Monday, March 02, 2009

The first source-critical Bible goes online

This could be a watershed in the history of Bible criticism: the first online source-critical presentation of the Hebrew Bible, through II Samuel 5, went up this weekend. From now on, students and scholars looking for an accessible, well-founded treatment of the probable sources of the biblical text can start here

The author is Tzemah Yoreh, one of Israel Knohl's star students at Hebrew University and now a professor at AJU. While Yoreh's vision is not the only plausible one, it has two big advantages: 1) A short, eloquent introduction explains Yoreh's method, which is organic. It relies on Occam's Razor, the idea that the best explanations use as few assumptions as necessary. The result is a new version of the supplementary hypothesis, the idea that the Bible comes not from an assembly of sources but a series of interpretive additions, as religious thinkers collectively wove and rewove traditional texts they considered sacred. Like the process of inner-biblical interpretation illuminated by scholars like Sarna, Fishbane, Levinson, and Sommer, each source wrote with scripture by building on the sources it found. The Bible Yoreh shows us is not just a set of fragments, obscurely cobbled together by narrow elites for ulterior motives (though his analysis raises essential questions of social location and group interest too) but coherent acts of poiesis: collective cultural world-making.

2) Yoreh's presentation is simpler and seems more coherent than the fragmentary hypothesis which has come to dominate European scholarship. Under this hypothesis--nicely summarized by Kevin Wilson-- the Priestly source wove together five fragmentary blocks of tradition, that were sometimes aware of each other and sometimes not. Yoreh's parsimony does not make him right, but he's got one big thing going for him: nobody else has put all of their results together in a useful form and published them online. This kind of public scholarship, which takes both work and courage, should become a fundamental go-to for students and a helpful tool for scholars to think with.

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