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Source: (consider it) Thread: When Abraham Murdered Isaac
Gramps49
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https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+22&version=NLT

When we hear or read the story we assume that God intervened at the last moment to spare Isaac.

But there are two problems with the story. The story begins using the E narrative. Elohim directs Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Elohim is used all the way up to the point when Abraham raises his knife to kill Isaac

And then, what happens. YHWH intervenes, and tells Abraham to stop!! (Gen 22:22)

After this event. Isaac does not appear again in the E story line. In fact, it appears that Abraham actually descends from the mountain alone.

The Y story line does continue the Isaac story, but curiously, many of the Isaac episodes are repeats of the Abraham story.

Here is an article that further details the problem https://www.timesofisrael.com/when-abraham-murdered-isaac/

Question: Should we sit shiva for Isaac?

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Rossweisse

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I'd read that before someplace, and I think it makes sense. (But then who fathered his children?)

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mousethief

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Isaac goes on and does some other stuff after the descent. Are these two stories, glommed together, so that the story in E ends in Isaac's death, and the story in Y imposes its own history (Isaac and his descendants) on the E story at the moment of "Stop it"? The compilers just figured they were the same guys and stuck them together?

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Golden Key
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Maybe I'm missing something about Isaac not descending the mountain. But v.19 says:

quote:
Then they returned to the servants and traveled back to Beersheba, where Abraham continued to live.
"They". Now, maybe the angel walked down with Abraham, but... If Isaac didn't go back down with Abraham, it might just have been because his dad just tried to *kill* him.

Does anyone know what Islamic scripture/tradition says? I know it's Ishmael, not Isaac, in their version.

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Gramps49
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Golden Key

While v. 19 does say "They descended the mountains," there is no mention of Isaac after that

Genesis 22:22 lists the sons of Abraham, but again, there is no mention of Isaac.

What happened?

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Golden Key
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As I said, maybe he decided it really wasn't in his best interests to stay around a dad who tried to kill him?

Which would make Isaac and Ishmael coming together over their father's grave even more painful and powerful.

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Golden Key
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Also, v.22 doesn't list *Abraham's* children. It list the children of his brother Nahor's wife, Milcah.

And, from v.23, it looks like Isaac's eventual wife, Rebeccah, was a cousin.

[ 13. September 2017, 06:27: Message edited by: Golden Key ]

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Nigel M
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The theory works only if the reader accepts the documentary hypothesis. If the reader doesn’t, then there is no problem.

I think that hypothesis is outdated and was based on flawed assumptions. Later insights from linguistics (particularly communication theory and rhetorical analysis), and further assistance from sociology (worldview analyses) provide a cleaner and more historically realistic foundation for understanding the texts.

An example of the hypothesis in trouble – where abnormal distortions of the text have to be made to make them conform to a category – is in chapter 24:1-4 where we have the divine names El (‘God’ in English Versions) and Yahweh (‘The LORD’ in English Versions) side by side in connection with Isaac (here in the NET Version):
quote:
Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years, and the LORD had blessed him in everything. Abraham said to his servant, the senior one in his household who was in charge of everything he had, “Put your hand under my thigh so that I may make you solemnly promise by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of the earth: You must not acquire a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living. You must go instead to my country and to my relatives to find a wife for my son Isaac.”
To say that Isaac never again appears in an ‘E’ text is to say that the above text “must” have been amended by a later editor to insert the reference to El in an otherwise non-E document. This really is an example of a case where the dogma of categorisation has got the better of reality.

I also think that the pronoun ‘he’ in connection with Abraham is used as a synecdoche (part standing in for the whole) in verse 3 – standing in not just for Abraham, but also for the son and servants with him. If an author was content to use Abraham and his pronouns as standing in also for his people from time to time, then the argument that only Abraham came back down the mountain is not watertight. It jumps to a literalistic conclusion, not taking into account authorial style.

I also question to rationale behind the use of ‘murder’ in the article: surely it is not murder in the ancient near eastern context if the child is sacrificed? We may now think of it as murder, but the article writer is being anachronistic in appending it to a story from a different context.

The article author also says, “Elohim commands the sacrifice; YHWH stops it.” That, however, does not work on the documentary hypothesis reading where the ‘E’ source was commonly assigned up to and including verse 10 of chapter 22 – with the knife poised in the air – then ‘J’ intervenes, but ‘E’ picks up again in verse 12 to prevent the sacrifice. Abraham fears El in obeying the call the sacrifice and El stops him.

Whichever way one looks at this, the documentary hypothesis is in trouble. And thus, I would say, is the article!

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fletcher christian

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I'm not sure I follow why the documentary hypothesis is in trouble. Could it not be that the same story exists in two tellings - one in the Y and one in the E. It could be argued that not only is this a foundational story against human sacrifice and it's transference to animal sacrifice, but also the beginning of the melding of two distinct notions of God. The first half of the story would certainly fit with the Y; a God who is warrior. The second half fits with E. Now both stories may have had roughly the same ending but the redaction is actually the melding of the two into a unified narrative to bring the differing aspects of God together into the one foundational narrative for the people (if they are tribes brought together at this stage). All hugely speculative, I know, but surely not out of the bounds of possibility? It doesn't of course explain Isaac's disappearance unless the E version of the tale actually had a differently named son or - heaven forbid - Y actually allowed Isaac to be sacrificed.

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Nick Tamen

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quote:
Originally posted by Golden Key:
Maybe I'm missing something about Isaac not descending the mountain. But v.19 says:

quote:
Then they returned to the servants and traveled back to Beersheba, where Abraham continued to live.
"They". Now, maybe the angel walked down with Abraham, but...
I don't know what the Hebrew is, but the NRSV says "So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beer-sheba; and Abraham lived at Beer-sheba." So, no "they" in the NRSV. Ditto the other 4 or 5 translations I looked at, including the KJV and the New American Standard—they all just say "Abraham."

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mr cheesy
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I'm not sure I care, to be quite honest. The best rendering I've ever heard about Isaac and Abraham is in Kieregaard's Fear and Trembling and the Teleological Suspension of the Ethical works if Isaac is killed or if he isn't.

In fact the moral quandary of obeying the Divine or the Ethical is better illustrated in some ways if Isaac is killed.

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Karl: Liberal Backslider
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The DH has YHWH as the characteristic word for God; I am not aware that it never uses El, which is a fairly generic word for a god.

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Callan
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quote:
Originally posted by mr cheesy:
I'm not sure I care, to be quite honest. The best rendering I've ever heard about Isaac and Abraham is in Kieregaard's Fear and Trembling and the Teleological Suspension of the Ethical works if Isaac is killed or if he isn't.

In fact the moral quandary of obeying the Divine or the Ethical is better illustrated in some ways if Isaac is killed.

Surely, if Isaac gets it the conflict between the Divine and the Ethical is closed down quite neatly. One should opt, for the Ethical. The Divine involves believing that God can resolve the tension between "take your only son, whom you love, and sacrifice him" with "through your issue all nations will be blessed". Whack Isaac and the Divine descends from the ineffable to the intolerable.

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by Callan:
Surely, if Isaac gets it the conflict between the Divine and the Ethical is closed down quite neatly. One should opt, for the Ethical. The Divine involves believing that God can resolve the tension between "take your only son, whom you love, and sacrifice him" with "through your issue all nations will be blessed". Whack Isaac and the Divine descends from the ineffable to the intolerable.

I don't know definitively how to interpret Kierkegaard's pseudonymous works, but my take on Fear and Trembling is that Johannes de silentio is not making judgements about the rightness of the instruction from the deity, but is suggesting that the divine has a valid tug on Abraham - and that when Abraham becomes the Knight of Faith it is because he overcomes his own feelings, cultural expectations and ethics and obeys the call of the divine.

The question of whether the deity is a bastard for asking the question isn't really covered in F&T.

I think the fascinating thing about Kierkegaard is that F&T cuts across the common reading and understanding of the passage both by emphasising the disgusting-ness of the thing that Abraham is being asked to do and the struggle that he experiences in order to obey. The focus isn't on the loving gift of the lamb.

I'll stop there because it is hard to talk about Kierkegaard - and because it isn't necessarily supposed to be read as the only authoritative way to read the text.

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Stetson
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quote:
Johannes de silentio is not making judgements about the rightness of the instruction from the deity
Indeed. The whole point of Fear And Trembling is that the deity's instructions, IF THEY ARE TAKEN AS VALID, transcend the Ethical.

If I remember my Existentialism class correctly, Kant had written an analysis of Abraham and Isaac in which he had stated that the orders could not possibly have come from God, because they contradict the categorical imperative. But for Kierkegaard, the Knight Of Faith operating at the Religious level is unbeholden to said imperative.

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Callan
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Mr Cheesy and Stetson:

quote:
quote:
Johannes de silentio is not making judgements about the rightness of the instruction from the deity.
Indeed. The whole point of Fear And Trembling is that the deity's instructions, IF THEY ARE TAKEN AS VALID, transcend the Ethical.
Oh, indeed, but I think an alternative ending in which Isaac ends up bleeding to death probably affects how likely we are to take the deity's instructions as valid. I'm not sure whether it is me or Kierkegaard who is trying to have his cake and eat it here but if you radically change the ending of the story you change the meaning of it.

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by Stetson:


If I remember my Existentialism class correctly, Kant had written an analysis of Abraham and Isaac in which he had stated that the orders could not possibly have come from God, because they contradict the categorical imperative. But for Kierkegaard, the Knight Of Faith operating at the Religious level is unbeholden to said imperative.

IIRC it is Hegel that Kierkegaard says he is riffing off and he (Johannes de silentio) seems to be suggesting that Hegel thinks that obeying the Ethical is the same as obeying God and that therefore he (Abraham) should be called a murderer by Hegel.

I'm not sure that Kierkegaard specifically mentions Kant in F&T, but his (Kant) thoughts on Abraham seem to be

quote:
1. It is certain that one ought not kill one's innocent son.
2. It is not certain that a seemingly divine command to kill one's innocent son is truly a divine command.
Therefore
3. One ought to trust one's moral sense and not the putative divine revelation.
Therefore
4. ". . . if it [a scriptural text] contains statements that contradict practical reason, it must be interpreted in the interests of practical reason."

Which might suggest that Kierkegaard is setting up Hegel as a target whilst also using terms and ideas from Kant as ammunition.

Anyway, the long-and-the-short of F&T for me is that Kierkegaard more or less agrees with Kant and Hegel - that most of the time there are accepted ways of univeral ethics that one should be working within (the Ethical), but that the Knight of Faith also holds in tension the possibility that there might be a divine call which is higher than the ethical.

Which I think is to say that the divine ethic is not something to be easily or commonly conjoured up as an excuse for unEthical behaviour (oh well Judge I killed my son because God told me to) but equally that always working within the normal universal expectations of ethics makes a dull world without access to the absurd and the prophetic.

Sorry, I've done what I said I wouldn't..

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Stetson
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Cheesy wrote:

quote:
Which I think is to say that the divine ethic is not something to be easily or commonly conjoured up as an excuse for unEthical behaviour (oh well Judge I killed my son because God told me to) but equally that always working within the normal universal expectations of ethics makes a dull world without access to the absurd and the prophetic.
As I recall from that same class, the difference between a fanatic and a Knight Of Faith is that the fanatic tries to involve other people in carrying out his plans, whereas the Knight Of Faith, having experienced the call of God entirely on an individual level, acts alone.

So, basically, if Abraham had tried to start a social movement encouraging people to go around commiting murder, he'd be a fanatic. But since he acted alone, totally apart from the strictures of society, he's a Knight Of Faith.

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by Stetson:


So, basically, if Abraham had tried to start a social movement encouraging people to go around commiting murder, he'd be a fanatic. But since he acted alone, totally apart from the strictures of society, he's a Knight Of Faith.

Which is an interesting thought given how the biblical text (in general and this passage in particular) was used by the ancients, by Christians and others.

If one is using the terms from F&T it almost feels as if something extraordinary, divine, weird, inexplicable and absurd has become part of the Ethical itself. With the sacrifice of Isaac becoming seen as (contra-Hegel and Kant) the fullest expression of the Christian Ethical. Because the Christian should be following the dictats of the deity no matter what, and should have faith that it will all come good in the end.

Headache.

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BroJames
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An alternative way of reading the narrative is as part of the 'Covenant in danger' trope which is a characteristic of the Abraham story, and that the switching of divine names is a deliberate narrative device to demonstrate that it is in his covenant character as YHWH that God saves Isaac, and in the same character affirms the blessing upon Abraham. There is then considerable material for reflection about what it might mean to be in a covenant relationship with the one who is both ʾelohiym and YHWH.
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Stetson
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quote:
If one is using the terms from F&T it almost feels as if something extraordinary, divine, weird, inexplicable and absurd has become part of the Ethical itself. With the sacrifice of Isaac becoming seen as (contra-Hegel and Kant) the fullest expression of the Christian Ethical. Because the Christian should be following the dictats of the deity no matter what, and should have faith that it will all come good in the end.
I'm not sure what you mean here, though maybe there is an issue of terminology.

As far as I know, for Kierkegaard, when Abraham decided that the voice he heard was the voice of God, and that he thus had to obey the command to kill Isaac, he was stepping entirely outside of the Ethical, into the Religious. So the action wasn't "the fullest expression" of any Ethical. It was entirely contrary to the Ethical.

Though if by the "Christian Ethical", you mean the Religious realm, then yes, the willingness to knife Isaac would be the fullest expression of that. But I don't think K. ever called that realm "the Ethical", Christian or otherwise.

Not sure of the names, but I believe there was some debate among medieval philosophers about whether or not God himself was bound by ethics. To some extent, I think Kierkegaard is probably picking up where those debates left off.

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by Stetson:
I'm not sure what you mean here, though maybe there is an issue of terminology.

As far as I know, for Kierkegaard, when Abraham decided that the voice he heard was the voice of God, and that he thus had to obey the command to kill Isaac, he was stepping entirely outside of the Ethical, into the Religious. So the action wasn't "the fullest expression" of any Ethical. It was entirely contrary to the Ethical.

Yes. The Ethical here being the commonly understood good - the thing that "all sensible Greeks" would agree was the correct action in a specific circumstance.

But then we have this thing called Christianity - following on from the thing called Judaism - which on some level institutionalises the Divine mandate to the extent that "all sensible Greeks" agree that the correct thing to do in the circumstance where you think you hear God telling you to kill your son, you obey and get ready to strike him.

The pseudonymous author of F&T would have us believe that this action is always somehow cutting across the Ethical, is always going to feel weird - so that the person who hears the voice telling him to do this thing is inevitably going to be plunged into despair.

But I think the waters are murkier than this. A child who has heard the sunday school stories may not think that it is right to strike someone dead if they hear a voice telling them to do so - but I think the lesson we're often hearing from bible teaching on this passage is about the faithfulness of God in providing the lamb and that we should be wanting to be obedient to God like Abraham. So I think the "Ethical" for Christianity has somehow cemented and institutionalised the idea of the "Divine mandate" to such an extent that it has become it.

quote:
Though if by the "Christian Ethical", you mean the Religious realm, then yes, the willingness to knife Isaac would be the fullest expression of that. But I don't think K. ever called that realm "the Ethical", Christian or otherwise.
No he didn't, I'm riffing on Kierkegaard and trying to say that maybe for the contemporary Christian (also the Jew, Muslim etc) there isn't the debate and shock when the divine meets the ethical. Because we don't tend to see the demands as contradictory.

quote:
Not sure of the names, but I believe there was some debate among medieval philosophers about whether or not God himself was bound by ethics. To some extent, I think Kierkegaard is probably picking up where those debates left off.
Without wanting to keep going on a Kierkegaardian tangent (which I'd love to do, I really like talking about these things), I think the thing that K did capture with this stuff is the idea that the bible is supposed to raise difficult and challenging stuff, it is suppose to make us tear our clothing and imagine ourselves in those conflicted spaces.

And to return to the OP, if the text had originally been a story of Isaac actually being killed, that might well have been an even greater headache and teaching lesson that the rabbis and teachers used to baffle their students and stretch their thoughts.

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mousethief

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quote:
Originally posted by Nick Tamen:
I don't know what the Hebrew is, but the NRSV says "So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beer-sheba; and Abraham lived at Beer-sheba."

And the NRSV (echoing the KJV on this point) appears to reflect the MT, which says, and I quote,

quote:
וַיָּשָׁב אַבְרָהָם אֶל־נְעָרָיו וַיָּקֻמוּ וַיֵּלְכוּ יַחְדָּו אֶל־בְּאֵר שָׁבַע וַיֵּשֶׁב אַבְרָהָם בִּבְאֵר שָֽׁבַע׃
וַיָּשָׁב wyashav = and he returned
אַבְרָהָם abraham = abraham
אֶל־נְעָרָיו el-n'arayu = unto his young men

and so forth

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God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. --Acts 10:28

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Golden Key
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Nick--

quote:
Originally posted by Nick Tamen:
quote:
Originally posted by Golden Key:
Maybe I'm missing something about Isaac not descending the mountain. But v.19 says:
quote:
Then they returned to the servants and traveled back to Beersheba, where Abraham continued to live.
"They". Now, maybe the angel walked down with Abraham, but...
I don't know what the Hebrew is, but the NRSV says "So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beer-sheba; and Abraham lived at Beer-sheba." So, no "they" in the NRSV. Ditto the other 4 or 5 translations I looked at, including the KJV and the New American Standard—they all just say "Abraham."
I went with the NLT version, used in the OP.

Looks like you're right. At Bible Gateway, the "Study" tab has an option for looking up a passage in several versions. I picked 5.

[ 15. September 2017, 05:33: Message edited by: Golden Key ]

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Golden Key
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quote:
Originally posted by Golden Key:
Does anyone know what Islamic scripture/tradition says? I know it's Ishmael, not Isaac, in their version.

Ok, I'm doing some skimming on this.
IslamReligion has "The Story of Abraham (part 6 of 7): The Greatest Sacrifice".


Interesting article. Basically, "only son" *had* to be Ishmael, because he was first born and quite a bit before Isaac. And, by custom, Ishmael would've been considered legitimate. So the only time Abraham had an only son was before Isaac was born.

I don't generally tear apart the structure of books, biblical or otherwise. (Like the E and Y streams in the story.) But a couple of thought experiments:

--Isaac booked it (ran away) after the attempted sacrifice. Either he lived a life very like his dad's (until we catch up with Isaac again), *or* the scribe had no idea what happened, so plugged in known bits of Abraham's life and changed the name.

--Ishmael was the son in question. Due to family hassles, someone just dropped him out of the biblical story, until he and Isaac meet at their father's grave.

Interestingly, the article I cited mentions that a child of Hagar and Abraham's kind of relationship, which was to fill in when a wife didn't produce a child, would have *twice* the inheritance of other children.

So...what if there was a big fight about this, long before Abraham's death? And the family broke up?

Just a thought.

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Nigel M
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quote:
Originally posted by fletcher christian:
I'm not sure I follow why the documentary hypothesis is in trouble. Could it not be that the same story exists in two tellings - one in the Y and one in the E....

At a high level, the documentary hypothesis’ flaw is in making a category error: working from an abstract concept and assuming it had a physical existence. We humans find it convenient to categorise data – it helps to more fully understand the world when we can break things down into categories. Accordingly, we could look at parts of the Old Testament and notice initial similarities, leading us to assign them to distinct categories, labelling them A, B, C, D, or 1, 2, 3, 4, or J, E, D, P, or whatever. That might assist with an understanding. The logical fallacy occurs, though (and not just in Biblical Studies), when we move from heuristic categories to posit physical sources for them. It does not follow, for example, that just because we have categories A, B, C, and D, that there must then have been an intelligent and purposeful originator of each of those categories, someone who willingly and consciously designed a source ‘A’ that later on became mixed up in a wider set of data.

The documentary hypothesis makes just that leap of faith. In fact, it goes further. It asserts (actually ‘assumes’ would be better, though that is not the sense we come away with from reading texts by proponents of the hypothesis) that not only were there original sources behind the categories, but that these were reflective of ‘schools’, or communities, that copied and disseminated them.

There is, then, a philosophical issue with the hypothesis. Working down the chain, the next issue is that there is no evidence of any coherent text or school upon which to build the hypothesis. If anything, the archaeological record from the north (the pre-exilic state of Israel) suggests a pluriformity of faith / belief / loyalties, with shrines both national, local, and family in favour of a range of known gods from across the ancient near east (ANE). There is no evidence of a coherent belief in a god ‘El’ as a part of that subset to warrant a state-inspired product of ‘E’ type narratives.

Thirdly comes the increasing acceptance that faith in Israel (including Judah) was not at variance with those of her neighbours when it came to acceptance of a divine council. Worldview analysis comes in useful here. Essentially, there was a mapping between heaven and earth, the divine accorded with the human, and ‘covenant’ was the key generator of mindsets and any behaviour and products (such as stories, law, documents, etc.). There was one supreme God. In Hebrew, his name was El (and its derivatives. Pronunciation in other societies across the ANE was similar - 'Il' being common. This was the creator God, ruler of all, supreme commander of the divine army. Under him there were other created gods. These had functional responsibilities and interacted with earth on El’s behalf. Issues with nature could be blamed on rebellion by some of these gods against their overlord.

What seems to be a consistent theme across Israel / Judah is that belief in El could be consistent with belief in Yahweh. They were one and the same. I am aware that some scholars argue for a particular history behind this: that 'Yahweh' was originally the name accorded to one of the created gods and that in time the Israelites boosted their national consciousness by combining Yahweh with El. However that might go as a matter of history, the point is that the texts that we deal with do not betray an ambivalence between El and Yahweh. They stress the uniqueness of all Israel in being loyal to the supreme God El, who was not the absentee landlord one gets the feel for in other ANE texts, but rather the one who was dynamically with Israel. This finding does not lend itself to the idea that there could be a distinct ‘J’ from ‘E’.

One of the findings that follow from that is there was no move from polytheism to monotheism in Israel. Those terms are modern concepts. If the only alternative term to use in contrast to those two was ’henotheism’ then I would go with that, but would want to define it to take account of the covenant relationship that existed and was expected in a divine family – and as it extended by analogy to the human family.

Another issue with the hypothesis – digging down to a deeper level – is that of inconsistencies. The putative editors of ‘E’ and ‘J’ seem to have been fans of scissors and paste. That is a strange paradigm to apply to a society – one among many in the region – where coherence in narrative design was the norm. By ‘coherence’ I do not intend entirely what we might understand coherence in our modern communication styles. Coherence in the ANE could be communicated differently. The rhetoric used was coherent to the original audience because it needed to be effective. We might find parables troublesome to understand, but that is because we moderns do not make much use of that genre. What seems to us an inconsistency may turn out, in fact, to be a discrepancy of our own making. Authors communicate to affect an audience and the biblical texts are no different in that regard than any other text. The author uses words in specific ways to affect an effect on an audience.

This post is getting overlong, so I’ll just list some other issues with the hypothesis:

* Following on further from findings from communication and rhetorical studies, the hypothesis cannot account for the discovery of trans-documentary themes or styles (e.g., chiasms).

* A further philosophical issue is with the basing of the hypothesis on an evolutionary philosophy with its roots in the thought of G.W.F. Hegel. Attractive at the time, this has not held its sway since.

* A difficulty with designing categories on the basis of style. This assumes a very restricted view of human ability to communicate effectively.

* Inconsistent application of the criterion of divine names, and unwarranted assumption that an interchange of names must only be a result of different sources.

* The lack of attention paid by proponents of the hypothesis to oral traditions.

I’m sure there are others. All this is not to deny that there could have been various sources during the literary development of the biblical texts, but it does seek to point out that it is necessary to base findings on evidence – evidence coming from the field of origin, not from worldviews informed by different times and places.

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fletcher christian

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Nigel, thank you for the detailed reply, it is very much appreciated. It includes some of what I have heard and more. I would certainly like to know more of the trans-themes issues. However, I still remain a little unconvinced; probably due to six years of being schooled in DH! (not Dead Horses; although it could literally turn out to be one I guess). I still find myself coming back to one overall issue though - the fact that the oral traditions development is essentially hidden from us and we really can't be sure just how long it existed as a solely oral form. So in principle I wholeheartedly agree with this:

quote:

* The lack of attention paid by proponents of the hypothesis to oral traditions.

Living in a country with a very long, and still to some degree active, oral tradition I know how accurately information can be transmitted by this means and just how incredibly detailed it can be. However, this strikes me as one of the principal arguments for the DH and while it may lead us into the realm of speculation, it does provide an answer for notions about 'sources'. For example, when you say this;....

quote:

It does not follow, for example, that just because we have categories A, B, C, and D, that there must then have been an intelligent and purposeful originator of each of those categories, someone who willingly and consciously designed a source ‘A’ that later on became mixed up in a wider set of data.

...I'm more inclined to see that as a part of what oral tradition actually does. If we take one example from my own culture in the form of the Tain bo Cuailnge, we have a system of separated narratives specific to region, place, traditions and peoples, but still - somehow - part of a larger whole. The transmission of this incredibly huge epic was entirely oral, but seemingly preserved in sections through disparate communities who probably came together at certain points of significance when the whole thing could be put together like a jigsaw (speculation rife!). What the early monks do on arrival in Ireland is collect these tales, careful document them and redact them together into a whole so that by the end of the twelfth century you have a (more or less) unified whole. It is still possible, even through their heavy redaction and Christian overlay, to trace back to source communities, traditions and even beliefs. It isn't of course comparing like with like because it is in essence a melding of disparate gods quite unrelated to one another, but you can see changes in names and place names specific to certain communities. So while there is much that is missing, we can still assume (and it it an assumption, but a calculated one) certain elements about the tale and its construction and how it was pieced together. It seems odd to me that we can take this approach with literature (very probably of pagan religious significance at the time) but not with scripture. We demand archaeological evidence of oral tradition for scripture, but accept it's lack of presence for other ancient literature without too much fretting.

Hopefully that makes some kind of sense and hopefully I haven't completely misunderstood the issue. I really need to make time to read the critiques fully though, that I will freely admit.

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k-mann
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quote:
Originally posted by Gramps49:
Genesis 22:22 lists the sons of Abraham.

No, it does not. It lists (some of the) sons of his brother Nahor.

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leo
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I am suprised that nobudy yer had menioned https://www.amazon.co.uk/Death-Resurrection-Beloved-Son-Transformation/dp/0300065116
In this, Isaac is an adult in his 40s, DOES get killed and is resurrected.

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Helen Joy Davidman, a Jewish Christian, wrote about this in her book "Smoke On The Mountain". She thought that God had asked Abraham to sacrifice his over-attachment to Isaac, and Abraham misunderstood.

BTW, she married CS Lewis.

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Golden Key
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leo--

Haven't heard of it, but interesting premise! Thx for the info.

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Barnabas62
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What an informative thread. I hesitate to introduce another hypothesis re the ethical/divine dilemma, but I'm attracted to the idea that scripture reveals a shifting/growing series of pictures about the nature of God, from superior God and King above Gods, via monotheism to the mysteries of the relationships involving God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. At the same time there also seems to be an ethical journey going on, culminating in God is Love, a kind of Love which sees all lives, even the lives of enemies and persecutors, as being best met by putting away hate, a Love which drives out fear.

Thinking about Israelite writers when Genesis was compiled (re-compiled if you like), it does seem quite likely that they wanted to convey the importance of obedience and covenant keeping, even if you seem to be facing horrible choices. Even if God requires you to do something as outrageous as killing a much longed for son who you had despaired of ever having. Even if that son was himself a promised gift. How can that possibly make sense?

In addition, the story seems a long way away from the 'act justly, love mercy, walk humbly' of Micah 6 v 8, for example. How do we explain such obvious ethical tensions as well.

At the very least, accepting the possibility that scripture reveals journeys in both ethical and Divine understandings seems worth pursuing, as a promising way to set the story in a proper context. It faces head on the possibility that the writers of scripture might have been expressing pretty imperfect notions about both human ethics and the nature of God.

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Nigel M
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quote:
Originally posted by fletcher christian:
...I'm more inclined to see that as a part of what oral tradition actually does. If we take one example from my own culture in the form of the Tain bo Cuailnge, we have a system of separated narratives specific to region, place, traditions and peoples, but still - somehow - part of a larger whole. ...

I think the relevant critique of source criticism in respect of oral practice would be coherence. The test is to relate the text (or oral product if it has not yet been written down) to the context of its production and see if it can be read / heard coherently. Does it tell a coherent narrative? For the Táin narratives, can it be said that this product as written could be said to be coherent? I suspect the answer would be Yes; the compiler of the main recension sought to produce a narrative that was comprehensive and demonstrated logical interconnections. The received product of the Abraham narrative, though, lacks coherence when it read through the filter of the documentary hypothesis. This is rather hard to accept if the context of writing was the state-sponsored religious scribal setting of the Jerusalem temple. Surely intelligent scribes would be much more likely to aim for coherence? That seems to be a human trait.

If on the other hand it is assumed that they did indeed produce a text that was coherent – and could be read or heard coherently by the community at the time – then it is more likely that we moderns are the ones at fault with our reading if we do not understand it.

I also wonder about the origins. It is possible, I think, that where separated narratives exist (or existed), they may actually have come from a single source. There was, presumably, one stage at which a tale of combat around Ulster was devised, recounted, disseminated, then appeared in various oral forms in different places, before being re-compiled into one coherent whole. We might see something of that with the Abraham narrative: Versification, Diversification, Reversification.

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Nigel M
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quote:
Originally posted by Barnabas62:
Thinking about Israelite writers when Genesis was compiled (re-compiled if you like), it does seem quite likely that they wanted to convey the importance of obedience and covenant keeping, even if you seem to be facing horrible choices. Even if God requires you to do something as outrageous as killing a much longed for son who you had despaired of ever having. Even if that son was himself a promised gift. How can that possibly make sense?

It's an interesting idea - dependent of course on the relative dating of the texts. If the Abraham narrative came from an early source, though, wouldn't the reading more likely be very ethical? Abraham's heritage was loyalty to El as Supreme God. In the ancient near eastern context it was not unknown to demonstrate loyalty to EL by sacrificing the first born. With that background, the narrator intended to combat the view by showing how Abraham came to understand that El - with overtones of his relationship to Israel as Yahweh - did not want child sacrifice as a demonstration of loyalty.
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Kwesi
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Nigel M
quote:
the narrator intended to combat the view by showing how Abraham came to understand that El - with overtones of his relationship to Israel as Yahweh - did not want child sacrifice as a demonstration of loyalty.
Couldn't agree more! ISTM the whole point of the story is that the God of Israel did not demand human sacrifice. As far as I'm aware it was never a feature of Judaism. There are, of course, some Christians who curiously maintain it was introduced as a central feature of the gospel story of salvation, citing this incident as part of the argument. [Biased]
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fletcher christian

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Posted by Nigel:
quote:

I also wonder about the origins. It is possible, I think, that where separated narratives exist (or existed), they may actually have come from a single source

It would be tempting to think of the Tain in this way but I don't think we can anymore. In the past certainly this might have been suggested with more force, but now it isn't at all possible to say it based on what we know of the vast pantheon of Irish gods and the more (relatively) recent knowledge that there weren't nationally universal. The monks redaction is clumsy in the theme of the routing of paganism in the conflict of the two bulls and it doesn't quite work; unlike the same theme so beautifully delivered in Beowulf.

quote:

Surely intelligent scribes would be much more likely to aim for coherence? That seems to be a human trait.

I think that's a modern western trait to be honest. Rabbinical midrash and even in Ginzberg's Legend's of the Jews, there simply isn't any real attempt at reconciling difference and disparity. In fact Ginzberg's Legend's do something very curious to this tale of Abraham and Isaac. If anything they create more disparity and difference. The Talmud does attempt a kind of unity, but it's for a very specific purpose. That aside, I think it is still possible to work int he framework of the DH with ideas of a kernel of a shared common story, but told from differing angles. The DH then becomes a tool to untangle the nuances laid over the top of the bare bones of the story. It's much clearer in the double narrative accounts of creation and of Noah's ark. The fact that when you step outside these iconic narratives it becomes so emeshed as to become almost impossible to entangle shows the skill of the redactors, but in those iconic tales they seek to preserve the nuances and meanings preserved within the story as overlay, so they simply tell it twice. Our modern literary sensitivities would have us tell it once in a unified and 'finished' form, but from an oral telling point of view, such tales would have been repeated many times.

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Barnabas62
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Nigel M

Taking my life in my hands here. The "plain meaning(!)" of the account is that it is indeed a test. Abraham hears God telling him to "offer Isaac as a sacrifice"(Blue letter bible link).

He acts in obedience, right up to the point of killing. But then an angel of the Lord stays his hand, using the words "for now I know that you fear God."

What are we to make of it? Did God need the confirmation of Abraham's sincere obedience? Did Abraham need to know both just how far he was prepared to go in obedient service of God?

I can see that Abraham needed to learn a lesson that, unlike other religions around him, God did not require such a sacrifice. But why not just tell him that the religions around him are wrong?

Judaism did not set aside animal sacrifices until after the death of Jesus, so there is at least some sense I get from history that the propitiating power of shed blood was a major concept in Judaism for a long time. In the Genesis story, the ram is still necessary. God must have a blood sacrifice, for some reason or other.

And that seems part of the evolving understanding about God we see pictured in scripture. Even for those who see the death on the cross as a propitiation for sin (PSA), it is seen from Hebrews as "once, for all". The end of the sacrifice era.

So I guess there are two alternative views.

View 1. There was once a time when God did require propitiatory blood sacrifices as offerings from His people, but He doesn't any more.

View 2. Actually, Judaism incorporated some limited understanding of the necessity for propitiatory blood sacrifices from other religions, but that was based on a limited understanding of the Love of God. At least they cut out human sacrifice, which was progress.

Personally, I back Israel and Christianity on a learning curve, so View 2 makes more sense to me.

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Gee D
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There's a 3rd possibility, namely this was purely a test of Abraham, with only a very faint folk memory of blood sacrifices to YHWH.

Looking back to some of the earlier posts takes us back to Wilfred Owen's poem on this. Never fails to move us to tears. But how very close Owen's theme is to some of the alternative interpretations above.

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Nigel M
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FC, I don’t think we need the DH as a tool to account for the oral (and literary) development of a narrative; again it comes down to the nature of that hypothesis that it focussed so formally on documents and postulated ‘schools’ behind them. Better, I think, is the work on narratives in an oral setting. Otherwise we risk concluding that particular theologies were in play in different settings, when the reality may have been very different. It is, for example, quite possible to go with the ANE worldview where God (El version) is the universal creator, working through his created divine beings to rule the world (except when they rebel!), and Yahweh as the God who intervenes directly into the world. The narrators across the OT can use ‘El’ when they wish to connote that Supreme God of all, and Yahweh when they wish to connote the same God who becomes directly involved with his creation. That works on a narrative level without need for separate E and J schools.

This works quite well with the creation narratives as well: ‘El’ does the creating and functional design (Gen 1), then ‘Yahweh’ is the one engaging directly with his creation by way of embodied presence (Gen 2-3). There is coherence to the context and no need for separate schools, etc.

As you said earlier, it is difficult to study oral traditions when they are no longer with us. There have been notable attempts, including those on Russian folklore during the early years of the Soviet Union, but perhaps we are still in the stage of discovery and analysis. One idea that seems to be sticking is that orality needs to involve rhetorical formulae and themes if the narrative is to be remembered. We see those in the biblical texts, and perhaps those betray oral backgrounds.


B62: An analogy with kingship as understood in the biblical text might work here: God did not require sacrifice (and that included child sacrifice) in the same way he did not require his people to have kings. He had to accommodate some things while drawing a line through others; so he regulated the sacrificial system and kingship, accepting that this carried risks, while at the same time putting a red flag in the sand about things like child sacrifice and kings multiplying wives. There is a learning curve here, to be sure.

If the analogy works, then perhaps we would need to be careful of drawing any comparison between Isaac and Jesus. The sacrifice of Isaac was not required – in fact it was forbidden as being contrary to God’s rule – but that principle would not seem to apply to Jesus. Unless, of course, Jesus’ death was always Plan B, not necessary, but rather equivalent to Abraham shouting down the angel’s intervention with a “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you!” as he plunged the knife into Isaac’s chest….

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leo
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quote:
Originally posted by Golden Key:
Helen Joy Davidman, a Jewish Christian, wrote about this in her book "Smoke On The Mountain". She thought that God had asked Abraham to sacrifice his over-attachment to Isaac, and Abraham misunderstood.

BTW, she married CS Lewis.

I think it was Sarah Maitland who wrote the story from Sarah's viewpoint - her husband up to one of his obssessions again...

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Nick Tamen

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quote:
Originally posted by Barnabas62:
So I guess there are two alternative views.

View 1. There was once a time when God did require propitiatory blood sacrifices as offerings from His people, but He doesn't any more.

View 2. Actually, Judaism incorporated some limited understanding of the necessity for propitiatory blood sacrifices from other religions, but that was based on a limited understanding of the Love of God. At least they cut out human sacrifice, which was progress.

Personally, I back Israel and Christianity on a learning curve, so View 2 makes more sense to me.

I'd say that there's a third alternative: God never required animal sacrifices for propiation of sin, but the sacrifices of the Mosaic law were a type or foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Jesus.

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Gramps49
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An interesting question is who is the one being tested here?

Abraham being tested about his loyalty to his God.

Isaac being tested about his love for his father.

Or God? Will God be God?

If the three, I would say Isaac was actually the one that showed the most faith.

Now there is another story of

child sacrifice in the Bible. Only this did not turn out as well as the Abraham story.

Why?

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mr cheesy
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Wow, Gramps49, that's awful. I've never noticed that before - not sure what that says about me.

--

I just wanted to think some more about this idea, which I'm paraphrasing, that God never really wanted child sacrifice in the first place.

The problem, it seems to me, is Genesis 22:2

quote:
God said, “Take your son – your only son, whom you love, Isaac – and go to the land of Moriah! Offer him up there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will indicate to you.
I think one gets tied into knots if one is trying to argue that this isn't an essential part of the story.*

We might have various explanations which deny what is written here. Maybe they were mistaken; God never said that and wouldn't say that. Maybe that section of the text was added subsequently. And so on - I can't really see that there can ever be a resolution on that level.

It seems to me that there are only two possible explanations - either God actually said this, or various groups of people (including scribes, teachers etc) thought that it was in keeping with what they knew of God to add it as an introduction to the biblical text and to continue teaching it as if it was an accurate reflection of God.

If we now say that this isn't of God, then I struggle to understand how we're making judgments about what exactly was from God and what was mistaken. Some terrible OT act which the biblical characters did is one thing, but it is quite another when the text itself says that the deity told them to do it.

If we say that it isn't of God, why stop there? Why not now say that all of the Law and the theology-of-the-land and the sacrificing, and temple worship and so on wasn't of God either?

*and which doesn't seem to be a part of the Judges story Gramps introduced into the discussion above as far as I can see

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overheard on a Welsh bus-stop: Jesus don't care about you, he's only interested in your soul

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Nigel M
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quote:
Originally posted by Gramps49:
Now there is another story of child sacrifice in the Bible. Only this did not turn out as well as the Abraham story.

Why?

Because annoyingly for the Documentary Hypothesis, this one was made to the LORD (J), not God (E)!

Or perhaps because the initiator of the act in the second story was human, not divine.

Following your thought about Isaac's faith, I don't often hear - indeed struggle to remember ever hearing - about the faith of the unnamed daughter.

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by Nigel M:


Following your thought about Isaac's faith, I don't often hear - indeed struggle to remember ever hearing - about the faith of the unnamed daughter.

The message from the Judges passage is that you don't go back on your word even when the result you have to go through with is really bad.

That's not quite the same as the message of the Abraham/Isaac passage - which comes down to that you do what the deity tells you to do, even if every muscle in your body is telling you not to.

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overheard on a Welsh bus-stop: Jesus don't care about you, he's only interested in your soul

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fletcher christian

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Posted by Nigel M:
quote:

The narrators across the OT can use ‘El’ when they wish to connote that Supreme God of all, and Yahweh when they wish to connote the same God who becomes directly involved with his creation. That works on a narrative level without need for separate E and J schools.

Thanks Nigel, I think I'm beginning to see where the gap is now. Would you know of any books dealing with the subject hat you could recommend?

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'God is love insaturable, love impossible to describe'
Staretz Silouan

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Nigel M
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I found quite a few books and journal articles to be of interest here. Not sure if this is along the lines you were thinking of, but the critique of the DH started in earnest from within its own portals on three continents. From Germany there is Rolf Rendtorff, who in 1977 published Das überlieferungsgeschichtliche Problem des Pentateuch, which thankfully has been translated into English by John Scullion: The Problem of the Process of Transmission in the Pentateuch (Sheffield Academic Press, 2009). From the USA, Brevard S. Childs raised concerns in his Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture
(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979), and from the UK Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary (Thomas Nelson, 1987).

Also on the early list is R. N. Whybray, "The Making of the Pentateuch: A Methodological Study" (JSOT Press, Sheffield, 1987). There were other voices as well, e.g., Walter Brueggemann, who began raising concerns while working on the Psalms. He developed a unique approach to the literature, but in his early publications felt the need to spend a good quarter of his work on trying to show how his approach could fit with the source critical approach, even though his own work stood well enough on its own. In later publications, I noticed that he abandoned that attempt and just went straight into his approach.

An example of a work that finds trans-documentary themes is The Redaction of Genesis by Gary Rendsburg (Eisenbrauns, 1986).

Other more recent works include:
* Rolf Rendtorff “The Paradigm Is Changing: Hopes - and Fears” in the journal Biblical Interpretation, 1993, Volume: 1(1), pages: 34-53
* Duane Garrett, Rethinking Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991)
* Umberto Cassuto, The Documentary Hypothesis (Shalem Press, 2006)
* From a Jewish perspective, Ben Zion Katz A Journey through Torah: A Critique of the Documentary Hypothesis (Urim Publications, 2012)

One thing that is apparent is that there is no one paradigm that has arisen to replace the DH. There have been a plethora of attempts to find innovative approaches, but it seems we await a post-critical consensus on which way to go now.

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Karl: Liberal Backslider
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quote:
Originally posted by mr cheesy:
Wow, Gramps49, that's awful. I've never noticed that before - not sure what that says about me.

--

I just wanted to think some more about this idea, which I'm paraphrasing, that God never really wanted child sacrifice in the first place.

The problem, it seems to me, is Genesis 22:2

quote:
God said, “Take your son – your only son, whom you love, Isaac – and go to the land of Moriah! Offer him up there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will indicate to you.
I think one gets tied into knots if one is trying to argue that this isn't an essential part of the story.*

We might have various explanations which deny what is written here. Maybe they were mistaken; God never said that and wouldn't say that. Maybe that section of the text was added subsequently. And so on - I can't really see that there can ever be a resolution on that level.

It seems to me that there are only two possible explanations - either God actually said this, or various groups of people (including scribes, teachers etc) thought that it was in keeping with what they knew of God to add it as an introduction to the biblical text and to continue teaching it as if it was an accurate reflection of God.

If we now say that this isn't of God, then I struggle to understand how we're making judgments about what exactly was from God and what was mistaken. Some terrible OT act which the biblical characters did is one thing, but it is quite another when the text itself says that the deity told them to do it.

If we say that it isn't of God, why stop there? Why not now say that all of the Law and the theology-of-the-land and the sacrificing, and temple worship and so on wasn't of God either?

*and which doesn't seem to be a part of the Judges story Gramps introduced into the discussion above as far as I can see

Perhaps none of it was. Perhaps we only ever have what people thought.

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Might as well ask the bloody cat.

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