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.
“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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