uses only one source is not too surprising when you remember that pretty much the entire book of Leviticus is considered a single source and Deuteronomy is either considered a single source or broken up into huge chunks of two or three sources. If Ezekiel discusses the future Temple and therefore only quotes Leviticus, how would he even be able to quote other sources? And If Jeremiah was influenced by the book of Deuteronomy, how does that prove that he didn't have any other books in front of him?

The sixth argument is largely a function of Friedman's political imaginations (see this post).

The seventh: The truth is that all of the criteria above do not converge. The only way to get the method to work is to force it, by taking every exception and either surgically removing a (sometimes partial) verse or positing additions of inconvenient phrases by redactors. The only reason that this argument can even be mentioned is that all the counter-evidence has been artificially removed.

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