Torah Torah Torah 3

3 – Other documents within the “Tetrateuch”:

Although P is evidently drawing on older sources for much of the material, everything is rewritten in P ‘s own late language and inimitable style, with one major exception. The legislative pronouncements include several blocks of old text called H for the “Holiness Code”, so-called from a repeated refrain “be holy, for YHWH is holy”. This would appear to be “case law” from the Judges period: interpretation of the traditional laws for particular situations which had come up. We cannot speak of a single author in this case; H is more analogous to the Talmud, but without the headings indicating which pronouncement was from what rabbi.

Another block of old material incorporated within P is the census data that gives Numbers its English name (from Greek Arithmoi ; the Hebrew actually is B-midbar “in the wilderness” from the opening phrase, much as Genesis is B-reshith “in the beginning”, Exodus is Ha-shemoth “the names”, Leviticus Wa-yiqra “and he cried”, and Deuteronomy Ha-devarim “the words”). Like the genealogies and other plainly old material, they are re-written in P ‘s language, but this material is worthy of specially noting here in order to clarify where it must actually come from: the census conducted by David, as recorded in II Sam. xxiv. The numbers are absurdly large for a group wandering around in the desert.

A minor but persistent voice throughout the Tetrateuch is R , the “Redactor” who is splicing J and E together into one book. Some scholars distinguish R-sub-JE from R-sub-JEP assuming that there is a second redactor who merged the JE in turn with P , but this theory does not seem to work. The only redactor who is combining P with the JE material is P himself, as the very last contributor putting the books into final form. We should not hesitate to give P a name: this is Ezra. The “book of the law of Moses” was publicly read in Neh. viii, in Hebrew, since we are told that there were interpreters for those who did not know the language of the book (Neh. viii:8), and there is no reason whatsoever to think that the Torah could have been substantially re-edited after such a public proclamation of the text. Giving names to J , E , and R is more speculative: but from the age of the language, J and E are not long after D , in the time of the early monarchy; from their respective emphases, J belongs to Judah and E to Samaria; it is generally felt that J was written during the united monarchy, and E was a rewrite to emphasize northern independence; R would have to be at a time when the north/south split no longer seemed so important. My own private theory is that R is Ezekiel, from the “two sticks” prophecy (Ezek. xxxvii:15-28) where he writes “for Judah” on one stick and “for Joseph” on another, and joins them into one stick, as a sign that the two peoples will be re-united; I take the “sticks” to be J and E respectively. The author of J is conceded by even the most anti-religious of scholars to have been a genius of powerful insight: since the accounts of the united monarchy agree that king Solomon himself was the greatest writer of his time, I do not think it unreasonable (though hardly certain) that Solomon personally wrote J . As for E , the best guess for its date would be the reign of king Omri, who established the northern kingdom as a major power; but there is no reason in this case to think that the king wrote it himself, or that we have any hope of recovering the name of the author (or authors, if it was a collegiate rather than individual effort).

Is everything in the Torah later than Moses? On the contrary, the “Lay” source L in Gen. xiv appears to be older than Moses! The divine title, uniquely, is El Elyon “God Supreme” (or “of up-ness” if you want to be dead-literal about it); the language is so archaic that it is better termed “Canaanite” than “Hebrew”; and some of the folklore has not yet developed: for we see the king of Sodom as Abraham’s good buddy, no problemo, without the “Deuteronomist” assumption that Sodom must have been especially wicked to merit a natural disaster. There is an intriguing indication of authorship: Abraham recaptures “318 servant trained in his own house” (not “servants” in the plural), and this phrase “the servant trained in his own house” is recurrent in the patriarchal narratives for Abraham’s right-hand man, who is named Eli’ezer once only and is otherwise anonymous; the letters in the name Eli’ezer add up (in their conventional usage as numerals) to 318; the best explanation for why the name is occuring only “in code” here is that Eli’ezer is the author, giving a biography of his beloved master, and is too humble to name himself explicitly. J probably has a much fuller text of this biography as one source, but is citing the L chapter verbatim to establish the ancient credentials of Jerusalem as a holy city (this is where Abraham meets the enigmatic priest Melchizedek). The propagandistic need is obvious, since Jerusalem up until David’s reign had been in hostile “heathen” hands, and hardly seemed a natural candidate for YHWH’s shrine, however natural as a political capital.

Certain documents, then, did exist in written form and were recopied and preserved from even earlier than the Exodus. How much of what we see in the Torah can we attribute to Moses himself? The 10 Commandments were surely actually carved on actual blocks of stone carried within the sacred “ark”; this is probably the complete extent to which the “law” was written down at that point. Embedded in J is a series of “log” notations like “we camped at Rephidim where there was no water for the people to drink”. These place-names have been the bane of archaeologists for decades, since there is not the slightest trace of any of these names ever being used by anybody else for any site in the Sinai region. Apparently these are “nonce” names which were made up as they wandered from place to place, and some sort of brief record of these different encampments was kept; the exceedingly brief style would be dictated by a severe shortage of writing materials (we moderns tend to take the availability of paper so much for granted!). At Rephidim we have a battle with Amalek, described at Ex. xvii:8-16 with Moses commanded to “write this in a book, and recite it in the ears of Joshua” (verse 14), the only time Moses is actually told to write anything down except for the 10 commandments– but “recite it in the ears of Joshua” would suggest that J is really getting this from oral tradition rather than any writing– except that the seriously obscure verse 16 “The hand up (?), the flag (?) of YHWH, now YHWH will war on Amalek from generation to generation” suggests that what J actually has is a very old piece of cloth, used as a war-flag from back then, and is coining the story of Moses keeping his arms raised, and Israel winning until he gets tired, from an attempted reading of the archaic language. Another piece of seriously archaic language is the song at Ex. xv:1-18, written by Miriam sister of Moses; this too, it is reasonable to suppose, does go all the way back to the Exodus, though surely as an oral tradition rather than a written document.

I’m assuming that R is during the Captivity (Ezekiel?) and P is after the return (Ezra, with less of a question mark). Sections of E were not included, perhaps because they were simply redundant, or perhaps because they were theologically unacceptable: it is difficult to believe that E did not start off with a creation account, and perhaps what P is giving us in the 7-day creation and the alternate Flood story is a cleaned-up version of what E had but R refused to incorporate.

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