When we look beyond the anomalies for evidence and arguments on behalf of the Documentary Hypothesis, what do we find? We find nothing. We find that the proof for the Hypothesis rests on nothing but the anomalies alone. Archaeology has yet to unearth any copies of J, E, D, or P. Nor has any known ancient writer testified of their existence or even mentioned them in passing. This is why Friedman’s Seven Main Arguments supporting the Hypothesis, which are supposedly “the largest tabulation of evidence in one place to date,”[i] do not contain one piece of archaeological evidence. There is no objective evidence anywhere that the documents ever existed. In short, the only proof they have that the switch must be turned off is that the lights are out. The Hypothesis, therefore, dies from a lack of evidence.
Some may counter that this is simply an argument from silence, for archaeology may yet unearth copies of the documents. Of course this is an argument from silence, but it is a particularly telling argument against the Hypothesis because the documentarians use the same argument to undermine the reliability of the Bible. Up to about two hundred years ago, the Bible was the only witness to certain historical information. It was the only document to mention the existence of the Hittites and the city of Nineveh. It was the only one that knew that Belshazzar was reigning in Babylon when the Persians took it. Archaeology has since confirmed the validity of all these statements and more. And yet, the documentarians insist that the Bible cannot be viewed as a trustworthy historical document until every detail has been verified by archaeological discoveries or the testimony of extra-biblical writers. As Sandmel states,
In recent decades there has developed, as I have said, a rather strong insistence on the historical reliability of the materials in Genesis. This insistence comes especially from some archaeologists. They point to the correspondence which they assert exists between what Genesis relates and what is known as a result of deciphering certain tablets and inscriptions and of the excavation of ancient sites.
What is overlooked in this misguided emphasis is that it is not the correspondence of the general backgrounds that would establish historical reliability, but rather the confirmation of the particular. I have already noted that no mementos of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have been found. Perhaps the issue can be further clarified by asking some pointed questions. Can the archaeologists confirm for us that creation took place in six days? Can they confirm that the serpent spoke to Eve? Can they confirm that Noah brought two (or seven!) living creatures of each species into his ark? Can they confirm that Abraham bargained with Yahve to save Sodom? Can they confirm that with trimmed poplar rods Jacob controlled the kinds of animals born to the flocks? Can they confirm that Moses’ rod became a snake? Can they confirm that Joshua made the sun stand still? There is, therefore, a limit to what archaeology can prove.
What archaeology has confirmed, however, is that the general picture of early Palestinian life as depicted in the Tanak [the Jewish name for the Old Testament] is reliable…. But we should not move from excessive skepticism to excessive credulity. The traditions in Genesis are folk tales modified and embellished by religious belief. To seek to authenticate these as historically valid in the form in which Genesis relates them is to misapply a useful science.[ii]
Joachim Rehork puts it more bluntly: “Is the Bible always right? We shall certainly be able to answer in the affirmative for those passages which have been confirmed by non-Biblical parallel sources or by archaeological discoveries.”[iii]
But archaeology has not been able to confirm the particulars of the Documentary Hypothesis. Can the archaeologists confirm the existence of J, E, D, or P? Can they confirm that the documents were written when the Hypothesis says they were written? Can they confirm the existence of a series of redactors who combined these documents? Not at all. And if we were to apply Rehork’s standard to the Documentary Hypothesis (“Is the Documentary Hypothesis always right? We shall certainly be able to answer in the affirmative for those parts which have been confirmed by non-Biblical parallel sources or by archaeological discoveries.”), then we would have to conclude that the Hypothesis is the greatest myth ever concocted and perpetuated by Old Testament scholars.
Friedman thinks he has found a way around this lack of archaeological confirmation….
[i] Sources, 2.
[ii] Sandmel, 347-348.
[iii] Joachim Rehork, “Postscript to the Revised Edition,” in Werner Keller, The Bible as History, 2nd Revised Edition (N.Y.: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1980), 391.