Reasons for the Rejection of the Documentary Hypothesis

Rev. Dr. Patrick S. Fodor 

Root Problems with the Documentary Hypothesis

While recent literary analysis, cultural commentaries, and patristic materials all invaluable, and some insights of scholars using the Documentary Hypothesis have been very valuable, the DH itself highly problematic Careful scholarly investigation of the Documentary hypothesis has shown that many of its presuppositions and core principles are in error.

Main presuppositions include:

1. An evolutionary, unilinear approach to Israelite history (built on the philosophy of Hegel). Among other things, the idea that religion developed from animism to polytheism and eventually to monotheism, is simply not supported by the vast majority of textual and other evidence, either in the case of Israel’s religion or any other major society in antiquity. For example, the earliest records and linguistic analysis of the earliest known writings in the area of China suggest that the worship of a single deity, Shang-Ti, was later changed, the characteristics of the deity being anthropomorphized and, eventually, treated as individual deities. Likewise, study of the earliest Egyptian civilization suggests that one divine being was worshipped, but that the attributes (neteru), which were pictured, eventually came to be thought of as distinct deities (Isis, Osirus, and Horus, for example, were first divine “energies,” but later became distinct deities, each with a separate realm of responsibility for life in Egypt). In most (but not all) cases, the earliest High God (most often associated with the sky) was so separate from everyday life and experience that little explicit attention was paid to him. The abstract attributes of the High God were transformed into closer, concrete, and more approachable deities. For details regarding China and the study of Chinese bone fragments (the earliest medium for Chinese writing), see Genesis and the Mystery Confucius Couldn’t Solve by Ethel Nelson and Richard Broadberry. For an analysis of the evidence in Egypt, see Egyptian Divinities: The All Who Are the One by Moustafa Gadalla (cf. Egyptologist, Sir Wallis Budge’s, The Book of the Dead). A broader survey of evidence is located in the works of Wilhelm Schmidt. See his 4000 page treatise, Der Ursprung der Gottesidee, translated as The Origin and Growth of Religion: Facts and Theories, tr. H. J. Rose, Methuen, London, 1931, as well as his later texts: High gods in North America (Upton lectures in religion, Manchester College Oxford). Clarendon Press, 1933; The Religion of Earliest Man (Studies in Comparative Religion). Catholic Truth Society, 1962; Primitive Revelation (New York: Cooper Square Publishers,1972.). 

2. The lack of literature during the earlier period of Israel’s history. This has been shown to be in error by archaeological discoveries, such as the analysis of inscriptions on pottery announced in 2010:

“Professor Gershon Galil of the Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Haifa has deciphered an inscription on a pottery shard discovered in the Elah valley dating from the 10th century BCE (the period of King David’s reign), and has shown that this is a Hebrew inscription. The discovery makes this the earliest known Hebrew writing.[1]

The significance of this breakthrough relates to the fact that at least some of the biblical scriptures were composed hundreds of years before the dates presented today in research and that the Kingdom of Israel already existed at that time.

Prof. Gershon Galil of the University of Haifa who deciphered the inscription: “It indicates that the Kingdom of Israel already existed in the 10th century BCE and that at least some of the biblical texts were written hundreds of years before the dates presented in current research.”

See < http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100107183037.htm >.

3. The possibility of dividing the texts on the basis of stylistic criteria. The natural variation within a larger work- in syntax, grammar, and other areas- is ignored. The possibility of different styles by a single author is also a priori rejected. Even more problematic, the supposed distinctiveness of the distinct styles are inconsistently used when matched up with the theory. Especially problematic is the fact that the various passages have been assigned to the various sources on the basis of their specific characteristics. Yet the list of characteristics was taken from passages which were assigned to the sources already. This is circular reasoning. Not only this, but it ignores large numbers of discrepancies, as well as some basic distinctions (for example, the difference between YHWH, God’s personal name, and Elohim as common noun, such a “Prime Minister”), and how the vocabulary is often used in a technical way precisely to make the primary points in the narratives. 

4. A simple conflation of documents was made by redactors. This idea was that the different schools of redactors took the various pieces and knit together a coherent final text out of it. This ignores the complexity of the structural elements of the texts, especially those involving the oral nature of the use of the texts and the way the structures fit into this usage, as well as the existence of multiple coherent structures (as, for example, the tightly knit use of chiastic structures at the same time that a bifid structure is used in the text of Isaiah). An additional problem is the other ancient texts which, arguably, could not have had the same motivations behind them, but which show some very interesting similarities to the texts – including the witness of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Samaritan Pentateuch. 

5. The intentions and motives of such redactors are either self-evident or easily discerned by modern textual scholars. A whole variety of assumptions about the nature and structure of revelation, truth, and other religious categories are imposed without any clear evidence for these ideas in antiquity (and, in fact, contrary to much that has been found in ancient testimonies). The redactors were thus either oblivious to or utterly unconcerned with obvious repetitions, digressions, and contradictions in the texts. Literary criticism has, in fact, established that many of these cases are not evidence of a cut and paste approach to the creation of the texts, but evidence of a particular way of presenting texts for oral consumption. The texts follow the conventions of chiastic structures, parallelisms, and so forth to “frame” essential elements in the narrative and highlight them. There is no need to presume that people in antiquity- either editors or hearers- were stupid or unconcerned with order.

For further discussion of the weakness of the DH, and for coherent alternate explanations, see the works of U. Cassuto, The Documentary Hypothesis. Jerusalem: The Magnus Press, The Hebrew University, 1961; R.N. Whybray, The Making of the Pentateuch: A Methodological Study. Sheffield Academic Press, 1987; Eyal Rav-Noy & Gil Weinreich, Who Really Wrote The Bible? Richard Vigilante Books, 2010, as well as the summary compilation of scholarship on literary structures by Dorsey, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament. Cf. Rolf Rendtorff, “The Paradigm Is Changing: Hopes – and Fears.” Biblical Interpretation, Vol. 1, no. 1, (1993), 34-53; as well as Kikawada and Quinn. Before Abraham Was(Ignatius Press, 1985), Gary A. Rendsburg’s The Redaction of Genesis (Eisenbrauns, 1986), both of which demonstrate the linguistic unity and coherence of the Genesis texts, and the way in which common literary designs from antiquity are used to emphasize the main points of the texts. Rendsburg’s conclusion, as a serious critical scholar, is noteworthy: “The evidence presented here points to the following conclusion: there is much more uniformity and much less fragmentation in the book of Genesis than generally assumed. The standard division of Genesis into J, E, and P strands should be discarded. This method of source criticism is a method of an earlier age, predominantly of the 19th century. If new approaches to the text, such as literary criticism of the type advanced here, deem the Documentary Hypothesis unreasonable and invalid, then source critics will have to rethink earlier conclusions and start anew” (105). 

Attempts to correct this have resulted in either the multiplication of supposed sources,[2] or the abandonment of the system as a coherent explanation of the texts.[3] Many scholars simply continue as if the problems are minor problems, and not real deficiencies in the basic theory. 

A growing number of scholars, beginning with Brevard Childs of Harvard University, have insisted that we can only take the texts as a whole, as we find them in the canon. Doing otherwise simply turns them into gibberish. None of the supposed sources by itself says anything coherent, or tells any story at all. 

It also seems that the testimony of Jesus in the Gospels, if it is taken at all seriously, in which he repeatedly attributes Mosaic authorship, is difficult to explain without significant negative Christological consequences. We could say that Jesus’ emphatic statements of the proper hermeneutic for understanding the Scriptures are merely a cultural concession to the misunderstandings of their authorship, except that it isn’t a mere passing reference to the books of Moses that Jesus makes.[4] In John 5:39-47 He lists Moses as one of five witnesses, and cites him as the one whose words will judge those who read the Scriptures to find life, yet refuse to receive Jesus to whom these Scriptures point. We could also say that our Lord was simply ignorant of proper Scriptural scholarship. Neither option is appealing. While Fundamentalists often slip into hermeneutical Docetism, with little real role for the human author, let alone a real synergy between God and man, many modern and postmodern biblical critics fall the other way into what is, at best, hermeneutical Nestorianism or even Arianism. Jesus, the actual, historical Person with two natures, actually did what the ear and eye-witnesses recorded that He did. The teaching of the Christian Church from the beginning has been that the testimony of the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit into all Truth (according to Jesus’ promise), is absolutely faithful. The faithful historic witness is preserved by the Church, expressed especially liturgically (lex orandi, lex credendi[5]). This is not made up of the claims of individual scholars, as learned as they may be. There is a reason why the Church does not proclaim the readings as “according to multiple redactors with conflicting agendas in the post-exilic period.” The Church holds to a Chalcedonian Hermeneutic (a way of reading the text which flow from the understanding of Christ as set out at the Council of Chalcedon), informed by the real historic Jesus and guided by the Holy Spirit. The position is that the Church, and the Church alone, has the right to determine and explain her texts. This is what the establishment of the canon is about.[6]

Major Problems Based on the History of Language

One major problem with the Documentary Hypothesis is that we now know Moses did not live “prior to all knowledge of writing”, as was asserted to be true by those who advocated this theory. In fact, Moses lived long after the art of writing was already known. A veritable plethora of archaeological discoveries has thus proven one of the earliest assumptions of the Wellhausen theory to be wrong. And the more evidence we find, the more wrong we discover it to be.  

1. In 1949, C.F.A. Schaeffer “found a tablet at Ras Shamra containing the thirty letters of the Ugaritic alphabet in their proper order. It was discovered that the sequence of the Ugaritic alphabet was the same as modern Hebrew, revealing that the Hebrew alphabet goes back at least 3,500 years” (Jackson, 1982, p. 32).

2. In 1933, J.L. Starkey, who had studied under famed archaeologist W.M.F. Petrie, excavated the city of Lachish, which had figured prominently in Joshua’s conquest of Canaan (Joshua 10). Among other things, he unearthed a pottery water pitcher “inscribed with a dedication in eleven archaic letters, the earliest ‘Hebrew’ inscription known” (Wiseman, 1974, p. 705). According to Charles Pfeiffer,

The Old, or palaeo-Hebrew script is the form of writing which is similar to that used by the Phoenicians. A royal inscription of King Shaphatball of Gebal (Byblos) in this alphabet dates from about 1600 B.C. (1966, p. 33).

3. In 1901-1902, the Code of Hammurabi was discovered at the ancient site of Susa (in what is now Iran) by a French archaeological expedition under the direction of Jacques de Morgan. It was written on a piece of black diorite nearly eight feet high, and contained 282 sections. In their book, Archaeology and Bible History, Joseph Free and Howard Vos stated:

The Code of Hammurabi was written several hundred years before the time of Moses (c. 1500-1400 B.C.)…. This code, from the period 2000-1700 B.C., contains advanced laws similar to those in the Mosaic laws…. In view of this archaeological evidence, the destructive critic can no longer insist that the laws of Moses are too advanced for his time (1992, pp. 103, 55).  The Code of Hammurabi established beyond doubt that writing was known hundreds of years before Moses.

4. Dr. Paolo Matthiae, Director of the Italian Archeological Mission in Syria, “hit an archeological jackpot” in 1975.  He discovered “the greatest third-millennium [B.C.] archive ever unearthed.” It included “more than 15,000 cuneiform tablets and fragments” and unveiled a Semitic empire that dominated the Middle East more than four thousand years ago. Its hub was Ebla, where educated scribes filled ancient libraries with written records of history, people, places and commerce.[7]

“These early tablets display an ease of expression, an elegance that indicates complete mastery of the cuneiform system by the scribes,” said Dr. Giovanni Pettinato, former epigraphist of the Italian Mission, who worked closely with Dr. Matthiae. “One can only conclude that writing had been in use at Ebla for a long time before 2500 B.C.”

The Ebla tablets verified the worship of pagan gods such as Baal, Dagan and Asherah “known previously only from the Bible.”[8] They mention the name “Abraham” and “Ur of Chaldees” (the Biblical Abraham’s birthplace) as well as other familiar cities and places:

“The names of cities thought to have been founded much later, such as Beirut and Byblos, leap from the tablets. Damascus and Gaza are mentioned, as well as two of the Biblical cities of the plain, Sodom and Gomorrah. … Most intriguing of all are the personal names found on the Ebla tablets. They include Ab-ra-mu (Abraham), E-sa-um (Esau)….”

The truth is, numerous archaeological discoveries of the past 100 years have proven once and for all that the art of writing was known not only during Moses’ day, but also long before Moses came on the scene. Although skeptics, liberal theologians, and certain college professors continue to perpetuate the Documentary Hypothesis, they should be informed (or reminded) of the fact that one of the foundational assumptions upon which the theory rests has been completely shattered by archeological evidence.

5. Cursive writing “an international means of communication”:  By the 10th century B.C. writing — including Aramaic — had become increasingly common. In spite of social divisions, many were learning to write: “Though the clerk, the cultured person and the craftsman all used basically the same cursive script, there were decided stylistic differences. These may be classified as sub-styles of cursive and can be termed: (a) extreme cursive—that of the cultured person; (b) formal cursive—that of the professional scribe; and (c) vulgar cursive—that of persons of limited schooling….

“During the ninth and the first half of the eighth centuries, there is no evident distinction between Phoenician and Aramaic script; apparently, the Phoenician-Aramaic lapidary script was used for writing in ink as well…. The beginnings of Aramaic cursive and its rapid development are undoubtedly connected with the rise of the Aramaic language and script as an international means of communication.”[9]

A major idea used to support a late date for the Bible texts is the essential idea that late Aramaic words show a late writing of the Pentateuch after the Babylonian Captivity. One related idea is that Persian loanwords show up only late, and that these are found in the texts. 

More Language Problems

The picture presented in the DH is that there are Aramaic and other late forms of language used, so the texts must be late. The idea is also that there is an earlier form of Hebrew and a later one:  But this is false. There are as many such late words and language elements in so-called Early Biblical Hebrew (EBH) as there are in so-called Late Biblical Hebrew (LBH). What we have is, in fact, that there are simply “two co-existing styles or tendencies utilized by authors and scribes throughout the biblical period.”[10] And the old idea that Aramaic was used only late in history is now shown to be patently false.  Aramaic was the language of the ancient Aramaeans, first mentioned in cuneiform texts from the twelfth century B.C. The suggestion in the 19th century and afterwards was that the use of Aramaic only spread and became common in the period of the Babylonian captivity and afterwards. The dividing of Aramaic itself into various forms in different periods,[11] the appearance of new manuscript evidence, and the more careful analysis of it, have disproven many of the arguments used to give very late dates to Bible texts, including Daniel.    

What was simply assumed was that Hebrew and Aramaic are simply distinct, watertight linguistic compartments before the Babylonian captivity. But the archeological evidence shows this to be false. The inscription of King Zakir of Hamath, written c. 820 BC shows these languages mixed together. Or the Panammu Inscription from the first half of the eighth century does this, too. The Ugaritic writings of the fifteenth century Ras Shamra show the intermingling of Canaanite language and Aramaic (Ugaritic being a dialect of West Semitic which is closely related to Hebrew). “As early as the time of Moses we such an intrusion of Aramaisms as to give some scholars grounds for arguing that Ugaritic was basically an Aramaic dialect which had absorbed many Canaanisms.”[12] And the “Genesis record makes it clear that Aramaic influences were at work in Hebrew from its earliest stages”, with examples such as when Laban calls the witness cairn in Gen 31:47 “Yegar-saheduta” (“the heap of witness”) even while Jacob refers to this same object in Cannanite language: “Gal’ed” (“Gilead”).   

If we read carefully, we find, in fact, that the Aramaic usage disappears during the reign of Saul (c. 1400-1010 BC), but that with the expansion of the Kingdom under David and Solomon it reappears (with contact with dominant Aramaic locations such as Damascus, Hadach, Zobah, and Hamath). And, it is VERY significant that prophets that everybody agrees were active AFTER the return from Babylonian captivity (the “post-exilic” prophets)- Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi- show NO Aramaic influence at all.  If lateness and the use of Aramaic were such a simple connections, this would not be the case.   

We can add two other elements: 1) many supposedly Aramaic words are nothing of the kind. They are “authentic Hebrew words, or else to be derived from Phoenician, Babylonian, or Arabic dialects, rather than from Aramaic”,[13] and 2) The possibility that some late editing of words could take place, for the sake of protecting effective communication to the audience, without this changing the date of the original composition of the texts, seems to have simply escaped the notice of those who demand that the whole of the Hebrew bible canon be dated very late.  

EVIDENCE FOR THE DOCUMENTARY HYPOTHESIS—REFUTED[14]

Many of the questions surrounding this theory were answered many years ago by the respected scholar J.W. McGarvey. His book, The Authorship of Deuteronomy, (first published in 1902) silenced many supporters of the Documentary Hypothesis. Critics simply could not overcome his ability to detect and expose the many perversions of their teachings. Over the last century, however, various critics eventually regained their confidence and began citing even more “evidence” for their theory. One category of “proof” frequently mentioned by skeptics and liberal scholars is that of chronological lapses (also called anachronisms). Allegedly, numerous references found in the Pentateuch are said to be of a later time; hence, it is impossible for them to be Mosaic. According to Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman in their extremely popular book on archaeology and the Bible, The Bible Unearthed, “archaeology has provided enough evidence to support a new contention that the historical core of the Pentateuch…was substantially shaped in the seventh century BCE” (2001, p. 14; BCE stands for Before the Common Era)—about 800 years after Moses lived. Two years earlier, Stephen Van Eck wrote in the Skeptical Review: “[T]he best evidence against the Mosaic authorship is contained in the Pentateuch itself,” which “contains anachronistic references impossible to be the work of Moses” (1999, p. 2). Thus, allegedly, “at the very least, we can conclude that many elements in the patriarchal narratives are unhistorical” (Tobin, 2000).

Just what are these “anachronistic references” that are “impossible to be the work of Moses”? And are there reasonable explanations for them being in the Pentateuch? What can be said about the alleged chronological lapses that have led many to believe the stories of the Bible are unhistorical?

CAMELS BEARING A HEAVY LOAD

Arguably, the most widely alleged anachronisms used in support of the idea that Moses could not have written the first five books of the Bible are the accounts of the early patriarchs possessing camels. The word “camel(s)” appears twenty-three times in twenty-one verses in the book of Genesis. The first book of the Bible declares that camels existed in Egypt during the time of Abraham (12:14-17), in Palestine in the days Isaac (24:63), in Padan Aram while Jacob was employed by Laban (30:43), and were owned by the Midianites during the time when Joseph was sold into Egyptian slavery (37:25, 36). Make no mistake about it—the book of beginnings clearly teaches that camels had been domesticated since at least the time of Abraham.

According to skeptics, and a growing number of “biblical scholars,” however, the fact that Moses wrote about camels being domesticated in the time of Abraham directly contradicts the archaeological evidence. Over one hundred years ago, T.K. Cheyne wrote: “The assertion that the ancient Egyptians knew of the camel is unfounded” (1899, 1:634). In Norman Gottwald’s defense of the Documentary Hypothesis, he cited the mention of camels in Genesis as one of the main “indications that the standpoint of the writer was later than the age of Moses” (1959, p. 104). More recently, Finkelstein and Silberman confidently asserted:

We now know through archaeological research that camels were not domesticated as beasts of burden earlier than the late second millennium and were not widely used in that capacity in the ancient Near East until well after 1000 BCE (2001, p. 37). Supposedly “tame camels were simply unknown during Abraham’s time” (Tobin, 2000).

While these claims have been made repeatedly over the last century, the truth of the matter is that skeptics and liberal theologians are unable to cite one piece of solid archaeological evidence in support of their claims. As Randall Younker of Andrews University stated in March 2000 while delivering a speech in the Dominican Republic: “Clearly, scholars who have denied the presence of domesticated camels in the 2nd millennium BC have been committing the fallacy of arguing from silence. This approach should not be allowed to cast doubt upon the veracity of any historical document, let alone Scripture” (2000). The burden of proof actually should be upon skeptics to show that camels were not domesticated until well after the time of the patriarchs. Instead, they assure their listeners of the camel’s absence in Abraham’s day—without one shred of archaeological evidence. [Remember, for many years they also argued that writing was unknown during the time of Moses—a conclusion based entirely on “silence.” Now, however, they have recanted that idea, because evidence has been found to the contrary.]

What makes their claims even more disturbing is that several pieces of evidence do exist (and have existed for some time) that prove camels were domesticated during (and even before) the time of Abraham (approximately 2,000 B.C.). In an article that appeared in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies a half-century ago, professor Joseph Free listed several instances of Egyptian archaeological finds supporting the domestication of camels. [NOTE: The dates given for the Egyptian dynasties are from Clayton, 2001, pp. 14-68]. The earliest evidence comes from a pottery camel’s head and a terra cotta tablet with men riding on and leading camels. According to Free, these are both from predynastic Egypt (1944, pp. 189-190), which according to Clayton is roughly before 3150 B.C. Free also lists three clay camel heads and a limestone vessel in the form of a camel lying down—all dated during the First Dynasty of Egypt (3050-2890 B.C.). He then mentions several models of camels from the Fourth Dynasty (2613-2498 B.C.), and a petroglyph depicting a camel and a man dated at the Sixth Dynasty (2345-2184 B.C.). Such evidence has led one respected Egyptologist to conclude that “the extant evidence clearly indicates that the domestic camel was known [in Egypt—EL] by 3,000 B.C.”—long before Abraham’s time (Kitchen, 1980, 1:228).

Perhaps the most convincing find in support of the early domestication of camels in Egypt is a rope made of camel’s hair found in the Fayum (an oasis area southwest of modern-day Cairo). The two-strand twist of hair, measuring a little over three feet long, was found in the late 1920s, and was sent to the Natural History Museum, where it was analyzed and compared to the hair of several different animals. After extensive testing, it was determined to be camel hair, dated (by analyzing the layer in which it was found) to the Third or Fourth Egyptian Dynasty (2686-2498 B.C.). In his article, Free also listed several other discoveries from around 2,000 B.C. and later, each of which showed camels as domestic animals (1944, pp. 189-190).

While prolific in Egypt, finds relating to the domestication of camels are not limited to the African continent. In his book, Ancient Orient and the Old Testament, Kenneth Kitchen, professor emeritus at the University of Liverpool, reported several discoveries made outside of Egypt, proving that ancient camel domestication existed around 2,000 B.C. Lexical lists from Mesopotamia have been uncovered that show a knowledge of domesticated camels as far back as that time. Camel bones have been found in household ruins at Mari in present-day Syria that fossilologists believe are also at least 4,000 years old. Furthermore, a Sumerian text from the time of Abraham has been discovered in the ancient city of Nippur (located in what is now southeastern Iraq) that clearly implies the domestication of camels by its allusions to camels’ milk (Kitchen, 1966, p. 79).

All of these documented finds support the domestication of camels in Egypt many years before the time of Abraham. Yet, as Younker so well stated, skeptics refuse to acknowledge any of this evidence.

It is interesting to note how, once an idea gets into the literature, it can become entrenched in conventional scholarly thinking. I remember doing research on the ancient site of Hama in Syria. As I was reading through the excavation reports (published in French), I came across a reference to a figurine from the 2nd millennium which the excavator thought must be a horse, but the strange hump in the middle of its back made one think of a camel. I looked at the photograph and the figurine was obviously that of a camel! The scholar was so influenced by the idea that camels were not used until the 1st millennium, that when he found a figurine of one in the second millennium, he felt compelled to call it a horse! This is a classic example of circular reasoning (2000, parenthetical comment in orig.).

Finds relating to the domestication of camels are not as prevalent in the second millennium B.C. as they are in the first millennium. This does not make the skeptics’ case any stronger, however. Just because camels were not as widely used during Abraham’s time as they were later, does not mean that they were entirely undomesticated. As Free commented:

Many who have rejected this reference to Abraham’s camels seem to have assumed something which the text does not state. It should be carefully noted that the biblical reference does not necessarily indicate that the camel was common in Egypt at that time, nor does it evidence that the Egyptians had made any great progress in the breeding and domestication of camels. It merely says that Abraham had camels (1944, p. 191).

Similarly, Younker noted:

This is not to say that domesticated camels were abundant and widely used everywhere in the ancient Near East in the early second millennium. However, the patriarchal narratives do not necessarily require large numbers of camels…. The smaller amount of evidence for domestic camels in the late third and early second millennium B.C., especially in Palestine, is in accordance with this more restricted use (1997, 42:52).

Even without the above-mentioned archaeological finds (which to the unbiased examiner prove that camels were domesticated in the time of Abraham), it only seems reasonable to conclude that because wild camels have been known since the Creation, “there is no credible reason why such an indispensable animal in desert and semi-arid lands should not have been sporadically domesticated in patriarchal times and even earlier” (see “Animal Kingdom,” 1988). The truth is, all of the available evidence points to one conclusion—the limited use of domesticated camels during and before the time of Abraham. The supposed “anachronism” of domesticated camels during the time of the patriarchs is, in fact, an actual historical reference to the use of these animals at that time. Those who reject this conclusion cannot offer a single piece of solid archaeological evidence on behalf of their theory. They simply argue from the “silence” of archaeology, which is not silent at all. They are simply deaf. 

MOSES’ KNOWLEDGE OF GATES

A further “proof” against Mosaic authorship is the continuous mention of gates throughout the Pentateuch. As McKinsey wrote:

Deut. 15:22 says, “Thou shalt eat it within thy gates.” The phrase “within thy gates” occurs in the Pentateuch about twenty-five times and refers to the gates of Palestinian cities, which the Israelites did not inhabit until afterthe death of Moses (1995, p. 363, emp. in orig.).

In making this statement, however, Mr. McKinsey commits a gross error by assuming that the passage is referring solely to the “gates of Palestinian cities.” Moreover, what skeptics like McKinsey fail to mention is the fact that “gate” does not necessarily mean the large doors in the walls of fortified cities. Sometimes, gates are used to represent entrances into areas of dwelling, as in Exodus 32:26: “Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, ‘Whoever is on Yahweh’s side, (let him come) to me.’ And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him” (emp. added). Would anyone suppose that the Israelites built walls and gates around their Bedouin-style encampments of tents? Of course not. Therefore, “gate” can mean the entrance to a “city” an organized dwelling of tents. In fact, the Hebrew word for gate (ša‘ar) is translated as “entrance” ten times in the NIV. And in the NKJVša‘ar is translated as “entrance” in Exodus 32:36.

PHILISTINES IN THE TIME OF ABRAHAM—FALLACY OR FACT?

The Bible declares that long before King David defeated the Philistine giant named Goliath in the valley of Elah (1 Samuel 17), Abraham and Isaac had occasional contact with a people known as the Philistines. In fact, seven of the eight times that the Philistines are mentioned in Genesis, they are discussed in connection with either Abraham’s visit with Abimelech, king of the Philistines (21:32,34), or with Isaac’s visit to the same city (Gerar) a few years later (26:1,8,14-15,18). For some time now, critics of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch have considered the mention of the Philistines—so early in human history—to be inappropriately inserted into the patriarchal account. Supposedly, “Philistines…did not come into Palestine until after the time of Moses” (Gottwald, 1959, p. 104), and any mention of them before that time represents a “historical inaccuracy” (Frank, 1964, p. 323). Thus, as Millar Burrows concluded, the mention of Philistines in Genesis may be considered “a convenient and harmless anachronism,” which “is undoubtedly a mistake” (1941, p. 277).

As with most allegations brought against the Scriptures, those who claim the Philistine nation was not around in Abraham’s day are basing their conclusion on at least one unprovable assumption- namely, that the Philistines living in the days of the patriarchs were a great nation, similar to the one living during the time of the United Kingdom. The evidence suggests, however, that this assumption is wrong. The Bible does not present the Philistines of Abraham’s day as the same mighty Philistine nation that would arise hundreds of years later. Abimelech, the king of Gerar, is portrayed as being intimidated by Abraham (cf. Genesis 21:25). Surely, had the Philistine people been a great nation in the time of the patriarchs, they would not have been afraid of one man (Abraham) and a few hundred servants (cf. Genesis 14:14). Furthermore, of the five great Philistine city-states that were so prominent throughout the period of the Judges and the United Kingdom (Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, Gath, and Gaza—Joshua 13:3; 1 Samuel 6:17), none was mentioned. Rather, only a small village known as Gerar was named. To assume that the Bible presents the entire civilization of the Philistines as being present during Abraham’s day is to err. In reality, one reads only of a small Philistine kingdom.

The word “Philistine” was a somewhat generic term that meant “sea people.” No doubt, some of the Aegean Sea people made their way to Palestine long before a later migration took place—one that was considerably larger. In commenting on these Philistines, Larry Richards observed:

While there is general agreement that massive settlement of the coast of Canaan by sea peoples from Crete took place around 1200 B.C., there is no reason to suppose Philistine settlements did not exist long before this time. In Abram’s time as in the time of Moses a variety of peoples had settled in Canaan, including Hittites from the far north. Certainly the seagoing peoples who traded the Mediterranean had established colonies along the shores of the entire basin for centuries prior to Abraham’s time. There is no reason to suppose that the Philistines, whose forefathers came from Crete, were not among them (1993, p. 40).

No archaeological evidence exists that denies various groups of “sea people” were in Canaan long before the arrival of the main body in the early twelfth century B.C. (see Unger, 1954, p. 91; Archer, 1964, p. 266; Harrison, 1963, p. 32). To assume that not a single group of Philistines lived in Palestine during the time of Abraham because archaeology has not documented them until about 1190 B.C. is to argue from negative evidence, and is without substantial weight. In response to those who would deny the Philistines’ existence based upon their silence in the archeological world before this time, professor Kitchen stated:

Inscriptionally, we know so little about the Aegean peoples as compared with those of the rest of the Ancient Near East in the second millennium B.C., that it is premature to deny outright the possible existence of Philistines in the Aegean area before 1200 B.C. (1966, p. 80n).

Likely, successive waves of sea peoples from the Aegean Sea migrated to Canaan, even as early as Abraham’s time, and continued coming until the massive movement in the twelfth century B.C. (Archer, 1970, 127:18).

Based on past experiences, one might think that critics of the Bible’s inerrancy would learn to refrain from making accusations when arguing from silence. For years, modernists and skeptics taught that the Hittite kingdom, which is mentioned over forty times in Scripture (Exodus 23:28; Joshua 1:4; et al.), was a figment of the Bible writers’ imaginations, since no evidence of the Hittite’s existence had been located. But those utterances vanished into thin air when, in 1906, the Hittite capital was discovered, along with more than 10,000 clay tablets that contained the Hittite’s law system. Critics of the Bible’s claim of divine inspiration at one time also accused Luke of gross inaccuracy because he used the title politarchas to denote the city officials of Thessalonica (Acts 17:6,8), rather than the more common terms strateegoi (magistrates) and exousiais (authorities). To support their accusations, they pointed out that the term politarchis found nowhere else in all of Greek literature as an official title. Once again, these charges eventually were dropped, based on the fact that the term politarchas has now been found in 32 inscriptions from the second century B.C. to the third century A.D. (Bruce, 1988, p. 324n), with at least five of these inscriptions originating from Thessalonica—the very city about which Luke wrote in Acts 17 (Robertson, 1997).

Although critics accuse biblical writers of revealing erroneous information, their claims continue to evaporate with the passing of time and the compilation of evidence.

WHO DOES GOD SAY WROTE THE PENTATEUCH?

Within the Pentateuch itself, one can read that the texts indicate that Moses wrote the law of God.

“Moses wrote all the words of YHWH” (Exodus 24:4).

“YHWH said to Moses, ‘Write thou these words…’ ” (Exodus 34:27).

“Moses wrote their goings out according to their journeys by the commandment of YHWH” (Numbers 33:2).

“Moses wrote this law and delivered it to the priests…” (Deuteronomy 31:9).

Bible writers throughout the Old Testament credited Moses with writing the Pentateuch (also known as the Torah). A plain statement of this commonly held conviction is expressed in Joshua 8:32: “There, in the presence of the Israelites, Joshua copied on stones the Torah of Moses, which he [Moses] had written.”  2 Chron. 34:14 states: “Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the law of YHWH given by Moses” (cf. Ezra 3:2; 6:18, Nehemiah 13:1, and Malachi 4:4). As Josh McDowell noted in his book, More Evidence that Demands a Verdict, these verses “refer to an actual written ‘law of Moses,’ not simply an oral tradition” (1975, pp. 93-94). [NOTE: The Hebrew Bible was not divided like our modern English Old Testament. It consisted of three divisions: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (cf. Luke 24:44). It contained the same “books” we have today; it was just divided differently. Genesis through Deuteronomy was considered one unit, and thus frequently was called “the Law” or “the Book” (2 Chronicles 25:4; cf. Mark 12:26). Even a casual perusal of its individual components will confirm that each book presupposes the one that precedes it. Without Genesis, Exodus reads like a book begun midway; without Exodus, Leviticus is a mystery; and so on. They were not intended to be five separate volumes in a common category, but rather, are five divisions of the same book. Hence, the singular references: “the Law” or “the Book.”]

The New Testament writers also showed no hesitation in affirming that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. John wrote: “The law was given through Moses” (John 1:17). Luke recorded Jesus’ Own testimony about Himself: “And beginning from Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures, the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27). Referring to the Jewish practice of publicly reading the Law, James affirmed Mosaic authorship: “For Moses from generations of old has in every city those who proclaim him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath” (Acts 15:21). With this Paul concurred, saying, “For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, ‘The man who does those things shall live by them’ ” (Romans 10:5, NKJV; cf. Leviticus 18:5). In 2 Corinthians 3:15, Paul wrote: “Moses is read.” The phrase “Moses is read” is a clear example of the figure of speech known as metonymy (where one thing is put for another) [see Dungan, 1888, pp. 273-275]. Today, we may ask if someone has read Shakespeare, Homer, or Virgil, by which we mean to ask if he or she has read the writings of these men. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, one reads where Abraham spoke to the rich man concerning his five brothers saying, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Luke 16:29). Were Moses and the Old Testament prophets still on Earth in the first century? No. The meaning is that the rich man’s brothers had the writings of Moses and the prophets.

Furthermore, both Jesus’ disciples and His enemies recognized and accepted the books of Moses. After Philip was called to follow Jesus, he found his brother Nathanael and said: “We have found Him of Whom Moses in the Law, and also the Prophets, wrote: Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45). The Sadducees considered Moses as the author, too: “Teacher, Moses wrote unto us, if a man’s brother die, and leaves a wife behind him, and leaves no child, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed to his brother” (Mark 12:19; cf. Deuteronomy 25:5).

Jesus Himself said that “the Law” came from Moses. In Mark 7:10, Jesus quoted from both Exodus 20 and 21, attributing the words to Moses. Mark likewise recorded a conversation Jesus had with the Pharisees regarding what “Moses permitted” and “wrote” in Deuteronomy chapter 24 (Mark 10:3-5; cf. Matthew 19:8). Later, we see where Jesus asked the Sadducees, “Have you not read in the book of Moses, in the place concerning the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I AM the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?” (Mark 12:26). And in John 5:46-47 Jesus stated: “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of Me. But if don’t believe his writings, how shall you believe My Words?” (John 5:46-47 cf. Deuteronomy 18:15-18). To put not to fine appoint on it, claiming that Moses did not write the books of the Pentateuch means claiming that Jesus didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. M.R. DeHaan expounded upon this problem in his book, Genesis and Evolution:

Prove that Moses did not write the books of the Pentateuch and you prove that Jesus was totally mistaken and not the infallible Son of God he claimed to be. Upon your faith in Moses as the writer of the five books attributed to him rests also your faith in Jesus as the Son of God. You cannot believe in Jesus Christ without believing what Moses wrote. You see, there is much more involved in denying the books of Moses than most people suppose (1978, p. 41).

Select Bibliography

“Animal Kingdom” (1988), The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Electronic Database: Biblesoft), orig. published by Moody Press, Chicago, Illinois.

Archer, Gleason (1964), A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago, IL: Moody).

Archer, Gleason L. (1970), “Old Testament History and Recent Archaeology from Abraham to Moses,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 127:3-25, January.

Brown, Andrew (1999), The Darwin Wars (New York: Simon and Schuster).

Bruce, F.F. (1988), The Book of Acts (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), revised edition.

Burrows, Millar (1941), What Mean These Stones? (New Haven, CT: American Schools of Oriental Research).

Cheyne, T.K. (1899), Encyclopedia Biblica (London: A & C Black).

Clayton, Peter A. (2001), Chronicle of the Pharaohs (London: Thames & Hudson).

DeHaan, M.R. (1978), Genesis and Evolution (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).

Dillard, Raymond B. and Tremper Longman III (1994), An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).

Dungan, D.R. (no date), Hermeneutics (Delight, AR: Gospel Light).

Finkelstein, Israel and Neil Asher Silberman (2001), The Bible Unearthed (New York: Free Press).

Frank, H.T. (1964), An Archaeological Companion to the Bible (London: SCM Press).

Free, Joseph P. (1944), “Abraham’s Camels,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 3:187-193, July.

Free, Joseph P. and Howard F. Vos (1992), Archaeology and Bible History (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).

Gottwald, Norman (1959), A Light to the Nations (New York: Harper and Row).

Green, William Henry (1978), The Higher Criticism of the Pentateuch (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).

Harrison, R.K. (1963), The Archaeology of the Old Testament (New York: Harper and Row).

Jackson, Wayne (1982), Biblical Studies in the Light of Archaeology (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).

Jamieson, Robert, et al. (1997), Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Bible Commentary (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).

Keil, C.F. and F. Delitzsch (1996), Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament (Electronic Database: Biblesoft), new updated edition.

Kitchen, K.A. (1966), Ancient Orient and Old Testament (Chicago, IL: InterVarsity Press).

Kitchen, K.A. (1980), The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. J.D. Douglas (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale).

McDowell, Josh (1975), More Evidence that Demands a Verdict (San Bernardino, CA: Campus Crusade for Christ).

McDowell, Josh (1999), The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville, TN: Nelson).

McGarvey, J.W. (1902), The Authorship of Deuteronomy (Cincinnati, OH: Standard).

McKinsey, C. Dennis (1995), The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy (Amherst, NY: Prometheus).

McKinsey, C. Dennis (2000), Biblical Errancy (Amherst, NY: Prometheus).

Morris, Henry M. (1976), The Genesis Record (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).

Pfeiffer, Charles F. (1966), The Biblical World (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).

Rendtorff, Rolf (1998), “What We Miss by Taking the Bible Apart,” Bible Review, 14[1]:42-44, February.

Richards, Larry (1993), 735 Baffling Bible Questions Answered. (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell).

Robertson, A.T. (1997), Word Pictures in the New Testament (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).

Schultz, Hermann (1898), Old Testament Theology. 4th Ed. Transl. H.A. Patterson (Edinburgh: T. &T. Clark).

Tobin, Paul N. (2000), “Mythological Elements in the Story of Abraham and the Patriachal [sic] Narratives,” The Rejection of Pascal’s Wager [On-line], URL: http://www.geocit ies.com/paulntobin/abraham.html.

Unger, Merrill (1954), Archaeology and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).

Van Eck, Stephen (1999), “The Pentateuch: Not Wholly Moses or Even Partially,” Skeptical Review, 10:2-3,16, September/October.

Wellhausen, Julius (1885), Prolegomena to the History of Israel (Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black), translated by Black and Menzies.

Wiseman, D.J. (1974), The New Bible Dictionary, ed. J.D. Douglas (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).

Younker, Randall W. (1997), “Late Bronze Age Camel Petroglyphs in the Wadi Nasib, Sinai,” Near East Archaeological Society Bulletin, 42:47-54.

Younker, Randall W. (2000), “The Bible and Archaeology,” The Symposium on the Bible and Adventist Scholarship, [On-line], URL: http://www.aiias.edu/ict/vol_26B/26Bc_457-477.htm.


[1] This is false, or highly inaccurate. What does one mean by “Hebrew”? The Semitic language can be traced back to the 1400s BC at least. 

[2] Not only have J1, J2, J3 and E 1, E2 and E3 been added as subdivisions, but many other distinct sources have been suggested as well. The number of distinct sources is now thought, by some, to reach about thirty.

[3] Already back in 1966, Kenneth Kitchen commented that, “Even the most ardent advocate of the documentary theory must admit that we have as yet no single scrap of external, objective evidence for either the existence or the history of J, E, or any other alleged source-document..’ (Ancient Orient and Old Testament. London: Tyndale, p. 23). While this might seem like special pleading, the discovery of many manuscripts and inscriptions from antiquity does add to the case, which has not changed in this regard. Especially since scholars who work with the theory keep pushing the work later and later in time, we might expect to find some evidence of it, but none exists. See also R. N. Whybray, The Making of the Pentateuch. (JSOT Supplements 5, Sheffield, 1987) and Y. T. Radday and H. Shore, “Genesis: An Authorship Study in Computer- assisted Statistical Linguistics.”  (Analecta Biblica, vol.103, 1985).

[4] Though, interestingly, Jesus does cover all the supposed bases. He attributes Mosaic authorship to texts from J (Mk 10:48/Gen 2:24), E (Mk 7:10/Ex. 20:14), P (Matt. 8:4/Lev. 14:2-3), and D (Mk. 10:3/Deut. 24:1).

[5] This ancient maxim roughly translates as “the law of prayer/worship is the law of belief.” Peoples’ beliefs are shaped by what they pray (and vice versa).  

[6] For further discussion on the scholarship, see also the summary of materials from R.N. Whybray’s The Making of the Pentateuch, published in the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement series (SOTSup), here <https://hesedweemet.wordpress.com/2009/08/24/how-the-documentary-hypothesis-has-been-debunked-r-n-whybray/>, and some other materials and additional bibliography by John E. Anderson, Ph.D. here < https://hesedweemet.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/the-composition-of-the-pentateuch-in-recent-research-a-teaching-and-study-resource/  >.

[7] Howard LaFay, “Ebla: Splendor of an unknown Empire,” National Geographic, December 1978, pp. 735. “The people of the ancient Near East erected their cities on strategic sites with plentiful water. As a result, after destruction at the hands of pillaging armies–and to weaker cities this came as often as once a generation– the population tended to rebuild on the ruins. Excavating a TEL is like slicing a stack of pancakes; each stratum, with its embedded trove of artifacts, encapsulates history from one catastrophe to the next.” (735-736, 740, 754)

[8] Ibid

[9] The Development of the Aramaic Script. Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1970. This was Joseph Naveh’s classic work. See <http://canterbridge.org/2007/11/18/reviewing-joseph-naveh-the-development-of-the-aramaic-script >. Cf.  Origins of the Alphabets: Introduction to Archaeology Concordia Publishing House /Palphot, 2004.

[10] Ian Young, Robert Rezetko, & Martin Ehrensvärd “Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts” July, 2010. < http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/yount357913.shtml > 

[11] (1 ) “Ancient Aramaic” used to 700 B.C.; (2) “Official Aramaic” used “from 700 to 300 B.C.E.”;” (3) “Middle Aramaic,” used from “300 B.C.E. to the early centuries C.E. [Common Era]”; and (4) “Late Aramaic,” employed thereafter.

[12] Gleason Archer Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, Rev. Ed., 2007, p. 117. 

[13] Ibid., p. 118. 

[14] This is the text of a short essay by another Christian author on this subject.  

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