Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Umberto Cassuto - The Documentary Hypothesis - Introduction

These are my notes as I read the book...

The introduction is written by Joshua A Berman, an Orthodox Rabbi and lecturer at Bar-Ilan.

The introduction begins by talking about Thomas Kuhn and his concept of "paradigm shift". Kuhn argues that scientists are constrained by a prevailing paradigm to restrict their hypotheses to those which are conformant to the paradigm. Those who try to think outside the box are excluded and looked down upon. Evidence of outcomes which do not fit the paradigm are viewed skeptically and explained away as outliers or errors. However, at some point the evidence becomes too overwhelming to explain away and so the paradigm shifts.

Berman argues (somewhat convincingly) that the same has occurred in Biblical Criticism where anything which does not presuppose a DH is rejected prima fascie. He then presents Cassuto as one who is at the forefront of the new paradigm shift, which sees the Torah as a coherent document and not as a redacted conglomerate of multiple disparate sources. This is a little peculiar as Cassuto died in 1951 and the introduction was written in 2005. Surely, had he been at the forefront of this paradigm shift, the shift would have occurred by now?

One thing which struck me as very odd about this notion, is that, of course, Cassuto's position is the traditional position that had been prevalent for as far back as we can go in history. So, while it is true that it is a paradigm shift from the DH proponents, it is primarily a shift back to the classical view.

It is possible that I misunderstood Berman's point. He does seem to imply that Cassuto himself, though a rabbi, did not argue for Mosaic authorship. Nor did he necessarily exclude the possibility that the Torah may have been based on preexisting documents, in the same way that Shakespeare had based many of his plays on existing stories and plot lines, yet we would not say that Shakespeare redacted them. According to Berman, Cassuto makes the point that the DH both ignores the complex thematic and documentary structure within the Torah and that the distinctions the DH makes when it tries to separate out the "sources" are fallacious and based on both preconceived ideology and lack of understanding.

With respect to ideology, Berman (not sure if making his own point or echoing Cassuto) makes very valid points that in many ways, the 19th and early 20th centuries were very big on defining an ideology and especially identifying trends and then molding your thought process accordingly. It was not enough for Wellhausen to post multiple sources, but he also had to identify them with various stages of Israelite development. Wellhausen is labeled a historicist and a romanticist. I'll have to read up on these and their relationship to early Biblical Scholarship.

The introduction was well written. Now onto the first chapter.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cassuto most definitely did not believe that Moshe wrote the Pentateuch. Not even close! He believed in late, composite authorship (the "late" applying to its final form). He has tainos on some specific issues of the DH, some of which were sharp and some of which were, charitably, very weak, but in no way does he help out the Orthodox position. He does the opposite in fact: he shows that even someone strongly opposed to the DH cannot defend Torah miSinai on grounds of reason and argument, that the evidence for composite authorship is insurmountable. The lack of enthusiasm with which the OJ world greeted his works are clearly because of that; his book is occasionally pointed to but never used in toto or in substance. If his arguments helped OJ you can be sure his book would have been pounced on and promulgated with glee. They don't.

March 23, 2010 9:43 AM  
Blogger B. Spinoza said...

>It was not enough for Wellhausen to post multiple sources, but he also had to identify them with various stages of Israelite development

This is the part of DH that I find speculative and not very convincing. It's all well and good to point out duplicates and contradictions and different style of writings and to suggest that the cause is multiple sources. it's another thing to start speculating about the political struggles which are the basis of the different sources

March 23, 2010 10:00 AM  
Anonymous Student said...

Re: strong and weak arguments of Cassuto. Attacks on the dating of the sources have always been the strongest attacks; lots of anti-DH works (fundamentalist or otherwise) focused on that. It makes sense, since even in the pro-DH crowd dating is nowhere near a consistent consensus. That doesn't mean much in terms of "disproving" the DH; it just shows that the dating can't be considered reliable or definitive, not that composite authorship itself is unreliably determined. This was R' DZ Hoffman's biggest error: thinking that undermining the dating undermined the DH. To be fair, RDZH was attacking Wellhausen, for whom dating was indeed central to his anti-semitic thesis, i.e. legalistic (read: icky Jewy halacha) P came after, and thus "corrupted," earlier ("more Christiany") sources. Thus, RDZH thought his work done and the DH slain after undermining some of Wellhausen's arguments for the dating of the sources. But it's not so, and the DH survived--and was in fact strengthened!--by the honing of such criticism and the culling of the less supportable bits (including the anti-semitism).

March 23, 2010 10:14 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Thanks everyone - I look forward to reading the book.

Student, one thing I am not sure I agree on is calling Wellhausen an anti-semite based on his ideas of supercession. Maybe he said other things which were more indicative of his anti-semitism, but this seems like a theological interpretation. I mean it is not any different than me criticizing Christian beliefs. I don't think that makes me anti-Christian in the more colloquial sense of the word.

March 23, 2010 10:46 AM  

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