Monday, June 04, 2007

I understand the temptation

As much as it pains me, I'm going to defend religious liberals, a little:
Both Judaism and Christianity assumed that the Pentateuch -- the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) were written by Moses, as the Bible itself states. However, in recent centuries, alternative authorship has been proposed. The documentary hypothesis is now accepted by essentially all mainline and liberal theologians.
I hate JEPD, just hate it. In short, JEPD is the theory of authorship under which Moses was not written by Moses, but by a handful of others over the centuries whose handiwork we can "discover" by careful analysis of the scriptures. A duplicate verse here, a different name for God there, and pretty soon we have an hypothesis* that Moses is not necessary at all. And it's not just the OT. The NT has its own hypothetical** documents with "Q" being the most famous example. It seems that any time there seems an insoluble problem in discovering documentary relationships, there's some liberal theologian willing to make up a source to save the day.

After tonight, I'm a liberal. Oh, the humanity!

It actually has nothing to do with the Bible but with Nennius, that psychotic 9th Century Welsh historian whom it seems to be my fate to follow. And the story goes something like this...

I mentioned earlier today on Joel's blog that I ordered a copy of the Venerable One's Historia Ecclesiastica last week. It arrived today. And though I'd been thru my online version, having a deadwood edition really allows one to focus the study, right? Right. Anyway, tonight I'm trying to decipher to what extent Nennius relied on Bede in his sections covering Roman Britain. That ought to be easy enough: Bede wrote a century before Nennius, so anywhere they agree, Nennius copied from Bede***. Problem solved, right? Wrong. Problem multiplied.

The Problem is essentially this:

a) From Caesar to about 400ad, Bede covers these subjects: Caesar, Claudius, Lucius, Severus, Diocletian, Alban, Arius, Maximus, Pelagius.

b) In the same period, Nennius covers Ceasar, Claudius, Lucius, Severus, Carausius, Constantius, Maximanus, Maximus.

c) In the areas they both cover (Caesar, Claudius, Lucius, Severus, Maximus) their facts are nearly identical.

d) The areas Bede covers that Nennius does not (Diocletian, Alban, Arius, Pelagius) are primarily religious (persecutions, heresies, etc.)

e) The areas Nennius covers that Bede does not (Carausius and Constantius) are purely secular (not to mention of questionable historicity).

So here's the ish: Nennius obviously copied Bede in certain areas, because Bede wrote first and their words (the subjects covered and the way they are covered) are for the most part identical. But Nennius didn't copy Bede in areas where he ought to have, like the Pelagian Heresy, which was addressed in Bede by the very Saint Germain who gets 3 later chapters in Nennius with nary a mention of the very heresy that brought him to Britain.

So
a) why doesn't Nennius copy Bede in those sections, and
b) Where does Bede get his information, since the Angles (and Bede is English) don't arrive until long after all this happens?

And I found myself proposing a hitherto-undiscovered British source to explain it, one that covered political but not Church events (e.g. Caesar's invasion, Severus' wall) that was used both by Bede and by Nennius. There is no documentary evidence that it exists, yet only it can explain why Nennius seems to follow Bede politically but not religiously even though Nennius obviously had an interest in things religious.

And in doing so, I'm right in the camp of religious liberals, who seek to explain exactly the same types of "problems" in the scriptures by proposing documents for which there is not a shred of actual documentary evidence.

So I can see where they are coming from. Truly, I can. Their Documentary Hypothesis, which seems to undermine the integrity of Moses' writing and the writings of Luke and Matthew, turns into a necessity as soon as one wishes to explain the sources of the information they have.

But rather than making me a religious liberal, it has caused me to rare back on what the "obvious" solution is, a hypothetical document and with that a process that caused it to come into being. Because I think they are wrong, I find myself doubting that I am correct when I do the same thing to comprehend a similar issue. In short, it's too easy a solution.

But I do understand them now. Not agree with, not at all. But perhaps I am a little less critical of their motives. Isn't that itself a worthwhile outcome?

* I think there's a better answer - at least for Genesis - that being the Table Theory.

** "hypothetical" being the operative word here. There is not a shred of documentary evidence that any of these exist, yet scholars spill barrels of ink agruing over their most mundasne details and they are accepted as fact in most press accounts.

*** The parallels with the Synoptic Problem ought to be obvious, but if they're not, they'll have to wait for another day.

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