As promised (see Part 1) here's a second post on the Documentary Hypothesis ("DH"). DH is the point of departure for modern biblical studies but is verbotten in LDS circles. LDS scholars don't even discuss it: neither Sperry (in The Spirit of the Old Testament, 1970) nor Victor Ludlow (Unlocking the Old Testament, 1981) even mentions it, which frankly doesn't do much for their credibility (I will note that Sperry at least discussed the Second Isaiah issue). Just another sign of the extent to which the LDS view of the Bible is such a mess, IMHO.
In Part 1, I reviewed the standard DH and the book presenting an accessible summary of it. Here in Part 2 I'll present a more radical version of DH as presented by (predictably) a German scholar, Christoph Levin, in his recent book The Old Testament: A Brief Introduction (Princeton UP, 2005; originally published in German as Das Alte Testament, 2001). Page references below are to this book.
By "more radical," I mean a version of DH that dates actual authorship of the OT books later and later. For example, Friedman (in Part 1) dates the composition of J and E to the tail end of the Unified Monarchy and the first part of the Divided Monarchy, whereas Levin dates J and P (he doesn't recognize E as a distinct source) to the Post-Exilic period, centuries later. This shows, by the way, that those who dispute DH are not without arguments. First, there are several versions of DH and they don't agree on the details. They don't even agree on the set of basic documents that are the (inferred) raw materials of the hypothesis. Familiarity with DH does not require acceptance of it (although there is strong evidence for it and most scholars accept some form of it). I will discuss four or five of Levin's chapters to give an idea of how his version of DH deals with the books and events of the OT.
Levin sees the key event for the formation of the heart of the Hebrew Bible (which I'll refer to as "OT" for convenience) as the fall of Jerusalem and the Southern Kingdom in 587 BC. The laments of Psalms, the idealized view of kingship in Samuel and Kings, the anachronistic depiction of written texts of the Law as the guiding feature of Israelite religion (as opposed to of later Judaism) — all these themes emerge primarily from (or draw their strength from) the period of the Babylonian captivity. Levin summarizes, "The Old Testament in fact begins where ancient Israel ends" (p. 22). After the fall, written texts became a source of strength for the shattered community, which had lost its king, its temple, and its homeland, and a means whereby the community could work through the meaning of their catastrophe.
The process continued when the Jews were fortuitously allowed to return to Palestine. "For its genesis, literature requires an institutional framework and a driving interest or concern. ... [T]his framework was provided for the beginnings of the Old Testament in its proper sense by the congregation of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, which the Persians had caused to be rebuilt out of the rubble between 520 and 515 BCE" (p. 23). His blunt analysis: "[T]he fiction developed that Judaism had been constituted in prehistoric times, on Mount Sinai" (p. 24).Here's a broader summary of how it all comes together in DH:
There are many different hypotheses about the way the [OT] texts came into being. Even basic facts are still in dispute. This is normal for a lively scholarly debate. However, there are a number of points which act as a safeguard against caprice, and on which the analysis can depend: breaches of form, irregular sentence structure, contradictions in content ..., as well as quotations and references to other parts of Scripture. Emendations in the manuscripts—attempts at a solution made in the ancient translations as well as during the history of interpretation—make it clear that the problems have not been imposed on the text only by modern criticism. (p. 29)
Old Testament Theology
While the Jews were restored to their homeland, the monarchy was not restored. They were forced to consider what that meant and to redefine what Judaism was without the monarchy. The sayings of Jeremiah "formed the basis for a comprehensive rethinking" (p. 77). The fall of the Southern Kingdom was divine judgment, so Yahweh, the God of Israel, still reigned supreme. A covenant theology (often termed "Deuternomistic") emerged, highlighted in the classic passage in Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NIV):
The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel. ... I will put the law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be thier God and they will be my people. ... For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.
Jeremiah and his proximity to the fall of the Southern Kingdom underlines the fact that the fall of the Southern Kingdom was the event that triggered much of the text writing. That Jeremiah was a text that underwent continued modification as scribes in the Second Temple period grappled with a theology to explain what had happened is evident from the fact that the Greek (LXX) version of Jeremiah is over ten percent shorter than the Hebrew version (p. 85).
So when did the sources (for Levin, J and P) become one narrative and why? "The aim of this redaction was to get over the parallelism of the two accounts of salvation history. Yahweh's history with his people was a single history, so the written transmission of that history must have been a single one, too" (p. 110). The Priestly source itself "presupposes the Ezekiel tradition [and thus] cannot have originated before the second half of the fifth century BCE" (p. 101). So the redaction process that created the unified narrative that we have today for Genesis through Numbers started in the late fifth century and continued until the canon was fixed centuries later.
Here's a final topic that illustrates Levin's perspective. Hosea covers events depicted in the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the eighth century. But Levin sees the real relevance of Hosea, why it came to be incorporated in the canon, as relating to the conflict between the returning Jewish community and the Samaritans starting in the late sixth century. Who were the Samaritans? They were the remnants (with some ethnic mixing) of the old Northern Kingdom of Israel — and there was no love lost between the two kingdoms. When the Jews returned, the Samaritans offered to help rebuild the temple. They were rebuffed. The "vigorous polemic" that resulted, as the Samaritans advanced their claims to their own holy site near Shechem and the Jews defended the Jerusalem sanctuary as the only acceptable place to worship Yahweh, is reflected in Hosea (p. 130).
He sees the "original" Hosea, that which later redactors reworked in light of conflict with the Samaritans, as being visible in chapter 1, as "probably occasioned ... by the attack of Aram and Israel on Jerusalem in 734 or 733 BCE" (p. 130). This was, at some later point, placed before the collection of prophetic sayings, including the moral injunctions reflected in Hosea's rebukes: "There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land. There is only cursing, lying, murder, stealing, and adultery" (Hosea 4:1-2). Sound familiar? Levin sees these and other prophetic pronouncements as a moral center that "later became the germ of the Decalogue" (p. 88, 131). In other words, Levin sees the development of the ethical norms, seen in the prophetic books and writings, preceding the development of the texts codifying those ethical norms, in the Law. So phrased, it sounds reasonable, but it is not a perspective that comes naturally to the general reader of the OT.
I don't really have a big bang conclusion. The "radical version" of DH does give some interesting readings, and highlights the influence of the history and events of the Babylonian Captivity and the Second Temple period on the Old Testament as we have it. At the very least, scribes of that period preserved the manuscripts, and preserved the ones they feld were authentic or relevant to their religous life and challenges. Their view of history had at least an influence on what got preserved, and possibly (as Levin argues) a strong hand in the text itself. It leads to interesting readings, such as with Hosea. I found Levin's book at my local public library. You might too.
In my next post, I'll move in the other direction, considering how one can read the Old Testament taking the narrative as a unified text, ignoring the Documentary Hypothesis and focusing instead of the formal aspects of the text and its content. That approach, too, has some surprises in store.