Nothing New Under the Sun

I have a friend from High School who has gotten involved in the Emergent Church movement. Last night, on his Facebook page, he gave a link to an article that was originally posted on someone else’s page. You can read it here. Now, to those who have been studying the Hebrew Bible for a long time, there is really nothing new here. Anyone who has read even portions of the Pentateuch in the Hebrew Language will know that what this article says is true, and we knew it long before this article ever came out.

However, it is the *manner* in which the material is presented. First, these is nothing new to the idea that the author of the Pentateuch used different styles and word choices in different places. The problem is, all authors do this. Authors can contientiously vary their style and word choices in order to produce different literary effects. For example, if one character is very well educated, you might use a much more sophisticated vocabulary in discussing him, and in recording his speech. However, if you have another character who is not well educated, when you get to the section of the narrative where you are talking about him, you may use much more simple language and vocabulary. Hence, differing styles and word choices actually add color to the narrative.

Consider an analogy to painting. Imagine if a painter always used the same color and the same brush in every part of the painting. You would get nothing but a giant color blob. The variations in color and in brush strokes are what makes a masterpiece of painting a masterpiece. In the same way, when an author varies his style and his vocabulary, he creates different effects. The modern field of Discourse Analysis, in fact, studies, not what the author *can* do, but what the author *did* do. This field has shown that variations in style and word choice can indicate the different ways in which the author sees and understands the world. Hence, it is impossible to use these kinds of standards to decide how many authors of a text you have.

The example of Isaiah is a perfect example. The first half of Isaiah consists largly of judgment oracles. Isaiah is warning Israel to repent of their sin. However, after they have faced the consequences, then, he comforts them telling them that a remainant will return. Because of the fact that each of these sections have different purposes, one can almost expect the style and vocabulary to be different. One could also expect some overlap [beginning at chapter 33 according to the article] in order to blend these two sections of the book together literarily.

If we take this approach, and apply it to the Pentateuch, Moses is perfectly consistent as the author of the Pentateuch. Why? Because Moses’ brother was Aaron, who was a priest. Moses was also a religious leader. Hence, it would not be suprising to see a text in which the religious and priestly elements come together, since Moses’ life and duties were related to each of these. While this doesn’t *prove* that Moses was the author, it does show that the text is consistent with him as the author.

However, it may be even more complex than this. A couple of semesters ago in my class on the History of the Ancient Near East, Dr. Lawson Younger told us that the priesthood had nothing to do with civil law in the Ancient Near East. Even in the Hebrew Bible, it is only the priest who is able to offer sacrifices, and when a king such as Saul tries to do so, he has the kingdom ripped away from him. Hence, the theory itself might rely upon modern conceptions of priestly functions that are being read anachronistically back into the text.

What is worse is the fact that, there have been other, more competently done studies on the authorship of the Pentateuch, and, imparticular, the book of Genesis, and they have came to quite different conclusions. As the authors of that book point out, when one studies the authorship of a particular book, one has to use categories that the author himself cannot contientiously vary. That is, one must look for features of an author that he cannot control, and does uncontiously. If one does not do this, then the results will be skewed.

However, I think what concerns me about this article the most is that it presents this in such a way that it makes it seem like it is “science.” Those who oppose the documentary hypothesis have already been willing to grant that there are differences in style in the Pentateuch. The issue is how those facts are interpreted, whether as literary variation or as different authors. However, what this article has done is point to a study that uses a *computer* to prove something that that proponents of the documentary hypothesis have used for a long time. This gives the false impression that the conclusions of the followers of the documentary hypothesis have been proven by “science.” They haven’t been. The information that the proponents of the documentary hypothesis use to argue for their position which no one on either side of the debate ever doubted has been proven by a computer program.

Also, the other information of literary critics such as Robert Alter has been totally ignored. There are literary strands that run throughout the book of Genesis, and those must likewise be accounted for. Phrases such as the infamous “Be Fruitful and Multiply” and the presentation of an elect and non-elect line are likewise never mentioned as being taken into account in the algorithm. Other problems put foward to support this theory were just never addressed. One would think if you were going to make a computer algorithm to deal with authorship that all of the linguistic factors that go into making one author’s work different from another author’s work would be addressed, and it simply is not. The standards that this study has used are simply too vague and reductionistic.

Also, there is no doubt that Moses is using sources in the writing of Genesis [Genesis 5:1]. There is also no doubt that, as the Hebrew Bible was passed down to us, it underwent updating of the language and the insertion of explainatory notes. However, this is still not inconsistent with the idea that the book goes back to one author, and more competent linguistic studies have shown that there is nothing inconsistent with this idea. I don’t have any problem with the debate raging on. I am just concerned that people will look at this article, and think that “science” has proven Christ wrong when he said that the Pentateuch was written by Moses, and, therefore, he cannot be trusted. No, the reality is that this theory comes from a mixture of Enlightenment humanistic philosophy, and Hegelian idealistic philosophy. The whole theory is based upon presuppositions that are antagonistic to the Christian worldview, and hence, when an article like this comes out, and it does not make it perfectly clear that these are the presuppositions with which it is looking at the data, the result can be very deceptive.


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