A Case for the Documentary Hypothesis, Part II: The Clincher

In part one of this post, I outlined “internal” reasons for dividing Exodus 34 into 3 sources: J, E, and P. All three of these sources continued earlier narratives related to Moses’ ascension of the mount and could be teased out solely by reference to these earlier, separate, narratives. I’ll review the verse divisions: J: 34:2-3, 4.2, 5b-27. E: 34:1, 4.1, 4.3, 5a, 28. P: 34:29-35.

I’ll also put them as they would have appeared in their original order, using the KJV and beginning with J:

And be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning unto mount Sinai, and present thyself there to me in the top of the mount. And no man shall come up with thee, neither let any man be seen throughout all the mount; neither let the flocks nor herds feed before that mount. And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai. And [he] stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD…[through v. 26]. And the LORD said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel.

Now for E:

And the LORD said unto Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which thou brakest. And he hewed two tables of stone like unto the first; and [he] went up unto [the] mount, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tables of stone. And the LORD descended in the cloud. And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.

(I won’t reproduce P here, because it’s not interrupted by anything in vv. 29-35.)

One immediately notices that with only the slightest allowance for some smoothing of articles and pronouns these make sense by themselves. One might counter, however, that our criteria have been constructed so as to only accept as valid those divisions that produce a coherent narrative, and so we shouldn’t be surprised when one is produced. Fair enough, but I’d like to see this done on a text from a single author.

In any case, the clincher comes from an independent source: the Book of Deuteronomy. Compare the E version, above, to Deuteronomy 10:1-5, which relates the same event (I’ve italicized the clauses that differ from Exod 34):

At that time the LORD said unto me, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first, and come up unto me into the mount, and make thee an ark of wood. And I will write on the tables the words that were in the first tables which thou brakest, and thou shalt put them in the ark. And I made an ark of shittim wood, and hewed two tables of stone like unto the first, and went up into the mount, having the two tables in mine hand. And he wrote on the tables, according to the first writing, the ten commandments, which the LORD spake unto you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly: and the LORD gave them unto me. And I turned myself and came down from the mount, and put the tables in the ark which I had made; and there they be, as the LORD commanded me.

Note first that the italicized portions are all additions of Deuteronomy 10 to the E material of Exodus 34. What is more, all these differences bear either the marks of topics or language central to Deuteronomy or of the exigencies of Deuteronomy’s narrative. In other words, D put his own imprint on these verses. This included the stuff about the ark, which appears nowhere in E (nor in Exodus 34) but is important for D, and he had to put it in the most logical place he could, which was here. The only problem is the appearance of fire, which we said in last post that was a characteristic of J. Deuteronomy added this probably because he knew both traditions (still as separate traditions) and combined elements of the theophanic language, but not fully. Thus in Deut 4:12, 15 there’s only fire and a voice, no anthropomorphic shape as in J.

In any case, there’s no direct J reference in this chapter. To quote from my friend, “There is no mention of Mount Sinai, or the rules regarding the sanctity of the mountain, or Moses rising early in the morning, or the proclamation of the Lord’s name, or any mention of a covenant being made, or of the covenant stipulations, the commands imparted on this occasion. In short, there is no J represented in this D passage at all, only E. And all of E. This is independent confirmation that we have correctly disentangled the threads of Exodus 34:1-28.”

However you understand the Documentary Hypothesis to work, this evidence cannot be ignored. What we see is a confirmation that the divisions we had made solely by reference to what we know of the surrounding Exodus narratives do indeed reflect once independent sources. How else would Deuteronomy, which is quoting this very episode, only quote those parts that are from E? Either he was a brilliant source critic himself, or he only knew them as separate sources. The burden of proof in the question of the Documentary Hypothesis rests squarely on the shoulders of those who doubt it, scholars and laymen alike.

8 Replies to “A Case for the Documentary Hypothesis, Part II: The Clincher”

  1. Deuteronomy loves E, even though he still knows J. The connections are so strong that some have posited that D is a later “E school”, but I think that this goes beyond the evidence. Probably the most famous example is the law code in Deuteronomy, which appears to be a reworking of E’s law code.

  2. It is worth noting that D knows both J and E and that he quotes both. I find it interesting that D prefers E, because at the purported time of D’s development (during Josiah’s reign) Israel and Egypt were at odds. E makes a much clearer argument for Egypt being evil during the period of oppression and the Exodus than J does.

  3. Bored- Thanks for the reference; I’m glad you brought it up, because it illustrates a fundamental issue with LDS use of this theory, which is, like a lot of other things, selective. Although I wasn’t aware of this site, I am familiar with Dr. Sorenson’s paper that some of its conclusions are based on.

    First of all, it is significant that, at least until rather recently, the only mainstream LDS scholars really attempting to deal with the subject in print aren’t the ones who have training in it. (This isn’t surprising, source critical training in America is not widely available.) This explains why Dr. Sorenson’s article is not based on the best sources. Albright knew a lot, but he wasn’t a source critic.

    The most important objection to these studies is that similar concerns are not evidence of knowledge of one source as opposed to another. One could cite many of the central tendencies of E and D that stand in stark opposition to the Book of Mormon/Brass Plates: Nonanthropomorphic God (cloud appearance, etc.) would be the first thing to deal with.

    With this post I hope to show that 1) LDSs cannot ignore this evidence, and need not to avoid being involved in some of the central questions in the field, and 2) we need to look at where the evidence points, and not to make an end-run around it. Isaiah in the Book of Mormon would be another place to focus some attention (I know many have; but I mean it needs to be made a mainstream question that is openly investigated.)

    This should not diminish from the importance of John Sorenson’s article, because I think that his is the first “mainstream” attempt to deal unabashedly with the theory and to assess some of its implications for LDSs, even if it is cast only in the most positive, faith-affirming light. It was at least a step, and not merely a survey or a reaction.

  4. I should also add to this Kevin Barney’s thoughts on the DocHyp, which makes a valiant attempt at circumspection, and is good on its summary of Friedman’s ABD article, but in other ways parrots non-arguments (like Chiasmus). One asks the question again: why is this not coming from someone with advanced training? (Not to disparage Barney at all, but rather to ask where are all the other players?)

  5. I’ve always been interested in the cloud/pillar of fire dichotomy. Both are present in the BoM and I’ve always thought that there was some research to be done there.

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