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A New Consensus

The dissectionists also claim that they are all looking at the same painting (the Iliad or the Pentateuch), but they act as if they are each looking at a different part of the painting, which explains the second problem with their “scientific” method: the lack of unanimity. All scientists agree that every water molecule con­sists of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen, but Homer’s dissectionists never did reach a consensus on anything. Thus, Gilbert Murray could say, “My own views are not, of course, identical with those of any other writer,”[1] which means that he expected the lack of consensus to be the natural result of their studies, rather than a sign that their analysis was not as scientific and objective as the dissectionists claimed it to be.

This is another area in which the two fields of study paralleled each other, for the documentarians have also failed to reach a consensus on anything. Some argue that D was not written just before Hilkiah discovered the Book of the Torah in 622 BC; rather, it was written a century or more earlier. Still others argue that the book Hil­kiah discovered could not have been D because D was written during or after the Exile. Many, like Wellhausen, argue that P was written after the Exile; others, like Friedman, argue that it was written before the Exile. Many, like Hyatt, argue that J is a unified document; others, like Simpson, argue that it should be divided up into still smaller documents. Many argue that E existed as an independent document; others argue that the so-called E materials were just supplements to the original J docu­ment. Many argue that J, E, and P go no further than Deuteronomy; others can trace those documents all the way through the books of Kings. And they still have not completely agreed as to which verses belong to which documents. Even Friedman admits that a consensus has not yet been reached:

Scholars argue about the number of different authors who wrote any given biblical book. They argue about when the various documents were written and about whether a particular verse belongs to this or that document. They express varying degrees of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the usefulness of the hypothesis for literary or historical purposes.[2]

And Albert de Pury admits that the documentarians are so uncertain as to what the J document actually contains and whether or not it was written by a single author that

…one can say that it is no longer possible today to speak of the “Yahwist” without acknowledging that the former consensus has vanished….

The debate on the Yahwist obviously is not closed. No new scholarly consensus is yet in sight. And new research, discoveries, and points of view may bring yet another turn in the appreciation of this complex literary corpus.[3]

As John Drane has observed,

Considering that scholars have been trying to define the nature and contents of these source documents for a century now, it is not unreasonable to expect them to have come to some sort of conclusion on the matter. The fact that they have so strikingly failed to do so raises serious questions about their very existence.[4]

However, there is one area in which the two fields of study have not paral­leled each other. In 1934, Murray could proclaim, “I can find no true ‘unitarians’ left except Drerup.”[5] Yet, only 25 years later, Lewis, during that same speech to the Cambridge University students, could declare, “When I was a boy one would have been laughed at for supposing there had been a real Homer: the disintegrators seemed to have tri­umphed forever. But Homer seems to be creeping back….”[6] A year earlier, Cedric H. Whitman, at the time an associate professor at Harvard, announced, “America has become the home of a new and firmly based theory of Homeric unity.” He himself could write that, in the Iliad, Homer’s “basic and most central vision, the heroic self, imposes an ineradicable unity of ethos upon the whole design.”[7] Today, the Homeric scholars are virtually unanimous in saying that Homer did write the Iliad and the Odyssey after all. After a century and a half of battle, the unitarians once again reign supreme.

Ironically, this unanimity extends even to the documentarians. Given that the Homeric scholars used to divide up the Iliad and used to draw parallels between their work and the work of the documentarians, it is almost surrealistic to see current doc­u­mentarians not only accept the consensus that Homer did write the Iliad after all, but even draw parallels between Homer’s writing skill and the writing skill of the Yahwist. For example, Peter Ellis had this to say about Homer and the Yahwist:

In the course of the centuries unusually gifted storytellers arise who not only repeat the old stories with verve and gusto and new insights, but organize and synthesize chains of earlier recitals, weaving them into a single opus combining exceptional range and profundity with recognizable organic unity. These works are so admired and respected by the ordinary bards and min­strels that eventually they become models to be repeated rather than outlines to be continued and developed. They become literary monuments, first frozen, at least substantially, in oral form, and eventually in writing. The storytellers whose productions achieve such distinction are the monumental composers. Homer was one. The Yahwist was another.[8]

Their acceptance of the unitarian position means that the current crop of documentarians is either unaware that the dissectionists used to carve up the two epics or has rejected the arguments of the dissectionists altogether, even though the dissectionists’ arguments sounded very much like the documentarians’ own argu­ments. Listen, for example, to what the dissectionist D.L. Page had to say about the styles of the Iliad and the Odyssey:

The traditional vocabulary at the disposal of the Iliad is the product of a very long period of time and experience. The man who would so master it that it is at the disposal of his memory for the rapid making of verses (with or without the aid of writing) must devote many years of practice to his profes­sion. Now it is a simple fact of observation that the traditional vocabulary of the Odyssey differs greatly from that of the Iliad, over and above such differ­ences as may be necessarily connected with the difference in the subject-matter. Not only the extent but also the nature of the differences indicates that these two vocabularies could not have existed in the mind of a single poet—or of one school of poets, unless there was a long interval of time between the two poems. It would be absurd to suppose that one man might hold in his memory two traditional vocabularies, one for use in the Iliad, the other for use in the Odyssey. Moreover, so large is the content, and so grad­ual the development, of such treasuries of formular phrases, that there is no possibility that so great a change might have occurred within the lifetime of one man.

Then, for the next seven pages, he listed words, phrases and formulae that regularly appear in one of the epics but appear rarely or not at all in the other. This difference in style proved to Page that neither Homer nor any other single author could have composed both the Iliad and the Odyssey.[9]

But now listen to what the documentarian Tim Callahan has to say about the same thing:

To understand how it is that modern scholars determine the date and authorship of various biblical narratives, let us explore how their techniques are applied to a more neutral subject. Both the Iliad and the Odyssey are attributed to Homer, as at one time were the so-called Homeric hymns. The two epics describe mythic versions of events that took place ca. 1200 BCE, during the Mycenaean period. Did Homer write during that period or much later? And how do we know, given that the original manuscripts have been lost, when the epics were originally written?

First consider the style of writing. There is a unity of style in both the Iliad and the Odyssey…. Among the stylistic similarities are the poetic images and phrases common to the two epics. Children are always “innocent,” women are “deep-girdled,” and bronze is “sharp and pitiless.” Words are “winged” or go through the barrier of the teeth. Ships are “hollow” and they sail on a “wine-dark sea.” When telling of a warrior’s death in battle, similar descriptions, such as “he fell thunderously,” are used in both epics. Thus, if the two epics were not written by the same author, they were written by two poets of the same school….

Since this critique does not involve anyone’s religious material, we do not hear any howls of outrage about “destructive higher critics” or “liberal theologians.” Yet the very same methods used to date Homer, to verify the shared authorship of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and to invalidate the Homeric Hymns are what modern Bible critics use to separate the threads of the source documents of the Torah, to judge the different authorship and dates of the first and second parts of Isaiah, and to date Daniel some 300 years later than it purports to have been written.[10]

Thus, the methods that were once used to deny the Homeric authorship of the two epics, the same methods that are still being used to deny the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, are now “the very same methods” which are being used “to verify the shared authorship of the Iliad and the Odyssey.” This is like saying that the methods which once proved that one of two hitherto unidentified substances was carbon dioxide and the other was methane are “the very same methods” which now prove that the two substances are actually water. Such methods would not be accepted anywhere else in the scientific community because they do not engender confidence that they are leading us to the truth.



[1] Gilbert Murray, The Rise of the Greek Epic, 4th edition (London: Oxford University Press, 1934), p. xvii.
[2] Wrote, p. 28.
[3] Albert de Pury, “Yahwist (“J”) Source,” in David Noel Freedman, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 6 (N.Y.: Doubleday, 1992), pp. 1016, 1018.
[4] John W. Drane, The Old Testament Story (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1983), p. 155.
[5] Murray, p. iii.
[6] Lewis, p. 162.
[7] Cedric H. Whitman, Homer and the Heroic Tradition (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1958), pp. vii, 2.
[8] Peter Ellis, The Yahwist: The Bible’s First Theologian (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1968), p. 23.
[9] Denys Page, The Homeric Odyssey (London: Oxford University Press, 1955), pp. 149-157.
[10]Tim Callahan, The Secret Origins of the Bible (Altadena, California: Millennium Press, 2002), pp. 11-12.


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