Friday, March 31, 2006

Critical Approach

The "documentary hypothesis" was a monumental step forward in our understanding of the historic process which led to the development of the Biblical text. However, in light of recent research, we are forced to conclude that the documentary hypothesis is insufficient to explain the Bible's unique characteristics. The most reliable evidence now indicates that the Pentateuch was actually written not by 4, but by 22 different authors.

The superiority of the 22-source theory is demonstrated by the fact that every single section of the Bible can be broken down into segments, each of which bears the characteristics of one of the 22 sources and of no others. Even among traditional theologians, the existence of 22 different styles used within the text has always been tacitly acknowledged. But until recently nobody had followed to the logical conclusion, that each of the 22 styles corresponds to a separate author. The failure of every scholar up to the present day to discern these variants as 22 distinct sources of the Bible can only be ascribed to theistically induced prejudice.

One example, from the beginning of the Bible, will suffice to show the strength of the 22-source theory. The book of Genesis begins with an excerpt from an especially early text, which we will refer to as "bet". (Following the lead of Israeli scholars, the various sources are referred to by Hebrew letters.) Immediately following this is an excerpt from a later source, "reish". The next section can be unmistakably identified as coming from the "alef" account of the Biblical story. Following this are short excerpts from the authors "shin", "yud", and "taf".

Next, the redacted story returns to the "bet" account. This section is then followed by selections from "reish" and "alef", and so on. The sequence of independently written sections continues throughout the Pentateuch, as can be verified by even a cursory reading.

The careful reader will notice that the source sequence "bet"-"reish"-"alef" appears multiple times within the small portion of Genesis which has been discussed so far. It is theorized that an early redactor, who had access to only these three sources, assembled them into a composite narrative detailing the beginning of the creation story. Later on, the final redactor inserted other selections, such as "shin" and "yud" and "taf", while leaving the intermediate redacted narrative mostly intact.

Current investigation focuses on the possible influence of a 23rd author, "space". Dispute centers on whether the longer and shorter quotations from this author are indicative of redactive intent and purpose. It is also unclear whether excerpts from "space" were meant to be part of the redacted narrative at all or were just added to make the scroll look prettier and easier to read. The fact that all other authors' texts are included within a framework of "space" is sure to lead to exciting further discoveries.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Great Legal Systems...

"This book is an introduction to the vast body of law that governs real estate transactions in California. It will not, however, qualify you to give legal advice, which would be the unauthorized practice of law. Rather, it will help you recognize situations in which legal counsel should be sought and help you understand rights and obligations under the law."
-A random textbook I ran across

Sounds a lot like the common and cliched halachic warning: "Do not use this sefer as a practical guide; in any real situation you must first consult your posek and he will tell you what to do."

Apparently, great legal systems work alike.

Esther and Batsheva

Megillat Esther states (2:7) that after the death of Esther's parents, Mordechai took and raised Esther "as a daughter". According to the well-known midrash, Esther in fact become Mordechai's wife, not stepdaughter. I would like to examine the background and message of this midrash.

There is (at least) one other place in Tanach where the a man's wife is referred to as his daughter - the episode of David and Batsheva (Shmuel 2 12). When the prophet Natan wants to castigate King David for adulterizing with Uriyah's wife Batsheva, Natan tells a parable of a poor man who owns just "one small [female] sheep" which he dutifully and lovingly raises, so much so that "it was like a daughter to him." Then, a rich man who owns many flocks of sheep steals the poor man's single sheep and slaughters and eats it. David, hearing the story, is outraged and demands that the rich man be punished. Natan replies that David has just condemned himself. In the parable, David represented the rich man, Uriyah the poor man, and his wife Batsheva the female sheep whom the poor man considered almost a "daughter".

When the midrash says that Mordechai's "daughter" was actually his "wife", I think it is hinting to Batsheva, the other wife who was called a daughter. Further parallels between the stories are clear-cut. Mordechai would take the place of Uriyah. More importantly, King Ahashverosh would take the place of King David. Just as King David was guilty of adulterously forcing Batsheva, King Ahashverosh was guilty of forcing an intermarriage with Esther.

The interesting thing is that David and Batsheva's wrongly started relationship later became quite legitimate. After Uriyah's death, David legally took her as a wife. Their child was Shlomo, who brought Israel to its greatest power ever, who built the first Temple, and through whom the royal Davidic line was then traced. The midrash suggests that much the same thing happened between Ahashverosh and Esther. While their relationship certainly had an improper beginning, in the end it was responsible for the deliverance of the Jews from Haman's decree. What's more, this parallel may be the source of another midrash, which says that King Daryavesh (who allowed the second Temple to be built) was Ahashverosh's and Esther's son.

According to our midrash, the shared message of Esther and Batsheva is that when involved a problematic moral situation, one should not abandon hope or dissociate and avert one's eyes from the situation. Rather, one should react as did Esther and David: fast, pray, admit one's guilt, and work with all one's intensity to save the situation and reverse the decree. Thus, deadly sins and pending annihilation can be turned into national deliverance and the building of the Temple. With the proper attitude and effort, from the greatest crisis can come the most total salvation.