20110818-101929.jpg A week ago, I posted a response to a blog that made some pretty strong claims regarding the 10 commandments and the entire Pentateuch (first 5 books of the Bible). My response was critical, but was never posted. Whether this is a result of the original author not checking comments on his post or if its because if he chose not to approve my comment, I am not certain. But, I have decided to post a more thorough response in my own blog. The blog claimed that the first five books of the Bible are not historically reliable because they are sewn together fragments from various writers that didn’t exist as one unit until Josiah was king of Israel in the 600s BC. Thus, he claims that the scriptures ought not be treated as reliable because they are a mish-mash of texts used to force religious authority in Israel. This argument relies on a variation of a theory forwarded by J.H. Wellhausen in the 1880s. Wellhausen postulated that when the scriptures indicate that the priests of the time “found” the book of the law, what actually took place was that they had collected several smaller texts and pieced them together. The texts were labeled by Wellhausen: J, E, D and P. Wellhausen argued that the original books can be divided up based in literary features within the texts themselves. Please note that he did not come up with his theory based on any outside evidence. There are no copies of J, E, D or P as single units anywhere or any indication from literature that these books exist. There is no testimony that confirms the reworking of any of the texts to form the Pentateuch. There are no inscriptions or archeological supports. Wellhausen read the texts and speculated that several guys probably wrote it and some other guy knit it together.

The strongest opening argument against this position is that it totally lacks external supporting evidence. In fact, there is external supporting evidence supporting an opposite position. Every ancient source that deals with the Pentateuch identifies Moses as the original author of the text. This includes other books in the Old Testament, the Talmud, etc. The ancient tradition is unanimous in its support of Moses as author.

You may be thinking that perhaps Wellhausen had really good reasons for dividing the books up. Maybe he found some sort of amazing evidence in the texts. The thing is that he didn’t find any real evidence. Instead, he came up with four characteristics in the text that he thought were signs that different authors were involved. These must be fairly convincing characteristics. Well, perhaps looking at them will shed some light on the matter. The four characteristics Wellhausen used for determining sections authored by different guys are:

Variations in the name of God- In the Pentateuch, God is referred to by Elohim and Yahweh. Wellhausen decided that every part of the book that referred to God by a different name was written by a different guy. Even if this was a compelling argument, it falls apart when one considers the fact that it was common for ancient deities to be referred to by multiple names. It is present in non-biblical texts that were contemporary to Moses and therefore, it isn’t really proof of a different author. Further, it’s not really conclusive evidence because it’s reasonable for one author to refer to something by different names. I call my wife by the following names: Jess, Jessica, Jessie, honey, baby, woman and a few others. If I post more than one name on my Facebook wall, has my post automatically been written by multiple authors? Certainly not. This is the only argument offered for the existence of E and J. It’s shaky at best. It’s more embarrassing than anything else.

The use of doublets- Doublets are any repeat of a story with the details changed. The creation narrative is repeated twice or the story of Abraham lying about Sarah being his sister. Genesis records Abraham’s deception twice. This, Wellhausen argued, demonstrates that more than one book was stitched together because the account was likely in both. At its face, this argument may seem compelling. However, there are two reasonable explanations for doublets being present in the Pentateuch. The first is the obvious one: some things may have actually happened that way. Abraham may have passed his wife off as his sister more than once. The second explanation deals with literary style. Recent examinations of ancient Jewish literature demonstrate that repetition was commonly employed in order to have a certain effect. Here again, we see that with a little examination, the theory falls apart.

Variations in writing style and using more than one name for places and people: when the book changed style from something like a genealogy to historical narrative. He argued that the shift in style from list to narrative indicates that a new author is writing. The problem with is suggestion should be clear: it’s hard to make a genealogy exciting. Te style variations Wellhausen points to are generally associated with variations in material being addressed. Of course a list isn’t going to read like a story. Of course, laws won’t read like a story. As far as places and people having multiple names, it wasn’t uncommon for ancient literature to feature multiple names for people and places. Here again, we see that the proof Wellhausen uses isn’t proof of any kind.
Theological difference: Wellhausen suggests that Variations in theology within the text represents variation in authors. The real problem with this is that it’s highly subjective and very few theologians acknowledge the presence of theological differences. Those who do acknowledge them can’t seem to come to any consensus as to what sections of the text represent different theologies. This is largely because the sections are divided up by scholars based purely on opinion and conjecture. The criteria is subjective.

Having examined the faulty approach taken to reach the multiple author theory, we must now ask “Who wrote the Pentateuch?” Answering this question is a tad more complicated than simply saying: Moses. Though tradition clearly indicates that Moses wrote the books, it’s likely that there were other hands involved in the process. There are several issues that need to be addressed in order to properly answer the question:

Moses: As stated earlier, all ancient sources and tradition supports Moses as the author of the Pentateuch. In fact, until the 1880s, there are very few voices of descent on the matter. However, the driving factor in all descent is skepticism. There is no evidence, only doubt. The fact is that there is no real reason to oppose Moses as the author of the core of the Biblical texts.

The accounts Moses probably didn’t write: Moses probably didn’t write a few portions of the texts in question. Though this may seem controversial, there are reasons for taking this position. The most glaring portion of the books that Moses probably didn’t write is the account of his own death. There are scholars that argue that Moses had these portions dictated to him by God before heading off to die, but it seems questionable. Another passage that may have been subject to editorializing is the point where Moses is referred to as the most humble man who ever lived. This seems like an odd thing for the most humble man who ever lived to say about himself. These things point to a contemporary, possibly Joshua, who added to the text after Moses died.

Later editing: There are a few points where the text suggests that it was likely edited. One example of this is reference to the city of Dan. Dan was a city in the ancient world, just not by that name. The Pentateuch pre-dates the name Dan by a few years. Another city worth considering is Raamses, which is mentioned in Exodus. The exodus likely took place about 200 years before Raamses took on that name. It went by a different monicker during the Exodus. These changes in city names most likely point to a later editor, most likely during the period of the exile. Some have argued that these represent errors in the text and are proof of the historic inaccuracy of the books. This is a premature conclusion, particularly in light of the accuracy the Pentateuch has demonstrated in regard to ancient city locations and other archeological finds that support the various elements of the Biblical accounts. The simplest explanation is that the texts were edited later to reflect the newer names of cities. This would be akin to changing references to Stalingrad to St. Petersburg.

The 10 Commandments: One of the central claims made in the blog I commented on, which prompted this post, was that the pieced together account in Genesis featured two very different accounts of the 10 Commandments. One is the traditional account in Exodus 20, while the other is a variant set of commands in Exodus 34. The claim is that the book is unreliable because the two sets of commandments are different. The problem with the claim is that it doesn’t reflect what is going on in the passage. The commandments presented in 34 are addendum directions to the total covenant presented in Exodus 20 through 31. God reestablishes the covenant in the beginning of the chapter and has Moses rerecord the covenant with the additional agreement. That’s it. The strange interpretation that accuses the original books of inconsistency regarding the commandments is based on a shortsighted reading of the passage. Unfortunately, this is the sort of thing that happens when skeptical readers pour over the text looking for things to attack without bothering to research or understand the original text. So, in short… yes, the 10 Commandments are historically reliable.

When considering whether or not skeptics who claim the scriptures are faulty bring meritorious accusations to the table, the most important factor in deciding the truth of claims is the evidence. Further, it is important to realize that the starting point for most arguments of this ilk is skepticism, doubt and a certainty that the Bible needs to be deconstructed. These starting points result in the willing acceptance of speculation as evidence. In the case of attacks on the original texts and the commandments, a little research is valuable. Further, studying the texts to prepare properly to respond to accusations is invaluable.