Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The TMH / DH Project - Discourse on the Method

Here's the way I tentatively plan to proceed. Please comment if you have any suggestions or criticisms.

The first thing to do is to decide on the methodology. I think I covered the ground for that that in my Bayes' theorem posts on the basics, the implications, and three more implications. For any particular fact or issue or anomaly in the text, we do three things:

- (1) assume that TMH is true and see how well TMH explains the issue.
- (2) assume that DH is true and see how well DH explains the issue.
- (3) compare (1) and (2).

A good and helpful argument is one where (1) is greater than (2), or (2) is greater than (1). These are the arguments that move the ball forward.

Second, we need to identify the specific versions of both theories. That is, we need a working definition of both TMH and DH.

For TMH, my initial thought it to use the claim that the Torah was written by God, physically written by Moses (with the possible exception of the last few lines of Deuteronomy), is instructions for living, and contains important insights (some explicit, so esoteric and hidden) about all sorts of important things.

For DH, my initial thought is to use Richard Elliot Friedman's book "The Torah With Sources Revealed." This book is scholarly, is recent, is widely available, classifies each verse into one of the sources, and notes its reasons much of the time in footnotes. Of course, other scholars will disagree with Friedman about the particular classifications of particular verses, but I'm not sure that these differences matter for our purposes of comparing the DH with TMH. If the overall theory holds, the fact that some particular verse might actually be P and not J is irrelevant. And if the theory does not hold overall, these debates are beside the point.

Friedman ends his introduction with the following: "Here, rather, is the evidence, for anyone to see, evaluate, acknowledge, or refute." (P. 31.) The book was written with exactly this purpose in mind.

Third, I need to figure out what specifically to look at. The Torah is a big book, with odd features, TMH is a simple theory with complex and extensive commentary, and the DH is itself a complex theory. We can't just point at the text as a whole or a stray verse here or there.

For the DH, Friedman makes a 7 arguments in the introduction to The Torah With Sources Revealed. Each source is largely internally consistent and different from the other sources in the following areas: (1) linguistic patterns (from different historical periods of Hebrew), (2) terminology, (3) content, (4) continuity of the texts, (5) connection with other parts of the Bible, (6) relationships to each other and to history, (7) and convergence of all these. That is, if we look at any particular J story, it will have lots of characteristics of J. And if we look at any particular characteristic of J, we will find it a lot in the J stories but not very much if at all elsewhere.

For TMH, we will look at the various kiruv-type books and arguments out there. These would include Aish HaTorah's Discovery program (my first introduction to some of these issues), the Kuzari argument, etc. At the same time, we will examine any traditional alternatives to DH. I think Rabbi David Weiss Halivni and Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom are the leading writers here. Any additional recommendation for books and sources would be welcome.

To examine all this critically, I think, takes three separate phases of examining the text.

In Phase 1, we will look at each particular story that DH claims comes from a separate source. If DH is correct, each will show lots of signs of that source, relatively few signs of other sources, and will be continuous with earlier and later parts of that source. If this is part of a joined story, we will see how well the unjoined part of the story stands. And at the same time, we will examine traditional TMH commentary on and explanations for anything anomalous. Little Foxling has started essentially this, although I think he is not going to continue with it. The purpose here is mainly to examine how well each story fits into a particular DH source.

In Phase 2, we will look at each particular characteristic of each source and see how it holds across the Torah as a whole. We will also see if the usage is related to content. And we will see what traditional TMH commentary has to say. (For example, Friedman argues that the phrase "gathered to his people" as a euphemism for death occurs 11 times and all 11 are in P. We will look at these 11 times as well as other words mentioning death and see what all this tells us.) The purpose here is mainly to see how well each characteristic of each source explains the sources as a whole.

In Phase 3, we will look at the TMH arguments. These obviously do not break along the DH lines. Instead, they will each cover a particular issue or fact, and each one needs to be critically examined.

These phases do not have to proceed in order but can be examined simultaneously.

That is my current thinking on the best way to proceed. Any comments, criticisms, or alternative or additional approaches would be appreciated.

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