Interview with Prof. Jacob Wright of Emory University

I am amazed that the current discussion about the academic study of the Bible is so uninformed on both sides. Somebody out there must not have read my interview with David Carr, or even tried to read his book.

As background, the problems of the Bible go back to the tenth and eleventh century Islamic critiques of the Bible by Ibn Hazm and others. Second, modern figures such as Spinoza and Jean Astruc sought to understand the Bible as a human book using the same tools that we use to understand Greek and Roman books. And in the 19th century, Wellhausen popularized a theory that the Pentateuch had four authors. But the important part of his theory was that the ritual and priestly material was a priestly Pharisaic digression from the original pure faith of the prophets necessitating Christianity for a restoration. Hence, Solomon Schechter called it higher anti-Semitism, David Zvi Hoffman showed that Leviticus is not in contradiction to the rest of the story, Kaufman showed that the prophets assumed the priestly material, and Cassuto showed based on Sumerian and Akkadian sources that the divisions fail.

Well, Wellhausen was writing a century ago, with the aforementioned defenses all formulated in a post WWI climate. For at least forty years the field was already given to authors such as Gunkel who assumes the Bible is legend, the way Gilgamesh is legend. And Martin Noth who assumed most of the narrative was formulated originally as oral traditions- read here. Questions of redaction were not tied to Wellhausen, or even literary documents, but to oral traditions.

What do historians currently think about the context of the Bible? They assume that it was written between 720 BCE and 587 BCE, between the destruction of the Northern Kingdom destruction of Jerusalem, with some editing until the end of Ezra’s life circa 440 BCE. (Minimalists make it more recent and Evangelicals defend the chronological dates.) They work from parallels to Assyrian texts, the nature of script, linguistics, and reconstructed context of author. Little of this has anything to do with literary doublets. If you want to reject historical criticism, then start learning ancient linguistics and texts contemporary to the Bible. No harmonization of passages changes this dating nor does anything from Cassutto or Hoffman affect it. (However, Prof. Josh Berman is seeking to shift the discussion from Assyrians to the Hittites in 1300 BCE, an effort that may be accepted by the Orthodox but does not promise to have much of an impact on the experts. But it is better than refuting Kugel, who is not a historian of ancient Israel or source critic so the critique does not help.)

This past May there was a major conference at Hebrew University on “Convergence and Divergence in Pentateuchal Theory;” if you are interested in these topics, then that was the place to be. The conference opened up with a clear statement that there are three approaches: a Documentary approach (not based on Wellhausen but on Noth and others) where there are separate documents; a Supplementary approach, where a single document get more and more complex; and a Fragmentary approach, where we cannot separate out authors or layers anymore.

Finally returning to Cassuto, he may have rejected Wellhausen but he accepted historical context, showing that all the numbers and genealogies in Genesis do not correspond to ages and events, rather are stylized number, ten generations, twelve children. He does this by reading the ancient parallels to the Biblical story.

With this background, our blog is delighted to welcome Dr. Jacob L. Wright of Emory University, Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology and the Director of Graduate Studies in Emory’s Tam Institute of Jewish Studies. Wright is considered to be one of the most perspicacious interpreters of biblical literature working in the field today. His first book, Rebuilding Identity: The Nehemiah Memoir and Its Earliest Readers, was awarded a Templeton prize for the best first books in religion and theology. (I hope to have a follow-up post where he describes this book and his forthcoming one.) His bio was covered here at

Wright is a member of a Young Israel congregation:

I’m a member of a Modern Orthodox shul (Young Israel of Toco Hills), and I usually reveal to my audience—whether it be during a shiur or at a Shabbat meal—how various biblical scholars think about the problems posed by the text. Indeed, I think it is condescending and disingenuous not to be forthright in this regard. In my experience, most observant Jews are eager to learn about the fascinating research conducted in biblical studies.

At Emory, Wright has supervised the dissertation of Rabbi Zev Farber who wrote on the traditions behind the book of Joshua.

Wright studied under Prof. Reinhard G.Kratz, who wrote The Composition of the Narrative Books of the Old Testament. Kratz argues that there are long narratives but that they do not coincide with the conventional sources and that they were heavily supplemented.(Since the dating is already assumed to be late, the Orthodox apologists are only proving a later single strong editorial hand when they resolve contradictions.)

1) Why is Cassuto irrelevant for current Biblical historians?
Cassuto’s book, The Documentary Hypothesis and the Formation of the Pentateuch, is a work that many Orthodox Jews read as a response to biblical “higher criticism.” Its value for scholars in biblical studies is however quite limited: The work may contain several valuable insights, but when scholars consult it today, it is primarily from the perspective of the history of research.
Why isn’t it a standard work? There are two basic reasons:

First, most of us in the field are completely convinced that the Torah, and with it, the rest of the Tanakh, is a work of many generations of authors. There are not many points of consensus in biblical studies, but this is certainly one. If, for one reason or another, you’re not willing to accept the Pentateuch’s multi-authorship as a PhD student, you will usually choose a topic that is safe from engagement with these historical concerns.

Second, Cassuto’s book responds to a view of the Pentateuch’s origins that many working in the field today would not embrace. Most have long rejected some of the basic tenets of the Documentary Hypothesis, with its demarcation of four continuous sources and its understanding of Israel’s history that underpins the whole theory.

Some scholars still defend the theory. And many who do are American Jews. The reason why is because the epicenter of research on the Bible’s composition history remains in Continental Europe. Scholars there work with fundamentally different premises from those informing the classical Documentary Hypothesis and comes to much different conclusions from the ones Cassuto has in view in his critique.

So what does this all mean for us? If you read Cassuto as a response to “critical biblical scholarship,” find it all convincing, and then conclude that it’s perfectly reasonable to assume to date the Torah to the time of Moses, you have failed to come to terms with the way that leading scholars for the past three decades have thought about the Torah’s prehistory.

2) Why is the Pentateuch basically ascribed by scholars to the 8th to 6th centuries?
When we trace the Pentateuch’s/Torah’s origins to these centuries, we mean that many of its constituent components were put into writing at this time. These components include the stories of the Patriarchs/Matriarch cycles, the Joseph Novella, the Exodus-Conquest account, and the cores of the law codes (Deuteronomic Code, Holiness Code, and much of the Priestly legislation). The Torah continued to undergo revisions (many of which were quite significant) for the next couple of centuries.
Some of the Torah’s contents may predate these centuries. It seems quite possible that rudimentary legends of the Patriarchs/Matriarchs, of Moses, of Miriam, of Joshua, etc., as well as many of the laws (especially in the so-called Covenant Code) are older than the 8th century.

Why would the basic features of the Torah have assumed literary shape from the late 8th century and thereafter? It is because this is when the states of Israel and Judah faced momentous political challenges.
The Assyrian armies conquered the kingdom of Israel in 722 BCE. The earliest biblical authors realized that if Israel were to survive this political catastrophe, it would be in a new form: as a people without a king. Now the kings of Israel may have been the ones who originally promulgated accounts of Yhwh’s great deeds, such as the Exodus story. After all, Israel’s kings would have seen themselves as the representatives of the state’s chief deity, as was the case in directly neighboring lands. Yet what sets the pace for the formation of the biblical tradition is a demotion of the king and a shift of attention to the people as a whole (“all Israel”) under the aegis of its God. Judahite authors, already before their subjugation to Babylon in 587 BCE, inherit this “demotic” project from Israel.

The Torah is the beginning of a longer history (stretching from Breishit to Melakhim) that tells how Israel emerged and existed for a long time as a people before its kings established centralized states. The history ends with the demise of these states, affirming the central message: All Israel is in direct covenant with its God. Its kings are, accordingly, not essential to its identity and its survival. What’s determinative is the nation’s corporate adherence to the conditions of the covenant (the mitzvot).

This message, which pervades the Torah and the rest of the history, is the reason why the Torah owes its penultimate form to the 8th-6th centuries, the time when Israel and Judah ceased to be ruled by native kings.

3) What function did the Pentateuch have in society that required it to be written?
My response to this question draws directly on the points I made in the preceding one. The Torah assumes the role once played by Israel’s and Judah’s erstwhile kings, who demarcated political borders and sought to establish a collective identity for their subject. In this sense, the Torah is to be seen as a project of re-imagining Israel as a people that owes its origins and survival not to its kings (as the special representatives of the nation’s God), but rather to its God directly, and the covenant between that God and the nation as a whole (mediated solely by a prophet).
The biblical authors were seeking to fashion an unprecedented corporate identity that was able to consolidate and sustain subjugated, dispersed communities. In inventing “a people of the book,” they were guided by the intuition that disparate groups inevitably coalesce into united community as they engage in the reading of a shared text. Their efforts in collecting, editing, and expanding these writings resulted in an exceptionally rich corpus of literature, which attracted dispersed communities of readers and formed them into one people. The Bible’s model of peoplehood embraces a significant measure of diversity, an ideal exemplified in the weaving together of competing ideologies and perspectives. Although Bible is a heavily edited work, it does not speak with a single voice. Instead of one view, the biblical authors set forth a common text.

4) Can you say more about how the origin of the Pentateuch relates to biblical history?
As we can see from early 19th century Germany and Italy, as well as from postbellum America, historians have had a critical role to play in modern political unification. They remind their readers that their fraternity predates the dissension and strife of the present. The goal of the biblical historians however was not to build a large and powerful state. What motivated them was rather the desire to consolidate a fragmented population in the face of discontinuity, displacement, and rupture.
As the first step toward an inclusive national identity, the biblical writers claimed that the states of Israel and Judah have common origins in a united kingdom. It was a great sin that caused this unity to split into two states.

Later generations of biblical authors went much further. Their expanded narrative situated the period of the political union in an extensive family history. In compiling their account, they sought to transcend divisions and demonstrate how ostensibly unconnected pasts are each part of a larger yet nevertheless unified story. The major figures of the Bible—the Patriarchs/Matriarchs, Moses and Miriam, Joshua and Caleb, etc.—represent rival traditions and competing communities. By grafting them into a single family tree and constructing an extensive unbroken narrative, the biblical authors paved the way for the corresponding communities and factions to come together as one people.
This narrative history set a precedent for the formation of other parts of the biblical corpus. The authors of the Pentateuch inserted into the national narrative a body of written laws. They formed this collection, once again, by combining what were originally separate, and in some cases competing, law codes. As we can see in the histories of England and America, the merging of disparate and rival law codes is an important step in the formation of a united people.

5) So what is your take on the Documentary Hypothesis?
As I noted, much of the most important work on the formation of the Pentateuch continues to be conducted in Continental Europe or by scholars directly influenced by their research. Their tendency is to be skeptical about the number of sources that comprise the canonical Torah. Most begin by isolating what belongs to P (the Priestly source) and then proceed to identify what remains as “pre-P,” “post-P,” or a supplement directly to the independent P source. Some are reticent to assign the remaining material to continuous sources or running narratives. Thus, most deny that a pre-P source—either the Yahwist (J source) or the Elohist (E source)—ever connected the Exodus account to the Patriarchal narratives. These two conceptions of Israel’s origins must have competed with each other until a very late point, being brought together for the first time either by P or by circles that directly anticipated P.

The tendency here has been to conceive of the entire Pentateuch in terms of discrete blocks of material that were chained together at late stages. This tendency needs to be held in check though. It seems unlikely that the exodus account ever existed independently from the conquest account found in the Book of Joshua. When God tells Moses in Exod 3:8 that he intends to bring his people from Egypt to another land, the narrative does not reach denouement until that happens under the leadership of Joshua. Hence I cannot accept the proposals that the portions of Exod 1-15 were gradually concatenated with other blocks of materials to form a larger narrative.

Today the traditional Documentary Hypothesis is witnessing a revival among Pentateuchal scholars in America. Thus, the division between the Patriarchal narratives and the Exodus account is now indisputable from a Continental perspective, but is completely dismissed by those who defend the Documentary Hypothesis and has barely been the subject of discussion.

Now there are many cases, especially in portions of Numbers, where we witness overlapping narrative threads. It’s difficult to ascribe these threads to disparate supplements, as Continental scholars are wont to do. Yet it’s also difficult to ascribe these overlapping threads to continuous sources. They surface in discrete episodes, but they don’t seem to be connected from one episode to the next.
It’s noteworthy that the episodes in question are considered by many scholars to be late compositions. What this may mean is that we have something in line with the phenomenon of “Rewritten Bible” from the late Second Temple period: As the Torah began to exert wider influence in the Second Temple period, multiple versions of prominent episodes proliferated. Instead of opting for one or the other recession, later generations incorporated pieces from what was available to them.

6) If I give you a Biblical text, how can you know if it is from the 13th century BCE? 8th century BCE? Or 6th century?
This is a big question, so let’s take one example: Jacob’s departure to Padanaram in Genesis 27-28. The older narrative presents Jacob fleeing after he deceived his father and brother. The later P narrative (Gen 27:46-28:9) offers a much different reason for his voyage: Esau marries Hittite women, and this causes anxiety for Rebekah. In response, Isaac exhorts Jacob to not marry a Canaanite woman and sends him to Rebekah’s family in Padanaram so that he would find a bride among Laban’s daughters.

The differences between these two accounts are easy to discern. And it’s also easy to see how they relate to each other. The P version must be later because it seeks to resolve an issue posed by non-P version: Jacob, the great patriarch of Israel, was not forced to flee for his life after his objectionable behavior in securing his father’s blessing. Rather his father sent him away so that he wouldn’t mimic Esau’s objectionable behavior in marrying Hittite women.
Now some scholars take issue with scholarly consensus by claiming that P was composed before the Babylonian exile (587 BCE). But their arguments fail to convince the majority of experts. In this case, the issue is clear-cut: Intermarriage emerges as a major concern in the post-exilic period (see esp. the Book of Ezra-Nehemiah). Such was not the case when Israel and Judah enjoyed territorial sovereignty.
Embracing a simplistic division of sources, one might argue that a pre-exilic text like Deuteronomy 7 also proscribes intermarriage. But scholars have long argued—for independent reasons!—that that chapter is both late and heavily supplemented.

7) In your Huffington Post piece “The Myth of Moses” on the supplemental additions to the story of Moses, how do you know it is legend and not historically accurate or at least historically based? How do you know, and how can you know, what the ancient readers thought needed rectification?

I don’t know anything for certain. And, more importantly, I don’t think the biblical authors arbitrarily made up stories. Like the makers of later midrashic legends who treated textual difficulties by integrating/harmonizing all the facts of Mikra, the biblical writers were quite conservative. They faced problems in the text, and they sought solutions that address those problems with the least amount of invention.

Thus in the case of Moses, they needed to explain why Israel’s leader has an Egyptian name and grew up at the Egyptian court. (My approach here, it should be noted, reveals the earliest facts about Moses that the biblical authors are working with.) To address the problem, they show that Moses was not an Egyptian, but a good Israelite—and a Levite at that. He bore an Egyptian name and lived at the Egyptian court because there was a problem with his birth. Drawing on a mythic motif that is well attested in the ancient Near East, the biblical authors tell how a Levite man impregnates a Levite woman who already has a daughter. The circumstances surrounding the birth are not clear, as the authors wanted to avoid presenting his parents in an overtly negative light. In any case, Moses is abandoned in the Nile, discovered there by the Pharaoh’s daughter, given a name by her, and then brought to the Egyptian court.

A later generation of readers/authors had problems with this explanation, since it presents the nation’s venerated leader as the product of what seem to be illicit relations. Acting conservatively, they did not eradicate the earlier account but revised it by composing a preface to the story. Now we know that Moses’s mother didn’t abandon him because of issues with his birth. Rather, the Egyptian king ordered that all Israelite male newborns be tossed into the Nile. His mother technically complies with the king’s orders, since he had said nothing about placing the boys in life preservation devices before depositing them in the Nile.

The secondary preface is clever, yet it doesn’t completely eradicate the problems and it creates new ones. For example, it’s strange that the Egyptian princess recognizes that Moses is a Hebrew child but can get away with raising him at the court when the king had decreed the death of all Hebrew male infants. Also the new preface doesn’t explain the origins of Moses’s sister: the text suggests that he is the first child produced by the union of his father and mother. As to be expected, the rabbis recognized the problem, and they added another layer of interpretation—the story of Moses’s sister, now explicitly identified as the prophetic figure Miriam, chastising her father for refusing to have sexual relations with her mother after the Pharaoh’s decree.

So what my interpretation does is reveal how the problems with the identity of the historical Moses provoked a progression of literary solutions, from the earliest biblical authors to Chazal. This approach does a much better job of explaining the complexities of the text than the attempt to isolate three separate sources that emerged in absolute isolation from each other, as defenders of the Documentary Hypothesis argue. Perhaps many of your readers will find the solution offered by Chazal to be even better than mine.

8) How can one be a shomer Torah uMizvot and accept historical criticism?
Our aim should be to embrace the truth instead of engaging in apologetics. There’s absolutely no doubt in the academic community that the Torah emerged over time. One should not think that scholars in biblical studies are out to destroy faith. If some within our communities have trouble with the findings of experts (whether it be in the natural sciences or biblical studies), then they need to deal with it, instead of looking for some marginal defense attacking outdated versions of the Documentary Hypothesis written by people who know very little about current Pentateuchal research.

Let me assure you: there are many of us who are firmly committed to living a life of shomer torah umitzvot, and who are not at all bothered by the historical origins of the Torah and, indeed, have an even deeper awe and reverence for the Torah because of these historical origins.

Why is that the case? Put most succinctly, when we understand how the biblical authors responded to catastrophic defeat and destruction by developing a very sophisticated road map for the future, by reinventing Israel in many ways, and by creating what we now take for granted as nationhood we can’t help being in deeper awe of the Torah’s power and potential to keep deeply divided communities on the same “daf” and to offer them a vision of hope for the future. That is, after all, what drives the biblical project: bringing together rival communities to form a common people. And that explains why the biblical authors overcame the elitist temptation of choosing just one law code or one tradition of Israel’s origins, and instead synthesized competing law codes and traditions to form a common law collection and narrative history (even if it meant including many contradictions and tensions between these formerly independent writings).
The Torah is not divine. HaShem is, and “hu Ehad.” Is the Torah authoritative? Absolutely. But is it divine? No.

109 responses to “Interview with Prof. Jacob Wright of Emory University

  1. Thank you for an interesting post.
    But although you are no doubt right that debate on BC is widely uninformed online, although not so much on this blog, I don’t feel very illuminated by your post. Perhaps this is because space precludes, but much of it reads as assertion. To feel informed, I would like to see assertion and an argument from the evidence. Your main thrust that the compilation of the Torah was due to political challenge is stimulating, but I see little argument based on evidence. This makes me think that a) it is there but you don’t have the inclination/time to include it – how about some references for example, or b) it’s not really there, that the field is in fact just assertion. No doubt the answer is somewhere in between, but the way you write it makes me think it is skewed more towards b than a. I am reminded of Jerry Fodor’s comparison of the theory of natural selection to history. He says we can argue for the reasons for historical events/processes in all sorts of ways – you might say for example that Thatcherism arose in the UK due to the winter of discontent, globalization, rampant growth of individualism, a reawakening of Keynsiasm, Thatcher’s personality and drive…take your pick…Fodor argues there is no counterfactual available to say what was the actual reason, so you can make a story, but to say that you can say in any definitive way what the reason is is nonsensical. This line of reasoning looms large when I read your post (although I don’t think inter alia Fodor is quite right on the comparison to natural selection).

    I also wonder about your amazing claim that it leads to a deeper awe for Torah, although I wholeheartedly agree that we need to engage with the truth and not apologetics (but neither should we assume the argument is done without actually hearing it). Nowhere in your post do you really mention an active God. That an active personal God has commanded us through revelation in the truth in both thought and deed is at the heart of normative Judaism, and both the written and oral Torah. If BC takes that away (and I agree that it does, although I think that comparative religion makes the case, not the arguments you construct here, at least to the extent that you lay them out in the post), then you have a very big argument, discussed very much elsewhere on this blog, as to what is left. Your almost casual dismissal of this issue is troubling.

    Let me give you an example that applies to the majority of Am Yisrael, if not to, without meaning to be overly pejorative, and of course I know little about your position on this per se – only how it would likely be interpreted by many, a few in the academy who can engage in philoosphical acrobatics to match their theology to their emotional attachment to practice –

    In the OJ community in which I live, for one reason or another, my wife and I feel rather isolated and unwelcome. We are looking forward to the forthcoming 3 x 3 days of Yomtov with some trepidation – 3×3 days of feeling lonely. My cousin in another town, who is traditional, but not fully religious, has asked us to come and stay for one of the 3×3. If we go, we will have no doubt to break Yomtov in many small ways, but will have a much happier time. Now a commanded version of OJ can provide a rationale for not having the happy time and being lonely. Can you explain to me exactly how your view of a Torah which is a response to a several thousand year old political imperative, even with the other features you mention, could be a rational reason to choose being lonely? And of course, this little microcosm of my experience, replicated millions of times by other real people in real somewhat similar situations, is why your argument for a BC based orthodoxy is difficult to sustain. Indeed, it begs the question why on earth bother to maintain it in is present form, which leads us, it would seem by my lime of argument quite correctly, in the footsteps of the Conservative movement…

  2. Did any of these illustrious scholars read Rabbi Yossi Avivi’s kabbalistic essay on documentary hypothesis? It was never printed but it was circulated some 30 years ago. It rings much more jewish than anything these professors have to say and answers some very fundamental questions like the different names of God. I doubt they ever read it.

    I doubt there is a single scholar of the Veda who doesn’t know Hinduism. Why is it different here?

    • Shaya,
      The situation is much worse in the study of Indian religions, where the scholars are still Christian and Jewish.

      To the person who still comments with a mallinator account,
      Get a an email I can verify in an google search and a stable IP.

    • Hi Shaya

      I would be most grateful for any pointers on obtaining R. Avivi’s essay on the Documentary Hypothosesis. Thanks.

  3. Yes, you’re so right, Shaya. I should have read his kabbalistic essay on the documentary hypothesis before I even read the Torah itself.

  4. Reblogged this on Zwinglius Redivivus and commented:
    Jacob is such an interesting guy, and smart too. Read the whole interview.

  5. I thoroughly enjoyed this post from the introduction to the end of the interview. The ending left me a bit unsatisfied.

    I think the issue here is this: If the Torah is not divine, why would someone keep it? It’s that simple. If, as others have alleged, the Torah is divine in origin but there are portions that have been added by later prophets in their own voice, the Torah still demands our attention. But if it is merely a document that was written to justify or inspire an ancient people, why should anyone care what it tells us to do?

    • The existence of observant Jews who don’t believe in the divinity of the Torah is, at this point, a widespread observable fact. I’d suggest that progress could come from better understanding the religious personalities of these Jews who don’t believe in the divinity of the Torah.

    • Thanks Eliyahu. That statement should be understood in the traditional sense: only God is divine. The Torah has divine origins but is itself not divine. I made this statement to correct a categorical failure that many make in their talk about the Torah. Also, in practice, Jews often end up worshipping the Torah. The Torah should be revered and loved and enjoyed. But it’s not to be worshipped and treated as if it were not different from God.

      • Well I can agree with that but I think you need to strengthen your argument for shmiras Torah u’mitzvos.

      • Look at the conversation at Gideon Slifkin’s [Facebook] page regarding this blog. I go into the details there.

      • Jacob- Most of the comment thread cannot be seen to those who are not friends, or at least friends of friends. You may want to cut and past it here.

      • I’ve never met anybody who worshiped the tora. That certainly doesn’t seem to be a problem in the yeshvish community. 🙂 Maybe I don’t understand what you mean.

        But my probelm (and perhaps R’ Fink’s) is that once you make all the claims you do (and I know it’s not just you, but you’re kind enough to talk to the rest of us), where is G-d at all? You say He is One, but what experience do the Jews ever have with G-d if it is all myth invented by the Jewish kings (I admit my bias is that I don’t buy anything you wrote above–am k’she oref hu–, but I am still very interested in what people who do can/should believe)?

      • Dear David,
        I fear that some really do worship the Torah. It’s an issue that’s related to the problems with biblical criticism. But I agree: it diverts us from the subject at hand.
        As for what one must believe and how one can do it, these are huge questions that I wish to treat in a follow up piece that Alan Brill has asked me to write. I’m very busy right now. But in the meantime I would say:

        When you daven with kavvanah, you will affirm the meanings at a very deep level. Sometimes of course you will not. Minds tend to wander. But the performance of mitzvot and tefillah often brings our minds to deep reflection on the affirmations that have sustained us across centuries. That is their primary function. They’re there also, I think, to be argued about and debated. But when all is said and done, what’s most important is that we come together and do. naaseh ve-nishma. The understanding follows the doing.

      • David Z,
        Let me play devil’s advocate-
        Is God only experienced in the Moshe narrative? Is there no ongoing and living relationship with God?
        An now that you know that some people treat the text as myth, what are you affirming? It is not history or God in your life.
        if it is just faith, then why does history matter?
        Prof. Wright did not say it was myth but those in the 8th century who felt that God spoke to their people and that a scripture should be created to preserve this covenantal relationship. Why does it matter if the experience was in the 13th or 8th century BCE?
        If you were there in 13th century BCE as a sociologist (or bystander or Bedouin), you would not be able to say there was a communication from God, only that a leader of a bunch of slaves taught a set of laws from the mountain– you would still need the requisite faith. So why the difference?
        If historians say one thing and you disagree and affirm something else but you and your friends are not historians, so what are you affirming but personal faith?

      • With all due respect, Prof Brill, your comment to David Z is shocking in its not grasping the core issue. The core issue is whether the generation of the desert had an experience that was *unmistakably* God’s intervening in history (to sanctify Israel as his instrument for bringing His name into the world). To believe that the Torah’s account is true is emphatically to reject your characterization– of “a leader of a bunch of slaves taught a set of laws from the mountain.” Those who were there would not have “need(ed) the requisite faith.” Their experience (not just Sinai but other miracles like the crossing of the sea and the manna) would have *instilled* it in them (even if they then behaved like bratty children. Believing that one’s parent can punish them does not make children behave well!). That these God-helps-man experiences happened in historical time is core to Judaism. To deny that they happened is to depart from traditional Jewish faith. (Though to be clear: struggle with one’s belief in these events is only human!)

      • EWZS-
        That is exactly what I wanted to put on the table. In order to focus David Z’s question, I wanted to shift the discussion away from the discussion of historical and scholarship and to ask: So David What are you looking for? We have had lots of comments pro/con scholarship. But you now provided what you are looking for: A position like Ramban, that God took us out from Egypt in a way that violated nature and gave self-evident and observable miraculous events that show there is a power over creation.
        But now we are having a different discussion because there are other opinions out there about the Exodus and its miracles, including opinions by Rationalists that would not share your formulation.
        Second, what does it mean to be true when you accept it on faith? A Ramban “you shall tell your children of the miracles”?
        That is very different from a Maimonidean halakhah that affirms “that God give prophecy to humans” as a meta-consciousness available even today.
        And finally when Prof. Wright says the story was based on “sacred legends” as shown by Gunkel and Noth- where is the problem with a theory of legends? Do you just return to faith?
        Prof. Berman is attempting to argue history knowing that there is no way to prove the Exodus, based on philology and historical context. I was asking David Z- what is his argument about since it is not history. Without doing the historical work like Prof. Berman, it is theology-not history. You have answered and shifted to the Ramban.

      • Interesting reply, Prof. Brill. If it was bait to hook a fish, I’m happy to be that fish.

        Yes, I am assuming something like the Ramban’s position, or that of R. Yehuda Halevi. And many others.

        I don’t see this traditional belief, which sees Judaism as rooted in historical events, as compatible with either a reinterpretation in terms of legends or the attempt to rationalize away supernatural events as natural. These are simply not the traditional interpretations, they are not pshat*, and amcha rightly regards them as dilutions of what makes our core beliefs compelling.

        (* I find rationalists’ attempts to naturalize miracles to be interesting in that they reflect a recognition that the Torah’s account otherwise rings true. But it is clearly not pshat that these were natural events. Benno Jacob has a good discussion of various attempts to rationalize the manna that speak to this. It is interesting to try and relate the manna to plants growing in the Sinai, but it is definitely not pshat that the manna was natural. Interestingly, Jacob suggests that the manna was given an ironic name- greeting the initial discovery with “man hu” was meant to record how the Israelites *erroneously* associated the manna with desert plants. And then they institutionalized the misnomer. I’m not saying that this interpretation is right, but it’s as good as anyone else’s attempt at exegesis here)

        I should note that the question of whether Judaism’s core beliefs are rooted in a belief that certain events actually happened in history is distinct from whether we have a warrant to hold such beliefs. Traditionally, the warrant came from mesorah. And HaLevi went so far as to argue that the very continuity of this mesorah was self-verifying (Let’s not get into whether this is a good proof or not; my experience is that such debates are all heat and no light because it is very hard to get people to focus on the most compelling formulations of the proof and assess its strengths and weaknesses). As for those who look to science, I think it’s clear that there is an absence of evidence, but little evidence of absence. (I’ll note here that Prof Wright’s statements about the lack of widespread writing prior to the early mid first millenium BCE certainly are about absence of evidence, and they rub uneasily with Prof Berman’s demonstration of similarity between the Torah’s covenantal genre and that of Hittite treaties from a much closer time period to the traditional dating of the Exodus. So let’s just say צריך עיון).

        Another note is that the idea that Judaism does not rest on historical claims also rubs uneasily with the recognition that the Torah can be argued to be a revolutionary document in its linear conception of history rather than the cyclical conception that dominated the ancient near east (and arguably dominated western civilization till the modern period). (See Sarna, Exploring Exodus, p. 85; So it’s pretty weird to say that the Judaism does not involve beliefs about history when the Torah is revolutionary in how its emphasis on history!

        Finally, I will defer to you with regard to the Rambam. I would think the yud-gimel ikarim imply a particular belief in history, but of course there are the debates as to whether Rambam actually held by these ikarim or they were just for the masses. And from my limited knowledge (largely from Micha Goodman’s excellent gloss of the Moreh) accords with your statement that the Rambam does not emphasize history as much as others.

        Gmar hatima tova

      • Thank you. Now let David Z give a similar statement of his views and we can begin to see what really counts. I believe his version pivoted more on access to God than your answer.

        Your distinction between belief in a certain event and the warrant to hold such beliefs is quite useful. We should also however distinguish between a theory of history and the philological/contextual study of history. History for Halevi is providential relationship with the activities of a certain people, not the study of the past. His warrant is indeed the reliable tradition using the Islamic science of judging the reliability of a text by its tradition (AR. silsila), not philological work.
        Since you were kind enough to respond fully, how about continuing the discussion? R. Hasdai Crescas distinguishes between principles of faith that are a-priori and those that are a-posteriori from Rabbinic literature. An example of the former is prophecy and of the latter the power of teshuvah. Which statements in this discussion are a-priori and which are a-posteriori? And which are optional beliefs like shedim or gilgul?
        What is required for each of the 3 categories? The fire and smoke of Sinai? a transforming event? “let me see wonders from your Torah”? A hidden soul of Torah? black fire on white fire?
        In the same Crescas line of thought, notice that he lists the special prophecy of Moshe and not many of the elements that have come up in this discussion. I mention this because Rav Shlomo Fisher of Itri put out an edition of Or Hashem and at the same time does not consider historicity is the a principle, therefore not having a reaction against historical criticism.
        Finally, in your third paragraph you denigrate legend but what if I ask the question as: how about a distinction between the event and the recording of the event. You can call the remembrance of the event as legend or you can think of it as transmission or “mesorah.” This is why the citation from R. Yosef Tov Elem is playing a role in the discussions.

      • Hmm… interesting reply, and again getting out of my range (I haven’t read Crescas, Fisher, or the Zafenet Paanaech) so I apologize that I can’t respond intelligently on them. However, I will say three things: (a) A rough distinction can be made between pshat and drash. Last time I checked, shedim and gilgulim are not pshat. They are out. (b) That said, it seems to me where we’re getting to a point here where Potter Stewart’s famous line about pornography applies. It is impossible to precisely define an event such that everyone would agree what elements are necessary and what are contingent for us to agree that the event occurred (we can apply a parallel set of questions to yours regarding any event, whose historicity is important to us– e.g., the Holocaust). The idea is that if we were there, it would have been unmistakeable. And the mesorah passes on this experience of unmistakeable experience of God’s intervention. (c) With regard to your last question on legends, I think what matters is, if we could transport the recipient of the transmission to the time and place of the supposed event (were we to know it…), would they experience the event as it has been transmitted to him? Core Jewish belief is such that it is open to such falsification, however impossible to effect. (Obviously, this kind of falsification does not provide a strong warrant for belief! But it does not make the belief less historically-rooted). If that’s what how you’re defining legend then I guess it’s kosher. If it’s like King Arthur, then no.

      • The fact that you bring up the Holocaust is a valuable point. In court room trials only the testimony of historians has any value. Survivor memory is seen as tainted, incorrect or a false memory reconstructed later. In trials of Deborah Lipstadt vs David Irving, it was the historians who were seen as credible, Even in the Eichmann trial, the survivors and Salo Barron were for the drama and show, but the prosecution rested only on the historians.
        The trauma and confused memory of survivors tends to make every prison guard Mengele and to confuse their personal experience with the stories of their friends and from TV. You may want to look at the Cornell historian Dominick LaCapra’s “Representing the Holocaust” who presents the best articulation of why first hand holocaust stories are trauma narrative and not history. Wiesel and his followers have this theological line that if you were there it was unmistakable, immediate, and inexpressible. Most philosophers, historians, and theologians disagree. Wiesel stresses memory- the need to always remember. But memory is not history- there is a long list of works on this distinction.

        Concerning Sinai, most theological positions emphasize the content of prophecy, not the event. If we are adding to the medieval philosophers, what are the new ikkarim of Sinai?
        You dismiss shedim as not peshat, but how much of 19:16-18 is requisite belief? It was not part of their ikkarim but all the rishonim discussed the need for a kavod and for a kol nivra, a created Divine voice.
        On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain[b] trembled violently.

        How much of the visceral historic claims made by commentors on Wright are peshat? how much traditional drush? how much modern drush? Those who quoted Zohar on this thread, may be more traditional and may need to be part of our definition.

      • Interesting. But I think you are confusing the two issues I distinguished above and which you agreed were distinct: (a) whether a belief is rooted in history [such that if we could be transported to a particular time and place, it could be verified whether the event took place or not]; and (b) whether we have a warrant for holding a particular belief about history. What you write about our warrant for believing in (the very fuzzy concept of “the Holocaust”) is separate from whether it is a belief in a historical event. Clearly, it’s the latter even if it’s bedeviled by the challenge of providing sufficient warrant, esp when we want to uphold “the Holocaust” rather than more concrete events such as whether there was a death camp called Treblinka.

        As for how much of 19:16-18 is requisite belief, I can’t say. I think then we’re back to Potter Stewart’s problem (and may G-d forgive me for the analogy). There is a description of some kind of mass revelation occurred and a mesorah that it was experienced as such. The claim is that if we were transported to that time and place, we would experience the same thing and interpret it the same way. Beyond that, I do not know.

        As for drush and the Zohar (is it part of mesorah? yikes), I think that is debatable. I would think that we generally maintain the distinction, but hard to say how much consensus there would be on it. For instance, I think that if we were transported back to Sinai and found that lo and behold, G-d really only said Zachor and not Shamor (and then we found that forty years later, Moshe was really giving a gloss that was geared towards the next generation), this would not be a problem for traditional belief. Of if we found out that the manna really did not taste like whatever you wanted it to taste like. Or if we found that the Avot did not keep the mitvot. None of these would be real problems for traditional belief, I shouldn’t think. Etc. Etc. Put differently, pshat is at the core, drush on the periphery of what is believed to have occurred.

      • I guess I am still stuck on your Potter Stewart methodology as not being the Rishonim. They either defined axioms based on a-priori necessity, correspondence to Hazal, a-posteriori inference, polemics, or exegesis. I dont see the Potter Stewart method in the Rishonim. They certainly did not take the lay person or representational immediacy as their criteria. And i dont see that method used in similar legal cases such as medical ethics.

        Even Rihal does not use Potter Stewart’s method- see his discussion here. He does not saw that we need to affirm the events as able to return in a time machine. If you formulate Rihal as Potter Stewart then it would be a novel formulation.

        19. The Rabbi: If thou wert told that the king of India was an excellent man, commanding admiration, and deserving his high reputation, one whose actions were reflected in the justice which rules his country and the virtuous ways of his subjects, would this bind thee to revere him?

        20. Al Khazari: How could this bind me, whilst I am not sure if the justice of the Indian people is natural, and not dependent on their king, or due to the king or both?

        21. The Rabbi: But if his messenger came to thee bringing presents which thou knowest to be only procurable in India, and in the royal palace, accompanied by a letter in which it is distinctly stated from whom it comes, and to which are added drugs to cure thy diseases, to preserve thy health, poisons for thy enemies, and other means to fight and kill them without battle, would this make thee beholden to him?

        22. Al Khazari: Certainly. For this would remove my former doubt that the Indians have a king. I should also acknowledge that a proof of his power and dominion has reached me.

        23. The Rabbi: How wouldst thou, then, if asked, describe him?

        24. Al Khazari: In terms about which I am quite clear, and to these I could add others which were at first rather doubtful, but are no longer so.

        25. The Rabbi: In this way I answered thy first question. In the same strain spoke Moses to Pharaoh, when he told him:’The God of the Hebrews sent me to thee,’ viz. the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For Abraham was well known to the nations, who also knew that the divine spirit was in contact with the patriarchs, cared for them, and performed miracles for them. He did not say: ‘The God of heaven and earth,’ nor ‘my Creator and thine sent me.’ In the same way God commenced His speech to the assembled people of Israel:’I am the God whom you worship, who has led you out of the land of Egypt,’ but He did not say:’I am the Creator of the world and your Creator. Now in the same style I spoke to thee, a Prince of the Khazars, when thou didst ask me about my creed. I answered thee as was fitting, and is fitting for the whole of Israel who knew these, things. first from personal experience, and afterwards through uninterrupted tradition, which is equal to the former.

      • Sorry Prof Brill, but either I’m not up to the task or we are just talking past each other. (Too bad because, while I really don’t have the time for this, it has been a pleasure and an honor to engage with you, and I’m learning a tremendous amount; thank you).

        I don’t see how the Rishonim are out of synch with Potter Stewart. The issue seems to be ontological, not epistemological. How do we define/bound/describe an historical event? I would think that like Stewart, most people operate with some kind of pragmatic approach to this question, and this includes the Rishonim. I also don’t see how that excerpt from the Kuzari supports your point.

        (It also happens not to be the most strongly argued sugya. After all, Pharaoh didn’t exactly show signs of recognizing or “revering” the G-d of the Hebrews. It took ten makot to get him to heel! And in the next pasuk, he disses Him by increasing Israel’s workload! [Moreover, the previous two psukim [this is Shmot 5:1-2] have Pharaoh saying he doesn’t recognize Y-K-V-K the G-d of Israel. I guess maybe HaLevi is saying that since Pharaoh doesn’t challenge Moshe and Aharon when they switch to “G-d of the Hebrews,” this implies that he recognizes *that* name (from Yosef’s days? Though this king’s predecessor didn’t know Yosef!!). Interesting pshat maybe, but I don’t see the relevance.

      • Ok, if you ever want to continue, then I may turn it into a new post.
        ketiva ve-chatima tovah, a gut kvitl

      • Ok. tsom kal

  6. I’d just like to critique his example of Yaakov’s flight. If we treat the characters as real humans, the difficulty vanishes. In fact, we don’t have to go so far: The text is pretty explicit. *Rivka* hears that Esav wants to kill Yaakov; she tells Yitzchak that she doesn’t like the intermarriage (human element added by me: She doesn’t want to tell Yitzchak what’s really going on, for obvious reasons); *Yitzchak* tells Yaakov to go marry a clan member. Either the Redactor was really, really, good, or the story doesn’t really contain any contradiction.

    • Wonderful observations Nachum! I wish I had you in my classroom! This is in fact a good reason one might name for claiming that what is called “P” is a redactional layer skillfully composed to reframe the older narrative, instead of an independent source meant to be read as an alternative to the older narrative. There is still some discussion on this very issue. The reason why I think this case supports those who see P as an independent document is because it can be read very well on its own. It is also not little pieces here and there added to the text in the supplementary fashion that we witness in cases of (light) redactions.

      • Why thank you! I see your point; I’m just saying that it’s possible that the original story (if, of course, one concedes that there *was* an original story) might have contained both elements. It reminds me of the response to the claim that the Korach story has different strands- that that is, after all, the nature of rebellions, with a bunch of differing elements joining together.

        Of course, there are places where it makes much more sense to say that different stories were woven together- the Flood, for example, or the sale of Yoseph. I just think this particular example isn’t as clear-cut.

  7. walter benjamin

    “If the Torah is not divine, why would someone keep it? ”

    One could apply this theory to the Quran also. Aside from the Quran there are the Vedas and Buddhistic writing etc. unless we are the only ones who have the ‘real’ truth.

    • You misunderstood the point. Of course it applies to the Koran et al. The point he was making is, “if one does not believe the Torah is divine, why keep it?” – ie. if you think it’s fiction, it’s essentially a fairy-tale. Why bother keeping kosher?

      • I would distinguish a couple of things here Alexander. TMS can also mean Torah min-HaShamayim, which is actually the older formulation that we find in the Mishnah. What does that mean? That the Torah is revealed, but the manner of revelation is not stipulated. So we still have the divine origins of the Torah. But let me say this: even if we don’t, keeping the Mitzvot still makes sense. Even Kashrut has a powerful social power. I would discourage you from making this an all-or-nothing game.

  8. I thought it was a very powerful interview, and well-written. The final statement packs a punch, and may seem controversial, but I think it articulates an important message: only HaShem is divine, and one; this is what we assert in the Shma. We don’t venerate the Torah, but we do observe and fulfil, learn and teach it lovingly. In our family we believe in Torah min hashamayim, but hold that belief in careful tension with the findings of historical critics. It can be a fine line at times.

  9. Thanks Eliyahu. That statement should be understood in the traditional sense: only God is divine. The Torah has divine origins but is itself not divine. I made this statement to correct a categorical failure that many make in their talk about the Torah. Also, in practice, Jews often end up worshipping the Torah. The Torah should be revered and loved and enjoyed. But it’s not to be worshipped and treated as if it were not different from God.

  10. Doniel Ehrenreich

    I want to reiterate and strengthen Eliyahu Fink’s question: To borrow a phrase from the legal field, what do we do in ‘hard cases’. It’s all well and good to have Shabbat meals and shake a lulav, but what would we have told an early 20th century Jew who would’ve gotten fired for taking off Shabbat? Are the Torah’s dictates worth putting one’s livelihood or happiness (say, regarding whom to marry or not) on the line? If divine, yes. If not? No matter how compelling a tradition, absent a divine source for a command, allegiance can only go so far.

    • First of all, Doniel, I maintain that the Torah is of divine origin. But to argue maximally: We do many things that put our life at risk without having to know that they are dictated directly by God. The fundamental reason why people keep the mitzvot throughout the course of their lives and over generations is because they find inherent meaning in them. If they do not, even if they deem them to be dictated by God, they stop keeping them. This goes for any authority structure: Fiat commands without any real meaning are kept for only so long. The fact that God is the Metzaveh only sweetens the deal. But it’s certainly not a deal breaker.

      • Doniel Ehrenreich

        Thank you very much for your response. We could go down this road forever, so just one more: without a divine mitzaveh, according to your approach, why would anyone keep chukim?

      • Doniel, one should keep them both because they are pronounced by God and because they have inherent value and meaning. When I say “pronounced by God” though, I am not going to jettison all of my mental faculties and say that the entire Torah was spoken from a cloud that hovered over Mt. Sinai. The biblical authors never expected that their readers would take them literally. And many of the greatest rabbinic thinkers throughout history reveal in their writing that they understand how this literature is meant to work (i.e., not to be taken in a simplistic, literal, sense).

  11. Definition of DIVINE
    Merriam Webster: 1 a : of, relating to, or proceeding directly from God or a god
    OED: 2. Given by or proceeding from God; having the sanction of or inspired by God.

    • So is all creation divine? The conventional meaning of the term is not “inspired by God” but that it *shares* God’s divinity. To be theologically judicious and monotheistic, nothing shares in God’s divinity and unity. All of creation is from God. As is the Torah. That’s much different than to say that they are actually somehow part of God.

  12. When you speak of someone as “refuting Kugel,” which Kugel do you mean? The Kugel whom you critique there: or the Kugel whom you interviewed here: ? Or am I wrong in thinking that your representation of them appears different (granting that even an interview is a representation shaped by the interviewer)?

    • Amos,
      Neither my critique nor my interview touched on the historical question or the redaction question. Discussions of theology and need to avoid naturalism and primitivism are about what is sacred in sacred scripture- they are not are history or redaction. There are those in greater discussion going on the many websites who will refute a theological position of Tamar Ross or James Kugel and think they are challenging historical criticism.

      • That makes sense. Thank you for clarifying for me, Alan. I greatly enjoyed this post and others linked to it, as well as the earlier interview with Kugel. I appreciate the importance of distinguishing these very different discussions (theological vs. historical/critical). For many readers, however, certain historical conclusions should also lead to particular theological positions, just as certain “facts” or “inferences” about the world (the classic case: “if I cross the street on road, a car may hit me”) should guide our decisions. It thus seems important to describe the nature of the knowledge that a particular approach provides. Okay, I have probably obfuscated more than clarified the initial question, but I will throw this bottle in the sea for now.

  13. Alan – thank you for an informative and intelligent post. Your intro/”background” is very useful (more informative on many issues not covered by your david carr post) to the ignorant masses (including myself) that i would recommend a separate and expanded post covering the current state of MBS where there is consensus and where there is not (why and different schools of thoughts and where religious beliefs may play a role) and orthodox answers (and like this post why they do not work (or solves the problems) in the current climate of thought). not all scholars are created or thought of as equal – a scorecard would be useful (based on some objectivity if possible). I always find it odd that people(religious) will accept critical methods and analysis for neveim and ketuvim (or later works) but not the pentateuch.

    Jacob – do orthodox bible scholars fall into an specific train of thought or school? is it more geographic – israel, continental europe…

  14. I was also surprised (like i believe the first commenter) that the answer to “Why is the Pentateuch basically ascribed by scholars to the 8th to 6th centuries?” did not begin with reasons (linguistic, historical, cultural, whatever) why it is implausible to attribute an earlier (or later) date. The fact that one can come up with a good reason why it would have made sense for the torah to emerge at time X is not quite the same as evidence that it did not emerge at time Y.
    This seems to play straight into the hands of those who argue that “bible critics begin with anti-traditional assumptions and that’s the only reason they reach the conclusions they do.” Further, though I am not well versed in this field I believe there are scholarly reasons to believe not just that an 8th-6th century date makes sense, but that an earlier one does not, making it even stranger not to see such reasons here.

    • THanks MBG. But this is an interview. Not an academic essay. I was trying to explain why the Bible basically emerged during this time. The reason why we cannot date it earlier involves a much more technical discussion. But the most important one is that large scale writing begins in Israel and Judah in the 9th cent. and thereafter.

  15. Prof Wright –

    “The fundamental reason why people keep the mitzvot throughout the course of their lives and over generations is because they find inherent meaning in them. If they do not, even if they deem them to be dictated by God, they stop keeping them. This goes for any authority structure: Fiat commands without any real meaning are kept for only so long. The fact that God is the Metzaveh only sweetens the deal. But it’s certainly not a deal breaker.”

    An interesting assertion that generations do things because they find inherent meaning in them..
    It’s also certainly a truism and for example fits quite well with Mead I think.
    Yet I think that Mead would argue that the internal meaning cannot be split
    off quite as easily as this answer supposes from the existing meaning in society, and this existing meaning is predicated on a belief system with an active personal God at its centre. Take that away, and the internal meaning must be re-evaluated by the individual. Putting it another way, God is the Metzaveh does not just sweeten the deal, it is the deal, even though it’s bound up with a whole lot of other symbols and meanings. It’s bound up so tight, you can’t just pull away a divinely commanding God and have anything left that is meaningful in the same way. For example, a quite natural reaction might be to look Judaism without evidence of a unified divine TMS and an active God, see all the other symbols around you of modernism, and think, I was duped by all my silly religious teachers, I’ll go off and become a secularist, or a humanist…oh wait…that was the Enlightenment and the Reform Movement…

    Also, it is certainly true that people do all sorts of things which “put their life at risk” or are difficult. But that doesn’t mean they should or need to, or that it makes any sense for them to do so , or there is any good reason for them to do so. Again, you are assuming that there is some coherent independent meaning to it all without an active God, and I don’t think you can make that case very easily on sociological grounds that make sense to the modern 21st century mind. if it didn’t work for (how knows how many) thousands in the 19th century and 20th centuries, why on earth would it work now when the grip of modernism and science is so much stronger?

    • This is very helpful, esp. the Mead bit. But most of us lay teffilin not because we are commanded but because it is the way we join together in collective commemoration of the determinative moments in our history and ponder our life and history.

  16. The earliest biblical authors realized that if Israel were to survive this political catastrophe, it would be in a new form: as a people without a king. … Yet what sets the pace for the formation of the biblical tradition is a demotion of the king and a shift of attention to the people as a whole (“all Israel”) under the aegis of its God. Judahite authors, already before their subjugation to Babylon in 587 BCE, inherit this “demotic” project from Israel.

    A couple questions about this.
    1) Over the course of human history, thousands of nations have been conquered and lost their independence. Why did none of them choose that particular moment to embark on a project similar to the writing of the Bible?
    2) We see from the book of Jeremiah that there was a large faction that believed that no matter what the Judaic God would prevent the kingdom from being conquered and destroyed. Jeremiah argued against this, and was persecuted for doing so. This seems quite in contrast with the idea that Judahite authors were so obsessed with an inevitable destruction that their religion had to be completely restructured in order to cope with it. What gives?

    [AB- I got your note at end.]

    • Important questions!
      The notion of Israel as a people develops in the large and diverse state of Israel. Israel’s state is then wiped out, and the king is removed from the picture, giving way to new notion of nationhood. Judah picks up on this discourse and develops it during a tumultous century. Much of the Bible’s thought develops at this time, when many in Judahite society were confident that could hold on to their territorial sovereignty and insisted on resistance. They faced those like Jeremiah who opposed this view and paved the path for the day after, taking the project (nation in direct covenant with its God) to a new level.

  17. Jacob – “then they need to deal with it” if your commitment to torah u’mitzvot is not connected to historical fact of revelation and God’s general authorship then what what makes the torah authoritative (actually hazal’s interpretation of it)? is its general acceptance (plus divine origin)- no different than the acceptance(ex the divine to most) of the shulchan arukh? you may have awe for the historical origins but why would it compel you to keep mitzvot that have no understanding or some you might feel are outdated? divine origin- can you expand on that – any specific part or there “was a handoff” at some point in time

    ” The fundamental reason why people keep the mitzvot throughout the course of their lives and over generations is because they find inherent meaning in them.” i am not sure if this is historically correct w/o the belief of being dictated by God to moshe and revelation.Through the ages we attempt to find meaning above what is written but in the end its God’s word to the jewish people that people(not only jews) believed in and martyr themselves for.
    btw, great interview.

    • What makes most of the things in all our lives authoritative is an inherited order. If one lives in a Jewish community, then one embraces the order and rituals and symbols of that community. One need not make everything a deep theological problem. It’s much more practical and easier. The reason why the biblical authors ascribe the Mitzvot to Hashem as the Metzaveh is because they did not want to make them the timebound ordinances of one group or ruler. It’s a beautiful move, and should be respected. It can be, if we are willing.

      • If we didn’t think we had to do we wouldn’t do it.

      • It’s not about IF we think we have to do it, but WHY we think we have to do it. If we do it solely because it is divinely commanded, then we would not be doing it very long. Jews are not the most compliant of all humans. And like children, we like to know why. That question drives us to a deeper meaning. And that seeking after meaning is determinative.
        Once again, Hashem as the metzaveh is icing on the cake: we’re not doing it because a group of leaders or an egotistical king is the one who ordered it but because our God, who transcends all, is the one who has endowed with an order for collective prosperity.

      • What other options did the authors have but a deity with multiple names for people to feel commanded so they follow? I wonder if we can ground fealty to Halacha in something more definitive – for obvious reasons or do we replace questionable historical facts with religious facts of acceptance.
        Agree that not everything should be a deep theological issue just need a coherent core.

      • Ruvie, there’s nothing more definitive, and thus ideal as the object of fealty in a demotic community, than God.

  18. This article doesn’t substantiate any of its claims regarding the dating or authorship of biblical segments.

    What is presented here appears to be speculation as to how the text might have evolved, given the assumption that it must have evolved naturally.

    Would it be accurate to say that the impossibility of divine, single moment authorship is really the premise, not the finding, of the academic bible approach as described here?

    Assuming that is true, I believe this discussion is distracting.The core of the debate is not about scientifically compelling interpretation of textual evidence. It is about whether in the absence of such evidence, one assumes the torah came into existence through natural or supernatural events.

    The deeper issue is really whether one believes in supernatural events at all.

    I am very understanding of why a modern person would believe that there are no supernatural events, and thus conclude that natural events must have generated the torah.

    But i fail to see how speculation about the motives and views of putative authors or redactors can be used as a method to prove its own premise.

    I think that if the core issue is really the underlying belief in anything supernatural, it calls the authors conclusion into greater question. The issue of being a frum bible critic is not about a text. It is theological. It is the conflict between the dogmatic approach of faith and the skeptical scientific method.

    The question is, what does it mean to worship God if one believes in a universe utterly bound and wholly explained by the laws of science? What is the nafka mina of God’s existence in such a scenario? Doesn’t the same denial of the supernatural negate the belief in olam haba, sinaitic obligation, reward and punishment, chosenness, and all the other distinctive features of a hazalic universe?

    Does it leave anything more than a loose sense that a Jewish lifestyle is nice, or at most ethical?

    I believe all modern Jews must confront this issue, regardless of their views on the largely speculative claims of particular biblical scholars regarding particular verses and chapters.

    • Aharon, the question is whether one really wants to understand the history of the Torah. The same question could be asked of a Creationist: Do you want to engage in research in the origins of the universe, or do you want to simply affirm what you believe.

  19. There are 3 premises or ideas trying to coexist:
    #1 The Torah was not revealed by God to Moses.
    #2 If the Torah was not revealed by God to Moses, there are no adequate reasons to be observant.
    #3 We are observant and we believe there are adequate reasons for being observant.

    Something has to give or we go round and round with no end. I think the right wing Orthodox position is to start with #3 as obvious, and then follow their instinct not to examine #2, thus giving them no other choice but to accept the divinity of Torah irrespective of the evidence, i.e. label BC as apikorsis and be done with it. The underlying premise is that we can use our practical commitments to influence our acceptance or rejection of empirical issues such as revelation at Sinai. The irony is these same people reject the more extreme charedi use of this procedure as a basis for rejecting evolutionary theory. Here the MO argue whatever our commitment to TMS, we must reject a literal reading of Genesis, because we cannot allow our commitment to reading Genesis as written by God to determine our rejection of evolution. We should therefore not accept the account in Genesis as true even though it is min hashamayim.
    The left MO position, Orthoprax and the like, might be to accept premises #1 and #3 , but argue as does Prof. Wright that there many other adequate reasons for living in accordance with halacha. The deeper issue is whether our commitments to live in a certain way should determine our factual beliefs? Are normative considerations relevant to our epistemology?

    • “The left MO position, Orthoprax and the like, might be to accept premises #1 and #3 , but argue as does Prof. Wright that there many other adequate reasons for living in accordance with halacha. The deeper issue is whether our commitments to live in a certain way should determine our factual beliefs? Are normative considerations relevant to our epistemology?”
      1. The question is whether according to halacha, there is any meaning in observance without belief. The answer of traditional halacha (Rambam, Shulchan Aruch, etc.) is no.
      2. There is nothing new about this question. All of medieval philosophy is about the conflict between science=Aristotle and faith. Anyone who wanted to remain a Jew found a way to reconcile the two, and that is what made them Jewish philosophers.

  20. Jacob L. Wright
    “your points 1 and 2 contradict each other.”
    Not to belabor the point, but according to the dictionary definition of divine, the Torah is divine, and according to your definition, you are arguing against nobody.
    “Many Jews practically worship the Torah, treating as a divine object if not an outright idol. Many who do commit also major categorical errors in theology”
    I’m not sure if you mean this literally, in which case I don’t know what you’re talking about (I’ve never been to YI of Toco Hills but judging by the sample encountered it might be different from your average shul), or as some sort of rhetoric, in which case I still don’t know what you’re talking about. (Idolatry has a meaning in halakha, e.g. accepting an object as a god.)

  21. Thanks Alan and Jacob for your enlightening interview.

    How would you understand Zoharic statements such as the following:
    ” Israel, Kudsha Brich Hu and Oraita (Torah) are one”?

  22. Avoda Zarah is any system which is not mekayem ‘kabel es ha’emes mimi she’omroh’. i.e. things are taken to be ‘unescapably true’ because of the person / thing who said them.

    Talking about Torah worship (as opposed to Hashem worship) therefore (in this context) relates to the what the meaning is of ‘ein lechah ben chorin elah mi she’osek batorah’ (which appears to be self-contradictory).

    The answer appears to be that any system (almost (besides facism)) can be taken the right way or the wrong way (le’mayminim bah samah dechayiy, le’masmeilim bah samah demosah).

  23. Prof Wright –

    A stimulating discussion. I do think the evidence in one way is against you – Louis Jacobs and his followers did not remain deeply shomer mitzvot.
    In another way, the Reform and Conservative movements are alive and well, and have moved from their origins back towards ritual. In your worldview, I don’t see there is any negative value judgement to where people end up if it works for them and they continue to be part of a faith community (which does again beg the question why does it matter to stay with orthodox practice?)

    You make very interesting assertions about how faith, belief and practice interrelate? This could be an empirical question –

    How do faith and practice relate to each other –
    What is the place of notions of the divine and divine commandment in the lived practices of faith communities?

    These are Chicago School questions!

    Dr Brill – I think you should put together an application for a grant for a study 🙂

  24. “The biblical authors never expected that their readers would take them literally. And many of the greatest rabbinic thinkers throughout history reveal in their writing that they understand how this literature is meant to work”

    This assertion is sure to raise quite a few eybrows in the right-wing circles I inhabit, which is why I would have hoped that Prof. Wright would name some of those “greatest rabbinic thinkers.”

  25. Two questions for Prof. Wright:

    1. I am interested in his thoughts on Prof. Halbertal’s 2011 lecture on בין מדעי היהדות ודת ישראל. In particular does he find the concept of ‘מחויבות פונטית’ compelling as a bridge between his Academic persona and his Shul persona?

    2. Prof. Schiffman has written and lectured about how the Dead Sea Scrolls make “clear that the biblical text has a history of transmission, and that major parts of this history, which indeed testify to the place of Scripture in the Judaism of the post-biblical period, are to be understood from the scrolls. Indeed, we now know that many textual variants result not only from transmission, but from interpretation and linguistic updating, phenomena that, before the discovery of the scrolls, could not have been understood.” Does he think that an oral to literary transition (between Ma’amad Har Sinai and the dating as per Academic scholarship) can provide a reasonable glide path for those who chose to live with both truths?

  26. walter benjamin

    ” Israel, Kudsha Brich Hu and Oraita (Torah) are one”?”
    If we were to read the Aramaic correctly ‘קודשא’ means ‘holiness’ and not God. If God were meant it should/would be written ‘קדישא’ which is the noun meaning ‘the holy one’=God.
    The Ramchal speaks of this in his letters. However if one opts for it being a pseudographic composition maybe the author or ‘downloader’ made a grammatical and theological mistake.
    I have, however, heard Breslov classes where it is clearly stated that the Torah and God are one.
    These thoughts have many parallels in Islam where some opinions hold the eternality of the Quran etc.
    BTW why are quotes transliterated instead of written in the original?
    It can be annoying reading Hebrew in Latin characters and it seems the site has no problems with showing Hebrew letters.

  27. People never seem to give the citation: “There are three rungs, interlinked – the blessed Holy One, Torah, and Israel” (Zohar 3:73a).

  28. “If you want to reject historical criticism, then start learning ancient linguistics and texts contemporary to the Bible. No harmonization of passages changes this dating nor does anything from Cassutto or Hoffman affect it. ”

    Traditional responses may still cite Casuto since they feel they only need to refute long-standing theories. Theories that have just been developed in the last few decades may change again in the next few decades. (However, new evidence that corroborates older claims needs to be dealt with, despite the difficulty of learning ancient texts.)

    In addition, one may believe the Torah was given through actual prophecy but over a time-span of more than 40 years, so linguistic dating may not be as much of a problem. The threat to such a semi-traditional view is if there are full contradictions in the Torah, which is why resolving them may be of higher priority.

    It seems the debate is very polarized between full-fledged traditionalists who won’t deal with all the academic issues, and full-fledged academics who accept every consensus claim of academia, including their entire weltanschauung. They seem to accept many claims of academia that are based on modern assumptions and belief, not specific evidence. It would be nice to see more of a middle-ground approach that is willing to accept certain development over time, but still maintains a belief in actual prophecy, which would be the reason to keep the mitzvos. The academics (such as P. J. L. Wright) claim they can still justify keeping a life of Torah and Mitzvot, and they may be able to maintain their own practices (at least when its not difficult). But does anyone really think that Orthodoxy as a whole could continue being Shomer Halacha if everyone adopted such beliefs?

    Wright states:
    “The fundamental reason why people keep the mitzvot throughout the course of their lives and over generations is because they find inherent meaning in them. If they do not, even if they deem them to be dictated by God, they stop keeping them.”

    While he accuses others of worshipping the Bible, the above sentiment sounds more like a form of self-worship. Jews have kept the mitzvot for thousands of years because they believed they had been commanded by God, not because every Jew necessarily found meaning in every mitzvah. If you only keep what you find meaning in, you may be worshipping yourself instead of God.
    Most Orthodox Jews do not understand the meaning of Kosher food, yet they keep it anyways. Some Mitzvot, such as Sabbath, are understandable, but Jews are only able to keep them when it is difficult because they believe in the Divine command. (This is why Orthodox Jews keep Hilchot Shabbat while Conservative Jews generally do not.) This is why maintaining such a belief is important for Judaism.

  29. I’m somewhat perplexed by those who say that Orthodoxy should address the claims of Biblical Criticism. Leo Strauss succinctly summarized the Orthodox view better than any Orthodox person:

    Historical criticism presupposes unbelief in verbal inspiration. The attack, the famous and very effective attack by science and historical criticism on revelation is based on the dogmatic exclusion of the possibility of miracles and of verbal inspiration l shall limit myself to miracles, because verbal inspiration itself is one miracle. Now this attack, which underlies all the scientific and historical arguments, would be defensible if we knew that miracles are impossible. Then we would indeed be able to draw all these conclusions. But what does that mean? We would have to be in possession of either a proof of the non-existence of an omnipotent God, who alone could do miracles, or of a proof that miracles are incompatible with the nature of God. i see no alternative to that. …

    [ym-you must post with a verifiable email]

  30. Interesting interview and discussion, and very good of Prof Wright to continue to engage. But I still am struck by JoeBug’s original question and Wright’s failure to respond to it (and also surprised that JoeBug left Wright off the hook). Having reread Cassuto recently, I think that Wright’s dismissal is appropriate to a point, but he misses the key problems that Cassuto raised with the DH, and which seems to apply equally to the “Continental” approach that Wright summarized (*)—i.e., that the reasoning followed by DH-practitioners tends to be circular [with apparent deviations from hypotheses resolved in favor of the hypothesis] and the hypothesis/es is/are unfalsifiable. I would love to know if Prof Wright can state a clear, falsifiable hypothesis about the origins of the Torah and describe how it was supported. Otherwise, as JoeBug says, what we have here are assertions that are perhaps reasonable perhaps not. And the fact that these assertions are widely endorsed does hardly makes them more persuasive (especially when you say that young scholars who might have different ideas are counseled to work on different problems). There is any number of academic fields that have gotten caught up in problematic paradigms that took a very long time to overturn. So in the end, it’s not clear why we should accept Wright’s assertions about the origins of the Torah.

    * A related observation: it is troubling to me that there is such a divide between Continental and American scholars and the scholars do not seem able to characterize the divide. So it’s odd to appeal to scholarly consensus for authority when there is none. And it would be useful to hear from you why you think work on the Continent is so much better. It sounds to me like nothing more than a debate about what kind of work should be fashionable and the Germans are the cool kids who think that the Americans are hopelessly square. There are plenty of academic fields where such divides are nothing more than that.

  31. The negative reaction to discussion of academic scholarship from the Yeshivish (including RWMO) crowd is entirely predictable. What I find more interesting is the polemical reaction of self-identified “BTs” who left Conservative Judaism for Orthodoxy.

    In the spinoff discussion by Eliyahu Fink about the impact of Bible Scholarship on Shmirat Mitzvot (based on his comment here), there are two interesting comments that highlight a sociological aspect to this debate. Gil Student chimes in with “Of course you can [be Shomer Mitzvot]. I know plenty of Conservative rabbis who are that way.” And Jeffrey Woolf illustrates it even better with his comment that “My point has been that a principled rejection of Torah mi-Sinai should lead to a principled redefinition of the individual as non-Orthodox (just as those who left Conservative Judaism, such as myself, redefine as Orthodox).”

    This helped me frame all the ~“why don’t they just admit they’re not Orthodox”~ across all the discussion threads about which I have previously express puzzlement. To state what will be obvious to some, but as far as I know has not been stated explicitly: much of this putatively-theological debate is primarily identity politics.

    • Thanks, but no thanks: Conservative Judaism is not the same thing as MO in many different ways, not least actual observance. Why can’t you just live with the fact that Orthodoxy (and Judaism as a whole) is not about belief/thought or espousal of creeds? It seems to me that you and others who say this are challenged by those in your midst who behave precisely as you do but think differently.

      • You have seriously misunderstood my comment, I’m afraid.

      • shaul shapira

        Professor Wright

        “Why can’t you just live with the fact that Orthodoxy (and Judaism as a whole) is not about belief/thought or espousal of creeds”

        Orthodox Judaism DOES entail believing certain things. You can check the Encyclopedia Judaica or Wikipedia if you don’t believe me. It’s quite irrelevant whether those beliefs are correct or not.

        I’d be intersted in how Professor Wright would respond to whether he thinks it’s fair to tell a Kohen that is prohibited to marry a divorcee etc…

  32. Yes you are right I did let the Prof off the hook a bit; I also agree that divides in the academy are on grounds of fashion or ideology or a mixture of both. The issue with BC is that the evidence against tradtional TMS is so consistent and wide ranging, that in Schimmel’s phraseology, these beliefs are untenable. Putting it as an analogy (and only an approximate one), people in the academy believe all sorts of things and take widely varying paradigmatic positions on ontolotg and epistemology, yet noone in the academy (or anyone else) believe that martians won the second world war. Simple TMS belief,as the counter evidence acculumates, comes closer to that.

    This is also relevant to the post on Strauss (although Hume had a totally different take on the believability of miracles). The issue with OJ is that it makes not jut miracle claims but historical claims. Thus what was once thought a la Kuzari as a strength, becomes the hole beneath the water line. Who is to say whether God spoke to Jesus and Mohammed? What counterfactual is there? But when your foundational text claims that 3.2 M wandered in the desert and heard the word of God…etc…etc…, then historical evidence can be brought to bear on these historical claims.

    • EWZS, you didn’t let me off the hook. Get real. This is an interview, not a place where I lay out scientific proof for composite authorship. If you want hard facts, look to archeology. We have no evidence for extensive writing in Israel and Judah (and places like Moab) until the 9th century. 99% of all biblical scholars that the Torah was written by multiple authors. But because we disagree on the particulars, you’re smug to belief that none of us (we’re talking about ca. 7,000 members of the Society of Biblical Literature) should be taken more seriously than your naive notions of history. Get over your obscurantism and join us in the realm of rationality.

  33. Sorry Joebug. I combined your post with that of someone else. (reading on my iphone). The smugness was in the other post. My apologies.

  34. Sorry I came across as smug, Prof Wright. I certainly appreciate your being out there speaking to the public and defending your name and am sorry that I need to remain anonymous (perhaps I’ll send you a private email at some point though). I thought I was calling it like I saw it, but perhaps my anonymity led me to be rude. Sorry. But I hope your annoyance with my style won’t lead you to ignore my points. They were written by someone who is a serious academic in a different field who has taken an interest in Bible Studies due to his religious commitments. Your response to JoeBug was that there is an absence of evidence for the written texts that would support a traditional dating of the Torah. But of course you know that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. And meanwhile, this point has nothing to do with laying out a falsifiable hypothesis about composite authorship.

    From what I have read in modern Bible Studies, I am amazed at the extent to which: (a) composite authorship is assumed from the get-go rather than as an hypothesis that needs to be tested; (b) the lack of clarity/consensus about how one infers composite authorship from the text, leading to massive confusion about how various texts were composed; (c) the religious way that authors adjust interpretations of data to fit their hypotheses [Art Scroll has nothing on many Bible Critics, as far as I can see]; and (d) how the practice of source criticism leads them to focus on many questions that are non-questions and blinds them to the more interesting/important questions that emerge when one tries to read the text as a whole and puts oneself in the minds of the people who are addressed by the text (not the people who are posited by theory, but the audience assumed by the text itself).
    I’d take the kind of question raised by a typical shiur by Menachem Leibtag over anything I have seen from a source-critic. Unsurprisingly, I find that literary analyses (in the Alter style) are much better on these issues (and obviously more compatible with the approach of Leibtag and others with modern pshat-based approaches), though perhaps not issue c (where Leibtag excels).

    A final note: However frustrated it must be to be challenged by an anonymous commentator, I don’t think calling me an obscurantist or irrational is fair and it makes you look more defensive than I’m sure you want to look. There is nothing obscurantist or irrational about (a) being unimpressed with a consensus belief in a field when you have reasons to doubt the field’s methods [see above]; and (b) asking that the field defend its assumptions and conclusions in a scientific way (and being worried when it does not embrace that challenge). All I was asking was to lay out a clear, falsifiable hypothesis and explain how it was supported. And if it’s too much to do here, I’d be grateful if you included a citation or two of work that you think does this best. Thanks.

    • Wonderful response ewzs! I very much appreciate your generous spirit. This week I’ve been a bit on edge. But I see now that you’re not at all smug and that your questions are genuine. Yafeh! I will think about these things and respond later. I’m busy right now a couple of things. So bear with me. Shabbat shalom,

    • I agree: Much of what Documentary approach of source critics write is really vacuous. But this is much less the case with the supplementary approach to sources, which examines how generations of biblical authors reflected on the writings they inherited and applied them to their own times.
      As for the assumptions of composite authorship, you have to take into consideration the history of scholarship (see Alan Brill’s intro), which slowly came to these conclusions. The Septuagint leaves little doubt that the text has been significantly expanded. (The evidence is particularly striking in sefarim like Shmuel and Yirmiyahu.) Then came the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. And thereafter archeological work that shows writing increases significantly in the 9th century and especially thereafter.
      The fact that we as scholars do not agree about the particulars does not say much. We all agree that there is no way that the Torah could have been complete in 10th century. And most would say not until after the exile.
      But I do very much support your point about the formalistic nature of Source Criticism (Documentary Approach). I would encourage you though not to give up: slowly but surely well-trained frum scholars who do topnotch historical analysis, yet who have a sense for what’s really important, are starting to have an impact in biblical scholarship.

      • Thanks for elaborating a bit, Jacob. I’d be grateful for a citation to good examples of the Supplementary Approach. I’m especially curious if the SA does any better than the DH in accommodating (a) the possibility of a redactor who operated with a lot of control and creativity (as suggested, e.g., by keywords that carry through widely separated bodies of text, and by chiastic structures that can span widely, even multiple books; see e.g., and ;(b) the possibility that the Torah marked a revolution (on various dimensions) rather than evolution of features from neighboring cultures. I’d also be curious why you think frum scholars are better at asking the right questions. Thanks in advance for any response. And I’ll understand if it’s too much.

      • Jacob – can you expand on:
        “slowly but surely well-trained frum scholars who do topnotch historical analysis, yet who have a sense for what’s really important, are starting to have an impact in biblical scholarship.”

        is there a major difference between frum scholars in MBS or historical analysis of ancient jewish history than others? can you expand on – “sense for what’s important”

  35. Shabbat Shalom, Jacob. And btw, there is a typo above. I meant to say that literary analysts were perhaps weaker on issue d, not c.

  36. There’s absolutely no doubt in the academic community that the Torah emerged over time.

    I would like to point out that the academic community begins their investigation with the assumption that human beings wrote the Torah. Their question is, “Who [among humans] wrote the Torah?”

    They never ask the question, “What is the evidence that the Torah was written entirely by God and given to Moses over a period of 40 years in the wilderness?”

  37. “”Rabbi Shim’on said, ‘Woe to the human being who says that Torah presents mere stories and ordinary words! If so, we could compose a Torah right now with ordinary words, and better than all of them. To present matters of the world? Even rulers of the world possess words more sublime. If so, let us follow them and make a Torah out of them… In descending to this world, if she [Torah] did not put on the garments of this world, the world could not endure. So this story of Torah is the garment of Torah. Whoever thinks that the garment is the real Torah and not something else – may his spirit deflate! This is why David said: ‘Open my eyes, so I can see wonders out of your Torah,’ [Psalms 119:18] what is under the garment of Torah… As wine must sit in a jar, so Torah must sit in this garment” (Zohar 3:152a).

    • But, keep going… Using Daniel Matt’s translation:

      Rabbi Shim’on said,
      “Woe to the human being who says
      that Torah presents mere stories and ordinary words!
      If so, we could compose a Torah right now with ordinary words,
      and better than all of them!
      To present matters of the world?
      Even rulers of the world possess words more sublime.
      If so, let us follow them and make a Torah out of them.
      Ah, but all the words of Torah are sublime words, sublime secrets!

      “Come and see:
      The world above and the world below are perfectly balanced:
      Israel below, the angels above.
      Of the angels is written: He makes His angels spirits (Psalm 104:4)
      But when they descend they put on the garment of this world.
      If they did not put on a garment befitting this world,
      they could not endure in this world
      and the world could not endure them.

      “If this is so with angels, how much more so with Torah,
      who created them and all the worlds,
      and for whose sake they all exist.
      In descending to this world,
      if she did not put on garments of this world,
      the world could not endure.

      • Not sure what this is in response to exactly. When I say the Torah is not divine, I mean that it’s from God but not part of God. Have you guys read the prior comments?

  38. Yes I read prof. Brill’s interview with you prof. Wright and all of the rest. The Zohar quote is in response to a general impression of the thread: BC is no threat to the soul of Torah, only her garments.

    “Torah is not divine, I mean that it’s from God but not part of God.” All I can do is quote our sages:

    “God is everything that exists, though everything that exists is not God. It is present in everything, and everything comes into being from it. Nothing is devoid of its divinity. Everything is within it; it is within everything and outside of everything. There is nothing but it” (Ramak, Elimah Rabbati translated in Matt’s The Essential Kabbalah p.24).

  39. walter benjamin

    According to BC this does not seem to be a contradiction.

  40. The Ramak, based on the Zohar, wrote a subtle statement. It does not necessarily follow that the Qur’an is divine.

    How many Jews do you see worshipping, perish the thought, trees and stones? ” But people worship the sun, moon, stars and planets; should He destroy the Universe on account of fools!”

  41. This was a very good interview. I’d like to ask a few more questions to Professor Wright.
    (In inventing “a people of the book,” they were guided by the intuition that disparate groups inevitably coalesce into united community as they engage in the reading of a shared text.)

    While this sounds like a reasonable theory, perhaps the best one out there, is there proof of it in the Scriptures themselves?

    (“One should not think that scholars in biblical studies are out to destroy faith.”)

    What if I think that a ^portion^ of scholars in biblical studies are out to destroy faith?

    (Let me assure you: there are ^^many of us^^ who are firmly committed to living a life of shomer torah umitzvot, and who are not at all bothered by the historical origins of the Torah and, indeed, have an even deeper awe and reverence for the Torah because of these historical origins.)

    Care to put a percentage on that?

    (“That statement should be understood in the traditional sense: only God is divine. The Torah is not divine. I made this statement to correct a categorical failure that many make in their talk about the Torah.”)

    I would think that that percentage of people who would interpret “the Torah is not divine” to be equivalent to “the Torah is not of divine origin” is greater than the percentage of people who would interpret “the Torah is divine” in the same sense as “God is divine.” Thus, I think your wording will likely mislead more than clarify.

  42. A helpful example of textual variance comes up in the opening/naming pasuk of today’s 2nd Parsha. Our Masoretic text reads וילך משה, NJPS renders “Moses went”, but the DSS reverses the last 2 consonants and reads ויכל משה which is consonant with the Septuagint, that NJPS renders “When Moses had finished speaking”.

    Robert Alter prefers the DSS/Septuagint reading in his Chumash translation, explaining “The difference between the two versions is essential because the Qumran version makes this a proper introduction to the entire epilogue of Deuteronomy (chapters 31 – 34). Moses has completed his discourses – the monitory sermons, the Laws, the blessings and curses – and he is not “going” anywhere to speak further words. Rather, the epilogue will now concern itself with the following topics of closure…”.

    A more academically rigorous explanation can be found in Tov’s Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible on p. 123 (at least in my 3rd ed. version).

    I thought this worth mentioning as an example of Bible scholarship that is separable from any controversies of authorship. And even for those who dismiss the DSS as “sectarian” the Septuagint can’t so easily be dismissed – exposing a problem with the literal reading Rambam’s 8th Ikkar fashionable among today’s Orthodox heresy hunters.

    • IH:
      >DSS reverses the last 2 consonants and reads ויכל משה which is consonant with the Septuagint, that NJPS renders “When Moses had finished speaking”.

      Not so thrilled with that reading, because while it may be an open question where Moshe walked, it seems harder to credit “he finished speaking” when the next word is “vayedaber Moshe” leading to a conclusion of his speaking. What, he finished speaking in the middle of his speech?

  43. Jon Baker: See Deut. 32-45-46, where the Masoretic text itself has “Va-yechal Moshe ledaber” followed by “ve-yomer aleihem.”

  44. Devarim 13:2-4 says that G-d can test us with suggestions arising from empirical evidence
    “כי מנסה ד’ אלוקיכם לדעת הישכם אוהבים …”.

    Surely this applies in a time of “ואנכי הסתר אסתיר”.

    If the linguistics of the Torah were to be clearly congruent with 13th b,c., — or alternatively, incongruous with any period — it would be practically impossible for a scholar to deny it’s miracles or divinity.

    (Also see Prof. Joshua Berman on page 42 of this link: under the subtitle: DATING THE TEXTS OF THE PENTATEUCH: CONFRONTING THE COMPLEXITY.)

  45. Pingback: Pacific Jewish Center | Rabbi » Can One Be a Shomer Torah u’Mitzvos and Accept Bible Criticism?

  46. Wright said: “The Torah is not divine. HaShem is, and “hu Ehad.” Is the Torah authoritative? Absolutely. But is it divine? No.”
    Do you/he mean to say that ‘one’ (hu Echad) here (in the Shma) means that God is the only one who is divine?

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