I’m excited to introduce Colby Townsend. We’re going to jump into Old Testament scholarship and discuss how the Old Testament was put together. Most scholars believe the Documentary Hypothesis is the best explanation. Colby recently graduated from Utah State University, and is headed to a Ph.D. program at Indiana University. Over the next few weeks we’ll talk about how Joseph Smith may have been influenced by the Documentary Hypothesis as he translated the Book of Mormon. Colby’s thesis won the Best Thesis Award this year at the Mormon History Association. But first, we’ll introduce some terms used by biblical scholars.
GT: I love to talk to regular people and say, “Have you ever heard of the Documentary Hypothesis?” They always say, “No, what’s that?”
GT: I know, in the scholarly world, everybody knows what that is. But for a lot of my listeners, we’re not scholars and so we talk to people like you, because you’re the experts. Can you give us a little bit of background? What is the Documentary Hypothesis? And then we’ll talk about your paper that talks about how it relates to the Book of Mormon. So that’s going to be really interesting. So, tell us about the Documentary Hypothesis.
Colby: There are a handful of different terms that different people will be slightly familiar with, if they’re not too familiar with the Documentary Hypothesis right at the beginning.
Colby: So, a lot of the time, people are going to be talking about historical criticism. So, when were texts written? Who were they written by? Those kinds methods and the tools that scholars use to be able to identify that kind of information. That’s historical criticism. I’m trying to remember exactly what it was in your post…. Sometimes people will use documentary hypothesis as an interchangeable phrase with historical criticism if we’re trying to understand different parts of it. [For example,] when was, text ‘X’ written in the Hebrew Bible? So, it’s important, because a lot of people will be familiar, probably even more so, with the phrase higher criticism. The purpose for that phrase, and the reason that it came about was that there was lower criticism and higher criticism. Lower criticism was the study of languages, philology, the way that Northwest Semitic languages all relate to each other. Part of the lower criticism is also textual criticism.
Colby: Textual Criticism itself is finding all of the different manuscripts of a single given text. So if we wanted to engage with textual criticism of the Torah, the five books of Moses, we would gather together all of the manuscripts from Qumran, from the medieval [ages,] as far back as we could go, which before Qumran, the oldest manuscripts for the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible that we had only went back to about 1000 CE.
GT: So Qumran is probably a better word, most people would probably [be more familiar with is] the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Colby: Yes, thank you. So with the Dead Sea Scrolls, it shifted us back more than 1000 years in history as far as the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible goes, because we didn’t have any complete Hebrew manuscripts of the individual books of the Hebrew Bible that dated really very much further back from that.
We’ll learn other terms and get introduced to the documentary hypothesis. We will also discuss biblical dating and authorship of Genesis, Exodus, and Deuteronomy.
Colby: So someone like Jean Astruc, actually wasn’t trying to create a new academic method for explaining why Moses didn’t write the Bible or something like that. He was actually somewhat of an apologist as well. He was trying to defend the Bible against the more critical work. So, for him, as he explained himself, the solution for him was to actually take the first part of Genesis, and to separate it into two columns. This is where you get the different sources. So, he started to notice the different use of the Divine Name.
So you have YAHWEH, as I pronounce it, most likely in Hebrew, and you have Elohim. He noticed that in Genesis 1, it is just Elohim. In Genesis 2, at least after verse four and on, it’s just Yahweh. I should note too, that often, in Christian circles, that name is just thrown around as either that pronunciation, similar to that or Jehovah, but it’s a very delicate name within Judaism, Hashem, or Adonai. Hashem is the name, usually what’s most commonly used. Bu Jean Astruc notices that the names are used completely differently. So he separates it into two columns. That’s where you first get the approach, to have what I think what he called was P–well, he didn’t call it that yet. He basically just called it the two…
GT: It was J for Yahweh or Jehovah.
Colby: Yes, but, early on, the other one was called E. You’re right. It wasn’t until much later, maybe even Wellhausen in the late 19th century, that it then becomes J and E, but E is no longer Genesis 1, P is. Then you have J, E, P, D. But it’s a long development to get to the actual documentary hypothesis.
Ancient Israelites believed in a pantheon of gods. They weren’t monotheistic. In our next conversation with biblical scholar Colby Townsend, we’ll learn more about the Canaanites and Israelites.
GT: From what I understand, one of the big issues in the Bible was idolatry. And so, the Canaanite religion had a bunch of deities. You had Jehovah. You had Elohim. You had Ba’al. Who was the female?
GT: Asherah. It was kind of like the Greek gods Zeus and Jupiter and Mars and Venus and everybody. The Canaanites have the same thing. And so, you had some tribes that [said] Jehovah is our God. No Elohim is our God. No Ba’al is our God. And we’ve even got the story of Balaam who worships Ba’al. And so, from what I understand is they had to decide, okay, well we’re not going to be polytheistic anymore. Who is our God? And so, J and E kind of merged together it. Is that a fair understanding of how that works?
Colby: Yeah, you’re describing some scholarship. Yes. So, one of the big issues with that, is exactly what you just described, the turning point with Josiah’s reform. As far as the archaeological record is concerned, there’s no difference between Canaanites and Israelites. For example, the worship of Asherah continued very popularly throughout Josiah’s reign and well after so that description in Samuel and Kings both about this push against idolatry is a much later, post-Josiah depiction of early Israelite history. You not only get God’s name as YAHWEH and Elohim. You also have Ba’al. I think it’s in Hosea. And you have a handful of other names as well.
GT: Moloch I think is another one.
Colby: Right. Yeah. So, that depiction and that attempt to make it seem like Israelite belief wasn’t “tainted” by all of these others polytheistic [gods], this isn’t an accurate portrayal, historically, of what was going on. As scholars have continued to develop our understanding of that, in particular, I’d recommend Mark Smith’s writings on the development of monotheism within Israelite literature and practice. He has a lot of books, and some of them are more affordable than others and really approachable. He’s a great scholar.
We’ll talk about some biblical stories and ask questions about whether the Exodus and stories of Jericho have archaeological support, or if they bear resemblance to other stories in the Middle East.
Colby: But in Joshua, you get a really famous story about the destruction of Jericho. And for Jericho, it’s when the Israelites are finally coming in and fighting off the Canaanites and, and purging the land. They come up to this great walled city of Jericho. The walls are massive. They’re all around the city. And they’re told to basically lay siege, and then walk around it for three days. And on the third day, the trumpet sounds and then the walls come crashing down, and then they go in and take over the city. It’s a fascinating story, and I love it. Joshua and Judges are both some of my favorite texts to read in the Hebrew Bible.
But the archaeological record doesn’t not only not support it, it argues against it, unfortunately. It’s just a story. So sometime, centuries after that…
GT: The walls didn’t fall down? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?
Colby: The walls were never up.
GT: There were no walls?
Colby: There were, but it only covered half the city. So in the 1960s, when archaeologists finally made it to Jericho and had the funding and the people to be able to go through and actually do a full look at the full city, they realized that the wall only covered the one side of the city. They were surprised by that, particularly with the significance of the walls in the biblical record.
Colby: But that still represents where scholarship is at on the question of whether or not the Exodus happened. A lot of scholars don’t think that it did happen, because it’s not that there isn’t evidence. The majority of the evidence just doesn’t really support that. And then particularly when, archaeologically speaking again, in Canaan there isn’t a massive influx of population at the time. There are a handful of just different issues that really don’t support that.
And if you don’t have a historical Exodus, do you have a historical Moses and Joshua? Because that’s a key narrative turning point to each one.
Do you think the Exodus happened? Did Moses and Joshua exist? Are you familiar with the documentary hypotheses? What are your thoughts on biblical scholarship?