Archive for June, 2012

Baruch J. Swartz in his article: “Does Scholarship’s Critique of the Documentary Hypothesis Constitute Grounds for Its Rejection?” argues that the only legitimate way to discredit the Documentary Hypothesis (DH) is to prove that it is not the best solution to the literary “problems and contradictions” contained within the Pentateuch. He also argues that many critiques of the DH are illegitimate. Among one of the Swartz’s more interesting critiques is that he doesn’t believe that disproving the historical process which we think generated the Pentateuchal sources disproves the literary division of the Pentateuch into its sources. In other words, though new research brings doubt to the current historical model behind the creation of the Pentateuch sources, that research has little impact on the literary evidence of the Pentateuch’s sources. Thus, he separates the DH from the historical model behind DH:

In my understanding, the higher criticism of the Torah consists of two parts: a literary-critical stage, which seeks to explain why the text looks the way it does by separating it into its constituent parts and to determine how they were combined, and its historical-critical stage, which attempts to place the  separate components, and the process by which their combination has ultimately resulted in the composition we call the Torah, within plausible contexts in the history of ancient Israel and its religion…The Documentary Hypothesis per se belongs exclusively to the first stage. Its point of departure is literary. its aim is literary, and its essential claim is literary too: that the greatest number of textual problems posed by the attempt to read the Pentateuch in its present form is solved in the mot economical manner when it is posited that the Torah is an amalgamation of four preexisting documents [i.e. JEDP].

Central to Swartz’s thesis is that the DH represents a solution to these textual problems, but the article does not go deeper into how the DH solves those problems.  What I like about Swartz’s article though, is the focus on a literary solutions to the problematic texts of the Pentateuch. I think Swartz’s article represents a step in right direction. Before we postulate historical models over the creation of a particular text (and thus assume a literary model), we should work to describe the text on the philological and literary level first. If we focus on literary solutions, I think we can avoid running roughshod over the text with inadequate historical models. I do not want to seem like I’m sweeping the problem under a rug, but I ultimately think we can come up with a better literary solution than the DH while maintaining the unity of the message and literature of the Pentateuch without dividing it into its various sources (although I speak as a humble student). Yet, I was encouraged to read Swartz’s thoughts on methodology even though I disagreed with his stance on the DH.

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The account of the crossing of the Jordan in the Book of Joshua contains some of the oddest chronology that I’ve seen in my reading so far. Joshua commands the people to choose twelve men before they crossover. Then, after they crossover, he commands them to again choose twelve men. After they take twelve stones from the river, Joshua puts twelve stones back in the river. At the end of chapter 3, the author says that the people crossed over. Part way through chapter 4, they are still crossing over. At one point in chapter 4, the priests crossover. Later, Joshua commands the priests to come out of the river bed. The author describes two different liturgical rituals about the twelve stones (one at the beginning of chapter 4 and the other at the end).

Why would the author-redactor stagger the chronology of the account of the Jordan crossing? For us, such an important event ought not start and stop, twist and turn so many times. The account disrupts the main plot so much that it’s difficult for one to get the facts straight. Some have said that the text’s complicated chronology is derived from a complex textual pre-history. In other words, the Jordan crossing account is mixture of red, yellow, blue, and green Play-Dough. The theory is odd. For a author-redactor who is putting the text together in its final form, why would he mangle such an important event in the Book of Joshua? So far, the book has been building toward the conquest of Canaan with three different pericopes. Chapter 1 contains dialog encouraging Joshua to “be strong and courageous” to fulfill his duty. In the second chapter, Rahab confesses to the spies that the people of the land are fearful of the Israel and have no hope for success against them. Chapters 3-4 contain the accounts of Israel’s crossing (chapter 5 is a reinterpretation of chapters 3-4). If this story really is Play-Dough, it’s an odd way to build up to the conquest that occurs in chapter 6.

I think we can find another answer. For the author-redactor, the importance of the event isn’t that they got to the other side. The importance of the event centers around the two liturgies of the twelve stones. The mixed chronology catches our attention and refocus it on different elements within the story that make the liturgies significant. In a lot of ways, the staggered chronology also allows the author to show the reader the fulfillment of different prefigured, predicted elements. How is Joshua great? How did the LORD show wonderful things? How did the LORD show Israel that El-Hai was among them? How did he show that all the words that he commanded Joshua were fulfilled? He uses the odd chronology to answer all these questions. The liturgies focus our vision to see how the text answers these questions.

Thus, the text is deeply theological in nature. When Israel looks back at the Jordan Crossing, they are to remember all the things that God through Joshua showed them. They had no need to abstract anything from the event; the author displays the religious significance in plain sight.

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Value of Community

Once a year (or thereabout), a group of my friends gets together and camps near Grandfather Mountain – it’s the “man” trip. We have some established traditions: Ben’s chilli, sitting around the camp fire late, the calzone at “the” Italian restaurant, and hiking just to name a few. Despite the fact that we tend to follow the same road map for every camping trip, each one has its own unique feel.

The last few weeks for me have been stressful. I have been planning for Sunday school, working hard at my job, and researching topics in Old Testament to put together a thesis for my degree. I needed the break, and the camping trip came at the right time. What I like most about the trip is the guys I spend it with. All of them have contributed to forming me as an individual. They all challenge me to be someone better than I am currently. We don’t always have the deepest conversations but spending time with them is refreshing. This time is no exception. I’m physically exhausted, but mentally and spiritually refreshed.

As I reflect on the weekend, I’m struck by the value of community. Community is the place where we  encourage and refresh each other.  Community is the context in which we can grow in ways individualism cannot provide; it is God’s gift to us. This trip is worthy of the time investment. I treasure the time I spend with my closest friends and am thankful that they too invest their time in coming to the mountains for this annual trip.  Thank you, Grace for loaning me out for a couple of days. Thank you Ben, Scott, Jeremy, Jacob, Greg, and Aaron for your friendship. I enjoyed this weekend and am looking forward to next time.


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Two attitudes frustrate me beyond degree: being treated like a species of lower intelligence and being treated like I should be an expert on material that I’ve never looked at before. Of course, each of those situations may be proper depending on the context. Thus, when the Biblical text is ambiguous beyond the point of frustration or when it shouts its meaning from the mountain tops with ceaseless repetition, I cannot help but be “reverently” frustrated.

The Book of Joshua in some places often clarifies an object by means of apposition (e.g. Joshua the son of Nun, Moses servant of Yahweh, the land which I gave you). The book uses that literary device so much that one begins to think that the phrase in apposition is actually the object’s last name. One such point is in the moment Israel crosses the Jordan. The text identifies the priests who go before the people as the ones who “bear the ark of the covenant/testimony/the LORD/etc.” The author identifies the priests “as the ones who bear the ark” 10 times in two chapters but only identifies them as “priests” 4 times. The author must not feel comfortable with calling the priests by their first name alone. Actually, I think the continual identification of the priests (you know, the ones who are bearing the ark) presents a unique situation in the book of Joshua.

In Exodus, when the Israelites crossed the Red/Reed Sea, a pillar of fire blocked the way between Israel and their Egyptian pursuers. Moses stuck out his hand and parted the waters. The pillar of fire is, in the future of Israel’s travels, the guide God gave them at night; it was the visible sign of God himself leading them through the wilderness. Surely, God was present with his people in their crossing through the sea, but the most visible manifestation, in my opinion, was the pillar of fire behind them. In Joshua, the most visible manifestation of God’s presence during their crossing of the Jordan is the ark of the covenant. Joshua sends the ark ahead of the people and commands the people to keep their distance from it. The ark stands in the middle of the Jordan while the people cross through. I am probably making too much out of this fact, but Israel now has that sign of God’s presence in front of them. God has gone before them to establish a way into the land just as he has gone before them to fight their enemies. As the ark stands in the midst of the Jordan and the midst of the people as they pass through, they all witness the wonderful things that God is doing in their midst. That act they are witnessing assures them of God’s presence with them as they go into the land just as the pillar of fire dividing them from (and the waters crashing upon) their would-be captors assures them of God’s deliverance.

The priests are significant because they are bearing the ark. The author does not want us to pass over this detail so he reminds us in bold, italic, all caps, and underline.

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A couple of years ago, my friend Jacob and I decided to teach through the Pentateuch. Some texts were more difficult than others. To be honest, once you hit Exodus 20, you really have to struggle to retain an audience. Even some commentators abandon you – leaving the Sunday School teacher in a Gethsemane of law texts (I, for one, found myself begging for divine help on many occasions). As fascinating as all those texts were (and still are), eventually you do emerge on the east side of the Jordan preparing to cross into the Promised Land. Joshua is no less inspired than Leviticus, but it’s certainly easier to teach!

I have taken pleasure in exploring the scholarship on “the other of the Jordan.” In particular, I have been grappling with some theological concepts of Joshua – both within the book itself and its significance for the books surrounding it in the Canon. Joshua is unique from the standpoint of Israel’s faithfulness. Israel, in its history as a nation, seems to spend more time breaking the covenant than obeying it. Israel is so bad that when you read Joshua 1:17 (the words of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh to Joshua), you wonder if it’s the Hebrew version of a practical joke: “Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you.” I don’t know if that encouraged Joshua…it should have, Israel in the book of Joshua is an exception to the rule of Israel’s misbehavior. Judges is the typical darker sequel. The extent Israel’s rebellion in Judges contrasts in violent colors with Israel’s faithfulness in Joshua.

Joshua itself presents a challenge. Like most Old Testament narrative texts, application is difficult. You could just say “God is faithful” and be done. Each story colors a beautiful picture of God’s faithfulness; it becomes a tangible reality for the reader. Yet, Joshua has more to say to the Church. Finding out what the book has to say requires a lot of study. On top of the struggle with how to apply the text, I have to work my way through odd phrases (what do we do with “to this day?”, narrative tensions (the land is subdued in chapter 11, but fighting continues in chatper 13), and ambiguities (why did the author say that the spies “went into” Rahab instead of “went into” her house?). Really, all of it – the studies and the struggles – are fun and rewarding. I’ve enjoyed it so far and am looking forward to the rest of it.

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