Is the Documentary Hypothesis antithesis of Mormonism or a point of explanation? A discussion

Kevin Barney at the turn of the century published a fine article in Dialogue discussing the Documentary Hypothesis and specifically its effect on Mormon thought about the writers of the Bible.  The idea that Moses is not the writer of the five books which we claim he wrote is not a new discussion.  In fact one might say that much of what was written down, including his final speech in Deuteronomy would obviously fall after his death so logically could not have been documented by him.

When I first and secondly read the Old Testament I found these first five books particularly hard to overcome.  In much of the later three books I was glazed over.  In some respects I put that on a combination of thousands of years separating me from the authors and the fact that the book we used in the LDS church is so full of Shakespearian era dialect that it almost impossible to make it through without a guide to get you through.

But as I have learned over the years having a document compiled by multiple authors by an editor who for reasons only known to him/them left conflicting stories to intermingle in the book.  It now made sense in a totally different way why I could find this all so much more difficult to read.

The idea that documentary hypothesis works well with me for that reason to begin with.  The idea that there are multiple writers with varying agendas makes perfect sense.  As a historian I have noted that the past is a combination of everyone’s viewpoint.  From the eye witnesses to the various second hand accounts to the academic papers each offer a slice of a historical argument and each of us makes are piece with what we can accept.  Sometimes we accept myth making over history because it makes us feel better.  Sometimes we prefer history because we want to see a fair viewpoint.

At times with ancient literature we only have their word for it.  In some cases archaeology can help but it cannot always answer in a definitive way.  Many times it is educated guess work no different than a historian looking at Herodotus or Julius Caesar.  So while one has to be careful at making broad gestures I think it is important that we understand the academic need to understand why things came to be.  

Given those ideas we now have to go back and examine what our own challenges are with this hypothesis.  Will it always be something which we cannot agree like Evangelical Christians who see this as challenging to their understanding to their view point on Biblical inerrancy. Similar to Muslims who see the Quran as a book from God to man with no middle interpretation.  

What I am proposing here is an examination of the articles by Barney, Sorenson and others who argued for the hypothesis and see whether the foundations of this idea and how these compare to Book of Mornon scholarship and if there are ways we can build a bridge to where each of the variant ideas carry us and how they can be defined.  Is there four authors, many more fragments which make up the five books, is there points that come from after the exile that must be evaluated in light of what Joseph translated.  

I personally love Sorenson’s hypothesis that the brass plates were the Northern tribes version of the Bible which make up the E version or P version of the scriptures depending on the current viewpoint.  Whereas J version speaks to the Jews in Judah during the monarchical period. In many ways I want to continue that discussion.

So I hope you will join me in this process as it has been a while since I wrote here I hope you will join me along the road.  Apologies if this does not completely make sense but hopefully we will achieve something of interest for more than just me.

4 Responses to Is the Documentary Hypothesis antithesis of Mormonism or a point of explanation? A discussion

  1. Dave says:

    I’m looking forward to the discussion, Jon. The documentary hypothesis does help the reader understand the form and content of the Pentateuch. What it doesn’t do is match up very well with traditional LDS ideas about the form and content of the Pentateuch. While Mormons reject biblical inerrancy as propounded by Evangelicals, the Church nevertheless seems to accept almost without question traditional conservative Christian views about scripture. Not sure why LDS scholars (at least those on the CES payroll) feel obligated to think this way.

  2. Jon W says:

    It is a difficult road for LDS scholars to walk but it might be one worth doing. Hopefully I can keep your interest.

  3. gold price says:

    The documentary understanding of the origin of the five books of Moses was immediately seized upon by other scholars, and within a few years became the predominant theory. While many of Wellhausen’s specific claims have since been dismissed, the general idea that the five books of Moses had a composite origin is now fully accepted by historians.

  4. 88 color matte palette…

    […]Is the Documentary Hypothesis antithesis of Mormonism or a point of explanation? A discussion | Banner, Sword, and Shield[…]…

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