Exploding the J.E.D.P. Theory – The Documentary Hypothesis

By: Dr. Walter Kaiser, Jr.; ©1991
What is the evidence upon which critics claim Moses could not have been the author of the first five books of the Bible? How convincing is their evidence for multiple authors?

Exploding the JEDP Theory or the Documentary Hypothesis: The Documentary Hypothesis

Dr. John Ankerberg: The information in this program was taped live at The Ankerberg Theological Research Institute’s Apologetics Conference in Orlando, Florida.

Our instructor for this session is Dr. Walter Kaiser. Dr. Kaiser is Academic Dean and Professor of Semitic languages and Old Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. Dr. Kaiser received his Ph.D. from Brandeis University in Mediterranean studies and he’s the author of numerous books, including The Old Testament in Contemporary Preaching, Toward an Exegetical Theology, Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching, A Biblical Approach to Suffering, which is a commentary on the Book of Lamentations, Toward Old Testament Ethics, The Uses of the Old Testament in the New, Hard Sayings of the Old Testament, Back Toward the Future: Hints for Interpreting Biblical Prophecy, and “Exodus: A Commentary” in Expositor’s Bible Commentary.

In addition, he has written a number of other titles for both popular and scholarly audiences.

What’s more, Dr. Kaiser has contributed articles to a number of periodicals, including Moody Monthly, The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, and Evangelical Quarterly.

Dr. Kaiser is a widely respected conference speaker and an enthusiastic and skilled teacher.

Dr. Kaiser’s topic for this session is: “Exploding the JEDP Theory or the Documentary Hypothesis.”

As you listen to this information, it will be my prayer that God will increase your faith and draw you closer to our Lord Jesus Christ.

[Ed. Note: This biographical information was current as of 1991. Since our conference, Dr. Kaiser has become the Coleman M. Mockler Distinguished Professor of Old Testament, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, MA and PhD, Brandeis University.]>

Dr. Walter Kaiser: Thank you very much. It’s a very special delight to be with you and to share in this time. It’s a special delight to also be speaking on the topic of the theme of the Old Testament. I think too frequently we sometimes think, well, that’s the Old Testament, especially when you hold it for four beats you know that you’re in trouble. But, indeed, this is part of the revelation received by the Christian church and believing community.

Particularly today we want to address the theme of what is called the “Documentary Hypothesis.” Up to the 18th century the first five books of the Bible──Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy──these first five books were attributed to the writer Moses as the one who wrote them under the inspiration of God. In the middle of the 1700s, a German minister by the name of H. B. Witter and a French medical doctor, Jean Astruc, both suggested that Moses may not have been the one who wrote it, as if it were under any kind of immediate impression or help from God, but that he had used two sources. This was because Genesis had one name for God, usually Elohim, and Genesis 2 had a second name for God, which was a compound name involving the name Yahweh or sometimes mispronounced Jehovah.

Now, he said still that it was under the inspiration of God; both of them said that it was still Moses who wrote it, but that they used sources. This was still, I think, within the ball park of what we had called an evangelical or an orthodox consistent theology. But, then, by the 1880s, so-called “higher criticism,” which sometimes has a negative meaning and sometimes has a positive meaning—“higher criticism,” or more frequently and more accurately a historical critical method of studying the Bible—had gained a foothold in America. And the theological institutions, seminaries, particularly Protestant theological seminaries and churches by now were infiltrated with a number of people who say Jesus may have said, “as Moses said in the Law.” And the quotes from Genesis or Exodus or Leviticus, Numbers or Deuteronomy, or as Ezra, Nehemiah or many of the Old Testament books attributing this to Moses were incorrect; they were not speaking accurately. And out of this thing came a number of heresy trials──professors and pastors who were being tried for not remaining accurate to the biblical claims of what it said.

Thus, by the 1880s this movement of the “Documentary Hypothesis” or the movement of “higher criticism” was in full swing.

Now, I think you’ve got to make a distinction between the historical critical method and what is generally known as a good thing──the grammatical historical interpretation. Those two things are so close together that people confuse them. By the grammatical historical method we don’t mean grammar and history──those are the two words that are involved; but grammar in this case meant the natural, the literal, the plain meaning of the text put in its historical context. Now, that’s legitimate and this we believe in and this has been the accepted means of interpreting the Bible. But now they called it the historical critical method and now I think we had something quite different.

Let’s talk about the definition. What are the elements that go into this definition? First, it seems to me, it was that the Bible must be subjected to the same methods of analysis and interpretation as we use for any other literature. There was growing up now within literary circles an examination of all of Shakespeare’s writings: Did Shakespeare write this or didn’t he? And, of course, the conclusion was he did not write a majority of it. Then Homer’s Iliad and The Odyssey. Some said you can’t have one on peace and the other on war. A man doesn’t write on two different things, he writes on one topic. So give one to him and give the other away.

Now, why this was so, I don’t know. There were assumptions that were made and then these were brought to the literature. Fortunately, the field of English literature got over it, but biblical studies to this day is still inflicted with some of these same problems. So the Bible must be subjected to the same method of analysis.

The second part of the definition is that religion institutions of Israel passed through three Hegelian stages of evolution. Now, there are two things here. There’s Hegel, and Hegel, working off the great German theologian──he himself was German──off Fichte, and it was that society went through a kind of dual process. There was on the one side──you had thesis──you remember, opposed by an antithesis, out of which came a synthesis. It was said that reality moved in this kind of direction. Well, I don’t know that there is any proof for that, but this was a great working hypothesis and that’s how the matter remained for a good number of years.

Well, now, applied to the biblical material, there was a concept that we went from simple, primitive, antique, almost that which was uncivilized, to the grand ethical monotheism of the date of Amos, 8th century. So we must go through a whole series of progressively evolving things saying that regardless of whether evolution is true or not in the area of biology, it was automatically applied to sociology and anthropology and to the social sciences. Now, how that transfer was made, again, I can’t tell you. But it was. The stuff was in the air and so everyone applied it.

So never mind our great debate, which is an important debate—and one which, by the way, I don’t participate in the conclusions of, that it applies in the area of biology—but now they’ve brought it over into the area of history and social studies. And then it was said that there are three great stages and the three great stages were: pre-prophetic—that is, before the prophets; prophetic—which was the second stage; and then the third stage which followed after the prophets was legal—that is, the Law came last all the way in the 5th century or the 400s. Well, that was to turn the Bible upside down. That is, here we had the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 and back in the Pentateuch and now turns out they weren’t written first by Moses, they were written last after they came back from exile. Now, that’s a flip of 180 degrees, which certainly surprised everyone—I would suppose, too, Moses!

So at any rate you have here quite an inversion that’s going on. So the religious institutions passed through a kind of Hegelian dialectic, that is, you had the primitive form of pre-prophetic; that was opposed by an antithesis of the prophetic, out of which came the synthesis: finally, the priestly religion and the Law had its say in the final day.

The third part of our definition is that Israelite monotheism did not originate with Moses. That is, the whole idea of one God, which is so unique to Old Testament and New Testament revelation and part of our Scriptures, didn’t come from the first five books—which we call from the Greek the Pentateuch—but they were the result of a slow process of evolution which finally in the time of the prophets of the 8th century, the classical prophets of part of Isaiah and Amos and Micah and Hosea. Now, those are the great men. They were saying, “What does God want? He doesn’t want sacrifice. He doesn’t want offerings.” Which, by the way, hadn’t been revealed yet, so I don’t know how you can deny it. But at any rate, he didn’t want those things. What God wanted was justice and mercy and walking humbly with our God, to quote from Micah 6:8, you see. That’s true religion. And so it was taught and so it continues to be taught to this day. If you understand anything about the great forces, that’s the majority opinion out there now in Protestant, Catholic and Jewish biblical scholarship. It still is the majority opinion. A complete sweep within a century, from the 1880s now through to just a little over 100 years later on.

A fourth part of the definition was that the first five books of the Old Testament are the result of four main documents. Four main documents. And here’s the famous alphabet soup: JEDP. Now, I’ve never seen any of these men nor their documents nor has anyone else. You must understand, these are literary fictions; they have been created by opening the Bible, throwing up the criteria, closing the Bible, and then being surprised that it works. It sounds a little bit like sort of hitting the barn door and then drawing circles and saying, “Bull’s eye! We made it!” You’re probably thinking correctly—sorry to be so blunt—but it is reasoning after the fact. That is, it’s not from any external evidence or from archaeological evidence, it’s from internal evidence, allegedly, and then we come back and declare our internal evidence works.

What do you mean by “J”? “J” was all of the cruder stories of the Pentateuch. Here, Jehovah or Yahweh acts like a demon, so it was said. He is ethically and morally reprehensible. But nevertheless, these were stories that were told around the campfires, around Canaanite sanctuaries. As they were out on the hillside, they loved to tell the stories. And it reflected a Judean point of view. This was definitely southern in its point of view with the two southern tribes. That came out about 850. They finally put it in writing, all these stories.

Then the “E” document came out 100 years later. That was northern in viewpoint. These were both written during the times of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, during the divided kingdom, post, that is, after Solomon. And in the “E” document they didn’t use Jehovah of Yahweh, they preferred Elohim for their God. He wasn’t as difficult to get along with as the [God of the] earlier documents was. Now, I don’t agree with this. I’m reporting to you at this point. Some of you are looking serious. But at any rate, that’s the “E” part. And it was Ephraim, it was the northern ten tribes. It was “Yankee” in viewpoint, whereas, the other one was southern in viewpoint. You understand?

But then, finally, in 621, when Josiah was cleaning out the house of God, eureka! What did he find? The “D” document. Now, it doesn’t say that in the text. It said he found the book of the law. But it’s been declared the “D” document. How, I don’t know. Some people have very, very good eyesight. I have strained my eyes on the Hebrew and have not found the “D” document, but they did. They found the “D” document there. And what was this but an answer to the strife that was going on between “J” and “E.” What does God want? And they were giving all sorts of answers but this “D” said, “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul.” Another Hegelian dialectic thesis/antithesis out of which came synthesis: Love. Love. Make love, not war. And so they had a whole new thesis there at that time.

Well, finally came the “P” document. After they had gone into exile, the temple had burned, goodbye David’s kingdom, goodbye David’s throne, goodbye everything that the Old Testament had been building, finally you come to the dry, dusty, liturgical, tough parts of the biblical text, and these are instructions on how to build the tabernacle. You can tell the style: put in so many boards on this side with so many nails, so many sockets. So he built so many boards on this side with so many nails with so many sockets and he looked and he saw there were so many boards on this side and so many nails and so many sockets, you see? Drives you batty! At least the Westerner. You said, “You’ve already said that twice,” but that’s supposed to be the “P” style. And “the son of somebody; the son of somebody; the son of someone else,” that’s also “P” style. The priestly, liturgical, legal things. Finally, when there wasn’t anything left, they finally got their chance.

Now, that’s supposed to be the theory. And I can’t tell you how many people are taught that today. But I’d like to make a critique of that, if I can. One more part of the definition. Let’s take a fifth part here quickly, and that is that the non-prophetic poetry of the Bible, that is, Psalms, Proverbs, books like that, Job, those books are essentially also post-exilic, that is, they were not written during Solomon’s time as some of us might think, but they came all the way down in the 5th century or the 400s.

Well, that, I think, is definition. Let’s turn to some of the problems with this definition as set forth now in the latter part of the 18th but certainly the 19th and 20th centuries. First of all, I think we need to say there is a legitimate higher criticism.

Higher criticism, as such, is the reverse of what we call “lower criticism.” Lower criticism deals with the questions of: What is the text? How can we establish the best text using Dead Sea Scrolls and other sorts of things that have carried us back over a thousand years and canon? Be careful how you spell that, by the way. If you put two “n’s” in the middle of that word, you’ll get shot. But I’m thinking of the one that has one “n” in the middle. The canon is the whole basis of what books actually belong to the Bible, and that’s lower criticism.

But then there is higher criticism. James Orr in his famous article on criticism in the older International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, he said higher criticism takes up the question of date—when was the book written; author—who wrote the book; genuineness—did the man who claims to write it actually write that book; and, then, the whole question of sources—does he use sources.

By the way, we’re not against sources in evangelical circles. The Bible is loaded with sources: [e.g.] 1 and 2 Chronicles have 75 sources listed—if you want to see more on this, go to the Book of the Kings of Israel; go to the Book of the Wars of the Lord; want to see anything more on this, go to the Book of Jasher. There are real sources.

What I’m worried about is hypothetical sources! Imaginary sources like J, E, D and P and R and S and L and all these—and R, the redactor—who in the world are these? They’re not mentioned and we’ve never seen them and no one’s ever dug them up. So, it is hypothetical sources.

And also, higher criticism deals with destination—who is the book written to; what was the purpose for writing the book? Now, that technically can and was called higher criticism. It’s too bad that this which is called the documentary theory or historical critical method of studying the Bible took that word to itself and has used it to mean the same thing as the grammatical critical use of the Bible.

The second problem seems to me is that there is no single historical critical method. You would think all these scholars are agreed? Wrong. I have never seen unanimity on any book with regard to what document it belongs, what’s the extent of that document, and under what conditions it was written. There just does not appear to be that kind of thing. So that the historical critical method doesn’t exist. There are many historical critical methods and as many historical critical results almost as there are scholars. Now, some of them will come into the schools, but the truth of the matter is, we’re working now since 1750. You’d think we’d have some kind of so-called assured results. I’m sorry about that, but it’s true. Just take a dozen of these books and put them side by side and color in the verses and you’re going to find that you’re going to need for almost every verse every color represented by all the scholars. It will just be like a little child’s coloring book that went bad.

Well, at any rate, I think we need to say that. What is shared, however, by this method, are a number of assumptions. Let me give you at least three assumptions. That’s the most important thing. That’s what holds this whole group together. And there is the spirit of modernity. The spirit of modernity is in the assumptions and in the place in which they’re introduced into the argument. The place in which they’re introduced into the argument and the set of assumptions.

First of all, the assumption of autonomy, that is, that the biblical scholar is free to make up his or her mind in light of the evidence. It’s alright. I like that. That sounds fine thus far. Fair enough. But behind it is the old German conception from the philosopher Fichte, which is the will to power. We had trouble with that in the Third Reich; we’re having trouble with it in the biblical materials, too, as well. The will to have the text of the Old Testament is the same as to have it say what it will. And that usually is what is meant by autonomy here. My wishing it, which is parent to the thought, makes the thought and, therefore, I can say what I want it to say. I wish I could tell you it’s a lot more so-called scientific than that because that word is prized and I prize it, too. But I’m afraid it’s a false scientism rather than it being scientific. Sorry to be so blunt, but I mean, we’re trading real hard blows here and I think we need to.

The second assumption is analogy, that is, the believability of a past event is directly related to what can and does happen today. If I can see a resurrection today, okay, that’s legitimate. If I’ve never experienced a resurrection, it’s out. Who says so? I say so. My whole culture and advertising is geared to me. I go in to get a hamburger. They say, “Have it your way.” And when I go to study theology, “Have it your way.” I mean, they make the theological burgers the same way that they make the hamburgers. Sorry about that. As a matter of fact, for Old Testament that’s mixing of metaphors but at any rate, you can see what we’re up against here. All events must exceed to being limited to my current range of experience. If I’ve had the experience of seeing someone healed or raised from the dead or of any of these things that are claiming to have happened in the Old Testament. To see an axe head swim—fine; but if I’ve never seen iron float, out she goes, because I am the judge of what is there. And after all, advertising can’t be wrong. So that’s part of my culture.

A third assumption is causality, and that is, the conclusion itself is part of the world of cause and effects. And hence, once again, the supernatural can take place to the degree that I experience it.

So it seems to me that these assumptions: autonomy, analogy, and causality are very, very much a part of the culture. One of the most important men in the beginning of this century, Ernest Troetlsch, I think is the one who has set the pace for all these. We’ll come back and say a little bit about that.

But let’s have a third problem with this definition. The third problem with the liberal historical critical method is that there is an illogical jump from the method of investigation of history to a theory of reality. From a method of saying, “Here’s how I’m going to investigate events,” then I go and I say, “That’s my theory of how things actually are.” Now I describe ontology, that is, I describe being, I describe reality that way. Here’s where Ernest Troetlsch claimed that every event, without exception, must be included in the realm for which my current experience sets the norm. My current experience sets the norm. Well, now I’ve gone from saying I, who am the investigator, a method, I now set the rules, I make the norm. And I think we err very, very drastically when we try to do that.

A fourth problem, just to move on through this more difficult section more quickly—and this is the last one—there’s a methodological blunder made, I think, when our liberal friends introduce their assumptions at the beginning of their investigation of the Bible rather than at the end after having heard the evidence. I wouldn’t even mind their method if they had said, “Let’s take the Bible on the American system of jurisprudence and say the text is innocent until proven guilty.” But I’m afraid it’s the other way around. Today, since it’s a religious document and therefore being religious, it’s probably prejudiced, the text is guilty until proven innocent. That reverses the whole thing. Imagine trying to stand trial as an American under that kind of a system. It would be enormous the weight. The responsibility is then reversed and the evidence doesn’t get its fair shake.

I was trained under a teacher, Cyrus Gordon at Brandeis University, a Jewish University, and his method was: I don’t care whether you’re talking about Herodotus, Xenophon, or any of these people or biblical documents, that the document itself is to be taken on its own terms before you make any judgment about it. Read what the text says. Listen carefully to that text before you make a value judgment about that text. I like that and I was taught that basis and, therefore, we were told you must control the original languages. Don’t tell me you just have English, Greek and Hebrew. What about Egyptian? What about Babylonian that the Akkadian, the Assyriological-Babylonian form? What about Coptic? What about Arabic? What about Ugaritic? What about Moabite? He said, “Listen, there are a lot of diseases in this world, but the one that this class has can be cured.” He said, “It’s ignorance!” And so he said, “Study the languages. I want you to read firsthand. No secondhand, saying, ‘Some scholar says.’ Go read the text yourself and get the evidence yourself.”

And so it seems to me that, rather, we have the reverse. The liberals operate with the assumption that the text is a guilty patchwork of late human sources unless we can spot a few innocent phrases or some early poems like Exodus 15, Judges 5—Deborah’s Song. So you have Deborah’s Song there in Judges 5. Now, those may be early. But on the other hand, the majority of the text is much later and it’s a quilt, a patchwork of sources put together sometimes in each verse, much less each chapter, with just loads of sources. Numerous sources.

Well, let’s go to our third main point. What is the explosive evidence? This lecture is supposed to be about the explosive evidence that destroys the dominant liberal theory of the Documentary Hypothesis.

First of all, it seems to me the most explosive thing that I can give you is that Deuteronomy, the keystone, the “D” document, which is the keystone of the whole system must come, it seems to me, from the middle of the second millennium. Why? Because we have a number of what are called Suzerainty Treaties. These treaties which are made between a great king, like the Hittite king who is over an empire, with lesser kings were called Suzerainty Treaties.

These treaties have, in the second millennium, five basic parts, according to their literary genre and type. First of all, they have a prologue; then they have, secondly, a historical review of relations; thirdly, stipulations; fourthly, they have provisions for curses and blessings—if you do these things, fine; if you don’t, wow, wow, wow, this is what’s going to happen to your little city/state; then, fifthly, provisions for succession.

Now, that happens to be the outline for the book of Deuteronomy as written and claiming to come from the hand of Moses in the middle of the second millennium. Fourteen hundred BC is where Moses is.

But if you go to the Suzerainty Treaties of the first millennium—and we do have some from the time of Amos and Isaiah—what do they look like, the Assyrian treaties made with vassal kings? They delete two of the five parts. In other words, the literary form has been attenuated. It is shortened. It’s briefer. So the point is not a point about inspiration at this juncture, it is a point about the text qua written; that is, the text as written must come from the second millennium, that is, from the approximately 1400 BCs, and not from 400 or even 600, which is the dominant theory of the day.

In other words, using the ground rules of what is “form criticism,” or more technically if you like some sauerkraut, “formgeschichte.” This form criticism, if you use that in and of itself, it shows that Deuteronomy as written had to come from the 1400s and not from the 400s. That’s a “millennial” mistake—it’s off by a thousand years. And I have not seen anyone refer to that. George Mendenhall of the University of Michigan in the 1950s produced this as his doctoral dissertation and still to this day, scholars have been loath to pick it up. So Kenneth Kitchen of the University of Liverpool and Donald J. Wiseman of the British Museum and others have pointed this out repeatedly. And Alan Millard also of the United Kingdom has been another scholar highly regarded. These are top men in their field; they have accepted exactly what I’ve told you. But it hasn’t been picked up by scholarship at large.

So Deuteronomy 1:1-5 has prologue. Verse 6 through the fourth chapter has historical review. Deuteronomy chapters 5 through 26 has stipulations. Deuteronomy 27 and 28 are curses and blessings. Deuteronomy chapter 29 through 34 is provision for succession under Joshua and also provisions for the retention of the Law and putting it even as you will find with the great Hittite kings and the Assyrian kings and others.

But I warn you again, you could not get that literary outline in the first millennium when it is claimed that the books were written under this documentary theory. In other words, it is found deficient, for one thing, by evidence; not inspiration at this point; not by a theological kind of dialog; but by the text itself.

Let’s also pick up a second kind of explosive evidence, it seems to me, that destroys the dominant liberal theory of the Documentary Hypothesis. Here are some questions. I have five questions that I don’t think that theory can answer. Five questions. These are not new. Robert Dick Wilson of Princeton gave these in 1938, so it’s not new. These have been on the deck for a while but no one has picked them up. I would think that they should have been picked up by now.

Number one question: If Deuteronomy and the Law, like Judges 20-24, were written, as this documentary and liberal theory claims, during the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, why is the king not mentioned during the times of the kingdom? When you’ve got all kings of Israel, kings of Judah, through the middle of the classical period of the prophets and on down into the time of the 400s?” Surely by then someone would have thought to put the provision for the king, but he’s only mentioned once—Deuteronomy 16—and that’s by way of looking forward to him. It anticipates the time when Israel would have a king. They said, “Well, they wrote that in there to kind of look like it was an anticipation.” I would have given myself a lot more press, frankly, if I would have wanted to write that thing in. I would have put myself as king in there a couple of times and made sure that my office was well protected. Deuteronomy 16 is meager pickings for being written that late.

The second one is just as bad: If it was written after Jerusalem became the center of worship—and it was. Jerusalem was taken by David in 1000, so you would think that by the 600s and certainly by the 400s somebody would have remembered to put Jerusalem in the text as a good place to go to worship, right? Especially since it was a point of tension between the north and the south. Let’s settle this. If it’s being written so late, put it in. Put it in. Wrong: doesn’t appear. Zion, even—it’s poetic name—and Jerusalem never are mentioned as the place where persons ought to worship. Who bungled that one for being written so late? Rascals. They should have gotten that one.

The third question that needs to be asked here: Why does the temple receive no consideration? Here’s a $2-6 billion monument in the center of Israel! That’s our present estimate. Somewhere between $2-6 billion! Surely someone would have remembered. Why didn’t someone put the temple there? But instead, guess what was put? A mythical tabernacle which never existed, according to this theory. The tabernacle is a myth. There never was a tabernacle. Remember when they went through the wilderness they put this thing up, constructed it? Don’t worry about that, we’re told by this theory; that never existed. That was a hypothesis. That was built off of the second temple, or some say the first temple. But they got the measurements wrong. They got the furniture wrong. They got the names wrong.

These are poor writers, extremely poor. I would have thought that if they’re constructing a case they could have made a better job of it. You have no idea how embarrassing the questions I’m asking about a king, about Jerusalem, about a temple are to this theory. It embarrasses the daylights out of them. They’d rather you not think about it. Well, I’m going to shout it from the housetop all over America. I’m going to let the secret out. And it needs to be let out. As a matter of fact, this mythical tabernacle is elaborated in great detail. Exodus 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33. Would you believe, all the way to chapter 40? That’s a lot of writing for nothing, for something that doesn’t exist. Well, Selah!

At any rate, you can see there’s a real problem there. And so it ought to be.

A fourth question: Why all the emphasis in Leviticus on shedding of blood and sacrifice, especially since they were in exile; there is no sacrifice; and there is no shedding of blood? As a matter of fact, you don’t have it in Babylonian religion either. Now, who got that crazy idea and why? For 400s and for the post-exilic time it’s out of place, it’s out of sequence. And so it seems to me that, again, there’s a fourth question.

A fifth question: Why was the ceremonial law written in a Hebrew so different in dialect from that which the Jews in exile, in Babylon, and those who were in exile at Elephantine, Egypt, which is down near where the Aswan Dam is now? And we have a large literature from them in Aramaic which is difficult and it is a different dialect of Semitic writing than Hebrew. So why did they write this stuff from that period of time in Hebrew? And not only that, instead of writing in Aramaic, are we to suppose, as proposed by this theory, that the alleged exilic writers invented and borrowed names, say, just for the high priest’s breastplate, with all the stones on it? For every one of those stones, the names of them are so difficult that I take it that those who wrote them during this period of time forgot what the names were and no two of four Aramaic versions of the Targum agree as to their Aramaic equivalence. I would think if they were thinking from Aramaic into Hebrew they would have remembered what the Aramaic was. But now we’ve got four Targums and no two agree as to what the Aramaic word is. More than that, one more embarrassment, and no one knows what the stones meant in any of the Aramaic versions. That is a problem. That is a real problem.

Well, you can see it goes on. But let’s raise something else, too. It seems to me a third thing by way of explosive evidence. We’ve said the text as written must be second century. We have said there are five embarrassing questions. Now it seems to me there’s something else, too, and here it seems to me that we must say that the historical critical method and the documentary theory were defined before the advent of archaeology. The theory itself, as now practiced almost in detail, was in place by 1878. And Julius Wellhausen, in his famous Prolegomena—I’ll give you the short title for it—1878. But we had not discovered yet one script nor had we made one scientific excavation of any site archaeologically. So we have now a theory that antedates all the evidence and since especially 1930 on through the present day we have just had on the level of something like, oh, with regard to scripts they would have to go into the hundreds of thousands, even getting up into millions of tablets in terms of inscriptional evidence alone. We have never had that before. Never had that in any of the languages.

So it seems to me that the archaeological and inscriptional data have established over and over again the historicity of innumerable passages. Now, nowhere have we found a particular kind of archaeological document that has the Scripture reference on it and then says, “This is Joseph’s cloak of many colors. Genesis,” and then gives the reference. You understand that. Some say we’re looking for that. No, that’s not true. But on the other hand I’ll tell you how dramatic it is. Let’s take, just within the last decade or two, Numbers 20-24: Baalim, the son of Beor. Baalim, you remember, had quite an experience. Not as wise as his donkey, but certainly he was taught there. Now, most people say there is a myth. There is no historical evidence for Baalim, the son of Beor. Wrong. In the Jordan Valley in 1967 and then published in 1966, what do we find? A Deir Allah. What did we dig up but an inscriptional evidence, by the way, in columns. And four times over, who is mentioned in this, which is apparently a schoolboy’s copy on a plaster wall of a text which he has four times: Baalim the prophet, who is the son of Beor, and mentions the town which he’s from.

Now, I don’t know whether you think that’s impressive or not, but I’m impressed. I’m very impressed. I think that to find the guy turning up like, and it has been in the ground from that period dated by carbon 14 to 800 BC. The inscription therefore comes, I would say, about 600 to 700 years after the event itself. Very, very impressive.

What about the names, the places, the institutions of the patriarchs? They are known to us from the Egyptian execration texts where they would write the name of a city or name of a person in Palestine and then they would take the ostracon and would break the ostracon, that is, that’s where we get our word to “ostracize” someone from. You take this small scrap of pottery, write something on it, and you kind of put like, we say in Pennsylvania where I came from: “Put the hex on them.” This is putting the mojo on them. You say, “There’s you name” and then you break the thing. And so much for Jerusalem; so much for Ashkelon; so much for Gaza. And they go on and on. Guess what? Those are the cities that are being talked about in the biblical evidence. In other words, they were existing at that period of time. And not only that, but I have personally read in the Nuzu Tablets and in the Alalakh Tablets and in the Ugaritic Tablets, I have read of the names of the people—not the same person but, you know, names tend to go into cycles. Right now there are certain names which parents are naming their children. You get a whole spat of them. They go in cycles. So it was in those days. Guess what they were naming them around 2000 to 1800 BC—Abraham, Jacob, Isaac. These are good names. These are very good names. And we find them scattered all through these documents.

So not only the names but the customs, too. You say, “Selling one’s birthright? What corn is that? How can you sell that? I’d like to see how I could sell that today.” You can’t, but you could then. We’ve got documents. I’ve read the things. I’ve read them personally where, indeed, a brother says, “Listen, I am really famished. Give me three sheep and I’ll give you this piece of land my father gave me.” And it comes from the same period of time.

And the same thing with oral blessings. You say, “Where would that hold up in a court: My father told me that I could have everything?” But it did in that day. While it doesn’t hold up in our day, we’ve got literary evidence for it holding up in that day.

And the same thing, too, when the text changes, when you are in the earlier part of Genesis 1-11 it is supposed to be in Sumer, in Babylon, present-day Iraq; southern Babylon there, southern Iraq. And what do you find? Do they have rocks and stones that they can build things out of? No. There’s not a stone in sight. They must make brick. So they make brick. And what do they put them together with? Cement, because there’s lots of limestone there? No, there’s limestone and there are stones in Israel, but not in this section. You must put them together with bituminous material. And if we haven’t learned since 1938 that that’s where oil comes from, they learned then. That’s how they stuck these things together: they tarred them together. And that’s precisely what you expect.

And when it says that they built a tower, you say, “A tower?” Yes, they’ve got pyramid-like things, these ziggurats that go up in the air. And then when you go to Genesis 37 into the beginning of the book of Exodus, you’re in Egyptological material. The background is that Joseph has gone to Egypt. Does it change? It does, again, repeatedly. The titles for Joseph in Genesis 41 and 45, six of those titles are Egyptological: they come straight across. That’s exactly what we’ve found in the texts as I’ve read them. And Potiphar’s wife, when she tries to woo Joseph there, you’ll remember, and what the response was, it’s very, very much like the tale of the two brothers. It rings true; it’s part of the tradition; it’s part of the culture; it’s their problem.

And the same thing again with the investiture scene in Genesis 41:42, a ring and a gold chain and arrayment. Again, that’s Egyptological. And the Egyptian names, not only Pharaoh but Potiphar and Asenath and Merari and Phinehas. Phinehas is a good Egyptological name. Copper boy. And that’s exactly what they’re calling him here.

And the name of the river. The word for river in that section is different than the word for river when you’re dealing with the Euphrates, Purattu, when you’re talking about the Euphrates, which is to be found in that part of the world; but here the same word in Egyptian, Yor and Assir and Zaphenath-paaneah. These are all of the Egyptological bases that you find at that particular time. And the law codes, too. We have six cuneiform law codes and the Mosaic law place it in the context of Moses’ era.

What other the problems? There are problems about a goring of an ox and about the various kinds of situations that can come up. So all in all, it seems to me we’ve got a long line of literary evidence and also archaeological evidence. And when you put this together with also the Suzerainty Treaty of the Book of Deuteronomy, that as written, it must come from the second millennium, I think we have an enormously strong case here.

To put it even more bluntly. Just recently we found two silver kind of amulets from the tomb of the valley of Hinnom just outside Jerusalem on the south side up near the St. Andrews Church there. They were digging and, lo and behold, they came across a tomb that goes back to at least 600 BC. What is written on this thing? Here we find out of that priestly benediction, the Aaronic benedictions from Numbers 6: “May the Lord bless you. May the Lord make his face shine upon you.” You’ll remember that pretty clear phrase there. Lo and behold, it’s written. But there’s a problem. How can they be writing phrases from that prayer in 600 when it hasn’t been composed yet? It’s only going to be composed 200 years later in 400 BC. This is a problem. There’s nothing like evidence to give you a real good problem.

So, at any rate, it seems to me that we need a conclusion, then we’ll take the time for some of your comments. But the conclusion here it seems to me is that the life and times of Moses’ era as revealed by archaeology and illuminated by inscriptions from the past allows what Wellhausen and his documentary theory has denied to Moses and his writing. It’s an amazing thing. Case after case where the scholar has said, “Couldn’t be; couldn’t happen.” This whole thing started out by saying Moses couldn’t have written. That was the basic problem until we found writing in 3400 BC and we decided to let 1400 BC go. But at any rate, that’s how the thing started: He couldn’t have written. Now, some people don’t want to remember those days but they are there.

And when the Bible says, “Moses said to the sons of Israel,” the critics say, “No one could have penned that until seven centuries later, after the death of Moses. Therefore the Bible is wrong and not to be trusted,” say they. But today we conclude the opposite. We say the critics are wrong and their arguments are based on wrong assumptions that began by being too limited and were introduced even before they saw the evidence. Even before they saw the evidence.

Archaeology is teaching us to respect the written records of the past. “Men and their ideas,: says Isaiah 40, “are like the grass; they perish. They come up and flower, but they also perish. But the Word of our God lasts forever.”

There’s the thing, then, that I want to put before you for this session. We have a few minutes. I can take a question or two and if you can be a succinct as possible, I’ll try to also be succinct and see if we can get several of them.

[For the most part the questions were not picked up on the audio recording, where only Dr. Kaiser had a microphone. However, he repeats the questions before answering them in most cases.]

Question: (inaudible)
Answer: Am I saying that indeed that the assumptions were already set by this particular group of scholars before they got into the evidence and they read them back after they had opened the text? Yes, that is my claim.
Question: (inaudible)
Answer: Would I say that the background, then, actually is to be attributed to the 7th and 8th century philosophers, many of whom were deists, and that that actually was the basis for many of their conclusions and this sneaked into the Church? And you’ve read me correctly again. Yes, I’m afraid to say that that was very much a part of the background. And that’s the horrible thing of it. I think that in some senses many today would like to say, “Oh, no, forget about that. That was the first floor, but we’d like to sweep that all aside and let’s go to the second floor of the documents and when you pull out the first floor, our new assumption is that the second floor fell intact.” And I seldom have seen that. Most buildings that I know, when you pull out the bottom floor the top has a bad fall, just to complete the analogy here. So that is what I’m saying, yes. But that was the basis for the foundation in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Since the 1950s, some would like to forget these bases but no one has ever shown whether you can erect this kind of structure if you take that out.
Question: (inaudible)
Answer: The documentary theory makes the assumption that Moses wrote about events that occurred after his death. One says that Moses made the statement that he was the most humble man alive.
Yes, the question here about the documentary theory does, as a matter of fact, point to the fact that Moses wrote about things that happened after his death, Deuteronomy 34, and that also in Numbers 11 that it says there, “He was the humblest man upon the face of the earth.” Two very important questions and thank you, Gary, for introducing them.
I think the point here, my response is, that Joshua says in his book, chapter 24, that he added under the direction of God many things to the Book of the Law. There are a certain amount of things that are editorially added and he claims that in the book of Joshua. So there are some post-Mosaica, that is, they come after Moses, and I think his death is one of them. I don’t think he wrote Deuteronomy 34, especially the phrase: “And no man knows where he lies to this day.” Which is even a greater prophecy. So I think that that definitely should not be included. And along with it, I don’t think Moses said, you know, “I’ll put away my humble badge at the present time but I’d like to say that I am the humblest man upon the face of the earth.” That is not exactly a humble statement. And, therefore, I think the only way to say that is Joshua was the one who wrote that, too, as well. So those issues do come up. I’d say there are about twelve major issues like that of post-Mosaica. But don’t forget, Joshua claims to have helped here in the process, he who was the understudy with Moses.

1 Comment

  1. Stephanie Thomason on October 2, 2021 at 2:57 pm

    This is excellent. Thank you!

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