THE DOCUMENTARY HYPOTHESIS:
A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF ITS ARGUMENTS AND PRESUPOSITIONS
Biblical inerrancy is a central doctrine of evangelical Christianity. Without the robust view of special revelation that Christianity maintains, there is nothing that separates it from mere philosophical theism. Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-18 , “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” In this passage Jesus is referring to the Pentateuch or Torah. His claim to come to fulfill the Law is also an explicit reference to its authenticity and integrity. That is to say, Jesus was clearly declaring that the Pentateuch is trustworthy and accurate as it was and has been traditionally believed. However, what if the Pentateuch were believed to be untrustworthy? What if someone did indeed try to “abolish” what Jesus came to fulfill? The theological and historical implications would be tremendous.
In the last two hundred years a theory was developed and gained wide spread popularity, which set out to discredit the traditional understanding and beliefs about the Pentateuch. Among other names, it is widely known as the Documentary Hypothesis. The Documentary Hypothesis argues that the Pentateuch is not a message of divine revelation from God written by Moses, but a mere ancient literary work written by multiple human authors, compiled by other human editors. Though Jesus validates the integrity of the Pentateuch, the supporters of the Documentary Hypothesis argue that their position concerning the Pentateuch is more objective and scientific. In the face of such abject pretension it is the responsibility of all thinking people to consider the arguments and evidence, and to evaluate the validity of the Documentary Hypothesis as opposed to the traditional position of Mosaic authorship.
This paper will seek to logically critic and evaluate the Documentary Hypothesis, expose its errors, and defend the traditional position of Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. To do this, first a brief overview of the history of the Documentary hypothesis will be presented. This will include some of its main developers and supporters. How was it developed, and what were the influences and contexts from which it emerged? Next, the main arguments and claims of the documentary hypothesis will be outlined and explained. Finally, those arguments will be refuted, and an apologetic defense of Mosaic authorship will be presented.
History of the Hypothesis
Origin to Wellhausen
The origin of the Documentary Hypothesis needs to be seen in its proper historic and philosophical context. It emerged from the school of thought known as Higher Criticism. This school of thought established the methodological and philosophical principles upon which the Documentary Hypothesis was based. Later in the paper it will be clear that the Documentary Hypothesis does follow from the faulty philosophical presuppositions of the higher critical approach to the Biblical text. Some of the principles were already being applied in the middle ages. However, it would not be until the age of Modern Rationalism that these critical theories were systematically applied to the text.
It is widely understood that biblical Higher Criticism began with Thomas Hobbes and Baruch Spinoza in 1670 . Spinoza, a Jewish scholar, argues in his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus that Moses was not the author of the Pentateuch but that it must have come from a latter time in history by Ezra. Spinoza was followed by others such as priest and philosopher Simon of Dieppe who wrote Historical Criticism of the Old Testament. These philosophers used a Rationalist approach to biblical criticism, which laid the foundation for the Documentary Hypothesis. The Documentary Hypothesis can be said to have developed through three stages.
Jean Astruc is the main character of the first stage. He was a French physician who studied the book of Genesis. It is clear to see the effects of the scientific method and the natural sciences on the methodology of higher criticism. His main contribution to the development of the Documentary Hypothesis was his suspicion of different sources in the book of Genesis. He noticed that at different places in Genesis the name Yahweh is sometimes used for God, while in other places the name Elohim is used. That led him to conclude that Genesis came from two separate source documents: one source using Yahweh (J source) and the other using Elohim (E source).
J. G. Eichhorn developed the theory further. Eichhorn tried to provide more support for Astruc’s format and methodology. Eichhorn observed that certain narratives were repeated which he referred to as “doublets.” Eichhorn declared that the supposed E source was earlier than the J source. At this point the Pentateuch was beginning to be viewed as a compilation of an editor rather than an inspired work of an author.
In the second stage of development the theory was advanced in the 1800s by scholars such as Wilhem de Wette, Johan Vatke, and Hermann Hupfeld. Willhem de Wette, influenced by Eichhorn, tried to broaden the scope of the argument by examining the cultural and religious history. His research was geared towards understanding the supposed evolution of religion in ancient Israel. He examined Old Testament narrative as a Hebrew mythological expression. He writes:
“The application of the term mythology to certain narratives and opinions in the Bible need excite no surprise. The Jews had their mythology, as well as the Hindus, the Goths, and the Greeks. Symbols and myths are necessarily used, by rude people, to clothe abstract truths. It is evident that ancient Hebrews made use of them as a drapery of religious truth.”
Wilhem de Wette openly thought that the people of Israel in the time of Moses were still primitive and without robust culture. He also declared that Deuteronomy was of later composition than the rest of the Pentateuch. Thus the twofold division was further subdivided to include a third D source. Vatke decided the books of the Pentateuch were actually post-exilic works. Later Hupfeld determined that the E source proposed by Astruc, was actually two separate sources. Karl David Ilgen had also proposed this division. Both scholars notices that the sections that used the name Elohim contained variations in style apparently warranting the hypothesis of an additional source. Because part of the E source had a narrative style like the J source and part of it had a more “priestly” style, pertaining to laws and rituals, this source was labeled “P.” Thus the Pentateuch was regarded as an edited compilation of four different sources J, E, D, and P.
In the third stage of the development of the Documentary Hypothesis it was determined that the apparent unity of the Pentateuch was actually an amalgamation of these four supposed sources. The question became, what is their chronological order, that is to say which source was written first, second, third, and fourth? At this point Jullius Wellhausen offered his contributions to the theory.
Wellhausen can be considered the central figure of the Documentary Hypothesis despite the fact that, by his own admission, his contributions were in no way substantially original. His central importance is a result of his analysis of the apparent evolution of religion in ancient Israel, and his impressive presentation. First, Wellhausen analyzed the way in which religion developed in ancient Israel to determine the context from which the Biblical texts were written. He determined that the cultural climate necessary for the writing of the Pentateuch was not present in Israel until the post-exilic period.
Second, Wellhausen was an exceptional “publicist.” His name is so synonymous with the Documentary Hypothesis because of his organization and methodical delivery. He gave the Documentary Hypothesis a certain consistency in scholarly circles. His great skill in argumentation and presentation elevated the Documentary Hypothesis to the level of working theory. Through Wellhausen the Documentary Hypothesis gained a certain solidity and definitiveness.
Wellhausen’s analysis of the fourfold source debate settled the chronological debate sufficiently to determine the order to be J, E, D, and P. A certain degree of variation and exception have been made after his analysis but all have been made in reference to his basic arrangement. Wellhausen related his chronological order to his assessment of cultural and religious evolution in ancient Israel from the time of David to post-exilic Israel.
At this point it is prudent to note the context in which this standardized form of the Documentary Hypothesis was being developed. It was predominantly developed in the context of German and English Rationalism. Rationalist principles were the standard of all knowledge. It was reminiscent of the rules and standard regulations of the natural sciences and as such very palatable to the scholars of that time. Gleason Archer explains:
“This was the age in which Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species was capturing the allegiance of the scholars and scientific world and the theory of development from primitive animism to sophisticated monotheism as set forth by Wellhausen and his followers fitted admirably into Hegelian dialecticism[…] and Darwinian evolutionism”.
The Rationalist revolution was the ideal context to develop the Documentary Hypothesis and for it to be widely disseminated throughout scholarly circles without serious criticism or contention. The next section will trace the development of the Documentary Hypothesis after Wellhausen to the present.
Post-Wellhausen to Contemporary
After the time of Wellhausen it is difficult to trace a single distinct line of development for the Documentary Hypothesis. This serves to highlight the significance of Wellhausen as well as show the distinction of the time before his contributions from the time after him. With that said it is easy to see that the writings and contributions to the Documentary Hypothesis in the twentieth century are significantly linked to Wellhausen, either supporting his work or reacting in opposition to it. Part of what makes the post Wellhausen contributions so hard to trace is how significantly the diversity of critical analysis of the Old Testament has been repeatedly compounded. It could be argued that each contemporary defender of the Documentary Hypothesis is actually working with his own specifically nuanced presuppositions and arrives at his own unique conclusions.
Three things have happened to the Documentary Hypothesis after Wellhausen. The first is that it has lost a great deal of momentum. Some have tried to develop alternative explanations for the formation of the Pentateuch, but there have been no substantial changes to the Documentary Hypothesis. Most liberal scholars continue to largely approve of Wellhausen’s conclusions. This contemporary languor could be described as a period of supplementary hypothesis or complementary hypothesis. For this reason scholars like Herman Gunkel tried to step out of this stagnation and explore new questions such as: What form were the Pentateuch’s sources in before they were edited and compiled? The methods used to answer this question are referred to as form criticism.
The second thing to happen to the Documentary hypothesis was a near continual fragmentation of the text by independent scholars. Gleason Archer illustrates this occurrence very well with these few examples:
“Otto Eissfeldt in his Hexateuchsynopse (1922) thought he discovered within J a Lay Source (L)- more or less equivalent to Julius Smend’s J1[…] Somewhat similar to L was the new document K (for Kenite). This dealt mostly with certain details in the life of Moses, or described relations between the Israelites and the Kenites. It was discovered By Julius Morgenstern (The Oldest Document of the Hexateuch, 1927)[…] Robert H. Pfeiffer announced in his Introduction to the Old Testament the discovery of a document S (for mount Seir, the most prominent land mark in Edom)[…] Thus we have as a result of the industry of the post-Wellhausians the additional letters K, L, and S, largely drawn off from J or E.”
Early in the twentieth century the sources scholars were going to “discover” seemed to be limitless. The rapid fragmentation of sources appears to be motivated by how trendy source criticism had become and the popularity associated with having identified a new source rather than authentic scholarship.
The third thing to occur to the Documentary hypothesis, somewhat predicated by the first two occurrences, is that it has largely lost its initial clout. Critical research from the second half of the twentieth century to the present has revealed massive holes and shortcomings in the Documentary Hypothesis, such as Wellhausen’s philosophical presuppositions and the presences of misleading answers in the Hypothesis itself. Scholars like William LaSor think that, “It is doubtful that the documentary Hypothesis will survive the critical labors of contemporary scholarship.” In recent decades the Documentary Hypothesis has been reassessed to account for the pressure applied by the criticism of conservative scholars. The adjusted conclusions are more and more conservative. These recent higher critics have noticed that the original approach of the Documentary Hypothesis was misleading. As a result the Documentary Hypothesis, such as it is currently, seems to try to keep the historical critical method while applying a more accurate understanding of the Hebrew language, ancient Hebrew customs, and the structure and characteristics of ancient Hebrew literary styles. Anthony F. Campbell and Mark A. O’Brien are examples of Scholars attempting to employ this amended approach.
Up to this point the Documentary hypothesis has simply been outlined as a developing Idea through history. In the next section the arguments and claims of the Documentary hypothesis will be examined in greater detail.
The Arguments of the Documentary Hypothesis
The main arguments of the documentary hypothesis consist of two central claims and a number of arguments defending those claims. In this section of the paper the two central claims of the Documentary hypothesis will be explained and then the arguments supporting those claims will be outlined.
Two Central Claims of the Documentary Hypothesis
The first central claim of the Documentary Hypothesis is that the Pentateuch is not a structural unity. That is, it is not a consistent and continuous literary work of a single author despite having been arranged to appear as such. The Pentateuch is not a unified work having been orderly written from its apparent beginning to its apparent end. Rather it is an edited amalgamation of four different sources intentionally combined by an editor. The four sources and traits that determine their distinctions are discussed here in their apparent order of inscription.
First the Yahovist or J source is so named because of its use of the word YHWH for God. It is considered the first of the supposed four documents to have been written. By making use of God’s proper name it is characterized as emphasizing the immanent God, who is personal and intimately related to His people. It is proposed to have been written during the time of the United Kingdom. It apparently places great emphasis on the tribe of Judah and the city of Jerusalem.
The Second is the Elohist or E source. It is so named because of its use of Elohim for God. As such, its supposed subject matter and focus is on a more transcendent God, generally related to His creation. It is considered to have been written second of the four sources during the time of the Divided Kingdom.
The third is the Deuternomist or D source. It is simply named because it basically comprises the book of Deuteronomy. Because it is presumed to be the book of the Law discovered in the Temple during the Kingship of Josiah, it is considered to have been written during this later period in the Divided Kingdom.
The fourth and last supposed major source of the Pentateuch is the Priestly or P source. It was designated this way because its content is predominantly focused on moral laws, retribution, priestly codes, and rituals. It also makes use of Elohim as the name for God and is said to have been written in the post-exilic era.
According to the Documentary Hypothesis, these four sources are the actual origins of what is now known as the Pentateuch. Each source, as has been briefly outlined, is argued to have arisen from a different context, date, and purpose. According to the Documentary Hypothesis none of these documents illustrate the world of the Hebrew people during the time of Moses. Rather, each document reflects a political and social climate from a more advanced stage of social, cultural, and religious evolution of the people of ancient Israel. The supporter of the Documentary Hypothesis argues that their original purpose was to bolster the political agenda of their supposed date. Consider for example, Friedman’s argument that the sources J and E (The first written in Judah and the second written in Israel by his reckoning) make differing political claims regarding Beth-El, which was located on the border between the two kingdoms.
One wonders how the documents were combined in their current form. The Documentary Hypothesis claims the portions were not combined in major sections like an anthology but in small woven sections within the same or similar narratives. Umberto Cassuto explains the assumed process of compilation in this way:
“This is how, it is imagined, the editor set about his task: he took two narratives, one, for instance, from source J, and the other from source E, both dealing with the same subject; he begun to copy a few words or a complete sentence or several sentences from the first account, and then he proceeded to copy a few words or a complete verse or several verses from the second; later he left the second document and continued to copy the first, returning subsequently to the second, and so on until the material at his disposal was used up, and both stories had been welded together into a single narrative.”
The second major claim of the Documentary Hypothesis, (as already largely predicated by the first claim) is that Moses did not write the Pentateuch. What we know as the Pentateuch was edited and arranged at a much later date than the time of Moses. The strong denial of Moses as the author raises the question of the identity of the supposed editor. Ezra is widely considered to be the likely candidate because of the concern during his time to identify Israel as God’s People. Freidman makes the case for Ezra as the Editor this way.
“[Ezra] had the backing of the emperor. He had enforcement powers. Even though he was not the high priest, he had enormous authority. And his authority was directly linked to the scroll that he brought to Judah, a scroll that is identified as “the Torah of Moses which Yahweh God of Israel Gave” […] In the entire Bible only two men are known as law givers: Moses and Ezra. Ezra was a priest, a lawgiver, and a scribe. He had access to documents. And the biblical biography of Ezra is explicit about which documents interested him.”
Having heard these two central claims, the next section will explore and develop the arguments used to defend these claims.
The Main Arguments of the Documentary Hypothesis
Naturally one begins to wonder how the supporters of the Documentary Hypothesis arrive at these claims. What are their arguments that take the Pentateuch, traditionally thought of as a literary unity, and apparently demonstrate it to be a combination of different sources from different time periods? On what grounds do the supporters deny that it is indeed Moses who wrote the Pentateuch? For the sake of simplicity let us consider the arguments to fall into two categories. The first are textual arguments. The second are cultural or religious arguments.
Documentary Hypothesis supporters often employ three textual arguments to support their conclusions. The first is the presence of different names for the same object or person. They argue that this is of primary importance in reference to the use of divine names. When part of the unified narrative uses God’s personal name YHWH and another part of the same unified narrative uses the more general name for divinity Elohim, critical scholars take that as an indication of two sources. The source using YHWH is J source and the source using Elohim is E source.
The most common examples are taken from the creation account in Genesis. Genesis 1:2-2:4 refers to God as Elohim, suggesting it belongs to the E source (and possibly the P source because of its reference to the Sabbath). However, the next passage’s creation account refers to God as YHWH, apparently making it a part of the J source. So these higher critical scholars use the different names to identify different sources. The same kind of argumentation is employed for different names of people, places, and even different verbs that describe the same action. For example, when the term Sinai is used to name the mountain that passage is considered part of the J or P documents, but when the name Horeb is used to refer to the same mountain, that passage is considered a part of E or D documents.
The second textual argument commonly used is the parallel narratives argument. Documentary Hypothesis supporters argue that the Pentateuch, and especially Genesis, contains these parallel narratives or “doublets.” The creation accounts in Genesis just mentioned would be a perfect example. Liberal scholars assume these repeated narrative accounts are sufficiently different to indicate their origin from different sources. Freidman combines the parallel narrative argument and the different names argument to attempt to build a cumulative case for the Documentary Hypothesis.
“The mere fact that the different stories in the first books of the Bible call God by different names of course proves nothing in itself.[…] But, as I have said, there was something more suspicious about the way the different names of the deity lined up in the first few books of the Bible. The different names Yahweh and Elohim, seemed to line up consistently in each of the two versions of the same stories in the doublets. If we separate Elohim (E) stories from Yahweh (J) stories, we get a consistent series of clues that the E stories were written by someone concerned with Israel and the J stories were written by someone concerned with Judah.”
Freidman notices the different names in the parallel narratives are consistent. The issue is, for what reason are those names consistently found in their respective narratives? His argument is that the J documents names and narrative associate it with the southern kingdom of Judah and the E documents names and narratives associate it with the northern kingdom of Israel. Latter we will explore other explanations.
The last literary argument is the observable difference of language and style. The presence of the different language and style lead the Supporter of the Documentary Hypothesis to leap to the conclusion that no single author is capable of writing in different literary styles and necessitates the presence multiple source documents as an explanation. Gleason Archer summarizes the argument from different style by saying that J is considered the source of vivid narratives; E has etiologic legends; and P is a formal source document containing genealogies, statistics, laws, rituals, and so on. Campbell and O’Brien explain that a general rule for determining if a passage is from the P source is if it is “boring.” With respect to vocabulary it is argued that words are strictly associated with specific document sources and that Moses would not have used those words at all.
Cultural and Religious Arguments
There are also arguments that focus on apparent cultural or religious evidence. Liberal scholars argue that during the time of Moses the literary skill necessary to produce a work such as the Pentateuch or its supposed source documents were not yet developed. It is largely held by supporters of the Documentary Hypothesis that Israel was a primitive people lacking in literary skill or the formal culture necessary for the traditional view of the Pentateuch to be true. Additionally it is argued that the stage of religious development during the time of Moses would not have been as complex and developed as the rituals, codes, and sacrificial system outlined in the P document.
Wellhausen proposed that the ritual prescriptions and moral laws of the Pentateuch are post-exilic in nature. The complexity of religious tradition in the Pentateuch is apparently too evolutionarily advanced for Moses to have been the author of their inscription. Liberal scholars have taken the Law given by YHWH and reversed it to be a law composed by a post-exilic editor of the source documents, retroactively applied to the God of Israel pseudepigraphicaly through Moses. The aspects of the law such as circumcision and Sabbath are argued to be out of place in the Exodus and more in keeping with Babylonian captivity. The creation accounts in Genesis are declared to be mythological, the narratives of the patriarchs are prejudged to be legends, created by the people of Israel during the divided monarchies and later, then retroactively projected backwards as part of their fanciful origins. Ultimately the evolutionarily explanatory events in the history of ancient Israel are the monarchy, the divided kingdom, and the exile.
We have satisfactorily reviewed and examined the history and central arguments of the Documentary Hypothesis; in the next section we will present an apologetic critique of the Documentary Hypothesis presuppositions and arguments. Then the evidence for Mosaic authorship will be presented.
Refutation of the Documentary Hypothesis and Defense of Mosaic Authorship
This apologetic refutation of the Documentary Hypothesis will be presented in three parts: first, to expose and critique the presuppositions of the Documentary Hypothesis; second, to refute its arguments; third, to offer sound arguments for the conservative traditional view supporting Mosaic authorship.
Behind the objective and scientific facade of the Documentary Hypothesis are some very telling philosophical and thereby methodological presuppositions that determine the conclusions of the Documentary Hypothesis a priori. It could be argued that every hermeneutic method has a certain degree of bias. However, the philosophical presuppositions of higher criticism do not even allow the text to speak for itself. The Documentary Hypothesis is a highly predictable byproduct when European Rationalism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries forces its presuppositions and biased methodology into the biblical texts.
Harrison gives a very helpful summary of the first two presuppositions. The first presupposition is that it is possible and desirable to identify one fundamental principle by which all the subject matter within the field of study can be explained and accounted for. In the Documentary Hypothesis the fundamental principle through which the Pentateuch was assumed to be accounted for and explained is “dialectical evolution.” As developed by Darwin, Hegel, and Comte, dialectical evolution was determined a priori to be the integrative explanatory principle for all questions found in the text: be they cultural, religious, literary, lingual, etc. This is the main short coming of the Documentary Hypothesis’ methodology. Like all a priori fallacies, the Documentary Hypothesis supporters, at the commencement of their study, established as their cause what should have been either determined or refuted as a result of the study. For this reason everything that is produced form this higher critical method comes from this sustained circular reasoning. The higher critical scholars of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries lacked the openness necessary to break their circular reasoning and the ability to allow the traditional conceptions of the Pentateuch to offer supporting or militating evidence against their conclusions.
The second presupposition is similar to the first. It is that humanity and everything that it produces such as literature, culture or religion is understood as moving from primitive to more advanced stages of development. For this reason they assume that the later stages of a culture are more capable of producing a certain quality of literature. This can plainly be seen as a false assumption with any number of counter examples. Consider the Roman Empire, whose terminus was considerably worse with respect to culture and society than its beginning and middle stages.
The third presupposition is an a priori anti-supernaturalism. With this comes the denial of the possibility of any kind of supernatural action, cause, or communication. The a priori denial of supernatural communication is incompatible with the concept of Scripture as divine special revelation. As a result the higher critics try to explain the Pentateuch through exclusively natural causes. The problem with these explanations is that they are exclusive. If a biblical critic is a naturalist, that is a separate argument that needs to be addresses before the hermeneutic, theological, and historic conclusions can even be compared between traditional Christian theists and naturalist higher critics. The naturalist scholar, without argument, declares that natural arguments negate all supernatural ones. This anti-supernatural presupposition is philosophically unsound, unsupported historically, and in opposition to the claims of the biblical texts.
Alexa Suelzer helps develop two further faulty presuppositions of the Documentary Hypothesis. She explains that Documentary Hypothesis supporters have a general skepticism about the objectivity of history. As a result they address the biblical text with an a priori doubt of its historicity. She goes on to explain how the scholars who hold to the Documentary Hypothesis treat the historical development of the Hebrew people as though they were in complete isolation from their neighboring nations and cultures.
Having just identified the faulty philosophical presuppositions, the next section will criticize the Documentary Hypothesis’ supporting arguments. There are not only reasons to discredit their arguments, but there are better explanations for the questions raised by higher criticism.
The classical application of the Documentary Hypothesis has a faulty understanding of the Hebrew language. The various textual arguments proposed by the Documentary Hypothesis supporters completely erode if their understanding of Hebrew were more accurate. A better understanding of the Hebrew language and Semitic literature gives a better explanation for the different words and names in the text. We have already identified that the Documentary Hypothesis supporters assume the Hebrew people could not write, much less compose such highly intelligent literature. However, this is in direct opposition to the texts claims that Moses was educated in Egypt as royalty and more than likely very literate. However, this again asks the higher critic to set aside their historical skepticism for a moment.
The literary usage of different names is related to the style, purpose and literary genre the author chooses to employ. Conservative and liberal scholars agree that the usage of different names and words is consistent in different parts of the text. The issue is whether this consistency is due to a different source or by intentional literary design. With a greater grasp of Hebrew, it can clearly be seen that the latter is actually the case. The author of the biblical text was intelligent enough to select with discernment the names and words that had the specific meanings and connotations he desired for his purpose. Considering that Hebrew was that authors first language it would not have been very intellectually taxing. If the text is considered as a whole, one can easily discover that there is intelligent and preconceived purpose and design behind the selection of the various names and words therein.
The second faulty aspect to the arguments for the Documentary Hypothesis is that it is frequently incapable of presenting a coherent application of its own criteria and rules to identify source documents. That is to say, in many cases when a rule is applied to identify a passage’s source document, such as a divine name used, it would place it in J, E, D, or P. However, when a different criterion is applied to that same passage, such as verb usage, style, or content, it indicates that it actually belongs to a different source document. Consider this example from Archer.
“For example, of the two words for “female slave,” shiphah was assigned exclusively to J and ’amah to E; in Genesis 33, Driver assigned the passage to J because of its use of shiphah, even though Elohim appears throughout.”
That is neither objective nor scientific. What could be more subjective than when two rules within the same methodological system contradict and the arbiter arbitrarily designates a passage as part of this or that source document? There is no consensus of the proper traits of a given source document, no consensus as to the order of priority concerning identification rules, and no consensus as to which passages are form which source documents.
A third failure of the arguments for the Documentary Hypothesis is that archeological evidence does indeed support that the Pentateuch could have been written during the time of Moses. It can be demonstrated that the religious and cultural development needed was indeed present at the time of Moses. Archeological discoveries have only ever served to corroborate the Pentateuchal narratives. Characters such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the ancient customs like those between Jacob and Laban in Genesis 31-43 are definitely within this historical context. Harrison remarks:
“By the beginning of the second millennium B.C. the names Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Laban, and Joseph were in common usage. Abraham appeared in syllabic form as A-ba-ra-ma, A-ba-am-ra-ma and A-ba-am-ra-am, while Jacob, writen Ya-‘qub-el, was found as a Palestinian palace name by 1740 B.C. The name of Jacob in the form Ya-ah-qu-ub-il occurred on tablets from Tell Chagar Bazar in norther Mesopotamia about 1725 B.C.”
He continues elsewhere:
“The manner in which Laban asserted his rights as a patriarch (Gen 31-41) shows clearly that he referred to Jacob as his legally adopted son, not merely as a son-in-law. Within the next two decades it would appear that natural sons were born to Laban (Gen 31-41), an event that disqualified under Nuzu law the adopted son from receiving and exercising the coveted rights of primogeniture. An attempt to remedy the imbalance may perhaps be seen in the action of Rachel in stealing the household gods (Gen 31:19).”
Archeological discoveries during the nineteenth century have also corroborated the position that the people of Israel were sufficiently culturally qualified in literacy by the fourteenth century B.C. to produce the Pentateuch. The Wellhausian argument that Israel was not sufficiently educated finds no support in archeology. Archer gives this evidence:
“The earliest Hebrew document thus far discovered is the Gezer Calander, written about 952 B.C. (found by Macalister in the 1900s). But since it is obviously a mere schoolboy’s exercise, it demonstrates that the art of writing was so well known and widely practiced in Israel during the tenth century that even the children were being taught this skill in the provinces.”
Writing was perfectly common by the time of the monarchy. This suggests that literacy was developed early enough that the cultural quality necessary for the production of the Pentateuch was definitely present, to say nothing of the fact that in a supernaturalist contexts a transcendent God could have brought about the writing of scripture through any means.
Furthermore, considering Moses’ life and education in Egypt, likely the most developed culture at that time, there is no legitimate reason to call into question his capacity to produce a document like the Pentateuch.
Another flaw in the Wellhausan argument is the presence of an overt self contradiction. Initially he argues that there is evidence of Animism in the Pentateuch. That is indicative of a lower stage of development in Israel’s so called religious evolution. This suggests the source documents come from a comparably early date in Israel’s less developed cultural history. However, he also sees sufficient evidence of higher cultural development that leads him to deny the possibility of it having been written in the time of Moses and places the date for the documents in the exilic period. This is evidence for a later date of the source documents’ inscription. Therefore, it seems he sees evidence in the same document of primitive and highly developed Israelite cultural development. This is simply a blatant contradiction.
A final word in this section needs to be made concerning the arguments of Campbell and O’Brien. They try to account for the apparent problems in the Pentateuch with a new paradigm. They do not find it necessary to divide the text into source documents, so in that way they are a significant departure from the Documentary Hypothesis. However their own conclusions are equally as abhorrent and will be dealt with presently. In their own words:
“Many readers today tend not to look to the Bible for entertainment or diversion. For a long time such readers and users have expected biblical texts to inform them about reality; variants, therefore, had little place. However, for the users in ancient times, who might mediate text to others, variants may have been essential for truth. When more than one story has been told, when more than one view has been held, truth may require that these variants be preserved in some way.”
They advance this theory that the text was not canonical but pre-canonical, not authoritative but pre-authoritative. They additionally hold that the stories were originally short enough to be told by storytellers. Their arguments fail to offer evidence for their conjecture. The biblical texts do not claim or appear to have developed into authority or have become canonical but claim and have internal structural evidence, (such as massive chiastic structures), to have been given and inscriptureated as authoritative in their present united form. The Pentateuch cannot be reasonably conceived as some kind of “choose your own adventure” book. It is what it claims and is evidenced to be: the authoritative truth.
Having refuted the arguments in favor of the Documentary Hypothesis, the next section will present positive evidence in favor of Mosaic authorship as traditionally believed.
Enduring Evidence for Mosaic Authorship
With all the criticism of the critical method as being biased against the text, it is not surprising that the traditional Mosaic authorship points to the text itself as its first phase of evidence in its argument. The Pentateuch and the rest of the Old Testament testify that Moses is indeed the author of the Pentateuch. Exodus 17:14 and Deuteronomy 31:9-11 directly reference Moses as author along with other passages. The rest of the Old Testament tradition maintains that Moses is the author of the Pentateuch, for example I Kings 2:3.
The witness of Jesus in the New Testament is a central key to identifying Moses as the author of the Pentateuch. Jesus referenced every book of the Pentateuch as authoritative scripture written by Moses. In John 5:46-47 Jesus reveals not only that He believes the Pentateuch to have been written by Moses but that it is the commonly understood fact among his audience as well. John 3:14 reveals that Jesus not only affirmed the canonicity of the Pentateuch written by Moses but confirmed the historicity of its narrative. A philosophical argument could be legitimately made that if Jesus is God, (demonstrated through theistic proofs and the historicity of the resurrection), and that God cannot err, then Jesus’ testimony to the authority and fact that Moses is the Author of the Pentateuch is actually deductively true over and beyond the overwhelming inductive evidence pointing to the same conclusion.
The text also overwhelmingly presents evidence that the author would have had to have been present and knowledgeable of customs long since forgotten, if the actual inscribing of the texts had taken place during the time of the kings. Walter C. Keiser explains in detail that the entire structure of Deuteronomy is the same structure in which ancient covenants would have been established. Keiser emphatically states that the entire book of Deuteronomy, and not some alleged D source document, is in the form of a Suzerainty Treaty. This kind of treaty was in use in the Hittite Empire from 1400-1200 B.C. For this reason Keiser explains:
“What is remarkable about this outline is that there was a most decisive difference between the second and first millennium treaty forms. Since Deuteronomy follows the Hittite form of the second millennium type, this has enormous implications for the dating of this portion of the Pentateuch and makes the whole Documentary Hypothesis both unnecessary and very much beside the point.”
The text also shows unity in structure. For example the flood narrative of Noah in Genesis 6:10-9:19 is a massive chiastic structure centered on Genesis 8:1 that God remembered Noah. The schools of higher critical though had no idea this kind of structure could be found in the text. As a result no portion of that story can be declared as part of this or that source document because it is literally meaningless unless it is understood as a whole. There is evidence in the texts that show unity of content and composition. As has been argued in multiple places, the narratives of Genesis only make sense when they are viewed as a whole. William Henry Green gives a great example.
“Joseph is named by P among the children of Jacob born in Paddam-aram (35:24), but not another word is said about him until we are suddenly informed that he was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh. How he came to be in Egypt and what led to his elevation there can only be learned from other documents.”
When the text is subdivided into supposed source documents it loses meaning and sense. The history of Joseph is meaningless if a source document jumps from his birth to him being second to Pharaoh in command over Egypt. It is the selling into slavery, the wrongful imprisonment, the dreams, and so on that carry the theological meaning of the story.
The last line of evidence for Mosaic authorship is the unified testimony of unbroken tradition. Tradition did not figure into the evidence of European Rationalism but it is a strong historical testimony to Mosaic authorship. Talmudic Judaism teaches that Moses was the author of the Pentateuch, and the historians Philo and Josephus do as well.
The conclusion is simple and obvious. The Documentary Hypothesis’ claims are wrong. There are other objective and scientific explanations that satisfactorily answer the questions raised by higher criticism, and they all support the literary unity of the Pentateuch. The evidence for mosaic authorship is substantial and robust. The arguments given for the Documentary Hypothesis are misleading, erroneous, and based on dramatically biased undefended presuppositions. The most reasonable belief for the origin of the Pentateuch is the conservative traditional belief in mosaic authorship.
Allis, Oswald. The Five Books of Moses. Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1977.
Archer, Gleason L., Jr. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. Chicago: Moody Press, 1974.
Campbell, Antony F. and Mark O’Brien. Rethinking the Pentateuch. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005.
Cassuto, Umberto. The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch. New York: Shalem Press, 2006.
De Wette, Wilhelm Martin Leberecht. A Critical and Historical Introduction to the Canonical Scriptures of the Old Testament. Vol. 2. Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1850.
Friedman, Richard Eliot. Who Wrote the Bible? New York: Summit Books, 1987.
Green, William Henry. The Unity of the Book of Genesis. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1979
Harrison, R. K. Introduction to the Old Testament. London: Tyndale Press, 1970.
Keiser, Walter. The Old Testament Documents. Wheaton: IVP, 2001.
LaSor, William Stanford, David Allan Hubbard and Frederic W. Bush. Old Testament Survey: the Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1996.
Spinoza, Benedict. A theologico-Political Treatise. Translated by R. H. M. Elwes, New York: Dover Publications, 1951.
Suelzer, Alexa. The Pentateuch, a Study in salvation History. New York: Herder and Herder, 1964.
Wellhausen, Julius. Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel. Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1965.
Whybray, Norman. Introduction to the Pentateuch. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.
All scripture referenced is taken from the NASB.
R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (London: Tyndale Press, 1970), 5-7.
Harrison, Introduction, 10.
Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 92.
Whybray, Introduction to the Pentateuch, 14.
Harrison, Introduction, 17.
Julius Wellhausen, Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel (Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1965), 4.
Archer, A Survey of the Old Testament, 89.
Oswald Allis, The Five Books of Moses (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1977), 187.
Archer, A Survey of Old Testament, 94.
William Stanford LaSor, David Allan Hubbard and Frederic W. Bush, Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 12.
Richard Elliot Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible? (New York: Summit Books, 1987), 62.
Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible?, 223.
Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 129.
Wellhausen, Prolegomena, 1.
Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, 506.
Alexa Suelzer, The Pentateuch (New York: Herder and Herder, 1964), 149.
Cassuto, The Documentary Hypothesis, 21.
Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 125.
Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, 106.
Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 172.
Walter C. Kaiser Jr., The Old Testament Documents (Wheaton: IVP, 2001), 144.
William Henry Green, The Unity of the Book of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1979), 556-557.