Monthly Archives: January 2016

Fundamentalism of the Sources: Problems with Some Practices of Source Criticism – Part 6

Does this mean that a priori all practices of Source Criticism fall afoul of the Catholic Tradition? No. Why not? Because it is not inimical to the faith to suggest that this or that text from the bible has prior sources. Just see the opening remarks of the Gospel according to St. Luke.

But it does mean that we must study how its concrete practices are undertaken. We must take, one at a time, each iteration of the method calling for examination or evaluation. We can draw up a number of criteria.

Criterion 1: If the method presupposes genuine contradiction—where X and not-X are affirmed in the with respect to the same at the same time—in order to get off the ground, then it is fundamentally flawed; indeed, it is opposed to the faith. Consider our example from the creation accounts. If the critic supposes that these one account affirms X and the other, not-X, then his method is flawed at its roots. He is attributing contradiction to the two authors he will go on to infer. But everything that the human author affirms is affirmed by God (Dei Verbum; not to mention, the entire Tradition). Hence, God himself will be affirming a contradiction. This is an intolerable position.

Criterion 2: If the method presupposes that a purported announcement of the future is indication that in fact the author lived at the time of the announced event, the critic is temerarious. If the critic insists on the point, he must be presupposing the impossibility of someone having foreknowledge of the future. But (1) God has knowledge of all things, past present future. Indeed, this is de fide definita (Vatican I). And (2) Man is such that he can receive revelation from God (also de fide definita). Finally, (3) There is nothing repugnant to man receiving such a revelation of the future from God (This is the entire Tradition of the Church, not to mention the explicit teaching of Scripture). Hence, such a persistent critic is opposed to the faith. Example: Among the arguments for more than one author of Isaiah is the announcement of Cyrus as Messiah in Is 45. The lurking presupposition: “What man could possibly say, more than 100 years ahead of time, indeed close to 200 years, who some political figure would be, much less predict his character?” Ah. Examine that question. “Predict”? Predict is what hedge fund managers do. It is not what Almighty God does. God’s omniscience is not a reading of the future through immanent causes. Why not? Because there is no absolute determination of the future through immanent causes. This claim is true (a) because of freedom and (b) because of the non-absolute determinacy of physical causes. Solar eclipses and things can be predicted. But the total movement of the total set of matter in the universe cannot. But at any rate, let’s stick to basics. God sees the future he does not guess about it. He is not the great Weatherman! So, the entire question exhibits that the critic has ignored the fact that Almighty God is the primary author. The critic is so worried about “Dictation Inspiration Theory” that he runs off the cliff in the other direction. Dictation Inspiration Theory, writ global, opposes the humanity of the human author, since it denies that the human author uses his mind and creativity, etc., in writing. He is like a pure vessel, a mindless pen that scribbles God’s dictation. That theory is also opposed to the faith. But don’t run off the cliff in the opposite direction because the mystery of inspiration is difficult to fathom!

These are only some of the criteria. We could add many others.

Fundamentalism of the Sources: Problems with Some Practices of Source Criticism – Part 5

Now that we have taken stock of the fundamentally tenuous character of the inference to more than one source, let us briefly consider all that is built upon this foundation.

First, there is the question as to how these fragments were put together into a single literary work, say, the Individual Books of the Law (or the whole set) or a given Prophet or a given Psalm or a given Gospel. (Or is any of these a single work?) This question is the impetus for “Redaction Criticism.” Presupposing that there are various sources of the final text, the redaction critic asks various questions concerning why and in what ways they were put together into one document. Second, there is the question of dating. Which source is dated when? Also, when was the final product put together? Third, on the basis of these two inquiries, there is influence on how to interpret the final document. This issue I wish to stress presently.

Recall that the genesis of the inference that there are diverse sources is that there are contradictory affirmations in the final text. Well then, are there contradictions in the final text? Many historical critics say so. Take the following citation from the International Biblical Commentary as example:

The OT gives us three substantially irreconcilable insights into creation (one: Gen 1:1–2:4a; two: Gen 2:4b–25; three: Isa 51:9–10; Job 7:12; 9:13; 26:12–13; Ps 74:12–17 etc., these last involving mythic combat)…. We might say that in principle there is hardly a faith position taken in the OT that is not open to the possibility of being contradicted by another faith position that might equally be taken in the OT.[1]

Ouch. Ouch. The first and second creation accounts contradict each other. Further, (though this involves two human authors), Genesis and Isaiah contradict each other. Again I say, Ouch.

Recall that the original presupposition was that the same man cannot affirm contradictions. Somehow, the redactor does not fall into this presupposition. Perhaps he lost his mind. Or perhaps the ancient religion didn’t really care about truth. Or perhaps truth is just the battle of antitheses, which balance each other out. Or perhaps there really isn’t much content in the bible. We are only invited to offer our own opinions. We are only given the subjective impressions of authors. These are some of the various outs suggested to explain the mindlessness affirmed by the redactor.

Now, how does the original observation and the final conclusion – that there are fundamental contradictions in this text and that – square with the faith? The 5th Lateran Council declares:

“And since truth cannot contradict truth, we define that every statement contrary to the enlightened truth of the faith is totally false and we strictly forbid teaching otherwise to be permitted.”

Here, the Church condemns every claim from reason that contradicts revelation. But God forbid the Church permit that revelation can contradict revelation. No indeed. In fact, the first clause excludes that: Truth cannot contradict truth. Therefore, no two affirmations in Scripture can contradict each other.

Pope Leo XIII underscores this:

“Let them loyally hold that God, the Creator and Ruler of all things, is also the Author of the Scriptures – and that therefore nothing can be proved either by physical science or archaeology which can really contradict the Scriptures. If, then, apparent contradiction be met with, every effort should be made to remove it. Judicious theologians and commentators should be consulted as to what is the true or most probable meaning of the passage in discussion, and the hostile arguments should be carefully weighed. Even if the difficulty is after all not cleared up and the discrepancy seems to remain, the contest must not be abandoned; truth cannot contradict truth, and we may be sure that some mistake has been made either in the interpretation of the sacred words, or in the polemical discussion itself; and if no such mistake can be detected, we must then suspend judgment for the time being” (Providentissimus Deus).

[1] Antony Campbell and Mark O’Brien, “1–2 Samuel,” in IBC, p. 576a (italics mine).

Fundamentalism of the Sources: A Problem with Some Practices of Source Criticism – Part 4

Although the inference to two musical composers of the song “Day in the Life” was in fact accurate, the character of the inference as such was by no means indubitable. It is not impossible for the same composer to have two different stamps of creativity. Consider only the early and late John Lennon. The transition at the album Rubber Soul, but even more pointedly at the song “Tomorrow Never Knows,” is palpable. What comes before is quite different.

So, let’s take another song with two quite distinct moments. “Behind Blue Eyes” by The Who. Its soft melodic musing in the first 2/3 is quite contrasted by its thrashing in the last 1/3, which closes with a bookend reprise of the first 2/3. The melodies are quite different. The beats. The vocal tone. The lyrical themes. We find in fact a schema similar to that which we found with “A Day in the Life.” Part 1 has characteristics R, S, T, U. And Part 2 has characteristics V, W, X, Y. However, in this case, an inference to two composers would in fact be false. Another example of a similar case of single authorship of a song with two distinct parts is Stairway to Heaven.

My apologies for the lamentable character of the lyrics of the songs of the examples. Had I a better musical history in my teen years, I could reference Bluegrass. Alas. But one could also think of the Second Movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. So utterly distinct from the Third Movement.

The point of today’s reflection is to take sober stock of the limitations of the character of this kind of inference.

Fundamentalism of the Sources: A Problem with Some Practices of Source Criticism – Part 3

What kind of diversity?

Well, let’s recall the very nature of the method. The method seeks to uncover original sources behind the final product. The critic posits that contradictory accounts are evidence of diverse sources created or developed by distinct authors. (We can save the greater complexity of communal development vs. individual authors for another occasion.) Why posit this? Again, because it makes little sense to contend that one and the same man could affirm contradictory things.

Ah! We have found a major player in the diversity studied. The critic considers one major kind of diversity to be contradiction.

What is contradiction? Contradiction is the relation between two statements both of which cannot be true. One must be true and the other false. For example: It is raining. It is not raining. These cannot both be true. Indeed, one must be true and the other false.

How, according to some of these critics is contradiction present? By implication or indirectly. Example. Gen 7:2 “Of all the clean animals you must take seven of each kind, both male and female.” Again, Gen 7:8 “Of the clean animals and the animals that are not clean … two of each kind boarded the ark.” And Noah “did all that Yahweh ordered” (Gen 7:5). So what is it, one pair of each clean animal or 7 pairs of each clean animal? Seven pairs and one pair are not in immediate contradiction. But, since “7 pairs” includes the implication “not just one pair” and the affirmation “one pair”  seems to imply “just one pair,” say some critics, one account contradicts the other. The same man cannot affirm both statements. Ergo, there are in the final text at least two original sources.

Other diverse characteristics are also observed, lining up with the text of 7 pairs and that with 1 pair. The net result looks like this: one set of texts has characteristics A, B, C, D. The other has characteristics G, H, I, J. And this duality of sets of characteristics  shows up in other texts, such as those of the creation accounts. The inference is reinforced: There seem to be (at least) two primary sources behind the final text.

Analogy. Say our civilization comes utterly to be destroyed, because it has abandoned its one true God and his one true Savior who gave us the one true religion which we also have spurned. Say we are diversified and confused, in the midst of our building our own Babel. Say our efforts to unite as one, under one government, quite top heavy, without any appreciation of the family, friendship, local authority, place and pilgrimage. Say technology falls into oblivion, etc. In hundreds of years, we work our way back to technology. We happen to re-invent digital CDs. Then, someone unearths an old copy of the Beatles song, “A Day in the Life.” Someone listens with a “historical critical” ear to the song. He discerns that there are parts of the song with a certain kind of melody and beat and voice, and other parts of the the song with a diverse kind of melody and beat and voice. He infers that this apparently one-authored song is actually dual-authored. He would have no actually separate instance of these two sources. He simply infers it with his insight into this diversity. As a matter of fact, he would be correct. There are two authors: Lennon and McCartney.

This is in a nutshell what the source critic is doing with his enterprise. Examination to follow.

Fundamentalism of the Sources: A Problem with Some Practices of Source Criticism – Part 2

I’m sorry these posts have taken so long to get going. Have been enjoying good time with family.

Example of Source Criticism at work. Look at Genesis 1-2:4, on the one hand, and Genesis 2:5 through chap 3 on the other hand.

  1. In the first chapter, God is called God (Elohim in Hebrew). In the second chapter, God is called Yahweh God (Yahweh Elohim).
  2. In the first chapter, God is transcendent and almighty, not exactly distant but at the same time not intimate. In the second chapter, God is earthy, works with clay and walks, breaths, etc.
  3. The first chapter shares poetic affinities. The second is clearly narrative.
  4. The first mentions sabbath rest. The second doesn’t.
  5. God simply states in the first chapter. God and man interact in the second chapter.

We could go on and on. We can also observe these kinds of character differences in other parts of Genesis and in Exodus, esp. It is most useful to observe these differences in texts that treat the same topic, such as the flood scene, the creation scene, and the exodus scene.

We owe it to source critics for highlighting all these interesting features of the text, the “final product” as it is called. This insight is no small thing for which we can be grateful. Indeed, it is a thing of beauty.

Now, the motives of the source critics may not have been so lofty as our “spoiling” of the fruit of their labors may suggest. Indeed, we must study the roots of this method and of the eggs who constructed the method. I recommend Scott Hahn’s and Benjamin Wiker’s study, Politicizing the Bible for a detailed and responsible treatment. Numerous other scholars have written on this topic.

Back to the method. Suffice it to say that you have two sets of characteristics that show up again and again, and which are diverse. But what kind of diversity have they?