I have yet to fulfill my promise to Dovid Kornreich: I agreed to explain how I think the Sinai story originated and developed.
Today I want to take yet another step toward directly formulating this explanation, but let me first review earlier steps:
- In "Kuzari: Belief and Evidence (and Bias, Oh My!)," I bracketed the task--i.e., my speculative explanation on the Sinai story--to give what I hope is proper perspective on its value. The best I can hope for is a fair approach to and accounting for the observed evidence. This means we cannot simply grant that the story might be true as it appears in the Torah because that smuggles in the assumption (among others) that the God of Moses existed. Anyone who wants to claim that the story is true as reported in today's Torah must show both evidence and argument for the existence of that God and his involvement in the event in question. Incidentally, that anyone might also want to show both evidence and argument for Moses, as the existence of Moses is considered unlikely.
- In "Kuzari: Deuteronomy Doesn't Validate the Sinai Revelation" I examined Deuteronomy 4:9-40 and concluded that it presented a later account of the Sinai event and interpretation of it. The passages did not, I said, provide us with a report of Sinai as it was happening. My reading was based in part on understanding the context established in Deuteronomy 1. I concluded that we could not use the Deuteronomy 4 passages to validate the Sinai event itself, but that we could use them to discuss the understanding of the Sinai story.
- I presented the Sinai stories from the J, E and P sources in "Kuzari: Three Sinai Stories." They are quite different and remarkable accounts. J is about the coming of God to Sinai and the establishment of Moses and Aaron as the official go-betweens of God and Israel. The account is more personal in E. There remains a distance between God and the people, but Moses functions as more a translator in E, whereas I see him as a representative in J. God is a black box in P, and Moses alone enters. All knowledge and authority rest with Moses.
- Most recently, I posted "Kuzari: Why Aren't There More Sinai-Like Stories?" to address the question in the title. My answer is that we have three Sinai-like stories: J, E, and P. We also have stories with one or more elements such as we find in the Sinai story. What we do not have is another story from another tradition or culture that is exactly like Sinai. But we don't need carbon copies of Sinai, and a demand for them is unreasonable.
Please specify (in future posts, perhaps) 1) the observed evidence and 2) tested hypotheses which reconstruct the textual history of Deuteronomy--which do not commit logical fallacies. Namely: of assuming the conclusion at the outset. Meaning they do not initially view the evidence through the prism of the conclusion.This is a great comment deserving serious consideration, and the topic it raises concerns the nature of evidence. What is the evidence? What does it mean for something to be taken as evidence? What is the relationship between evidence and hypothesis?
I have yet to come across such fallacy-free evidence and hypothesis testing in Biblical scholarship.
These are huge questions that I think can be usefully approached by first establishing the big picture. For us, the big-big picture is essentially a model of the world and how it works. There are several ways to specify the model, but let's try this:
- The natural world operates according to physical laws.
- Events in the natural world have physical components.
- Events can cause other, subsequent events.
- Some events can literally be more effective than other events.
- Some events are more likely to have regular causes than other events.
If someone wants to modify the model by saying--for example--"The natural world operates according to physical and spiritual laws," then I need to know what we are talking about when we use the term spiritual laws. I need to know what spirit is, what it does, and how we build knowledge of it.
But I want to return to the model I sketched out before because we do not need to commit ourselves to it. We can test the model and ask questions about it:
- (a) Given the model I described, how do we assess the likelihood of specific observations?
- (b) Given a set of observations and the model above, how do we choose the cause-effect chain that best explains the observations?
- (c) Given a set of observations and different models or different variations within the model above, how do we find the best model or model variation that best explains the observations?
there were thunder claps and lightning flashes, and a thick cloud was upon the mountain, and a very powerful blast of a shofarIn our model, how likely are thunder claps, lightening, and clouds by mountains? Likely within normal ranges. In other words, weather events fit right into our model. So far as I know, there is nothing related to climate or geography that would make a weather event practically impossible at Sinai.
Now, what happens if we use our model and the second bullet (b) above? Well, we can establish different configurations of natural causes and events that would lead up to thunder, lightening and clouds on Sinai at a particular time. Our proposed configuration may or may not be close to the truth, but they will be complete. We have no need to invoke anything beyond the model to develop a minimally viable hypothesis.
How about using our model and the third bullet (c) above? This could be the time to ask whether a model that included "and spiritual" might perform better than the original model for the given observation. It won't, unless we have a way to identify what specifically is spiritual in the observed event. In other words, unless and until we can agree on what information does and does not fall within the category "spiritual," then the concept is superfluous for our purposes.
We can now return to Dovid Kornreich's question to me and talk about the observed evidence. I'll cite biblical scholar Richard Elliott Friedman (from The Bible with Sources Revealed) and list the evidence of the multiple source hypothesis as follows:
- Linguistic evidence (p. 7): The different sources reflect the Hebrew language of several distinct periods. The change in language is attested through Hebrew texts outside the Torah.
- Terminology (p. 8): Certain words and phrases appear disproportionately and even entirely in some sources but not in others.
- Consistent content (p. 10): This is the "different sources use different names for God" line of evidence. More correctly, the sources differ on when the name of God was first revealed to humans. A second line of evidence in this same category concerns sacred objects such as the Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant, Urim and Tummim, and so on. Some sources dwell excessively on one or more of these objects while other sources make no mention at all. A third line of evidence involves the priestly leadership. In the P source, the line of Aaron has exclusive access to the divine. The arguments for this line are more substantial than I can relate here and now, so do read Friedman and others on this. Finally, P is unique among the sources in its concern over ages, dates, measurements, numbers, order, and precise instructions.
- Continuity of texts (p. 13): When the sources are separated from one another, each makes a flowing, sensible text. In discussing this line of evidence Friedman addresses an objection I already know is coming, as it is expressed in Kornreich's question. The objection is that the multiple source hypothesis came first, and then the Torah was divided to produce this result. Friedman anticipates this type of objection:
So much of the text flows smoothly flows smoothly...that it is not possible that any scholar could have constructed it to do so while keeping all the evidence consistently within sources. The scholar would still have to keep all the sources' similar versions of common stories (known as "doublets") separated. The scholar would still have to keep all of the characteristic terminology of each source within the passages attributed to that particular source. The scholar would still have to keep all of the linguistic evidence for the stages of Hebrew intact, all the occurrences of the divine name consistent within sources, and all the other lines of evidence intact--all of this while producing stories that flow smoothly.
- Connections with other parts of the Bible (p. 14): I'll let Friedman's words make the case here.
When distinguished from one another, the individual sources each have specific affinities with particular portions of the Bible. D has well-known parallels of wording with the book of Jeremiah. P has such parallels with with the book of Ezekiel. J and E are particularly connected with the book Hosea. This is not simply a matter of a coincidence of subject matter in these parallel texts. It is a proper connection of language and views between particular sources and particular prophetic works.
- Relationships among the sources to each other and to history (p. 18): We see that each source has connections to specific circumstances in history and to other sources. J appears connected to the kingdom of Judah in the south of Israel. E has connections with northern Israel. Our time frame here is between 922 and 722 BCE. P is connection to the time of Hezekiah, king of Judah from 715-687 BCE. D is associated, as we have previously discussed, with the reign of Josiah, king of Judah from 640-609 BCE. Finally, the P source has a consistent relationship with the prior sources J and E. Its content and order of episodes show it to be an alternative composition to JE.
- Convergence (p. 27): I'll once again let Friedman state the case:
Above all, the strongest evidence establishing the Documentary Hypothesis is that several different lines of evidence converge....The most compelling argument for the hypothesis is that this hypothesis best accounts for the fact that all this evidence of so many kinds comes together so consistently.
I will apologetically avoid sketching out a personal, provisional model of how the Torah was constructed. One reason for this is that Kornreich's question to me can be fully addressed now without such a model. The second reason is that I may need to provide it in the next post, which I expect will be my promised explanation of how the Sinai story originated and developed.
To answer Kornreich's question, then:
- The observed evidence is such that is enumerated above. We observe, for example, words in the Bible from different periods in the history of the Hebrew language. One explanation for this observation is that preserved content from earlier times was later combined with other content and the whole thing became one composite text.
- The tested hypotheses are not only the species of the Documentary Hypothesis but species of what I'll call the Divine Inspiration Hypothesis. The latter set ranges from taking the Torah as the word of God transmitted through Moses to taking it as assembled (a la the DH) by divinely inspired redactors. The tests include incorporating new observations and data points and reconciling lines of evidence with each other. In other words, we are not looking simply for an explanation to the language history observation, we are looking also for an explanation that is compatible and consistent with other lines of evidence.
- Do modern biblical scholars such as Friedman presume the truth of the Documentary Hypothesis at the outset? Friedman's statements in the "Continuity of texts" line of evidence (#4) argue against circularity. These statements also suggest how circularity could be exposed and the DH challenged. Now, we do need to bring some assumptions to the table beforehand. For example, if we assume that there are no contradictions at all in the Bible, we can come up with all sorts of ingenious ways to explain apparent contradictions to make them "go away." The real question is how do we choose between the assumption that Torah contains no contradictions and the assumption that it may contains contradictory accounts and statements? I don't think that we can answer this question without thinking long and hard about our big-picture model.
But this is where I really should invite Dovid himself to respond. And so...my questions to Dovid:
- Are the seven observations valid? Which ones are not, and why not?
- Of the observations that are valid, how do you explain what we see in the text?
- How do your explanations better account for the observations than explanations under the Documentary Hypothesis?
- How would you modify or alter the big-picture model I developed earlier in this post?
- Assuming you subscribe to a version of the Divine Inspiration Hypothesis, how do you personally avoid assuming its truth when you are reasoning about what you observe in the Bible and in the sacred works of other religions?