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“the old documentary hypothesis has given way to new theories”

January 8, 2012

carrI do not closely follow theories of Pentateuch redaction, but apparently the field has changed substantially from what we learned in college.  Alan Brill (Seton Hall) interviews David Carr (Union Theological Seminary):

I look to documented examples of scribal revision for models of how scribes preserved or revised texts. And one main thing I find is that even scribes reproducing a virtually identical copy of a given section of text would make the kinds of changes to texts– I call them “memory variants”– that people who have memorized texts do: they would substitute a synonym of a word for another, add or subtract minor grammatical particles, switch from one phrase to a syntactic equivalent. Apparently such scribes often did not visually copy texts they were citing or reproducing, but had memorized them and wrote them out from memory.

This fluid transmission of texts means that many criteria that scholars thought they could use for linguistic dating of texts or source identification are not as firm as we once thought.

Other things these documented examples of transmission teach us are the tendency of scribes to pollute the evidence through harmonizing texts with each other, their tendency to make small additions to texts that would be undetectable without manuscript documentation of different stages, and the way scribe/authors would only preserve parts of texts that they were otherwise appropriating large portions of. Observations like this don’t mean that we can’t continue to make plausible hypotheses about the growth of biblical texts, but it means that we now need to evaluate the evidence in biblical texts differently than we once did….

Some of the terminological criteria most beloved by traditional source critics, e.g. variation in divine designation ([Tetragrammaton] versus [Elokim]) or terms for maidservant (‘amah versus shiphah) vary a significant amount in manuscripts that we have, let alone the centuries of textual transmission before our existing manuscripts. I still think there is strong enough evidence for distinguishing Priestly and non-Priestly traditions from one another. And I think there likely are very early chunks of material in the Bible, including parts of the Pentateuch. But the case for early, intertwined “J” and “E” sources (within the non-Priestly strand of the Pentateuch) is largely built on sand rather than rock. It pales in comparison to the case for the distinction between Priestly and non-Priestly strands in the Pentateuch.

The whole interview is worth reading.  I’m also tempted to read Carr’s new book.

Also worth catching on Alan Brill’s blog:  his interview with Daniel Boyarin (Berkeley) – especially where Boyarin states his admiration for the Satmar Rebbe and his anti-zionism.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 9, 2012 2:32 pm

    Just read the whole interview. Seems quite a leap, and absolutely fascinating, for Carr to insist this:

    But we all need a bit more humility in our claims of certainty for our hypotheses, especially hypotheses about the earliest stages of the development of the Pentateuch. In that sense, maybe the ultimate result of adopting such additional “methodological modesty” might feel frustratingly less productive!

    from that:

    Scribes and the interpreters who shaped and sanctified the Bible may have had all kinds of motives and procedures, but God could–and I believe did–work through them in any case. And in my tradition (Christian-Quaker, originally brought up Methodist), we just pray that God likewise will work through us now as we continue to try to interpret the biblical tradition in a life-giving way. There are no textual guarantees, whether in the origination or ancient revision of the sacred text or in contemporary interpretation. We always are dependent on God making the best of our often mixed motives.

    I’d like to hear a conversation between Carr and Sylvie Honigman, or between Elias Bickerman and Honingman, if Carr understands the latter:

    In this respect, I follow the great Jewish scholar Elias Bickerman, who suggests that Jews of that time countered Greek education centered on Homer and his epics with the idea that their Moses had written the whole Torah, a text which Hellenistic-period Jews argued was even earlier and better than the Greek classics.

    Honigman’s study of the LXX legend and particularly of the circumstances of the Letter of Aristeas. Her hypothesis is that the formation of the LXX follows the “Homeric paradigm” one “against the background of the history of the editing of the Homeric epics” (page 120).

  2. January 9, 2012 4:03 pm

    Thanks also for the link to the Boyarin interview, which I also just read. (David Brill is just wonderful to post such!) One has to admire how Boyarin puts forward as “a model for an alternative Orthodoxy” Bertha Pappenheim. And he doesn’t just do so because “Rabbi Shlomo Nobel and the Alexanderer Rebbe both supported her enthusiastically” — although that might be enough for him (i.e., “I rest my case.”)

    Brill links to Marion Kaplan’s essay on Pappenheim, which is also wonderful. But I like how Renee Levine Melammed remembers her too:

    It was no easy feat for her to remain Orthodox while stationed at the forefront of feminism; her organization advocated equal rights for women in religious as well as secular realms…. Although she required time to find her way, she ultimately became a selfless, charitable, idealistic and energetic mover and shaker. A woman lacking a role model for herself actually became one.

    One might suggest, then, that Bertha Pappenheim is “a model for an alternative feminism.” And yet she recognized her debt to others before her, notably to Glückel von Hameln, from whom she descended — a German, a Jew, a woman, a person of faith, a feminist — whose writings were by hand in Yiddish and were preserved by her daughters and then her granddaughters after she died in 1724. In 1910, in Pappenheim’s preface to her translation of von Hameln’s “Zikhroynes Glikl Hamel”, Pappenheim wrote [and my English translation follows]:

    Die Übertragung des Textes in gemeinverständliche Sprache und Schriftzeichen hat den Zweck, das Bild einer Frau neu zu beleben, die, tief in ihrer Zeit wurzelnd, durch ungewöhnliche Geistesgaben hervorragte, die treu war ihrem Glauben, treu ihrem Volke, treu ihrer Familie und treu sich selbst.

    Translating the text [from handwritten Yiddish] into generally-understood speech and print has the effect of recovering anew the image of a woman, deeply rooted in time, exceptionally extraordinary by intellect, and genuinely true to her faith, true to her people, true to her family, true to her herself.

  3. January 9, 2012 8:31 pm

    Kurk, I haven’t read Carr’s book yet (I ordered it) so I think will suspend comment until i read it. However, I’m kind of hoping you might post about Elias Bickerman and Sylvie Honigman.

    Regarding Daniel Boyarin, I know him, so I probably should avoid comment on that too.

    How do you like that? I took the Fifth twice in a single comment.

  4. January 10, 2012 10:48 am

    I took the Fifth twice in a single comment.

    🙂 Let me think about what you said, Theophrastus, and didn’t say.

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