JEDP’s Death Throes: Part IV Duplications (Genesis 1&2)

OT And History

Cassuto and JEDP’s Death Throes: Part IV Duplications, Contradictions and Repetitions


One mainstay of the Documentary Theorists is the persistent belief that certain Old Testament narratives are contradictory duplications of other passages.  As par for the course, Genesis 1-2 makes for a great example.  I don’t believe for a minute that these are two separate creation accounts, but let’s take a look at what some of these theorists might say about Genesis 1 and 2.  As always, Cassuto’s work will be referenced in parentheses.

There are three contradictions or inconsistencies that are argued for between the two repetitious creation accounts.

I. The Number of Days Creation Took to Complete

The first creation account states:

2:2 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.

The second creation account states:

2:4  These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.

The first creation account states that it took six days for God’s creation to be completed, but the second account states that it happened in one day.

II.  The Creation of Male and Female

1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

2:15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it…
18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.

What we see between these two passages is that in the first creation account God made man and woman at the same time, but in the second account God created Adam first and then formed Eve later.

III.  Plants

In Genesis 1, plants were created on the third day which is prior to human beings (sixth day).  In Genesis 2, we find:

2:5 When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, 6 and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— 7 then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

So, in one account plants precede Mankind, and in the other the opposite is true.



Now it is true that, at least for the first two points, one must already believe the Documentary Hypothesis in order to view this as evidence of two creation accounts.  Thus, it is a bit circular.  To be fair, though, I’m assuming the text to be a literary unity, and so I bring my assumptions to the table when I am reading Genesis 1-2.  Second, the theorists approach the text assuming there are two creation accounts for reasons other than I’ve listed here (Use of Divine Names, Language, Repetitiveness).  Many of these other reasons have already been dealt with by Cassuto.  I’m mentioning this only because I want to deal fairly with those who hold to the Documentary Hypothesis.  It’s not entirely fair to say, “You’re assuming the conclusion.”

I.  In the day/On the day is a literary colloquialism for “at the time when”  (73)

The use of the Hebrew word yôm can change its meaning.  It can mean a span of time, a literal day, or it can be used in a phrase to mean something else, e.g. “The Day of the Lord.”  In order to assert that Genesis 1-2 is a contradiction, it would need to be proven that the phrase “in the day” necessitates the idea that only one day is in view.  But it doesn’t.

Cassuto calls up many examples, but consider a clear one from David in Psalm 18:


It should be noted that in the day/on the day consists of the same words in Hebrew.  Now, what are we to believe about David’s life now?  The title and content of the Psalm make clear that David is speaking not only about Saul, but also “all” of his enemies.  Were all of David’s enemies really conquered in one day?  If not, is the author ignorant of how his language works?  I’m going to say, “no” on both accounts.  David is giving praise for Yahweh delivering him from Saul and from the foreigners who harassed him.  This happened over a period of time, but it is referred to by the phrase, “On the day.”

This occurs also in Numbers in reference to Moses’ forty days on the Mount of God.

Numbers 3:1 Now these are the generations of Aaron and Moses in the day that Jehovah spake with Moses in mount Sinai.

American Standard Version (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995), Nu 3.

We know in Exodus that Moses spent forty days on Sinai, but Numbers 3 states “in the day.”  But, of course, this is fine because the phrase simply is a colloquialism signifying “at the time when.”

The assertion that this is a contradiction is based on ignorance of a Hebrew phrase.

II.  Repetition is a Characteristic of Hebrew Narratives (74)

In general, much of the discussion concerning multiple sources is rooted in repetition.  But this is a characteristic of Hebrew narratives (and at least NW Semitic, e.g., Baal Cycle in Ugaritic) in general, and not evidence for multiple authorship.

In keeping with what Cassuto has already stated concerning the creation account, he notes that in Genesis 1 we are not told how they are created, but merely that they were created.  Hebrew narratives work by giving a general account that is then followed by a detailed account.   Genesis 1 leaves you with the pinnacle of God’s creation, Mankind, and Genesis 2 gives detail to how that creation happened.

III.  What about the Pants?  That has to be a contradiction, right?

Plants on the third day in Gen. 1, but in 2 “No שיח of the field were yet in the earth and no עשב of the field had yet sprung up.

  1. Notice the construct form שיח/עשב of the field (השדה). Putting a noun into a construct field changes the meaning of a word.  Using the rest of the bible, Cassuto argues that the construct phrase refers to what and barley which are planted and grown in fields. (75)
  2. Cassuto argues, “If Scripture tells us that just these plants had not yet grown, it is these kinds and no others that are intended.  On the contrary, the negation also implies an affirmation, to wit, that the other plants were already to be found on the earth.”
  3. The importance of the field is that in 3:18, the curse says they shall eat the עשב השדח by the sweat of their brow and the שיח השדח is synonymous with ‘thorns and thistles.’  What Gen. 2:4ff is stating that these plants (Wheat and Barley) were not available yet because man had not yet transgressed.  After the transgression thorns and thistles came and man had to live on wheat/barley because the fruit of the trees were not available. (75)
  4. Gen. 1 stresses that God created the types of plants that reproduce bountifully with their seed.  Seed is repeated often.  But the plant life excluded in Gen. 1:11 is that which requires rain and tilling.  As Cassuto states: “This excludes those for which seed alone is not sufficient; they need something else in addition, something that had not yet come into the world.  We are specifically told in connection with the שיח/עשב of the field: ‘Now no שיח of the field were yet in the earth and עשב of the field had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, AND THERE WAS NO MAN TO TILL THE GROUND.” (76)  Thorns and thistles actually require rain to sprout Cassuto says, and fields of grain are only produced by man.
  5. 2:4ff is not a cosmology at all.  There is no mention of sea or fish, and even the creation of heaven and earth are mentioned only incidentally.  What we find is a general description followed by a detailed description of the creation of man—which Cassuto says is a frequent literary device employed by the author of the Torah. (77)


Genesis 1 is a general account that God created the world.  Genesis 2 is the detailed account of the creation of Man.  It begins with a notice that fields of barley and wheat did not exist because Man had not transgressed and rain had not fallen.  Rather, being put in the garden, Adam had plenty of food from only those fruit trees and other plants which carry their seed in them and can grow without thorns, thistles, plowing and tilling.  This comes later as a by-product of the curse.


Next week, we will look at another repetition often used as evidence for multiple sources, the stories of Abraham and Isaac lying to a king by saying their wives were sisters.


1. Umberto Cassuto, The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch, (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1961).

JEDP’s Death Throes: Part III Divergent Views

OT and History

Cassuto and JEDP’s Death Throes: Part III, Divergent Views

If it is true that the Pentateuch is the result of merging documents and epics into a single literary work, then it would make sense to expect different views of the deity emerge.  This would be the result of geography, naturally, because one epic, J, might be a tradition written by or orally recited by those located in the south.  The southern community might have a different take on how the deity operates with humans than the northerners and their epic, E.  A second factor to consider is how authors might emphasize one aspect of the deity over another.  One example would be that of prophets vs. priests.  Prophets, in their writings and ministry, tend to emphasize the remoteness of the deity who is separate from and different than the sinners.  Priests, however, may emphasize the importance and necessity of the priesthood for proper worship.  Mystics, however, may be so caught up in the God-is-near moment that God speaks directly to them without temple worship or prophetic help.

These are just examples, and are not totally indicative of how those who subscribe to JEDP would describe their position.  But, I hope it helps to see just exactly what we are talking about.  This pillar describes a certain viewpoint that characterizes the so-called JE, and P sources.

J:  the deity is characterized as  personal and corporeal.
E:  the deity is characterized as more distant.  Instead of appearing physically, the deity appears only in dreams and visions.
P: the deity is characterized as more separate.  Communication is done by speech alone. 1

Before continuing, it may be helpful to note that this pillar is somewhat dependant on the others.  The pillars are used in a circular fashion that, while not inherently fallacious, can be used fallaciously.  These divergent views depend on whether or not there are distinct sources and that these sources use the divine name differently and use a different vocabulary (pillars 1 & 2).

Cassuto notes: 2

There are seven visions that occur prior to Moses’ appearance.  Out of these seven, three conflict with the theory.  So, 42% of the time the theory doesn’t work.  This makes for a poor theory indeed.

In Genesis 15:1

15 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ge 15:1.

Notice, here, that Yahweh is used as appearing to Abraham in a vision.  Thus, we have J, not E being “distant.”  Cassuto argues the same thing happens in Genesis 26 with Isaac.

In Genesis 28,

11 And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. 12 And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! 13 And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ge 28:11–13.

Yahweh is the term used once again for referring to an encounter with man via dream.

The evidence does not fit, and so often the text is emended to put the “right name” for the deity in its place.  Gunkel does this in Gen. 15. (59)  But, as Cassuto has already shown, there is a better framework for interpreting why different names are used.  In these three visions above, men in Yahweh’s covenant are being communicated with and that is why all three have revelations from Yahweh.

But in the remaining four, we should take note of these things:

1. Two dreams are to gentiles, and therefore Elohim is to be used (and is).

2. In Gen. 31:10-11, Elohim is used because of the content of the revelation.  Nothing covenantal is being relayed, and the God of Laban (not in covenant), of Jacob and their cattle are in view.

3. Gen. 46:2 Elohim is used when narrating the account of Jacob going down to Egypt.  Cassuto notes that until Moses, Yahweh is never used in association with Egypt.

In other words, the different names for the deity can be made sense of in terms of the rules for using Elohim and Yahweh that Cassuto outlined.  The JEDP theory cannot make sense of the discrepancies, and so some actually change the words.   But why do this when there is a better way?





1. Umberto Cassuto, The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch, (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1961), 59-61.

2. Ibid.

JEDP’s Death Throes: Part I

OT and History

Cassuto and JEDP’s Death Throes:  Part I, The Divine Names

Having previously introduced and described the current moderate-to-liberal presuppositions, beliefs, theories, and views of the the Old Testament scripture (especially the Pentateuch).  I will now post a series of articles that critique their views and also seek to establish my (conservative) position.  Today, I will introduce the man that I believe is responsible for showing that the Documentary Hypothesis (JEDP) is completely bankrupt.  I will also share how he proved this in a five post series (starting today).

In 1961, Umberto Cassuto’s 8-part lecture over the Documentary Hypothesis was published in English by Magness Press in Jerusalem.  Cassuto,  born in Florence, was a Rabbi, and eventually moved to and lectured at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  It is my opinion that Cassuto’s work definitively puts to death the Documentary Hypothesis.  Cassuto’s 8-part lecture is actually a shorter representation of his fuller argument found in La Questione della Genesi.

In an earlier post describing the Documentary Hypothesis, I referred to Cassuto’s five-pillar categorization of the hyptohesis.  They are:

(1) Different terms used for the Divine Name (Either Elohim/El/El shaddai, etc or Yahweh)
(2) variations of language and style (e.g. terms used for covenant making Haqim berit/Karat berit)
(3) Contradictions & Divergent viewpoints
(4) duplications and repetitions (think of Abraham lying to a king about Sarah being his wife (twice), and Isaac doing the same to rebekah)
(5) signs of composite structure (signs of merging two different types of documents)

Cassuto shows that none of these stand.  As I give Cassuto’s evidence, I will cite the page number of his book where the argument may be found in parentheses.

Pillar I:  Preference for One of the Different Terms for the Deity in the Pentateuch Shows Different Authors or Different Source Traditions which have been Merged

Preliminary Considerations

The JEDP theory rests on the belief that Yahweh and Elohim were two names that could simply replace each other in any particular narrative.  So, for example, It could have just as easily been, in Gen. 15:7, “I am Elohim who brought you out from Ur…”  But this text happens to be from a source that used the term Yahweh when referring to the deity.  So when we evaluate the theory, we need to look at every occurrence of the term Elohim, and its variants, and Yahweh.

However,  when reading through the Old Testament (if you want to have an eye for how the names are used), you will see phrases such as “Man of God” referring to the deity.  These are phrases, and are neither here nor there in regards to the theory itself.  There are three types of occurrences of the Divine Names that the theorists and we who oppose them are concerned with.

1.   The occurrence of Elohim (or its variants, El Shadday, et. al) where it might have been possible to substitute Yahweh

2.  The occurrences of Yahweh where it might have been possible to substitute Elohim (or its variants, El Shadday, et. al)

3.  The times they occur together. E.g YAHWEH Elohim (LORD God, in English)

Cassuto looks at all occurrences of the Divine names in three categories:  Law, Prophets, and Narratives.  He concludes that the uses of the names Elohim (and variants of El) and Yahweh conform to rules of Hebrew composition.  Elohim is a general name for deity, pagan and Israelite alike, and Yahweh is the personal name for Israel’s God.1  This is analogous to “city” and “Jerusalem.”  If I were to live in the suburbs of Jerusalem, I could refer to Jerusalem as either “city” (I’m going to the city) or as Jerusalem.  People around me in the suburbs would know that I mean ‘Jerusalem’ by city because it would be the only city near me.  However, if I were in Egypt, I would, of necessity, have to use Jerusalem because ‘city’ would naturally refer to the nearest and biggest city in Egypt.

Here is Cassuto’s conclusion: “We may assume that in each case the Torah chose one of the two Names according to the context and intention, precisely as follows” (31)

  1. It selected YHWH when the Israelite conception of God is reflected. (esp. ethic)
  2. It preferred Elohim when the passage implies abstract Deity prevalent in international circles
  3. Again, YHWH when characterized by simple faith and prophetic spirit
  4. Elohim when thinkers meditate on the lofty problems connected with the existence of the world and humanity (Wisdom lit. for example)
  5. Again, YHWH when the Divine is depicted in lucid, palpable terms
  6. Elohim in more superficial, hazy, obscure terms
  7. Again, YHWH when the writer wants to arouse sublimity of Divine Presence
  8. Elohim when it mentions God in an ordinary manner.
  9. Again, YHWH when in relation to Israel’s ancestors
  10. Elohim when spoken of in relation to someone not of His people (31)
  11. Again, YHWH when concerning Israel’s tradition
  12. Elohim when universal tradition (32)

LORD God is used, Cassuto notes, when Elohim needs to be specified as Yahweh.

Cassuto then shows how these points are true across all of Hebrew scripture, not just the Pentateuch.  When the author of the Pentateuch is speaking of the deity in general, then we find the term Elohim.  But when the deity is mentioned as the God of  Israel (or ancestors, Adam, Abraham, et. al), then Yahweh is preferred.


In Genesis 1, we have the sublime creation of the “heavens and the earth.”  But, starting in Gen. 2:4, we have covenantal relations and moral injunctions from God to Man, and therefore YHWH is used.  Interestingly enough, Gen. 2:4 is the first time LORD God is used, and it is exactly where we would expect it to be used.  Genesis 1 deals with the creation of the world, and, in use with the general term for deity, Elohim is used throughout.  But in Genesis 2, the covenantal relationship between God and man begins and Yahweh is the appropriate term.  Therefore, in order to let the reader know that there are not two gods (one Elohim and the other Yahweh), the author of Genesis puts both names together at the beginning of Genesis 2.  This lets the reader know that the Elohim who created the world is known personally as Yahweh.

Psalm 19 is another excellent example of this rule in action. (34)  Consider:

Psalm 19
1  The heavens declare the glory of God, (El)
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
2  Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
3  There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
4  Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
5  which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
6  Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

7  The law of the LORD is perfect, (Yahweh)
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure, (Yahweh)
making wise the simple;
8  the precepts of the LORD are right, (Yahweh)
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure, (Yahweh)
enlightening the eyes;
9  the fear of the LORD is clean, (Yahweh)
enduring forever;
the rules of the LORD are true, (Yahweh)
and righteous altogether.
10  More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
11  Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
12  Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
13  Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.
14  Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. (Yahweh)
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ps 19.

Notice, now, how the different terms are used for God.  When speaking of the deity in general, as the sublime creator, El is used.  But as soon as the deity’s relationship with Israel is brought to the fore, Yahweh is used.  This Psalm, just like the Pentateuch, is not the result of an editor piecing together two documents that have different names for God.  Rather, this is the consistent work of one author using the names for the deity according to custom.

Gen 9:24 When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said,
“Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”
26 He also said, “Blessed be the LORD (Yahweh), the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant.
27  May God (Elohim) enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant.”
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ge 9:24–27.

Shem is the ancestor of Abraham and the Israelites.  Therefore we would expect to see Yahweh.  Japheth and his descendents are not viewed as being in covenant, therefore the general term, Elohim, is used. (36)

When personal, covenantal, or religious actions are narrated by the author between men and God, Yahweh is used.  Cassuto notes that in Sifre Num § 143, The “Talmudic Sage” acknowledges that sacrifice (i.e. with Cain and Abel) are always made to YHWH.  Not to El/Sadday/Sebboth with one exception in Ex. 18:12 where a stranger offers without complete knowledge. (35)  The one exception even proves the rule.  The foreigner, not being among YHWH’s covenant people, is narrated as offering sacrifice to Elohim.  Jethro was a Midianite Priest.  This fact beautifully illustrates Cassuto’s argument.  When something is mentioned about the deity in general (i.e. a Midianite priest is sacrificing, or a philosophical treatise on the purpose of life–Ecclesiastes), Elohim is used.  Only when referring to Israel, Israel’s ancestors, and those who know God personally is Yahweh used.


Next week we will look at Pillar 2: Variations of Style and Language used in the Pentateuch.


1. Umberto Cassuto, The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch, (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1961), 18.



OT and History: Part IIb The Text of the Old Testament

OT and History: Part IIb The Text of the Old Testament

Or, how Abraham became post-exilic.

Last week, we took a brief overview of the most important theory underpinning modern Old Testament studies, the Documentary Hypothesis.  Today we look at the “Text of the Old Testament.”   What we find here, as we continue to observe the moderate-to-liberal position on the scripture, can be interpreted a few different ways.  After this post, I will start to outline my view.  Remember, the positions described here are not my own.  But, being so prevalent, it is necessary to describe them before going over the conservative position.

A key element to all of this is that a person’s current theories will color how the state of the text is interpreted today.  If one is precommitted to the OT as scripture then the information today likely will not cause a problem for you.  If, however, one is precommitted to the Documentary Hypothesis, then the date of the texts of the Old Testament will be seen as corroborative evidence for the more liberal theories.

A Timeline and Understanding the ‘Problem.’

A simple timeline

**The general date for the time of Abraham and Moses are reckoned according to Eugene H. Merrill’s book, Kingdom of  Priests.  Dr. Merrill, and others, work from the time that the temple of Solomon was built backwards to Abraham.  If anyone is interested in more information and details on how these dates can be reached then I would heartily recommend his book.  Sooner or later, this will be the subject of one of my posts.  Also, not all calendars have a year 0.  I have represented it only for visual aid.**

This, then, is the situation.  The earliest complete manuscript of the Old Testament is dated to about 1008-9 A.D.  It purports, I believe, to tell us accurate history from nearly 2000 B.C.  Can one trust a text to have accurate, reliable, and historical information about a period nearly 3000 years before?

The Text(s) of the Old Testament

The last paragraph is put in the most shocking terms it could be.  That characterization does not accurately reflect the current situation, but, only containing a bit of truth, could be used to shake a person’s trust of the Hebrew Bible.  So let’s get some more details.

The oldest complete Hebrew Manuscript we have of the Old Testament is the Leningrad Codex which is dated to 1008-1009 AD. The Aleppo Codex, once complete, is nearly a hundred years older (925), but parts of it were lost in a fire.

The question has been, “How are we to know that the Old Testament reliably tells us history from 2100 B.C.?” The complete text is nearly 3000 years away from the events of, let’s say, Abraham in the early parts of Genesis.

Now, there are other factors to consider. There are other ancient translations of the Hebrew.

Ancient Translations

The Greek (Septuagint, abbreviated by LXX) is of most importance. Every book is represented and they are dated from the first to the third centuries B.C.  The Septuagint, because it is a translation, represents an earlier Hebrew text than it was translated from.  In the Septuagint, different approaches to translation were taken.  Some books were translated woodenly and literally, but others… not so much.  In addition to the Greek, there are other translations: Aramaic (Targums), Syriac (Peshitta and Origen’s Syro-Hexapla), SamaritanLatin (Old Latin is a translation of the Greek and the Vulgate is a translation from the Hebrew by Jerome).  Many of these translations, then, are witnesses to Hebrew texts earlier than the Leningrad and Aleppo Codices.  Last, not all of these translations and copies agree with the Leningrad codex.  So, there are variations between these manuscripts.

If it were not for the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS)  250 B.C. – 65 A.D., there would be no Hebrew manuscripts prior to the birth of Christ, and the Septuagint would have been the only witness before our common era.  This is why the discovery of the DSS was so important.  We now have Hebrew texts that are prior to the birth of Christ.  The texts found in the caves of the Dead Sea are of a high variety, though.  Some agree with the Leningrad Codex, and some do not.  So, in sum, we have attestation of the Hebrew Bible as early as 300 B.C., but the majority of our attestations are found much later.

When confronted with manuscripts that do not agree, the science of Textual Criticism is employed.  Textual Criticism is the science of removing errors by comparing available manuscripts and reconstructing as far as possible the original.  Remember, it is the original that fundamentalists believe to be inspired.  Most of the differences, it should be duly noted, are completely insignificant.  For example David may be spelled with or without the Yod.  But for some differences, careful study must be taken to see what caused the change.  This science is used for all ancient documents.  If you want to know what Aristotle was really saying in his work Rhetoric, then we must compare the copies of Aristotle’s original.  One day, I hope to provide an example of how this is done.

Many scholars, if not most, though, say that the few major differences between the manuscripts mean the text was fluid.  This is because some of the documents recovered have significant language, grammar, and narratival differences from the Text currently in the Bible.

The Dead Sea Scrolls and Text Fluidity

So what does this matter?  A fluid text essentially means that there was not any one authoritative OT text.  It’s more accurate to speak of equally valid versions of the Old Testament. More than that, some scholars would say the words and content of the text(s) of the OT were constantly changed by scribes/priests/prophets.  Some of the facts represented here are undeniable.  It is not normally the facts that ‘fundamentalists’ disagree with, but rather how they are interpreted.  Conservatives are aware that the copies of the Hebrew manuscripts that exist do not always agree 100%.  The narrative that the liberals give concerning this is that there was not one authoritative text that you could call “The Text.”  The Old Testament, they say, was in flux.  A conservative would say that “the text” resided in the temple, and that the other manuscripts that differ in a great degree reflect popular versions.  In this view, it would be much like excavating a modern book store and finding the NASB beside the Message version.  Would the finding of a KJV and the Message necessitate the view that there is no “Bible?”  Or would it be that some other versions were made to make the language of the bible more understandable–more popular?  Would it necessitate that the people who lived at the time of the Message version, the NASB, the ESV, the KJV don’t care for words of the text?

In the case of the Pentateuch–which will be the main focus from hereon–Moses’ authorship would be out the window if for no other reason than it would be difficult to say we have Moses’ words (remember, these scholars are saying the texts were changed for various reasons).  It would be possible, in this view, to say that the original source might be Mosaic, but it would be nearly impossible to know what parts are Mosaic because of the changes made to the OT text.  Which parts were changed? Which parts stayed the same?

Please note, I’m not saying that these scholars believe that the OT text was merely updated.  They typically hold that the OT text has been changed in numerous ways including vocabulary,  reorganizing legends, genealogies, etc.  I personally do not see how one could hold to this massive, continual reworking of the OT text and still say it can be attributed to Moses.  Most scholars that I’ve read in this field (i.e., King from Boston College, Stager from Harvard, Martin Noth, Thompson from Copenhagen, et. al) don’t attempt to claim Mosaic authorship.  Instead, they see the development of the Pentateuch in terms of Source Criticism.

Most scholars believe that the Pentateuch reached its final edited form after the exile, let’s say, 500-400 B.C.  This was the conclusion based upon the Documentary Hypothesis Theory discussed last week.  But modern scholars are also saying the DSS give evidence that the Pentateuch was edited after this period as well.  In fact, many would say the Pentateuch was subject to changes all the way until it was finally standardized in the 1st century AD.  Prior to this, stories were rearranged, added, and (probably) deleted.  Some of the DSS manuscripts read like summaries (almost as if adapted for a child) and, some move stories into different spots.

Consequences of the JEDP Theory and Text Fluidity

As mentioned at the beginning of this series in Old Testament and History, here, J. Alberto Soggins no longer sees Abraham as a story about a man dwelling in tents and living according to the promise of Yahweh.  His words are worth quoting again:

Soggins, J. Alberto, A History of Ancient Israel (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1984)

One of the values of the studies by Thompson and Van Seters has been their discovery that the mention of ethnic groups, places, and individuals in the patriarchal narratives makes sense only at a time of the united monarchy (for Van Seters as late as the post-exilic period), and certainly never before! …So we must conclude that, leaving aside the possibility of re-readings and later reinterpretations, the nucleus of the patriarchal narratives can be traced back without any difficulty to the time of the united monarchy. (p. 90)

…Once we accept that the patriarchal traditions were re-read at the end of the exile and in the early post-exilic period: the itinerary of Abraham then became the itinerary of those who were returning home, from south-eastern Mesopotamia, passing through Harran, the usual route between the two regions. (p. 92)

This aligns very well with the view I’ve been describing.  The patriarchal narratives may be traced to the united monarchy (J&E), but for Van Seters they are traced only as late as post-exile.  Nevertheless, the final view is that the form of the Pentateuch that we have now must be interpreted from a post-exilic angle (who knows, after all, what J & E looked like during the Kingdom if it existed then).

This post-exilic interpretation is what Soggins does in the second paragraph.  Since the text came to finalization after the exile, the meaning of the pentateuch is also found post-exile.  This is according to a (good!) rule of literature:  The meaning of any particular text is found by interpreting it through the culture and time period that the text was written in.  This means, Huck Finn, for example, must be understood from the time period of Southern Antebellum and also from Mark Twain’s own period.  Even when authors write about the past–even if the goal is history–the author always makes the past relevant to the present.  Hence the saying, “Those that ignore history…”

Soggins believes that when the exiles returned and re-read the traditions about Abraham (largely believed to be myths and legends), the Pentateuch became restructured and re-interpreted to represent the trek from exile in Babylon back to Judah.  Because the meaning of a text is found in the date of its composition (post-exile), the meaning of the story of Abraham’s travels from Mesopotamia to Canaan land is found, truly, in the journey of exiles from Babylon to Judah.  Abraham is not historical, but has become a literary device.

Factors and presuppositions that are leading to this view are

1. Moses didn’t write the Pentateuch.  The Pentateuch was the work of redactors bringing together separate traditions from the 10th century B.C. onward.

2. There is no way that Jews living in the 1000-700 B.C. century (the time most scholars believe J & E was being formed) could recall history from 2000 B.C. (the approximate time Abraham would be living if he is accepted as historical).  Abraham and the patriarchs are, therefore, mythical.

3.  The source traditions (the common word used when referring to the idea of fluid, changed and changeable, material that makes up the Pentateuch) which made up the Pentateuch were repurposed for each new generation.

This is what Soggins suggests in what is quoted above.  Upon the return from exile, the Jewish community, in order to make the tradition relevant to themselves, would have repurposed the patriarchal narratives found in Genesis.  Thus, since Abraham is considered ahistorical, his life becomes an image of the Jewish Exiles relationship with Yahweh.  Just as Abraham was called in the land of Ur to live in Canaan, the Exiles were called by Yahweh (through Cyrus) to go back to Canaan.  The story of Abraham is now the story of the return from exile.  Changes to the tradition would have been made to accommodate this “repurposing.”


Theory (JEDP) affects the interpretation of evidence (the date of the manuscripts) and vice versa.  Further, all of these factors affect the interpretation of the text.  Is Abraham a man living by faith in Yahweh or is he a literary device who is representative of Israel after the exile? What I’m attempting to show is the interrelatedness of all these things, and how liberals view them:

(some points will be repeated)

1. The date of the manuscripts which exist today plus…

2.  The differences between manuscripts has lead to skepticism about there being an “authoritative” version.

3. How the date assigned to the manuscripts gives scholars a window of dating their ‘original’ composition (e.g. finding manuscripts of the Pentateuch from about 300 B.C. could mean a composition date of 500-400 B.C. is reasonable).  Anything earlier starts to stretch credulity.  Also, anachronisms** and other internal evidence is used to corroborate this date.

4.  It’s impossible for Jews living in 950 B.C. to actually remember historical information from the distant past.  (The Grandfather law states that anything remembered  prior to the third generation is seriously unreliable).  Therefore, the patriarchs in Genesis are not historical in any meaningful sense and are more than likely made up to serve the literary purpose(s) of the author(s).

5.  Finally, the meaning of a text is determined in part by the time it was written.  Further, the time it was written is determined, in part, by the date of the copies that are now present.  Thus, the date of the oldest manuscripts currently in possession (ca.  300 B.C.) affects the date of their composition to some extent.  They are no longer dated to Moses (ca. 1400 B.C.), but to post-exile.  They were then repurposed by the exiles, 536  B.C. and afterwards.  Practically speaking, the meaning of the Pentateuch is now found in either the age of the monarchy or in the Hellenistic age.  Genesis-Exodus tells us not of the events it records, but what exile and exodus mean to Jews coming back to Jerusalem after their exile.






**An anachronism is a piece of a story that doesn’t fit within the time frame it represents.  For example, in Genesis 14:14 it is recorded that Abram went to war with four kings and pursued them as far as Dan.  The issue is that Dan didn’t exist by the name Dan, yet.  Dan is the great-great-grandson of Abraham, and Abraham died before Dan was born.  That area in the north was named Dan after Joshua led the conquest of Canaan nearly 600 years later.  Therefore, the naming of that place as “Dan” is an anachronism.  Many scholars who are already skeptical of the Bible will say that this is a proof that this story was composed after the monarchy began and the tribe of Dan conquered this northern region.  I would simply say that it is more likely that the original name of the city that Abraham pursued the four kings to no longer made sense after Dan conquered it.  Therefore, to keep the text accurate, the name of that city was edited to Dan (by some prophet or priest guided by the Spirit).  The difference is that I still hold that the original composition is historical and by Moses.

OT and History: Part IIa The Documentary Hypothesis (JEDP)

OT and History: Part IIa The Moderate-to-Liberal View of the Text, The Documentary Hypothesis

Continuing the series of the Old Testament and History (see, Part I), we will be covering the moderate-to-liberal view of the Old Testament’s history and text.  It should be stated that the Old Testament field is home to a wide range of views.  However, some theories and facts have shaped the landscape of Old Testament studies so greatly that they must be addressed.  And in doing so, a large portion–perhaps well above the majority–can be characterized.

In this post, and in posts that follow, I will summarize theories and beliefs that I do not personally hold.  Aristotle is quoted as saying, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it,” and that is what we must do if we are to take Biblical studies seriously.  Only after giving full weight to the positions held in scholarship, will I describe and defend my position, which is typically referred to (pejoratively) as fundamentalist.  That being said, I hope to summarize these theories and the reasons for their success, and I hope to do so in such a way that a proponent of that theory would sign off on it.  Without further ado, the Documentary Hypothesis.

Source Criticism and Documentary Hypothesis

Source Criticism is the scientific study of the text in such a way to determine whether there are multiple, originally independent, sources that make up various books of the Old Testament, and, if so, what these sources are or may have looked like.  Jean Astruc, though not the first, popularized it in the scholarly community of France in 1753 and Germany (when Eichhorn took it up and elaborated, 1780-3).  This source criticism reached its height under Julius Wellhausen, a brilliant German scholar, and the resulting theory has become known as the Documentary Hypothesis.

The theory had its beginning when Astruc and others met with confusion the first two chapters of Genesis.  In Genesis 1, the name of the deity is Elohim, but in Genesis 2:4ff, the deity is Yahweh Elohim.  Second, the story in Genesis 2:4ff seems to be in conflict with Genesis 1.  First, Genesis 1 has Elohim creating the heavens and the earth, and all that is in them, in six days.  But in Genesis 2:4, it is stated, “…in the day that Yahweh Elohim made the earth and heaven.”  Some scholars, certainly not all, see this as a slight contradiction, because 2:4 sees creation as taking a single day whereas chapter 1 recounts it as taking six.  Secondly, in Genesis 1  vegetation is created on the third day in verse 11, and this takes place before man is made in in the sixth day (v. 26).  Well, in Genesis chapter 2, man is created before the vegetation.

Genesis 5: Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground.
6  But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground.
7  Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
8  The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed.
9  Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for foodNew (American Standard Bible)

So, in this account, Yahweh Elohim formed man, and then caused trees to grow and vegetation to grow up (because, as it says, man hadn’t been formed to work the ground and it hadn’t rained).

This, and other factors to be discussed below, led to conclusion that there are two separate creation accounts.  What appears to have happened, they argue, is that the final editor of  the Pentateuch had two hopelessly contradictory creation accounts, and either 1. attempted to merge them and failed or 2.  embraced the differences and included them both.  In the final analysis, Genesis 1 is ascribed to source P, and Genesis 2:4ff is ascribe to source J.

The sources of the modern Documentary Hypothesis are named J(Y)ahwist, Elohist, Deuteronomist, and Priestly (JEDP), and it is believed that their originally separate documents were edited, merged, rearranged, and finalized into our current Pentateuch.  Hence the name, Documentary Hypothesis.  According to Umberto Cassuto, there are five pillars to the Documentary Hypothesis that show our current Genesis-Deuteronomy books were created from individual source documents that were compiled at a much later date than 1400 B.C. which would be date given if we take the biblical chronology and count backwards to the time of Moses.1 Typically, the date for the composition of the Pentateuch rests somewhere after the exile from 536-400 B.C.

The five pillars of are:

(1) Thedifferent terms used for the Divine Name (Either Elohim/El/El shaddai, etc or Yahweh)
(2) variations of language and style (i.e. terms used for covenant making Haqim berit/Karat berit)
(3) Contradictions & Divergent viewpoints
(4) duplications and repetitions (think of Abraham lying to a king about Sarah being his wife (twice), and Isaac doing the same to rebekah)
(5) signs of composite structure (signs of merging two different types of documents)2

We can see from this list that Genesis 1-2:3 and Genesis 2:4ff fit nicely into the Documentary Hypothesis’ system.  We have different uses for the name of God in these two sections.  We have alleged contradictions and/or divergent viewpoints (Yahweh is much more personal than Elohim… see how Yahweh forms man by hand, but Elohim creates man by fiat).  The creation of man is repeated in both sections, and this duplication is what aroused suspicions in the first place.  With all of these factors combined, the conclusion that there are two creation accounts was accepted.

This process is just repeated throughout the Pentateuch, and although scholars differ, they have concluded that there were presumably many transmitted traditions (many orally) about creation, the patriarchal “myths”, the exodus, and the conquest.

The narrative that many scholars would give the Pentateuch is that some group (authors/narrators) or a single person in the southern kingdom of Judah received some traditions–probably mostly oral–and put them to writing.  This document became J.  This tradition is characterized by the name of Yahweh as the deity, and typically reveals God as more personal and nearer than Elohim.  Martin Noth also delineated the central themes of this source.  They are: leading out of Egypt, leading into Canaan, the promise to the fathers (Abraham, et. al), leading in the desert, and the revelation at Sinai.3  This tradition is normally considered to have been written down earliest.

The northern kingdom of Israel–probably prophetic circles–held a different tradition, E, in which God was referred to as Elohim.  Elohim is normally represented as being more distant.  This makes sense, these scholars say, because the prophets always reminded Israel (who was more prone to idolatry) of their sin, and so their tradition leaned more towards a separation from sinners.  It is alleged that most of the stories attributed to E take place in the north (where the prophets spent most of their time), and the stories in J took place mostly in the south.  E has a tendency to focus on these themes: prophetic leadership, the fear of God, Sinai Covenant (don’t approach the mountain!).  At least in some point in history, if not still today, many scholars held that sources J and E came from the same oral tradition.4  This oral tradition is named G, and since this oral tradition was received by the southern kingdom, Judah, differently than the more northern Israel, the contents of and E differed in their emphases.

The D source came later, and it consists in the book of Deuteronomy.  This is primarily because the content of Deuteronomy differs in genre compared to the narratives of Genesis and Exodus, and it also differs from the more Priestly (P) documents found in Leviticus.  The D source is typically considered to have more than one editor.  According to Anderson, even though D was written before P, it was only later that D was added to JEP, and the Pentateuch as know it came into existence.5.

P can be described as the residue of what’s left one JEP is taken out: some large narratives (like Gen. 1), genealogies, laws concerning sacrifices, temples, etc.  E were around during the time of the monarchy, 1000 B.C., but finally were combined by an editor.  D comes after 700 B.C.  The Priestly document, P, was once considered the oldest document, is now considered the latest source that was merged with and gave structure to the Pentateuch.6  P is now generally dated to after the exile.  This is not to say that everything in our current Pentateuch that is attributed to P is as late as the post-exilic period.  Many scholars would hold that P retains very ancient priestly rites and beliefs that possibly stem from the Mosaic period (but NOT that Moses originated these practices).  P is responsible for the holiness code, Lev. 17-26, the latter part of Exodus 25-31 (for example).  The P material presumably took the older materials (JE), and used it as a supplement.  The covenant with Abraham in Gen. 17, which contains blood, ritual, and other priestly material, was supplemented by other Abrahamic narratives (like Gen. 15).

So, there is no single Mosaic tradition unless one is going to say that the oral tradition postulated, G, is Mosaic.  I don’t know any that would claim it is Mosaic, however.  Rather, there were primarily two (JE) different and sometimes contradictory epics concerning Israel’s history.  The Priests of the post-exilic period, in order to justify their current practices, sought to tie their laws and rituals to that of Israel’s ancient ancestors, and then modified the epics E which may have already been combined.  Last, the Deuteronomistc Historian, the person or people responsible for editing and redacting the D source, and who ultimately was believed to have written Israel’s history (1 Samuel-2nd Kings) added Deuteronomy to the sources.

Let’s take a second and think about the implications. Many moderate-to-liberal scholars put the beginnings of the composition of JE in the time of the monarchy (c.a. 950 for J, and c.a. 850 for E).  P, remember, is even later.  This removes Moses as the author.  Moses can’t be considered the author of three different sources composed at different times because, if Moses is historical, he lived 400 years before the monarchy.  Some of these scholars will say that the oral prehistory may go back to someone like Moses, but  most prefer to say that they are just tribal legends, rituals, myths, and folklore that were passed down orally through the ages.

Reasons for a Late Date

Anachronisms and Post-Mosaica

An anachronism is a piece of a story that doesn’t fit within the time-frame it represents.  For example, in Genesis 14:14 it is recorded that Abram went to war with four kings and pursued them as far as Dan.  The issue is that Dan didn’t exist by the name Dan, yet.  Dan is the great-great-grandson of Abraham, and Abraham died before Dan was born.  That area in the north was named Dan after Joshua led the conquest of Canaan nearly 600 years later.  Therefore, the naming of that place as “Dan” is an anachronism.7 Technically, it is not only an anachronism, but is considered Post-Mosaica.

Post-Mosaica are anachronisms in the text that Moses couldn’t have written.  One other example is in Genesis 11:31, Abraham is called out from Ur of the Chaldees.  Much ink has been spilt on this subject.  Suffice it to say that Moses was long, long dead before the Chaldu came and conquered that region.  It would be something like someone saying John was called from the from Boston, Massachusetts, United States before America was even “discovered.”  The Chaldu didn’t exist during the period of Abraham, and hte conquered the region nearly 400 years after Moses died.  Evangelical scholars will say that this was a minor update to the text so that Ur made sense to the readers in the monarchy or exile.  A skeptic will say this is evidence of the traditions being written and composed in the monarchy.

One other Post-Mosaica is the fact that Moses’ own death is recounted in Deuteronomy:

5 So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD, 6 and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day. 7 Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated. 8 And the people of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days. Then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses were ended.

ESV,  Dt 34:4–8.

It is unlikely that Moses wrote this.  It can either be said that what we mean by authorship is that the pentateuch is basically Mosaic with some updating of language, grammar, and place names or that the composition of the Pentateuch isn’t Mosaic at all, but is the product of numerous, disparate sources.

Concluding Remarks

I gave evidence at the beginning for the and sources so that the casual reader could see why scholars might consider Genesis 1-2 as two separate and conflicting creation accounts.  I didn’t do such a thing for P and D.  It could come off, then, to the casual reader as if there are no reasons for postulating two more sources to the Pentateuch except for the wild fancies of scholars.  Well, that’s not true.  The primary reason for this is that the genres across the Pentateuch are wildly different.  From vivid stories about Jacob trying to marry Rachel to so-and-so begot so-and-so to how to purify oneself if he or she were to touch a cadaver.  It is primarily this difference of content that leads to the scholars’ postulation of different sources, and that, with some anachronisms has lead to the status of the Pentateuch we have today.  Finally, Martin Noth noted that 1 Samuel-II Kings shares very similar language to Deuteronomy.  This has lead him and many others to suppose that Deuteronomy, 1 Samuel-II Kings, at least, are the work of one author.  This also is another reason why D has been considered a separate source.


  • The OT was not written by Moses.
  • The OT is a composite work of many different sources
  • These sources contradict each other
  • When these sources were merged, not all of the contradictions were taken out
  • The final composition took place after the exile,536-400 B.C., almost 1000 years before most evangelical believers thought it was composed (1400 B.C. with Moses).
  • The content was transferred orally and may not be accurate as actual history.

This can be a lot to take in.  The OT is one of the most studied books in history, and we have had to cover a lot of ground quickly.  I hope one can see, after reading this, the reasonableness of this position.  If the position were not reasonable then no one would believe it.  Now, I reject this JEDP theory, but knowledge of this theory is needed in order to understand almost any modern research and writing on the Old Testament.  The next post will look at the manuscript history of the OT, and how that plays a role in how moderate-to-liberal scholars treat and interpret the Old Testament.  But this Documentary Hypothesis is foundational to the next post as well.  After the next post, I will finally attempt to offer a critique of the moderate-to-liberal positions as well as give my own position on the subject.  If you made it through this, then good work and thanks for reading!


1. See Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests for a timeline.

2. Umberto Cassuto is not a proponent for the Documentary Hypothesis, but his description of the pillars is excellent.
Umberto Cassuto, The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch, (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1961), 14.

3. de Pury, Albert. “Yahwist (‘J’) Source.” The Anchor Bible Dictionary.  New York: Doubleday, 1992.  Vol. VI, 1012-20.

4.  Jenks, Alan W. “Elohist.” The Anchor Bible Dictionary.  New York:  Doubleday, 1992.  Vol. II, 478-82.

5.  Anderson, Bernhard W.  “The Priestly Tradition.” In Understanding the Old Testament. 4th ed.  Englewood Cliffs:  Prentice-Hall. 1986. Pp. 449-66.

6. Ibid.

7. Many scholars who are already skeptical of the Bible will say that thisevidence that this story was composed after the monarchy began and the tribe of Dan conquered this northern region.  I would simply say that it is more likely that the original name of the city that Abraham pursued the four kings to no longer made sense after Dan conquered it.  Therefore, to keep the text accurate, the name of that city in the original text that was already written was edited to Dan (by some prophet or priest guided by the Spirit).  The difference is that I still hold that the original composition is historical and by Moses.

Polygamy and the Bible

Polygamy and the Bible

“Traditional Marriage”

The recent controversies over sexuality has caused a sharp division between those who hold to traditional views on sexuality and those who are sexually liberated.  The sexual liberation has been becoming normalized for decades now.  Long before Modern Family and Glee introduced homosexual personas on their hit TV shows, premarital sex had been totally normalized.

Before that, once-married premarital sex had been normalized.  The divorce rate has been strikingly high, and those that were  divorced didn’t feel the need to marry once more before being sexually active again.  They had already tried the abstinence-until-marriage-thing and it didn’t work.  Studies even show, it has been said, that you need to make sure you are sexually compatible with your partner before making the relationship somewhat more permanent in marriage.

These are just observations, though, and most heated debate in sexuality right now is that of homosexuality (I will get to polygamy. Promise).  The language used is highly volatile (on both sides), and there is great tension.  The term “Traditional Marriage” is in complete shambles because the liberal left has understood it to be vacuous for quite some time.  “Traditional Marriage” has no historical referent.  Let’s elaborate on this.  At which point in history would one point to as the ideal traditional marriage?

I bet you have an answer, but in this diverse culture “Traditional Marriage” is understood differently based on when the tradition is located.  For many conservative Americans, the tradition is not set by Adam and Eve.  Rather, it is set somewhere in the 1950’s.  Both referents (Adam/Eve & 1950’s) define marriage as one male and one female–but the 1950’s comes with other cultural baggage that is not found in the Christian Bible.   Here is a serious problem of definition.  Serious, thoughtful, conservative evangelicals will root the tradition in Adam and Eve, but unless this is clearly spelled out every time the phrase is used then “Traditional Marriage” will not translate that way.  A liberal, liberal arts scholar will read “Traditional Marriage”  and characterize it as a wife wearing a bonnet hoping to have the kitchen cleaned and dinner on the table before the husband comes home–you know, so the husband doesn’t have to pull out the switch.  This is as opposed to what we should mean–Adam and Eve, male and female, working together under Yahweh to conquer the world.

Some Christians have caught on to the fact that the vague word “Traditional” does not translate correctly to the intended audience, and have sought to replace the term with “Biblical Marriage.”  Hear! Hear!   However, the response to this also shows a lack of clarity as to what Christians might mean by “Biblical Marriage.”  The quick-witted rebuttal is as follows:  “Biblical Marriage? Should I start pursuing multiple partners like Solomon?  I’m allowed to have a harem like David?  If my wife won’t do her job and reproduce,  can I use my maid as a surrogate?”

After all, these are biblical characters who committed these actions.  They are, only in the sense that they are in bible, partaking in biblical marriage.  This retort renders the conservative Christian pretty powerless.  The Christian believes the biblical marriage is a covenant union between male and female, but what is he to do with the Old Testament?

Old Testament and Polygamy

First, the sobering part.  The reason Christians don’t normally have an answer for these charges (the charge that biblical marriage is not defined as one man and one woman) is because biblical narratives are not read often.  Yes, yes.  No one reads the Bible as much as they should.  But I’m not talking about that.  I’m saying that Christians generally don’t read their bible often enough to be able to interpret narratives and narratival sequences.  Moreover, the Old Testament suffers more from this problem then the New Testament.  Unfortunately for most, Old Testament books must be read several times (due to both its length and content).  In order to see the trajectory of–let’s say, Genesis–correctly, the content of one section (say the Patriarch Abraham) must be remembered when we get to another section (Jacob’s life).  The content of both must be understood when the Israelites leave Egypt and must travel around Edom.  All of this seems obvious, but unless the text is read often the text won’t be understood.

Second, the majority of Americans (liberal and conservative) have a hard time understanding how narratives in literature work.  This isn’t because moderns are stupid.  As my friend Sean Richmond pointed out, we follow narratives very well on the television.  Literature, being an active work, is harder than passively watching TV.  Television is a powerful tool that can communicate a copious amount of story into our lives.  The side effects have been devastating when it comes to literature, however.  When we watch Breaking Bad,  we come into contact with a TV series that tells us through narrative that  (among other things) making and selling crystal meth has terrible consequences.  The writers of Breaking Bad did not need to put a disclaimer saying “Meth is bad!” on the packaging of the early seasons where Walt & Jesse make it out alive, Walt’s cancer goes into remission, and the hospital bills are paid.  The storyline as a whole tells us that dire consequences come as a result of Walt’s lifestyle.

 But we have trouble reading literature.  The most important, pertinent example of this is the fact that when an event is narrated in the bible (or elsewhere!), people start assuming the author signs off on what transpired.   But this is clearly not the case.  Romeo and Juliet’s deaths does not mean Shakespeare condones suicide.  Similarly, just because Jacob marries both Rachel and Leah, it does not follow the author (Moses, and in that final sense the Holy Spirit) signs off on it being a good thing.  What it means, first, is that the event recorded happened.  Whatever else it tells us (whether this is good or bad, for example) must be considered by the rest of the story.

The key is recognizing that the fact Jacob was a polygamist does not necessitate that God is Okay with it.  The bible’s view on polygamy is borne out by the story as a whole.  Inherent to this is the fact that Yahweh does not give a moral verdict concerning every single action recorded, and sometimes Yahweh permits things due to hardness of heart (like divorce) that He doesn’t think is ideal.  The bible can make arguments against things through narrative.  There doesn’t have to be a verse saying “Polygamy is bad, ya know?” Presumably, you can catch the drift if you pay attention.

First, Deut. 17 actually forbids Kings from  polygamous marriages.  To my knowledge, there is no such law for common folk, but that’s not too crucial.  Let’s take a look at the story of Genesis with a view to “Whether or not the bible represents Polygamy as good/beneficial to society or the family.”

First, God could have created mankind anyway He deemed fit.  This is an important point.  His charge to Adam and Eve was to have a lot of kids and subdue the earth.  It might have actually been helpful to Adam and Eve to have a third, fourth, or fifth person to help bring the dominion down on all of those animals, fish, fowl, etc.  However, God’s plan (at least at this point) was that one man and one woman would work together to start this project.

Second, the first polygamous marriage recorded takes place between Lamech and his two wives (Gen. 4).  It is not accidental that this is the descendant of Cain who also commits murder (the second murder recorded which aligns him with Cain) and then boasts about it.  Likewise, Esau–the rejected son–willingly seeks after multiple wives (Gen. 28:9), but Jacob was technically tricked into polygamy.  Jacob didn’t go looking to marry both Rachel and Leah, and he doesn’t marry another afterwards.  Only Esau goes forth searching for multiple wives.  Jacob was tricked into marrying Leah.  Jacob really wanted to marry Rachel to begin with, but now the only way to do so is to become a polygamist.

Third, every time a biblical character enters into a polygamous marriage the biblical author focuses on the dire effects and almost totally neglects to mention any good from it.  Even more, the relationships tend to threaten the overall purpose of Yahweh.  The son Hagar bore to Abraham, Ishmael, becomes a thorn in Israel’s side later on.  Consider this part of Psalm 83

1  O God, do not keep silence;
do not hold your peace or be still, O God!
2  For behold, your enemies make an uproar;
those who hate you have raised their heads.
3  They lay crafty plans against your people;
they consult together against your treasured ones.
4  They say, “Come, let us wipe them out as a nation;
let the name of Israel be remembered no more!”
5  For they conspire with one accord;
against you they make a covenant—
6  the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites,
Moab and the Hagrites,

The action of bringing Hagar into the relationship caused considerable family strife.  So much so that Sarah finally has Abraham banish Hagar into the middle of a desert (Gen 21:10).

The marital strife is painfully clear in the case of Jacob, Leah and Rachel.  In order to outdo Leah in bearing children, Rachel resorts to having her servant Bilhah bear a child with Jacob on her behalf.  What’s key here is that Rachel is so distressed about being outdone by the other wife she resorts to these types of practices.

Leah, because Jacob doesn’t love her as much as the other wife, vocalizes her despair through naming her children and saying things like:
Gen 29: 32 “Because the LORD has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.”
Gen 29:33 “Because the LORD has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.”
Gen 29:34 “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.”

When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister.  Rachel retaliates saying to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!”(Gen 30:1).

Consider also this passage in Genesis 30:

14 In the days of wheat harvest Reuben went and found mandrakes in the field and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.” 15 But she said to her, “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?” Rachel said, “Then he may lie with you tonight in exchange for your son’s mandrakes.” 16 When Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, “You must come in to me, for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he lay with her that night. 17 And God listened to Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. 18 Leah said, “God has given me my wages because I gave my servant to my husband.” So she called his name Issachar.

Examples multiply.  Now ask yourself these questions:  Does the bible represent this relationship as a healthy one?  Does the bible insinuate that this type of relationship is desirable?  Compare the information the biblical narratives relate and compare it with the modern TV series Sister Wives.  If these events transpired in front of you, would you walk away feeling that Polygamous marriage is the ideal?

Flash forward to David and Solomon.  David’s desire for multiple wives results in

  1. Having an affair with a married woman, Bathsheba, and then covering it up by killing her husband Uriah. (II Sam. 11-12:24)
  2. Absalom, David’s son through a political marriage/alliance, commits fratricide by killing Amnon, David’s other son (II Sam. 13:30).
  3. Amnon raped his half-sister. (II Sam. 13)
  4. Absalom performed a coup. (II Sam. 15)
  5. Solomon and Adonijah (different mothers) both attempt to take the throne. (I Kings 2:13ff)
  6. Solomon finally has Benaiah kill Adonijah. (I Kings 2:25)

Speaking of Solomon.  He also had many wives.  Solomon actually had more than that–he had many wives, horses, and gold.  He broke all three commands found in Deut. 17.  Incidentally, the multiple wives were also idolaters, but the accusation in 1 Kings 11 is that, “you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you.”  The moral disapproval in Solomon’s life certainly does emphasize idolatry (not the mere fact of polygamy).  That being said, the destructive results fall directly in line with all of the other evidence we have seen.

Let us take a break from all of this.  Where is polygamy, and the relationships therein, shown in a good light by the biblical authors?  If we take time while reading the story and consider how  these polygamous relationships are worked out then it is clear Old Testament authors do not hold polygamy as the ideal.

But What About…?

Sure, questions still remain.  For example, why  is polygamy never specifically prohibited, but homosexuality is?  We can only speculate, here.  Not everything is clearly revealed.  The Old Testament tends to be somewhat lax on some social institutions that are not beneficial for humanity (i.e., slavery or polygamy).  But the trajectory is always towards abolition.  One possible reason that polygamy was not specifically outlawed is that the creation mandate was still possible in a polygamous relationship; but not possible a priori in a homosexual one.  So while polygamy was not ideal and has a great tendency to cause harm, it doesn’t have the side effect of denying God’s created order and purpose.

Ultimately, it must be seen that polygamy was not typically considered a harmonious relationship, and probably explains the lack of these kinds of relationships in the Jewish community.  Ultimately, Jesus teaches that “Traditional Marriage” must be found in Genesis 1-2

Matt. 9:19 Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. 2 And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.
3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

The keywords are male, female, and two shall become one.  Divorce was a grave thing and was only permitted by Moses because of hard-heartedness.  Reading between the lines, we could see how polygamy might fit in, here.  It isn’t the ideal, and never was.  But due to hardness of heart, it was not prohibited (except in the case of the Monarchy).

One might wonder where, pragmatically, Jesus (and Paul 1 Cor. 7:2; Eph. 5:31; Leaders 1 Tim. 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6) would base his bent away from Polygamy?  Clearly, it is from the Old Testament.  Specifically, Genesis 1, but the rest of the Old Testament storyline had to have made an impact.  Polygamy was still a thing in ancient Rome, and for Jesus and Paul to deny its primacy shows that Judaism recognized polygamy’s inadequacies.

Last, the theme of Yahweh and His bride, Israel, may have had an impact.  Yahweh names national Israel as His bride, and proclaims that there isn’t another.  Only Israel.  Even Ezekiel’s narrative about the relationship of Yahweh and Israel in chapter 16 reflects a marriage based on Genesis chapter 1 in which Israel was unfaithful to her true husband.  Israel’s uniqueness was rooted in the fact that they alone entered into a covenant union with Yahweh.

Deut. 7:6 “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

Ultimately, I have tried to make a case for the Old Testament’s stance on marriage to be ideally between one man and one woman despite the patriarchal and monarchical narratives that have saints participating in polygamy.  Hopefully the attempt proves successful.  And if in a conversation polygamy and bible comes up, Christians need not look like child who just walked into more trouble than he expected.  Many people argue that if we Christians are to follow the bible’s view on marriage then we would all be polygamists or marry for political alliances. I do not think that is the case, and I believe that there are very reasonable responses to it.

The Old Testament and History: Part I The Climate of Old Testament Scholarship

Over the course of the summer I was baptized by fire into the world of Old Testament history and all of the difficulties therein.  I was lucky enough to sit under one of the best scholars in Israelite history, Eugene Merrill.  More information on Dr. Merrill may be found here and here. Dr. Merrill’s book Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel  is especially recommended to anyone interested in this field.

While taking the course, I decided to focus most of my attention on the historicity of the Patriarchs–Abraham through Joseph–on which my research paper was written.  What I plan to do for this series in The Old Testament and History is 1.) Give a brief overview of what modern scholarship is doing in this field, and what these scholars believe. 2.) Argue for the historical trustworthiness of the Old Testament which is doubted (to say the least) by most scholars. 3.) Make popular some of the key players, cities, cultures and factors in this field which has the potential to shed much light on the Old Testament.


The Climate of Old Testament Scholarship

Although the field is not as wide as other fields such as the hard sciences, the scholars of the Old Testament and other Ancient Near Eastern cultures is not uniform.  That being said, it is safe to say that the majority of scholars in this field are at best doubtful of the reliability of the Old Testament, Genesis in particular, in recounting actual history.  Many even claim that Genesis has a literary nature of folklore that isn’t attempting to transmit history at all.  So, the claim goes, anyone who thinks that the patriarchal narratives in Genesis are talking about historical persons is guilty of 1.) misunderstanding the genre of Genesis 2.) misunderstanding the history of Genesis’ composition and 3.) imposing their theology.

These are serious charges and must be answered.  But at this point, I am only seeking to elaborate on the current climate of scholarship in this field.  Certainly there is a spectrum between those who accept Genesis as historical and inspired to those who believe the persons mentioned in the Old Testament until Solomon are literary characters created and edited by numerous redactors over the course of centuries.

 Names and Notes

Here I am going to give you a feel for what many of these scholars believe, but before this I would like to note one thing.  These men and women are scholars in every sense of the word.  This fact became very clear while reading Thomas L. Thompson’s doctoral dissertation The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives.  Thompson was/is a very influential player in what become known as the Copenhagen School in Denmark and was a professor at the University of Copenhagen.  His dissertation shows skill across multiple disciplines: literary comparison and the development of ancient documents, languages: Amorite/West Semitic, Akkadian, Sumerian & other Cuneiform languages, Egyptian, German, French, et. al, the interpretation of archaeological data such as sedentary layers, pottery, knives, and tombs, and lastly a philosophy of history.  This is not to say Thompson has mastery over all of this (he may, but I don’t know him personally), but to note the amount of time and work “unbelieving” scholars put into their field and the diverse skills needed to excel.

Therefore, the scholars are to be respected and though their theology angers us who believe, much good has come from their findings.  Thompson’s dissertation comes off, often times, as a polemic against the American Scholar W.F. Albright.  For years many American schools accepted the claims and arguments of Albright, but Thompson (and Van Seters) sought to bring to light that many of the claims have been overstated or completely overturned over the years.  If anything can be learned from these men and women, it’s that we must not overstate the case, and that we ought to be slow in accepting archaeological interpretations that are not adequately supported.

Now, for a taste of what these scholars have to say.  In a future post, a rejoinder will be given.

Soggins, J. Alberto, A History of Ancient Israel (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1984)

One of the values of the studies by Thompson and Van Seters has been their discovery that the mention of ethnic groups, places, and individuals in the patriarchal narratives makes sense only at a time of the united monarchy (for Van Seters as late as the post-exilic period), and certainly never before! …So we must conclude that, leaving aside the possibility of re-readings and later reinterpretations, the nucleus of the patriarchal narratives can be traced back without any difficulty to the time of the united monarchy. (p. 90)

…Once we accept that the patriarchal traditions were re-read at the end of the exile and in the early post-exilic period: the itinerary of Abraham then became the itinerary of those who were returning home, from south-eastern Mesopotamia, passing through Harran, the usual route between the two regions. (p. 92)

Notice here how Soggins establishes the stories of Genesis to a time when there was a united monarchy.  Read, here, Moses didn’t write the narratives–and certainly not in the form we have today.  Once this move is accepted, Soggins and others would argue that the meaning of the patriarchal narratives must be found in the time they were reinterpreted after the  return from exile–over 1200 years after the cultural setting of the patriarchal narratives.  The Jews, then, seeking to give their exile and restoration meaning reinterpreted the patriarchal stories in light of their own experiences.  Finally, Abraham becomes a representation of their sojourn back to Palestine.  Abraham isn’t a historical character, he represents the experience of Israel’s relation to Yahweh post-exile.

Thompson, L. Thomas, The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives  (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & co., 1974)

But the stories about the promise given to the patriarchs in Genesis are not historical, nor do they intend to be historical…(p. 330)

…I hope to be able to show to the reader’s satisfaction that not only is the claim of historicity for the patriarchal stories a serious distortion of history, but that it is also a misunderstanding of the formation and intention of the biblical tradition (p. 297)

I argue in my critique of Thompson’s book that he argues from literary criticism towards archaeological skepticism.  That is, he argues that the patriarchal stories are not intended to be historical towards the proposition “there is no archaeological evidence for the patriarchs.”  To Thompson, the story of Abraham is like the story of David Copperfield.  Just because we find evidence from the 19th century that people know of a David Copperfield–and that there are manuscripts with the name ‘David’–doesn’t make David Copperfield’s actual existence any more probable.  In fact, the archaeological evidence found (i.e. Dickens’ novel) isn’t evidence for the historicity of David Copperfield either.  All that it means is that ‘David’ is a name acceptable in England in 1850.  This analogy is critical, I think, for understanding Thompson’s methodology.

I’ve only posted these few references to give a taste of modern scholarship in relation to the history of the Old Testament.  As the series progresses, these claims will be challenged.