Liberal Theology’s Struggle with Modern ArchaeologyDownload Study
Theological liberals tend to stereotype conservative Christians as simpletons—ignorant and lacking in intellectual support—people who cling to their beliefs in blind faith. This study, however, suggests quite the opposite is true. Theological liberalism was constructed with and based upon the piecemeal-at-best biblical archaeology of its day. Over the hundred years that have since passed, numerous discoveries have occurred.
The substantial number of archaeological discoveries that we have today were not in existence when liberal theology was birthed. Indeed, we now find that the “historic” foundation of Theological Liberalism is eaten through with termites—and on the verge of collapse.
Learn the testimony of modern biblical archaeology: the evidence for the veracity and trustworthiness of the Bible is compelling and overwhelming! The time has come for theological liberals to reboot their thinking! My friend, here is the evidence in capsulated form that defeats their suppositions.
Read on, beloved.
During the nineteenth century at the height of Deism (the belief in a supreme being who does not intervene in the universe) and Darwinism, liberals floated a theory regarding the origins of the first five books of the Old Testament (OT). Attributed to Moses, known to the Hebrews as the Torah and referred to by the Greeks as the Pentateuch, these books are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. This new theory attempted to discount their Mosaic authorship and instead postulate that they were written much later; supposedly they were derived from other sources.
This theory flies in the face of the Torah and its self-attestation, wherein the books themselves state that they were written by Moses. The authors of other OT books also attest that the Torah was written by Moses. Similarly, Jesus Christ Himself attests in the New Testament (NT) that Moses was the Torah’s author.1
Embracing a theologically liberal position regarding the origin of the Old Testament is tantamount to calling Jesus a liar.
Furthermore, if the first five books of the Bible are inherently untrustworthy, at what point can we begin to trust in the Scriptures? The predominant liberal theory regarding the origin of the Torah is known as the Wellhausen theory, or better, the J.E.D.P. theory. This hypothesis supposes that “the Pentateuch was a compilation of selections from several different written documents composed at different places and times over a period of five centuries, long after Moses.”2 Unfortunately, and for want of a better theory, most non-conservative seminaries in America persist even today in teaching this viewpoint—as if nothing has changed in OT scholarship, especially the archaeological portion of it, since 1880 when the J.E.D.P. theory of Torah origination was first popularized! What is doubly sad is that ever since its inception, theologically liberal scholarship in Europe “has time and again administered fatal blows to nearly all [Wellhausian] foundations.”3 Triply sad, the liberal professors have no bench strength, no substitute players for their admittedly weak superstar who has been so hammered out there on the court. Even though, to their embarrassment, he has been so drastically outplayed during the second half, they’ve left him in the game!
What follows in this week’s study is how J.E.D.P. came into existence. But before going there, keep in mind why a study on the integrity of the first five books of the Bible is so important. Most, if not all, of conservative Christian theology is founded in and on the Torah! You may have noticed that when I teach on theology—the major doctrines of the Bible and the attributes of God—those lessons begin with and are rooted in the first five books of God’s Word, especially Genesis! To allow for their subtle or overt dismemberment is to damage the foundation, construct, and confidence we have in our understanding of the Christian worldview. It all begins here! Furthermore, to be conversant concerning the faultiness of J.E.D.P. presuppositions will enable and equip you to argue effectively with those who reject the Christian worldview based on their adherence to this undermining theory.
A. STAGE ONE OF LIBERAL OT THEOLOGY
The J.E.D.P. theory’s foothold can be attributed to Jean Astruc, a French physician who in the mid-eighteenth century conducted a literary analysis of the book of Genesis and discovered that sometimes God is referred to in Hebrew as Elohim and at other times as Yahweh.4 From that discovery, he formed the supposition that Moses relied on and used two different sources in writing Genesis (versus the simple explanation of providing two names for God). His notion received little attention, but what is most significant is that he set the stage for a criterion of “source division.”
B. STAGE TWO OF LIBERAL OT THEOLOGY
The second stage of development is evidenced in the work of Johann Gottfried Eichhorn in his 1783 publication, Einleitung in das alte Testament (English: Introduction to the Old Testament). His work dissects the book of Genesis and the first two chapters of Exodus, attributing them to two sources: the Jahwist (Yahweh) and the Elohist (Elohim) sources ( J and E that make up the first two letters in J.E.D.P. theory).
At first, Eichhorn believed that Moses was the editor who combined these materials. In later editions of his thinking and theorizing, he would yield to the consensus of the movement he helped create and state that the Pentateuch was not written by Moses at all; rather, the book was written at a much later date.
C. STAGE THREE OF LIBERAL OT THEOLOGY
The third stage of development of the J.E.D.P. theory can be attributed primarily to Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wette in his Dissertation Critico-Exegetica published in 1805. His main attribution to the basis of the growing conjectural hypothesis was that none of the Torah came from a time earlier than King David’s reign. And more specifically, he introduced the idea that the essence, or source, of the Deuteronomy literature was extracted from a book of law that was found in the Jerusalem temple, having originated around the time of the biblical account of King Josiah’s reform, i.e., 621 B.C. Herein is the birth of source “D” as it came to be called.5 The “D” in J.E.D.P. theory stands for the Deuteronomic source.
A paragraph (or two) needs to be added here about the motivation for the broad acceptance of a later date of authorship of the Torah. Why did these skeptics do all this work of debunking the Torah in the first place? Such motivation is primarily from the prophetic passages within the Torah: specifically Leviticus 26:27–45 and Deuteronomy 28:58–63. These passages prophesy the Babylonian captivity of Israel and their later restoration from exile—events that are undisputed in history. Generally speaking, fulfilled prophecy sets the Bible apart from all other books in both ancient and modern time, both religious and secular, and lends vast credibility to divine inspiration. No less is that fact true—the effect of fulfilled prophesy—in and of the books of the Torah!
Accordingly, the way in which liberal theologians have chosen to deal with and explain away fulfilled prophecy is to invent a later date for the origin of the book that foretells the event. How very convenient to postulate that biblical books containing prophesies of future events—events history records as having occurred—were written after the event they predict! Of course, this critical repositioning is akin to double jeopardy: either the credibility of the book’s author or the credibility of the critic himself is destroyed, casting one or the other into the darkest light of honesty and reliability. The phrase that encapsulates this common practice amongst liberal theologians is the following:
Vaticinia ex eventu: prophesies invented after they have already been fulfilled.
This saying, vaticinia ex eventu, is commonly and regularly espoused to explain away fulfilled prophecy in Scripture. And again, it is a convenient way of explaining away the fulfilled prophesies of the Torah, specifically in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Those who are strong in Christ, those who are always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you… (1 Peter 3:15b) will be knowledgeable of such scheming and conversant on the topic.
D. STAGE FOUR OF LIBERAL OT THEOLOGY
Although many other individuals would contribute to this theory, the next major contribution, would come in 1853 from Hermann Hupfeld’s Die Quellen der Genesis (English: The Sources of Genesis) and its refinement by the Dutch Scholar Abraham Kuenen. He believed that the Priestly or Holiness Code found in the Pentateuch (chapters 17 to 26 of Leviticus) stemmed from a source existing after Israel’s exile. This code has to do with Israel’s rituals, forms of sacrifice, genealogical lists, and origin as a people. Therefore, “P” in J.E.D.P. theory then stands for this “Priestly” source, the supposed derivation of the existence of the Torah’s contents pertaining to the above.
J.E.D.P. then supposedly represents a combined confluence of documents that inform the Pentateuch. Granted, this theory is quite complicated to understand, but this much is undeniable: it is all conjecture! The documents and authors for each of the supposed sources, J, E, D, and P, are either unrelated, or the sources for these speculative theories do not exist! The amount of faith required to buy into this concocted explanation of Scripture’s origin only serves to illustrate the bias of its authors! In this way it is similar in spirit to the theory of evolution: nothing times nobody equals everything! All is conjecture. J.E.D.P. (and the theory of evolution) is not a thinking man’s position! In parallel thought:
Darwin admitted at the end of his life that any theory, no matter how far-fetched, was better than the alternative: Bowing in submission and obedience to a holy Creator.
Such is the rationale of the fallen mind: expunge any and all accountability to the only true God Who has revealed Himself in Scripture.
II. MOSES: THE ACTUAL AUTHOR OF THE TORAH
Moses, on the other hand, had every qualification to write the Pentateuch. He had the education, background, and experience necessary. Keep in mind that by God’s sovereign arrangement Moses was brought up and tutored in an Egyptian society whose culture then far surpassed that of the remaining ancient world. Additionally, he had the motivation to compile the Torah, being the patriarchal leader of Israel. And lastly, he (similar to, but much more than the Apostle Paul in prison) had the time: having spent 40 years in the wilderness, he could have written something even longer. As will be seen by what follows, writing was prevalent in his day, and his early Egyptian upbringing in Pharaoh’s court most certainly accommodated the honing of his literary skills. For sure he was a buff, rugged man, but that doesn’t mean he was a dumb jock.
III. THE REFUTATION OF THE WELLHAUSEN THEORY
Before examining some illustrations of the testimony of subsequent archaeological discoveries, it is important to make mention that the Wellhausen theory was discounted early on by such men as Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg, a leader in conservative biblical scholarship in Germany during this time. His work, The Genuineness of the Pentateuch (1847), represented a profound conservative position in refutation of Wellhausian thought. In America, Princeton Seminary scholar Joseph Addison Alexander and William Henry Green also eruditely upheld Mosaic authorship. These men, long before the discovery of the archaeology that will follow, dealt strong blows to Wellhausen and his wonks.6 In turn, liberal theologians have never successfully rebutted their critics—the scholastic discounters of Wellhausian theory. The subsequently published archaeological excavations/ findings have only served to reinforce Alexander’s and Green’s positions.
IV. ARCHAEOLOGY AND THE ANTIQUITY OF THE TORAH
The Wellhausen Hypothesis formulated its judgment on the historicity of the OT based upon, in some part, the then-available archaeological evidence that scantily existed in the nineteenth century. That data was meager at best. As mentioned, even more unfortunate is the bias that existed amongst the theory’s proponents; they did not give the benefit of the doubt to the documents they critiqued—a hard and fast rule and discipline in the science of hermeneutics. They found it easy to discount the statements of Scripture because nowhere did there exist archaeological confirmation for the same. They failed to believe the following archaeological axiom:
The absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence.
For example, at the time of Wellhausen, archaeological evidence for the biblically explicit people groups of the Hittites (Genesis 15:20) and the Horites (Genesis 36:20), the historicity of King Sargon II (Isaiah 20:1), or the existence of King Belshazzar (Daniel 5:1) were unconfirmed by archaeological discovery. Wellhausians condemned these people as mere fiction on the part of the late authors of the Torah. And in their arrogance, the liberals railed on the incredulity of these biblical accounts, refuting the biblical record with their supposed erudite intellectual superiority. But be sure of this: man’s sins of arrogance will find them out. States Archer:
It has come about that in case after case after case after case where alleged historical inaccuracy was pointed to as proof of late and spurious authorship of the biblical documents, the Hebrew record has been vindicated by the results of recent excavation, and the condemnatory judgments of the Documentarian Theorists have been proved [to be] without foundation.7
States England’s William F. Albright, the man esteemed as the world’s leading archaeologist of his generation, who formerly held to the Wellhausen theory:
Archaeological and inscriptional data have established the historicity of innumerable passages and statements of the Old Testament… Wellhausen still ranks in our eyes as the greatest Biblical scholar of the nineteenth century. But his standpoint is antiquated and his picture of the early evolution of Israel is sadly distorted.8
John Elder states:
It is not too much to say that it was the rise of the science of archaeology that broke the deadlock between historians and the orthodox Christian. Little by little, one city after another, one civilization after another, one culture after another, whose memories were enshrined only in the Bible, were restored to their proper places in ancient history by the studies of archaeologists.9
States J. A. Thompson before the year 2000:
Finally, it is perfectly true to say that biblical archaeology has done a great deal to correct the impression that was abroad at the close of the last century and in the early part of this century, that Biblical history was of doubtful trustworthiness in many places. If one impression stands out more clearly than another today, it is that on all hands the over-all historicity of the Old Testament tradition is admitted.10
With these overall statements in mind regarding archaeology’s verification of an early date for the Torah, let’s examine some scientific discoveries that substantiate Mosaic authorship and further discount the J.E.D.P. Documentary Hypothesis.
V. A SAMPLING OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL DISCOVERIES
What follows are some Wellhausian premises of the nineteenth century that have been refuted by specific archaeological discoveries in the twentieth century.
A. THE RAS SHAMRA TABLETS
These tablets were discovered by Schaeffer in 1929 and are composed in a 30-letter Semitic alphabet that closely parallels the Hebrew dialect and symbol usage more so than any other language of ancient origins. The tablets date to around 1400 B.C. and reveal a depraved polytheistic Canaanite culture existing (very importantly) at the time of the Israelite conquest of the Promised Land.
In addition, the dialog existing on the tablets reveals poetic clichés that are characteristic of the poetic forms found in the Pentateuch and in the Psalms. The tablets, for example, refer to Baal’s home as being located “on the mountain of his inheritance.” This assertion closely parallels Exodus 15:17 which states, “the mountain of Your inheritance.” Space will not allow me to explore numerous other examples. Suffice it to say, other poetic forms similar to Hebrew poetry are in evidence: tricolonic forms of prose and elevated writing skills.
This discovery, along with those dating to 1500 B.C. from the turquoise mines of Serabit el-Khadim (discovered by Petrie in 1904) and the Gezer calendar (found by Macalister in the 1900s), displays beyond any shadow of doubt an ability to write in the Mosaic period.
Why is this so significant?
The J.E.D.P. liberals had earlier postulated that the art of writing was virtually unknown in Israel prior to the Davidic Kingdom; therefore, there could not have been any written records during Moses’ time.
B. THE NUZI TABLETS
These discoveries were found by Chiera and Speiser in the area of Nuzi (near Kirkuk) on the Tigris River in 1925. These tablets date from the fifteenth century B.C. Revealed from the study of these thousands of tablets are the customs of the time. They display Abraham’s culture prior to his sojourn to Egypt, such as the acceptable practice of selling one’s birthright. An illustration of this within the tablets is the story of a brother’s being recompensed for selling his primogeniture to his younger brother in exchange for three sheep. This example parallels Genesis 25:33, wherein Esau sold his birthright to Jacob. Another instance is the binding character of a deathbed will, which is characterized biblically between Isaac and Jacob in the book of Genesis.
Another discovery in a similar support role of negating Wellhausianism is provided by The Mari Tablets. They were discovered by an archaeologist named Parrot near the city of Tel Hariri on the Euphrates River in 1933. These tablets contain direct evidence that during the eighteenth century B.C., a people group existed referred to as the Hibiru, which, as it turns out, is an ancient Akkadian reference to Abraham’s people found in the book of Genesis. The philological understanding of the word relates to a Canaanite meaning of “wanderers” or “people from the other side.”
Why is this so significant?
Those who would have us believe that the OT is nothing more than a man-made collection of myths claimed that the Genesis account of Abraham and his descendants was and is unhistorical and fictional. One prominent proponent of the theory went so far as to deny the existence of Abraham.
Furthermore, the Ebla Tablets nail the liberals’ coffin shut as it pertains to Abraham. This 1964 archaeological discovery of a whole ancient library (subsequently unearthed in 1974) testifies to the veracity of the secular kings as recorded in Genesis 14 who existed during the time of Abraham.
C. THE BABYLONIAN CODE OF HAMMURABI
This 1901 discovery by Scheil serves to indicate the numerous similarities between the societal laws indicated in the biblical books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers and Babylonian culture. This account of the law code of ancient Babylon displays forms of punishment for the crime of breaches in contracts. There is an “if…then” structure to the writings. For sure, some laws and forms of punishment differ due to societal ideologies, but that difference is not the issue. Rather, the archaeological discovery serves to illustrate the existence of a penal code at the time of Moses.
Why is this so significant?
The liberals had earlier theorized that the Pentateuch was fallacious on the basis of their belief that the legislation of the Priestly Code in these biblical books represented a later, post-exilic stage of development in the Hebrew culture. They boasted that laws of this level of sophistication could not have been developed until the fifth century B.C. States Millar Burrows of Yale:
Scholars have sometimes supposed that the social and moral level of the laws attributed to Moses was too high for such an early age. [These discoveries] have effectively refuted this assumption.11
Such verifications from the world of archaeology serve to substantiate Moses’ rightful place—staring down on the Speaker’s podium in our U.S. House of Representatives wherein our laws are birthed.
D. THE TELL EL-AMARNA TABLETS
Carrying the name of the city in which they were discovered in 1887, these tablets date to 1370 B.C. and are comprised of correspondence by and between Palestinian and Syrian princelings. In part they reveal fierce invaders to the south and request Egyptian troops. Those invading are the Hibiru. The cities that have already fallen are listed as Gezer, Ashkelon, and Lachish. Accordingly, this secular archaeological find parallels Numbers 21:1–3, a record of the Hebrew conquest of Canaan. Interestingly, this account is from the vantage point of those being conquered.
Why is this so significant?
Wellhausen proponents propagated their belief that the account of the conquest of Palestine and the Transjordan as recorded in the biblical books of Numbers and Joshua was grossly unhistorical. But subsequent archaeological excavations indicate that the accounts were indeed historical. Who turned out to be “grossly unhistorical” is interesting to note!
Numerous other archaeological finds could be recounted to make the point of this week’s Bible study but suffice to say that archaeology has played a major role in supporting the veracity of the Old Testament as it was written prior to the advent of theological liberalism.
It would be foolish to propagate the J.E.D.P. theory today in light of all discoveries that refute it.
In fact, if theologians proffered the same theories today, they would be laughed at. Albright (my favorite archaeologist) states the following:
New discoveries continue to confirm the historical accuracy or the literary antiquity of detail after detail in it… It is, accordingly, sheer hyper-criticism to deny the substantially Mosaic character of the Pentateuchal tradition.12
Some applicable thoughts to take away from this faith-building study are as follows:
A. BE DISCERNING OF FALSE TEACHERS
Much can be learned from the arrogant scholarship of Wellhausianism. What follows are keys to identifying liberal theologians. The NT contains many warnings about false religious leaders who lead people astray, leaving them shipwrecked regarding the faith. If allowed, they will also shipwreck nations. Liberal theology is too often the seedbed, the basis of liberal political theory (a subject I have addressed in much greater detail in other studies).
Remember, one of the most significant biblical indicators of spiritual maturity is spiritual discernment: the ability to distinguish truth from error. This capability requires an intellectual acumen that is only gained through in-depth Bible study. Conversely, as I minister to people in the capital and travel around the country and the world, I often hear of spiritual maturity being defined otherwise: as if it only means loving others! But what do you do when liberal theologians attempt to win political/ideological debates based upon their unscriptural premises? Do you respond with nothing but “love”? No. [Love] does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6). Consider the words of Philippians 1:9: And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment. What follows are identifying characteristics of liberal theologians. Learn to discern their characteristics:
B. HOLD TO A HIGH VIEW OF SCRIPTURE
In the capital community, do not be caught up in old myths (which never seem to die) regarding the supposed lack of integrity of God’s authoritative Word, the Holy Scriptures. His Word is just as true when it speaks in the historical narrative as it is when it commands our obedience or provides us with principles for wise living. The Scriptures claim to be the Word of God not once or twice, but thousands of times. And indeed, they are. Foolish is the man or woman who suppresses that truth; to the opposite, they know it to be the case when they are honest with themselves (cf. Romans 1).
C. REALIZE WHO IT IS THAT POSSESSES BLIND FAITH
It is not the conservative Christian with a high view of the inspiration of Scripture who is the simpleton clinging to his or her beliefs with blind faith: ignorant and lacking intellectual, scientific, and historical support. Rather, it is the one who espouses a liberal “understanding” of God’s Word. Modern-day archaeology has served to undermine the postulations of liberal theologians. Romans 1:22 is an apt, indelicate summary: Professing to be wise, they became fools. Do not be counted among them.
1. Cf. Exodus 17:14, Joshua 1:7, John 5:46–47, resp. In the NT passage herein, Jesus states, For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words? (John 5:46–47 KJV). In John 7:19a (ASV), Jesus states further, Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you doeth the law? These passages evidence Jesus’ testimony that Moses wrote the books of the OT law. How can one claim Christ and reject scriptural inspiration?
2. Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 89.
3. Ibid., 97.
4. Astruc’s writing, which was published in 1753, was titled, Conjectures Concerning the Original Memoranda Which It Appears Moses Used to Compose the Book of Genesis.
5. At the start, it must be said that W. M. L. de Witte was not a part of the Documentary Hypothesis School. Rather, he was a Fragmentary Theorist, who believed the Pentateuch was composed from separate fragments, some of which were as old as Moses and were fitted into a historical context.
6. When something goes “wonky,” it is said to be awry or wrong.
7. Ibid., 174.
8. As quoted by Gleason Archer in A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 174.
9. Ibid., 174.
10. Ibid., 174.
11. Millar Burrows, What Mean These Stones? The Significance of Archeology for Biblical Studies (New Haven, Conn.: ASOR, 1941) 56.
12. William F. Albright, The Archeology of Palestine (Rev. ed. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Pelican, 1960) 224.
13. Excerpted in part from Archer, 112.