Feb 212007

Is Jesus the Jewish “messiah”, and if so, why do more Jews not believe in him?


The first difficulty in deciding if Jesus is the Jewish “messiah” is the ambiguity of the term “messiah” in Judiasm. “Messiah” is a rather general term in the Bible meaning “anointed”. Because kings and priests were anointed with oil to set them apart, the word “messiah” can apply to any king, high priest, or other “anointed” one.  Even the pagan King Cyrus is called the Lord’s “messiah” in Isaiah 45:1.


There are a number of prophecies in the Old Testament that seem to point to one particular messiah of unique importance. The problem is that Jewish interpreters differ on just what these prophecies mean. Reformed Jews tend to interpret the “messiah” prophecies as pointing to the nation of Israel as a whole. Kabbalist Jews often interpret the messiah as an immortal spiritual force. Even among those who interpret the prophecies as indicating a unique human individual, there is disagreement about the characteristics of that individual, or even how MANY “unique” messiahs there are supposed to be. These disagreements were even more significant in Jesus’ day – when Judaism was possibly even more diverse than it is today.


In particular, there were some teachers who talked about the Messiah “ben David” (son of David) and others who talked about the Messiah “ben Joseph” (son of Joseph). Some apparently believed in the priority of one or the other of these messiahs, some believed both would come, with different roles to play.


In very general terms, the Messiah ben David was seen as a military conqueror, who would restore the Kingdom of Israel and the temple. The Messiah ben Joseph was seen as bringing spiritual renewal through personal sacrifice (much as Joseph of Egypt saved his family through his own personal ordeal). Of those who believed in both messiahs, the Messiah ben Joseph was seen as a precursor to the Messiah ben David.


If we take into account what I wrote on earlier about the different sources of the Old Testament (http://perennis.pathstoknowledge.com/documentary_hypothesis) these two different messiahs fit rather neatly into the agendas of the primary sources of the Old Testament – the “J” (and “P”) sources and the “E” (and “D”) sources. The “J” and “P” sources champion David and the Southern Kingdom – whereas the E and D sources are more critical of David and champion the Northern Kingdom – home of the traditional descendents of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh)


In the context of Jews arguing about whether the primary messiah is the son of David or of Joseph, Jesus’ dialogue in the temple assumes a whole new meaning:

“Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, What do you think of the Christ [messiah]? Whose son is he?They said to him, Of David.  He said to them, How then does David in the Spirit call him Lord, saying,  The Lord said to my Lord, sit on my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet?  If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” (Matthew 22:41-45 WEB)  Jesus is apparently coming down on the “ben Joseph” side of the argument. It’s also interesting that “Joseph” is traditionally the name of Jesus foster father as well.  There is no doubt that many of those who followed Jesus did so because they HOPED we was the Messiah ben David. He is often addressed by the hopeful crowd as “son of David”, and he doesn’t seem to discourage this – but there are a number of indications that Jesus did not see himself in the role of Messiah ben David. When identifying his mission, he several times refers to Isaiah 61 – a relatively gentle and compassionate picture of messiahship – more in keeping with the Messiah ben Joseph.  As Jesus reads in the synagogue:  The Spirit of the Lord is on me,because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted,to proclaim release to the captives,recovering of sight to the blind,to deliver those who are crushed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19 WEB) Other indications of how Jesus saw his role: For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost. (Luke 19:10 WEB) For the Son of Man didn’t come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. (Luke 9:56 WEB) I argued earlier (http://perennis.pathstoknowledge.com/bibliolatry) that Jesus seems to share some of Jeremiah and Isaiah’s criticism of the priestly code. It may well be that Jesus is not in agreement with the idea of the Messiah ben David.  However, it’s clear that some of the New Testament authors intend to keep that option open. Matthew and Luke both try to establish Davidic descent for Jesus, and Matthew in particular tries to mention every possible prophetic fulfillment for Jesus.  We need to candidly admit that some of these apparent “fulfillments” of prophecy are problematic. Some of them rest upon questionable translations and many of them are clearly taken out of context with regard to their primary fulfillment. Personally, I like to credit the New Testament authors with enough intelligence to realize (at least some of the time) that this is occurring.  When Matthew, for example, tells us that Jesus’ sojourn in Egypt fulfilled Hosea: “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.” (Hosea 11:1 WEB) …He must certainly realize that this verse of Hosea does not appear to be a messianic prophecy of any sort. What the author of Matthew seems to be saying is that Jesus recapitulates or represents various scriptural patterns or archtypes in scripture. Jesus can be understood, in other words, in terms of scriptural themes well known to readers of the Old Testament.  As a tangent, it’s interesting that the prophet quoted here, Hosea, is a prophet of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, not Judah – and the theme of the sojourn in Egypt is most associated with Joseph, and the suffering messiah.  This having of seeing the events of one’s own time in prophecy isn’t unique to Christian apologists.  For example the promise in Deuteronomy (18:15-18) that a second Moses would arise. Many Jews today regard this as a prophecy of a still-future messiah. But many scholars believe that the Deuteronomists who collected or created the “second Moses” prophecy actually saw them as being fulfilled by their great hero, King Josiah.  Compare the wording Deuteronomy 34:10 with 2 Kings 23:25 – and remember that scholars believe both Deuteronomy and 2 Kings 23 were written by the same individual or group.  There has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom Yahweh knew face to face (Deuteronomy 34:10 WEB) Like him [Josiah] was there no king before him, who turned to Yahweh with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him. (2 Kings 23:25 WEB) Nevertheless, the idea of a “second Moses” is an idea and pattern that persisted long after Josiah, and has been applied by Christians to Jesus and by Jews to a future Messiah.  Is Jesus, then, the Messiah?  He certainly has a spiritual anointing from God, and embodies many of the patterns and archetypes of messiaship found in the Old Testament, particularly when referring to the Messiah ben Joseph. The fulfillment, however, is often in a more spiritual sense. The messianic prophecies are, in effect, symbols of what Christians see in Jesus to be spiritual realities. Christians should have no problem in seeing Jesus as “anointed” – with it’s original meaning of “set apart for God’s purpose”.  In this sense, he is the Messiah (or “Christ” as it would be rendered in Greek). Jesus does NOT meet all of the specific requirements that have been derived from the Old Testament by Jewish tradition over the centuries. This is particularly true in that there are several versions of these requirements depending on the body of Jewish tradition being discussed.  As this short essay began as a response to a particular article on the web



         there are a few specific remarks I should make in response to that article directly. The point of the article is that Jesus does not meet the requirements of a Jewish Messiah – a conclusion with which I’ve partially agreed above. A few points in the article, however, need comment.


Regarding Jesus as a prophet, the site says:


Ø      Prophecy can only exist in Israel when the land is inhabited by a majority of world Jewry, a situation which has not existed since 300 BCE.


While this may be a Jewish tradition, it is, biblically, completely ad-hoc. No such rule is apparent from scripture.


Ø      The Messiah must be descended on his father's side from King David (see Genesis 49:10, Isaiah 11:1, Jeremiah 23:5, 33:17; Ezekiel 34:23-24). According to the Christian claim that Jesus was the product of a virgin birth, he had no father — and thus could not have possibly fulfilled the messianic requirement of being descended on his father's side from King David.


Actually, none of the scriptures cited actually SAYS this. They only mention Davidic descent.

 > The Messiah will lead the Jewish people to full Torah observance. The Torah states that all mitzvot remain binding forever, and anyone coming to change the Torah is immediately identified as a false prophet. (Deut. 13:1-4)

Actually, that’s not what Deut 13:1-4 says. It says a false prophet is identified by the fact that he… well, makes false prophecies. In point of fact, the authors and editors of Deuteronomy – Jeremiah very likely being one of them, believed that many of the priestly laws were not God-given at all.

 “For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices: “(Jeremiah 7:22 KJV)

>Throughout the New Testament, Jesus contradicts the Torah and states that its commandments are no longer applicable. For example, John 9:14 records that Jesus made a paste in violation of Shabbat, which caused the Pharisees to say (verse 16), "He does not observe Shabbat!"

Only rarely does Jesus contradict the Torah – or more specifically attribute a commandment of the Torah as being of human origin. What he does do on a regular basis is apply a very spiritual, humanistic interpretation to the Torah. Jesus does not believe that making paste to heal a blind man on the Shabbat violates the spirit of Shabbat. It certainly doesn’t violate scripture – only the traditional accretions piled on top of scripture. Jesus would have a few words to say regarding anyone who feels that leaving someone blind honors God.

> Of the thousands of religions in human history, only Judaism bases its belief on national revelation — i.e. God speaking to the entire nation. If God is going to start a religion, it makes sense He'll tell everyone, not just one person.

This national revelation has not prevented the existence of various “branches” of Judaism with different beliefs and practices, including different beliefs about the Messiah.

(from the footnotes)

Ø      Saying that God assumes human form makes God small, diminishing both His unity and His divinity. As the Torah says: "God is not a mortal" (Numbers 23:19).

Focusing on God’s transcendence and totally ignoring his immanence, on the other hand, can make God distant and unapproachable. Jewish mysticism doesn’t seem to have a problem with the immanence of God. To quote J. Abelson from “Jewish Mysticism”

“ALL finite creatures are, in divergent senses and varying degrees, part and parcel of the Deity. Creatio ex nihilo is unthinkable, seeing that God, in the Neoplatonic view, is the Perfect One, 'an undivided One,' to whom no qualities or characteristics can be ascribed, and to whom, therefore, no such idea as that of intention or purpose, or change or movement, can be applied. All existences are emanations from the Deity. The Deity reveals Himself in all existences because He is immanent in them. But though dwelling in them, He is greater than they. He is apart from them. He transcends them.”

There are also several criticisms of Jesus descent based on the problems of Joseph being only his adopted father, and of Mary and Joseph’s Davidic line as being tainted.

While I regard the genealogies of Matthew and Luke as primarily symbolic, it seems to me that the criticism is misplaced. If we allow that God being the father of Jesus (rather than Joseph) is absolutely literal, then we are dealing with a totally unique situation, and it seems difficult to argue that any conventional laws of adoption or descent apply. How can being the Son of God “disqualify” someone for any honor whatsoever? If the critic is going to concede that Jesus is literally the Son of God, then proper messianic descent is the least of the critic’s issues.

If the critic assumes this is figurative, but still wants to calculate ancestry, then there is no reason not to consider Joseph’s genealogy.

As to the Jeconiah curse, an excellent job of refuting it is done by the Jews for Jesus


In brief, there are good arguments that the curse was reversed due to Jeconiah’s repentance, and the site in fact quotes a number of rabbinical opinions that it is specifically through Jeconiah’s line that the Messiah WILL come!

Dec 282006

In an earlier post (http://perennis.pathstoknowledge.com/who_wrote_the_books_of_moses_introduction) I began the topic of who wrote the books of Moses (or the Pentateuch) by pointing out incongruities in the five books attributed to Moses that suggested that someone besides Moses had a hand in writing them.

Students of the Pentateuch had also noticed, from a very early time, a number of “doublets” in the books, where the same story was told twice, with different details. There are two creation stories, two interwoven flood stories, two stories of the naming of Bethel, two stories of the covenant between Abraham and God, and a number of others. Also, the details tend to be somewhat contradictory in some of the different parts of the Pentateuch. Moses wife is a Midianite in some stories and a Cushite in others. The ten commandments change from one book to the next. Moses receives the law on Horeb in one account and Sinai in another. Dozens of apologetic arguments and techniques were developed to try to reconcile apparent contradictions and defend the books as the work of Moses.

Beginning in the 18th century, more critical scholars (beginning with French scholar Jean Astruc) noticed something very peculiar about some of these doublets. Almost without fail, any time there were two versions of a story, ONE of the versions would consistently identify God as “YHWH” (Yahweh) whereas the other version would simply call him God (El or Elohim). As scholars started sorting the material based on the criteria of the name used for God, a fascinating picture emerged. Each group of material told many of the same stories, but the “J” group (the ones using the name Yahweh) and the “E” group (the ones using the name Elohim) were very different in many ways, such as style and vocabulary.

To make things even more interesting, scholars noticed that SOME of the stories in the Pentateuch occur in TRIPLETS. Using vocabulary, grammar and style, a third source was identified. This one (which also used Elohim or El-Shaddai for the name of God) was very concerned with priestly rituals and procedures (it constitutes most of the book of Leviticus, for example) and was thus called “P”. I want to emphasize that it was not simply a matter of looking at the choice of the name for God that was used to identify sources. The sources turned out to be very different in many different respects.

“J” was eloquently written, but in a very early form of Hebrew. It had traces of the dialect of the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Many of the places in Judah appear in the “J” stories. J is full of angels, talking animals and supernatural occurrences. Aaron figures prominently. God is referred to as “Yahweh” from the beginning. Women appear prominently in “J”. God is very human-like.

“E” was also well written, in form of Hebrew slightly less old than “J”, and with traces of the dialect of Northern Israel. Many of the place names of the Northern Kingdom appear. Moses and Joshua are the primary heroes. The tribe of Levi is emphasized instead of Aaron alone. “E” is the least complete, and often seems included only to fill in details that are missing in “J”. God is human-like. “El” (especially at first) or sometimes “Elohim” is the preferred name of God until the incident at the burning bush. Then “Yahweh” is also used.

“P” is written in later Hebrew, but is a lower-quality of literary style. God is somewhat remote, distant and abstract, stern and just. He is called “Elohim” or “El-Shaddai”. “P” is full of lists, dates, priestly regulations and laws. Aaron is featured prominently and Moses is slightly minimized. No sacrifice is ever mentioned in “P” until Aaron comes on the scene. Judah and the Aaronid priesthood are critical in “P”. There are no angels, talking animals, magic trees or similar colorful characters. “P” seems to be something of a propaganda piece for king Hezekiah.

Once these three sources were identified, it was discovered that Deuteronomy didn’t fit into any of these categories or styles. A new source, “D” was proposed. “D” uses a later Hebrew but of a more elevated style than “P”. It is concerned with the Levites and the Shiloh priesthood. “D” seems to be something of a propaganda piece for King Josiah.

Perhaps an example of these sources in action would be helpful. Let’s look at the flood story in Genesis. This is a particularly interesting case, because verses from “J” and “P” are interwoven in our current Bible, with a section from one, then a section from another, etc. The really remarkable thing is that when taking apart, both are essentially complete stories – but with interesting differences. I’ve used the WEB (Web Bible) version because it helpfully uses “Yahweh” when that word appears in the Hebrew. I’ve kept the reference verse numbers from our current Bible so you can see how they were spliced together.

Here is:

The Flood According to “J”

Genesis 6

(5) Yahweh saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

(6) Yahweh was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him in his heart.

(7) Yahweh said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the surface of the ground; man, along with animals, creeping things, and birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.

(8) But Noah found favor in Yahweh’s eyes.

[Gen 7]

(1) Yahweh said to Noah, Come with all of your household into [a] ship, for I have seen your righteousness before me in this generation.

(2) You shall take seven pairs of every clean animal with you, the male and his female. Of the animals that are not clean, take two, the male and his female.

(3) Also of the birds of the sky, seven and seven, male and female, to keep seed alive on the surface of all the earth.

(4) In seven days, I will cause it to rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights. Every living thing that I have made, I will destroy from the surface of the ground.

(5) Noah did everything that Yahweh commanded him.

(7) Noah went into the ship with his sons, his wife, and his sons wives, because of the waters of the flood.

(10) It happened after the seven days, that the waters of the flood came on the earth.

(12) The rain was on the earth forty days and forty nights.

Gen 7

(16b) And Yahweh shut him [Noah] in [the ship].

(17) The flood was forty days on the earth. The waters increased, and lifted up the ship, and it was lifted up above the earth.

(18) The waters prevailed, and increased greatly on the earth; and the ship floated on the surface of the waters.

(20) The waters prevailed fifteen cubits upward, and the mountains were covered.

(22) All in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, of all that was on the dry land, died.

(23) Every living thing was destroyed that was on the surface of the ground, including man, livestock, creeping things, and birds of the sky. They were destroyed from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ship.

[Gen 8]

(2b) And the rain from the sky was restrained.

(3a) The waters receded from the earth continually.

(6) It happened at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ship which he had made,

Gen 8:8-22

(8) He sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from the surface of the ground,

(9) but the dove found no place to rest her foot, and she returned to him into the ship; for the waters were on the surface of the whole earth. He put forth his hand, and took her, and brought her to him into the ship.

(10) He stayed yet another seven days; and again he sent forth the dove out of the ship.

(11) The dove came back to him at evening, and, behold, in her mouth was an olive leaf plucked off. So Noah knew that the waters were abated from the earth.

(12) He stayed yet another seven days, and sent forth the dove; and she didn’t return to him any more.

(13b) Noah removed the covering of the ship, and looked. He saw that the surface of the ground was dried.

(20) Noah built an altar to Yahweh, and took of every clean animal, and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.

(21) Yahweh smelled the pleasant aroma. Yahweh said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for mans sake, because the imagination of mans heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again strike everything living, as I have done.

(22) While the earth remains, seed time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.

Now let’s see:

The Flood Story According to “P”

(the priestly source.)

Genesis 6

(9) This is the history of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time. Noah walked with God.

(10) Noah became the father of three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

(11) The earth was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.

(12) God saw the earth, and saw that it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.

(13) God said to Noah, The end of all flesh has come before me, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.

(14) Make a ship of gopher wood. You shall make rooms in the ship, and shall seal it inside and outside with pitch.

(15) This is how you shall make it. The length of the ship will be three hundred cubits, its breadth fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits.

(16) You shall make a roof in the ship, and you shall finish it to a cubit upward. You shall set the door of the ship in its side. You shall make it with lower, second, and third levels.

(17) I, even I, do bring the flood of waters on this earth, to destroy all flesh having the breath of life from under the sky. Everything that is in the earth will die.

(18) But I will establish my covenant with you. You shall come into the ship, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons wives with you.

(19) Of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ship, to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female.

(20) Of the birds after their kind, of the livestock after their kind, of every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, two of every sort shall come to you, to keep them alive.

(21) Take with you of all food that is eaten, and gather it to yourself; and it will be for food for you, and for them.

(22) Thus Noah did. According to all that God commanded him, so he did.

[Gen 7]

(8) Clean animals, animals that are not clean, birds, and everything that creeps on the ground

(9) went by pairs to Noah into the ship, male and female, as God commanded Noah.

(11) In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the same day all the fountains of the great deep were burst open, and the sky’s windows were opened.

(13) In the same day Noah, and Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah’s wife, and the three wives of his sons with them, entered into the ship;

(14) they, and every animal after its kind, all the livestock after their kind, every creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind, and every bird after its kind, every bird of every sort.

(15) They went to Noah into the ship, by pairs of all flesh with the breath of life in them.

(16a) Those who went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God commanded him;

(19) The waters prevailed exceedingly on the earth. All the high mountains that were under the whole sky were covered.

(21) All flesh died that moved on the earth, including birds, livestock, animals, every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every man.

(24) The waters prevailed on the earth one hundred fifty days.

[Gen 8]

(1) God remembered Noah, all the animals, and all the livestock that were with him in the ship; and God made a wind to pass over the earth. The waters subsided.

(2a) The deeps fountains and the sky’s windows were also stopped

(3b) After the end of one hundred fifty days the waters decreased.

(4) The ship rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on Ararat’s mountains.

(5) The waters receded continually until the tenth month. In the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen.

(7) and he sent forth a raven. It went back and forth, until the waters were dried up from the earth.

(13a) It happened in the six hundred first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from the earth

(14) In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry.

(15) God spoke to Noah, saying,

(16) Go out of the ship, you, and your wife, and your sons, and your sons wives with you.

(17) Bring forth with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh, including birds, livestock, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, that they may breed abundantly in the earth, and be fruitful, and multiply on the earth.

(18) Noah went forth, with his sons, his wife, and his sons wives with him.

(19) Every animal, every creeping thing, and every bird, whatever moves on the earth, after their families, went out of the ship.

[Gen 9]

(1) God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.

(2) The fear of you and the dread of you will be on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the sky. Everything that the ground teems with, and all the fish of the sea are delivered into your hand.

(3) Every moving thing that lives will be food for you. As the green herb, I have given everything to you.

(4) But flesh with its life, its blood, you shall not eat.

(5) I will surely require your blood of your lives. At the hand of every animal I will require it. At the hand of man, even at the hand of every mans brother, I will require the life of man.

(6) Whoever sheds mans blood, his blood will be shed by man, for God made man in his own image.

(7) Be fruitful and multiply. Bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply in it.

(8) God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying,

(9) As for me, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your offspring after you,

(10) and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the livestock, and every animal of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ship, even every animal of the earth.

(11) I will establish my covenant with you: all flesh will not be cut off any more by the waters of the flood, neither will there ever again be a flood to destroy the earth.

(12) God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations:

(13) I set my rainbow in the cloud, and it will be for a sign of a covenant between me and the earth.

(14) It will happen, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow will be seen in the cloud,

(15) and I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh, and the waters will no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.

(16) The rainbow will be in the cloud. I will look at it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.

(17) God said to Noah, This is the token of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.


Some points to notice.

  • In “J”, Yahweh is quite human-like. He grieves, he is sorry, he favors Noah, he enjoys the smell of sacrifice, he has a heart.. In “P”, he is more distant. No human emotions or characteristics are mentioned. This corresponds to the theology of the priestly source, who see God as a distant power who can only be approached by priestly sacrifice.
  • In “J”, Noah brings seven pairs (14) of all clean animals and a pair (2) of all unclean animals. In “P” he only brings a pair of all animals. Why? As we see, in “J”, a sacrifice will be offered, and those extra animals will come in handy. In “P”, no sacrifice occurs, so no extra animals are needed. Why no sacrifice in “P”? Because one of the main points of “P” is that ONLY Aaronid priest can offer sacrifice! There is no sacrifice in “P” until Aaron. “P” would not want to admit that Noah or anyone else before Aaron could offer a valid sacrifice.
  • In “J”, There are no elaborate instructions. Noah just grabs a ship. In “P” there are elaborate instructions. This fits the priestly mentality that pleasing God requires obedience to explicit ritual instructions.
  • In “J”, no exact dates are given. There is more of a story-like quality. “P” likes exact dates and lists.
  • In “J”, The flood is caused by 40 days and nights of rain. In “P”, it’s a cosmic catastrophe, with the fountains of the deep opening and the windows of heaven opening, and the flood prevails for 150 days before beginning to subside. The flood has definitely become more grandiose in the interval between “J” and “P”.
  • In “J”, The waters of the flood are 15 cubits deep (about 45 feet) Enough to wipe out cities and cover small local hills. In “P”, the floodwaters are so huge that the take the ark to Mt. Ararat – clearly a global catastrophe.
  • In “J”, The flood stops in 40 days, and Noah is able to leave after waiting 14 days for the waters to dry. In “P”, the flood stops in 150 days (P records the date precisely) and Noah doesn’t leave the ship till more than a year from the day he entered it.
  • In “J”, Noah sends out doves. In “P” he sends out a raven.
  • In “J”, Noah offers a sacrifice and it convinces God never to send a flood again. In “P”, it’s a sovereign decision on Gods part, ratified with a religious covenant contract and a cosmic sign (the rainbow), again corresponding to the priestly view of God as a remote and abstract force interested in precise laws.


Not only does each of the sources have its own very identifiable character, but each story makes much more cohesive sense when extracted from the other and read in isolation. I believe this is a very good illustration of why the explanatory power of the documentary hypothesis makes it a good working model of the sources of the Pentateuch.

Dec 272006

Someone responded to my introduction to the “documentary hypothesis” by pointing to a web site that disagrees with the hypothesis, here: http://www.kencollins.com/bible-p2.htm. In the interest of responding to objections in general, let me start by commenting on the points made on this site. I should mention that the site is well designed and maintained, and Rev Collins has a lot of excellent material, some of which I agree with. This response is not directed at Rev Collens personally. He seems like a very nice fellow.  I'm simply using his organization of material to formulate a response.

First of all, Rev. Collins implies that the difficulties in authorship were recognized, and accounted for, anciently. “As today, the concept of authorship included the possibilities of ghost writers and editors working under the author’s supervision. Therefore, neither Christians nor Jews had a problem with those passages of the Torah that describe Moses’ death and the ultimate disposition of his body.”

There are several points to be made about this. For one thing, while some of the more obvious problems (such as the account of Moses death) were noticed in ancient times as “issues” – the more analytical evidence assembled for the documentary hypothesis is a very recent development. For another thing, any challenge to Mosaic authorship in earlier historical periods was officially condemned. Both Jews and Christians who suggested any hand other than Moses’ in the Pentateuch suffered ridicule, excommunication, condemnation of their work, censorship and even arrest. Richard Friedman catalogues a few of these in his “Who Wrote the Bible?” The type of analysis that characterizes the documentary hypothesis was only possible when the power of official religion to condemn it had diminished.

But most important, in my earlier discussion (http://perennis.pathstoknowledge.com/who_wrote_the_books_of_moses_introduction) I pointed out that the incongruities in the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch extended far beyond the death of Moses. Various statements are made from the point of view of authors who are looking back on legendary events from at least the middle monarchial period of Israel. Secretaries and scribal assistants of Moses don’t account for this at all.

Rev. Collins next states, “The documentary hypothesis was formulated in the nineteenth century before the bulk of the archaeological discoveries in the Holy Land.” This would be a valid point if Rev. Collins went on to mention any recent discoveries that tended to disprove the documentary hypothesis. Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be any. He does mention the discovery of the “Hittites”, but there is much debate about equating the biblical “Hittites” with the Anatolia Empire discovered by archeologists (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hittites_in_the_Bible). Even if they were indeed the same group, it would not alter the documentary hypothesis at all. Not only that, but there have been several discoveries that tend to support the documentary hypothesis. For example, many of the excavated sites in Israel show continuous occupation by the same groups of people since before the traditional time of the conquest of Canaan (see “The Religion of Israel” by William Doorly) This tends to suggest that the conquest as described in the Pentateuch was at least partially a later recounting of an earlier legend, as the documentary hypothesis would suggest. Also, archeological evidence suggests that Israel’s early culture and religion was more fragmented and polytheistic than the Pentateuch portrays it.

Names of God

Next we this: “Since the advocates of this theory use the name of God as the main criterion for detecting the constituent documents of the Torah, we must begin by asking if this criterion is truly valid.” This is a significant misunderstanding. Different names for God are not in fact “the main criterion” for detecting constituent documents – they were rather the first vital clue in suggesting the possibility of multiple authors. The idea of constituent documents was only pursued because differences in the name of God were found to correspond to differences in style, theology, geographic and historical emphasis, politics and point of view.

Rev. Collins compares the different names of God in the Pentateuch with Christian authors in the New Testament who sometimes use Jesus, sometimes Christ, sometimes Jesus Christ etc. in referring to the Lord. But supposing that – when we sorted all the New Testament writings according to their names for Jesus – we found that passages that called him “Jesus” always had a very different point of view and theology than passages that called him “Christ”. Suppose further than the “Jesus” passages always referred to places in Galilee and the Christ passages always referred to places near Jerusalem. With enough of these factors diverging, you would be entirely reasonable to wonder if two different authors were responsible. This is exactly the situation in the documentary hypothesis. Shortly I hope to prepare an illustration of this using the “J” and “P” stories of the flood, which are interwoven into one account in our current version of Genesis.

Hard Evidence

Rev. Collins makes a good point that we no hard evidence of the existence of any of the theoretical source documents of the Pentateuch. While this is an argument from silence, it would seem reasonable to give the benefit of the doubt to the text, if it claims to be a unified whole. Unfortunately, the Pentateuch does not make this claim. It seems to be an anonymous work, and there is no clear indication that the books belong together. It is only in tradition that the books of Moses take on a uniform identity with Moses as the author. And while it’s true that we don’t have any early manuscripts of “J”, “E”, “P” or “D”, neither do we have any early manuscripts of the complete Pentateuch. We have some fragments back to the 2nd century or so BCE, with some degree of variation. So there is no “hard” evidence of either the documentary or the traditional hypothesis.

Rev. Collins also complains that there are several versions of the documentary hypothesis, and that the divisions in the text vary somewhat depending on the researcher. But this is what we would expect of an attempt to separate an intricate redaction of at least four sources. Many of the sections being analyzed are short, and the shorter the text, the less likely that it will display ALL the characteristics of a particular author. Researchers have to decide how many characteristics they are willing to rely on to make their decisions on authorship – and it’s only natural that different researchers will make slightly different decisions. There was, at one point, a tendency to extract more and more sources from the Pentateuch, but these attempts have been largely unsuccessful, and opinion has consolidated around four or even three major sources.

“…methods of the documentary hypothesis have not been tested on modern documents to see if they do in fact accurately resolve the literary history of a document,” says KenCollins.com. In fact, there have been some spectacular successes of similar stylistic analysis on modern documents. For example (as seen here http://www.infidels.org/library/magazines/tsr/1998/4/984front.html ) Professor Don Foster used similar methods to identify columnist Joe Klein as the author of the anonymous “Primary Colors”. Although initially denying his authorship, Klein finally confessed. Professor Foster went on to prove his methods on several texts presented to him by John Hockenberry of Dateline. Foster correctly identified all the sources in a combined text created by Hockenberry.

Ancient Literacy

Yes, it is entirely possible that if Moses really existed, and was really brought up as a member of the royal house of Egypt, he might have been literate. The only evidence we have of Moses and his status is, of course the Pentateuch itself. This isn’t evidence against the documentary hypothesis. It would simply make the traditional hypothesis a possibility.

The Supernatural

The documentary hypothesis does not require any denial of the supernatural. It is interesting, regarding this, that one of the sources (“P”) DOES seem to have less of a taste for the supernatural than “J” does. In “P”, there are no talking animals, angels, or anthropomorphic pictures of God. God is more transcendent and spirituality more formal. But “J” has supernatural beings and events a-plenty.

The Geographical Origins of the Torah

I’d not heard this point before, but Rev. Collins claims, echoing a claim I’ve now seen at various places around the internet, that the Pentateuch is more familiar with the geography, flora and fauna of Egypt than Palestine. Unfortunately, most of the sites that make this claim don’t provide examples. I found two in the footnotes at AnswersInGenesis.org (http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v20/i4/moses.asp). They are:

1. And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar. (Gen 13:10)

The problem with this is that Zoar in one of the five cities of the plain and is nowhere near Egypt. There are several theories to explain this passage, and I haven’t studied the theories well enough to pass judgment on them. But I certainly wouldn’t count this as good evidence of knowledge of Egyptian geography when, on the surface, it appears the author is totally clueless about where Egypt even is.

2. Acacia trees. Answers in Genesis claims that Acacia are native to Egypt and very rare in Canaan. In fact, there are several places in Canaan named for the acacia (or shittim) tree. It was a highly prized wood found in several places in Canaan. If it were scarcer in Canaan than Egypt, it is all the more natural that it would be used for holy objects, such as the ark.

There is also a claim that the “crop sequence” in Exodus 9:31-32 is Egyptian, not Palestinian. Since I’m not aware of any reliable source of information on crop sequences in ancient Egypt and Palestine, I’ll leave this one alone, but I’d not give it much weight until I saw it documented.

Literary Form

There’s something a little odd about using form criticism to attack source criticism, but in any case, I believe Rev. Collin’s attack is too general. He states that the Pentateuch has the literary form of an ancient suzerainty treaty between a vassal and conqueror. Looking at the example, it seems to me that applying this form to the Pentateuch as a whole is quite arbitrary. It DOES seem to apply quite well to Deuteronomy. This is not a problem for the documentary hypothesis. Friedman and others place the final composition of Deuteronomy at the time of Jeremiah, using older sources that could easily be pre-monarchial. As Jeremiah wrote in the 7th century BCE – a time when suzerainty treaties of this form were still in use, the documentary hypothesis is not disturbed by this form observation.

Synthesis of Northern and Southern Traditions

Rev. Collins finds it improbable that Northern religious documents would be synthesized with Southern, as the Northern kingdom had been destroyed for idolatry and this made all its religious writings tainted and apostate. This is too simplistic. The refugees who fled from the destruction of the Northern kingdom – particularly the priests of Shiloh (who were the probable compilers of “JE”) were unlikely to see this as a judgment of them personally. In fact, the priests of Shiloh likely saw it as a vindication of themselves and their tradition against the Kings who had slighted them. By merging the two traditions, the priests of Shiloh would have been able to attract public support, interests and power. Rather than being opposed by prophets, they were primarily opposed by the Aaronid priest, who (in Friedman’s version) compiled “P” as a polemic response. Ironically, both rival sets of scriptures were finally harmonized by Ezra.

The Origin of the Documentary Hypothesis

Rev. Collins begins: “It is also interesting that the documentary hypothesis did not arise among the rabbis, even though the rabbis have studied the Torah longer, harder, and more critically than anyone else.” We can agree with most of this except perhaps the word “critically”. Well, actually we have to disagree with the whole premise. Jewish scholars did occasionally suggest additional authors for the Pentateuch. In the eleventh century, a Jewish court physician, Isaac Iban Yashush suggested that someone other than Moses wrote parts of the Pentateuch. He was subsequently labeled “Isaac the Blunderer” by other Rabbis. Another Jewish scholar Bonfils of Damascus, wrote similar opinions. They were removed from subsequent editions of his work after his death. Spinoza, suggesting the same thing, was excommunicated from Judaism AND placed on the Catholic index of proscribed books.

Holocaust Connection?

The argument made next is that, by discrediting the Jewish tradition of Mosaic authorship, the documentary hypothesis became ammunition in the cause of anti-Semitism. It should go without saying that one should accept or reject an idea on the basis of the evidence for or against it. It would be not be correct to accept a bad theory simply to avoid discrediting the traditions of a persecuted group. Rev. Collins tacitly admits this, and says he is only bringing up the anti-Semitic angle to warn documentary hypothesis supporters to take precautions to mitigate the unintended consequences of their theory. It’s hard, however, not to see this as a veiled attempt at “poisoning the well”. The only real, lasting approach to teaching tolerance is a respect for the dignity of all human beings, rather than to pretend acceptance of religious traditions that don’t do a good job of explaining the facts.

Does Jesus endorse the Mosaic tradition?

Assuming we are willing to question religious tradition, what of Jesus’ apparent identification of Moses as the author of the Pentateuch? I have pointed out elsewhere (http://perennis.pathstoknowledge.com/bibliolatry) that Jesus several times seems to question the traditional authorship of various passages of the Old Testament. “An eye for an eye” from Exodus is ascribed by Jesus simply to “them of old” – i.e. a human tradition. So we cannot rely on Jesus mentioning Moses as an endorsement of Mosaic authorship for the entire Pentateuch.

Also, in taking on our humanity, Jesus relinquishes his absolute prerogative to divine omniscience. While at times he displays supernatural knowledge, at other times he seems to share human limitation. Provided that salvation is not compromised, Jesus would not necessarily have omniscient information about the exact sources of the Pentateuch. Even if he did, he might well refer to “Moses” as the traditional author. Just as I might quote “Hamlet” as making a particular remark, when I know the author was actually Shakespeare.

Having responded to some initial objections, I’ll proceed later to the evidence for the documentary hypothesis.

Dec 212006

Who wrote the five books of Moses?

From the latter days of the Kings of Israel, the tradition had been established that certain writings had come from the hand of Moses himself:

When they brought out the money that was brought into the house of Yahweh, Hilkiah the priest found the book of the law of Yahweh given by Moses. (2Ch 34:14 WEB) [Referring to the famous “D” source we mentioned earlier]

By the time of Jesus, the tradition was firmly established, and continued for centuries after, that the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) had been written by Moses directly, as these scriptures imply:

But about the dead, that they are raised; havent you read in the book of Moses, about the Bush, how God spoke to him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? (Mar 12:26 WEB) [Referring to Exodus 3:6]

For Moses writes about the righteousness of the law, The one who does them will live by them. (Rom 10:5 WEB) [Referring to Leviticus 18:5]

But over the centuries, scholars who read the “books of Moses” carefully found a few puzzling verses that didn’t make sense coming from the pen of Moses. Here are some of the more famous examples:

So Moses the servant of Yahweh died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of Yahweh. He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab over against Beth Peor: but no man knows of his tomb to this day. (Deu 34:5-6 WEB)

[There are several problems here. Moses is referred to in the third person, which is rather a strange way to write about yourself. Secondly, how can Moses write in the past tense about his own death? Finally, when saying that no one knows the location of Moses’ tomb “to this day” – it implies that Moses death and burial is an event in the distant, even legendary past.]

Now the man Moses was very humble, above all the men who were on the surface of the earth. (Num 12:3 WEB)

[The problem here is obvious. Does a humble man praise his own humility? In the third person??]

When Abram heard that his relative was taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued as far as Dan. (Gen 14:14 WEB)

[This one is a bit harder to notice. Abraham pursued an army till he reached the city of Dan. The problem is, in Abraham’s day, AND IN MOSES’ DAY, the city was not called “Dan”. It was called “Laish”. In the scripture below, in Judges, the Bible explains that the tribe of Dan, AFTER the death of Moses, captured the city of Laish and renamed it to “Dan”]

They called the name of the city Dan, after the name of Dan their father, who was born to Israel: however the name of the city was Laish at the first. (Jdg 18:29 WEB)

Moving along…

Jair the son of Manasseh took all the region of Argob, to the border of the Geshurites and the Maacathites, and called them, even Bashan, after his own name, Havvoth Jair, to this day.) (Deu 3:14 WEB)

[This one also requires a little cross-checking. In the middle of a speech out of Moses’ own mouth in Deuteronomy 3, Moses mentions Jair capturing a region across the Jordan and calling it Havvoth Jair. The problem is, as we read about in the scripture below, Jair was a judge, who lived long after Moses, and his conquest took place after Moses was dead. Furthermore, Deuteronomy tells us that the city is called Havvoth Jair “to this day”. This means that the writer of this verse is looking back, not only on Moses, but on the time of the JUDGES as being in the distant, legendary past. Here’s the verse in Judges:]

After him arose Jair, the Gileadite; and he judged Israel twenty-two years. He had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkey colts, and they had thirty cities, which are called Havvoth Jair to this day, which are in the land of Gilead. (Jdg 10:3-4 WEB)


They took his land in possession, and the land of Og king of Bashan, the two kings of the Amorites, who were beyond the Jordan toward the sunrise; (Deu 4:47 WEB)

[What’s the problem here? It’s describing the Amorites as being “beyond the Jordan” – to the East. This only makes sense for a writer living IN ISRAEL, on the WEST side of the Jordan – a place Moses never reached.]

Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. The Canaanite was then in the land. (Gen 12:6 WEB)

[This explanatory comment makes no sense unless when the writer was writing, the Canaanites were no longer in the land… in other words, AFTER the time of the Judges.]

These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom, before any king reigned over the children of Israel. (Gen 36:31 WEB)

[But this implies that the writer is familiar with the time when kings DID reign over Israel! So we are looking at a comment written after Moses, after the conquest, after the Judges, and after the beginning of the Monarchy]

The obvious conclusion is that at least one of the writers who contributed to the five books of Moses lived in the middle to late monarchal period of Israel or Judah, many centuries after the time of Moses. Let me be careful, however, add some qualifications:

1. These later writers or editors might be using or editing much older sources.
2. Nothing in this argument prevents us from believing that these later writers or editors were spiritually inspired.

All it argues against is the tradition that Moses, and ONLY Moses, wrote the first five books of the Old Testament.

The next clue about the authorship of these books comes from examining the mysterious parallel accounts of the same events that they contain. More on that later.

Jul 272006

While thinking about the issue of Gnosticism and the problem of evil, I suddenly had what was (to me at least) a very powerful “ah ha” moment. Of course, once written down and shared, it will probably seem mundane or even stupidly obvious. But at the time it was like a bolt of lightening from heaven.

The insight was this: Whatever the literal truth or falsehood – Gnosticism is actually a very perceptive metaphor on the problem of pain and evil. It hit me as I was reading something in a Gnostic text and realized it was very similar to something both Robert Pirsig and Ken Wilber had said. Both these writers point out a particular hierarchy of being – one I think we would all agree with. You can divide it up in more than one way – but it goes something like this:

The Hierarchy of Being

The foundational structures of the cosmos are physical – in the sense of being governed by chemistry and physics. Then there are biological structures built from the physical. Then there are social structures built from the biological. Then there are the mental structures of ideas that are built from social dialogue. You can add a layer of spiritual structures, but since that will be an item of dispute, let’s just lump it in with mental for the moment. Each of these structures is built on the preceding ones. Biological systems use physical systems. Social systems use biological systems (people) and physical systems (technologies). Mental systems use social systems (communal dialogue), biological systems (our brains) and physical systems (the neurochemistry of the brain).

Contrary Purposes

Now for a critical observation – each of these levels have entirely different – even contradictory – purposes, laws and goals. For example, entropy (The tendency for all matter and energy in the universe to devolve into a state of inert uniformity and disorder) is a fundamental principle of the physical cosmos. But biology is in a state of war with entropy. Biology is a system for increasing the order and energy in the small local pocket of it’s own system. Biology has its own laws and goals – which center on the survival of the individual organism and its reproduction at the expense of all else. But at the social level, these biological goals – unchecked, become evils. Societies may choose to sacrifice their own individual members for the good of the society – if they threaten the social stability, for example. Then from these societies and their interactions, systems of ideas arise. And what a society may see as “good” for its survival and prosperity (slavery for example) the arising system of ideas may see as evil. In the West, we have a developed a system of ideas which demands that we tolerate (for the sake of the IDEA of liberty) the existence of certain things which may pose a danger to the social order – reformers or crackpots as the case may be.

The point is, at each point in the hierarchy of being, the “good” and “evil” of the lower rungs on the ladder may be (and often ARE) very contrary to the “good” and “evil” of the higher rungs. Let’s take a bad genetic illness like Harlequin Baby Syndrome. From our point of view in the social and particularly mental spheres of being, this seems quite obviously evil. It is hideous and causes great physical and emotional suffering. On the other hand, from the point of view of biology, it’s not bad at all. Genetic variability is what drives the whole process. If we didn’t have a thousand mutations or genetic combinations that resulted in death and pain, we wouldn’t have the one that turned proved to be useful in some particular way. Suffering and death are simply failed experiments that weed out unfit genetic combinations.

The higher levels cannot normally disregard the rules and laws of the lower levels. They simply find ways to work around them or compromise with them to achieve their purposes.

Spiritual Metaphors

Let’s return to the Gnostic metaphor, then. The Gnostics saw the god of creation, the demiurge or “half-maker” as a somewhat ignorant figure, full of arrogance, petty jealousy and capriciousness. From the ideas above, we could say that the demiurge represents the physical/biological systems, as seen from the point of view of the mental/spiritual systems. It’s interesting that as gnosticism developed from its earlier roots, the demiurge was increasingly seen as not just immature and ignorant, but positively EVIL, along with the material world he organized. Orthodox Christianity has been more reluctant to condemn the material world, but still tries to insist that God governs the whole cosmos in accordance with the higher (mental/spiritual) notions of “good”. The idea that “good” changes from one level to the next would probably rub the wrong way and be seen as making morality “situational”.

A Symbolic Example

This idea of good and evil changing from one level to the next has an interesting illustration in world symbology – specifically the symbol of the snake. Ken Wilber points out that serpents can be seen as symbols of good OR evil in many different religions – including Christianity. For example, the serpent represents Satan in the garden on the one hand, but when Moses raises up a serpent on a pole to heal the Israelites, it is taken to be a symbol of Jesus.

In Hindu/Buddhist symbolism, the snake represents Kundalini energy – the basic life/god force of the cosmos, which works it’s way up the energy centers or “chakras” of the human body as it spiritually progresses. It’s starts at the base of the spine, at a center representing the physical systems, and works it’s way up to above the crown of the head, representing the highest spiritual centers. Wilber points out that when the snake symbol is used as representing “evil” it is seen at the lower levels of the body (the typhonic gods, for example, or the goat-god baphomet), and at the higher levels of the body, it represents “good” (Buddah and other deities are seen with cobras shading the crown of their heads). It is not that the physical levels are “bad” – they are only seen as bad when we fixate on or descend to the lower physical/biological or social levels as the expense of the mental/spiritual levels.

More Refinements

The categories I have been using, by the way, need not be divided so broadly. Within each level of being, there may be many sub-levels. For example, there are many types and classifications of social and mental systems. A new and higher social or mental system may find its notions of “good” and “evil” quite different from an earlier one.


How do we view the problem of evil from this hierarchical perspective? What looks to us humans as “unnecessary suffering” from our perspective is usually the “good” of a lower order interposing itself in our own “good”. Theoretically, of course, it could always be the good of a higher order interposing itself in our own “good”. For example, our programs of selective breeding produce species that, while they serve our purposes nicely – are actually LESS fit for survival. If biology had an independent mind and could speak, it might accuse us of corrupting things. Which brings up another point. A lower level is utterly incapable of reacting according to the “good” of a higher level. If there are levels of being above our own – we might be quite unequipped to understand “good” and “evil” with respect to them – until we reach that level ourselves. In fact, if the system I have mapped out here has any predictive value, it would probably say that at the next level, the “goods” and “evils” of our MENTAL or philosophical/religious systems are quite incidental to a much greater spiritual good. The angels or higher beings may be as unconcerned about the truths of our philosophies and dogmas as we are unconcerned with “corrupting” natural selection by breeding prize milk cows.

If we look at God as being present at every level of this hierarchy, working within it – we are simply faced with the fact that there are different ideals of “good” at different levels of being.

“Evil” is simply the interplay of different levels of “good”.

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