Sunday, December 30, 2007

DH Part I - The Bible with Sources Revealed

I just finished reading R.E. Friedman's "The Bible with Sources Revealed" and I find myself in a weird spot. The book consists of an introduction where the author makes his case for the Documentary Hypothesis and then proceeds to reprint the Torah, color coded based on the different sources, with explanatory footnotes. I found the first part to be well written and promising. But yet, as I read through the book, I can't seem to convince myself that this theory is fully baked. This doesn't necessarily mean that I believe that the Torah was dictated to Moshe by God, nor do I reject all the points REF makes, but there are key points that seem to not add up in my mind. Partially, this may have to do with the fact that I have not done much reading and thinking about this yet, so I am certainly not making any definitive statements in this post, just relaying first impressions.

The main struggle that I have is that if there was an editor to the Torah, (REF believes that there were two!), that editor, for all his efforts, seems to have done a very poor job at certain places in the text, while doing a really good job at other spots. In some places, it's like he is a genius, and in others, it's almost as if it were done by someone who doesn't really understand what he's reading, and certainly has no sense of editorial skill. This seems strange to me. If I understand REF correctly, he seems to think that someone literally took several documents side by side and then started gluing various parts together, trying to reconcile various conflicts and trying to smooth out the edges. To me, this seems like a very bizarre way of going about the process.

If it were I doing this, what I think I would do would be to read the stories, have them coalesce in my brain, and then write down one story which would be an amalgam of the others. In other words, I would not rely on the actual texts, but on the concepts. This is how we usually tell stories to one another. We hear bits and pieces of stories, and we craft them into new versions that build on the older fragments. Why work so hard on preserving and editing the original texts? I could posit that this editor was somehow concerned about preserving the original, but then this idea gets negated by his constant tinkering, tampering and rearranging of the originals.

This notion of tampering is really pronounced in the story of Noach, Gen 7,8,10.
Here is Chap 8, according to REF (blue is P, green is J):

1 And G-d remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the cattle that were with him in the ark; and G-d made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters assuaged;

2 the fountains also of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained.

3 And the waters returned from off the earth continually; and after the end of a hundred and fifty days the waters decreased.

4 And the ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat.

5 And the waters decreased continually until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, were the tops of the mountains seen.

6 And it came to pass at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made.

7 And he sent forth a raven, and it went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth.

8 And he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground.

9 But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him to the ark, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth; and he put forth his hand, and took her, and brought her in unto him into the ark.

10 And he stayed yet other seven days; and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark.

11 And the dove came in to him at eventide; and lo in her mouth an olive-leaf freshly plucked; so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth.

12 And he stayed yet other seven days; and sent forth the dove; and she returned not again unto him any more.

13 And it came to pass in the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from off the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dried.

14 And in the second month, on the seven and twentieth day of the month, was the earth dry.
It just seems bizarre to me that the editor would be literally cutting and pasting sentences together from the various documents instead of just writing down a story in his own words that would be a coherent composite.

14 Comments:

Blogger Lubab No More said...

> It just seems bizarre to me that the editor would be literally cutting and pasting sentences together from the various documents instead of just writing down a story in his own words that would be a coherent composite.

It would make sense to cut and paste the original text together if the original text had pre-existing spiritual/mythical significance. It seems like it would be a good way to try and bring credibility to the composite text.

December 30, 2007 12:05 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

but wouldn't you expect it to be at a higher organizational level than literally cutting and pasting sentences and phrases?

December 30, 2007 12:07 PM  
Blogger Baal Habos said...

EK, for a more comprehensive description, see REF's Who Wrote the Bible. The preamble of "Bible with sources revealed" is like the Cliff notes on the book. It does not do justice to the topic.

December 30, 2007 4:31 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

BHB, that book is next on my reading list.

BTW, does my point make any sense?

December 30, 2007 5:06 PM  
Blogger Baal Habos said...

E, your point is a good point, and I think REF's answer is that the redactor could not simply throw away are re-word what was already well known to the Jews of the period. The Redactor was forced to take two texts and use both of them to (unify and) satisfy the political realities of the North & South.

December 30, 2007 5:14 PM  
Blogger XGH said...

> It just seems bizarre to me that the editor would be literally cutting and pasting sentences together from the various documents instead of just writing down a story in his own words that would be a coherent composite.

Yes. But it's even more bizarre that you can split the entire story into two, and make two separate stories which read just as well if not better.

January 02, 2008 6:05 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

XGH,

Can you give me an example (chapter and verse) of where the split stories read better or just as well? I tried it in several places and I didn't get this impression...

January 02, 2008 6:52 AM  
Blogger Baal Habos said...

>Can you give me an example (chapter and verse) of where the split stories read better or just as well?

The Mabul, Mechiras Yosef & possibly the best one is Korach. Read it with REF's comments, preferably in Who Wrote The Bible; Sources revealed is also excellent.

January 02, 2008 6:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you include the relevant Midrash into the story and then look at the "edited" version, does the final product make more sense? In other words, is it possible that the editors are attempting to reconcile 3+ sources, but a simple reading of the "edited" Torah looks choppy because you are not seeing the 3rd source?

January 08, 2008 7:29 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Anonymous, can you elaborate?

January 08, 2008 7:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You said that the editor appeared to have done a haphazard job of editing (brilliantly melding stories in some places and leaving unresolved and potentially disparities in other places). My question is, how can you judge the expertise of the editing if you do not know the original material that required an edit. What if the beautifully edited portions exist because the original did not need much work. Maybe you are correct that there was simply no way to resolve the disparities without destroying the original (or, at the very least, deciding on one story or the other and canonizing it as "reality" for all time). And if you consider the oral teachings as a primary source (and therefore give legitimacy to oral law, which REF may have chosen not to do), does it introduce an additional source that would require incorporation into the final "edit" but also reconcile some of the apparent inconsistencies in the text. I would be very interested if this were the case because it would also explain some of the circular nature of arguing Torah and argue law (i.e. the case of the whole self-proving arguement). It just seems to me that an ancient oral tradition, which is the whole mythos and cultural archetype for the religion, should be carefully considered as the framework through which any editor of the time would approach the Torah- it would be his (or her) cultural identity and basis of knowledge. Similarly, and dangerously for the Orthodox, if this were the case it might also chip away at the arguments legitimizing oral law as necessary to interpret the Torah and, therefore, valid for time immemorial.

January 08, 2008 7:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One other thought has occurred to me..and it really may have no basis except as a springboard for discussion. Is it possible that our modern concept of an editor is what is really blocking our understanding of the DH. In other words, maybe the editor was attempting to chronicle the conflicting opinions as they occurred without necessarily intending to produce a single cohesive story. Wasn't this the style favored by the Talmud itself?

January 08, 2008 8:01 AM  
Blogger Baal Habos said...

Anonymous,
>And if you consider the oral teachings as a primary source (and therefore give legitimacy to oral law, which REF may have chosen not to do), does it introduce an additional source that would require incorporation into the final "edit" but also reconcile some of the apparent inconsistencies in the text.

That is a novel concept, at least to me. Can you provide some references for reading about this concept? I.E. that the Midrashic interpretations are one of the background of the Torah?

If I underestand you correctly, an Oral medrash existed, it was used as one of the sources for the Bible, and then for instance Medrash Rabbah was written?

My first instinct would be then why hide these facts in the texts? Why is the text not more explicit with Midrashic details?

January 08, 2008 8:17 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Anonymous,

In terms of documenting conflicting opinions in the Torah, I have trouble with this idea because the Talmud seems like such a different type of document. Its intent was to preserve the discussions. The Torah's style is much more of a narrative. There is a story with a plot and main characters.

Although I agree that we may be "blocking" on the editor concept. One thing that REF mentions in "The Bible with Sources Revealed" is that the Bible is unique as an ANE prose document. There are no other documents that are like it, so it is hard to compare/contrast with anything else.

As an aside, and I am sure in many ways it is self evident, but there is a huge difference between what is at stake for Biblical scholars and for Orthodox Jews in terms of this analysis.

For the non-Orthodox, this is essentially like a crossword puzzle. You guess words and fill them in. If you find two words that conflict, you go back and try to find another word that fits better. Other than ego, there is no downside to being wrong.

For the Orthodox, you are constrained by thousands of years of tradition that cannot be contradicted directly. Instead you need to worm your way around to try to make things fit. And ultimately, you are constrained in your conclusions.

January 08, 2008 8:40 AM  

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