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Friedman’s “Fact”

An excerpt from Overstating His Case: Refuting Friedman’s “Fact”:


Tigay discusses why it is called the Documentary Hypothesis in his introduction, referring to its hypothetical methodology (p. 2). Really, it is long past time for us to stop referring to it as a hypothesis. The state of the evidence is such that it is now—at the very least—a theory, and a well established one at that. To my mind, in the absence of any proper refutation of its strongest evidence, it is fact.

So states Richard Elliott Friedman in his Foreword to Empirical Models for Biblical Criticism, edited by Jeffrey H. Tigay, which he wrote in 2005 for the reprint of the book upon its twentieth anniversary. According to him, the proponents of the models that seek to overthrow the Documentary Hypothesis do not challenge

the newest strong evidence, namely: (1) linguistic evidence showing that the Hebrew of the texts corresponds to the stages of development of the Hebrew language in the periods in which the hypothesis says those respective texts were composed; (2) evidence that the main source texts (J, E, P, and D) were continuous, i.e., it is possible to divide the texts and find considerable continuity while keeping the characteristic terms and phrases of each consistent; and (3) as this book shows, evidence that the manner of composition that is pictured in the hypothesis was part of the literary practices of the ancient Near East.

The purpose of this study is to provide a proper refutation of all three lines of evidence. Specifically, I intend to show that the first two lines of evidence are invalid and that the third line, at best, shows that the Hypothesis is plausible, but certainly does not establish the Hypothesis as fact. Friedman, therefore, is overstating his case.

Linguistic Evidence

Friedman develops the first two lines of evidence more fully in his book, The Bible with Sources Revealed. For his first line of evidence, he claims that all of the documents were written in Classical Biblical Hebrew (CBH), which prevailed before the exile, and not in Late Biblical Hebrew (LBH), which prevailed after the exile. He further claims that JE comes from the earliest stage of CBH, P from a later stage and D from a still later stage. Notice that he is not merely claiming that the three documents (JE, P, and D) linguistically differ from each other. He is claiming that they represent three stages in the development of the Hebrew language. He does not present any of his own evidence to support this, but relies on the studies conducted by Robert Polzin, Gary Rendsburg, Ziony Zevit, Jacob Milgrom, Avi Hurvitz, and Ronald Hendel. However, Polzin concludes that P represents a stage of Hebrew between CBH and LBH, meaning that it was written sometime during the exile, after D. Rendsburg and Hurvitz criticize Polzin’s arguments, while Zevit criticizes both Polzin and Rendsburg. Hurvitz and Zevit conclude that P was indeed written in CBH before the exile, but neither of them is willing to say when P appeared in relation to JE or D. In fact, in his most extensive study of P’s linguistic characteristics, Hurvitz specifically points out that “the relationship of P to D and its implication for the dating of the Priestly Source” “could not even be touched upon within the limited scope of the present framework.” Rendsburg, meanwhile, concludes, completely contrary to Friedman, that “the entire Pentateuch may be considered a unified work and may be dated earlier than the composition of Joshua, Judges, and Samuel…. [A]s a whole the Pentateuch is ancient.” Milgrom concludes—on linguistic grounds—that P was written in CBH, but also concludes—not on linguistic grounds—that P appeared before D simply because it can be shown that the author of D knew the stories and laws of P very well. Hendel, after studying the usage of the various verbal forms of one word, concludes that the data “support the classical view that the J source is earlier than the P source” but also admits that the data “may not be sufficient to confirm any particular source-critical model.” Nor does Hendel say whether J represents the earliest stage of CBH while P represents the middle stage. In fact, none of the studies cited by Friedman speak about the three stages of CBH, let alone conclude that JE, P, and D represent those three stages. Polzin even concludes that D’s “grammatical/syntactic nature is substantially the same as JE.” These studies, therefore, do not support Friedman’s first line of evidence; they do not even address it. Hence, the first line of evidence supporting Friedman’s “fact” does not even exist.


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