Revelation, Tradition, and Scholarship: A Response

By Ben Elton

Ben Elton’s guest post is the 6th part in a series discussing whether modern biblical scholarship is a danger to traditional Jewish belief. The first 3 parts, two talks and a Q&A session from Rabbi Menachem Leibtag and Dr. James Kugel, are available herehere, and here. The fourth part, a very short list of some Rabbinic sources that do not believe Moses is the sole author of the Torah, is available here, while our last post, a short look at Dr. Nahum Sarna’s approach to the matter, can be found here.

Yitzchak Sprung is in the middle of a series of posts on this blog exploring whether modern biblical scholarship is a danger to traditional Jewish belief. We have seen perspectives from Menachem Leibtag, James Kugel, Nahum Sarna and a digest of Hazal and Rishonim who did not believe that the entire Torah was either given at Sinai or given to Moses. All of this discussion and analysis is interesting and much of it is valuable, but there are also problematic elements to his enterprise, which this post is designed to highlight.

We should always attempt to reveal the nuance and complexity of our tradition. Yitzchak has brought to our attention once more, sources in the Talmud which understand that the Torah (by which I mean the Pentateuch) was given not in one fell swoop but over the course of the wanderings in the desert, and that the last few pasukim were dictated not to Moses but to Joshua. We have been reminded that significant medieval scholars held that there may have been some amendments to the text even later than that. Abraham Ibn Ezra has long been known for holding that view; more recently we have learnt that Yehuda HeHassid held similar views. All this is to the good, and we should not be perturbed that the Rambam disagreed and his Principles of Faith reflect his different position. Rishonim do not always agree, indeed that is the foundation for much traditional learning.

However, we should not delude ourselves. There is a vast chasm between these traditional (if sometimes marginal) views and the contemporary approach. Although the academy is perhaps rowing back from the high point of biblical minimalism, the consensus of modern scholars does not accept there was an Egyptian slavery of the entire Hebrew nation, nor an Exodus, a Moses, the Revelation at Sinai, nor the conquest of the Land.1 We cannot reconcile modern scholarship and traditional faith by referring to the sources that Yitzchak discussed. Indeed, as Marc Shapiro has shown (for some reason the radicalism of Shapiro is often overstated), all authorities agree that these events took place and all regard the belief in a direct Divine Revelation as essential.2 This is true of figures as separated by time and culture as Joseph Albo and Moses Mendelssohn.3

So let us be clear. Accepting the findings of biblical scholarship would represent a complete departure from traditional Jewish thought. It means far more than viewing the Rambam’s Thirteen Principles as just one voice in a complex conversation; it means rejecting the attitude towards the Torah held by every Jew until Spinoza and every traditional Jew since. This point too has been acknowledged by scholars and thinkers on both sides of the question, from Joseph Hertz to Louis Jacobs.4 The Documentary Hypothesis shatters the traditional view. The idea that the Torah was written by many hands over many centuries and redacted in the Persian period or later is totally absent from traditional accounts. Even David Weiss Halivni cannot stomach this view, and argues for a Revelation at Sinai followed by a reconstruction of something approaching an original text, which would account for the features which academics ascribe to multiple authorship and editing.5

Further, this change in our view of the Torah would require the construction of an entirely new theology of halakhah, which brings me to my second point. Many have tried to create a new justification for the observance of mitzvot absent direct Divine Revelation. In America, Solomon Schechter took the first steps, followed by Louis Ginzberg and Louis Finklestein. In Britain the same was attempted by a group of figures I discussed in a recent article in Conservative Judaism, culminating in Louis Jacobs in a series of books, pamphlets and lectures.6 Most recently Joel Roth has restated much the same arguments.7 They all suggest that while the Torah may be the result of many years and many authors and editors it has nevertheless received Divine sanction through history, specifically its acceptance by the Jewish People and therefore can still be the basis for a binding halakhah.

There are three fatal problems with this approach. First, it breaks down even for its advocates at some point. Louis Jacobs repeatedly advanced the view that halakhah remained binding whatever our conclusions might be on the authorship of the Torah, but became queasy when it can to institutions such as mamzer, which he attributed to a human, as opposed to Divine element in the biblical text, and wanted to eliminate. The problem being, that in his view the Torah should be regarded as both entirely human and entirely Divine. Gordon Tucker took a similar approach to the prohibition of homosexuality and argued vigorously that he could not exclude his views on the Bible from his thinking about the position of gay Jews and his desire to enable them to find personal fulfilment with a partner, and his belief that God wanted that too.8

The second problem is that this view actually inhibits halakhic change. The traditional view that a Divinely revealed law was given into human hands, allows for reconsideration of its meaning in every generation in the light of its needs. The train of thought that comes from attempting to reconcile modern thought on the Bible with a commitment to halakhah, concludes with the idea that whatever has been accepted is binding. This logically precludes further development because the status quo always has the Divine imprimatur. Of course, this point has long since been put to one side in practice.

The third problem is sociological. The attempts by the early leaders of the Conservative Movement to justify a binding halakhah without direct Divine Revelation comprehensively failed. The Conservative laity has never been halakhic and now the Conservative rabbinate is not halakhic either. David Wiess Halivni and Alan Yuter made this point in the 1980s, Ismar Schorsch and Joel Roth more recently. It is an irrefutable fact that the abandonment of the doctrine of direct Divine Revelation leads inexorably to the collapse of traditional Jewish life, with all its meaning, beauty and power.

Where does this leave us? We have to stop pretending. We have to acknowledge that our traditional sources do not bring us closer in any real sense to modern biblical scholarship, although its observations may be useful in prompting our own thoughts, and that was certainly true of Mordecai Breuer (Menachem Leibtag’s teacher) who saw many perspectives in a unitary text.9 We can continue to delve into our own tradition, but in its own terms and not to try to find a way to reconcile with contemporary scholarship. If we want to continue as traditional Jews either in thought or deed then, in the words of Alexander Kohut, higher criticism of the Pentateuch is ‘noli me tangere – hands off!’10

Ben Elton is a second year semicha student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.

If you’d like to submit a guest post or response, please contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

1 Israel Finkelstein, Amihay Mazar, Brian B. Schmidt, The Quest for the Historical Israel (Society of Biblical Literature 2007)

2 Marc S. Shapiro, The Limits of Orthodox Theology (Littman Library of Jewish Civilisation 2004), chapter 7

3 Joseph Albo, Ikkarim and Moses Mendelssohn Jerusalem. See Alexander Altmann’s discussion of the relationship between Albo and Mendelssohn’s dogmatic views in his Moses Mendelssohn: a Biographical Study (Littman Library of Jewish Civilisation 1998), 544

4 J.H. Hertz, Pentateuch and Haftorah’s (Second Edition, Soncino Press 1961), 402; Louis Jacobs, Beyond Reasonable Doubt (Littman Library of Jewish Civilisation 1999), 56

5 David Weiss Halivni, Revelation Restored (Westview Press 1998)

6 Benjamin J. Eton, ‘Conservative Judaism’s British Trailblazers’ (Conservative Judaism 63:4, Summer 2012); Louis Jacobs, We Have Reason to Believe (Vallentine Mitchell 1957); The Sanction of the Mitzwoth (Society for the Study of Jewish Theology 1963); Principles of the Jewish Faith (Vallentine Mitchell 1964) A Jewish Theology (Darton, Longman and Todd 1973)

7 Joel Roth, ‘Musings Towards a Personal Theory of Revelation’ (Conservative Judaism 64.1 Fall 2012)

8 Gordon Tucker, Halakhic and Metahalakhic Arguments Concerning Judaism and Homosexuality (2006) available here:

9 See Meir Ekstein, ‘Rabbi Mordechai Breuer and Modern Orthodox Biblical Commentary’ (Tradition, 33:3, 1999)

10 Alexander Kohut, ‘Secular and Theological Studies The Menorah (July 13, 1892), 49. See BAva Batra 111b


Filed under Tanakh/Bible

37 responses to “Revelation, Tradition, and Scholarship: A Response

  1. Andy

    So the Conservative approach is “It doesn’t matter THAT Biblical scholarship is right – halacha is binding anyway” and the Orthodox approach is “It doesn’t matter IF Biblical scholarship is right, I will assert that it isn’t, because otherwise halacha isn’t binding.”

    • Yitzchak Sprung

      I really don’t see why we should be boxed in to one of those two options. I think that Rabbi Leibtag and Dr. Kugel certainly showed that, and at any rate, I don’t think Dr. Sarna should be summarized that way either.

      • Andy

        Yitzchak, I tend to agree with you. Or, better put, I want you to be right. I was just trying to sum up Ben Elton’s perspective. Personally, I find Orthodoxy’s rejectionist position toward higher criticism to be the equivalent of building something higher and higher, with thicker and thicker walls, on a shaky foundation. What happens if the scientific case against Mosaic authorship gets stronger and stronger? Or the scientific case against the Exodus story? I want to ask Ben – if you KNEW somehow – or simply found yourself convinced by the weight of the evidence – that these things were not true, would you up and walk away from Judaism? The Talmud tells us that we don’t rely on miracles, and I would say that the same should apply to willful ignorance. I think it is bad policy (and bad psak) to build Jewish life on dogmas easily weakened by science and reason. Doing so, I believe, is intellectually, and I think even morally, corrupting. I think I line can be drawn between that, and say, trusting Gedolim instead of the authorities with regard to molestation and whatnot. (issues of authority, questions of truth, who do you believe, insularity, etc.) At the same time, all students of science should understand the difference between “the weight of science” and absolute certainty. But it does feel otherwise disingenuous to accept the “weight of science” in every other facet of life, and then disregard it when it turns its unblinking eye on OUR dogmas.

        • Andy, if you saw that the Documentary Hypothesis was unworkable, would you walk away from it? Because I can help you with that. The most common theory in the DH as to when it was redacted is around the time of Ezra. Finkelstein and Silberman think it was around the time of Josiah. Can you guess what these two periods have in common?

          Have you ever seen the Samaritan Torah? It’s not identical to ours, of course. They’ve stuck in tons of references to Mount Gerizim as the place where we have to sacrifice to God. So consider this:

          Josiah campaigned into the north and destroyed the bamot all throughout Samaritan lands. That’s like a Crusade, ripping down all of their places of worship. And it was right in the middle of this that the Torah was put together, right? And the Samaritans said, “Those damned Crusaders wrote a Torah thingie. We should definitely copy that and use it as the center of our religious identity. Just a little nip and tuck, and it’s cool.” Also, the Jews saw the Samaritans do this, and add the little Gerizim stuff, and rather than put Jerusalem in explicitly to contradict them, they left it as “the place where God will place His Name.”

          Beyond ridiculous. Orders of magnitude less believable than any of the complains DHers have.

          But let’s say it was at the time of Ezra. Same thing. Samaritans show up and say, “Hey, we want to work on the Temple, yo.” Ezra’s all, “Beat it, shkutzim.” They walk off sulking, and mutter, “We should definitely adopt their new Torah doohicky as our basic religious document. Just stick in Gerizim here and there; that’ll show ‘em!” And of course, the Redactor wouldn’t have bothered to insert Jerusalem, because… well, because that would make too much sense.

          Honest to God, just the lack of Jerusalem being mentioned should make it clear that the Torah pre-dates David and Solomon.

      • Kugel is not an example of any kind of Orthodox view, whatever his personal observance may be.

    • You’re right in most cases. Most Orthodox Jews (and most Conservative Jews, for that matter) don’t know anything about the subject. Orthodox Jews reject it because they’re told by their leaders that it’s a bunch of nonsense. Which it is. Conservative Jews accept it because they’re told by their leaders that it’s true. Why do they do that? Some do because they heard it from their teachers, and so on (irony). But the reason it’s so popular in the Conservative movement is that they can’t permit the violations of halakha they do if the Torah is what it purports to be. So they *must* see it as a fake. Once you start with the premise that it’s a fake, you need to find some explanation from where the Torah came from. Hence, the silliness called the Documentary Hypothesis.

      For myself, I say that the DH is ridiculous first, and that halakha is binding because God gave it.

  2. Le Newyorkais

    I am sorry to see more obfuscation and double-talk among people dying to be traditionalist, and yet acknowledging that science disproves some of the most importand bedrock reasons to do so.
    Scholars r damn-near certain that God did not give the Torah to Moses verbatim, that there never was an exodus from non-existant slavery, God did not create the world in 6 days, then “rested” on the 7th. Almost all thinking people today r displeased with Biblical genocide, Niddah, animal sacrifice, patriarchy, the belief in a Messiah, and for that matter, the holocaust.
    Ladies and gentlemen, let u do as we must: abandon Halakha as a central force in Judaism. (We can still have seders and shofars and Hannukah lights.)
    If abandoning Halakha takes us to a place we wish we did not have to go, well then, let nature take its course. And if all forms of modern Judaism die off, well then the Haredis will have proved themselves.
    It is sad to see a whole culture becoming “gone with the wind,” but wishing will not change it.

    • Yitzchak Sprung

      I have to take issue with your assertion that you’re seeing “more obfuscation and double talk.” It seems your making some negative assumptions about religious people, and they are unfair. We’re all trying to do the right thing, and everyone should recognize that. No one is trying to fool you Le. Your comments should be polite, even if you do not respect religious people.

      Additionally, as we have stated several times, prophecy can’t be proven or disproved by modern scholarship.

      Interestingly, your call to do as “almost all thinking people do” is a call to listen to authority.

      Until next time sir.

    • Reb Yid

      You can worship your gods, I’ll worship my God.

    • “We can still have seders and shofars and Hannukah lights.”

      Aw… can we rilly? Gosh, ::sniff::, you’re just the greatest.

  3. I think you are confusing the medieval interpretation of historical facts with extant historical facts. To say Moses (sic) didn’t exist, and the other unprovable claims of non-existence that you claim most credible scholars make, simply disregards the extant manuscripts like the Qumran scrolls. Those manuscripts do exist and do speak of history. They are real objective evidence. The explanation you say is untenable is not the only explanation of the historicity of the written Torah. There are other explanations that match well with science and archaeology. You should try the History Museum at and “The Chronology of the Tanakh from the Big Stretch Apart,” by Yirmeyahu ben David, which gives a very scientifically possible historical timeline of Egypt, and the Yetziah. It also destroys much of the current medievel tales and superstitions which is really what is killing Judaism.

  4. Good article. I would add the following. There’s no reason for any Jew to accept the conclusions of Biblical criticism. First of all, heretics do not count as valid witnesses in a court of law. If they couldn’t even testify in a routine matter in a rabbinical court, then why should we listen to them at all when they try to tell us whether the Torah is (“scientifically”) true? (The vast majority of Biblical critics are either non-Jewish or heterodox Jews.)

    Second, as the author suggests, since we know from experience that accepting Biblical criticism means abandoning Torah observance (the very foundation of Judaism and our people’s existence throughout the ages), then it should be completely forbidden to delve into it at all. (Except perhaps for the purpose of debunking or shedding doubt on it to help those who have already read it and been influenced by it.) In any event, before we explore any secular science, shouldn’t we ask first, what benefit will this have on my avodas Hashem? If there is only a small or speculative benefit but great dangers to our very existence and purpose, of course we should avoid it.

    Third, any kind of social science or humanities, and this particularly includes ancient history and the interpretation of literature, is shot through with bias. In my own experience in social science graduate school in a well-regarded department, I can tell you that no one would dream of publishing any findings that contradicted their (liberal, secular) worldview — they would rather sit on the data and do nothing with it. For this reason, I put no stock whatsoever in their conclusions.

    Finally, consider an analogous example. A Native American tribe is living according to its traditional ways, with its creation stories and other beliefs, and its complex array of important rituals and decision-making procedures. They believe strongly in their traditions and rituals, which are the focus of their peaceful and fulfilling life. A non-Native American historian, from a completely different culture and with a completely different worldview, comes and tells them that although their way of life is very nice and laudable, according to his extensive research, their beliefs are all incorrect. What should the tribe do? Of course, they should kick him out and forbid him from coming back. Their existence as a people is more important than the outsider’s claim of truth.

  5. Moshe

    Can someone do a guest post on the works of R. Chaim Heller with regards to biblical criticism? One hardly ever hears about him any more …

  6. David

    What about the Rambam’s hermeneutical principle that if science and Torah seem to conflict, we’re misinterpreting Torah. That seems to me to be a real basis for reconciling Torah and Science within a halachic framework. It could lead us to saying that the Torah is really not a book of science but of spirituality and ethics, a la a mystical or modern interpretation (I’m thinking of the Zohar & Isaiah Horowitz as the mystics; Hermann Cohen & Mordechai Kaplan as the moderns).

    I’m not convinced the breakdown of halacha in the Conservative world was for lack of a compelling theory of halachic authority. Conservative shuls have never been willing to communicate halachic expectations the their Hebrew school children, for fear that the less observant parents will withdraw their kids and join the reform shul. We have cornered the market on people who like traditional services but aren’t serious about personal observance. Kids get bar mitzvahed and serve treyf at the reception; halacha has become a joke. The issue is implementation, not theory.

  7. Harold

    Footnote #1 purports to give the source of your statement that “… the consensus of modern scholars does not accept there was an Egyptian slavery of the entire Hebrew nation, nor an Exodus, a Moses, the Revelation at Sinai, nor the conquest of the Land.”

    But that footnote lists only a single book, written by people who tend to be on the left wing of the minimalist/maximalist spectrum. And you simply list the entire book, instead of any specific chapters or pages.

    You certainly have not made the case that that’s really “the consensus of modern scholars”. Should we accept your assertion on faith?

    • david a.

      Get Finkelstein’s book or his earlier one “The Bible Unearthed”, read it and in there you’ll find tons of references. There is some evidence that the Joseph’s stories refer to an Egypt that is supported by archaeology (i.e. the culture and daily life), but that is absolutely NO evidence that the story happened. The same cana be said for the Exodus. Personally, I believe an exodus happened (maybe with a few hundred or a few thousand runaways) but the absurd number given in Chumash is simply not credible, rationally and archaeologically..

  8. DF

    One cannot unring the bell. Telling people already exposed to biblical scholarship that they are forbidden from going further is rather silly, is it not. There’s no return to innocence.

    The only method is the age-old method, of forbidding all such study from the get go. It is undoubtedly true that this is competely dishonest, and inexorably results in our current model, in which the more ignorant you are, the more revered you are. It’s a terrible catch 22, but there’s no way around it. Unlike evolution and the Big Bang and ll all the other things, there is simply no way of of reconciling the DH with traditional Judaism. It is, indeed, the fional frontier.

    • “Telling people already exposed to biblical scholarship that they are forbidden from going further is rather silly, is it not.”

      It totally is. The answer isn’t forbidding people to learn about it. It’s teaching them about it properly, so that they can see themselves how nonsensical the claims are.

  9. Madel

    I think you would all be wise to read the brilliant novel on this subject, HAAZINU (LISTEN UP), published by Gefen Publishing House of Jerusalem. Not only does it convincingly resolve the authorship of the Torah, but it also surprisingly makes sense of our 2000 year Tochaicha in relation to the creation of the modern State of Israel…all in a fictional setting of love, despair, and adventure.

  10. Thanks Ben. Here are some arguments against what you’ve suggested. I’m sure your familiar with them, and I’d love to hear your responses.

    1. How can you stop higher criticism at the Torah? If you are concerned about intellectual honesty, you must permit it; if you are not, why is higher criticism of the other books of Tanakh legitimate?

    2. You claim that accepting the findings of biblical criticism means ‘rejecting the attitude towards the Torah held by every Jew until Spinoza and every traditional Jew since’.
    Obviously it cannot just be that we are bound to what every Jew until Spinoza held about the Torah’s account of reality; we are happy rejecting that the sun circles the earth even though every Jew until Spinoza (or thereabouts) believed that. Every Jew until well after Spinoza believed in a seven-day creation; are we bound to the science of Bereshit? What gives you the authority to decide which of the previously accepted beliefs then are necessary, and which are not? If you would interpret heliocentric or creationist language non-historically (and, after all, a lot of science is just distant history), why not in principle (disregarding the sociological point for now) interpret the biblical stories non-historically.]

    3. Why is orthodoxy obligated, if not to the letter of the Rambam’s principles, then at least to the general tropes of medieval thought? (Should dogma not be based more on truth than tradition?)

  11. ruvie

    ” Accepting the findings of biblical scholarship would represent a complete departure from traditional Jewish thought”

    you seem to conflate all MBS into one ball of wax. of course, it has many components. no one can disprove that there was no revelation. just that there is no current evidence – so what. most of MBS is grounded in archeology, linguistics, other primary sources, and textual composition analysis. the lack archaeology does not really prove much. like all scholarship some of its good and some is garbage – consensus the farther you go back is really just speculation on very little data. so you need to differentiate between different segments of scholarship.

    your second argument i believe is just false or has no basis in its conclusion if one believes in divinity of text but multiple authors or compilations.

    MBS gives us tools to determine dating of text and maybe original meaning in its day. try y. leibowitz’s religious facts to help you deal with the issues or ignore it. you seem not offer much to deal with the situation.

    Lisa – nice to see you that you think you have debunk DH as nonsense. btw, no one holds from DH anymore – i hope that works for you. maybe you should challenge kugel and other scholars to a debate to prove them wrong – should be fun for some to watch.

  12. Yitzchak Sprung

    (Ben sent me this comment to post. For some reason he was unable to on his computer.)

    Thanks for the comments. I am not going to get into an extended dialogue, but here are a few responses:

    My post was descriptive not prescriptive. I was trying to show why trying to reconcile biblical criticism with traditional Judaism will always fail. Of course, if people want to accept BC and live as traditional Jews then they should live and be well, I just don’t think that is a consistent position, absent a leap of faith (the text we have, however it emerged is the text God wants us to have) as great as Torah miSinai.

    The purpose of the post was not to say how BC should be dealt with by a traditional Jew in any detail, although I may write about that in the future. In the mean time, two points spring to mind.

    There are plenty of rabbis and scholars who understood BC and rejected it, so declining to accept its conclusions puts you in pretty good company: Frankel, Kohut, Hildesheimer, Hirsch, Revel, Belkin, Soloveitchik, Berkovits, Breuer, Lichtenstein, Sacks, [Benno] Jacob, Cassuto.

    The starting premise of BC is that the text is human and therefore susceptible to tools for analyzing human texts. If you take a different premise there is no need to be bound by the conclusions of BC.

    Again, I am grateful for the replies. This is an important conversation.

    Ben Elton

  13. ruvie

    thanks for the reply. i do not think it has to fail. deep down many believe not in the premise but with some of the textual analysis and archaeology. one does not have to believe it is all of human hands without any influence of the prophets and scribes. i see no difference in the leap of faith for revelation as oppose to the divinity of a composite text (sidenote: haven’t many allegorized creation, flood… as not factual – based on the sciences?). also, lately i see the crack in believing the 8th ikar (see m. shapiro’s post on r’ sherlow and r’ shlomo fisher – misnah in sanhedrin says i have to believe in torah min hashamyim)

    as to the list of rabbis. i think today MBS is much different than 40 and 100 yrs. ago (both qualitative and quantity). its true that MBS 100 even 60-70 yrs ago was mostly an anti-semetic speculative endeavor (as nechama leibowitz said to a friend of mine(now a biblical scholar) higher biblical criticism= higher anti-semitism- borrowing that phrase from schecther). the rav just ignored as well as ral (you really can’t talk to him about it). breuer bought the ideas of mbs to some degree but created the onion approach. as to cassuto – he would date the text much later and his views appear in the apikirsus section i believe. of all those rabbis which one debunk of the whole enterprise? are you ok using mbs tools for nach?

    do we ignore it as if it doesn’t exist or decompartmentalize? or confront it and abandon the premise and see what happens? the cat is out of bag at this point. maybe we redefine torah min hashamayim, torah misinai etc – i believe a new book has been publish of the meaning of these phrases over time.

    I don’t understand your last paragraph. i can take the opinion the text is divine and susceptible to human analyzation – mbs tools as well as others. mbs just helps understand when the bible was written or when and maybe where there are additions (original context maybe too)- not what it should mean to us today . hashem according to chazal has given us the torah in the language of man – so it could be analyzed like human text (or as kugel says can you tell a difference between a divine word and human word?).

    ” If you take a different premise there is no need to be bound by the conclusions of BC.” – you are never bound to it. the question is when all-most- the data points in one direction do you agree with its conclusions or resort to apologetics and mental gymnastics – or await for evidence (remember – nothing is 100%. e.g. do you believe that al naharot bavel is post first temple or david wrote it with nevuah [as well as the rest of tehilim]).

    all the best. sorry for the disjointness of the post. shabbat shalom

  14. david a.

    First off let me say that even if the DH were never to have been suggested, there still are many other reasons to convince an objective reader to be dubious about our tradition of a divinely authored book. The Torah is just too flawed, scientifically, economically, historically, and full off textual contradictions to have been authroed by a perfect, all-knowing being.

    But back to the DH. Granted the details espoused by the DH have many problems, but the basic idea that the Torah is multi-authored composite document is very sound. It is little wonder that just about every (non faith-bound) biblical scholar believes this.

    (1) There is no way an objective reader can accept that Devarim, which contains hundreds of differences (not just a few) and many them outright contradictions compared to the rest of Chumash, was authored by the same person(s).

    Off the top of my head,

    The theology is different, the character of Moishe is different, the concept of kapporah and yom kippur and teshuvah and Chatas is non-existent; many mitzvoth are contradictory, the 10 C’s text is different, the name of Mt. Sinai is totally absent, Aaron is nearly absent, everything about the building of the Mishkan is non-extant. There is NO ornate Ark, the attitude to idols is more extreme, the narratives are repeated yet contain different in some details, and contradictory in some others; there is no 10 makot and the importance of first born is thus overlooked; kohanim can be from all of Levi, there is no concept of koret, while concept of rewards for positive commands repeatedly promised in Dev. is NOT found in the rest of Chumash, there is so much more…. Of course, the commentators and Chazal knew about all of this. But even if all their comments and explanations might be satisfying (which many aren’t), I personally (and many others) cannot get over the fact that these contradictions and differences are there in the first place, and thereby created a maculated document.

    [As an example, just start with last week’s pasha (Sh’lach), compare the 2 spy-narratives, find the ½ dozen or so contradictions (and at least an additional dozen differences) and provide a reasonable explanation for them. Seer how these differences are consistent within the books they are found.No matter what set of explanations one has, it doesn’t beat the simple one i.e. of 2 traditions.

    (2) Further the contents of the books of N’kh themselves clearly show that the Torah “grew” over time by the fact of their increasing appearance over time throughout Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. There are enough examples in Samuel to convince an objective reader that likely Samuel, Saul and David DID not have Our Torah.

    A note on the Samaritan Torah.

    It is not cut and dried exactly when the Sam.Torah was written. Here’s a link to another viewpoint.

    with the money quote:

    “Scholars have often wondered about the value of the text of the Samaritan Pentateuch for any critical study. The MSS from Khirbet Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls) have now solved the problem. The variant readings in the text, the forms of its script, and the orthography in the text all date the Samaritan Pentateuch not earlier than the second generation of the Maccabees.”

    • One way to look at supposed contradictions in the text is to ask, “What are these apparently contradictions trying to tell us.” The lazy way is to say, “What, I’m supposed to have to think about such things? I’m just going to assume thousands of years of Jews were stupid and didn’t even notice that the text is dumb.”

      • david a.

        well, yes, while i wouldn’t use the word stupid, they certainly were ignorant of the makeup and workings of the world.
        further, they were forbidden to think out of the box, so the idea that the Torah was multi-authored was not an permitted answer to any question.

        as for lazy, I’ve spent substantially more time on T’n”kh since becoming an “apikores” then during my yeshivah days.

        • I meant lazy thinking. And assuming multi-authors is lazy thinking. The Torah is a complex document, and is meant to be so. Applying your technique to the Gemara would be kind of hilarious, yes? Rav Hisda says this is mutar. But wait, there’s a beraita that says it’s assur. David A: So? They disagree. Big deal. That’s the kind of lazy thinking I’m talking about.

          • david a.

            Your example of the disputes in the completely off the mark. The Gem. does indeed often allow for resolution of disputes by saying there are 2 opinions. Something that is NOT supposed to happen within the Torah text.

            Lazy thinking? OK maybe, but there are contradictions in the Torah that simply cannot be resolved, no matter how much thinking is done.

            The Torah is supposed to be precise. So, in Exodus, Moishe gives us the exact text of the 10 C’s. In Dev. Moishe repeats the exact text of the 10Cs. Yet, the 2 passages DO NOT match. TMK, there is no explanation that can resolve this contradiction. Please provide one.

            However, if we allow the method that the Gemorrah sometimes uses to resolve contradictions in law. I.e. that there are 2 opinions. And in this case, I say we can do just that, conclude that there are 2 opinions as to what was the precise text.

            I’m aware that the medrosh offers the explanation that the 2 versions of the 10Cs differing in the reason given for keeping shabbot were expressed by God simultaneously. (“Shomer v’zochur bedibbur echod”).

            With all due respect, this simply does not work because:

            1) why would the Torah not tell us about the double statement
            2) and it doesn’t explain the other dozen+ textual differences between the 2 versions.

            • First tablets. Second tablets. And remember, even though Devarim describes Moshe speaking, the exact text is still what God dictated. Which means that there are reasons for each and every difference between the versions.

              Also, the Torah *does* tell us about the double statement. We aren’t Karaites, David.

              Here’s part of what you don’t understand. Torah she’b’al peh is the essential corpus of law and lore. The written Torah is not. It exists in the form it’s in in order to teach things. If you’re trying to understand the text outside of Torah she’b’al peh, you’re reading it contrary to how the Author wants it read.

              And then again, according to your position, you’d have to explain what on earth was going through the mind of the “redactor” when he included conflicting versions. Did he think people were stupid? Did no one look at his first draft and say, “WTF, dude? That doesn’t match!” You need to assume that the people were ignorant. More than ignorant — bone stupid, really.

              • ruvie

                nice to know that you can divine the divine (“you’re reading it contrary to how the Author wants it read”). maybe you are a prophetess (reminder that chazal has a saying about where prophecy resides today)
                “The written Torah is not. It exists in the form it’s in in order to teach things.” – i think chazal would disagree with that statement.

                “going through the mind of the “redactor” when he included conflicting versions.”
                please read about ancient sacred texts and the treatment thereof in ancient times. lets not forget that no one doubted the divinity of the text till modern times. this line of argumentation is unhelpful to your position and not convincing for one author at one specific time event.

              • david a.

                >>>> Also, the Torah *does* tell us about the double statement.
                Pardon my ignorance, where?

                >>>> Here’s part of what you don’t understand. Torah she’b’al peh is the essential corpus of law and lore.

                Of course it is. I doubt is any corpus of law as ever been written that didn’t have an oral tradition as accompaniment for elucidation. But, and here’s the problem. Our written Torah is so maculated that it is totally useless without an elaborate TSBP. This in itself speaks to a non-divine author, and also argues for many cooks in this kitchen.

                >>>> You need to assume that the people were ignorant. More than ignorant — bone stupid, really.

                Why? You accept conflicting texts and I doubt that you are bone stupid.

                The problem that traditional beliefs face is that once upon a time the masses would readily accept something on faith even in the face of adverse evidence.

                But, not anymore.

          • Andy

            I am not a big fan of pejorative language like “lazy” or the people who use it in what should be respectful dialogue, but I tend to see thinking along the lines of “thing X is the way it is because God made it that way” to be much lazier when compared with scientific thinking that collects data, seeks out patterns in that data, applies hypotheses to explain the patterns, and tests and revises those hypotheses as new data comes in. Critical study can be engaged in by someone who ALSO engages in the same kind of meaning-making-with-the-whole-text-as-it-is interpretation that you characterize as the opposite of lazy. I’ve known many people who engage in critical study of Tanakh who ALSO read the m’farshim. Their divrei Torah are not mini-lectures about JEPD. But all that aside, I am glad that you brought the Gemara into the equation. The Gemara, I hope we can agree, is an edited text. The layers are laid out in front of us. Later rabbis may be commenting on the words of earlier rabbis, but not vice versa. Material of the Tannaim has more authority than that of the Amoraim, etc. We see the work of the editors. Understanding the components gives us a better understanding of the whole – but since it comes to us as an edited document – we RELATE to the whole. We still learn sugiyot. Halacha is derived, not just from the component sources, bur from what the maskana appears to be in those sugiyot, etc. So too, the Torah is en edited document composed of distinct sources that may or may not be aware of each other. That helps us understand it, but we still relate to it as the Torah. Critical study is not the caricature you make it out to be.

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