Documentary Hypothesis

So I’m reading the bible right now (currently about half-way through the book of Judges if you’re wondering) and I was curious what the Church’s view is on the whole “documentary hypothesis”, or the idea that much of the bible (the Pentateuch in particular) is a collection of documents written by differing authors at different times.

If this hypothesis were to be considered true, it seems to cause problems for the Church’s view of the bible in general: if the biblical authors were inspired by the Holy Spirit, and the books we have are actually collections of other books, is the book itself still inspired? Or would we have to find the original source-manuscripts, all of which are lost, and only they could possibly be inspired? And what if those original documents held things that the hypothetical redactor took out?

The 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia argues against it but . . . well that’s more than a little outdated. I don’t have any particular problem rejecting it - it will always be a hypothesis, and impossible to prove. I just want to know what y’all think, and if it is, in your opinion, true, how do you mesh this with the nature of the Sacred Dogma?

Also some really minor questions, don’t worry about looking around for answers if you don’t know 'em off the top of your head . . .

  1. Why are the names in the Douay-Rheims edition so different from the modern ones? I know it’s a translation of a translation, but why didn’t St. Jerome use the actual names instead of latinizing them? Seems like the Nova Vulgata does this as well.

  2. Is there any place online that lists the differences in versing between the Douay-Rheims and more modern editions? In most places it’s minor if it’s there at all, but it’s sometimes a hassle to look up a cited verse and then find that they don’t match up.

FWIW, the Bible has been very interesting to read. I’d recommend to anyone, religious status regardless, just because it’s such an ancient piece of literature. It’s one of the classics that everyone should/used to read, like The Odyssey and whatnot: very influential on the development of Western literature, I’d imagine.

Regarding the books of the prophets where the names are different:

They are transliterations from two different languages - Hebrew and Greek. I believe the Douay book names are a transliteration of the Greek, whereas most other Bibles are a transliteration of the Hebrew. Could have it backwards tho.

That makes sense (though it’s more than the prophetical books: lots if not most of names are spelled funny).

Personally, I credit Moses with overseeing the writing of the Penteteuch - primarily because that is what Scripture indicates. (cf Ex 24:4, 7; Deut 31:9,24; Josh 23:6) and what has been the long term tradition. The “Law of Moses” is mentioned in the New Testament. We don’t know whether the record of creation, Noah, etc. were part of the oral history handed down in his line, or whether they were revealed directly to Moses by God.

Knowing whether Moses personally did the writing, or whether he had someone else do it for him has no bearing for me on the validity and inspiration of the Penteteuch. At least some lines contained in the Penteteuch (those recording Moses death, Deut 34:5-7) must have had an author other than Moses.

As to the remaining books of Scripture, we know they were written by many different authors - the books themselves say so. As to the validity of the inspiration of the various books, that is not determined in some way directly by the books themselves - but rather by the Church’s decision (under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) as to which books are inspired and should be included in the canon of Scripture. It is God’s “overseeing” power of His Church that is the basis of our trust. The Church continues to inform its members as to which translations are considered valid. And again, it is trust in the power of God’s Holy Spirit guiding Church decisions that is the basis of accepting with assurance the inspiration of approved translations.


I know. But again, a lot is based on the Greek vs Hebrew texts. I’m not at home and don’t have access to my Douay with background notes.

Toledoths of Genesis

I am in RCIA and tonight’s subject was the Old Testament. One of the parish priests, Fr. Ragan Schriver, Director of Catholic Charities East Tennessee, presented the Old Testament through the lens of the “Documentary Hypothesis”, verbatim.

So there definitely are Catholics out there, ordained at that, who support the hypothesis.

I reject the hypothesis myself, and have several questions lined up for him next week as we survey the New Testament in class. Specifically, was Jesus uninspired or mistaken when he attributes the sacred writings of the Law to Moses.

It also seems silly to me that Jews of Jesus day would view the Torah of such sacred origin if they knew that it was written so recently as the hypothesis postulates. And if so, how could they not know? 500 years or so is historically speaking very little time at all.

The modern numbering is shown in brackets here:

Hey Jack!

Fr. William Most points out in his book, Free From all Error, that John Paul II was personally, favorably disposed towards this hypothesis “without meaning to impose it on the Church.” And so the Church does not have an official position on the theory although paragraph 289 of the Catechism allows for the possibility and bears out Father’s assessment of John Paul II’s intent to not impose his view: “From a literary standpoint [the first three chapters of Genesis] may have had diverse sources.”

I think that it is safe to say that only the final text is held to be sacred and canonical. The sources are only inspired insofar as they are used in the final form of the text, and this final form provides the context for what was drawn from these sources and therefore assigns the final meaning to them from within the framework of the full canon of Scripture. For example, when Paul refers to Jannes and Jambres, it doesn’t matter what was said about these characters in the source Paul was drawing from, but only what Paul actually wrote about them and how he used them within the context of his letter and in light of what the Old Testament teaches us about these heretofore unnamed characters. Other details found in Paul’s source may be true, but they’re not divinely inspired.

Because of what the Bible says about Mosaic authorship, I think that the hypothesis is false. :slight_smile:

There are a couple of links provided on Scott Hahn’s website which critique the theory. The first link is to an online book, The Mosaic Origin of the Pentateuchal Codes. Although written some time ago, I think that it is still timely and, from what I’ve read of it, it deals a devastating blow to the theory! A more recent critique that Hahn links to is a lecture on the authorship of the Pentateuch. Slides 65 through 71 of the lecture lay out one of the biggest problems for proponents of the documentary hypothesis.

You can also check out Gary Rendsburg’s lectures on the Book of Genesis where he offers some of his own critiques. I think his most powerful point against the hypothesis is that there is not a single Babylonian loanword to be found in the whole of Genesis. This is a decisive point because the JEDP theorists hold that the P source and its redactors provide for the final state of the text and that these authors/editors post-date the exile to Babylon. It’s an argument from silence, but it’s about as strong as such an argument can get. So although I think that Babylonian loanwords could exist in a text that predates the exile due to a shared culture and other influences, it would be extremely unlikely for Babylonian loanwords to be completely absent from such a lengthy text purportedly to have been redacted and added to after the exile.

May God bless you!

Myself, I am not opposed to every version of the hypothesis.

The one our priest presented, though, bothers me.

It basically assumes that each book was written or added to by different writers based on time periods and their political, sociological, political and religious culture.

For instance, the entire book of Deuteronomy was written in response to the desire for a renewed orthodoxy by Jews around 400BC. It would have had nothing to do with Moses, and only claims Mosaic authorship to add a degree of validity. So it is a latter day fabrication.

This is an extreme view, and not compatible with my own faith. If you want to say that there are various sources compiled as one, but recognize that these sources come down directly from Moses and those associated with him, that is fine. To say that the book(s) really had nothing to do with Moses and is a late date fabrication to address the immediate needs of the culture, and purposely fixing a false name to it to add validity, is something completely different.

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