In positing the date of a text and the stages of its composition, source critics strive to create an elegant narrative of its history and therefore of the evolution of religious ideas in ancient Israel. For many, this elegance has become a badge of their intellectual identity. But biblicists, too, are prone to mistaking beauty for truth.
The real, harder truth is that the enterprise of dating biblical texts and their stages of growth is messy, much messier than they would like to admit. And the larger truth is that we actually have limited access to the minds and hearts of the scribes of ancient Israel and cannot know the full range of motivations that drove them to compose the texts they did. What may look to our eyes as, for instance, an unresolved inconsistency between two passages may not have bothered the ancients at all.
To commemorate his greatest achievement, a victory over his arch-enemies the Hittite Empire at the battle of Kadesh in BCE, Ramesses inscribed three mutually exclusive and contradictory reports, one right next to the other, each serving a distinct rhetorical purpose, on monumental sites all across Egypt. The longest is full of internal contradictions as well. This practice is wholly foreign to modern writers, and far from intuitive. Literary conventions are culture-specific.
The prospect is unlikely. Although some are ready to admit that their field has lost the capacity to make forward progress, few if any have reached the necessary conclusion: that the precursors of the received text—their holy grail—may simply not be recoverable. Just so, it is difficult to get a scholar to understand something when his entire scholarly enterprise depends on his not understanding it.
And in the meantime, another corruptive condition has disfigured the field, and the professional conduct, of biblical studies generally. Even as source criticism, the largest sub-field of biblical studies, sinks into self-acknowledged methodological failure, many scholars in that area and others have vigorously taken sides in the culture war that for almost four decades now has been raging in the United States and, with different tonalities, in Europe and Israel.
Like so many of their academic colleagues in the humanities and social sciences, biblicists have largely pledged themselves to one side in that war. One unfailing symptom of this malaise is the unspoken denial of its existence. Search the databases of publications in the field, and you will often find reference to one, and only one, ideological orientation.
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The point: in biblical studies, there are two types of practitioners: genuine scholars, and conservative scholars. The former are presumed innocent, motivated only by the disinterested and rigorous search for truth and guided solely by the dictates of rational inquiry, unmodified and uncontaminated by ideology. The latter are presumed to be agenda-driven, and to have donned academic cap and gown only to achieve a surreptitious panache of legitimacy for their cherished and unreconstructed religious dogmas.
Scholars can be slapped with the conservative label if they argue one or more of three things. The first concerns the coherence of the biblical text. So-called genuine scholars—source critics, here—underscore the in coherence of the text. Such a scholar may readily admit that the text could have a prehistory. And the same goes, thirdly, for a scholar who argues for the antiquity of a given account—that is, that its origins lie in a period roughly cotemporaneous with the events and individuals depicted in it. Leading names on the roll of dishonor in these last two categories include Kenneth Kitchen, the undisputed doyen of Egyptology in the Ramesside period, and James K.
Hoffmeier, another noted Egyptologist. True enough, some scholars in the field of biblical studies do identify themselves as conservative in their outlook.
But that is beside the point; if their scholarship should be rejected—as can happen—it should be rejected because it is weak. And why the one-sidededness at all? Is the arcane task of dating the biblical texts and of parsing them into their putative sources always and everywhere a value-neutral and ideology-free enterprise, as the liberal mainstream pretends? Source Criticism in the Service of Religious Pluralism. Many biblicists—Jewish and Christian alike—insist that, whatever their own personal religious beliefs or conduct may be, religious convictions and academic inquiry are two distinct realms, and must be kept apart to preserve the integrity of each.
While fully embracing the findings of critical scholarship, Sommer also embraces the notion of divine revelation at Sinai and of a binding halakhic commitment incumbent upon all Jews. Under this banner he puts forth a theology unifying scholarship and tradition, weaving together biblical, talmudic, and modern philosophical sources. Many readers, especially those to his theological right, will not agree with his conclusions. In particular, he does not see himself bound to the classical halakhic system of talmudic Judaism; rather, he believes in and defends the legitimacy of multiple halakhic systems and communities.
This position he bases on scholarly grounds.
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Within the text of the final, canonized Torah, Sommer argues, we find multiple and conflicting iterations of the same law. Thus, for example, Exodus 12 rules that Israelites should offer the paschal sacrifice in their own domiciles. Deuteronomy 16, however, insists that Israelites travel to the central shrine in order to offer the sacrifice. Thus, he concludes, intertwining scholarship with liberal theology, modern Jewish communities may also adopt different rulings on how to follow a given law in the Torah.
Many critical scholars do not see the laws in Exodus 12 and Deuteronomy 16 as contradictory. Instead, they argue that the law in Deuteronomy 16 is a later adaptation and newfound application of the law in Exodus Deuteronomy envisions an age when Israel will have a centralized shrine, or Temple, and when it does, it will be incumbent upon Israelites to offer the paschal sacrifice there.
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The final version of the Torah retains the earlier version of the law because it is committed to showing how the law evolved. By always specifying the date, the Torah casts the law as developing in accordance with changing circumstance. In this regard, the Torah resembles the U. Constitution and its way of adding amendments. The eighteenth amendment of enacted the nationwide prohibition on the sale of alcohol. The twentieth amendment of repealed it. So it is with varying iterations of the law in the Torah. To these scholars, the biblical redactor does not in the least believe in multiple halakhic systems.
Rather, his work demonstrates that law may change over time but that, at any one moment, all of Israel is obligated to obey a single law. To be clear, my point here is not to invalidate the theology proposed by Sommer, who laudably discloses the interests that animate his work.
Rather, I mean to illustrate the double standard that permeates so much of biblical studies. When a scholar adduces evidence for the unity of a text, even if he makes no mention of theology whatsoever, he is liable to be labeled a conservative and the academic form in which he expresses his argument will be dismissed as an impermissible weave of scholarship with the suspect ideology behind it.
Pacifism and the Art of Dating Biblical Texts. In that book, Carr took a step that source critics should have taken long ago. This is a convention-smashing conclusion. Time and again, biblical scholars have claimed that simply by analyzing the version we have, we can accurately recreate what earlier versions of the text looked like. That is certainly possible where both earlier and later stages of an ancient text are in fact available—as, for instance, in accounts found in the biblical book of Chronicles that are clearly built on those found in the books of Samuel and Kings.
But it would not be remotely possible to recreate Samuel and Kings if you did not know of their existence and all you had in hand was the text of Chronicles. Eggs cannot be unscrambled, and texts cannot be mined for fissures to produce their precursors.
Here Carr undertakes to determine the date of composition for much of the biblical corpus. In his judgment, most of the books of the Bible, the Torah included, were written during the Babylonian exile BCE or immediately following the return of the exiles to Judea, when they lived under Persian hegemony. It was then that, for Carr, the exiles chose to commit to writing the traditions they had long held. The circumstances were ripe: in Babylon, they saw themselves as akin to or indeed as another iteration of the Israelite people in Egypt, the slaves whom Moses would lead out of exile.
And it is undoubtedly satisfying to think of Jewish scripture as a form of spiritual resistance, a means by which an oppressed minority struggles to survive against stronger powers. So, in Holy Resilience , the theological and the scholarly align perfectly and are braided together as one.
If you hold a theology of pacifism—many Quakers renounce the bearing of arms and conscientiously object to participating in war—it cannot but be appealing to think of scripture as itself the creative product of victims rather than perpetrators of violence. Yet, seductive though this vision is, as a method of dating the biblical text it is open to serious challenge on several grounds. For one thing, recently found documents from ancient Babylon reveal that the Jewish exiles there were active in trade and actually slave owners , which suggests that they were fairly well-off and certainly not oppressed like the Israelite slaves in Egypt.
For another, biblical linguists maintain that the Hebrew of the Torah reflects pre-exilic Hebrew—when Israelites exercised autonomy in their own land—to a degree that could not have been mimicked by a scribe living in the exilic or post-exilic period. Like Sommer, he is to be lauded for laying bare the motivations behind his work. Consider a single statistic: the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, held in North America each November, is the largest such gathering in the field of biblical studies.
This flow of money tempts some officials to steal, while others accept bribes from individuals who want them to reduce their taxes or other payments due the government. A vicious circle may result —the government raises taxes to make up for such losses, and this in turn fosters more corruption. In an environment like that, people who are honest may suffer the most.
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Governments lose credibility when they try to eradicate corruption among police or customs officers while tolerating it among high officials. And even the most ethical human ruler is subject to inherent imperfection. Matthew ; John Even when Jesus was being tortured to death, he was so determined to maintain his integrity that he refused a drug that would have dulled the pain but might also have left him without full command of his senses.
Matthew Now raised back to heavenly life by God, Jesus has proved that he is fully qualified to rule over the Kingdom. The reality, though, is that campaigns and elections are prone to corruption, even in so-called developed countries. By means of campaign contributions and other actions, the rich can unduly influence current and future officeholders.
Justice John Paul Stevens of the U. However, experts have found that in many cases, increasing the number of laws just provides more opportunities for corruption. Additionally, legislation specifically intended to reduce corruption often costs much to implement yet accomplishes little. Many critical scholars do not see the laws in Exodus 12 and Deuteronomy 16 as contradictory.
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Instead, they argue that the law in Deuteronomy 16 is a later adaptation and newfound application of the law in Exodus Deuteronomy envisions an age when Israel will have a centralized shrine, or Temple, and when it does, it will be incumbent upon Israelites to offer the paschal sacrifice there. The final version of the Torah retains the earlier version of the law because it is committed to showing how the law evolved.