Moses, the Torah, and the False Dichotomy

So lately there has been less poetry on my mind. This is sure to disappoint a few of my readers. I can just imagine Lluís Bussé complaining that he’d really rather have a few hundred words about imaginary Dutch teenagers, in lines that rhyme even, than thousands of words about the Bible and all that. However, in this transitional, exploratory, and evaluative phase of my spiritual walk, certain things have been coming up that I think I want to make some statements on for the record. Just a couple of weeks ago I was in a class with some Reform Jews, and the topic of who wrote the Torah came up. This is a seminal question in Judaism, and is a primary point of delineation between Orthodox and Reform Judaism: Did Moses write the Torah, or not? In addition to this class, I’d been reading a book on this subject recommended to me by another rabbi I talk to. That’s how significant this question is for Jews. You’re not going to get very far in Judaism without drawing some conclusions about this question. I want to catalogue my opinions on the matter as of today. There is some good news here for those who don’t care about my religious endeavors, though. I am going to try to use this issue to show you guys how people can get completely derailed by false dichotomies. So in addition to learning some biblical scholarship, you’ll also learn a bit about the beauty of being a free thinker and the dangers of groupthink.

So in Judaism, the primary “denominational” differentiation is the distinction between the Orthodox and the Reform Jews. The Orthodox claim an unbroken tradition back to ancient times that they are heirs to thousands of years of legal rulings and traditions by their various rabbinic courts. They might be very, very, very loosely be compared to the Roman Catholics of Christianity. The Reformers, on the other hand, split off in a kind of intellectual rebellion from the Orthodox, and so could be compared, again very, very, very loosely, to the Protestants of Christianity.

In general, the Orthodox are theologically “conservative,” while the Reformed are generally theologically “liberal.” This has nothing to do with politics. Theological liberalism vs. conservatism is a matter of one’s perspective on religious dogma, particularly one’s opinion about the veracity of the scriptures that form the basis of a given religion. In theological terms, if you believe the Bible is true to the word, you’re conservative. If you believe that its contents are not literally historically true, you’re liberal. That is, for an American, you can be a card-carrying member of the US Democratic Party, chanting constantly your mantras about the importance of abortions for all, for gay pride, or for any of the signature issues of liberalism in the United States, but if you believe the Bible to be literally true down to the word, you’re theologically conservative despite being politically liberal.

In Judaism this situation took a specific and interesting turn. Not only is there the matter of whether the Bible is literally true, but theological conservatism, and one of the fundamental markers and requirements for Orthodox Judaism, hinges on the confession that Moses wrote the Torah, and that the Torah we have is the Torah that Moses wrote. In fact, one of the most prestigious rabbis in Jewish history, Moses ben Maimon, known to the world at large as Maimonides and to the Jews as “the Rambam,” produced a list of Thirteen Principles of the Jewish Faith which are generally considered the markers of Orthodoxy. One of those principles is this requirement of the Torah being written by Moses.

The Eighth Principle is the divine authorship of the Torah. Namely, that we are to believe that the whole Torah which is found in our hands today, is that which was given by Moshe our teacher, peace unto him, and is all from the mouth of the Almighty. In other words, it all was conveyed to him by God in a manner which is referred to metaphorically as “speech,” though the only person who knew the true nature of that communication was Moshe, peace unto him, because he was the one who actually received it. He was like a scribe writing from dictation who chronicled the events of those days, both the episodes and the laws, and it is for this reason that he is referred to in scripture as an “engraver.”

Rambam, Commentary to the Mishnah

Now I am quite surprised that not a huge amount of critical thought has been devoted to the subject of Moses writing the Torah will be found from the most ancient times because you don’t need advanced 21st century computerized linguistic models to notice that the entire Torah describes Moses in the third person, and there is the matter of the last paragraph of the last book of the Torah actually being a description of Moses’ death. Other things have come up as well, and I will be talking about those.

It happens to be the case, however, that Jewish skepticism on this matter generally only harkens to the Haskala, the Jewish “Enlightenment,” beginning in the 18th century. Baruch Spinoza is usually pointed at as the primary early proponent of rejection of divinity of Torah. From there, a society of theologically liberal, usually Christian, and frequently German scholars developed the theory that the Torah was invented during the Babylonian and Persian captivity via a conflation of various competing oral mythologies circulating among the Jews at that time.

As of today, those are the two choices that you’re going to get. On the one hand, Moses wrote about himself in the third person and wrote his own death, or the entirety of the Torah was completely fabricated from myth over a thousand years after the events it purports to describe. And 99.99% of you are just going to pick one of those two choices and call it good without any critical thought whatsoever because these options will be presented to you by those who you think are smarter and more educated than you are. No, it’s not funny. It’s just the way it is. And this sad situation is what gives the various scholars on either side of this issue license to make up whatever they want, to proffer rank conjecture of the fairy tale variety about the history of the text of the Torah.

With this essay, however, I want to give you some actual information. In fact, this isn’t the first essay I’ve written on the subject. Some years back I wrote an essay about the first two chapters of Genesis, as the overwhelming majority of theologically liberal scholars, people with PhDs in Hebrew and biblical studies, try to tell people that those two chapters are conflicting stories about the creation of the universe, yet my 10-year-old nephew would have no problem telling you this was not the case with merely a simple fourth-grade literary analysis of the chapters in question. That scenario provides one of humanity’s best examples of the fact that knowledge of language and acquisition of advanced degrees protects no one from unfettered stupidity.

With this essay I am going to expand on themes of that first essay a bit, on the one hand making the subject more general so that it encompasses Torah authorship in general while getting into the weeds about a number of the actual issues that scholars deal with. You’d be surprised that you don’t need to know Hebrew or archaeology to be able to identify the issues that the scholars work with and even finger precisely where they go wrong, or where you disagree with them in ways that they cannot contradict you despite all of their academic accolades.

To begin with, what we have before us is two tasks at hand. First, we should talk about the concept of Moses writing the Torah in general. After that we’ll want to analyze the theory that the secular scholars have about authorship of the Torah. I think in order to describe the ideas present in Torah authorship fully it becomes a good idea to elucidate a concept or two about communication in general. To do this I want to tell you a couple of things about a particular Hebrew word.

Hebrew has a word for a certain type of ghost: dibuq. Now the earliest way of writing Hebrew with the square Hebrew letters that language has used for the last few thousand years is called the defective spelling: דבק (dbq). Yes, folks, Hebrew originally had no vowels. Later on, certain letters were inserted to double as vowels in order to add clarity. This is called the plenary spelling: דיבוק (dybwk). Now much later, scholars who had been memorizing the biblical text for centuries finally got around to developing vowels. So the word could have vowels added to the defective spelling, דִּבֻּק (dibbuq) or the plenary spelling, דִּיבּוּק (diybbuwq). That’s a lot of ways to write a word. So we have seen some change in the text. This is not conjecture. We actually have texts that render the word in these four ways. Now let me ask you, does the presence in this variation in the text mean that the original author did not write the text? If we see a word written with a spelling convention that was developed well after the lifetime of the author of the text containing the word, must we concede that the text was written by an editor?

Let’s expand a bit on this concept. Say I give a speech of powerful effect, obviously under the influence of the spirit of God. Let’s also say, however, that I sneeze at some point during the speech. Is that speech no longer my voice? Because I sneezed, and the speech has an error in it, is it no longer perfect? Is it no longer inspired by the spirit of God? Or let’s say I give the speech to a woman who recites it to a different audience on the next day. Is the speech no longer my speech because she recites it in a woman’s voice? It’s not exactly my voice. Can we no longer say that I wrote it or originally gave it because she spoke it and her voice is a little different than mine? To suggest such would be lunacy, wouldn’t it? Obviously, the speech would contain my words and my meaning, and the fact that I sneezed at one point or the fact that this speech was recounted by someone whose voice was different than mine wouldn’t actually change the meaning of the speech or its impact on the audience any more than, say, changing the spelling of various words in the written text of the speech as in the illustration of the dibuq above.

From these examples, from the variation in spelling or the slight differences that can come into communication when someone says something in a different voice or a different person says the same thing with a different voice, we can see that communication is an analog experience. That is, it’s an experience that includes a number of variables and unknowns that we can’t really account for, yet we gain the overall meaning from what is said despite certain little idiosyncrasies or differences in delivery from one person to the next or by one person from day to day.

So also then, we see that minor variations in communication given by a person over time don’t nullify the fact that the person originally issued the communication to begin with. Further, we can see that the involvement of multiple people with a written text, to include minor editing, doesn’t necessarily damage the statement that an original author wrote a piece of writing or said a particular thing. Now we’ve established that certain changes in a text don’t actually grant the ability to say that an author didn’t write a text concerning the issues of spelling as in the word for “ghost,” or concerning changes in pronunciation. But what’s to prevent us from adding slight changes of words to this idea?

For instance, let’s say I write a particular letter at the beginning of the 19th century and I state in that letter that I’m writing from somewhere in the Louisiana Purchase. Let’s further say that this letter becomes famous, and an editor comes along in the 20th century and changes “the Louisiana Purchase” to “the state of Kansas.” Again I ask, can we no longer say that I wrote the letter? Must we say that the letter is not original to me because someone updated the geographical name of the location from where I was writing to something better understood by a current audience? Would it be accurate to say that the entire letter had to have been made up sometime in the 20th century because it contains the word “Kansas”?

It just so happens to be the case, when speaking of the Torah, that we are told that any change from that which that could have actually come from the pen of Moses himself somehow invalidates Moses as the author and that we are required to understand that the text has been altered and is no longer original.

From another perspective, however, if we take the approach that a text with certain alterations can be considered to be original to a particular author, we open up for ourselves a can of worms. Just exactly what kind of alteration can we accept and still call the text effectively unchanged and original? I think a lack of consideration of this point has ultimately left the defenders of Mosaic authorship unprepared to address the text as we have it. That is, if we are going to call a text original and admit that it’s been edited or altered in some way, we may then have to accept a huge number of alterations in the text which might make calling Moses the author of it something ridiculous.

Here is where we have to really dig into what types of alterations and what kinds of editors we will accept if we’re still going to call a text original to Moses. Again, let’s take a look at a particular example. Traditionally the last chapter of the book of Deuteronomy, the last book of the Torah, which describes the death of Moses, has been attributed to Joshua, Moses’ successor.

In the case of Joshua, if Joshua did indeed contribute anything to the text of the book of Deuteronomy in the Torah, we see that this contribution would have been made by someone who knew Moses personally, and who was fact a student and disciple of Moses, and who was named by Moses personally as someone who understood what he was talking about, and who was approved by Moses to succeed him and carry on his mission. It could be said in fact that Moses and Joshua were of the same spirit, or of the same type, and could effectively be considered the same author when recounting the same story.

The quote about mosaic authorship from the Rambam above states that we really don’t know details about the communication between God and Moses or the details of Moses’ writing of the Torah. So then in addition to to including a paragraph from his successor Joshua we might also consider the possibility that Moses dictated to a scribe, or even a college of scribes, and that these scribes made various contributions to the text. Here, though, we can consider these scribes to have been working under Moses’ supervision and approval, so just as we could consider Joshua to be an extension of Moses himself in handling the text of the Torah, so would we consider any scribal assistants to be extensions of Moses himself.

What I am getting at with these illustrations of linking Joshua to Moses or any potential scribal assistance to Moses is basically the notion that an individual of adequate connection to Moses, who has adequate understanding of the subject matter, who can be said to share in Moses’ perspective and knowledge, and who can be said to be faithful to Moses’ intent in writing can be said to simply be Moses himself, just as I can consider my various editors and contributors to be me when I write a book and put my name on it as author.

But up until now we have spoken only about Joshua, someone Moses knew face to face, and possibly some scribal assistants, who also would have known Moses personally. Yet, when considering objections to Mosaic authorship there are two main objections to his penning the book: doublets and anachronisms. I’ll get into doublets down below when I expose the Documentary Hypothesis as the crack-fueled delusion that it is. But there are some issues of chronology related to anachronisms that should be addressed here before continuing further.

To begin with, I just want the reader to be aware that the overwhelming majority of alleged anachronisms in the text of the Torah aren’t really anachronisms. I don’t want to spend a bunch of effort listing out alleged anachronisms and describing the ways in which they are or are not anachronistic. But I will just do it with a couple of instances, so you’ll know what kind of nonsense you are going to find out there in this big wide world of cluelessness. In order to grab a couple of anachronisms to talk about, I did a quick Google search and came up with this website. It mentions many, many alleged anachronisms.

Toward the beginning of the list is a reference to Exodus 19:22.

The priests also, who come near the LORD, must stay pure, lest the LORD break out against them.”

Exodus 19:22, JPS Tanakh

The contention here is that the priesthood had not yet been established. However, just because the Aaronic priesthood had not been established does not mean that the Israelites did not have priests. Abraham paid tithe to Melchizedek, a priest, and history shows quite clearly that everyone from the Sumerians to Greeks to the Indo-Iranian ancestors of the Hindus had been offering sacrifices via the services of priests ever since the dawn of history. So let this serve as an example of how an alleged anachronism makes it into a published website while being demonstrably a product of the lack of insight of the author.

In fact, the very first anachronism in the article mentions the Torah’s reference to the rape of Dinah as “outrage in Israel” before the nation of Israel had been developed. However, the 12 sons of Jacob who were outraged at the rape were in fact “Israel” at that time. Again, no anachronism exists here. Many of the rest of the anachronisms mentioned in the article depend on a highly speculative interpretation of chronology, some of which I will mention here, but tackling that whole issue would require an essay of its own.

Again, the article claims that Exodus 28:42’s mention of trousers had to be of Persian origin because the Persians invented trousers in the 5th century BCE. However, trousers have been found in Turpan China from the 13th century BCE. They were likely popular in colder cultures and cultures that did a lot of horseback riding such as the Mongolians, Sarmatians, Kergans, etc. and such nomadic and cold-weather cultures of the ancient world were not known for any prolific archaeological troves of information to hand to us. Just because the local art of the Middle East, an area warm and dry and known to preserve art fairly well, didn’t depict a lot of trousers until the Persian period doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. To be frank, their popularity during the Persian period may have been due to the influx Jews from the Babylonian captivity!

I could poke holes in that article all day long, in fact. It claims that the Philistines were not in Canaan during the time of the Patriarchs of Genesis, when it’s quite easy to identify the Philistines with the Greek Pelasgians whose heyday was long before the arrival of the Greeks to the Aegean, etc. I really could just go on and on about how this article is based on a web of conjecture and misconstrual of chronology. But I’ve devoted more attention to it that I had originally intended or is necessary. If you want to find the problems with this article’s positions, you only need to look for the numerous books and websites by those who see the fallacies in the constant efforts to push the authorship of the Torah to an ever later date. I’m only putting some of my observations down to show you that I am a part of the crowd who sees the flimsiness of these speculations.

However, this article does mention one anachronism that I consider valid: the naming of the land of Goshen and the city of Rameses. That particular city was originally named Akhetaten, then Ramesses, then Avaris, and now it is called Tel El-Amarna. That the Torah calls the city Rameses has convinced the world at large of the date of the Exodus in fact, giving birth to the entire sphere of the chronology of Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen. I, however, espouse the chronology of William Albright because I simply acknowledge that someone came along and changed the name of Akhetaten to Rameses in the Torah.

So I do admit an occasional anachronism. According to the Albright chronology the Exodus occurred in the 15th century BCE, but the city would not have been named Rameses until after the arrival of the Pharaohs named Rameses in the 13th century BCE. I admit a few of them actually, and only went down the rabbit hole of critiquing the alleged anachronisms of the website to show you that the overwhelming majority of claimed anachronisms are completely flimsy and conjectural. But what do I do about this one?

Well, this is how I am going to tie the anachronism discussion to the points made about about the possibility of editors and collaborators above. So in the case of assistant scribes or Joshua, we have individuals directly connected to Moses himself. They actually knew him personally. But could Moses also be connected to someone who had never met him? In that old essay I wrote about Genesis I had a couple of words to say about a later king Josiah who ruled Judah from 649 to 609 BCE.

In the eighteenth year of King Josiah, the king sent the scribe Shaphan son of Azaliah son of Meshullam to the House of the LORD, saying, “Go to the high priest Hilkiah and let him weigh the silver that has been deposited in the House of the LORD, which the guards of the threshold have collected from the people. And let it be delivered to the overseers of the work who are in charge at the House of the LORD, that they in turn may pay it out to the workmen that are in the House of the LORD, for the repair of the House: to the carpenters, the laborers, and the masons, and for the purchase of wood and quarried stones for repairing the House. However, no check is to be kept on them for the silver that is delivered to them, for they deal honestly.” Then the high priest Hilkiah said to the scribe Shaphan, “I have found a scroll of the Teaching in the House of the LORD.” And Hilkiah gave the scroll to Shaphan, who read it. The scribe Shaphan then went to the king and reported to the king: “Your servants have melted down the silver that was deposited in the House, and they have delivered it to the overseers of the work who are in charge at the House of the LORD.” The scribe Shaphan also told the king, “The high priest Hilkiah has given me a scroll”; and Shaphan read it to the king. When the king heard the words of the scroll of the Teaching, he rent his clothes. And the king gave orders to the priest Hilkiah, and to Ahikam son of Shaphan, Achbor son of Michaiah, the scribe Shaphan, and Asaiah the king’s minister: “Go, inquire of the LORD on my behalf, and on behalf of the people, and on behalf of all Judah, concerning the words of this scroll that has been found. For great indeed must be the wrath of the LORD that has been kindled against us, because our fathers did not obey the words of this scroll to do all that has been prescribed for us.”

2 Kings 22:3-13

So above we see the king finding some old lost copy of the Torah. To this we can add the 17th of the Rambam’s 613 commandments from the Torah:

When he is seated on his royal throne, he shall have a copy of this Teaching written for him on a scroll by the levitical priests. Let it remain with him and let him read in it all his life, so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God, to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching as well as these laws. Thus he will not act haughtily toward his fellows or deviate from the Instruction to the right or to the left, to the end that he and his descendants may reign long in the midst of Israel.

Deuteronomy 17:18-20

So this king who found this old copy of the Torah would have had copies made to study by the Levitical priests around him. Now the old copy that he found likely would not have looked like those found in synagogues today. In fact, writings from the 13th century BC written from noblemen during the biblical period of the judges were written in cuneiform.

This is one of the El-Amarna tablets, found in the area the Israelites lived in while in Egypt. They were written one to two hundred years after the Exodus from noblemen in Israel during the period of the Judges to the pharaoh of Egypt.

The Ugaritic tablets from Ras Shamra date to around the 13th century BCE and were written in a form of communication extremely similar to Biblical Hebrew.

Here is an Ugaritic tablet from the Louvre that may look quite similar to the Torah that Moses wrote.

So as you can see, the “scroll of the Teaching,” as the JPS Tanakh translates it, was likely a stack of tablets large enough to fill your spare bedroom written in an orthography completely different from the one used to render Torah scrolls for synagogues today. Yet this king was to have his scribes render him a copy to study all of his life. That is how, I believe, the Torah was “updated” to include certain features that we think of as “anachronistic.” When the king found this Torah, he had it rendered by his scribes into a form of communication that he understood, including place names that he understood. Keep in mind that this king ruled in the 7th century BCE. So while the overwhelming majority of anachronisms in the Torah are not anachronisms at all, but simple misrepresentations and misunderstandings of the text, those few that remain after proper scrutiny can in every case be explained as products of a rerendering of the Torah in the 7th century BCE. This is why we have “city of Ramses” in the Torah instead of “city of Akhetaten.”

To conclude this large block of comment about the concept of an edited text being original to an author, I again call your attention to the fact that any scribes that worked with Moses and Joshua working immediately after Moses death would have been very near to Moses in time and place, but King Josiah and his court of Levitical scribes was separated from Moses by centuries. So if Josiah and his court can update the Torah and we call it original to Moses, then why can’t ANYONE make all kinds of updates and alterations to the text and we still be forced to say it was from Moses? That is, how can Josiah give us an updated Torah and we call it from Moses, but Ronald McDonald can’t do the same?

Well, everything we know about King Josiah was that he was absolutely committed to that “scroll of the Teaching” that he found. He inquired of the prophetess Huldah about it, indicating his investigative intent, and what he read in the book moved him to absolutely overhaul Judean society in every way, completely removing any religious element of society that contradicted it. In other words, he was absolutely devoted to the words of Moses. Any updates or modifications to its writing or terminology would have only been in the spirit of elucidation and preservation of its original meaning. Therefore, he and his court can be considered to have the same spirit of Moses as Joshua would have had.

So with the above I have defended Mosaic authorship of the Torah with respect to the concept of an edited text also being an original text as well as addressing the issues of chronology and anachronisms. However, there remains the other issue to consider when determining Torah authorship: doublets and the structure of the text. But in order to talk about these, I think it’s best to get into a description of the Documentary Hypothesis that challenges Mosaic authorship. Truth be told, the issues of anachronisms and chronology are tangential to the Documentary Hypothesis. The inspiration of the hypothesis was actually the usage of the different names for God and peculiar forms of the biblical texts, not issues of anachronisms or chronology. In fact, the informal name of this theory is the “JEPD Hypothesis” with J and E being different names for God, P denoting parts of the text that looked to have been added by a caste of priests, and D referring to the book of Deuteronomy, which looked to be written in a different style. In other words, the Documentary Hypothesis isn’t so much about anachronisms or issues of chronology as it’s about the fact that the Torah looks to be a patchwork from a variety of sources.

The theory itself is that when the Jews went into captivity in the Babylonian and Persian empires, the leaders of the Jews looked for methods of preserving the society and culture against a possible obliteration by assimilation. They came up with the idea of conflating the various oral legends of the various tribes into a complete text that everyone could reference in order to have a sense of their unique history. Never mind that these histories were all false and contradictory, so they say.

The theory is ridiculous on its face. The notion of a compilation of oral histories during the Persian period is itself destroyed by the fact that the Hebrew Bible is written in Hebrew. If it were a compilation of oral histories, it would have been written in Aramaic. See, the language of the Babylonian and Persian empires was Aramaic. If there were no Hebrew literary tradition prior to the Babylonian captivity, the Torah would not have been written in Hebrew. In fact, the latter parts of the Hebrew Bible such as the books of Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah actually depict events that occurred during the Persian empire. These books are written in a form of Biblical Hebrew called Late Biblical Hebrew, and they have a large number of Persian terms and loanwords, and several grammatical changes begin to be observed here showing the effect of Aramaic on the language. The Jews during the captivity began to speak Aramaic as their language, and Hebrew was preserved as a Kultsprache known to elites and religious leaders and scholars in Jewish society.

This is not the form of Hebrew of the Torah. The Torah has no Persian loanwords. It has words from Middle Egyptian, demonstrating its connection to the ancient Pharaohs and the Egypt of the Exodus. It has loanwords from Akkadian, the language of the ancient empires going back to the days of Abraham. But nothing from the Greeks or the Persians. Again, parts of the Hebrew bible known to be later do have these types of loanwords from the later cultures, but the Torah doesn’t have them. The Torah actually does have an odd form of language called “Archaic Biblical Hebrew Poetry” in a few parts which may actually have been the form of language that Moses actually spoke. The rest, though, is quite likely the 7th century BCE language of King Josiah that is consistent with the majority of the remainder of the Hebrew Bible.

To summarize the above, the Jews stopped speaking Hebrew and started speaking Aramaic during the Babylonian captivity. The only reason Hebrew didn’t go away completely is because the Jewish elite had a literary tradition that they were able to mimic and preserve, and so the things they wrote later was in the language of that prior literary tradition with a few modifications because they were learning their own language, Hebrew, as a foreign language. If there were no prior Hebrew literature, then any literature they would have made up during the captivity would have been in the language that they spoke during the captivity: Aramaic.

The idea that the Torah was completely invented during the captivity as a written work from completely oral myths stems from the notion that no original work of the Torah in Hebrew has been discovered in Israel. However, the entire literary corpus of paleo-biblical Hebrew can fit in a toybox. It’s just a few inscriptions on coins and shards of pottery and this or that bit of graffiti (one of which I will talk about below). In this part of the world, a conquering culture would frequently take measures to erase the culture that it was conquering by killing everyone, or at least the males, and often obliterating any and all written material from that culture. A culture that has conquered and been conquered as many times as the Jews with the Canaanites, Egyptians, Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians can only be expected to have literature that it has taken specific efforts to preserve, and is only going to be available in the scrolls that they managed to keep with them. Everything else that they have left behind should be expected to have been destroyed.

Further, this is a double-edged sword for the Documentary Hypothesis, as while they aren’t digging up complete copies of the Torah all the time, they also aren’t digging up any of these pieces or parts of the Torah that the Documentary Hypothesis claims originated it. Therefore, the overwhelming majority of Documentary Hypothesis scholars claim the Torah was made up in Persian exile from oral myths. Yet again, if this were the case, we would have an Aramaic Torah, not a Hebrew one. And especially not a Hebrew Torah of a markedly different dialect of Hebrew from the Late Biblical Hebrew works that were obviously written during the Persian captivity.

In addition to this problem of language, the Documentary Hypothesis must contend with the fact that it has failed to account for the significance of doublets in the text. The Documentary Hypothesis depends on the existence of doublets, but it does not understand what doublets are. And likely you don’t either. So I will give you a bit of an introduction.

So a doublet is a bit of biblical material that is written twice. There are a couple of types. There are line-by-line doublets, such as the story of the Flood, in which similar lines succeed each other in chunks. Since I haven’t described such a doublet elsewhere, I will offer a very in-depth description of this doublet. First, I will display the Noah story as rendered by the “J source.”

This is the story of the Noah’s flood as rendered by what scholars call the “J source.”

Sorry if that’s hard to read. At least you can see, though, that there is a complete story here in these sections of text that call God YHWH. That’s where the name “J” comes from. The Germans transcribe the Hebrew as JHWH. Now below I will put up a screenshot of the story of Noah’s flood according to what scholars call the “P Source.” That contains sections of text that call God Elohim and also tend to pay attention to details that would be relevant to a priestly class, so they claim.

Noah’s flood according to Source P

Again, I’m sorry for the size. If anyone wants to look in-depth at the doublet and the sources combined line by line, they are welcome to take a look at Richard Elliot Friedman’s book, “Who Wrote the Bible?” which is where I am getting this particular doublet divided up in this particular way. For those who aren’t going to get the book, I’ll include a screenshot of a bit of his presentation.

In Richard Elliot Friedman’s “Who Wrote the Bible?” he presents the story of Noah’s flood as the bible presents it, but renders with bold capitals the parts of the story he thinks are from a “P Source.”

The bit above is unfortunately not the entire doublet, but you can see how he is basically dividing up the biblical text into sections that he thinks are from different sources based on the fact that the text alternates between calling God Elohim and YHWH in different verses, and he conjectures that some portions of the text that calls God Elohim are more relevant to a priestly class.

So the above screenshots present to you a “doublet” where a scholar has looked at the biblical text, noted that parts of that biblical text each can be divided from other parts of the text in such a way as to make a complete story, and he has done so according to his conjecture about content type, linguistic style, and most importantly, the various names of God to the effect of claiming that his divisions of the text come from different original sources.

Again, the flood story is what I call a line-by-line doublet, where the alleged sources are conflated together so that you’ll get some lines from one source, then some lines from the second source, then some more lines from the first, etc. There are also doublets that just reference two complete stories one right after the other. The first two chapters of Genesis are considered a doublet, being alleged to be two different sources describing two different contradictory accounts of the creation of the universe. Again, in my essay One Creation I explain how Moses did indeed put two stories together from two different original sources, but that they are not contradictory accounts of the creation of the universe. Feel free to read through that if you want the details.

Finally, there are doublets where two stories are considered contradictory accounts of the same event, though they aren’t necessarily juxtaposed within the text. For instance, in Genesis 12:10-20, Abraham pawns his wife Sarah off to Pharaoh as his sister. In Genesis 26:1-11, Abraham’s son Isaac pawns his wife Rebecca off to Abimelech as his sister. Scholars assume that these sorts of events cannot happen. A life event of a father cannot be repeated by his son. If only these scholars were aware that I went to Germany when I was 21, left after spending five years there, never went back, and basically at this point don’t have a good impression of the place. Also my daughter went to Germany when she was 19 for a couple of years, left and never went back, and now basically doesn’t have a good impression of the place. What basically caused us to sour on Germany was how Germany handled the COVID nonsense. I never had any problem with Germany until 20 years after I left the country. My daughter started to hate Germany while she was still there because of the misery they made of her life. Yet all the same, I could very easily write a paragraph describing my Germany experience and another one describing my daughter’s Germany experience, and these bible scholars would insist that a single “Bailey Germany myth” had to be recounted with the same over all theme but various contradictory details.

So those are the three types of doublets that we find in the Torah. I gave an answer to how Genesis 1 and 2 are actually from different sources but are not contradictory accounts of the same event in my essay. I mentioned that the Abraham/Pharaoh and Isaac/Abimelech stories are similar stories, but not necessarily from different sources, and not necessarily contradicting accounts of one event, but simply a son doing the same foolish thing his father did. But what about the Noah story, which contains a lot of repetition and seems to have two complete stories in one? Well, this is where knowledge of Hebrew poetry comes in, and the literary tendency toward repetition in the Torah as good literary style. Also, many ancient documents were written to serve as material which orators could memorize to repeat orally, so lots of repetition can be found to play parts as mnemonic devices.

Concerning the Hebrew style, I’ll introduce you to the Mesad Heshavyahu ostracon:

The Mesad Heshavyahu ostracon. A bit of graffiti in which a laborer complains to his foreman about the theft of his clothing.

I’ll translate this ostracon into English and use Richard Elliot Freeman’s system of dividing it into different sources.

Let my lord, the governor, listen to the word of his servant. Your servant is a reaper. Your servant was in Hasar-’Asam, and your servant reaped, and finished, and stored [the grain] during the days prior to the Sabbath.
When your servant had completed the reaping, and stored [the grain] during these days, Hoshavyahu ben-Shobi arrived, and he confiscated the garment of your servant when I had completed the reaping.
It is already days since he took the garment of your servant. And all my brothers—who are reaping with me—can testify on my behalf.
If I am innocent of any wrong, [give back] my garment; and if not, it is the governor’s right to [consider my case] and send word to him so that he restores the garment of your servant. And do not let [the plea of your servant] be displeasing to him.

There we go. I have now demonstrated how this piece of graffiti is actually two oral myths conflated together. Or, maybe, I have demonstrated that Hebrews like to repeat themselves for emphasis…ya think?

So I have shown above how scholars such as Richard Elliot Friedman just like dividing text up and calling it competing oral myths conflated together, while there are actually a variety of explanations for oddly worded text in the Torah, such as events that actually are similar, Hebrew penchant for repetition for a variety of stylistic reasons and, yes, Moses’ actual use of different sources in writing the Torah, though these sources are not describing contradictory accounts of the same stories. I also mentioned that certain oddities of the text can be explained as making the text easier to memorize. Chiasmus is a good example of this.

Chiasmus is when a text will be organized so that concepts are arranged in such a way that the initial lines mirror the final ones in reverse order. Let me show you an example from Isaiah 6:10.

(1) Dull that people’s mind,
(2) Stop its ears,
(3) And seal its eyes
(3) Lest, seeing with its eyes
(2) And hearing with its ears,
(1) It also grasp with its mind,
And repent and save itself.”

Isaiah 6:10, JPS Tanakh

Do you notice the positioning of mind, eyes, and ears in a mirroring format? That’s chiasmus. I bring chiasmus to your attention because I want you to be aware that Torah has MANY unusual forms and styles of writing, not merely repetition, and that an explanation for a variety of these unusual formats of sections of text is ease of memorization, and not being competing contradictory oral myths stitched together. Chiasmus is an interesting literary phenomenon. I could talk a lot more about it, but since it is a tangential issue, I’ll save the space here and urge to you Google it if you’re curious.

What we see in the Documentary Hypothesis an urge to find any odd structure of the text, which in the case of Biblical Hebrew is going to involve repetition of lines and chunks of text, reduced to a common explanation of two renditions of a story being conflated together. However, these repetitions have numerous explanations, some of them involving multiple sources, but many not, and none of them required to be competing contradictory renditions of oral myths.

So okay, it’s time to conclude this behemoth essay. Let’s see what we have accomplished. We laid out the dilemma of the false dichotomy. You have been presented an explanation of the text as being from Moses, with absolutely no detailed accounting of any of the features of the text whatsoever on the one hand, and you’ve been shown the Documentary Hypothesis with its imperative to reduce any repetition of language or content into the explanation of conflations of competing oral mythical traditions. You uncritically pick one or the other. If you are one of the faithful, you will parrot that the Torah is from Moses without any attention given to alleged anachronisms, to include that most of the allegations of anachronism don’t really hold water under scrutiny, or that certain anachronisms can be accounted for by some editing by individuals around Moses or individuals who came along later with the intent of preserving Moses’ words for a later audience. If you are a skeptic, you instantly bag the idea that Moses could have been connected to the Torah with a theory that reduces every oddity in the text to conflations of competing mythical traditions, despite these oddities being better explained as features of Hebrew style, even though the Documentary Hypothesis requires conjecture about historical circumstances that contradict linguistic evidence.

That’s the overall problem. You aren’t given good options, and you don’t know of other options. In fact, the best option is that Moses did indeed write the Torah, but, as Rambam states, the details of Moses’ dialog with God and his writing of the Torah are mysterious, and certainly included collaborators and successors such as Joshua and/or King Josiah and his court.

There are many, many things that I could include in this essay to buttress the notion that an early Mosaic date with some 7th century BCE updating by a holy king is in fact the better explanation. Scholars have shown remarkable similarity between the book of Deuteronomy and 2nd millennium BCE Hittite legal contracts. Torah shows innumerable points in common with the histories and cultures of Moses’ day according to the Albright chronology. I could go on and on, but I have already gone on and on, and I have to draw the line somewhere.

So now you know, the Documentary Hypothesis doesn’t hold water. If it were true, the Torah would have been written in Aramaic. It would have contained Persian loanwords. Its texts would have resembled the language of Esther and Nehemiah. All of the Documentary Hypothesis’ claims are explicable by referring to Hebrew writing styles, unusual features to aid cantors in memorization, and yes, variety of source material used by Moses and his collaborators.

This huge meandering essay only scratches the surface of this many faceted issue. There is the issue of how would a class of scholars fabricating the Torah in Persian captivity pull the wool over the eyes of the populace and present to them a huge history of their people that none of them had ever seen before. Again, I could go on and on with lines of argumentation that I haven’t even mentioned above simply because the subject is so enormous.

Moses as author is really the best option, but to account for the data, you have to accept the idea that Moses had help, there was some editing, and that Moses used sources in some cases. Yet all of this is accounted for in such a way that the Torah’s integrity as a product of Moses is not impugned. That’s what you’re going to have to do if you’re really going to understand who wrote the Torah. You can’t just pick one of the two options getting piped, that Moses wrote everything on papyrus in 1st millennium BCE Biblical Hebrew with no influence on the text by anyone else, or that the whole thing was invented from campfire stories in the Persian captivity. Neither one of those options make sense or account for the data.

In my life I have come to discover the truth is always something in between the rubrics presented by the major differing theological groups, and that to get at what is really going on, you have to look between the lines. The question of Torah authorship is no exception. Moses writing the Torah is not a faith statement in contradiction of evidence. It is actually the best explanation of the textual evidence. But you have to admit that he had sources, that he had help, and that there was editing by competent parties so that the meaning of the Torah could be preserved for all generations. The Documentary Hypothesis is ridiculous on its face, obviously reductionist in its methodology, and contradicts the linguistic data. It most certainly should not be adopted simply because the idea of Mosaic authorship has been presented too simplistically, and the facts of sources, collaboration, and editing are not allowed.

So there we are. Moses wrote the Torah. It has come to us via a complex and mysterious journey. The Documentary Hypothesis is not an adequate alternative explanation of that fact. When you want to know the answer to something, it’s usually going to require more from you than picking various opinions issued by this or that group out there.

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