What Happens to the Documentary Hypothesis if the Pentateuch was written 270 BCE?

BerossusGenesisWhat happens to the Documentary Hypothesis (DH) if, as outlined in recent posts, the Pentateuch was first written in the third century BCE? That’s the first question that comes to most of us when first hearing a thesis like this. This post outlines Russell Gmirkin’s chapter on the DH, and is thus a continuation of my summary of the early sections of his book, Berossus and Genesis, Manetho and Exodus: Hellenistic Histories and the Date of the Pentateuch.

(Other posts where I have discussed the DH, including other criticisms of it, are archived in the Documentary Hypothesis Category.

See Who Wrote the Bible? The Rise of the Documentary Hypothesis for the history of the DH’s origins.

For Julius Wellhausen’s Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel, the sacred-texts site contains one of the easiest-to-read online versions.

Another modern book worth reading in defence of the DH is Friedman’s The Bible With Sources Revealed.)

The different sources identified in the DH are not in dispute in Gmirkin’s thesis:

This book does not take issue with the Higher Criticism’s identification of different sources in the Pentateuch, each with its own consistent vocabulary, interests and theological outlook. (p. 22)

Gmirkin describes the DH as presented by Wellhausen. Its primary fault, he argues, is that it dates the hypothetical sources by means of what is in reality an unsupported construct of Israel’s history.

The entangling of dating issues with subjective historical constructs was a major flaw in Wellhausen’s approach. The Documentary Hypothesis as developed by Wellhausen illustrates the grave danger of circular reasoning inherent in dating texts by means of a historical construct to facilitate the dating of these same texts. (p. 5)

Gmirkin’s method of dating is, as explained in previous posts in this series, a separate and independent process.

In chapter 2 Gmirkin discusses the DH in some detail. He examines its function and development as a literary and as a historical theory, then considers the historical assumptions underpinning the thesis and finally looks at the external evidence impinging upon the validity of the DH.

The Documentary Hypothesis was both a literary theory (regarding identification and dating of Pentateuchal sources) and a historical theory (regarding the evolution of Jewish religion). The authors of the DH based its history of the Jewish religion directly on the biblical account, accepting that the cultic practices successively described in Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings reflected sequential historical periods in Jewish history. (p. 24)

Step One: identifying the sources (more…)


The Books of Moses — Unknown 300 years Before Christ?

BerossusGenesisI have been posting on the works of several scholars who argue that the Old Testament scriptures were composed much later than traditionally thought (Thompson, Davies, Lemche, Wesselius, Wajdenbaum) but there remains much more to be written about their arguments, and more published scholars to draw into the same net (Nielsen and Gmirkin are two of these). This post introduces the work of Russell E. Gmirkin. I look forward eventually to discussing where his criticisms intertwine with those of Wajdenbaum and others, and then to return to Wajdenbaum’s thesis that the Old Testament books are heavily indebted to classical Greek literature and myths. But there is much to be covered in the meantime, including further exploration into the similarities between the Histories by Herodotus and the collection of books from Genesis to 2 Kings (referred to as The Primary History) in the Bible. Gmirkin does not support the thesis that the biblical author borrowed from Herodotus, however. It’s a fascinating time to be reading a rich range of new views about the origins of the Hebrew Bible.


Russell Gmirkin

Russell E. Gmirkin’s book, Berossus and Genesis, Manetho and Exodus: Hellenistic Histories and the Date of the Pentateuch, has attracted wildly different reviews. One can read some of these here, here and here. But just as interesting is to read how Gmirkin himself evaluates some of the views of (at least one of) the authors of one of the particularly “bad” reviews. But for anyone interested in exploring new scholarly understandings of the Old Testament Gmirkin’s ideas will certainly be thought-provoking. (I was made aware of Gmirkin’s book through a passing comment left on this blog by Niels Peter Lemche.)

I’ve also found a Youtube video outlining key parts of his thesis. But contrary to what this video appears to imply, Gmirkin himself does not (as far as I can tell) argue for the “primacy” of the Septuagint. He writes on page 249:

From the foregoing discussion, it appears that the activities of the Septuagint scholars of 273-272 BCE included composing the Pentateuch in Hebrew as well as translating it into Greek.

He argues for the two — the Greek and Hebrew versions — appearing around the same time.

Here is how Russell Gmirkin himself introduces his thesis (my own emphasis and formatting as for all quotations):

This book proposes a new theory regarding the date and circumstances of the composition of the Pentateuch. The central thesis of this book is that the Hebrew Pentateuch was composed in its entirety about 273-272 BCE by Jewish scholars at Alexandria that later traditions credited with the Septuagint translation of the Pentateuch into Greek.

The primary evidence is

  • literary dependence of Gen 1— 11 on Berossus’s Babyloniaca (278 BCE),
  • literary dependence of the Exodus story on Manetho’s Aegyptiaca (ca. 285-280 BCE),
  • and datable geo-political references in the Table of Nations.

A number of indications point to a provenance of Alexandria in Egypt for at least some portions of the Pentateuch. That the Pentateuch, utilizing literary sources found at the Great Library of Alexandria, was composed at almost the same date as the Alexandrian Septuagint translation provides compelling evidence for some level of communication and collaboration between the authors of the Pentateuch and the Septuagint scholars at Alexandria’s Museum.

The late date of the Pentateuch, as demonstrated by literary dependence on Berossus and Manetho, has two important consequences:

  • the definitive overthrow of the chronological framework of the Documentary Hypothesis,
  • and a third-century BCE or later date for other portions of the Hebrew Bible that show literary dependence on the Pentateuch. (p. 1)

Treating the Bible like any other ancient text (more…)


Biblical Scholars, Symbolic Violence, and the Modern Version of an Ancient Myth

This post continues my series on Philippe Wajdenbaum’s doctoral thesis adapted for publication as Argonauts of the Desert: Structural Analysis of the Hebrew Bible. For the previous post see Collapse of the Documentary Hypothesis (1) & Comparing the Bible with Classical Greek Literature. I begin here with my concluding lines from that post:

We will find very accurate parallels [between the Bible and Plato’s political dialogues] that make that hypothesis [that the Bible is based on those and other Greek classical texts] certain. Therefore one must ask why such a comparative study with Plato has not been done before. (p. 28)

Wajdenbaum says the answer is simple:

The Bible could not resist such an analysis [comparing the Bible with classical Greek literature] as it demonstrates how almost every biblical narrative finds accurate parallels with Greek myths. If believers of Jewish and Christian faiths were aware of this, then the Bible could lose its credibility. Biblical scholarship has done all it could to maintain the Bible as a sacred text that is still relevant to modern society, as Hector Avalos argues. (p. 29)

How can such ancient texts continue to hold such an authoritative status for so many today? Wajdenbaum believes that one significant reason is that “the Bible has not yet been the object of a consistent and genuinely scientific analysis.” (p. 30)

Of course there has been a long tradition of scholarly analysis of the Bible, but that’s not necessarily the same thing. In an earlier post in this series I showed how Wajdenbaum argues that biblical criticism has generally been the construction of a variant of the Bible’s myth. Following Claude Lévi-Strauss, he argues that any retelling of a myth is itself a variant of the myth, and in rationalising the Bible’s story and self-witness of divine inspiration scholars have, in fact, only created alternative versions of those myths.

Here Wajdenbaum brings in Pierre Bourdieu:

“Symbolic violence is the self-interested capacity to ensure that the arbitrariness of the social order is either ignored, or posited as natural, thereby justifying the legitimacy of existing social structures.” – Wikipedia

Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu has explained how university scholars use symbolic violence to ensure their authority in their field. By presenting themselves as a legitimate institution, university scholars impose an arbitrary knowledge that is recognised by the masses as legitimate.

But this intellectual domination is not completely passive; it comes from the demands of society. As both Avalos and Bourdieu . . . have put it, the media industry — the press, movies and television — plays an important role in the continuation of either the sacred character of the Bible or symbolic violence. (more…)


Collapse of the Documentary Hypothesis (1) & Comparing the Bible with Classical Greek Literature

This post recapitulates earlier posts on the Documentary Hyphothesis and introduces Philippe Wajdenbaum’s case for comparing the Bible with Classical Greek literature and finding the biblical author’s (sic) sources of inspiration there.

Late last year I wrote Who Wrote the Bible? Rise of the Documentary Hypothesis.

That post outlined the milestones towards the DH as set out by Philippe Wajdenbaum in Argonauts of the Desert:

  1. Baruch Spinoza‘s views of a single authorship behind the historical books of the Bible;
  2. the way biblical studies were influenced by the early Homeric studies evolutionary model that hypothesized disparate oral traditions being stitched together by later editors to create a final canon;
  3. the failure of biblical studies to keep abreast of Homeric studies when they confronted the problems with their evolutionary hypothesis;
  4. the contribution of Julius Wellhausen and the labeling of the J, E, D and P sources and the final redactor R;
  5. Gerhard von Rad‘s fleshing out of these sources into historical provenances: J to the southern Kingdom of Judah, E to the kingdom of Israel, D to the time of Josiah, P to the period of Exile;
  6. Martin Noth‘s qualifications and modifications to the Documentary Hypothesis: a Deuteronomist historian wrote Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings during the Exile, and a Redactor later found a way to harmonize the Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers with these Deuteronomist books;
  7. F. M. Cross and R. E. Friedman who decided Noth’s Deuteronomist historian was rather two historians, one writing in the time of Josiah and the other during the Exile;
  8. Thomas Römer‘s criticism of
    • Welhausen’s hypothesis for its nineteenth century German Protestant and royalist assumptions;
    • Noth’s views for their subjective mirroring of his personal situation with Nazi Germany;
    • Cross’s subjective transfer of American optimism and idealism of the founding fathers into the period of King Josiah.


I then wrote Who Wrote the Bible Part 2: Challenging the Documentary Hypothesis. (more…)


Did a Single Author Write Genesis – II Kings? (Demise of the Documentary Hypothesis?)

This post will open by taking us back thirty or forty years to a scenario in Old Testament scholarship that is remarkably similar to a debate taking place right now among New Testament scholars. I am currently reviewing a book, Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity, that spotlights the flaws of the traditional approaches of form criticism and authenticity criteria to the studies of early Jesus traditions and the historical Jesus respectively. The editors of that book, Christ Keith and Anthony Le Donne, argue that attempts to pull apart the Gospels into various strata, pre-gospel Palestinian traditions and stories added by the early Hellenistic Church compiler-author, don’t really work. What is needed is an understanding and study of the Gospels in their final form, they conclude.

Compare the outcome of criticisms of the Documentary Hypothesis — the thesis that the Old Testament books can be pulled apart into different sources or strata — Priestly, Jahwist, Elohist and Deuteronomist (and a later Redactor).

This post continues from an article I posted on Christmas Day last year, Who Wrote the Bible? Rise of the Documentary Hypothesis. It continues with notes on Philippe Wajdenbaum’s case that the “Primary History” of the Bible (Genesis to 2 Kings) was inspired by the writings of classical Greek writings (especially Plato) and mythologies. It is, furthermore, best seen as the product of a single author writing in Hellenistic times. In my previous post on this book I included a quotation from chapter eight of Theological and Polical Treatise by seventeenth century Spinoza, to whom Wajdenbaum refers:

And when we regard the argument and connection of these books [Pentateuch, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings] severally, we readily gather that they were all written by one and the same person, who had the purpose of compiling a system of Jewish antiquities, from the origin of the nation to the first destruction of the city of Jerusalem. The several books are so connected one with another, that from this alone we discover that they comprise the continuous narrative of a single historian. . . . .

I have in the past posted in passing on another book with a similar theme, Jan-Wim Wesselius’ The Origin of the History of Israel : Herodotus’s Histories as Blueprint for the First Books of the Bible, and I have posted an overview of a section of that book on vridar.info. It is a pity that these sorts of books are priced out of the hands of most potentially interested readers. I have always wanted to post more on the Old Testament books, especially in comparison with other Greek works, in particular works of Herodotus and Plato, and hopefully will do so soon. Too many topics. Not enough time.

Here we continue with Philippe Wajdenbaum’s Argonauts of the Desert, picking up where we left off in December last year. Here he discusses the “collapse of the consensus” on the Documentary Hypothesis and introduces his rationale for proposing a single author for Genesis to 2 Kings.

It is necessary first to overlap with a point made in that earlier post. I elaborate upon it beyond Wajdenbaum’s own brief presentation that was intended for a readership familiar with the scholarly literature.


Biblical scholars borrowed the idea that the final text was the creation of a final redactor who “cut and paste” from earlier variant texts.




Some Crazy Stuff I Believe In ‘Cause I’m an Ex-Fundie

That sensational title was supposed to grab your attention. However, my remark was “not intended to be a factual statement.” Frankly, most of the things I believe in (or, rather, theories I subscribe to) are fairly ordinary. I thought it was P.J. O’Rourke who once said that thinking outside the box was overrated — “There’s plenty of good stuff still inside the box” — but I can’t seem to find a reference.  Maybe I imagined it.

Defending the status quo

You may recall a few months back when I defended the venerable Documentary Hypothesis against a scholar who did not understand it at all. I own books by OT minimalists, and I have great respect for Thompson, Lemche, et al. However, I still find myself more persuaded that the creation, transmission, and redaction of the Hebrew Bible followed a process similar in most respects to the one described by Wellhausen and Friedman.

Similarly, while I may entertain doubts about Q, I’m still a proponent of the Two-Source Hypothesis. I own a copy of The Case Against Q, and I’ve read a couple of the chapters more than once. Goodacre asks a lot of probing questions that do not yet have fully satisfying answers, and his contribution to Synoptic Problem scholarship is undeniable. However, I am still firmly in the 2DH camp.

Why am I an old fuddy-duddy when it comes to Wellhausen and Streeter? Because these standard models in particular have a great deal of explanatory power and compelling coherent logic. So while it’s true that many people “stay inside the box” because of inertia and lack of imagination, oftentimes it’s just as likely that the there’s nothing outside the box that explains things better than the boring old standard model.

But that’s not to say that we should ignore new ideas. The dominant hypotheses in source criticism (the DH in the OT and the 2SH in the NT) aren’t set in stone. I’ll be the first to admit that Markan Priority without Q (aka “The Farrer-Goulder-Goodacre Hypothesis”) might be correct; however, like Agrippa I am almost but not quite persuaded.

Keeping an open mind

We should keep our minds open even to far-out ideas like Scripture Ninjas and the Galatian Bastard Theory. But the proponents of such theories should not be surprised by the ribbing they get here. You know what they say about extraordinary claims.

In short, I’m pretty much a bore. So what does our dear friend Steph mean by this?



So it’s true: Today’s Biblical Scholars Really Never Have Read Wellhausen

Julius Wellhausen

Julius Wellhausen: Image via Wikipedia

A conservative evangelical student, asked to read Wellhausen and discuss the reasons for his ordering of sources in the Pentateuch, will not want to read Wellhausen and will try, if possible, to escape from the imposition: what he will do is to read a work which will tell him why Wellhausen was wrong. His pastoral advisers, if he has any, will council him to read this kind of book: they will not advise him to read energetically the works of Wellhausen himself, or of de Wette, or of Kuenen. (James Barr, Fundamentalism (London, SCM, 1977), pp. 121-122.)

Below I have copied an article by Tim Widowfield demonstrating the apparent truth of this state of affairs with a response to Dr James McGrath’s remarkable post, The Best Evidence for the Documentary Hypothesis is in the Psalms. Tim, by the way, is a supporter of the Documentary Hypothesis but would rather find company among others who understood what they were talking about. Does a professor of biblical studies really not understand the facts of the Documentary Hypothesis? (Not that Dr McGrath would describe himself as a “conservative” scholar, but he undeniably does have confessional interests and there are such scholars who do find ways to “apologize” for God and the Bible even if their efforts are dressed up in more modern sophisticated “liberal” motifs.)

Before Tim’s post, however, a word about the quotation above. James Barr’s words were used by Niels Peter Lemche to open his 2003 online article, Conservative Scholarship-Critical Scholarship: Or How Did We Get Caught by This Bogus Discussion. One of a number of explanations for this decline in standards, Lemche  suggests, is the shift in the geographic centre of scholarship:

A generation ago the center was definitely Europe, and here German scholarship was unquestionably the flagship. European scholars were all brought up in the shadow of de Wette, Wellhausen, Kuenen, Alt, Noth, and von Rad, and without accepting these scholars as leading stars; nobody would be allowed to enter the temple of academic biblical studies.

That has changed:

Now days, biblical scholarship is dominated by American scholars, presenting a much more colorful picture. Historical-critical scholarship has no monopoly like it used to have in Europe; academic institutions may be — according to European standards — critical or conservative, but in contrast to the European tradition, these very different institutions will communicate, thus lending respectability also to the conservative position.

This definitely represents a danger to biblical scholarship as an academic discipline in the European tradition. Entertaining a dialogue with an opponent who has different goals from the ones of the critical scholar means the same as diluting one’s own position: in the universe of the critical scholar, there can be no other goal than the pursuit of scholarship — irrespective of where his investigations may lead him or her.

Tim Widowfield’s Response to “The Best Evidence for the DH is in the Psalms.”

On his blog today Dr. James F. McGrath makes a startling claim: “The Best Evidence for the Documentary Hypothesis is in the Psalms.” Who would have thought that one could find evidence for the Documentary Hypothesis (DH) in the Ketuvim, a collection of works which probably made their way into the canon about seven centuries after the Torah was recognized as canonical? And not just any old evidence, but “the best evidence”? Certainly not me.

Just what in the world is he talking about? And does he have a point? I will attempt to present Dr. McGrath’s argument as fairly as possible and explain why he’s wrong. I welcome any corrections. (more…)


Who wrote the Bible? (2) Challenging the Documentary Hypothesis

Русский: Распределение документов Йахвист, Эло...

Image via Wikipedia

This post continues from my post some weeks ago in which I covered primarily Philippe Wajdenbaum’s account of the rise of the Documentary Hypothesis. At that time in one of the comments I explained I had paused to take stock of how best to address the challenge that has arisen against the Documentary Hypothesis. This is a study I undertook some years ago and so thoroughly enjoyed that it is easy for me to cover way too much detail. Maybe I will have to return to address some of the specifics in separate posts later. Once this is out of the way I would like to post another explaining how political anthropology offers a cogent explanation for the character of the biblical books as Hellenistic productions.

First, to recap the Documentary Hypothesis. This is the idea that the Old Testament was essentially a result of four separate sources that were originally written over a span of some centuries:

  • a Jahwist/Yahwist (J) written in the southern kingdom of Judah around the time of Solomon – 10th century bce / later shifted to the Babylonian Exile period:
    • Gerhard von Rad in 1944 “considers the time of Solomonic enlightenment to contain all the prerequisites for literary production, including history writing. It was first of all a time of political stability and economic prosperity. On top of this came the need of a new state to provide a history of its past. Finally the creative impetus following in the wake of the establishment of an Israelite state created this new literature.”
    • Subsequent scholarship revised this, arguing that “External circumstances were thought to provide the most likely background for this kind of literature.” (pp. 158-9 of The Israelites in History and Tradition, Niels Peter Lemche)
  • an Elohist (E) composed in the northern kingdom of Israel – 9th or 8th century bce
  • a Deuteronomist (D) in the southern kingdom of Judah at time of Josiah – late 7th century bce
  • a Priestly source (P) during the Babylonian Exile – 6th century bce

The dating of the sources is central to the hypothesis:

Essential to the history of scholarship expressed in Wellhausen’s synthesis [the DH is the result of W’s synthesis of two generations of OT historical-critical scholarship] was that these four discrete sources of the pentateuch were to be understood as literary documents created at the time of their written composition, and hence as compositions reflecting the understanding and knowledge of their authors and their world. (p. 2 of Early History of the Israelite People from the Written & Archaeological Sources, by Thomas L. Thompson.)

This meant, for example, that the Pentateuch was not a reliable source for the events it narrates, such as the Patriarchal period and Exodus.

But in recent decades biblical scholars are not so united in their acceptance of this explanation for the Bible or “Old Testament” portion of it.

Basically, the old consensus that had developed around the Documentary Hypothesis has gone, though there is nothing to take its place (Rendtorff 1997; Whybray 1987). Some still accept the Documentary Hypothesis in much its original form, but many accept only aspects of it or at least put a question mark by it. There has also been much debate around the J source (Rendtorff 1997: 53-5) and the P source (Grabbe 1997). It seems clear that the Pentateuch was put together in the Persian period (Grabbe 2004:331-43; 2006). (p. 44 of Ancient Israel: What Do We Know and How Do We Know It? by Lester L. Grabbe)

So where have the cracks appeared? (more…)

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