So It’s True: Today’s Biblical Scholars Really Never Have Read Wellhausen

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by Neil Godfrey

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.

First, a little background information. Within the J, E, P, and D traditions we find different names for God. The two most important indicators are Elohim (or El) and Yahweh. Before the theophany at the Burning Bush, the Elohist (E) and Priestly (P) source materials refer to God as Elohim, while the Yahwist source tends to use Yahweh (YHWH) from the very start. For E and P, Moses received a crucial revelation at a significant moment in history. The true divine name of God was finally made known to his chosen people.

Dr. McGrath writes, “Sometimes challenges have been raised to such source criticism on the grounds that varying the way one refers to God is quite common within unified religious traditions and their musical expression of their faith.” Actually, I think this point is pretty much conceded by modern proponents of the DH. If you read the works of Richard Elliott Friedman you’ll discover that simply finding story doublets, consistency of content, the two names for God, etc., is not sufficient to prove the DH.

In his excellent defense of the DH found in The Bible with Sources Revealed (p. 7, Collection of Evidence: The Seven Main Arguments), Friedman writes,

“Above all, the strongest evidence establishing the Documentary Hypothesis is that several different lines of evidence converge.” [emphasis original]

So simply finding Yahweh over here and Elohim over there would be a tantalizing (albeit insufficient) clue, but the collection of evidence taken together is what seals the deal.

Dr. McGrath continues:

“For me, the strongest support for the Documentary Hypothesis’ distinction between sources based on different ways of referring to God comes from the Psalms, specifically Psalm 14 and Psalm 53.”

He’s referring to the well-known fact that these two Psalms are nearly identical, except for some apparent scribal alterations, one of which is the different name for God. For McGrath, this is extremely significant. He writes,

“I don’t see any way of accounting plausibly for these two psalms being part of this collection other than in terms of there being different groups, or regions, or kingdoms, which had different preferences regarding how to refer to and address God.”

So let’s recap. There are two Psalms that are nearly identical. One calls God Elohim, the other calls him Yahweh. The only plausible reason, says McGrath, is that two groups had different names for God. Here comes the verdict. He concludes:

“And that makes it seem plausible to account for the different passages in the Pentateuch which refer to God in different ways in terms of those same distinct traditions or groups.”

His conclusion relies on certain unstated and unsubstantiated presuppositions, so let’s get those out of the way now. He says the two Psalms could have entered into the collection only if there were two different groups with different preferences for how they addressed God. Implicit in this statement is the assumption that the two Psalms existed side by side within two substantially contemporaneous, but separate, traditions, perhaps arising from an earlier common oral tradition. However, that is not the way Biblical scholars have explained the origin of the two Psalms.

A cogent analysis appears in “The Archetype of Psalms 14 and 53” (JBL, Vol. 46, No. 3/4 (1927), pp. 186-192) by Charles C. Torrey. The author notes that the OT contains a handful of cases in which the same hymn is “preserved, in more or less widely differing form, in more than one place.” Psalms 14 and 53 are perhaps the best known of these cases. Torrey explains that the original Psalm was a “vigorous and well planned” composition. In other words, the original was a finely crafted written document.

So how did we end up with two different versions from a single autograph? Torrey writes,

“The divergence is mainly due to accidents of scribal transmission . . .”

It’s true we have to consider questions of taste, oral transmission, popular usage, etc., but Torrey concludes that

“The two psalms which are now before us illustrate especially the way in which a slight corruption of a written text, in the process of copying, may bring with it a change of meaning – or the loss of all meaning – and thus lead to a more or less thorough revision of the immediate context.”

Clearly, Psalm 14 is closer to the archetype, but even it has deviated from the original text.

“As a matter of course there has been contamination of the text in both directions [i.e., in both Psalms],” writes Torrey, “attested still further by occasional variant readings in the extant Hebrew manuscripts.”

In other words, we are witnessing textual corruption, change, and drift over time, not between contemporaneous communities. The change from Yahweh (probably read aloud as Adonai) in the original text to Elohim was a later preference by later scribes.

So, do McGrath’s twin Psalms have anything to teach us about the DH? For McGrath’s argument to make any sense, we would have to be dealing with a hymn that existed in the Elohist tradition and in the Yahwist tradition, or the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom, respectively. That would make some sense of his claim that the names for the deity in the two psalms imply two different groups that

“account for the different passages in the Pentateuch which refer to God in different ways in terms of those same distinct traditions or groups.” [emphasis mine]

However, this is decidedly not what we’re dealing with here. First of all, the fact that Psalms 14 and 53 are nearly the same, word for word, demonstrates a literary dependence. In other words, one is either dependent on the other, or both are dependent on an earlier written source. Are we to imagine that this Psalm was written in David’s time, and then a copy made its way to Israel (a kingdom that had rejected the Davidic dynasty!), where the name of God was changed, while another copy remained in Judah, where the name remained the same? And that when the Northern Kingdom fell, the mutated psalm somehow traveled to the Southern Kingdom, where it was preserved along with the original? It strains credulity.

However, the main reason Dr. McGrath’s argument completely fails is he presupposes that E, the tradition of the Northern Kingdom (Ephraim, Elohist) preferred not to use Yahweh as the divine name. One of the major differences between the two groups, he contends, is

“that one addresses God using the divine name YHWH, and the other does not.”

This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Documentary Hypothesis.

As Friedman explains (op. cit.), many people mistakenly characterize the issue as

“a matter of terminology: namely that different sources use different names for God. But that is not correct.”

This is where McGrath has missed the boat. The key point is not a preference for one name over the other.

“The point,” Friedman writes, “is that different sources have a different idea of when the name YHWH was first revealed to humans.”

After Moses learns God’s true name, both E and P freely use the divine name. In fact, that’s one of the reasons it becomes tougher to separate E from J after Exodus 3:15. We lose the distinctive marker after that point.

The Psalms, of course, are writings that are supposed to have been written well after Moses. If we assume that both Moses and David were historical characters and that the conservative estimates for their dates are correct, then we’re talking about 500 years. By the time the kingdom is divided, it’s more like 600. By then everybody knew the chief God of the Hebrews was named Yahweh (YHWH) and no one was reluctant to use it in print. Yes, uttering the divine name became taboo – hence the practice of saying Adonai instead of YHWH. But I know of no study that would indicate that this was a geographic or sub-group preference within Judaism.

In conclusion, Psalms 14 and 53 are not the “best evidence” for the DH. In fact, they have no bearing whatsoever on the Documentary Hypothesis. Seeking evidence in the Ketuvim to bolster source-critical conclusions in the Torah is simply wrongheaded. As a proponent of the DH myself, I welcome public support by professional advocates. However, I would prefer it if my fellow advocates would take the time to read and understand Wellhausen, Noth, Frank Moore Cross, Friedman, etc., so they knew what they were talking about.

Tim Widowfield

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Neil Godfrey

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24 thoughts on “So It’s True: Today’s Biblical Scholars Really Never Have Read Wellhausen”

  1. Dr. McGrath responds: “That he and his guest poster are happy to explain the differences between these two psalms as accidental changes in the copying process illustrates well just how willing mythicists are to embrace thoroughly implausible and outdated scenarios which border on the miraculous in their unlikelihood, if and when it suits them to do so.”

    This is probably my fault. If someone doesn’t have the time to read Wellhausen carefully, he certainly won’t have the time to read my long and rambling post. So here it is again in a nutshell.

    1. McG says the only way the two nearly identical Psalms could look the way they do is if two separate groups (say J and E) made them that way. I cited text-critical analysis that showed how scholars don’t agree. I should add here that we believe the Psalms were kept in small sub-collections by various groups over hundreds of years. As they were copied and recopied, they diverged from one another. They were collected in the Ketuvim much later. This is very mainstream stuff.

    2. McG says the Psalms have the “best evidence” for the DH. I’ve studied the DH. I accept the DH. I think it’s a cornerstone of Biblical scholarship. Call me a DH fanboy. That said, the Psalms cannot be used as evidence for the DH because the point of the use of YHWH is not that the E and P traditions preferred Elohim over Yahweh; the point is when they thought the divine name had been revealed.

    McG’s argument hinges on the mistaken notion that the E tradition always preferred Elohim. That is simply incorrect. After the name is revealed, both E and P freely use “YHWH Elohim” throughout the rest of the text.

    What’s the best argument for the DH? Reading the flood story with the sources illuminated is what did it for me. See Richard Elliot Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible, p. 54 ff. You can clearly see that the story is a J and P doublet. The language in the two sources is different. Their concerns are different. The divine name appears in J. Elohim appears in P. In J, God is more present, more direct — he shuts the ark’s door for Noah; delights in the smell of Noah’s sacrifice. As Friedman says, it’s the combination of many lines of evidence that convinces us.

    Finally, to McG’s charge of “mythicism.” I’m not a mythicist. I’m an agnostic with respect to the historical Jesus. The way he frequently blurts out “Mythicist!” reminds me of how people on the Right in the US call people Marxists or how Creationists call people Darwinists. They don’t know what the terms mean, but they sure do sound bad. So the next time you see McG use mythicist as if it were a dirty word, just think “Darwinist.” Equally meaningless.

    I do find it a bit odd that I cited a stodgy old JBL article that explains textual variations in the Psalms, a process which now to him “borders on the miraculous.” Really? What do they teach people in divinity school these days?

  2. Really? What do they teach people in divinity school these days?

    Evidently not Sant Mat. (Sant Mat is the true teachings of all Saints of history; Jesus, John the B, James, Charan Singh, all of them. www/RSSB.org)

  3. This is true with any work. They only read biased third-hand synopsises. Even XXXX Bart Ehrman clearly doesn’t read primary texts. For example, if he actually had read Tertullian’s “Against Marcion” and Epiphanius’ Panarion rather than just some other XXXX scholars quick paraphrase then he would know that the Ebionites and Marcionite were NOT “polar opposites” as he called them. He would have known that like the Marcionites the Ebionites rejected parts of the Old Testament, for example. Instead he treats the Ebionites as if they were some sort of modern Orthodox Jews.

    XXXX — I have deleted Rey’s original offensive language. Rey — tone it done or I will divert your comments to spam. — Neil

  4. One of the more disturbing things about this is the apparent lack of any peer pressure on the likes of a Butler professor to post with any sense of professional accountability. He presents himself and hence his remarks on his blog as those of a professor and chair of new testament language and literature. There are a few occasions when he does overstep the boundaries with his own peers, as he recently did with a post about Richard Carrier’s ideas, and he will apologize to fellow-worthies. But he clearly feels he can escape without any censure from his peers with careless displays of culpable professional ignorance and blatantly dishonest attacks against non-academics whose views he does not bother to even try to understand. This suggests to me that there is something rotten in the State of Denmark’s biblical academy and its attitudes to outsiders who raise challenges and questions.

    But it is important that such figures are met and exposed for their fraudulent and unprofessional conduct by those outsiders. It appears there are no other checks on their conduct. It appears, for example, that the effort of constantly exposing the fallacies and outright dishonesty and blatant incompetence of the reviews of Earl Doherty’s book eventually took their toll and forced him into a retreat on that front. He was also exposed as never having read works he advised me to read and that he claimed supported his methods of historical inquiry and again went into retreat on that one. Maybe one or two others are observing and less willing to similarly open fire on outsiders who ask radical questions as a result.

    Hopefully other posts like Tim’s here can also make a small dent in keeping the lazy profs a bit more accountable to their public audiences in even the simplest basics of their profession — quite apart from any issues of unsettling challenges.

    1. When you find yourself in a hole . . . keep digging. The madness continues over on the Exploding Cakemix

      McGrath: “I think some may be forgetting that the P source, which is generally dated late, perhaps exilic or postexilic, had a preference for the use of Elohim, i.e. referring to God rather than using the name Yahweh. Genesis 1 is the classic example of that.”

      I don’t know who he’s talking about that would be “forgetting” about P. Can’t be me. After all, in my summary post I mentioned the flood story, which is merger of J and P. The point still is not about a preference for the use of Elohim vs. Yahweh. It’s about when the name Yahweh became known to humanity. In Genesis, anything from the P source is going to refer to God as Elohim, because the divine name had not yet been revealed. But once the name is known, the Yahwehs per verse (YPV) count goes way up. Take, for example, Exodus 15:6-9 (W.E.B. translation):

      6. Moses and Aaron said to all the children of Israel, “At evening, then you shall know that Yahweh has brought you out from the land of Egypt;

      7. and in the morning, then you shall see the glory of Yahweh; because he hears your murmurings against Yahweh. Who are we, that you murmur against us?”

      8. Moses said, “Now Yahwehshall give you meat to eat in the evening, and in the morning bread to satisfy you; because Yahwehhears your murmurings which you murmur against him. And who are we? Your murmurings are not against us, but against Yahweh.”

      9. Moses said to Aaron, “Tell all the congregation of the children of Israel, ‘Come near before Yahweh, for he has heard your murmurings.'”

      That’s all from the P source. By the time God starts leading the children of Israel out of Egypt, there is a new, special relationship between Yahweh and his people. For the author(s) of P, there was absolutely, positively no “preference for the use of Elohim.” There was only the conceit that the name was unknown until God rescued his chosen people and made a covenant with them. If anything, P prefers YHWH, because it is God’s true name.

      McGrath: “And so, while I am perfectly happy to acknowledge that as a New Testament scholar I could quite easily botch a matter related to the study of the Hebrew Bible, I do not believe that I have done so in this instance.”

      The Documentary Hypothesis isn’t just an esoteric theory known only to scholars of the Hebrew Bible. It is a triumph of source criticism that serves as the foundation of modern source criticism. Understanding it and its methodology is crucial to the understanding of source criticism of the Bible as a whole, including the New Testament.

  5. Why did the shift in the geographic center of scholarship from Europe (German, esp) to the USA occur? Can you direct me to a post on that? The phenomena seems critical. I wonder if Avalos would agree too?

    Has the centre of scholarship in any field remained in Germany? Or is it just Biblical issues?

    1. Good question. Would it have had something to do with (don’t mention) “THE WAR”? I know that before the war the passage in Josephus was generally considered useless as evidence for the historicity of Jesus simply on the grounds that any evidence that had been obviously tampered with at all was useless. Judas, too, suddenly became a “misunderstood and good meaning” Jew after the war.


      1. Ooops, I read your comment in my e-mail and missed this video. This is HILARIOUS, thanks! So now I see it was WWII indeed. But the rest of the questions are still unanswered — sorry, a bit dull, here.

        Also, I forgot you have a hierarchal comment system.

  6. So, WWII ? I’m sorry, you will have to be more explicit and basic for me because I am not a scholar. Are you saying that the shift happened after WWII? Is that because Germany’s intellectuals and their institutions were decimated? Or are you alluding to something more perverse — some anti-semitic or anti-anti-semitic thing? Please be explicit, I can’t understand allusions (because I don’t know this stuff). Thanks.

    And again, was it only in theology? Or was center of scholarship shifted all over because of the war?

    1. It’s largely in part because of the prominence of the US after WWII, and also because in the US there was the GI bill. Lots more people went into higher education and scholarship in the 1950s and then on, which means there are more people doing the research in the US than before. This is also seen in the sciences where the US has been producing more research than most all other nations.

    2. In addition to gilgamesh’s comment I think also it’s because we saw a migration of not a few intellectuals out of Germany with the rise of Nazism and the aftermath, and the infrastructures for scholarly work were preserved and augmented in America after the war. Not to mention a certain amount of anti-German sentiment that came in the wake of the war. Even today a German scholar who has on his record something that can even be interpreted obliquely as anti-semitic get bad press. I am thinking here of Crossley’s attack on a German scholar’s remarks speaking of “the Jew within us all” as a metaphor for a certain notion of God that religious people often subscribe to. Bultmann and other scholars are derided for any suggestion that key components of Christianity arose from the Greek world as opposed to the Jewish one as if such theories are by definition “anti-semitic”. Even an amateur like myself has been accused of anti-semitism for repeating such arguments.

      The effects, — and I am only surmising here — were compounded once American scholarship did come to dominate the field. As Lemche says, the American picture is much more “colorful” and draws in even the works of Christian apologists and conservatives who are ideologically opposed to the rationalism at the heart of German criticism. Today we are even seeing some intellectuals — not only those in religious studies — attributing Nazism itself ultimately to the Enlightenment. Postmodernist philosopher RIchard Rorty, as I understand some of his work, even appears to come close to declaring modern America as the “end of history” and (only) where the ultimate of intellectual progress can flourish.

      As for my remarks about the new approaches to Judas and the Testimonium Flavianum (TF) (mention of Jesus) in Josephus, I picked up on suggestions made by April DeConick in my post We need a good Judas. I have picked up info on how the TF was interpreted before the war in What they used to say about Josephus as evidence for Jesus and wonder if there is some element of the same at work here in post-war scholarship — an ideological need and desire to restore “the testimony of the Jew.” I don’t know, it’s just something I wonder in this case.

  7. McGrath is clearly wrong about this one. This has nothing to do with DH, it has to do with the Jews treatment of God’s name. According to the “Introduction to the Massoretico-Critical Edition of the Hebrew Bible”, by C. D. Ginsburg, Ktav Publishing House, New York, 1966 reprint., pp. 368, 369, in some instances the Jewish Sopherim substituted ʼElohim′ for the Tetragrammaton in eight places, namely, in Ps 14:1, 2, 5; 53:1, 2, 4, 5, 6. It should be noted that some of Ginsburg’s findings were confirmed with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Not in these Psalms, but some of the other 134 places that the Jewish copyists tampered with the Tetragrammaton.

  8. Oh and if it wasn’t clear in my last comment, it means that at least some of these, if not all of these Elohim/YHWH/adonay changes were done sometime between the second temple period texts and the Masoretic texts. Not during the original writing of the documents.

  9. Has anyone botherd to notice that the LXX does not follow the DH theory?

    Genesis 2:4 (MT) YHWH God – (LXX) omit God

    Genesis 2:5 (MT) YHWH God – (LXX) omit God

    Genesis 2:7 (MT) YHWH God – (LXX) omit God

    Genesis 2:8 (MT) YHWH God – (LXX) Lord God

    Genesis 2:9 (MT) YHWH God – (LXX) omit God

    Genesis 2:15 (MT) YHWH God – (LXX) Lord God

    Genesis 2:16 (MT) YHWH God – (LXX) Lord God

    Genesis 2:18 (MT) YHWH God – (LXX) Lord God

    Genesis 2:19 (MT) YHWH God – (LXX) omit God

    Genesis 2:21 (MT) YHWH God – (LXX) omit God

    Genesis 2:22 (MT) YHWH God – (LXX) Lord God

    Genesis 3:1 (MT) YHWH God – (LXX) Lord God

    Genesis 3:8 (MT) YHWH God – YHWH God – (LXX) Lord God – Lord God

    Genesis 3:9 (MT) YHWH God – (LXX) Lord God

    Genesis 3:13 (MT) YHWH God – (LXX) Lord God

    Genesis 3:14 (MT) YHWH God – (LXX) Lord God

    Genesis 3:21 (MT) YHWH God – (LXX) Lord God

    Genesis 3:22 (MT) YHWH God – (LXX) omit God

    Genesis 3:23 (MT) YHWH God – (LXX) Lord God

    Genesis 4:1 (MT) YHWH – (LXX) God

    Genesis 4:3 (MT) YHWH – (LXX) Lord

    Genesis 4:4 (MT) YHWH – (LXX) God

    Genesis 4:6 (MT) YHWH – (LXX) Lord God

    Genesis 4:9 (MT) YHWH – (LXX) God

    Genesis 4:13 (MT) YHWH – (LXX) Lord

    Genesis 4:15 (MT) YHWH – YHWH – (LXX) Lord God – Lord God

    Genesis 4:16 (MT) YHWH – (LXX) God

    Genesis 4:26 (MT) YHWH – (LXX) Lord God

    Genesis 5:29 (MT) YHWH – (LXX) Lord God

    Genesis 6:3 (MT) YHWH – (LXX) Lord God

    Genesis 6:5 (MT) YHWH – (LXX) Lord God

    Genesis 6:6 (MT) YHWH – (LXX) God

    Genesis 6:7 (MT) YHWH – (LXX) God

    Genesis 6:8 (MT) YHWH – (LXX) Lord God

    Genesis 7:1 (MT) YHWH – (LXX) Lord God

    Genesis 7:5 (MT) YHWH – (LXX) Lord God

    Genesis 7:16 (MT) YHWH – (LXX) Lord God

    Genesis 8:20 (MT) YHWH – (LXX) God

    Genesis 8:21 (MT) YHWH – YHWH – (LXX) Lord God – Lord God

    Genesis 9:26 (MT) YHWH – (LXX) Lord

    Genesis 10:9 (MT) YHWH – YHWH – (LXX) Lord God – Lord

    45 occurrences

    YHWH – omitted 7 times 15%
    YHWH – Lord 17 times 38%
    YHWH – God 7 times 15%
    YHWH – Lord God 14 times 31%

    MT – YHWH God (20); YHWH (25)
    LXX – Lord (4); God (14); Lord God (27)

    1. Thanks, and yes, I have wondered about this. If I had my life over one thesis I would like to tackle would be how modern hypotheses of sole authorship of the Primary History need to and can respond to the specific challenges and arguments of the DH. And not only the ability of a thesis for sole authorship in this context, but even one where the biblical literature is seen as the product of various schools in the Persian and/or Hellenistic eras. Can these hypotheses account plausibly or better for the various lines of argument that go into the support for the DH? So far I have only seen indicators of limited attempts for such modern views to tackle the arguments for the DH. And part of this exercise would be to study the question of priority between the Greek and Hebrew Pentateuch/Primary History. Maybe it would turn into a double-thesis if such things exist?

      1. Yes, but we would also have to consider the flip side to this. That chart I posted is from my book, and in that chapter I consider the possibility that the Hebrew Masoretic text has been altered in places, especially concerning the Tetragrammaton. And I believe a lot of these alterations would have been done after the Christian era started, and were done with the intent on opposing Christianity by the Jews. What this means is that theories like the DH are based on the Masoretic texts, a text that was likely altered by Jews of the first and second century, or even later. So for whatever reason the Jews altered these texts, that’s what DH proponents are using for the bases of their theory. It was probably a combination of the Jews attempt to protect the name from pagans and to combat Christianity. So in my opinion, basing a theory mainly off the way later Masoretic Jews used the Tetragrammaton, is not very trustworthy in determining what these texts may have said 1000 years earlier.

  10. Just for the fun of it, I decided to share what is available from the Dead Sea Scrolls of Psalm 14 and 53. The following is from the Dead Sea Scrolls Bible by Martin Abegg Jr., Peter Flint & Eugene Ulrich. As you can see, there is no way to evaluate what terms for God were used in any pre-Christian document of the Psalms.

    Psalm 14 from 11QPsc

    1 [ ]mit vile deeds.
    2 [ ] are any who are [ ]is, [ ]
    3 [ ] one.
    4 [ ] call [ ]
    5 Toward this place [ ]
    6 [ ] YHWH is [ ]uge.
    7 [ missing from scroll]

    Psalm 53 from 4QPsc, 4QPsa

    1 [ ] who do[ ]
    2 [ ]
    3 All have fallen away; togeth[ ]
    4 [ ] br[ ] and who do not call upon God?
    5 [ ]
    6 [ ]ant [ ] on the day of Zion! [ ]

  11. Some interesting backpedaling today on Exploring Our Matrix . . .


    “But as yet, the Vridar crowd have not pointed out any errors. What they have pointed out is that I did not adopt the view of the Documentary Hypothesis advocated by either Wellhausen or Friedman, which of course is typical of the crowd that gathers on that blog: they read at most a few scholars, and treat the ones they like as normative and anyone else as making mistakes or having misunderstood because they disagree with or view things differently than those few scholars the Vridar crowd has read or approves of.

    There’s a lot here to unpack. But before I analyze the insults, I will at his insistence enumerate the good doctor’s errors:

    McG’s Error 1:

    For me, the strongest support for the Documentary Hypothesis’ distinction between sources based on different ways of referring to God comes from the Psalms, specifically Psalm 14 and Psalm 53. If you read them both side by side, you’ll see that they are both essentially the same psalm, the only major difference being that one addresses God using the divine name YHWH, and the other does not.

    This is clearly wrong, because neither E nor P has an enduring preference for Elohim over Yahweh. As I’ve said at least three times now, the importance of the divine name in the Pentateuch is when it becomes known to humankind. For example, after the revelation of the divine name, the E source switches over comfortably to YHWH. For example in Exodus 4:11 (from the E source), God is angered that Moses offers the feeble excuse that he can’t speak in public because of his “heavy tongue”:

    11. And the LORD [YHWH] said unto him, Who has made man’s mouth? or who makes the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD [YHWH]? (KJV)

    According to the DH, the community that produced the Elohist tradition believed in YHWH, worshiped YHWH, and called God YHWH. However, they believed that the name “Yahweh” was unknown until it was revealed to Moses.

    McG’s Error 2:

    I don’t see any way of accounting plausibly for these two psalms being part of this collection other than in terms of there being different groups, or regions, or kingdoms, which had different preferences regarding how to refer to and address God. And that makes it seem plausible to account for the different passages in the Pentateuch which refer to God in different ways in terms of those same distinct traditions or groups.

    Again, within the Pentateuch both P and E use Elohim from the Creation until the Burning Bush. So there are great chunks of the patriarchal narrative that in which Elohim is used. The group that copied and saved Psalm 53 appears to have changed YHWH to Elohim, but this very likely happened well after the United Monarchy but before the collection of the Ketuvim.

    According to Eerdmans Commentary (p. 376):

    “The variations [between Psalm 14 and Psalm 53] indicate different transmission processes and different traditions, which have resulted in the two psalms being included in different collections of the psalter.”

    The evidence, then, indicates that some particular group at some undefined time preferred to use Elohim liturgically vs. Adonai (YHWH). But this redaction likely occurred in the exilic or post-exilic period, not in the fictional time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In fact at least one commentator (W.O.E. Oesterley) thinks Psalm 53 comes from the later Greek period.

    Incidentally, the first commenter on Exploring Our Matrix brought up the Elohistic Psalter. It’s unfortunate that nobody seemed to pick up on that term. Without going too far down the rabbit hole here, it’s interesting to read the different theories on the explanations of the variations in the different collections. But I think we’re far from seeing any kind of consensus that explains all the related phenomena. I’ve only recently come upon Goulder’s books on the Psalms, and they’re really fascinating.

    McG’s Error 3:

    What is significant about these two psalms (which are put to notirious [sic] use nowadays by some Christians) is that they provide corroboration external to the Pentateuch for differing traditions which resemble and presumably bear some relation to the traditions that produced and passed on the different Pentateuchal sources.

    This is the same error as Error 1, but repeated for effect. Even if we were to accept Goulder’s theory that Psalm 53 is older than Psalm 14, it’s the process of textual transmission to a later period that accounts for the change to YHWH. For by the time of Ezra and Nehemiah the use of Yahweh was clearly dominant.

    McG’s Error 4:

    I think some may be forgetting that the P source, which is generally dated late, perhaps exilic or postexilic, had a preference for the use of Elohim, i.e. referring to God rather than using the name Yahweh.

    The P source had no preference for the use of Elohim. It merely carried on the conceit that the name YHWH was unknown until the revelation to Moses in Exodus 3. After the revelation, YHWH is used freely. You needn’t take my word for it; you can read it for yourself. Try to count how many times in Leviticus the P source says certain laws must be followed because, “I am YHWH.”


    Now to the question of verbal abuse.

    Dr. James F. McGrath, Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament, and Eminent Blogger has some choice words for anyone who posts on Vridar. I suppose that would include me.

    He calls us “the Vridar crowd,” conjuring the image of an unwashed, unlearned mob — probably “loitering with intent,” as the cops call it. He takes issue with my citation of Wellhausen and Friedman, “which of course is typical of the crowd that gathers on that blog: they read at most a few scholars, and treat the ones they like as normative and anyone else as making mistakes or having misunderstood because they disagree with or view things differently than those few scholars the Vridar crowd has read or approves of.”

    Well, that’s rather harsh. But it’s par for the course. If Neil says something James disagrees with, James expresses displeasure. When Neil provides scholarly citations to confirm his positions, James accuses him of cherry-picking quotes. When Neil asks for specific refutation (instead of general foot-stomping and name-calling), James throws his hands up and says he can’t deal with a madman.

    Let me assure the good doctor that I have no list of proscribed scholars that I do not read, nor a list of scholars whom I deem normative. I own many books by authors I would consider conservative, if not apologetic. McGrath is probably unhappy with the fact that Neil likes to make public the views of authors now dismissed in academia, such as Couchoud. Within the hallowed halls of American universities the correct behavior is to say, “That author’s views were debunked a long time ago.” You don’t need to know what those views were. You don’t even need to know how he was debunked. It’s sufficient to know that at some point, some modern scholar drew a line around the earlier author’s work and said, “Ignore this. It is refuted for all time.”

    And let’s be honest here, does James really have a pocketful of names of modern scholars who think E and P always preferred Elohim (despite what we find in Exodus and Leviticus)? Does he have anyone in particular in mind with different views on basic concepts within the DH contra Wellhausen or Freidman? Of course not.

    McGrath continues: “And so if I seem not to take criticisms from the Vridar crowd very seriously, that is certainly true — and it is in every instance because those folks have merely read a few books and formed an opinion based on their superficial impression as outsiders. As someone who teaches Biblical studies, I need feedback of a less superficial and better-informed sort. And when that is offered, longtime readers of this blog will know, I welcome it.”

    Shall we break that down?

    Crowd — Unwashed. Uneducated. Mouth-breathing loonies.

    Those folks — Outsiders. Others. People not like us. Those people.

    merely read a few books — Largely unread. Cherry-pickers. Unruly. Undisciplined. Probably guided by ulterior motives. Possibly on some kind of conspiracy kick.

    superficial impression as outsiders — Incapable of having the deep understanding that he has, because they are those people who are outside the guild. The “outsiders” see through a glass darkly.

    better-informed sort — If evidence comes from the wrong people — those people — it may be justifiably ignored. He needs feedback from better people. Cleaner people. Smarter people. People like him.

    Let me be blunt. Dr. McGrath has no idea what my background is, how I think, or how many books I’ve read. In presenting my arguments, I have said nothing about his cognitive abilities, his television viewing habits, or his personal grooming practices. I have only presented evidence that could be either refuted or accepted. He has done neither. He has merely disparaged the source.

    True, I may have lamented the fact that Wellhausen is no longer truly read in the universities, but that’s a general observation. I must point out, however, that since Friedman is a modern scholar living in our own time and since he’s written so cogently on the subject, ignorance of the basics of the DH — so amply demonstrated in a blog post intended to promote the DH — is truly puzzling. I think it is no insult to ask, “How in the world does this happen?”

    I ask the following directly to Dr. McGrath in all sincerity: “Will you please have the common decency to address the issues and not dwell on your pathologically distorted view of the source?”

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