Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Who Wrote the Bible?

You know how sometimes at the end of a movie there is a twist that suddenly changes your understanding of everything that happened before? Events which you previously thought you understood take on a whole new meaning. Think about the climax of The Sixth Sense, for example.

I had that experience when I realized who Ezra HaSofer ("the scribe") probably was. We were taught that he was called "the scribe" because, you know, he was a scribe. He copied Torahs; he even made a couple of small corrections, according to some of the sages.

What an understatement! He wasn't Ezra HaSofer; he was Ezra HaSOFER! He didn't correct a few errors; he basically compiled/wrote (redacted) what we now call the Torah!

In hindsight, everything makes sense. There were so many clues.

The Clues


First of all, a plain reading of Nechemiya (Nehemia) 8 implies that Ezra revealed a Torah which was at least partially new to the people:

1 all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the broad place that was before the water gate; and they spoke unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the Law of Moses, which HaShem had commanded to Israel.
2 And Ezra the priest brought the Law before the congregation, both men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month.
3 And he read therein before the broad place that was before the water gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women, and of those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the Law...
5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people--for he was above all the people--and when he opened it, all the people stood up.
6 And Ezra blessed HaShem, the great G-d. And all the people answered: 'Amen, Amen', with the lifting up of their hands; and they bowed their heads, and fell down before HaShem with their faces to the ground...
8 And they read in the book, in the Law of G-d, distinctly; and they gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.
9 And Nehemiah, who was the Tirshatha, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people: 'This day is holy unto HaShem your G-d; mourn not, nor weep.' For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law...
12 And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them.
13 And on the second day were gathered together the heads of fathers' houses of all the people, the priests, and the Levites, unto Ezra the scribe, even to give attention to the words of the Law.
14 And they found written in the Law, how that HaShem had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month;
15 and that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying: 'Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and branches of wild olive, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written.'
16 So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the courts of the house of G-d, and in the broad place of the water gate, and in the broad place of the gate of Ephraim.
17 And all the congregation of them that were come back out of the captivity made booths, and dwelt in the booths; for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness.
18 Also day by day, from the first day unto the last day, he read in the book of the Law of G-d. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day was a solemn assembly, according unto the ordinance. (JPS)


They had never celebrated Sukkot (The Feast of Booths) in that country! ("Since the days of Joshua.") Apologists will tell you that the people had simply forgotten the Torah and Ezra was bringing it back to them. However, Richard Friedman points out that in Leviticus 23, the laws for Sukkot seem to be added on to the list of holidays. The list goes from verses 4-37 and ends, "These are the holidays of Hashem." Then, two verses later, it suddenly starts listing the laws of Sukkot. This makes sense in hindsight. Combined with evidence (Neh 8:17, above) that Sukkot wasn't celebrated until Ezra showed up with the Torah, it seems reasonable that Ezra added those verses to an earlier text when he redacted the Torah.

(Friedman brings many more arguments in support of Ezra being the redactor. For example, he points out that this is the first time in all of Tanakh that a finished copy of the Five Books appears. See Who Wrote the Bible for more.)

Second, there is evidence within the Torah that (at least) parts of it were written long after Moses' time:

So Moses the servant of HaShem died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of HaShem. And he was buried in the valley in the land of Moab over against Beth-peor; and no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day. (Deuteronomy 6:34)

And there hath not arisen a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom HaShem knew face to face. (Deuteronomy 34:10)

These were the kings who reigned in the land of Edom before there was any king reigning over the descendants of Yisrael. (Gen. 36:31)

And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued as far as Dan. (Genesis 14:14)


As this article points out, "no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day" doesn't make sense if it was written during Moses' time; "And there hath not arisen a prophet since" has the same problem; "before there was any king reigning over the descendants of Yisrael" makes no sense before King Saul's reign; and "Dan" wasn't named "Dan" until long after Moses' death (Judges 18:29.)

The Jewish Tradition


Although obviously the Jewish tradition has Ezra making some minor edits at the most, there are some remnants of Ezra's real importance to the Torah. The Talmud, for example, compares him favorably with Moses himself.

In the Talmud, it says:

It has been taught: R. Jose said: Had Moses not preceded him, Ezra would have been worthy of receiving the Torah for Israel. Of Moses it is written, And Moses went up unto God, and of Ezra it is written, He, Ezra, went up from Babylon. As the going up of the former refers to the [receiving of the] Law, so does the going up of the latter. Concerning Moses, it is stated: And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments; and concerning Ezra, it is stated: For Ezra had prepared his heart to expound the law of the Lord [his God] to do it and to teach Israel statutes and judgments. And even though the Torah was not given through him, its writing was changed through him, as it is written: And the writing of the letter was written in the Aramaic character and interpreted into the Aramaic [tongue]. And again it is written, And they could not read the writing nor make known to the king the interpretation thereof. Further, it is written: And he shall write the copy [mishneh] of this law, — in writing which was destined to be changed. --Sanhedrin (21b - 22a)


Other Sources of Evidence


There is also evidence from outside of the mainstream Jewish tradition that people believed Ezra wrote or redacted the Torah as early as the 1st century CE. Ezra 4 (otherwise known as 2 Esdras, which is "Ezra" in Latin) was written in the 1st or 2nd century. (Ezra 1 & 2 are Ezra and Nehemia.) Although it's not in the Jewish Tanakh or accepted by most Christians as scriptural, "the Ethiopian Orthodox and Russian Orthodox consider it canonical." (Wikipedia.)

Ezra 4 is a truly fascinating book. According to it, the original Torah was burned up in the fire that destroyed the first Temple. God appears in a bush and re-teaches the Torah to Ezra:

1: And it came to pass upon the third day, I sat under an oak, and, behold, there came a voice out of a bush over against me, and said, Esdras, Esdras.
2: And I said, Here am I, Lord And I stood up upon my feet.
3: Then said he unto me, In the bush I did manifestly reveal myself unto Moses, and talked with him, when my people served in Egypt...
19: Then answered I before thee, and said,
20: Behold, Lord, I will go, as thou hast commanded me, and reprove the people which are present: but they that shall be born afterward, who shall admonish them? thus the world is set in darkness, and they that dwell therein are without light.
21: For thy law is burnt, therefore no man knoweth the things that are done of thee, or the work that shall begin.
22: But if I have found grace before thee, send the Holy Ghost into me, and I shall write all that hath been done in the world since the beginning, which were written in thy law, that men may find thy path, and that they which will live in the latter days may live.
23: And he answered me, saying, Go thy way, gather the people together, and say unto them, that they seek thee not for forty days.
24: But look thou prepare thee many box trees, and take with thee Sarea, Dabria, Selemia, Ecanus, and Asiel, these five which are ready to write swiftly;
25: And come hither, and I shall light a candle of understanding in thine heart, which shall not be put out, till the things be performed which thou shalt begin to write.
26: And when thou hast done, some things shalt thou publish, and some things shalt thou shew secretly to the wise: to morrow this hour shalt thou begin to write.
27: Then went I forth, as he commanded, and gathered all the people together, and said,
28: Hear these words, O Israel.
29: Our fathers at the beginning were strangers in Egypt, from whence they were delivered:
30: And received the law of life, which they kept not, which ye also have transgressed after them.
31: Then was the land, even the land of Sion, parted among you by lot: but your fathers, and ye yourselves, have done unrighteousness, and have not kept the ways which the Highest commanded you.
32: And forasmuch as he is a righteous judge, he took from you in time the thing that he had given you.
33: And now are ye here, and your brethren among you.
34: Therefore if so be that ye will subdue your own understanding, and reform your hearts, ye shall be kept alive and after death ye shall obtain mercy.
35: For after death shall the judgment come, when we shall live again: and then shall the names of the righteous be manifest, and the works of the ungodly shall be declared.
36: Let no man therefore come unto me now, nor seek after me these forty days.
37: So I took the five men, as he commanded me, and we went into the field, and remained there.
38: And the next day, behold, a voice called me, saying, Esdras, open thy mouth, and drink that I give thee to drink.
39: Then opened I my mouth, and, behold, he reached me a full cup, which was full as it were with water, but the colour of it was like fire.
40: And I took it, and drank: and when I had drunk of it, my heart uttered understanding, and wisdom grew in my breast, for my spirit strengthened my memory:
41: And my mouth was opened, and shut no more.
42: The Highest gave understanding unto the five men, and they wrote the wonderful visions of the night that were told, which they knew not: and they sat forty days, and they wrote in the day, and at night they ate bread.
43: As for me. I spake in the day, and I held not my tongue by night.
44: In forty days they wrote two hundred and four books.

45: And it came to pass, when the forty days were filled, that the Highest spake, saying, The first that thou hast written publish openly, that the worthy and unworthy may read it:
46: But keep the seventy last, that thou mayest deliver them only to such as be wise among the people:
47: For in them is the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom, and the stream of knowledge.
48: And I did so.


Now obviously I don't expect my Orthodox Jewish or fundamentalist Christian readers to just take Ezra 4's word for it. But it is an indication of an ancient tradition that Ezra (re-)wrote of the Torah.

Conclusion


None of this evidence is conclusive. It's impossible to say for sure whether Ezra was indeed the redactor, or whether there even was a single redactor. The Documentary Hypothesis argues that there were at least four distinct authors of the Five Books (J, E, P, and D) and that there was a fifth person who was the redactor.

To summarize, we know (1)that parts of the Torah seem to have been written long after Moses' death (2) that Ezra at least re-introduced the people to the Torah, including teaching them about Sukkot for apparently the first time; (3) that Ezra is known as "the scribe" and is compared favorably to Moses (!) by the Talmud; (4) that even in the mainstream Jewish tradition there is acceptance that Ezra at least made minor edits to the Torah; and (5) that there is an entire book from 2,000 years ago (albeit a few hundred years after Ezra's time) that claims Ezra wrote the current version of the Torah. It's enough for me to conclude that it is probable that Ezra was the redactor.

Links:
Nehemia 8
Who Wrote the Bible? by Richard Friedman
4 Ezra or 2 Edras
Straight Dope Staff Report: Who wrote the Bible? (Part 2)
Torah Redactor, wikipedia.
The Multiple Authorship of the Books Attributed to Moses, William Harwood, Ph. D.

50 comments:

Chana said...

The problem I have with the first proof you offer (namely, that of the Sukkot/ booths, a tradition that had not been practiced since the time of Joshua) is that you then make what seems to be an assumption- namely, that the Jews had never celebrated the holiday ritual of Sukkot, and only then were taught to do so.

However, there is a precedent of the Jews having received a law/ ritual and not having celebrated it for quite a long period of time-namely, the Korban Pesach, or Paschal Lamb. Tosfos in Kiddushin 37b states that when the Torah describes Pesach Sheni, it is "actually implying an indictment of the Jewish people for not offering the Korban Pesach during the next 39 years." (Since I can't find a copy of Kiddushin online; I'll show you one place that discusses this here.)

Indeed, in the very section you are quoting from, it states it had not been celebrated since the "time of Joshua," hence it had at one point in time indeed been celebrated by them?

You also state that apologists will say the Jews simply forgot the Torah. I think it's a bit overmuch to claim these are only apologists (as in, they have no other support for their claims). After all, if you look at 2 Chronicles Chapter 34 you have the story of Josiah.

Josiah finds the scroll in the Temple, and needs it to be explained to him.

"21 'Go ye, inquire of the LORD for me, and for them that are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book that is found; for great is the wrath of the LORD that is poured out upon us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the LORD, to do according unto all that is written in this book."

Once he realizes the extent of the wrath of God/ the crimes their fathers/ they have comitted he swears to keep the commandments.

"31 And the king stood in his place, and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD, and to keep His commandments, and His testimonies, and His statutes, with all his heart, and with all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant that were written in this book."

This seems to indicate that this understanding had been forgotten and needed to be reinstated; indeed it is only in the eighth year of his reign that he begins to "seek after the God of David and purge Judah and Jerusalem."

Hence the 'apologist' view, as it were, seems viable. This (the Sukkot case) is not the only place where the Jews truly do not seem to be aware of a responsibility of theirs.

I need to think over the rest of what you wrote- take care ;)

Chana said...

"Second, there is evidence within the Torah that (at least) parts of it were written long after Moses' time..."

There is a possible answer here.

"R. Johanan said in the name of R. Bana'ah: The Torah was transmitted in separate scrolls, as it says, Then said I, Lo I am come, in the roll of the book it is written of me.21 R. Simeon b. Lakish said: The Torah was transmitted entire, as it says, Take this book of the law.22 What does the other make of this verse 'Take etc.'? — This refers to the time after it had been joined together. And what does the other [Resh Lakish] make of the verse, 'in a roll of the book written of me'? — That is [to indicate] that the whole Torah is called a roll, as it is written, And he said unto me, what seest thou? And I answered, I see a flying roll.23 Or perhaps [it is called roll] for the reason given by R. Levi, since R. Levi said: Eight sections were given forth24 on the day on which the Tabernacle was set up. They are: the section of the priests,25 the section of the Levites,26 the section of the unclean,27 the section of the sending of the unclean [out of the camp],28 the section commencing 'After the death',29"

If the Torah were indeed given over scroll-by-scroll, the problem of sections that couldn't seem to have been written at the time is solved (the chapter of Nadav and Avihu would be written after the death, etc.)

Also, there is the approach that Joshua wrote the last 8 verses of the Torah...

Here's another interesting discussion of the matter.

I do not mean to say that you personally should accept this in lieu of what you believe, but simply that the issue is at least addressed.

mivami said...

Dude, "the scribe" is an official Persian position and title. Recall that another person in Ezra 4 is titled "the scribe" as well.
And it is very easy to see that the Joshua Son of NUN in Neh 8 is merely a curruption of Yeshua ben Yotzadak, who lived about 80 or so years before Ezra and Neh. Dont jump to conclusions completely unwarranted unless you've studied the issue carefully.

asher said...

Jewish tradition has it that the
book of Devorim or Deut. was
"discovered" years after the other 4 books were already expounded. Apparently this book is said to have a lower form of Nevuah (or holiness)to it.

You also have to wonder if the whole story of Ezra was made up by someone who wanted to give his version of the Torah some sort of authority. Ezra was a known historical figure and saying he wrote a book would make it sound important. This was done many times in Jewish history.The
book of Kabballah was said to have been written by someone who lived hundreds of years before it was "discovered" in the middle ages even though no earlier edition of the text has
ever be found.

I do recall that one of the 13
Principals of Judaism as expounded by the Rambam was that
"I believe that the torah we have today is the same torah given to Moses and nothing has been added or removed" (paraphrasing). So it is really a creed of Judaism to believe that the Torah read today is the same text as given on Mt Sinai.

Jewish Atheist said...

Chana,

As for sukkot, I'll admit I'm a bit ignorant on my ancient Jewish history, but didn't "the time of Joshua" pretty much coincide with the foundation of the nation? So if they did celebrate sukkot, it was only for a couple of years. You're right though that the "apologist" view is reasonable here.

W/r/t Chronicles: I'm not sure of the timeline, but perhaps the scroll Josiah found was the one of the earlier books (D?) that Ezra later combined into the Torah. By all accounts, (except 4 Ezra, I guess) at least portions of the Torah are much older than Ezra's time. The hypothesis is that he combined them, and perhaps added a little bit.

W/r/t gittin: That's interesting. That could of course be read as sort of supporting the Documentary Hypothesis, the idea being that there is some tradition of the Torah having multiple sources that were later combined. I knew about the Joshua hypothesis, but that seems sort of ad hoc just to address the most glaring argument against Mosaic authorship -- the story of his death. If you're going to believe Moses wrote the rest as dictated (or whatever) from God, I don't see why you couldn't just say he wrote about his own death.


mivami,

I'll admit I haven't studied the issue carefully. I'm just muddling along as best I can. Part of the blogging process for me is getting my ideas down and seeing people's responses to them. I understand that "scribe" was a title, but I still think it's cool that "Ezra the scribe" could imply so much more. But how is it obvious that "NUN" is a corruption of "Yotzadak?"


asher,

Jewish tradition has it that the book of Devorim or Deut. was "discovered" years after the other 4 books were already expounded.

Do you have a cite for that? That agrees nicely with the DH.

You also have to wonder if the whole story of Ezra was made up by someone who wanted to give his version of the Torah some sort of authority.

Could very well be. Friedman actually says (based on a number of arguments) that the Redactor was probably either Ezra or someone else within about 50 years of that. However, he points out that Ezra had the skills, the access, the authority, and the motivation to do it. So it's a reasonable guess.

I do recall that one of the 13 Principals of Judaism as expounded by the Rambam was that "I believe that the torah we have today is the same torah given to Moses and nothing has been added or removed" (paraphrasing). So it is really a creed of Judaism to believe that the Torah read today is the same text as given on Mt Sinai.

Yeah, but nobody believes that literally, do they? Some people say Yehoshuah added the last 8 lines (presumably after Moses' death) and others say that by Ezra's time, they at least weren't sure about a few words or letters.

smoo said...

Chana,
I think there is a difference between observing a law (KORBAN PESACH) yet being aware of it vs. never hearing of a law in the first place. If one of the foundations of our faith is that we have a mesora from sinai, how come no one said yeah, my father mentioned this once...
Regarding your second comment, transmission in sections doesn't solve the inconsistancies and contraditions (that are easily resolved when we identify individual authors writing from their unique perspective and adgenda-[Jauthor coincidentally concerned with Judah kingdom, E author with Ephraim or northern kingdom etc])
I highly recommend Richard Elliot Friedmans who wrote the bible AND The Hidden Book in the Bible
-smoo

dbs said...

I had the same sort of reaction to this section of Ezra, which, by the way, was not part of the Ner Yisroel curriculum (not that you couldn't read it for yourself). I didn’t have any exposure to non orthodox theories of the development of the Torah at the time. I had a similar reaction to Josiah (Kings II:8 and Chronicles II:34).

Of course, there are many hundreds of problems and incongruities within the Torah. When you are thinking within the Orthodox system, all of these problems become points of departure for a deeper understanding of the Torah. All of them have solutions – some more elegant and some more forced. Many answers are quite difficult to reconcile – they are all square pegs in round holes - but each in itself can be rationalized.

It is only when you are ready to peak at the questions from a different perspective that you realize that with just a simple change in the fundamental assumptions, all of those pegs become round. All of a sudden, everything makes a lot more sense.

I can’t prove that men, not God, wrote the Torah. I am skeptical about the quality of the historical evidence which existed before the common era. And, I think that alternate arguments can be offered which reconcile these problems. But these are just more and more square pegs.

Chana said...

W/r/t Chronicles: I'm not sure of the timeline, but perhaps the scroll Josiah found was the one of the earlier books (D?) that Ezra later combined into the Torah. By all accounts, (except 4 Ezra, I guess) at least portions of the Torah are much older than Ezra's time. The hypothesis is that he combined them, and perhaps added a little bit.

According to the Talmud (although at the moment I am unable to find the exact source/ page) this book was Devarim, and the pages the book was open to were the Curses.

This makes sense when you look at this (2 Kings, Chapter 22).

"16 Thus saith the LORD: Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah hath read;"

What is this evil? The curses in Devarim, the "words of the book which the king of Judah hath read."

Smoo said I think there is a difference between observing a law (KORBAN PESACH) yet being aware of it vs. never hearing of a law in the first place.

There is no evidence that they did not hear of the law in the first place, rather the evidence states that they had not done so(celebrated) since the time of Joshua, in effect, the time they were led into the Land. Hence, they had celebrated Sukkot in the desert during the 40 years (whether, Talmudically, it take the form of the clouds of glory or physical booths.)

Or, according to the Talmud (which of course, is not the literal interpretation) they did indeed hear of it and even celebrated it, but those specific words come to teach us something different. If you look at Erachin 32b you'll find their interpretation. An explanation in English is available here.

I see no problem with this:

"The list goes from verses 4-37 and ends, "These are the holidays of Hashem." Then, two verses later, it suddenly starts listing the laws of Sukkot."

If you feel that this is out of place/ beyond the closing part of that section, you might as soon question the laws of kindling fires on Shabbat coming before the commands to build a Mishkan, also totally separated from the other laws of Shabbat. (Which are found in the Ten Commandments, by the manna, and by 31: 13-17) In the same way that an answer is given there (the deliberate construction of this to show that the Sabbath is more important even than God's temple) answers are given for the fact that Sukkot is mentioned outside of the holiday listings.

I also don't understand why one would assume that Ezra would add these laws later and stick in these two verses after the end of the categorical holidays. Wouldn't it be more reasonable to assume that if he were adding laws back in, he would put them in before the verse stating "these are the holidays" to make everything flow nicely?

Jewish Atheist said...

dbs,

this section of Ezra, which, by the way, was not part of the Ner Yisroel curriculum

Why am I not surprised? :)

It is only when you are ready to peak at the questions from a different perspective that you realize that with just a simple change in the fundamental assumptions, all of those pegs become round. All of a sudden, everything makes a lot more sense.

Very true. It's strange how our fundamental assumptions so often prevent us from seeing what's right in front of our faces.


Chana,

According to the Talmud (although at the moment I am unable to find the exact source/ page) this book was Devarim

That kind of goes along with what asher was saying about Devarim being a later "discovery."

There is no evidence that they did not hear of the law in the first place, rather the evidence states that they had not done so(celebrated) since the time of Joshua, in effect, the time they were led into the Land

I have to disagree here. It says, "They found (vayimtzu) written in the Law," as if they were discovering it for the first time. Then, after the discovery, they went out to celebrate Sukkot. They just didn't know before.

If you feel that this is out of place/ beyond the closing part of that section, you might as soon question the laws of kindling fires on Shabbat coming before the commands to build a Mishkan, also totally separated from the other laws of Shabbat.

It could very well be that that verse was inserted later. I'm new to the DH.

I also don't understand why one would assume that Ezra would add these laws later and stick in these two verses after the end of the categorical holidays. Wouldn't it be more reasonable to assume that if he were adding laws back in, he would put them in before the verse stating "these are the holidays" to make everything flow nicely?

Yeah, that's a good question. I think we have to look at Ezra (or whoever else the Redactor might have been) as someone who believed he was dealing with sacred texts. He would have wanted to stay as close to the originals as possible while combining them into a single book. Perhaps he didn't want to disrupt the first list, which was about how to observe the holidays in terms of sacrifices, with the newer observences of sukkot.

We can't really know anything about this stuff for sure. It's sort of like what DBS said: if you change your fundamental assumption, it suddenly seems a bit clearer. However, it's probably not enough on its own to convince you of anything. I think that this is the weakest argument I mentioned in my post.

elf said...

Interesting historical tidbit: The first scholar to propose that Ezra wrote the Torah was Baruch Spinoza. Spinoza did not question the unity of the Torah, only the tradition of Mosaic authorship. A later scholar, Jean Astruc, discovered the J and E sources but believed that they were used by Moses to assemble the Torah. In other words, he was willing to question the unity of the Torah, but not Mosaic "authorship."

The Sukkot argument is interesting, but the way you phrase it is not quite accurate. Sukkot is mentioned in Lev. 23 along with the other festivals, but the details about dwelling in booths and waving funny plants are not mentioned until the "epilogue." The Jews of Ezra's time probably did know about Sukkot (after all, it's mentioned in Deuteronomy, which is believed to date to the Josianic period), but they didn't know the details of observance mentioned in Neh. 8.

DBS: I really like your pegs and holes analogy. My experience precisely. But, as JA points out, biblical criticism certainly hasn't solved all the textual problems that present themselves. (If it had, I'd be out of a job!)

Jewish Atheist said...

Thanks, elf. Good comment. I'm learning a lot from all these comments.

Jewish Atheist said...

elf, do you think Friedman's is the best book on the subject?

Hayim said...

you might be interested to read Halivni's "Revelation Restored". He thinks that Ezra "restored" the Pentateuch, as much as he could, and the result is our Chumash.

(I am totally unconvinced by his thesis, but I think you would be interested by the booklet)

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

It's also worth noting Nehemia 8:14-15:

14 And they found written in the Law, how that the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month;

15 and that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying: 'Go forth unto the mount, and fetch 1) olive branches, and 2) branches of wild olive, and 3) myrtle branches, and 4) palm branches, and 5) branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written.'

Chana said...

I have to disagree here. It says, "They found (vayimtzu) written in the Law," as if they were discovering it for the first time. Then, after the discovery, they went out to celebrate Sukkot. They just didn't know before.

I asked my father about the word "mutza" and whether it is always used in a context where something is "found" that hadn't been known before. He suggested I look here (Deut. Chapter 22).

"3 And so shalt thou do with his ass; and so shalt thou do with his garment; and so shalt thou do with every lost thing of thy brother's, which he hath lost, and thou hast found; thou mayest not hide thyself. {S}"

Here we see a specific instance of where something is "lost" (an article of clothing, a donkey, and so on) and then is "found" (with the root 'mutza')by another. This is the topic of hashavas aveida.

Hence, the fact that they "found" in the law could indeed have been used in that way/ context. It's not necessarily true that they "just didn't know before." Rather, they had "lost" that knowledge, and "found" it later.

Jewish Atheist said...

Hayim,

Thanks.


Mississippi Fred MacDowell,

I'm not sure I get what you're saying.


Chana,

Obviously, you can find something that you had previously lost. I can lose a scarf and then find it. But I'm not sure that you can forget something like sukkot and then "find" it. Yes, others could have known about the laws of sukkot, but to the people assembled, it was new.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>Mississippi Fred MacDowell,

>I'm not sure I get what you're saying.

Count the minim (species). Are they the same four that we use? Two of them are. Two aren't. A fifth specie is mentioned. Are all five meant for building the sukkot? Or just the fifth? Where were olive brances and wild olive brances written, whether in regard to the fours species or constructing a sukkah?

Jewish Atheist said...

Chana,

Maybe this can shed some light on our discussion:

When Persia conquered Babylon, the Persian king sent back the exiled elite of Judah, empowering Ezra to dictate the religion. JE and P contained rival histories and rival religious views, and P and D contained rival law codes. Both sets had to be kept to avoid alienating each group in the new creation of the nation, and thus avoid creating a power struggle or a nation within a nation, but the differences needed to be ironed out so that people were certain what the law code and history was. Someone joined the texts together, making only minor additions and changes, creating the Torah, and Ezra read it out. Anyone who disagreed had the Persian king to answer to. (source.)


Mississippi Fred MacDowell,

Huh. Good point. Man, they really didn't teach us this stuff. :)

Sadie Lou said...

My post on prayer is up. :)

Miranda said...

This is an interesting theory. I hadn't heard of it before. I do have a question though. As I understand it, the hebrews had a number of teachings that weren't combined until after the destruction of the temple. The readings from the prophets - the Neviim, for instance wasn't something most people read. Is it possible that Ezra brought some of the teachings that weren't commonly heard by the hebrew public to them?

Ben Avuyah said...

S,

do you think that we are, per chance, waving around what was intended as the building materials of our little huts ?

Becuase that would be funny...kinda like a game of telephone gone horribly awry.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

Textual criticism is a huge scholarly endeavor among Christians. It occurred to me that the evidence of the Dead Sea Scrolls speaks to the issue you raised, so I've done a little Web surfing.

The evidence of the Scrolls doesn't speak to the specific question about Ezra, but to the broader question of whether the text was passed down unchanged from Moses through subsequent generations of scribes.

There's a particularly good discussion here. Eugene Ulrich, professor of Hebrew at the University of Notre Dame and chief editor of the Dead Sea biblical materials

repeatedly encountered scrolls that "did, and didn't, look like what we call the Bible."

His conclusion: In ancient times, two or more contrasting editions of many biblical books existed side by side and were all regarded as Scripture. In other words, back then the Old Testament was far different from what we think of today.

He concludes that there were multiple editions for at least these books: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Samuel, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Psalms and Song of Solomon. …

Various scrolls include 15 psalms that are not found in standard Bibles. … Was this Scripture that was later lost, or did Dead Sea scribes merely collect devotional poetry and mix it with biblical psalms
?

Ulrich articulates a liberal Christian position. Jews (and evangelical Christians) apparently sidestep the issue by insisting that only the Masoretic text is authoritative:

Lawrence Schiffman of New York University, co-editor of Oxford's "Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls," thinks that for Judaism, Ulrich's theorizing is "irrelevant. No other Bible besides the Masoretic Text has any authority." …

Schiffman is an Orthodox layman, but says his attitude is shared by more liberal Jews. He sees the variant editions as an issue only in Christianity, where scholars try to reconstruct the best text from whatever source
.

If only the Masoretic text is authoritative, perhaps the issue evaporates:

The Masoretic manuscripts among the Dead Sea Scrolls are astonishingly similar to the standard Hebrew texts 1,000 years later, proving that Jewish scribes were accurate in preserving and transmitting the Masoretic Scriptures.

But note this paragraph:

The scrolls, which include portions of all books except Esther and Nememiah, were written between 200 B.C. and 70 A.D. In that same period, rabbis began establishing the standard Masoretic Text, the basis for all Old Testaments since the early Middle Ages.

So let's not pretend that pointing to the Masoretic text completely fixes the problem. What evolution of the biblical books occurred during the generations from Moses to the Masoretic text?
Q

Mis-nagid said...

Saw this in a link you posted:

"On the question of what was taboo, the authors disagreed. The Priestly author banned male (but not female) homosexuality (Lev. 18:22), and R eventually added a death penalty (Lev. 20:13), but less than a decade before P tried to encourage gay men to start breeding tithe-paying believers, D had written favorably of "the woman who fulfills your physical needs or the male lover who means as much to you as your own breath" (Deut. 13: 6). The claim that Moses authored both of those incompatible views is absurd."

Rayecha asher k'nafshecha means your gay lover?? Lame. And translating eishet cheikecha as "the woman who fulfills your physical needs" so as to make it seem that both are about sexual gratification is even lamer. The DH doesn't need proponents like this.

mivami said...

But how is it obvious that "NUN" is a corruption of "Yotzadak?"
I'm sorry, i didnt mean to imply that the Yotzadak was currupted graphically into Nun. I believe that the text originally had yeshua ben $ (where the letter $ was read mistakenly as N instead of Y) or perhaps it said only Yeshua which was then expanded into Yehoshua and then "ben nun" was added. in either case, it simply makes no sense to assume that over a 600 or so year period there was no practice of a ritual that was all of a sudden rediscovered or invented, and caused guilt feelings in by the people. It makes better sense to assume it was the last great leader named Yehoshua (or Yeshua) from whose time period the memory of the ritual was associated. And that leader was he under whose direction and encouragement the returning Judahites built the second temple in 516 bce.

mivami said...

And as far as S.'s ideas of the species', the idea is old and has been much discussed. it is still not entirely clear that the text was invented then out of thin air; or that the Judeans' understanding of the verse in Lev was faulty, or conversely, that later Judaism's (ie our) understanding is faulty and the Judeans' was the proper one; or that the Judeans in Ezra's time used 4 species as per Lev but ALSO used some of them in building the huts.

asher said...

Okay...here's another wrinkle...the term "Redactor" is actually an editor. However, where did this guy get the documents he edited? I mean, hey, where did they come from, who wrote them and who kept them. You also have to admit that there must have been some reverence to these texts and people didn't just shove sentences in wherever they wanted to. Most Bible scholarship seems to imply that it was such a slap-dash approach that couplings of the same sentences appear. You'd really think someone with a reponsiblity of editing an important book like the bible would read it over a couple of times before settling on a final version. Or was it all just cut and paste?

Jewish Atheist said...

Misnagid:

Agreed. Apparently even textual critics try to interject their agendas into the text. People also say that David and Jonathan were lovers.


mivami,

"it makes better sense to assume it was the last great leader named Yehoshua (or Yeshua) from whose time period the memory of the ritual was associated."

It's an interesting idea, but I don't see any evidence for it. That would be like if someone from the future found a document that mentioned George Washington and they said it must have been George Bush they indended.

Thanks for the info about the 4 (or 5) species.


asher,

All the Bible critics agree with you that the Redactor treated the texts with reverence. He sometimes chose to be awkward rather than omitting anything, for example. In some cases when there were two stories about the same event, he interwove them, and in others, he put them one after another.

In terms of where did he get them, that's what the rest of Friedman's book Who Wrote the Bible? is about. Basically, there were previous documents (E and J, which had already been combined) and then P and D. (D is Deuteronomy plus a few of the neviim, I think, and may have been a recent discovery. E and J were from the North and South, and P may have been a response to the combination of them.)

jewish philosopher said...

Dear Atheist,

Can you please explain how the Jewish people were, without exception and for thousands of years, completely convinced that the 10 plagues, the splitting of the Red Sea, the giving of the Ten Commandments and the falling of the manna happened if in fact Ezra, or some earlier storyteller, simply made it up? Were they brainwashed by some scribal magician? That would be a miracle in itself.

elf said...

I'm learning a lot from all these comments.

Me, too.

elf, do you think Friedman's is the best book on the subject?

Who Wrote the Bible is my personal favorite. Unfortunately, Friedman tends to combine his own idiosyncratic theories with widely accepted ideas without clearly differentiating between the two. A more recent book by Friedman, called The Bible With Sources Revealed, is also quite good, but gets into even more controversial territory.

If you're interested in reading something with a slightly different perspective on issues such as dating, there's a little handbook by Norman Habel called Literary Criticism of the Old Testament. ("Literary criticism" is what biblical scholars called source criticism before real literary critics entered the field.) It's a bit less "fun" than Friedman's books, and the focus is more on methodology than the history of scholarship, but it is a sensible and informative book.

MFD said:
Are all five meant for building the sukkot? Or just the fifth? Where were olive brances and wild olive brances written, whether in regard to the fours species or constructing a sukkah?

Good questions, and I can't answer them, except to point out that Lev. 23:40 isn't exactly crystal clear. Does peri etz hadar necessarily refer to fruit (as in, a plant ovary), or could it mean "product," as it is often translated, and hence include branches or leaves? (There is biblical support for both interpretations.) Does etz hadar refer to a particular species of tree, or can it be any nice looking tree? What exactly are atsei avot? (The usual word for myrtle, hadas, is not used.) Finally, what are we supposed to do with these plants after we "take" them? Ezra clearly didn't have our rabbinic "mesorah", and he was interpreting the text to the best of his ability. (This may undermine the theory that Ezra himself wrote these verses. However, it is still possible that they were relatively new and not well known.)

Jewish philosopher said:
Can you please explain how the Jewish people were, without exception and for thousands of years, completely convinced that the 10 plagues, the splitting of the Red Sea, the giving of the Ten Commandments and the falling of the manna happened if in fact Ezra, or some earlier storyteller, simply made it up?

I am not Mr. Atheist (and he will surely want to answer for himeslf), but I would say, first of all, that such things have been known to happen. Large groups of people have accepted miracle stories and passed them on, and the miracles often become more miraculous over time (as a source-critical analysis of the Reed Sea narrative shows). The gospels depict Jesus performing miracles, often in front of large crowds. Do you accept those stories as historical truth?

Second, neither Jewish Atheist nor anyone else in this comment thread has asserted that Ezra or any other individual invented all these stories. The fact that there are several literarily independent versions of many of them suggests that they had an oral pre-history, and most critical scholars would agree that they pre-dated Ezra by several centuries. What Mr. Atheist is suggesting is that some aspects of our written Torah, such as the commandment to dwell in booths on Sukkot, seem to have been unknown to Jews of Ezra's day.

Jewish Atheist said...

jewish philosopher,

elf already addressed some of your questions, but I'll tackle them as well. First, I'm sure there were exceptions. You have no proof that all Jews without exception believed the stories were literally true. Considering the percentage of Jews who don't believe it now, I don't see why you would assume that they all believed it then.

Also, all cultures have myths. As elf pointed out, why have Christians believed that Jesus performed miracles in front of crowds or that Mary was a virgin for thousands of years? Why do most Americans believe the story about George Washington and the cherry tree? How did the Greeks believe in hundreds of gods? Why do thousands of people routinely believe that they've seen statues of Jesus or Mary bleeding or crying? Why do people buy sandwiches with Mary's face on them for thousands of dollars? Why do people think Jesus was white?

Remember that the Israelites didn't have history books. If Ezra found stories written down, or if people passed stories down orally, of an ancient time when our people were slaves in Egypt, who would know what was true (if anything) and what was made up? Stories have a way of being exaggerated or outright created and being passed on as truth.

Jewish Atheist said...

elf, thanks for the book info.

B. Spinoza said...

elf wrote:

>Spinoza did not question the unity of the Torah, only the tradition of Mosaic authorship.

not exactly accurate. Spinoza did indeed question the unity of the Torah. As he wrote in his book, A Theolgico-Political Treatise (1670):

"But besides the question of the writer,
there are other points to notice which common superstition forbids
the multitude to apprehend. Of these the chief is, that Ezra
(whom I will take to be the author of the aforesaid books until some
more likely person be suggested) did not put the finishing touches
to the narrative contained therein, but merely collected the histories
from various writers, and sometimes simply set them down, leaving
their examination and arrangement to posterity."

BTA said...

Great post and comments. I posted today on how Nehamia 8 totally undermines the Kuzari. But again, I swear I didn't copy your idea- it just looks that way! I'm amazed at the points made here. It just goes to show that, if people use their brains and study the text, myths are exploded daily. Great job.

B. Spinoza said...

Ben,

>do you think that we are, per chance, waving around what was intended as the building materials of our little huts ?

>Becuase that would be funny...kinda like a game of telephone gone horribly awry.

actually that's how the Kairites interpret it. They don't wave anything around because they thought that the branches were only intended for the making of the succah

Jewish Atheist said...

BTA,

But again, I swear I didn't copy your idea- it just looks that way!

As I wrote on your blog, I think maybe I actually copied yours when you posted earlier about Nehemia. :) Anyway, let's just say that we're learning from each other. ;)

BTA said...

Mississippi Fred:

"and that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying: 'Go forth unto the mount, and fetch 1) olive branches, and 2) branches of wild olive, and 3) myrtle branches, and 4) palm branches, and 5) branches of thick trees, to make booths, AS IT IS WRITTEN.'"

So, you already pointed out that 2 of the species are not written in the torah, which is quite strange.

But you left out what I mentioned in my post today- that the esrog being a "fruit of a beautiful tree" was not the understanding in Ezra's time! The esrog is one of the top 3 Artscroll examples of how important and true the oral law is.

It seems to me that the olive tree was the beautiful tree, and olives themselves are the fruit of that tree! While we will never know, my explanation fits with both the Torah and Nehamia versions, while the rabbinic, "Oral Torah" version decidedly does not.

mivami said...

It's an interesting idea, but I don't see any evidence for it
well "evidence" may be in the eye of the beholder. there are several masoretic mss that do not include the words "ben nun" in neh 8. also, if you check Ezra 3 (beg of ch.) you will see that the jews in yehoshua ben yotzadaks time did in fact know about sukkot from the torah. notice too that the term for torah "sefer torat (moshe ish) haelohim" is the same in both stories. there is surely some connection between the two. now true, u could say o but in ezra 3 all it speaks about is the sacrifices of sukkot, well, that may be true but it would be much harder to claim that the entire lev 23 passage was unknown to the jews in 516 and was only discovered/written when ezra came 80 or so yrs later. what vayimtzeu katuv means in neh 8 is difficult.

Jewish Atheist said...

mivami,

well "evidence" may be in the eye of the beholder. there are several masoretic mss that do not include the words "ben nun" in neh 8.

That would be some evidence for your argument, you're right.

now true, u could say o but in ezra 3 all it speaks about is the sacrifices of sukkot, well, that may be true but it would be much harder to claim that the entire lev 23 passage was unknown to the jews in 516 and was only discovered/written when ezra came 80 or so yrs later.

I'm pretty sure that Friedman et al claim not that Ezra discovered or wrote the whole leviticus passage, but rather he added the last couple of psukim (about building succot) to make lev 23 jibe better with the newly discovered/written document.

mivami said...

Look, the holiday is called Sukkot in the beg of the Lev 23 passage as well as in the passage in Ezra ch. 3 dated to the time of Yehoshua ben Yehotzadak. What could possibly motivate the designation of a holiday by its main (modern) feature? unless that very feature was being observed in that time? They called the holiday Sukkot bec they used to sit in huts for the duration of it! This was in the time of 516 bce and probably earlier if, indeed as you admit, Ezra merely "added the last couple of psukim (about building succot"-- the name for the holiday is spelled out earlier than the last few psukim! Now like I said earlier, why the huts arent mentioned in Ezra 3 and what the meaning of vayimtzeu katuv is in Neh 8 are difficult on a number of levels but lets not be too glib or too quick with conclusions, the topic of which have burdened scholars for the last many years.

mivami said...

and one more thing: what would motivate Ezra (as you say) to add those psukim and that law? it makes no sense to assume this unless you have a compelling argument for the motivation.

Jewish Atheist said...

Look, the holiday is called Sukkot in the beg of the Lev 23 passage as well as in the passage in Ezra ch. 3 dated to the time of Yehoshua ben Yehotzadak. What could possibly motivate the designation of a holiday by its main (modern) feature? unless that very feature was being observed in that time? They called the holiday Sukkot bec they used to sit in huts for the duration of it!

Well, that's a very good point. I agree that doesn't really make sense that it was called the Feast of Booths (succot) if literal succot weren't part of the observance before Ezra. Understand that I don't know much about the DH and that "Ezra added the last few lines" was my guess based on a brief reading of Friedman. But you're right -- I'd say either Ezra renamed the holiday altogether or he didn't add those lines.

In light of "vayimtzeu katuv," "for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so," and the fact that succot seems to have started as an agricultural holiday with a different name (Chag HaAsif) and no ties to the Exodus, I guess it's possible that Ezra renamed it in addition to adding those psukim. Still "since the days of Joshua" makes it sound like they used to celebrate that way (if only briefly.) So I'm not sure what to think.

what would motivate Ezra (as you say) to add those psukim and that law?

I'm assuming that Ezra was adding from a different source, not that he made it up. His motivation would be to combine the various texts into a single, canonical bible.

Jewish Atheist said...

(texts and oral traditions, possibly.)

jewish philosopher said...

How do explain the Samaritan acceptance of the Torah if Ezra authored it? Didn't they convert before Ezra?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samaritan_Pentateuch

Jewish Atheist said...

jewish philosopher,

I hardly know anything about the Samaritans, but it looks from wikipedia's timeline that they didn't completely split until shortly after Ezra's time. Note that their text has "about two thousand instances" in which it differs from the Jewish Pentateuch, so it's not like they just accepted whatever Ezra (or the Redactor) put together. It does make it seem that the Pentateuch was essentially formed already and not in separate parts when they split off. So it's a good question.

Perhaps you can ask Richard Friedman? There's an email address for him on his webpage: http://literature.ucsd.edu/faculty/rfriedman.cfm

jewish philosopher said...

As far as I know the differences between the Samaritan and Masoretic texts are almost completely spelling errors or a change in a single word. At most they have an extra couple of verses.

In Ezra chapter 4 it is related how the Samaritans offered to help rebuild the Temple, how their offer was rejected and how they then caused a pause in the constrution. They seem to have been entirely independent of the Jews. Only in chapter 7 does Ezra arrive from Babylon.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>As far as I know the differences between the Samaritan and Masoretic texts are almost completely spelling errors or a change in a single word. At most they have an extra couple of verses.

Most are minor, but there are many major differences as well.

Rabban Gamliel said...

It is arbitrary on the part of friedman to argue that Sukkot is added later verse 34 reads "Speak to the people of Israel, saying, The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the Feast of Booths for seven days to the Lord."

Further more than once is Sukkot mentioned past the days of Yehoshua.

Rabban Gamliel said...

">As far as I know the differences between the Samaritan and Masoretic texts are almost completely spelling errors or a change in a single word. At most they have an extra couple of verses.

Most are minor, but there are many major differences as well.

By Mississippi Fred MacDowell, at 7:08 PM, May 14, 2006"

None of which are from DH. Some are sectarian, others are stylish. The Masoretic text as far as language and writing is more ancient (which is a point against late authorship) and the Samaritan text is more updated.

Chaim said...

Basically, to answer the question of: Who wrote the Torah? You have answered that Ezra "redacted" it. This does not answer or even attempt to answer the question. You have only given some challenges to the Mosaic authorship, and have presented a form of the documentary "hypothesis." This "hypothesis" does not give any clue as to who the author(s) was(were). There is evidence of the ancient Israelite people that dates back to Egyptian times. The current body of secular knowledge does not know who wrote the Torah. Also, I might add that there is a big difference between "theory" and "hypothesis." A theory, such as the Theory of Evolution, is given this title because it is deemed to have sufficient evidence to be considered a fact of nature. A "hypothesis" has insufficient evidence to be considered true. Your hypothesis would be as good as mine. Therefore, I might add that the documentary "hypothesis" is not considered to have sufficient evidence to be considered truth.

E-Man said...

JA-

I wish you took Bible at YU. If you have these types of problems with the language used please get in contact with a Rosh Yeshiva named Rabbi Weider, he is a very intellectual person and I think you would enjoy a discussion with him. He teaches about the reason for the different languages in the Torah and not in an apologetic way, rather in a "I have proof from the language in books o the time" type of way. He compares the bible to the code of hammurabi and other akkadian texts. Please start a discussion with him.

I see why you would have problems with Rabbis that just say G-D wrote it and don't listen to you, but I believe Rabbi Weider will be able to connect to you and really answer up all your questions. They are questions, because, as you said, nothing you say is conclusive.