On Bible Criticism and Its Counterarguments



of traditional Judaism’s most important claims is its total commitment
to the divinity of the text of the Torah, the Pentateuch. It is believed
that the other books of Tanach may contain a human element since “no two
prophets prophesied in the same style.”[2] But the Torah
came to Moshe from God in a manner that is metaphorically called
“speaking,” after which Moshe wrote it down “like a scribe writing from
In the nineteenth century, this belief came under severe attack by a
theory called Higher Criticism or Quellenscheidung. This theory
denied the divinity of the Torah as a verbal account of God’s words to
Moshe. Instead, the text was seen to be made up of a conglomeration of
various sources compiled over many hundreds of years. As such, it could
not have been written by Moshe.[4]


proponent of this theory was Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918), a German
Semitic scholar and professor of theology and oriental studies.
Wellhausen, however, was not the first to doubt the “authenticity” of

the Torah. In the seventeenth century, the famous Dutch philosopher
Benedictus de Spinoza (1632-1677), who was a descendant of the Marranos,
stated in his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (and in some
letters) that he doubted the Mosaic and the divine authorship of the

major point was that the Bible, like many other literary works, should
be seen as the product of human spiritual development, mostly of a
primitive nature. While accepting the possibility that some parts of the
Torah could have originated with Moshe, he contended that it was only
many centuries after Moshe died that the Torah, as we know it today,
appeared. Ezra the Scribe (fourth century b.c.e.) should be considered
the major author and editor of the Torah as well as of the Books of
Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. Because Ezra died prematurely, these
works were never revised and are therefore full of contradictions and


Spinoza never reached any systematic or clear conclusion, Jean Astruc
(1684-1766), a French physician, is considered the real founder of
classical Bible Criticism. Being a conservative, Astruc concluded in his
work (published anonymously in Brussels and Paris, 1753), Conjectures sur les memoires originaux, dont il
parait que Moses s’est servi pour composer le livre de la
, that Moshe, the redactor of Genesis and the first two
chapters of Exodus, made use of two parallel sources and ten fragments
written before his time. These primary sources refer to God as Y-H-V-H and Elohim,

Astruc’s conclusion aroused intense opposition, scholars like J. G.
Einhorn (1752-1827) attached much importance to his work. It was Julius
Wellhausen, however, who gave full impetus to this theory, and his name
is identified with the Graf-Wellhausen Hypothesis or Documentary


Wellhausen wanted to
prove that the Torah. and the Book of Joshua were, in large measure,
“doctored” by priestly canonizers under Ezra in the lime of the Second
Temple.  Their purpose was
to perpetuate a single falsehood: Moshe’s authorship of the Torah and
the central worship, first in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple.
According to Wellhausen, there never was a Tabernacle and no revelation
at Sinai ever took place. Moshe, if he ever existed, considered the
Deity a local thunder god or mountain god. The Torah had, therefore, to

be seen as a complete forgery and not as a verbal account of God’s words
to Moshe and the People Israel.

1875, Wellhausen published his Prolegomena to the History of Ancient
, an unusual work with almost five thousand textual
references covering the whole of the Old Testament. In this work,
Wellhausen purports to present the true biblical story. Relying
heavily on his forerunners, he maintained that four major documents
could be identified in the Torah. Each had an individual character, both
in content and in general outlook. Though they had been skillfully
interwoven, their special characteristics made it possible to trace each
source throughout the books of the Torah. The earliest was the -J-
(J being the first letter of the Divine Name, which was
used throughout this source and so became essential). It was followed
soon after by the Elohist Document -E-, in which God is
designated as Elohim. These documents were thought to have been composed
in the early monarchical period, probably in the ninth or eighth century



Book of Deuteronomy -D-
, which gave a narrative framework to the
“Book of the Law,” promulgated by King Yoshia in the seventh century
b.c.e., was primarily a
code of law based on prophetic principles.


Priestly Code (P), a universal history and extensive legal code, was
chiefly concerned with matters of cult and was dominated by the priestly
interest in prescribing the correct ritual for each ceremonial occasion.
K. H. Graf had already assigned it to the post-exilic age and connected
it with the Law of Ezra in the fifth century



method is clear and straightforward. Every passage that fits his theory
is authentic; all others are forgeries. Whenever possible, he points out
poor grammar, corrupt vocabulary, and alleged internal inconsistencies.
In cases where he felt some “need” to change the plain meaning of a
Hebrew word to fit into this theory, he offered what he called
“conjectural emendation.” The fact that thousands of verses contradicted
his theory never disturbed Wellhausen. He contended that there was a

master forger or interpolator at work who anticipated Wellhausen’s
theory and consequently inserted passages and changed verses so as to
refute it. Wellhausen assumed that the forger had worked, as it were,
with scissors and paste, taking all kinds of liberties: carving up (the
original texts; moving half a sentence here, a few sentences down, and
three and a half sentences there, and a few sentences up, while
altogether suppressing and omitting large portions of each source that
could not be fitted into this patchwork. He claimed to be more clever
than the interpolator could have ever imagined and therefore to have
divulged the real truth. This obviously was a wonderful theory, for
arguments against Wellhausen’s theory thereby became his strongest

the publication of this masterpiece, Wellhausen introduced a new era in
the world of Bible studies, and most of his contemporaries, as well as
their students, accepted his conclusions as gospel. His influence on
younger scholars was profound and far-reaching. For a full generation,
he dominated Old Testament scholarship, not only in his own country but
also in England[7]
and America.[8]

most important histories of Israel and of Hebrew literature, as well as
a host of commentaries and introductions, were based more or less
directly on the Wellhausen system. The commentaries edited by Wilhelm
Nowack and Karl Marti,[9]
as well as those of the International Critical Commentary on the
Holy Scriptures,
were indebted to Wellhausen’s theories.[10]


students continued to use his method and discovered within their
teacher’s J, E, P, and D documents at least

thirty additional documents. Each document (especially J and
E) contained a number of older elements; each had undergone a
certain amount of “editorial” revision in an effort to coordinate and
harmonize the various elements within the style of the original. The
additional materials were so extensive that they could not have been the
products of only a handful of authors, but rather belonged to a complete
religious school.[11]


materials were cut even finer. Slowly, more and more forgeries were
“discovered,” until finally half a dozen documents were found for each
single verse, and others even went as far as tracing them through some
of the other books of Tanach as well. The whole theory
degenerated into a reductio ad absurdum. Already in his own day,
objective and honest scholars raised objections against Wellhausen’s
incredible guesswork and fantasies. The chancellor of England, the earl
of Halsbury, referred to it in 1915 as “great rubbish.”[12]
The famous historian Lecky sharply criticized it on the basis that it
totally lacked evidence.[13]

1908 Wellhausen came under heavy attack by B. D. Eerdmans,[14]
while in 1925, Professor Rudolf Kittel, originally an admirer of
Wellhausen’s theories, stated that “the assumption of forgery may be one
of those hypotheses which, once set up, is so often repeated that
finally everyone believes it. Who nowadays would take upon himself the
odium of being ‘behind the times’?”[15]


the generations of critics who came to maturity after World War I, new
insights provided by later approaches to Tanach made the Higher Criticism
of the preceding generation seem less than adequate. Slowly it appeared
to the scholars that new criteria had to be established and that
historical criticism had its limitations. Hugo Gressmann declared that
“in our field we need not more but less literary-critical research. The
Higher Criticism has generally exhausted the problems which it could and
had to solve.”[16]

began ascribing the books of the Torah and the rest of Nach to earlier periods and
stated that the legal principles of the Torah were already well
established in the time of the prophet Samuel.[17]
This tendency to regard much of the narrative and law in the Torah as
more ancient brought into question what had once been accepted as the
assured result of criticism.


dating of Deuteronomy has always been the central point from which the
critics had worked forward and backward to determine the age of the
other law codes and documents. The description of Deuteronomy as the
immediate inspiration for the reform and centralization of the “cultus”
had been the starting point for Wellhausen’s reconstruction of the
religious history of Israel. With the dating of Deuteronomy, the whole
critical edifice stood or fell. 

C. Welsh’s earlier dating was, therefore, a major blow to the whole
critical school and consequently not easily accepted by his
His view was, however, strengthened a decade later by certain
conclusions of Otto Eissfeldt regarding the nature and history of the
Pentateuchal law.[19]

the origin of much of the law was being moved back in time, the
alternative that the final dates of the law codes should be moved down,
was also considered. While Gustav Holscher dated Deuteronomy later than
had the Wellhausen school, most scholars were of the opinion that
earlier dates were more plausible.[20]
It became increasingly clear that Wellhausen’s theory of the
history of
was inadequate.


does not suggest that the scholars agreed, for different dates were
suggested and new theories contradicting each other were published. What
became clear was that Bible Criticism was developing into a chaos of
conflicting conjectures producing contradictory results and generating
the impression that this type of research was ineffective.[21]


in Jewish circles, sharp protest was raised. Although these theories did
not impress the greatest Jewish scholars, they highly influenced many
assimilated Jewish communities (especially in Germany). The Reform
movement, perhaps searching for a means to support its objections
against observance, embraced this theory and contributed some of its
strongest proponents. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888), in his
Torah Commentary,[22]
Dr. David Hoffmann (1843-1921),[23]
an Orthodox Jewish scholar of great erudition, and Professor Jacob Barth
another outstanding philologist of his time, destroyed much of
Wellhausen’s theory. Also, Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Halevi (1847-1914), in
his historical works, showed the position of Wellhausen and his admirers
to be untenable.[25]
In non-Orthodox Jewish circles, Wellhausen also came under sharp attack.
One of the most profound analyses in this field was written by Benno
Jacob (1862-1945) in his book
on Genesis, Das Erste Buch
der Torah,
which concludes (p. 1048) with the words,
“The theory that the Book of Genesis is composed of various sources that
can be singled out and separated has been rejected.”


non-Orthodox scholars, in particular Umberto Cassuto (1883-1951)


and Yechezkel Kaufman (1889- 1963)


further demolished the theory, showing that Wellhausen’s
observations contradicted his conclusions. Kaufman’s main contribution
lies in his thesis that monotheism was not, as Wellhausen and others had
stated, a gradual departure from paganism, but an entirely new
development. Israel’s monotheism began with Moshe and was a complete
revolution in religious thought. 

were these earlier-mentioned theories ever accepted? In Wellhausen’s day
the theory of evolution was dominant. Darwin had won the day, and any
discipline, including literature, that accepted the theory of evolution
was welcomed with open arms. Furthermore, the philosopher Hegel
(1770-1831) had left a deep impression in German and European culture by
contending that all of history is a development from lower to
progressively higher stages. It was therefore assumed that the Jewish
religion developed from idolatry, and having passed through many
intermediate stages, the earlier one of which was the Torah, reached the
ultimate pure monotheism of latter days. 


mention should be made of the famous archaeologist William F. Alright


He convincingly demonstrated that archaeological research did not
support, and in fact often contradicted, this view of history. In many
of his works, Albright destroyed the very foundations upon which
Wellhausen’s edifice had been erected. 

retrospect, it is rather surprising that Wellhausen’s theories were
accepted for so long. How is it possible that so many scholars
promulgated similar theories and totally ignored or attacked those who


Albright and others have pointed out that besides Hegelian theories,
other motivations kept the Wellhausen tradition alive. Christian
scholars were eager to attribute greater significance to the New
Testament than the Old. In order to make this plausible, it had to be
proven that large portions of the Torah were falsified and were not to
be taken seriously. 

anti-Semitic tendencies became stronger in the immediate pre-Hitler
days, many scholars felt the need to use the Wellhausen and other
theories to give a final blow to the Jewish People, religion, and Bible.
When Friedrich Delitzch (1850-1922) delivered a lecture called “Babel
und Bibel,” in which Tanach was considered devoid of any
religious or moral value, Kaiser Wilhelm congratulated him for helping
“to dissipate the nimbus of the Chosen People.”



Germans, convinced of their status as Herenvolk suffered from Teutomania
and believed that anything must either be German or valueless, according
to William F. Albright. Solomon Schechter, who headed the Jewish

Theological Seminary in its earlier and more Orthodox days, exclaimed
that Higher Criticism was no more than higher anti-Semitism. Albright
asked the question, how was it possible that the “scientific community”
accepted many of these theories without critical assessment, knowing
that many of the scholars had shown that their personal anti-Semitism
completely overshadowed their intellectual honesty.


Wellhausen and other schools of Higher Criticism slowly lost their
credibility, a new school developed, introducing the anthropological
approach. It saw religion as a general feature of the cultural history
of mankind and made it possible to view Torah (and the rest of the Tanach) in the broad light of
the universal experience of humanity. The anthropological approach to
the study of religion was first applied to the whole of Tanach by William Robertson



general trend of Smith’s interpretation was determined by the view,
common to anthropologists, that religion was an integral part of life,
not to be treated as an entity separate from a people’s social and
political culture. Smith suggested that to understand the basic
foundations on which the primitive Semitic religions were based, one had
to make a thorough study of the ritual (sacrificial) institutions. Since
these tended to remain unchanged from the earliest times to the
historical period, they reflected the fundamental beliefs that stood at
the beginning of religious development. He subsequently found “a
consistent unity of scheme,” which ran through the whole historical
development, from a crude and imperfect understanding of religious truth
to a clear and full perception of its spiritual significance. 

along the lines of Robertson Smith, Sir James G. Frazer published his
famous work The Golden
(1890), which
grew from two volumes in the first edition to twelve, twenty years
later. This work studies the traditional rites and superstitious
practices of primitive peoples and presents a great number of
suppositions regarding the evolution of primitive religions. However,
the vast accumulation of illustrative data is frequently more impressive
than the conclusions drawn from them. 

faults of Frazer’s methodology were those of nineteenth-century
anthropologists in general, for they failed to understand that
monotheistic religion could not be explained as developing out of
primitive cults. While other theories were suggested by Wilhelm Wundt


and Johannes Pedersen,


these approaches failed to explain the transition from a primitive
mentality to the highly developed conceptions of a later age, especially
in the framework of the Tanach with its distinctive features and
its religion. 


the meantime, another school had emerged: the Religio-Historical School
of Interpretation. This field of research is known in German as
Religionsgeschichte. The term “Comparative Religion,” which is
sometimes applied to it, connotes the early anthropological approach to
religion and fails to indicate the importance of its historical aspect.
Generally speaking, it is the application of the historical method to
the study of religion, under the influence of positivist principles of
investigation combined with the use of the comparative method. Auguste
Comte made the point that one had to take the concrete and actual into
consideration in philosophy; thus, this positive approach became
influential in religious studies as well.


longer were broad generalizations about religion to be permitted.
Rather, careful study of the historical manifestation of religion was
researched. With the recovery of religious literature of the Far East,
the publication of large numbers of inscriptions from the Graeco-Roman
world, and the critical reexamination of the surviving documents of
classical literature, the new approach acquired rich material with which
to work. 

major point that this school propounded was that these discoveries
showed that the ancient Orient represented a high cultural
maturity—something denied by Wellhausen and others—and that Torah (and
Nach) had been the outcome of this maturity. Some scholars
rejected the evolutionary view of Israel’s religious history and
described the religion of Tanach as having already reached the
full development of its most important features in the age of Moshe.
Paul Volz argued that the high ethical principles of the Decalogue,
which were usually attributed to prophetic inspiration, were known to
the Israelites in Moshe’s time.


On the basis of the evidence, Volz declared that the Mosaic authorship
of the Decalogue could easily be established and that it was as advanced
as the later teachings of the Prophets. The most significant attempt to
restore the traditional view of the Mosaic religion was made by Bruno
Baentsch, who claimed that traces of monotheism can be found in other
religions of the ancient Orient.


Moreover, the discovery of the Hammurabi Code in 1902—a code of ethics
of a remarkably high standard—completely changed the picture of the
ancient Far East. Some suggested that this code was the forerunner of
the Torah law, a view that was later rejected.


The difficulty of this approach is that Hammurabi’s monotheistic ideas
do not seem to agree with the monotheistic idea of the one Invisible God
described in the Old Testament. Also, the laws of the Torah often
contradicted the Hammurabi Code. 


was the case with other schools, speculation became more and more rife.
It became clear that the Torah and the other books of Tanach could best be understood
on their own merits, without extrabiblical evidence. Israel’s religious
history had characteristic features of its own that could not be
understood without primary attention being given to evidence derived
from the Bible itself.

his classic work Critique of
Religion and Philosophy
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press,
1978) p. 377, Walter Kaufmann discusses Wellhausen’s as well as other
forms of Higher Criticism and shows one of the major failures of these
schools in the following observation: 

Imagine a Higher Critic analyzing Goethe’s
Faust, which was written by a single human being in the course of sixty
years. The scenes in which the heroine of Part One is called Gretchen
would be relegated to one author; the conflicting conceptions of the
role of Mephistopheles would be taken to call for further divisions, and
the Prologue in Heaven would be ascribed to a later editor, while the
prelude on the stage would be referred to yet a different author. Our
critic would have no doubt whatsoever that Part Two belongs to a
different age and must be assigned to a great many writers with widely
different ideas. The end of Act IV, for example, points to an
anti-Catholic author who lampoons the church, while the end of Act V was
written by a man, we should be told, who, though probably no orthodox
Catholic, was deeply sympathetic to Catholicism. Where do we find more
inconsistencies in style and thought and plan: in Goethe’s Faust or in
the Five Books of Moses?



short, inconsistencies of style and text cannot be taken as proof that a
work was written by more than one author. 

is not the only observation Kaufmann makes concerning the nature of
Tanach. After asking how Tanach should be read, he answers
(p. 383): 


Any suggestion of the close affinity of religion
and poetry is generally met with the retort that a religious scripture
is not mere poetry, which is true enough. But at the very least one
might accord a religious scripture the same courtesy which one extends
to poetry and recall Goethe’s dictum: “What issues from a poetic mind
wants to lie received by a poetic mind. Any cold analyzing destroys the
poetry and does not generate any reality. All that remains are potsheds
which are good for nothing and only incommode us.”


observation is true in its critical attitude not only toward Higher

Criticism but toward most of the other schools of Old Testament research
as well. The different schools approached the Old Testament as a
collection of historical facts from which to draw only such conclusions
as the facts warranted. 

was the theological approach to Old Testament, studies that, after long
being neglected, made this point. The real value of Torah and the other
books of Tanach is
essentially religious in content and outlook and, as such, the critical
schools missed the point the Torah was making. Consequently, they used
the wrong tools of investigation. Only an approach to the world of Torah
and Nach that did justice to what it said about God, man, and the
meaning of life could offer a means of arriving at the permanent
significance of the Torah. 


point, for ages emphasized by traditional Jewish scholars, had been made
by Otto Eissfeldt


and later by Walter Eihrodt,


albeit these studies were also heavily influenced by New Testament
sentiments. Still these studies are of major importance, for it took
courage to present this view at a time when the Torah and the rest of
Tanach was rejected as a “Jewish book” of no significance to
Germans and Christians. It is only in the last twenty to thirty years,
especially in America and England, that full emphasis was given to this
approach. One of the most important books accepting the true
significance of Torah and Nach was written by H. H. Rowley and is
entitled, The Relevance of
the Bible


Norman H. Snaith’s important work The Distinctive Ideas of the Old
(London, 1944) also drew attention to the uniqueness of
the Hebrew tradition. 


1946, the secular German literary critic and theorist Erich Auerbach
published an essay called “Odysseus Scar.” In this important study he
explored the nature of the biblical narrative. In comparing it with the
Homeric way of narrative, Auerbach shows how much the biblical narrative
is different from the Greek epic. Unlike Homer, the former is “fraught
with background,” unspoken words, and silence. It can only be understood
on its own terms. It is in need of constant interpretation, claims
absolute truth, and draws its reader into the world of religious
experience. But above all, it is not art but command that strikes
the student as the most important characteristic of the biblical


Auerbach maintained
that the text of the Torah clearly shows that it wants to be “heard” as
an encounter in which God speaks to man. It was not the later Rabbis or
theologians who invented such a claim, but the very intent of the text


Auerbach’s essay gave impetus to much novel research in the field of
Bible studies. Most important are the works of Robert Alter,


Roland Barflies


and Harold Fisch.


All of them show a remarkable sensitivity for the authentic
meaning of the text, reflecting a more “Jewish” approach when discussing
some of the most difficult biblical narratives. Meir Weiss,


Meir Sternberg,


and Shimon bar Efrat,


using literary analysis, have dealt with the intricate subtleties of the
biblical texts, uncovering more traditional interpretations. While these
developments fall short in the eyes of traditional Judaism, they
indicate a more objective, honest approach toward the Torah. The
authors, dissociating themselves from the old schools of Bible
Criticism, tried hard to hear the genuine “voice” of the Torah, and
therefore moved closer to the traditional Jewish approach than any of
their predecessors.


has become increasingly clear is that the problems raised by Spinoza,
Wellhausen, and others were well known to the traditional Jewish
commentaries throughout the ages. What is different is the method
by which these problems were solved. The Bible critics took it for
granted that the biblical texts were texts like any other and therefore
to be explored by the normal criteria of literary research.
Axiomatically, without sincerely considering other possibilities, they
rejected the idea of a “personal” God, the possibility of verbal
revelation, and the authority of tradition in interpreting these


Breuer, an Orthodox Jewish scholar, goes even as far as to state that he
is prepared to accept much of the critic’s findings. Using an unusual
hybrid of neo-Kantian thought and Jewish mysticism, he concludes (not
without major problems) that the traditional and the critical views are
both “true.” He distinguishes between the Torah as a “document”
(phenomenon) and as words “written in black and white fire”


Thereupon, he asks why the word of God came down to man in such a way
that it seems to support some of the critic’s findings. He answers that
this was necessary to show all the different religious perspectives of
the Torah. For example, when discussing the different Pentateuchal names
for God (one of the most important foundations of the Wellhausen theory
for the existence of “documents”), he explains that this is connected
with the different attributes of God as understood by the Jewish
tradition. Sometimes God appears to us as a merciful God (the
Tetragrammaton), at another time as Judge (Elohim). These,
however, are the ways in which God appears to us (phenomenon). But
behind all this is the mystical meaning of the Torah, which unites all
these names (noumenon).



famous Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook (1805- 1935) added that there could
essentially be no conflict between the scientific approach and the
religious one. This was due to the fact that the Torah was primarily
concerned with the knowledge of God and the sanctification of life, not
with astronomy or geology. Scientific statements in the Torah and later
prophets have to be understood as parables and analogies and not as
primitive scientific statements.


greatest problem with Bible Criticism must, however, be seen in its
failure to understand the crucial role the Oral Torah plays in the
proper understanding of the Pentateuchal text. As stated before, the
text can be understood only when read in its own spirit. Looking a

little deeper, this means that it can be understood only when one
“hears” its words in “the doing,” in other words, when one “lives” it
and is part of its Weltanschauung. One can read the text of the
“Pentateuch” and remain unaffected; in contrast, one can listen to the
“Torah” as a religious act and be involved.


and more Bible scholars in the latter years admit that this is possible
only when one studies the Pentateuchal text from within a certain
tradition on which the text heavily relies. This is indeed one of the
most important claims made by the Jewish tradition. Many Jewish
commentators have convincingly argued that it is wholly impossible to
understand the text without such a tradition. The point that they were
making is that not only is it possible to read the text through the eyes
of an Oral Tradition but that the intended meaning is the very one
suggested by the Oral Tradition. While some modern commentaries may not
go as far as arguing for a talmudic Oral Tradition, they do agree that
the Pentateuchal text alludes to a comprehensive Oral Tradition that
preceded it.



his famous commentary on the Torah, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch argues
that the Written Torah is the masterful “synopsis” of the Oral Tradition
as laid down in the Talmud; first God instructed Moshe concerning the
Oral Torah, and only afterward did He give him a dictation of the
written text. In much the same way that lecture notes can help us to
reproduce the original lecture only after we have heard it in
full, so the Written Torah can only be understood after one has studied
the Oral Torah in all its aspects: “It is not the Oral Law (Torah) which
has to seek the guarantee of its authenticity in the Written Law
(Torah); on the contrary, it is the Written Law (Law) which has to look
for its warrant in the Oral Tradition.”


Leibowitz, one of the most controversial Orthodox scholars of today,
argues on similar lines: The sanctity and the uniqueness of the Written
Torah cannot be inferred from any quality of the text itself.


Getting very close to the kabbalistic tradition, he states that as literature, the Written Torah
is inferior to Shakespeare; as philosophy, it cannot compete with
Plato or Kant, and as “moral
education,” Sophocles’ Antigone is superior!


Where the critics went wrong was to try to read and understand the
“notes” without having heard the lecture. This would obviously perforce
lead to the most absurd propositions. To read the Torah as an autonomous
text is therefore an unforgivable mistake: “This kind of bibliolatry is
Lutheran,” says Leibowitz. 


in a different way are the observations of Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik, who
deals with several “contradictions” in the Pentateuchal text. These, he
shows, are not the result of having been written by a different hand but
are rather evidence for different and paradoxical dimensions in the
human condition with which the religious personality has to struggle.


can be said with certainty is that honest Bible scholars no longer
maintain that the Torah is the result of different fragments edited and
reedited. The Torah is now taken to be Mosaic in origin and content, and
it has been acknowledged that much of this tradition was already well
established in pro-Mosaic times. Although this position has moved
considerably in the direction of the Jewish traditional view, it has
definitely not thrown in the towel to the tradition concerning the
verbal infallibility of the Torah. 

sister school of “Higher Criticism,” known as “Lower Criticism,” has
come to the fore within the last centuries. This school has taken upon
itself to question the reliability of the text based on outside sources
such as the Septuagint. The proponents of this school have developed
recensions based on variant readings that they regard as more reliable
than the traditional text. As later scholars have pointed out, these
recensions have been accomplished by offering baseless emendations and
conjectures that are without rational foundation. 


has shown that these methods of critical analysis were in vogue in the
latter part of the nineteenth century and were often employed in
classical philology.


He mentions a scholar who used this approach to analyze Paradise Lost
and came to the conclusion that this work was full of later
interpolations. He also speaks of a scholar who made seven hundred
revisions in Horace and finally published a volume that contained, in
effect, a revised version of the poems which, while hardly being
improved upon, turned out to be rather amusing.

Regarding “Lower
Criticism,” Nijberg observes: 

The most insane arbitrariness in this field is
slowly beginning to recede. . . . The first step to such reflection,
however, must be the recognition of the errors in method that have so
far been made in the treatment of the text. ... In the end we should
remember a good old philological rule: When one does not understand
something, one should first mistrust oneself and not the text.”



has been clearly demonstrated, the Jewish Sages and later scribes were
extraordinarily careful to guarantee that no changes were made in the
text of the Torah and Nach.


Their precision was such that today, despite the fact that the Jews were
dispersed to almost every corner of the globe and their communities
often had little contact with each other, there are no essential
differences in the text of the Torah scrolls. The Torah text that Jews
brought from Cochin, India, is identical to the text used by the
community in Cracow, Poland. 

there are differences in some ancient versions. This is not
surprising: from the earliest times many individuals wrote scrolls for
private study. These private
scrolls often contained emendations that reflected the Oral Torah
connected with a specific phrase or verse. This was done so as to remind
oneself of the correct interpretation of the text. These scrolls were
not intended for public use and were, in fact, ritually unfit for use
because of these changes. Jewish tradition informs us that one of the
great earlier Sages, Rabbi Meir, used to mark his allegorical
explanations in his own private scroll as a means of remembering them.


There is no evidence of these private scrolls ever becoming mixed up
with the traditional written Torah, for Jewish law is extremely precise
and exacting in its demands of the scrolls used for the Torah reading in
the synagogues. Scribes who prepared Torah scrolls were and are required
to use a copy of the traditional Torah text as a source and are
prohibited from writing a scroll from memory. 


is possible that non-Jewish editions of the Bible, such as the
Septuagint or Vulgate, may have used private scrolls as a source, and
this would account for the deviations found there. 

perhaps the most devastating blow to these critical theories was
delivered by Rabbi Chaim Heller (1878-1960). Not only had he mastered
the Oral Torah to the extent that he was one of the greatest talmudic
scholars of his time, but he also knew every extant ancient Bible
translation in its original target language, whether Aramaic, Greek,
Latin, or Syriac. In his Untersuchungen ueber die
(1911), he took issue with those who concluded that
apparent divergences from the Torah in their possession were due to
variae lectiones in the ancient texts. Not so, he asserted. Every
translation is a commentary, and the variations result from the
translator preferring one explanation in the Oral Torah to another.
Thus, the differences were exegetical rather than textual. He further
showed that all the apparent differences stemmed from the thirty-two

exegetical rules of biblical interpretation enumerated by Rabbi Elazar
ben Rabbi Shimon.


In the above-mentioned study he gives examples showing how the
translator employed each rule in his version. 


David Hoffmann points out that even to accept the contention that the
text in certain places of the Torah has been altered would still leave
no choice but to accept the traditional version as the one closest to
the original, for “every conjecture, no matter how many exegetical and
historical and critical arguments it may be supported, does not offer us
even the probability that the Prophet or the writer of Scripture wrote
in this form and not in the text before


many occasions, seemingly “unintelligible” words of Tanach have
suddenly become understandable in light of research and comparison with
other oriental languages. It is due to this late research that the
traditional text has grown in stature and respectability in the eyes of
critical scientists and is increasingly preferred in many cases over
other versions that were once considered accurate. 

summation, while Bible Criticism has found its way back to a more
traditional approach, as far as the Pentateuchal text, its date, and its
origin are concerned, one should never forget that the question of the

verbal infallibility of the Torah as the expression of an explicit
divine revelation lies outside the scope of any literal or scientific


modern crisis of religion, of which Bible Criticism is a symptom, is due
to the misapplication of scientific research to aspects of reality, like
faith and revelation, to which they do not belong. Laws deduced from

the world of nature
cannot explain supernatural phenomena, in the same way that no scientist
would ever accept the position that the rules governing why organic
materials react to certain stimuli could apply to inorganic substances.
Both are intrinsically different in nature and can only be understood as
two completely different systems. 

Torah is a covenantal document and is to be studied as such. It does not
inform us of “facts,” “history,” or “anthropology.” It reveals a
continuous encounter between God and man, which was set in motion with
the revelation at Sinai. It cannot be read but only studied, proclaimed,
heard, and experienced. The encounter with its text is a religious act
and therefore prefaced with a blessing. For this reason it is untouched
and unimpaired by the results of Bible Criticism. 

is important to realize is that the struggle over the origin of the text
of the Torah was, and is, not just an academic one. It is foremost a
battle between “divine authority” and “human autonomy.” Modernity,
starting with Spinoza, was looking for ways through which it could
liberate itself from the biblical worldview and its far-reaching divine
demands. Since it was this biblical text that made man submissive to
divine authority, it was necessary to start an assault on the biblical
text itself and strip it of its divine nature. The interplay between
sociology and theology is a complex one, but what is clear is that what man will find and conclude
is greatly dependent on the question of why he is looking. The Torah can
be made to yield whatever meaning its interpreters like to assign to

This fact is also of great importance in understanding what has happened within the Jewish community over the last two hundred years. In an attempt to become part of the secular world, many Jews looked to Bible Criticism as a most forceful (and welcome) source of legitimization for the break with tradition. In reference to what Heinrich Heine once called “the portable fatherland of the Jew,” the Torah was historicized, secularized, and fragmentized. It is hardly possible to ignore the fact that since the day when this fragmentation theory made inroads into the Jewish community, the Jewish People has lost much of its élan vital. It resulted in “nontraditional” forms of Judaism and eventually caused Jews to turn their backs on tradition altogether. The secularization of the Torah had led to secularization of the people.


by  Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo
Posted in: