Statistical Tests of the Torah

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A recent statistical analysis of the Pentateuch that indicates multiple texts underlying the single document (link) do not place Orthodox Jewish dogma in jeopardy. Orthodox Jews believe in a single, divine Author of the Pentateuch, not multiple authors whose writings were redacted by one or more editors into a single document. The recent study ostensibly challenges this belief but on further examination fails to pose a significant challenge.

The first and most important reason is that a single study never conclusively ends debate. Over a decade ago, a statistical study was published in a peer reviewed journal proving the “Torah codes.” This analysis was later refuted with another (link). I doubt that this study is the final word on its subject, either. Later researchers may find hidden flaws in the methodology or contrary results in other applications. The shifting sands of academic consensus are unsafe foundations on which to build, or launch an attack on, a house of faith.

But perhaps more importantly, a lesson from my freshman college course on Probability explains a lot. I remember the first day of class, when the professor assigned us the following simple task for homework: Either flip a coin twenty times and record each result or manufacture fake results. By the end of the semester, the professor promised us, we would be able to prove to a high degree of probability which were real results and which were fake. The key, we learned, was analyzing the number of doubles and triple in a row and comparing them to what would be expected from random tosses. Artificial results usually do not conform to statistical expectations. Except, of course, if the person creating the results knows the expectations and conforms to it. Knowing the trick, I can now easily mimic the results of a real coin toss.

A divine Author knows the probabilistic expectations of the recent study and can conform to it. In fact, a human can do so as well by carefully choosing his word combinations. All the study shows is that similar language is used in distinct sections of the text, something biblical critics pointed out long ago. The study does not show, and does not claim to demonstrate, whether literary and commentarial reasons exist for the different language choices. The results could easily have been intended by a single Author, and perhaps with more difficulty by a single human author.

If anything, within the Orthodox world this study provides ammunition for the advocates of R. Mordechai Breuer’s approach against his critics (see this post: link). Where his critics had complained the he accepted too quickly the stylistic claims of biblical critics, he (or rather his students) can now counter with this statistical analysis. That is, until a contrary study is published.

See here for Prof. Moshe Koppel’s comments on this study, which he spearheaded: link.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student has served two terms on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and currently serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

94 comments

  1. i don’t understand what the study tells us that we didn’t know before. until now, people were tracking word combinations and frequencies to divide different parts of the text. now a computer program is using the same approach to do much the same. the question is whether these patterns in the text are sufficient to demonstrate separate authorship, not whether they exist, which as far as i know, is not denied.

  2. One of the authors explained how his results do not say what the media claims they say. See R’ Moshe Koppel’s recent post over on Seforim blog.

    There is a big difference between saying they proved there are multiple texts (which they didn’t) and proving that if there were two texts, P vs E+J is a pretty good split.

    The P vs E+J split is 90% reproducible objectively. But much of that is due to differences in topic — P is far more legal, E+J is far more narrative, and much of the 10% that fails are when those tendencies are crossed. Although it’s still indicative, although it wouldn’t be a drastic 90% if we compared narrations and law separately. Also, the other critical divisions (E vs J, D vs E+J+P) are far less born out — E vs J fails altogether.

    But again, they didn’t prove there were two documents, just that if there were, a good split into two based on word usage would be pretty similar to E+J vs P.

  3. Let’s be honest here. Whether the recent study poses “a significant challenge” is irrelevant. Absolutely NOTHING will challenge someone with an a priori assumption of divine authorship. There will always be a way to rationalize any evidence to the contrary.

  4. Micha — I’m not sure I follow what you just wrote given that Prof. Koppel writes: “Before you dismiss all this by saying that all we did was discover that stories don’t look like laws, let me point out there are plenty of narrative sections that the computerized analysis assigned to the P family (or, more precisely, to the nameless family that turns out to be very similar to what the critics call the P family). Two prominent examples are the story of Shimon and Levi in Shechem and the story of Pinchas and Zimri.”

    Also, I don’t think the E/J split has been taken seriously for some time; but, it is nice to have an additional data point to refute that hypothesis.

    As I have quoted before, the following is from Robert Alter’s Chumash translation:

    ““This rapid summary may make matters sound pat, but it fact all the details of the Documentary Hypothesis are continually, and often quite vehemently debated. […] (I should add that efforts to distinguish between J and E on stylistic grounds have been quite unconvincing.) It is small wonder that the Documentary Hypothesis, whatever its general validity, has begun to look at though it has reached a point of diminishing returns, and many young scholars, showing signs of restlessness with source criticism, have begin exploring other approaches – literary, anthropological, sociological, and so forth – to the Bible.”

  5. The most fundamental flaw of the study is intrinsic – attempting to reduce any text – let alone the Torah – to a collection of data points that are subject to statistical analysis is itself a distortion.

  6. ‘Micha — I’m not sure I follow what you just wrote given that Prof. Koppel writes: “Before you dismiss all this by saying that all we did was discover that stories don’t look like laws, let me point out there are plenty of narrative sections that the computerized analysis assigned to the P family (or, more precisely, to the nameless family that turns out to be very similar to what the critics call the P family). Two prominent examples are the story of Shimon and Levi in Shechem and the story of Pinchas and Zimri.”’

    I’m not convinced by Prof. Koppel’s attempt to make this caveat. It would be one thing if the split were along the lines of E and J; in that case, it would be much harder to explain the general rule. But when it’s P vs. non-P, and the general rule is easily explained – legal vs. non-legal – then the exceptions to that rule are much easier to resolve. In fact, I can easily say that the story of Pinchas and Zimri have some sort of legal implications to them that the story of Kayin and Hevel don’t. What are they? Well that’s where the fun begins, right? Bottom line is, I don’t even need to go as far as R. Breuer (which is convenient for me because I’d much rather not do so) to resolve the issues raised by this study.

  7. I said that once you separate by topic, it’s still indicative, but not drastic. I believe that’s what Dr Koppel is saying, and I did discuss it with him in private email as well. (Although that doesn’t guarantee I got it right.)

    In any case, the point of his blog entry, which I tried to make the point of my comment by opening and closing with it, is that proving that if it were two texts, these would be those texts, is not the same as proving that it actually was composed of two texts.

    As the first commentor noted, the people dividing off D did use textual queues, among other things. The fact that after decades of honing they got pretty close to what an objective algorithm would produce is not that surprising. But it doesn’t mean the division is due to their coming from different texts, nor even from being written in different moods. Although I do think R Dr Breuer is only filling out the implications of Chazal’s statements about when the Torah uses Adnus and when Havayah, I do not think this data actually buttresses his thesis.

  8. Whoa, Gil! You keep saying “divine author.” “Divine” means “God.” Even James Kugel thinks the Torah has a single divine author. I think what you *mean* to say is “Orthodox Jews believe that Moshe wrote the whole Torah.” I think I know why you didn’t write that.

  9. ““Orthodox Jews believe that Moshe wrote the whole Torah.” I think I know why you didn’t write that.”

    Because we believe Moshe’s inspiration was such that he made no significant contribution. Mosaic authorship is a strawman from an orthodox standpoint because we do not believe he acted as an author.

  10. “Significant,” eh? Y’all keep using these little qualifiers. Try again.

  11. imho hkb’h would not have written this way without reason, drash v’kabel schar or even more likely, new insights to the dvar hashem.
    KT

  12. Shachar Ha'amim

    I’d like to see what his results on Lamentations and Isaiah turn out to be.
    That would make it interesting

  13. The study doesn’t even purport to show multiple authorship (as one of the authors points out in the link micha was kind enough to provide). The software took as an input that it was to divide the text in two based on certain stylistic cues, for example, choice of words among synonyms. And it at least attempted to do so in a way that was separating style independent of subject matter. So the division in two was an input, not a result. The software did not attempt to determine the likely number of authors or voices.

    What the study did show was that, if you try to divide the text in two by these criteria, you divide it (90% of the time) between the material the DH (not they they are all in complete agreement) attribute to P and the rest. The significance of this, depending on your point of view, is (at least) one of the following:

    a) The DH scholars have identified divisions of the text that can be reproduced by objective criteria
    b) The developers of the software correctly programmed their system to look for the sorts of linguistic cues the scholars use.
    c) The “P” material is more stylisticly different than the differences among the material attributed to the other sources.

    It is always a mistake (commonly made by reporters writing about epidemiological studies and sometimes by the researcher of same) to confuse the results of the study with the constraints inherent in the studies structure. In this case the division in two is the latter not the former.

  14. I agree with RJM, but even more so. The basic flaw of the whole Documentary Hypothesis, as well as this test, is that it assumes the answer, namely that we have a human written text. A Divinely written text is sui generis and there is nothing to compare it to.

    Furthermore, the way our tradition has it, the text is loaded with multiple layers of meanings, hints, allusions, etc., all of which can only be discerned through hermeneutical principles. That alone changes the “style” of the text. No human being would or could write a text with information that can only be gleaned through the 13 middos. (Consider, for example, that “sheni kesuvim hamakchsimi zeh et zeh, means that the Torah deliberately has contradictions of two places that can only be resolved by a third.)

    Of course that is not even bothering to raise the obvious critcism that different types of texts — narrative, legal, poetic — by their nature have different styles. As anyone who has ever read a statute, legal opinion or legal brief (as a lawyer I read them every day), they have their own very distinct style which certainly is not the great American novel.

    That criticism can be refined further — the “legal” parts re Dinei Mamonos in Mishpatim have a different style than the legal parts of Kodshim in Vayikra. That’s no surprise — they have different purposes and are addressed to different audiences (dayanim, kohanim). In fact, I was learning Vayikra with my son, and I noticed Rashi quotes a gemara in Zevachim that there are different rules about how a hekkesh functions for kodshim than for other parts of the Torah. So Chazal themselves were aware that the text in the two places has a different “style.”

    Here are some tests I would like to see put through the computer, and see if it determines they are the same or different authors:

    1. Works by same and different authors, e.g. two Hemingway novels and one Dostoevsky novel.

    2. Works of different types by the same author, e.g. Shakespearean tragedies, comedies and sonnets. Nice to find someone who wrote both legal and non-legal works (did Blackstone every write poetry?)

    3. Hebrew works of different types of same author. E.g. Iggros Moshe, Dibbros Moshe, Drash Moshe.

    4. The four different parts of Shulkhan Arukh, all compiled by R. Yosef Karo.

    I would not be surprised if ##2-4 turned out to show different authors.

  15. Who is this written for? It seems like it is a defensive piece written for those who aren’t believers (which I believe is not the intended audience of the blog). For anyone with emuna, none of this makes any difference. God can write the Torah with this, that or other characteristics. Those who believe that God is the author of the Torah aren’t interested in claims of 1, 2 or 10,000 human authors (although they may well be interested in the data behind such claims as it may shed light on some aspect or message of God’s Torah).

    As an eminent Talmid Chacham and emerging leader in Yisrael once said (I’m paraphrasing) “we believe in the Torah because of God, we don’t believe in God because of the Torah.” And although he said this in critiquing Rav Mordechai Breuer’s school of analysis, Rav Breuer believed the same thing –he started with his emuna and then analyzed the Torah based on data he saw.

  16. A divine Author knows the probabilistic expectations of the recent study and can conform to it.

    But why would He want to?

  17. 1) (HAGTBG is right) – Why would He want to do it so haphazardly? This bothered commentators endlessly!
    2) Does this mean you don’t trust any scientific studies or statistics?

  18. Who does the little graphic illustrations for these posts? He/she’s quite good. I liked this one – it goes right with the topic.

    Maybe I’m thinking about it because I’ve just been flipping through the Norman Rockwell book I’ve been looking for for some time – the one with his Scouting illustrations.

  19. It actually makes perfect logical sense that there’d be a kohanic way of looking at (or even receiving!) the Torah and a hamon am way. (And, to divide it further, a hamon am Israel vs. hamon am Yehuda way, plus a royal way). There’s lots in both Tanach and Chazal that indicate that this was the case, and that imperfect humans didn’t keep the traditions, well, perfectly. Then, as Chazal tell us, Ezra and his contemporaries came along…and a thousand years later, the Gemara says Moshe wrote the whole thing.

  20. A divine Author knows the probabilistic expectations of the recent study and can conform to it.

    But why would He want to?
    ========================
    That was my point above
    KT

  21. Tal-
    Biblical criticism does not assume that the Pentateuch was written by humans. It assumes that one can apply the same literary methodology to the Torah that one can apply to human text. The difference seems slight, but the statements are not the same.

    Also, Biblical criticism does not *assume* that humans wrote the Torah. It’s methodology could have found (though it did not) that the Five Books of Moses are the work of a single author, not necessarily multiple ones.

    If you assume sui generis, then you have two competing models of authorship that rely on different assumptions initially. One is axiomatic, the other faith-driven, relying on layers of faithful tradition, as you wrote.

    Finally, I don’t understand this objection:

    Of course that is not even bothering to raise the obvious critcism that different types of texts — narrative, legal, poetic — by their nature have different styles. As anyone who has ever read a statute, legal opinion or legal brief (as a lawyer I read them every day), they have their own very distinct style which certainly is not the great American novel.

    When was a last time you saw a legal code *within* the latest New York Times Bestseller?

    Surely, authors often write several works in different styles, e.g Shakespeare’s poetry, comedies, and tragedies, or Iggros Moshe, Dibbros Moshe, and Drash Moshe. But notice that those are all separated into different works. Within Shakespeare’s sonnets one does not find critical essays. Those would belong to a different work. The point is that the Torah contains work from every genre, but is not separated by its different styles.

  22. Would analysis of the Rambam’s Mishna Torah vs Moreh Nevuchim yield similar results? Or l’havdil, an essay I wrote for law school vs. an essay for a philosophy class? Different audiences, different purposes, different styles, different word choice, same author.

  23. Nachum: Whoa, Gil! You keep saying “divine author.” “Divine” means “God.” Even James Kugel thinks the Torah has a single divine author. I think what you *mean* to say is “Orthodox Jews believe that Moshe wrote the whole Torah.” I think I know why you didn’t write that.

    Moshe’s transcription of God’s words is irrelevant to the issue of authorship, as R. Mordechai Breuer has pointed out.

    James Kugel clearly does not believe that the Torah has a single divine author, his protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. He believes there is a huge human element which includes political intentions and historical and scientific errors.

    Mike S: What do you mean Micha provided the link? It’s in the original post!

    HAGTBG: But why would He want to?

    Interesting question. R. Mordechai Breuer offers various suggestions but the floor is still open for more approaches.

    LSK: Does this mean you don’t trust any scientific studies or statistics?

    It means I remain skeptical because consensus on things like this change frequently.

    Thanbo: Who does the little graphic illustrations for these posts? He/she’s quite good. I liked this one – it goes right with the topic.

    Me. Thanks.

  24. “James Kugel clearly does not believe that the Torah has a single divine author, his protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. He believes there is a huge human element which includes political intentions and historical and scientific errors.”

    Could you provide some evidence for this assertion. From his summation on the last page (p.689) of “How to Read the Bible” your statement is false.

  25. LSK: Does this mean you don’t trust any scientific studies or statistics?
    =============================
    As one who makes a living from statistics, I’d say cavdeihu vchashdeihu is the appropriate approach.
    KT

  26. Gil, I would also be interested in your response to Nachum on July 14, 2011 at 8:59 am (to which a codacil could be added ~”And then Rambam…”~)

  27. Gil,

    Sorry about that, I missed it in the original post. But you began with a sentence that mischaracterized the study completely.

  28. Mike S: I don’t think I did. Because the split worked so well, it indicates multiple underlying texts. See the section “Interpreting the Results”.

  29. I don’t think the study “proves” anything that we didn’t already know. If you accept the argument that different styles necessarily means different authors, then this study merely sharpens where the styles are. If you don’t, then it’s merely a prelude to R. Breuer style Talmud Torah.

    Regarding Kugel, to paraphrase Alan Brill (link below) – divine revelation is not “pixie dust” you can sprinkle onto a human document that you have just spent a whole book rendering meaningless and call it worthwhile.

    I really do not understand why the neo-Leibowitzian Kugel is preferred by the Orthodox adherents of DH on this site than, say, Sarna, Greenberg, Knohl or Kaufmann.

    http://kavvanah.wordpress.com/2010/04/01/critique-of-kugel-1/

  30. Shalom Rosenfeld

    R’ Joel,

    I think the style differences are driving at something. For instance, Koppel found that the Shimon & Levi in Shchem episode follows the style normally associated with commandment, not dialogue.

    I can tell you that years ago, just reading it shnayim mikra (with trop), something about those paragraphs just sounded *wrong*. בני יעקב, באו על-החללים, ויבזו, העיר–אשר טמאו, אחותם is described matter-of-factly, in the same tone of voice as בנים אתם, לה’ אל-יכם: לא תתגדדו, ולא-תשימו קרחה בין עיניכם–למת — it rubs you the wrong way. And I think it’s supposed to. As if — the style is describing their view, that they’re doing the will of G-d, while the reader’s common sense (and Yaakov’s response) is going – no! Just one added layer of depth to mikra.

  31. ““Significant,” eh? Y’all keep using these little qualifiers. Try again.”

    He made no creative contribution, he was not the author. His “contribution” was taking dictation.

  32. Yirmeyahu–

    the point that God and not a person is the Author of the Torah cannot be underscored enough. Even if one views sefer devarim as moshe having had a signficant creative contribution a la the Abarbanel (ie Moshe authored his own speeches), Moshe still took dictation from God when turning these speeches into a book of the Torah.

  33. “Moshe’s transcription of God’s words is irrelevant to the issue of authorship, as R. Mordechai Breuer has pointed out.”

    Then can’t you say that J, E, P, and D’s transcriptions are irrelevant as well?

    “Sarna, Greenberg, Knohl or Kaufmann”

    None of whom believe in single-author.

    IH- good point.

  34. >>“Sarna, Greenberg, Knohl or Kaufmann”

    None of whom believe in single-author.<<

    You misunderstood my point entirely. Read R. Brill's critique again and get back to me.

  35. Biblical criticism does not assume that the Pentateuch was written by humans. It assumes that one can apply the same literary methodology to the Torah that one can apply to human text. The difference seems slight, but the statements are not the same.

    With your slight change, my criticism still stands. It is a false assumption at least with respect to what Judaism claims about the Torah.

    Also, Biblical criticism does not *assume* that humans wrote the Torah. It’s methodology could have found (though it did not) that the Five Books of Moses are the work of a single author, not necessarily multiple ones.

    If you assume sui generis, then you have two competing models of authorship that rely on different assumptions initially. One is axiomatic, the other faith-driven, relying on layers of faithful tradition, as you wrote.

    Not sure what you are driving at. That was my point — that the operative assumptions of the DH are different than traditional Judaism. If you start from a different premise, then it is not surprising that you get a different result.


    Finally, I don’t understand this objection:

    Of course that is not even bothering to raise the obvious critcism that different types of texts — narrative, legal, poetic — by their nature have different styles. As anyone who has ever read a statute, legal opinion or legal brief (as a lawyer I read them every day), they have their own very distinct style which certainly is not the great American novel.

    When was a last time you saw a legal code *within* the latest New York Times Bestseller?

    Surely, authors often write several works in different styles, e.g Shakespeare’s poetry, comedies, and tragedies, or Iggros Moshe, Dibbros Moshe, and Drash Moshe. But notice that those are all separated into different works. Within Shakespeare’s sonnets one does not find critical essays. Those would belong to a different work. The point is that the Torah contains work from every genre, but is not separated by its different styles.

    You are just proving my point again. The Torah is not like any other work. It is supposed to be the Divine Plan for the the totality of life. It contains, as you say, many different genres. So why would they not have different styles?

    Yes, human authors generally divide different genres into different works.* The Torah is a single, and as I argue, singular, work. That’s where the DH breaks down.

    __________________
    Actually, sometimes even human beings mix things. I have read some novels that have poetry interspersed, for example. Or, to use another example, a couple of years ago someone have me a cookbook about Jewish Italian (Classic Italian Jewish Cooking: Traditional Recipes and Menus by Edda Servi Machlin). Much of the book is a reminiscence by an Italian Jewish lady who grew up in an Italian-Jewish kehillah name Pitigliano, which has a history of several centuries. She tells the history of the kehillah, her childhood and then how it was destroyed in WWII. Interspersed are recipes Italian-Jewish cooking. So she has combined a memoir with a cookbook. You could probably apply DH methodology and conclude that the memoir parts and the recipes were written by different authors.)

  36. Using statistical analysis to identify the authors of texts appears to have started with Mosteller and Wallace (1964) who concluded that the 12 Federalist Papers of unknown authorship were all written by Madison. Sooner or later, someone was going to apply similar methodology to holy texts.

  37. “That was my point — that the operative assumptions of the DH are different than traditional Judaism. If you start from a different premise, then it is not surprising that you get a different result.”

    This isn’t quite right, I think. It isn’t that Orthodox Jews who deny the DH are starting from different premises than DHers. It’s not like we’re looking at the same evidence in an intellectually honest attempt to understand who and how the Torah was written. The premise is that we already know the answer. It doesn’t matter what evidence is presented, it will be explained away, because the answer is already known.

    IH’s point, as I understand it, is that the DHers, at least in theory, don’t approach the text assuming multiple authorship. Their premise is that the text can be read through the lens of philological-literary criticism in order to reach conclusions about authorship. That process of investigation could lead to a conclusion of single authorship or multiple authorship. The counter premise on the other side is that as the Torah is a divine text, philological-literary methods won’t be a productive way to approach it. But that’s a premise that assumes the answer to the question already.

    That’s the fundamental disconnect here. It isn’t just that traditionalists disagree with the premise of the DHers investigation. It’s that they think the investigation itself is fundamentally baseless. Why try to figure out who wrote the Torah, if you already know?

  38. This discussion reminds me of something I’ve been wondering about. A few weeks ago, in Shishi of Parshat Chukat, we read:
    “יד עַל-כֵּן, יֵאָמַר, בְּסֵפֶר, מִלְחֲמֹת יְהוָה”. Whereas, Rashi glosses on the future tense of יֵאָמַר, Ibn Ezra, in the 11th century(!), explains this is standalone book that (like many others) were lost in the proverbial mists of time.

    For mesorah maximalists, how do you reconcile Ibn Ezra’s explanation that a book referenced in God’s literally-written Torah itself was lost?

    For the avoidance of doubt, this is not a debate question, rather one of my trying to understand another PoV.

  39. IH,

    I don’t understand the סתירה. Is it possible that some parts of the Torah were lost (or not preserved)? Sure.

    How does this contradict the idea that the Torah we have (also) is from God (or written by Moses)? If anything it strengthens the point. If you take a look at Prof. Yehuda KIl a”h’s intro to Breishit, you’ll see speculation about pre-Mosaic sources used in the book.

    If I my play Devil’s advocate for a second, would anyone have a problem if the Torah was dictated by God in parts during Moses’ time, some perhaps by someone other than Moses’ time (secretaries to the Divine secretary, if you will)?

  40. Forgot to mention that Prof. Kil’s intro was in Breishit was in the Daat Mikra section.

  41. aiwac — I’m sorry, but that doesn’t make sense to me. For someone who takes Avot 1:1 literally, I don’t buy they would agree with your 2nd sentence that it is possible some parts of the Torah itself were lost or not preserved.

  42. Why? Isn’t there a section about how 3,000 halachot were lost after Moshe’s death (and if that happened in one generation, על אחת כמה וכמה , several generations)? Furthermore, what of the many sources in neviim that are mentioned that are no longer with us? Really, I don’t see how this is different?

  43. Not sure what you are driving at. That was my point — that the operative assumptions of the DH are different than traditional Judaism. If you start from a different premise, then it is not surprising that you get a different result

    We totally agree that Biblical Criticism (which is not the same as the DH) assumes differently than those who believe in divine authorship. And it’s precisely for this reason that you cannot claim that criticism “breaks down.” Because if you go by its assumptions, it does not.

    This is equivalent to geometry. Euclidean geometry has five axioms, like “we can make lines go on forever,” that guide everything it does. Non-Euclidean geometry has a different set of assumptions. Therefore, the two produce totally different results.

    Your criticism of the DH is like Euclid arguing with the man who tells him that the angles of a triangle do not always add to 180 degrees. Of course, they’ve assumed different axioms, so their argument is nonsensical. They are on separate playing fields, telling each other they’ve scored a point after shooting on their opponent’s empty net.

    Therefore, I think that when you make statements like this:

    The Torah is not like any other work. It is supposed to be the Divine Plan for the the totality of life. It contains, as you say, many different genres. So why would they not have different styles?

    You’re not really saying anything. You’ve already assumed that God wrote the Torah. Of course, you can argue with criticism even using the assumptions of Biblical criticism. You could argue that the Torah is the product of a single author, though one needs to believe if we move to whether that author is God.
    __________________
    Tthe Italian cookbook’s recipies, if really in a traditional book, probably are originally written by someone else (ancestors). But yes, there is much writing that contains different styles. If you want to argue against criticism, using its assumptions of course, than you could argue that other works contain different styles just like Torah. But most other works are at least consistent within styles. Most do not have separate styles within each of their styles.
    Furthermore, critics would likely tell you that theories on the composition of the Pentateuch do not rely only on literary devices, but encompass contradictions, repetitions, archeological stuff, etc.

  44. Nachum: Then can’t you say that J, E, P, and D’s transcriptions are irrelevant as well?

    In theory, they are also irrelevant to authorship. That is R. Breuer’s point (and Franz Rosenzweig’s). But almost all critical scholars go farther and say that the different versions contradict each other (e.g. regarding the number of animals of each species brought on Noah’s ark).

    IH: For mesorah maximalists, how do you reconcile Ibn Ezra’s explanation that a book referenced in God’s literally-written Torah itself was lost?

    So what? An ancient book mentioned in the Torah was lost. It was *mentioned* in the Torah, not part of it.

    Aiwac: Forgot to mention that Prof. Kil’s intro was in Breishit was in the Daat Mikra section.

    See here: https://www.torahmusings.com/2006/03/who-wrote-torah/

  45. R’ Gabriel,
    Amen-I often use that analogy to explain why speaking louder won’t convince a flatlander that ther are 3 dimensions in the world.
    KT

  46. gabriel – nicely done.

  47. Gabriel:

    I don’t think we are disagreeing — in fact I thoght of using the Euclidean/non-Euclidean analogy myself.

    But the problem is in real life, it is asserted that Biblical Criticism or DH somehow “disproves” religion of the traditional Jewish view of the Torah. It does no such thing, because it proceeds with a set of assumptions (axioms, to use the mathematical terminology) that are contrary to what traditional Judaism posits. You cannot disprove something by simply changing assumptions.

    My initial point is still valid — Biblical criticism assumes that the Torah is a text that can be analyzed like any human authored text. That is a basic operating assumption of the field*, but it is one which traditional Judaism rejects.

    My second point — that the Torah contains multiple genres and hence multiple “styles” is still valid. For whatever reason, the text we have combines history, narratives, poetry, law, religion, theology, prophetic warnings about the future, etc. To compare one genre to the other, IMO, is fundamentally flawed.
    (To use the Shakespeare analogy, suppose a printer decided to publish “The Complete Collected Works of Shakespeare.” That would include sonnets, tragedies and comedies. Still one author, multiple styles.)
    _____________________
    *I am no expert, but it is possible that the Xtian view of a “divinely inspired” but humanly authored text is consistent with the starting assumption of Biblical criticism.

  48. I think we have to start asking ourselves if the theory of divine dictation of the Torah to Moshe is really a necessary belief. What if Moshe (or someone else) simply collected various historical documents written by various authors and compiled them together in one book with divine inspiration? As March Shapiro has written, the Torah never explicitly states anywhere that Moshe wrote the entire Torah based on divine dictation. (Chazal state this; the Torah doesn’t.)

  49. Baruch,

    All well and good, except that as far as I know, no one in the field of Biblical scholarship will admit that any of the document was written prior to the 10th century BC, roughly 3 years after Moses lived (if they even admit he existed).

  50. Baruch: People have already said that, including R. Menachem Kasher. See this post: https://www.torahmusings.com/2006/03/who-wrote-torah/

    But it doesn’t really solve the dating issue or the so-called contradictions within the text.

  51. Gil,

    Thanks for the link. I must have missed that post when you first wrote it. I don’t see why it doesn’t solve contradictions in the text. The editor presumably noticed the contradictions, but since he considered both scrolls holy and didn’t know where the truth lay, he decided to simply present both texts as is, without trying to decide between the two of them.

    Aiwac,

    Once (or rather if) an Orthodox Jew allows himself to believe that the Torah was composed by more than one person, the issue of when these authors lived becomes less theologically problematic, I would think.

  52. Tal,
    You fundamentally misunderstand the methodology of DH if you think it would claim that the recipes in a memoir are by a different author than the rest of the text. I suggest you read a serious intro to DH.

    I do however agree with you that DH starts from the assumption that the Torah was produced the same way other ancient texts were. We don’t believe that. Its not that DH is silly, its that we start from different assumptions.

  53. You fundamentally misunderstand the methodology of DH if you think it would claim that the recipes in a memoir are by a different author than the rest of the text. I suggest you read a serious intro to DH.

    First of all, I was only addressing the stylistic argument, which is what Gil’s article was about.

    Second, how about the other examples I gave. The different works of R. Moshe Feinstein (Dibros Moshe, Iggros Moshe, Drash Moshe) or, l’havdil, Shakespeare (sonnets, tragic plays, comedic plays)?

  54. aiwac wrote: “… the neo-Leibowitzian Kugel …”.

    Explain, please. Which Leibowitz?

  55. Baruch,

    I wish. As I explained in another thread, the issue is not authorship, but mitzva provenance. If everything was written later for political, sectarian interests &c, then the Torah ceases to be “the word of God” (and spare me the “divinely inspired” cop-out).

    The system of halacha and mitzva obligation rests on the idea that the Mitzvot came form God. Knock that basis out and everything else falls with it.

  56. LI Reader,

    Leibowitz II, I think, the one who said that without the Torah Shebe’al Peh the Torah Shebichtav would just be literature, some of it second rate.

  57. See his responses to the question in “I wanted to ask you, Prof. Leibowitz” (in Hebrew)

  58. And Leibowitz’s first name?

  59. You don’t know?! I have to say I’m a bit surprised. Anyway, it’s Yeshayahu.

  60. “But the problem is in real life, it is asserted that Biblical Criticism or DH somehow “disproves” religion of the traditional Jewish view of the Torah.”

    Tal — Asserted by whom? Do you mean, e.g., Gil? Just trying to understand…

  61. “or the so-called contradictions within the text”

    Gil — this seems to be a bugbear of yours. Could you provide a specific citation from e.g. Kugel so we can better understand this?

  62. aiwac,

    The evidence for the possibility of multiple authors is more-or-less objective — different versions of the same story etc.

    Once you start examining the motives of the different authors, you are in conjecture land. I am not concerned about this conjecture realm.

  63. Gil,

    I’m not sure I’m on board with your flippant attitude towards scholarly consensus (I’m more with joel rich’s ‘kabdeihu v’chashdeihu’ approach…especially since there are some consensus views that have indeed stood the test of time).

    That said, in terms of what this study actually demonstrates, the answer is nothing…other than that if you accept certain methodological constructs and constraints, you will be led to the results posited by those who formulated those constructs and constraints in the first place.

    In that respect, really the only remotely noteworthy outcome of this analysis would have been if it had demonstrated that the Mosaic books do NOT have multiple underlying texts. Other than that: *snore*

    I think this is the simplest response to the conclusions of this analysis – you don’t have to fall back on Rav Breuer (a move that is problematic in its own right).

  64. IH: Kugel wrote a whole book on the subject. Read it — and particularly the final chapter where he explains his own view — and you’ll understand.

    But one simple example I’ve already given in this comments thread is how many animals of a given species were taken onto the ark. Another is whether Moshe spoke to the rock or hit it.

  65. Gil — but, Kugel says no such thing in that final chapter, that I recall from having re-read it within the past 2 months. See also IH on July 14, 2011 at 9:42 am.

    I will look up the 2 examples in his book when I get a chance.

  66. One issue I have with R. Breuer’s approach is that it reminds me of those who say that the world was created ~6000 years ago to look like it was millions of year’s old. See R. Slifkin’s criticism of this view. Why don’t these critiques also apply to R. Breuer?

    I’ll admit that I have a more negative natural reaction to this theory when applied to Creation than when applied to the Torah, but I’m having a hard time justifying it.

  67. “Another is whether Moshe spoke to the rock or hit it.”

    The reference in “How to Read the Bible” is pp. 236 – 240 subtitled “No Water, No Food” but, particularly 239 – 240. He reports factually on both the ancient interpreters (e.g. the midrash of the travelling rock) and DH scholars, but not a hint of what you accuse him of saying.

    “how many animals of a given species were taken onto the ark”

    The reference in “How to Read the Bible” is p. 76 subtitled “The Flood and the Documentary Hypothesis”. Delivering what it says on the tin, Kugel summarizes how the DH scholars used this text to illustrate there were 2 different stories that were redacted together. Again, this is reporting not advocacy. And, in fact, he then uses that to introduce the meta-issue discussed in the final chapter of the book.

  68. Baruch,

    Biblical Scholars, Kugel included, spend most of their time in “conjecture land” and much of the various theories are based not just on the evidence (contradiction, repititions &c), but on speculation regarding authorial motive. One cannot easily separate the two in Biblical Scholarship, if it is at all possible.

    As I said before, the issue is the provenance of the Mitzvot. The further away you date the texts and the more you ascribe tendentiousness or hidden motivation to them (and EVERY Biblical scholar does just that), the idea that God commanded the Mitzvot to Moses (or to anyone at all, really) becomes less and less believable.

    Put differently, a Mosaic-era multiple authorship is not a problem. But a mostly 8th-7th century era Torah? Forget it.

  69. The dating issue seems overblown to me. Let’s assume for a moment that some set of architectural finds emerge which demonstrates a high degree of confidence that Chamisha Chumshai Torah, as we have it, are more recent than the mesorah tells us. Will all Orthodox Jews suddenly lose their faith and go OTD? Or, will Judaism simply re-orient around other parts of our tradition (e.g. the Sinai covenant is with each one of us, individually; and, time is a human constraint, not a divine one).

    To illustrate from a parallel thread, did Rabbi Jacobs go OTD? Or any of the observant Masorti Rabbis who don’t believe the Chamisha Chumshai Torah are not the literal word of God given on a singular date in history?

  70. IH, The issue is not whether individual Jews go OTD. The question is whether the mitzva system retains any integrity. IMHO, it doesn’t. And the “Sinai covenant” within all of us?! Seriously?!

  71. Baruch,

    BTW, you might want to read the works of Prof. Yehuda Meir Grintz z”l, who argued on a scholarly basis a Mosaic-era basis for the Torah (in Hebrew).

  72. “The question is whether the mitzva system retains any integrity.”

    Of course it does, as per my examples.

  73. IH,

    Under your extremely broad tent, pretty much everyone is observant to some degree, so that doesn’t prove much of anything.

    As I said before, the issue is not individuals. There are plenty of atheists who are good, observant Jews. Would you include them, too?

  74. aiwac — let’s not get silly please. There are plenty of Orthodox Jews who go OTD having nothing to do with dating also. My point is that I doubt it is ultimately “of the essence” and is an overblown issue.

  75. Why?

    You argue that the DH is not a major issue because it doesn’t cause OTD. But even belief in God is not a major issue according to that very rationale.

  76. aiwac,

    You wrote, “Biblical Scholars, Kugel included, spend most of their time in ‘conjecture land’ and much of the various theories are based not just on the evidence (contradiction, repititions &c), but on speculation regarding authorial motive. One cannot easily separate the two in Biblical Scholarship, if it is at all possible.”

    I’m arguing that they should be. I don’t care about biblical scholars. I care about the evidence.

    (In general, actually, I find academics way too skeptical when it comes to examining works — ancient or modern. They almost never assume good faith on the part of the author, and if they do, they don’t primarily examine the author’s doctrines but rather spend an inordinate amount of time discussing what influenced/motivated the author to say what he said. I have always been bothered by this.)

  77. Aiwac – I believe the dead hand of source criticism (aka DH) is moot; and that Jews and Judaism are stronger than you think.

  78. IH: What emerges from your approach is that whatever Jews do is Judaism.
    But why should I care what Jews do? How is what Jews do any more important than what Christians or Hindus do? I am a member of the Jewish people (though for all you know I could be a ger, thus a member of other peoples by their standards), but I’m also a member of the human race.

  79. Shlomo, thanks for making my point better than me.

  80. aiwac, it’s just kind of dangerous to make any sort of absolutist statement along the lines of “If X is true, then out goes Judaism.” It’s been done before (and is done in many Jewish communities today), and the results ain’t pretty. If Torah is Emet, it should be able to withstand anything, as many Rishonim have taught- especially something as easily solveable as this.

  81. Nachum,

    Easily solvable? Really? Please explain how the concepts of de-orayta or even Mitzvot from God withstand scrutiny under Biblical scholarship, much of which denies there ever was a Sinaitic covenant and attributes political and sectarian motives to the various documents.

    “it’s just kind of dangerous to make any sort of absolutist statement along the lines of “If X is true, then out goes Judaism.”

    Neither is it good to relativize Judaism to the point that it makes no factual statements and is merely a lifestyle that can be changed on a whim. It’s been done in many Jewish communities and the results aren’t pretty. My experience on this blog is that pretty much everyone who has been exposed to historical scholarship does not accept that halacha has any essence whatsoever other than being whatever Jews happen to accept or do at that time period – yourself included.

    Torah is indeed Emet, but your method would render the term “emet” practically unintelligible. More to the point, I am not an ostrich. I realize that multiple, later authorship is possible. If they find one of the documents, they will have fulfilled the rule of המוציא את חברו עליו הראיה.

    It’s just that all the rationales I’ve heard for Orthodoxy (or even just shmirat Torah Umitzvot that isn’t pure conventionalism) still holding up after acceptance of BC run along the lines of “just because” or lifestyle.

    Indeed, whenever I’ve seen you defend Kugel, it’s only that he’s “completely observant”. As I pointed out, this is meaningless – there are plenty of closet atheists who are completely observant. I don’t think you would seriously argue that one does not have to believe in God.

    As far as I am concerned, the rule of המוציא את חברו עליו הראיה applies to any and all Jews who advocate any kind of acceptance of multiple, later authorship. You are the one who has to prove to me and everyone else that this doesn’t cut the legs out from under the Torah and Mitzvot as Divine commandments. You are also the one who must prove to me and everyone else that this will not lead to the kind of wholesale reductionism a la Reform where Mitzvot are picked off wholesale because they’re not “really from God”.

    I’m not saying I would accept what you say, but I would at least take it seriously. More seriously than “so-and-so believes in BC and is halachically observant” style arguments, at least.

    Shabbat Shalom

    AIWAC

  82. Richard writes: “One issue I have with R. Breuer’s approach is that it reminds me of those who say that the world was created ~6000 years ago to look like it was millions of year’s old. See R. Slifkin’s criticism of this view. Why don’t these critiques also apply to R. Breuer?””

    The difference is that the 6000 year old earth looking to be millions of years old doesn’t really provide any reason for the benefit of doing this.

    Breuer’s whole methodology is to demonstrate that by applying the DH methodology, we gain a better level of parshanut. (or so I believe, could be wrong).

    So while in the former, there’s no answer to the Q, “why would god do it this way” (beyond to trick us, which doesn’t fit well with the emet attribute we apply to god), in the latter there’s an explicit and valuable reason for it that doesn’t fly in the face of our understanding of god (and in fact, fits very nicely with the fact that we view god as infinite).

    DH would harm orthodox judaism if a scroll containing a constituent part was ever found, but I guess we’ll cross that bridge if it ever happens.

  83. Aiwac – either it s true or not ( or on the right path towards it). Regardless of the consequences. As you have pointed out – many times – orthodoxy has failed to offer a good response.

    not sure if your conclusion of the consequences are correct either.

  84. ruvie,

    Precisely my point. Those that argue that it’s true need to come up with “good responses”. “It’s the truth” (assuming it’s decisively proven) is not enough.

  85. Aiwac – I do not think it can be ” decisively proven” .biblical criticism is a method – has many methods or tools – of discovering what happened in the past. The results are questioned and refined to a point that they may posses a high probability of their basic findings. This does not deny the transcendental apects of the Torah and it’s meaning to us. Do not confuse facts that are open to scientific and/or empirical investigation and beliefs.

    Lastly, I do not think that those believe in some/parts/or all of it need to come up with “good responses” as you do. Of course, they have to deal with but sometimes there are no good answers. That doesn’t stop the Torah from becoming an authoritative textbook that chazal ultimately interprets for us. Some compartmentalize how the Torah came into being with how they practice judaism. Others believe in a divinely text that has components from different times. Others say, higher bc = higher antisemtism ( Nechama Lebowitz). Lastly, you could just drop the subject and move on and say teiku.

    In the end the proof is in the pudding.

  86. Ruvie,

    I was referring to people who are trying to sell DH to the broader community (like Nachum et al). Individuals dealing privately with the matter is another kettle of fish. Please do not confuse the two.

  87. Aiwac – the issue came up due to the post being commented on. To which, you responded that dating was the big issue because:

    “As I said before, the issue is the provenance of the Mitzvot. The further away you date the texts and the more you ascribe tendentiousness or hidden motivation to them (and EVERY Biblical scholar does just that), the idea that God commanded the Mitzvot to Moses (or to anyone at all, really) becomes less and less believable.

    Put differently, a Mosaic-era multiple authorship is not a problem. But a mostly 8th-7th century era Torah? Forget it.”

    IMHO, it is you who is confusing private issues with discussions within the broader community. Ruvie correctly observed there are different approaches that Torah-observant people take, of which yours is but one.

  88. aiwac, who says I’m trying to sell it to anyone? And, lest you forget, the people who know about this stuff, the people who care about this stuff, and the people who read this blog are a miniscule proportion of Orthodox Jews.

  89. MiMedinat HaYam

    i doubt this thread is still active, but i reviewed these articles (many of the comments seem to be going in other directions than i did) over the weekend and there are several issues:

    1. the analysis only compared word combinations. not excactly a method of diffrerentiating between authors, esp since, as the author concludes in the seforim blog posting, that this only proves a writer writing legal writing differs when writing narrative writings. i thought the exact same thing, and propose an anlysis of such authors as f scott fitzgeral (also an attorney, though prob not a practicing / litigation atty) and abe lincoln (personally, i think veneration of lincoln is overblown; he was just the president during a particulary trying time; he may very well have instigated the civil war, but that instigation only because of his election, an election by a divided political party. another issue.) who is supposed to have been a great orator, who wrote his own speeches (that is sacrilege today. even ‘bama doesnt write his own speeches, though he is supposed to be a great orator.)

    also, is this the same program (or method of analysis) that was used to prove that ‘bama did not write his own books (one was written by terrorist bill ayres, according to the program.)?

    2. we have much discussion in various meforshim about word choices. rashi specializes in this. ditto the baal haturim (a halachist = legal writer). qualifying the word choices based on other riteria is the wrong analysis.

  90. I someone would compare the musical style of Verklärte Nacht (1899) to *De Profundis* (1950) one could conclude that they had to have been written by different composers. Both were written by Arnold Schoenberg.

  91. Charlie — are you saying Ma’amad Har Sinai spanned 51 years 🙂

  92. “Charlie — are you saying Ma’amad Har Sinai spanned 51 years :-)”

    Events in the Torah spanned thousands of years according to the pshat, billions of years according to science!

  93. At least forty.

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