Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Who's Assuming about the Bible?

Some opponents of the Documentary Hypothesis of the Bible like to say that the hypothesis is only supported because such people make the assumption that the Bible was not written by God and therefore they look for human sources. But really now, allow me to demonstrate why not assuming the Bible to divinely written is not a crazy assumption made by people with an agenda.

Suppose you hand the Bible to a guy in the middle of Africa who has never heard of Judaism or Monotheism of any kind. He is completely free of preconceived notions towards the Bible. He starts reading it. You think he's going to jump up and start screaming that he knows he's reading the word of God? I doubt that. It's just a book to him with some nice stories.

Unless they were socialized into that belief from childhood, it takes convincing to make someone believe that the Bible is divine.

It is a lack of assumptions from which the Documentary Hypothesis springs. I see a book here, I know people write books. Do I know if God is real, do I know if God writes books? No, I don't. The fewest assumptions lies with not assuming the book to be divine.

As an abductive scientific hypothesis it is made with the fewest assumptions. Those who created it are not assuming that it is not divine, they simply do not have any compelling evidence to convince them that it is. And they have a better explanation for the book with all its various textual oddities for which the divine origin argument has difficulty explaining. Weird textual anomalies are expected in the Documentary Hypothesis but need explaining with divine writing.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think you are misunderstanding the discussion on gh's blog. I dont think anyone is questioning why someone would reject divine authorship. The question is why go with DH as "almost proven" - or why someone like GH, who presumably knew that many people believe the bible is authored by humans, is specifically convinced by the DH.

Would the guy in Africa really decide that the bible is the work of a whole bunch of authors, with the text spliced as the DH presumes, to balance competing political forces etc? Somehow I doubt it.

Anonymous said...

"And they have a better explanation for the book with all its various textual oddities for which the divine origin argument has difficulty explaining."

How about it was transmitted orally for a long time, written down and edited in odd ways theory. Rather than spliced text theory. For the guy in africa:)

Anonymous said...

"Would the guy in Africa really decide that the bible is the work of a whole bunch of authors, with the text spliced as the DH presumes, to balance competing political forces etc? Somehow I doubt it."

Not necessarily, but they would notice the many contradictions and oddities. What they would conclude from this is anyone's guess.

Anonymous said...

"What they would conclude from this is anyone's guess."

Exactly.
Opponents of DH aren't necessarily saying that the only rational alternative is divine authorship!

Orthoprax said...

Anon (the first),

"I think you are misunderstanding the discussion on gh's blog. I dont think anyone is questioning why someone would reject divine authorship."

Although I wrote a related post and used a similar wording and text as in a couple of my responses on GH's blog, my blog here stands independently.

I didn't want a repeat of the discussion at GH here. No real point in that. I was just focusing on the one view that it's just an assumption that the Torah is not the divine which leads to conclusions that don't agree with the traditional view. That line of reasoning is flawed, as demonstrated.

Anon (the second),

"How about it was transmitted orally for a long time, written down and edited in odd ways theory. Rather than spliced text theory."

Could be, but I really think the doublets and the way one seems to be able to pull two strands apart gives credence to multiple sources.

Anon (the fourth - who may also be Anon the first),

"Opponents of DH aren't necessarily saying that the only rational alternative is divine authorship!"

True, but I have heard arguments where they claim that it is irrational assumptions which found all other possibilities.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't trying to move the GH discussion here, just using that for shorthand, sorry.

I think that people reject the DH on the merits. They find it circular and speculative. That doesn't imply that they think the only alternative is divine authorship. Most people understand that one needs, as a matter of faith, to believe in God before even accepting the possiblity of divine authorship, and I doubt many would call it "irrational" to believe the bible is a human text.

I think it's very unfortuante that you've put DH up against divine revelation. The objection is that DH is supposed to be solid evidence against divine authorship. I don't think it is, b/c I don't think it's a solid theory.

But the irrationality is in pitting the two against each other - in claiming DH involves less speculation than anything else - not to the basic premise that it's more "rational" or parsimonious to believe in human authorship. What's irrational is to claim that DH somehow puts paid to divine authorship when actually it involves all sorts of leaps of faith and speculations. That's a magic trick. The idea is supposed to be that divine vs human authorship is just a matter of faith vs lack of faith, but that the DH is somehow scientific so therefore it's "scientific, scholarly theory" vs faith. relying on DH to reject TMS is just a way of pretending that there is solid scholarly evidence in favor of human authorship - after all DH purports to say WHO wrote what in the Bible - when it's still what it always was: faith vs nonfaith and DH adds nothing much other than speculations.

You probably would do well to read Cassuto, if you can find a copy in the library.

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

"The objection is that DH is supposed to be solid evidence against divine authorship. I don't think it is, b/c I don't think it's a solid theory."

I agree and I don't think most people should argue it that way. TMH has internal evidence against it which requires a ton of ad hoc assertions to explain every oddity. DH is just a framework that does generally explain things better in a more cogent manner.

I don't think any one DH has all the answers, they're all too speculative for that. But I do think it is in the right direction. I don't claim that DH is more parsimonious because of the evidence behind it but because of its explanatory power.

D.C. said...

Orthoprax, I think that both believers and nonbelievers approach the Torah with a set of assumptions. As a believer, I am assuming that our mesorah counts for something in trying to ascertain the truth. Nonbelievers are assuming that it does not.

You'll never conclusively prove Divine or human authorship from the text itself, so it's a question of where the burden of proof lies. I'm coming to a reasonable conclusion based on my assumption, and the documentary hypothesis, despite its flaws, is not an entirely unreasonable conclusion for one coming from a different assumption to reach.

The hypothetical Africans would not be familiar with the mesorah of Torah mi-Sinai, so they might, indeed, come to share your conclusion.

I'm not advocating an "emunah peshutah" approach of rejecting any attempt to approach the question objectively. I simply think that our mesorah need not be summarily rejected as a legitimate piece of evidence in our quest for the truth. I know that the "Kuzari proof" has its holes, but I think it should certainly count for something.

Just as I don't advocate "emunah peshutah" in religious orthodixies, I think that an open-minded person should not automatically accept every "academic orthodoxy" either. There a lot of very smart people in the academy, but there are also a lot of very smart people in the beit midrash, and just as you would be the first to state the the latter are only human, and are subject to factors such as peer pressure when deciding what orthodoxies of their world can be questioned, keep in mind that the same is true of the former.

Orthoprax said...

D.C.,

"I think that both believers and nonbelievers approach the Torah with a set of assumptions."

See, you can't say that to me because I was a believer and made a conscious effort to remove my preconceptions of the text which resulted as you are familiar with. I _removed_ my assumptions.

"I simply think that our mesorah need not be summarily rejected as a legitimate piece of evidence in our quest for the truth."

Every people and religion has their own mesorah. I don't think you trust in any of those, do you? Imagine taking the Native American stories seriously.

"...keep in mind that the same is true of the former."

Oh, no doubt there. Sometimes I think we're all a bunch of posers and nobody has any real idea of what's going on.

D.C. said...

"Every people and religion has their own mesorah. I don't think you trust in any of those, do you? Imagine taking the Native American stories seriously."

Yes, but they, to the best of my knowledge, don't have stories of mass revelation. As I mentioned, I'm aware that the "Kuzari proof" has its weaknesses, and some its proponents tend to misrepresent the counterthesis as being that somebody maliciously decided to make up the whole thing out of the blue one day, rather than that it was a myth that developed over time.

Nonetheless, if not completely impossible, it does seem implausible for a story such as the revelation at Sinai to become accepted if it didn't really happen. I do think that it counts for a lot.

Orthoprax said...

DC,

"Yes, but they, to the best of my knowledge, don't have stories of mass revelation."

That makes it unique, but hardly excuses it from the possibility of fabrication.

"Nonetheless, if not completely impossible, it does seem implausible for a story such as the revelation at Sinai to become accepted if it didn't really happen."

If you didn't have a vested interest in the result, I don't believe you would come to that same conclusion. You are giving much too much authority to the supposed skepticism of ancient Jewry.

Is it more likely that such an incredible story was fabricated over time, as we have plenty of other examples of similar types of tales arising, or that it actually happened, as we have never experienced anything like it or have reliable record of in modern times? It's far easier for someone to write that an incredible thing happened than it actually happening.

Steve-o said...

Ortho, a few things:

1) you say that "as we have plenty of other examples of similar types of tales arising"

I was always curious about this. Can you name just two other examples? Please make sure those who "experienced" have some sort of identity (ancestors etc...) and not some unverifiable, anonymous "multitudes."

2) If this public revelation claim is so easy to muster, why don't we see it more often?

3) I am sure you are familier with the old Aish Hatorah- "Shmitah has the fingerprints of G-d" - who else would take such risks? I don't imagine proof could be brought one way or another concerning whether the miracle of shmitah occured (besides for its non-occurance nowadays), but I was wondering,do you know of other religions which offer quantifiable, this-worldly results?

4) I see that your interest in Judaism is more cultural than religious. We are family, after all! How do you see other religions? How do you understand conversion?

Orthoprax said...

Steve-o,

"Can you name just two other examples?"

Examples of supernatural events which can also use the Kuzari argument to support them? Sure.

One, in the Book of Invasions, it talks about the invasion of the Milesians(thousands of people), supposed ancestors of the Irishmen who came to conquer the Island. It reports many supernatural events which were believed by the Irish people. If that never happened, how could any Irishman be convinced that it happened to his ancestors?

Two, consider the creation stories of many peoples. How could any Greek be convinced that his ancestors were created by Prometheus if he had never heard so by his parents? It must have happened.

There are many others.

"If this public revelation claim is so easy to muster, why don't we see it more often?"

Why should you? Clearly it's not needed. Is Islam or Christianity hurting from lack of membership?

"but I was wondering,do you know of other religions which offer quantifiable, this-worldly results?"

I don't know of any which don't keep a back-door escape route. Oh, we didn't get shmittah this year, does that prove the Torah false?

But, yes, other religions do promise this-world results. What is prayer after all? What about the magic of Wicca and other primitive religions? What is a raindance? The Koran 42:20 promises a way to get worldly rewards (at the expense of otherworldly).

Shmittah is just another example of typical Biblical hyperbole.

"I see that your interest in Judaism is more cultural than religious. We are family, after all! How do you see other religions? How do you understand conversion?"

My interest in Judaism is total. I, however, only identify with the cultural/historical aspect as the religious part I cannot accept.

I don't even understand your questions. How do I see other religions? With disdain. How do I understand conversion? As a person committing himself to a different religion.

Why do you ask?

Steve-o said...

It is because I wonder if you have ever thought about "what if i had been born into another religion?" would you have the same skepticm? Probably. Would you then still foster a cultural/historical significance towards that religion? I imagine you would.

Now let us say your son comes home from yeshiva/day-school/prax training and tells you that he prefers the historical/cultural meaning of Islam. Would that bother you? Would you feel he's betraying something?

That was my question about conversion. Do you think that the familial and historical connection we have to Judaism (if nothing else) is an objective one? Can it be discarded? Is it a matter of preference?

Also, aside from the back door of Shemittah, I think that Shemittah is fundamentally different than all of your examples (Koran notwithstanding- I haven't looked it up).

First, the results of Prayer are very non-objective. Is there anyone who will claim (Judaism included) that if one prays for 10 million dollars they are guaranteed to get it? (If so give me their number!) I would imagine not. The "results" of prayers for success can be attributed to any number of things. No one suggests guaranteed results through prayer.

As well, I am more impressed by a culture which promises results for passivity than activity. Casting a spell (even assuming that it DOES work)might take nothing more than the words themselves. Words, which can be hijacked by any culture.

Shmittah comes from passivity. The promise is that it will just "happen." Follow the rules by doing nothing, and recieve a triple bounty. The back door is very small. One cannot claim "You rain-danced to the wrong step - so it didnt work." Here, there is nothing to do. It's the riskiest promise.

Why it doesnt happen nowadays? I don't know.

Orthoprax said...

Steve-o,

""what if i had been born into another religion?" would you have the same skepticm? Probably. Would you then still foster a cultural/historical significance towards that religion? I imagine you would."

If I were born into another religion I would be an entirely different person. Who knows how I'd turn out? But the difference with Judaism compared to many other religions is that they don't have a real historical context of a people. Jews are a nation, a people. You can't say the same for Christianity or Islam or Mormonism, etc. So I don't think their filial hold would be as strong.

"Now let us say your son comes home from yeshiva/day-school/prax training and tells you that he prefers the historical/cultural meaning of Islam. Would that bother you? Would you feel he's betraying something?"

Like I said, I don't think you can say that about Islam. And you can't just leave your history. It follows you wherever you go. For a person to lose their Jewish identity, to me, is a shame.

"Do you think that the familial and historical connection we have to Judaism (if nothing else) is an objective one? Can it be discarded? Is it a matter of preference?"

It's not objective at all. It's absolutely formed by each person. It can be attempted to be discarded, but it's your history. You can never really leave it. You can't choose your history. That's like choosing your parents.

"(Koran notwithstanding- I haven't looked it up)"

The Koran is very general, it's really not like the shmittah promise.

"Here, there is nothing to do. It's the riskiest promise."

Suppose it really is unique in that way, of its passive nature. I think that's splitting hairs but I haven't done much research into all the promises made by disparate religions to say whether it is actually unique...though I strongly suspect it is not.

But in any case, the only way it would be "risky" is if failed prophecies actually had an affect on the faithful. They don't. There are _always_ backdoor explanations for why it didn't happen. Or sometimes it is simply ignored.

If the prophecy of shmittah were true today, that would be outstanding and I'd be far less likely to be so skeptical. But your argument about the riskiness of such a shmittah promise does more to prove the gullibility of the Israelites than it does the authority of the Bible.

Your argument is essentially "the lie is so huge nobody would accept it, therefore it must be true." But really, humanity has not proven to be good skeptics and huge whoppers are accepted and believed by the masses all the time.