I ask the following directly to Dr. McGrath in all sincerity

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by Neil Godfrey

I am copying Tim’s comment on a recent post here as a post in its own right.

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 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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Neil Godfrey

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16 thoughts on “I ask the following directly to Dr. McGrath in all sincerity”

  1. “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.”

    Hmmm…. Sounds like one of those Pharisees from the New Testament!

  2. McG: If any of that gang were interested in actual scholarly discussion, they would be addressing whether the possibility of different communities or traditions with different preferences regarding names for God makes sense and fits relevant evidence, not asking whether others who’ve written on the subject happen to agree with me or not.

    I’m not sure how to answer this one. If I had begun this journey by arguing against his point that the Psalms contain “the best evidence for the Documentary Hypothesis” strictly using logic and quoting from scripture, Dr. McGrath would have said, “They aren’t engaging with scholarship.” Because, as you know, it is a cardinal sin not to engage with scholarship. But when I do cite relevant scholarship and back it up with a solid rational argument, he says I haven’t “addressed the possibility” that he is right.

    So, at his behest, I will address the possibility he suggests above. This is me, right now, addressing it: No. It does not fit the evidence.

    McG: Ironically, when it comes to their own views, if you point out that someone who is a mainstream scholar sees matters differently, it means nothing to them. So why this hypocrisy?

    Who is this mainstream OT scholar who sees the matter differently with respect to the DH? It would certainly mean something to me know who he is but even more to know what his or her argument is. Or should we not be suspicious of the appeal to authority? Surely it’s the substance, not the source, that makes all the difference, right?

    McG: Are these people really to be regarded as though they were sane, rational people, given their behavior?

    I’m not the one dancing around the evidence. I’m not the one refusing to offer a rational argument. I’m not the one insulting a person I don’t even know. I’m not a public intellectual who’s bullying an amateur with snide remarks about not reading the right books. I’m not calling a perfect stranger insane.

    Whose behavior seems less rational here?

    1. I have asked Dr McGrath directly for an answer to the question both you and I and no doubt others are asking: Who is this mainstream OT scholar or what is this DH argument that is an alternative to what we read by Wellhausen and Friedman and upon which DH understanding Dr McGrath appears to claim to have based his original post: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/02/the-best-evidence-for-the-documentary-hypothesis-is-in-the-psalms.html#comment-443213420

      I do hope others might encourage the professor to give a direct and unequivocal response to this question since, on the basis of past experience, I fear that persistence on my own part to elicit such confirmation from him will lead him to once again calling me insane for my efforts.

  3. I don’t know why no one is considering the most probable answer. This is most likely an issue surrounding the avoidance of using the divine name that slowly found its way into the Jewish culture. I had already posted the fragmented portions of Psalm 14 and 53 from the Dead Sea Scrolls, which clearly show that a DH can not be drawn from any pre-Christian evidence from Psalm 14 and 53. But their is other evidence on the same line. As I said, C.D. Ginsburg had collected and sifted through as many Hebrew manuscripts he could get his hands on, and in the margin of these manuscripts are numerous notations from the Jewish copyists involving many things about the text, including alternate readings. In his findings he concluded that the Tetragrammaton was replaced by Adonay 134 times and by Elohim 8 times in the Hebrew text. It is interesting that these 8 instances are found in Psalm 14 and 53. However, at that time there was no way to prove these substitutions, but when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered he was at least partially vindicated. The Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaª), supports Ginsburg’s list in the following places, exactly as claimed, Isaiah 3:18; 6:11; 7:14; 8:7; 21:16; 28:2; 37:24. Thus in these verses, the Great Isaiah Scroll has the Tetragrammaton rather than Adonay as in the Masoretic texts.

    Ginsburg’s list is also supported by the Greek parchment scroll, (8HevXIIgr), found in the Judean desert in a cave in Nahal Hever, it was dated to the middle of the first century C.E. In this manuscript, the Tetragrammaton appears in Zec 9:4 which also corroborates the claim that the Jewish Sopherim replaced the Tetragrammaton with Adonay in the Hebrew text. So at least in these instances, the use or non-use of Elohim/YHWH/Adonay has nothing to do with a DH or some Jewish community responsible for the original autographs, it has everything to do with Jewish copyist deliberately altering the Tetragrammaton sometime between the first century B.C.E. and the earliest Masoretic manuscripts. Someone might want to clue McGrath on this info as I refuse to go onto his blog.

    1. I think you’re correct. As is well known, the commandment not to take the name of YHWH in vain most likely referred to the prohibition against using YHWH’s name in an oath, as in: “I swear by Yahweh that I am telling the truth” — especially if it was a lie. It’s such a bad sin that teachers of the law began to build a hedge or fence around it. See the entry for Chumra at Wikipedia.

      The idea for the fence around the Torah comes from Deut. 22:8:

      When you build a new house, then you shall make a parapet [or “railing”] for your roof, that you bring not the guilt of blood upon your house, if any man fall from there. (KJV)

      The thinking goes this way. If you make it impossible to commit the sin, that’s a good thing. So the easiest way to keep people from using Yahweh’s name in vain is to forbid them from saying it at all. The practice of saying “Lord” (Adonai) when reading YHWH ensures that you will never say the holy name. Hence you can never break the commandment.

      Of course, we get into the odd situation in which the euphemism itself becomes taboo. Today, many Christians wouldn’t want to use “God” in a curse, but of course that is not God’s name. Even Jews can be found spelling God as “G-d,” as if a generic word from a Germanic root is somehow related to the specific name of God.

      Anyhow, back to the Bible. I agree some communities became (as you said, much later) more comfortable using Elohim in the Psalms, because even though the vowel pointing might tell you to say Adonai, there was still the risk of uttering “YHWH” accidentally. Sometimes they built a fence around the fence. In some quarters, “HaShem” (השם, “the Name”) became popular as a way to remove the possibility of uttering the true name.

      So in a nutshell, the euphemisms for YHWH serve as railing around the Torah. They keep you from accidentally falling off the edge and breaking the seventh commandment.

      But don’t take my word for it. After all, I’m a crazy person who dares to disagree publicly with a prominent scholar.

      1. What prominent scholar would that be, I don’t recognize one in these discussions. Oh you mean that scholar from the matrix that claims to be a Christian, but thinks Christ’s Jewish history is nothing more then a collection of uninspired stories. The same Christian scholar that does not believe Christ did any of the things he is reported to have done. So I guess that makes McGrath a faithful follower of some normal dude from the first century. Hope that works out for him.

        I don’t mind discussing things with people who don’t believe the Bible, that’s their right. But it is utterly ridicules trying to discuss things with someone who doesn’t believe the Bible but thinks they are a Christian. Anyway, I think the key point about the replacement of the Divine name is that it was done, at least some of them, much later than the time that DH proponents think it was done. For example, the Isaiah Scroll I believe is dated to about 125 B.C.E., so the changes that Ginsburg predicted were done a long time after the book of Isaiah was a complete document. There is no way possible that these changes could have played any part in the construction of an Isaiah document from multiple Isaiah documents.

  4. It is so interesting to see the credentialism of Biblical studies melt away when you look at a field with real scholarship and an actual research program. Here’s Dr. Patricia Churchland giving advice to students:

    “And if you want to learn a field, a sub-field, you just learn it. If you have a reasonably good mathematical background, you can go into any of these areas. And if you’re determined, and you’re energetic, and you’re ambitious, you will pick it up. It helps to have some math. In order to analyze papers, and to understand the statistics, you really need that. I’ve seen psychologists go into neuroscience and thrive. I’ve had several philosophy graduate students who have shifted field, and thrived—unbelievably. I had one student who was interested in existentialism, and phenomenology, and so forth; and then one summer he went to work for Bill Kristan, who works on the leech and decision-making in the leech. And Eric just fell in love with the work; and he changed fields, and now he does brilliant work in neuroscience. And he still brings, I think, some ideas and thoughts from his philosophical background; but he didn’t need to have even a biology degree in order to make that shift. I think if you’re determined, and you really want to know stuff, you just work at it, and you’ll learn it, and away you go. And actually, sometimes (I’m sure you know this; but this was something that Francis Crick used to remark upon) it’s the people who come from outside the field—who haven’t been immersed in it from the ground up, so to speak—who bring new eyes to it, and see it in a slightly different way, a slightly different slant. And they sometimes end up doing things that are really wonderful, and wonderfully surprising.”

  5. I think your finding more and more that the best term to describe McGrath is “sneaky”. Remember, this is the guy that tells conservative christians that he is a christian, but tell academics, that he is not a supernaturalist. He is all about being sneaky. He wants to keep his job in the religion industry, and sell books.

    Cheers! RichGriese.NET

  6. I thought I would share some information on the subject of mainstream scholars’ opinions on the DH. Remember that list of Genesis verses I posted comparing the MT and the LXX? Well when preparing my book, I sent that list to Emanuel Tov for his opinion regarding the LXX and the DH theory, here is what he said. You can take this anyway you like, but to me it looks like he does not support such a theory. Notice that he says “i don’t know enough” about the subject. He is not talking about the Hebrew Bible or the LXX because he is an expert in both, in fact he produced an interlinear Hebrew/LXX with Robert Kraft, which I own.

    dear sir

    i really cannot help you since i don’t know enough. there’s a vast literature on this issue starting with the 1880s or 1900s when scholars started to investigate this issue in connection with the doc. theory. harold wiener is one name that comes to mind. another name that comes to mind is graf w.w. von baudissin who wrote a two-vol book kyrios als gottesname im judentum with maybe 1000 pages on kyrios in the lxx. i would have to read all that material first. then i would have to check the apparatus of the critical editions of the lxx of gen. afterwards i would have to evaluate the translation character of genesis in greek, and only afterwards i would be able to examine your theory. i read your notes, but really have no opinion.

    i do thank you for your kindness of turning to me, but i have nothing special to say. in the next few weeks i am not available for e-mail because of vacation travel.



    Emanuel Tov עמנואל טוב
    Dept of Bible החוג למקרא
    Hebrew University האוניברסיטה העברית
    Jerusalem, 91905 ירושלים 91905


    In Rome until 1.08.09


  7. Niel

    You say “Try to count how many times in Leviticus the P source says certain laws must be followed because, ‘I am YHWH.’”

    It has to be pointed out that the section in which the “I am YHWH” mantra is repeated again and again is generally identified as belonging to the lesser source H – from “The Holiness Code” (Leviticus 17–26). While clearly related to P is distinct from it. Classic Wellhausen theory considered it a more primitive version of P legislation, and incorporated into P. Some 20th Century revisions of the DH considering it a post-P corpus, in touch with and engaging with more popular JE that that the more arcane, insular P avoided.

    I should also metion a Supplementary Hypothesis theory by Tsemah Yoreh (http://www.biblecriticism.com/supplementary_index.html) who revives and revises the E source, but in a very rigorous way – for him E NEVER adoptes the term YHWH at all, and continues to use the word God alone in some key pericopes. I don’t entirely buy his textual criticism, but it does have intersting ramifiactions, and might go some way to addressing some problems that arise from the source divisions of the traditional Documentary Hypothesis.

    1. All that may well be and it’s good to come across new information for further inquiries — but don’t assume that posts I wrote some years ago represent my views today. I would need to revisit the post here in some depth and the circumstances that led to it for me to offer a constructive response. As normally happens the more one reads and learns the more tentativeness one attaches to one’s ideas.

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