Intro to the Documentary Hypothesis

Ever wonder how and when the Christian Old Testament / Jewish Bible (divided into the Torah "Law," Neviim "Prophets," and Ketuvim "Writings") were written? There is a large body of scholarly work on the subject, and it's all pretty fascinating. Especially if you like studying history and culture. The first thing I would recommend is this brief introduction to the Documentary Hypothesis. This covers the very basics behind scholarly understanding of the Torah.

Thanks to heterodoxism and his hard work making these abridged lectures a visually interesting jumping off point.

If you enjoy this short playlist and want to delve deeper, OpenYale Courses has this entire lecture series from Introduction to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) available online.

I share this because there are two ways to read holy books.

The first way is to assume that you are the intended audience, and to assume that the theology of the authors is the same as what you were taught.

The second is to take a critical approach to the text and to the history and culture of the authors. In the Five Books of Moses alone we have evidence for the four distinct cosmologies/theologies of J, E, D, and P; each so old that modern Judaism and modern Christianity are closer to each other than they are to their ancient source material.

When I studied the Torah in college I entered the class committed to truth and hoping to strengthen my religious faith by delving into Christianity's origins. I saw several students that would rationalize away or simply ignore the historic and archaeological evidence and continue to argue the "truth" of their churches explanation for the text. They couldn't defend their positions, but they wouldn't budge. This bothered me greatly. If my fellow Christians were honestly opening themselves up to the truth of God's word, why did they feel threatened by long documented and well understood facts about the Hebrew history? Interestingly, their faith in their particular church's doctrine led them to disagree with each other almost as often as with the professor.

On the other hand, I understood and accepted my ignorance of the subject and approached the class with an open mind. When I saw that my position didn't match the evidence I accepted that I was wrong. I abandoned the assumptions that I had been taught by volunteer Sunday School teachers with no scholarly background, and accepted the position that was supported by verifiable historic facts. Ironically, this eager commitment that I made to learning the true roots of my religion was also my first step to seeing it as it really is: a human construct that stands in contradiction to the natural world.

"The bible must be seen in a cultural context. It didn't just happen. These stories are retreads. But, tell a Christian that -- No, No!
What makes it doubly sad is that they hardly know the book, much less its origins."
~ Isaac Asimov

In search of reason,


1 comment:

  1. Religion is a function of culture. That's a phrase that really grabbed my attention in college, during a particularly difficult history course. The professor would return to that point repeatedly throughout his lectures when exploring the culture of the various societies discussed in the class.

    I find it very interesting to look at cultures and examine their religions, with an eye towards how the former shaped the latter, and the ways in which the two became largely synonymous for some cultures. Ancient people would develop the religion that made sense for them based on their environment and the things happening around them; not just to make sense of the things they did not understand, but also to describe their history, and to write their story into the narrative of the greater world around them.

    I was not raised as religious, but I did not really understand the phenomenon until this class introduced that concept to me. I find the fact that this has happened again and again throughout history, in different ways, with different deities - each based on the geography around that particular culture, mind - to be the greatest evidence that any sort of higher power is a purely human construct.


Thank you for your thoughts!

Please read our 'No Drama Comment Policy' before posting.