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Casting Down Imaginations

Indeed, when truly scientific methods are applied to the study of the Iliad, they lead us back to the traditional view. Wolf, sitting in his academic ivory tower, had imagined that no illiterate bard could have composed two epics as lengthy as the Iliad and the Odyssey. However, early in the twentieth century, Milman Parry deci­ded to put Wolf’s contention to a scientific test: he went out into the field to see what bards do in real life. He recorded the poems of illiterate bards in Yugoslavia and came away with an important discovery. As Whitman explains,

Parry’s achievement was to demonstrate what many had suspected or assumed, that Homer’s poetic language is from beginning to end a traditional medium, a vast collection of formulae functionally designed to enable a singer to compose verses in his head, and thus narrate a traditional tale. In his two French theses, in his various articles, and above all in his great recorded col­lection of Serbian oral epics,…Parry reverted directly to Wolf’s original ques­tion, answered it anew, and outmoded with one lightning stroke a whole century of scholarship. Homer did not have to write in order to compose the epics. The art of oral composition could be studied among the illiterate bards of Yugoslavia, and the inquiry proved the almost infinite possibilities of com­position by formulae. Parry collected at least one poem of comparable length with the Iliad, and of considerable, if not quite comparable, quality. The anal­ogy was at hand, and it was no longer necessary to disintegrate the Greek epics into short songs in order to explain their creation in the absence of pen and ink. As Wolf had seen, the Muses were, in some literal sense, the daugh­ters of Memory, but the ancient memory, aided by the formulae, was ade­quate to greater creative tasks than Wolf imagined.[1]

Furthermore, since Wolf’s time, archaeology has proven that writing did exist in Homer’s time. He orally composed the epics using traditional stories and formulae, but then he or an amanuensis preserved them by writing them down. Thus, Wolf’s original reason for disintegrating the epics has been removed.

Still, even though Parry’s discovery proved that a single author could have composed the Iliad, it did not prove that a single author must have composed the Iliad. Indeed, his discovery could be interpreted as supporting the dissectionists, for if many bards over many generations used the same traditional stories and formulae, how do we know when we read the Iliad whether we are reading the work of a single author or multiple authors? To the dissectionists, the anomalies within the epic were still the proof that we are reading the work of multiple authors.

This is why the contribution of Wolfgang Schadewaldt, a German scholar, is so important.[2] In 1938, only four years after Murray published his book, Schade­waldt “brought crashing to the ground a century and a half of German scholarship”[3] by demonstrating that the anomalies were all parts of Homer’s design. As Howard Clarke explained it,

Schadewaldt brought the battle to the analysts by beginning with two books, 8 and 11, that were usually in their particular disfavor. It was Schadewaldt’s contention that these parts of the Iliad could never have been independent ballads, since they are saturated with explicit and implicit references to earlier and later parts of the poem, that all the Iliad’s other parts function in an organic design that can only have been the work of one poet determined to tell its story as we have it, and that readers can better appreciate other aspects of Homer’s art if they are aware of how this design is achieved.

The design begins with book 1, with the “will of Zeus” (line 5) that will be accomplished in book 24, when Achilles, defrauded of his prize, gives back a richer prize, the dead body of Hector, to a sorrowing father, Priam, who recalls another sorrowing father, Chryses, who recovered his child in book 1. (Indeed, for Schadewaldt book 1’s pattern of Dishonor-Anger-Suffering-Return of Girl-Reconciliation is in parvo the pattern of the entire epic [p. 148].) These balances work into the Iliad from both ends: assemblies in books 2 and 23, duels in books 3 and 22, and heroes fighting gods (and Aeneas) in books 5 and 21-22. The suppliant theme of books 1 and 24 has its strongest restatement in book 9, when Achilles rejects the suppliants who come to him. Book 9, in turn, looks backward to book 8 and the Achaean defeat that motivates the embassy and forward to book 11 and the begin­nings of another Achaean defeat that motivates Achilles’ return (that book 10 lacks these connections makes it non-Homeric for Schadewaldt). Before book 8 comes a block of expository books that transform a quarrel into an epic, an “Achilleid” into an Iliad. This they do by replicating the entire Trojan War in its last year, from its beginning with the Catalogs in book 2, the triangle of Paris, Helen, and Menelaus in book 3, and the treachery of the Trojans in book 4; through its middle, where Achaean military superiority takes the form of Diomedes in books 5 and 6; and to its end in books 6 and 7, where readers see the fall of Troy foreshadowed in Athena’s wordless rejection of the women’s prayers and Hector’s farewell from his family, his own death re­hearsed in the duel in book 7, where he is worsted by Ajax, who will also be his chief opponent in books 11-16. The scene of Hector and his wife does more than anticipate Troy’s destruction; Andromache’s account of Achilles’ gentleness as well as his ferocity toward her father and brothers also seems designed to foreshadow his corresponding behavior toward her husband and father-in-law. So in books 2-7 Homer establishes the significance of Achilles’ wrath by setting it in a context of an immense struggle which only he can resolve; and by making these books culminate in scenes of Hector amid family and fighting he establishes Hector’s importance as Achilles’ chief oppo­nent and Troy’s chief defender. Achilles’ response to the ambassadors in book 9 can only intensify the gloom of the Achaeans, but there is enough indeci­siveness in his emotional speech to suggest that he is beginning to retreat from his initial resolve, as he in fact does in book 11, when he calls out Patroclus to go to the Achaean camp, whereupon Homer adds the foreboding line, “This was the beginning of his evil” (line 603).

The turmoil of fighting dominates the next few books, but Homer is careful to remind his readers that the story has a design and a direction. Agamemnon recalls his past behavior when he panics in book 14 as he had in books 2 and 9; in book 15 Zeus forecasts in detail what will happen through book 22. Foreshadowings abound in book 16: Patroclus dons Achilles’ armor and so motivates Achilles’ need for new armor; Achilles vainly warns Patroclus of the danger of driving the battle too close to Troy (line 87); and Patroclus foretells Hector’s death at the hands of Achilles (lines 852-54). Schadewaldt points out that the repeated references in these books to the deaths of both Achilles and Hector have the effect of joining the two of them in a bond of doom that can only be the conception of a single poet. Achilles accepts his early death, free of the illusions that Hector grasps at as he finds hectic joy in temporary victories and tries not to think of a death he knows he will have to share with his family and his city. And just as Homer recapitulates the begin­ning of the Trojan War in the Paris-Menelaus duel and “seduction” of Helen in book 3, he also foreshadows its end in the death of Hector in book 22 and the defeat of the gods who favor Troy in the “Theomachy.” Though he would be criticized by readers for stopping before the city’s fall, Homer was enough of an artist to know how anticlimactic such an episode would be with its complex tradition of intrigue and deceit. Instead, he turns back to Achilles in the final two books to establish his ascendancy as the poem’s hero and he even restores the dead Hector in book 24 to the three women who had received him alive in book 6, Hecuba, Helen, and Andromache. So from beginning to end the Iliad is girded with a network of flashbacks and foreshadowings, references and recapitulations, as Homer alternately propels and retards his action, amplifying Achilles’ anger into the decisive event in the Trojan War, blending Hector’s fate into that of his city, and making Paris’s activities recall the Achaeans’ original grounds for complaint. Thus throughout the Iliad Homer looks before and after, not just in single lines that could have been added later…but in the kinds of events that have their own immediate interest but are also parts of a larger action with its own beginning, middle, and end. So for Schadewaldt, whatever configuration all these events once had in the Troy tradition, Homer’s art has given them an entirely new reality. They cannot stand alone as independent ballads and they can only stand together as parts of the Iliad we read.[4]

In other words, Schadewaldt did not construct an imaginary history to explain the chaos the dissectionists saw. Instead, he took a few steps back and saw the whole picture. He looked at the Iliad as we actually have it. From that perspective, he could see what the dissectionists had not seen: that the Iliad had been constructed accord­ing to a plan by a single author. Schadewaldt’s literary studies and Parry’s scientific studies are the two main reasons why the unitarian view once again dominates Homeric studies.

Scientific and literary studies are the two main reasons why the unitarian view should also dominate Pentateuchal studies once again. The science of arche­ology not only fails to support the Documentary Hypothesis, it also lends its support to the traditional view. First, whenever it turns up copies of the Pentateuch, they are copies of the Pentateuch as we have it, not copies of the documents. Second, as I noted earlier, archeology has shown that the Bible has all along been telling us the truth about the things which we have confirmed, which gives us confidence that it is telling us the truth about the things which we have yet to confirm. Third, it turns out that Deuteronomy is the key to dating the entire Pentateuch, even as D was the key to dating the four documents. Of all the books in the Pentateuch, Deuteronomy is the one that most emphatically insists that Moses wrote the Five Books:

And Moses wrote this torah and gave it to the priests, sons of Levi, who were carrying the ark of YHWH’s covenant, and to all the elders of Israel (Deut. 31:9, FV).

And it was when Moses finished writing the words of this torah on a scroll to their end, and Moses commanded the Levites, who carried the ark of the covenant of YHWH, saying: “Take this scroll of the torah and set it at the side of the ark of the covenant of YHWH your God…” (Deut. 31:24-26, FV).

If, therefore, we can place the date of Deuteronomy’s writing in the time of Moses, we have good reason to believe that it is telling us the truth about the authorship of the Pentateuch.

This is where archeology comes in. Archeology has shown that the kings of the ancient Near East used to draw up treaties with the kings of the people they had conquered. These treaties are known as suzerainty treaties and in the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries BC they followed a fixed format consisting of six parts:

  1. Preamble or title, identifying the author of the covenant.
  2. Historical prologue or retrospect, mentioning previous relations between the two parties involved; past benefactions by the suzerain are a basis for the vassal’s gratitude and future obedience.
  3. Stipulations, basic and detailed; the obligations laid upon the vassal by the sovereign.
  4. (a). Deposition of a copy of the covenant in the vassal’s sanctuary and
    (b). Periodic public reading of the covenant terms to the people.
  5. Witnesses, a long list of gods invoked to witness the covenant.
  6. (a). Curses, invoked upon the vassal if he breaks the covenant, and
    (b). Blessings, invoked upon the vassal if he keeps the covenant.[5]

The book of Deuteronomy has all six parts: (1) Preamble: 1:1-5; (2) Historical Prologue: 1:6-4:40; (3) Stipulations, basic: 4:44-11:32, and detailed: 12:1-26:19; (4) Deposition of a copy: 31:9, 24-26, and a requirement for periodic public reading: 31:10-13; (5) Witnesses: 30:19, 32:1-43; (6) Curses: 28:15-68, and Blessings: 28:1-14. This parallel between Deuteronomy and the suzerainty treaties means that Deuteronomy must have been written before 1200 BC rather than during the first millennium BC as the Documen­tary Hypothesis supposes, for the treaties of the first millennium lack the historical prologue and blessings. In other words, we can say that Deuteronomy must have been written during the time of Moses. This lends credence to the traditional belief that Moses wrote the Pentateuch.

References within the other four books suggest that we can determine the time of the composition of all Five Books more precisely. Exodus, Leviticus and Num­bers, which tell the story of the Israelites’ deliverance from Egypt and their march across the Sinai desert to the Promised Land, read as if they had been written by an eyewitness to the events. Thus, the author gives us the exact number of fountains and palm trees at Elim (Exod. 15:27). He also describes the appearance and even the taste of the manna which they ate during their journey (Exod. 16:31, Num. 11:7-8).

The author of the first four books was also familiar with Egyptian geography and chronology. “The climate and weather referred to in Exodus are typically Egyptian, not Palestinian.”[6] When the author of Genesis wanted to describe how lush the Jordan Valley had been before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, he did not compare it to another site in Canaan. Instead, he described it as being “like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar” (Gen. 13:10). The author of Numbers fixed the founding date of Hebron (a Canaanite city) for his readers by saying it “was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt” (Num. 13:22). Of course, the author assumed that his readers were also familiar with Egyptian geography and chronology, that they had seen Zoar and knew when Zoan had been built. This would not have been true of the Israelites who lived during the first millennium, when the documents were supposedly written according to the Hypothesis, but it would have been true of the Israelites who had just been delivered from slavery in Egypt and were on the exodus to the Promised Land. And so, we can narrow the time of the composition of the Five Books to a period of only 40 years, that is, during the time of the exodus from Egypt, which occurred from around 1446 BC to 1406 BC.

The critical scholars object to this date for the composition of the Pentateuch, partly because the Hebrew language uses the definite article, “the.” Since the lan­guages similar to Hebrew did not develop the definite article until long after the exodus, they argue that Hebrew itself did the same. However, the Israelites could have picked it up from the Egyptians, whose language (which is not similar to Hebrew) did develop the definite article quite early. Its use in Egyptian literature became popular during the 18th Dynasty (1580-1314 BCE), that is, just before and during the time of the exodus itself. Archeological discoveries have also traced its use back to the 12th Dynasty (1991-1962 BCE), that is, about the time Jacob and his family moved to Egypt.[7]

Another aspect of Hebrew syntax is also peculiar. Hebrew often introduces dialogue with the redundant formula, “And X spoke, saying.” The languages similar to Hebrew never developed the use of this extra “saying.” So why did Hebrew? Again, the Israelites must have picked it up from the Egyptians who again developed this very same syntax as early as the 12th Dynasty.[8]

The Pentateuch also indicates that the Israelites picked up more than just syntax from the Egyptians. As Gleason L. Archer, Jr., points out,

a far greater number of Egyptian names and loan words are found in the Pen­tateuch than in any other section of Scripture. This is just what we would expect from an author who was brought up in Egypt, writing for a people who were reared in the same setting as he.[9]

Thus, the peculiarities of the Pentateuch’s language actually confirm the Israelites’ own testimony that they had spent a considerable amount of time in Egypt before the exodus. And the peculiarities do not argue against the Pentateuch’s having been written during the exodus.

All of this archeological and textual evidence confirms that the Pentateuch was written during the exodus, that is, during the time of Moses, who was the leader of the Israelites during the exodus. Add to this evidence the statements of Deuteron­omy that Moses wrote the entire Torah and the statements of Exodus and Numbers that Moses wrote various portions of those books, and we have a good case that Moses was indeed the author of the Pentateuch:

And YHWH said to Moses, “Write this—a memorial—in a scroll and set it in Joshua’s ears, because I shall wipe out the memory of Amalek from under the skies!” (Exod. 17:14, FV).

And Moses wrote all of YHWH’s words (Exod. 24:4, FV).

And YHWH said to Moses, “Write these words for yourself, because I’ve made a covenant with you and with Israel based on these words” (Exod. 34:27, FV).

And Moses wrote their stops for their travels by YHWH’s word, and these are their travels and their stops (Num. 33:2, FV).

Moses makes the perfect candidate for the author of the Pentateuch. He was familiar with Egyptian geography and chronology and the peculiarities of the Egyp­tian language because he had grown up there. He was an eyewitness to the exodus because he was the leader of the Israelites during the exodus. He was familiar with the treaty format around which he built Deuteronomy because he had been reared in Pharaoh’s household. And Deuteronomy pointedly says that Moses wrote it.

Thus, there is more objective evidence supporting the traditional view than the Documentary Hypothesis. The documentarians have known about this evidence for many, many years, yet they ignore it and insist on imagining that the anomalies provide sufficient proof that Moses could not have written the Five Books named after him. This is why a literary study of the Pentateuch is so important. A literary study will do for the Pentateuch what Schadewaldt did for the Iliad: allow us to take a few steps back and see the whole picture. From that perspective we will see what the documentarians have not seen: that the Pentateuch has been constructed accord­ing to a Plan by a single author. It will reveal how the various parts are inter­related with each other, sometimes in very surprising ways. And it will reveal that Genesis anticipates and provides an introduction for the succeeding four books while Deuteronomy presumes and provides an ample conclusion for the preceding four books. To cite a simple example, in Deuteronomy, Moses says to the people,

“Be watchful with the plague of leprosy, to be very watchful and to do according to everything that the Levite priests will instruct you. You shall be watchful to do according to what I commanded them. Remember what YHWH, your God, did to Miriam on the way when you were coming out from Egypt” (Deut. 24:8-9, FV).

Nowhere in Deuteronomy does Moses command the priests anything about leprosy and nowhere in Deuteronomy is the story of what God did to Miriam. The commands are found in Leviticus 13-14 and the story is found in Numbers 12. The documen­tarians give this passage to D, the commands to P and the story to E, yet the reader cannot begin to understand the passage in Deuteronomy without having first read Leviticus and Numbers. The passage in Deuteronomy presumes and looks back upon the other two.

Does the Plan of the Pentateuch prove that Moses wrote it after all? No, it does not. All the Plan will do is remove the documentarians’ central objection to the traditional view. It will prove that the Pentateuch was indeed written by a single author, who created the anomalies because of, not in spite of, his Plan. But the Plan itself cannot identify that author. That identification firmly rests upon the testimony of the Scriptures.



[1] Whitman, pp. 4-5.
[2] Wolfgang Schadewaldt, Iliasstudien (Leipzig: Hirzel, 1938).
[3] Willy Theiler, “Die Dichter der Ilias” (1947), in Untersuchungen zur antiken Literatur (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1970), p. 12, as quoted in Howard Clarke, Homer’s Readers (Newark, N.J.: University of Delaware Press, 1981), p. 282.
[4] Clarke, pp. 282-283.
[5] Kitchen, pp. 92-93.
[6] Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982), p. 46.
[7] Gleason L. Archer, Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), p. 121.
[8] Jesse L. Boyd III, “An Example of the Influence of Egyptian on the Development of the Hebrew Language During the Second Millennium B.C.,” in Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. and Ronald F. Youngblood, eds., A Tribute to Gleason Archer (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), pp. 192-193.
[9] Archer, Encyclopedia , p. 48.


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