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What Happens to the Documentary Hypothesis if the Pentateuch was written 270 BCE?


What Happens to the Documentary Hypothesis if the Pentateuch was written 270 BCE?

What happens to the Documentary Hypothesis (DH) if, as outlined in recent posts, the Pentateuch was first written in the third century BCE? That’s the first question that comes to most of us when first hearing a thesis like this. This post outlines Russell Gmirkin’s chapter on the DH, and is thus a continuation of my summary of the early sections of his book, Berossus and Genesis, Manetho and Exodus: Hellenistic Histories and the Date of the Pentateuch.

(Other posts where I have discussed the DH, including other criticisms of it, are archived in theDocumentary Hypothesis Category.

See Who Wrote the Bible? The Rise of the Documentary Hypothesis for the history of the DH’s origins.

For Julius Wellhausen’s Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel, the sacred-texts site contains one of the easiest-to-read online versions.

Another modern book worth reading in defence of the DH is Friedman’s The Bible With Sources Revealed.)

The different sources identified in the DH are not in dispute in Gmirkin’s thesis:

This book does not take issue with the Higher Criticism’s identification of different sources in the Pentateuch, each with its own consistent vocabulary, interests and theological outlook. (p. 22)

Gmirkin describes the DH as presented by Wellhausen. Its primary fault, he argues, is that it dates the hypothetical sources by means of what is in reality an unsupported construct of Israel’s history.

The entangling of dating issues with subjective historical constructs was a major flaw in Wellhausen’s approach. The Documentary Hypothesis as developed by Wellhausen illustrates the grave danger of circular reasoning inherent in dating texts by means of a historical construct to facilitate the dating of these same texts. (p. 5)

Gmirkin’s method of dating is, as explained in previous posts in this series, a separate and independent process.

In chapter 2 Gmirkin discusses the DH in some detail. He examines its function and development as a literary and as a historical theory, then considers the historical assumptions underpinning the thesis and finally looks at the external evidence impinging upon the validity of the DH.

The Documentary Hypothesis was both a literary theory (regarding identification and dating of Pentateuchal sources) and a historical theory (regarding the evolution of Jewish religion). The authors of the DH based its history of the Jewish religion directly on the biblical account, accepting that the cultic practices successively described in Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings reflected sequential historical periods in Jewish history. (p. 24)

Step One: identifying the sources

The four principle sources, most of us know, are:

  • the Deuteronomist (D) — roughly equivalent to the book of Deuteronomy
  • the Priestly Code (P) — mostly about priestly and legal matters
  • the Yahwist (J) — narrative material with no interest in legislation
    • Called J because it refers to God by his name YHWH = Jahwe in German, the language of the DH pioneers.
    • Stories of Garden of Eden, Cain and Abel, Noah’s Flood, Tower of Babel, the Patriarchs, Moses, Exodus, Wilderness Wanderings
  • the Elohist (E) — typically referred to God as Elohim [that is, “god”, until the time of Moses when he revealed his name as Yahweh – Exodus 3:14]
    • Unlike J, includes stories of near sacrifice of Isaac, Sodom and Gomorrah; also includes stories of Patriarchs, Exodus, Wilderness.

[Throughout post, bracketed and italicized notes are my own additions to Gmirkin’s account in this chapter, here mostly taken from Friedman’s The Bible With Sources Revealed.]

Step Two: determining the relative chronology of the sources

The E stories were grafted onto the J stories;

D used JE as its historical framework

Hence the chronology: J –E — D.

Where to place P was a more contentious process. [Wellhausen spoke of the traditionalists of his day who had long held to P being the earliest document :

It was asserted, and almost with violence, that the Priestly Code could not be later than Deuteronomy, and that the Deuteronomist actually had it before him. (Prolegomena, p. 11) ]

Since Wellhausen and others it has been generally accepted that P was the latest of the sources.

Final Step: explaining the historical provenances of the sources

The four sources, J E D P, were explained as representing the successive stages of Jewish history and religious evolution.


J was from the most primitive stage: dates ca 850-800 BCE

  • decentralized worship
  • cult sites and altars throughout Canaan
  • time of the Patriarchs and Judges
  • also embraced time of Solomon
    • Solomon’s temple was one of many legitimate places for sacrifice
  • religious laws were not written — only an “Oral Torah”
  • this Torah of the Priests was entrusted to the priests of Yahweh.

Northern Kingdom

E was slightly later, generally dated 850-750 BCE

  • little new theological development
  • some have suggested E only consisted of minor additions to J
  • the JE combination is related to a “golden age of Hebrew literature”.


Reading the Book of the Law to Josiah

Book of the Law read to Josiah

D dated 621 BCE

  • the first authoritative Written Torah
  • “discovered” in the Temple in 18th year of Josiah
  • purpose was to reform the cult so that Jerusalem became the sole centre of worship
  • written by priests and certain prophets


Ezra reads the law

Ezra reads the law

P was the final stage, dated ca 444 BCE

  • this reflected the priestly legal code of the Babylonian exiles
  • “Ezra the priest” was said to have brought the books of Moses’ laws (P) from Babylon in 458 BCE
  • but the scroll was only publicly produced, at the earliest, 444 BCE.

R (a Redactor, said to be Ezra?) wove J, E and P together

The Documentary Hypothesis was in many respects a brilliant scholarly construct, correlating biblical history, the evolution of the Jewish religion, and the multiplicity of sources behind the Pentateuch. . . . Nevertheless, in recent years it has become increasingly recognized that the Documentary Hypothesis has serious, even fatal defects, especially in its approach to Jewish history, which was based on an often pre-critical view of the historiographical documents of the Hebrew Bible. (p. 24)

Historical Premises of the Documentary Hypothesis

So the historical framework of the DH is dependent on the biblical accounts of Josiah’s reforms — 2 Kings 22-23 — and the religious efforts of Ezra and Nehemiah — Neh 8-10. Gmirkin quotes Wellhausen:



As we are accustomed to infer the date of the composition of Deuteronomy from its publication and introduction by Josiah, so we must infer the date of the composition of the Priestly Code from its publication and introduction by Ezra and Nehemiah. . . . The origin of the canon thus lies, thanks to the two narratives 2 Kings xxii. xxiii., Neh. viii.-x. in the full light of history. (pp. 408-9 of Prolegomena)

[Richard Friedman’s 2003 publication defending the DH, The Bible With Sources Revealed, continues the same message. Page 3: “The basic hypothesis is: These biblical books were assembled from sources. The historical context in which these sources were written and then edited together was as follows: . . . .”]

The historicity of these events was never questioned.

To see why Nehemiah and the events associated with him should be questioned see a series of five articles I posted in 2010. To see why Josiah’s reforms should be considered fiction see another 2010 article, Josiah’s reforms: Where is the archaeological evidence?

There is a curious twist to this uncritical acceptance of the historicity of these events. Those parts of the stories that say the respective written laws were made public for the first time in the days of Josiah and Ezra are accepted as historical; but those parts of the stories that claim those written documents were actually the ancient writings of Moses were declared fiction. That is, the stories had to be re-written to support the DH’s argument that Deuteronomy was composed (not “discovered”) in the time of Josiah and the Priestly Code likewise was a recent composition of Babylonian priests and not the ancient writing of Moses.

The Documentary Hypothesis thus both required the acceptance of 2 Kgs 22-23 and Neh 8-10 as containing a kernel of historicity, yet also required a rejection of the actual content of these two stories, namely the discovery of old, authentic texts of the laws of Moses. (p. 25)

Why presume the historicity of 2 Kings and Ezra-Nehemiah? Or at least, how to justify this presumption? [The texts are read naively and are taken to be what they appear to be on the surface, that is, as narratives composed to record the recent events of their times.] That is, the writings are taken to be written soon after the events they narrated.

Ezra-Nehemiah contained a list of high priests down to ca. 400 BCE, and it was believed that Ezra-Nehemiah was written very shortly after that date. The reforms of Josiah were thus thought to have occurred within the living memory of the author of 1 and 2 Kings; Ezra’s reading of the law was thought to have been recorded by one present at that event.

Both datings are extremely dubious. In each case, the earliest possible date was subjectively interpreted to be the actual date of composition. (p. 25, my formatting and bolding)

Russell Gmirkin then turns to a theme I have addressed many times on this blog: the need to establish the provenance (specifically in this case the date) of a document before knowing how to use it as historical evidence. [I have also said a bit more is also involved, such as the need for external controls (these can take a variety of forms) to independently confirm the historicity of a written narrative and some clarity of genre of the document.]

In practice, that’s how history is generally done, as I’ve demonstrated often enough. Biblical studies has been the principle exception.

Yet no external evidence exists to establish an early date for either Kings or Ezra-Nehemiah.

The first externally datable reference to material from Kings occurs in the book On the Kings of Judea by Demetrius the Chronographer (ca. 221-204 BCE). The assertion that Kings was written ca. 550 BCE, within living memory of Josiah’s reforms of 621 BCE, is little more than an assumption.

Similarly, no external evidence exists that Ezra-Nehemiah was composed in the Persian period.

The first external reference to Nehemiah occurs in the writings of Sirach (ca. 180 BCE); to Ezra even later.

Given the lack of objective external evidence for the antiquity of either Kings or Ezra-Nehemiah, the heavy reliance on these books in constructing the history of the development of the Pentateuch appears methodologically unsound. (p. 25, my formatting and bolding)

Philip Davies

Philip Davies

Gmirkin then quotes Philip R. Davies’ 1992 words casting doubt upon the historicity of Josiah’s reforms.

According to 2 Kings 22-23 a “book of the covenant” was discovered in the Temple, leading to royal reforms. The details of the reform suggest that the king was following the requirements of the book of Deuteronomy or some form of it.

The reform has long been a linchpin of Biblical history, for upon it much of the scholarly reconstruction of the history of “Israelite” literature depends.

Let us first remind ourselves that the only evidence for such a reform is the Biblical story itself.

Let us then recall where the story occurs, namely in a book whose ideology seems to be influenced by, or at least lie very close to, that of the book of Deuteronomy. The argument of this book (2 Kings) is that if the principles of Deuteronomy (for so they are) had been observed by “Israel” then the kingdom of Judah would not, like its counterpart over a century earlier, have come to an end.

Thus, a piece of writing which is ideologically, and in some places linguistically, close to the book of Deuteronomy claims that a law book, which it describes in a way which makes it look very much like Deuteronomy, was once upon a time discovered by a king and implemented (although the king was conveniently killed and the reform overturned).

Here we have before us an unverified attempt to give Deuteronomy some antique authority and to argue that its contents are appropriate for implementation in a political body.

How much credence shall we Biblical critics give to such a story?… Hardly reliable testimony; at least it needs some support before we can base any conclusions upon it. But scarcely a Biblical scholar has ever entertained the thought (at least in print) that this story might just be a convenient legend, that maybe no such reform took place. (Davies, In Search of Ancient Israel, 40-41, my formatting and bolding)

I summed up Davies’ argument in my webpage at Did These Two Key Events Really Happen? (Also copied in the earlier blogpost on the lack of archaeological evidence for Josiah’s reforms.)

Gmirkin asks if the story of Ezra’s revival of the Mosaic law might similarly be a “late legend whose purpose was to provide a hoary antiquity to the books of Moses?”

It is significant that 2 Macc 3:12 gave Nehemiah the credit for searching out and collecting together the Jewish scrolls of antiquity (obviously including the books of Moses). 2 Maccabees, written in the early first century BCE, knew nothing of Ezra’s return of the books of the Law from Babylon in 458 BCE or indeed of the figure of Ezra. Given the Ezra tradition’s possible late date (J. Goldstein, 1976, argued a date between 103 and 63 BCE) and limited acceptance, its reliability as a witness to the history of the Pentateuch in recent years has come increasingly under question. (p. 26)

The historical framework of the DH was based squarely “on the untested premise that the literary accounts of 2 Kgs 22-23 and Neh 8-10 represented actual and accurate historical data.”

What is the evidence supporting the historicity of these accounts?

Archaeological Evidence for Josiah’s Reforms and D

Gmirkin cites several archaeological publications, in particular N. Na’aman’s “The Debated Historicity of Hezekiah’s Reform in the Light of Historical and Archaeological Research” (ZAW 107 (1995)), an article that also address in depth the evidence bearing on Josiah’s reforms, to show that expected evidence of destruction of cult sites in that time period is not there.

There is no archaeological evidence of a drastic change in cult practices in the late eighth or late seventh centuries BCE.

Ketef Hinnom silver amulets

Ketef Hinnom silver amulets

Two silver amulets bearing priestly benedictions from the late seventh or early sixth century BCE have, however, been found at Ketef Hinnom in Jerusalem.

Three of the lines of this priestly blessing read:

May YHVH bless and protect you; may YHVH look favorably upon you and grant you well being.

Through the debates about these amulets, and despite their similarity to Numbers 6:24-26 andDeuteronomy 7:9, it can be shown that these blessings are from pre-biblical oral formulae:

  1. The Numbers blessing contains other words that make it appear it is an expansion of a simpler, earlier benediction such as the one on the amulet;
  2. In both amulets, the text either side of the blessing does not come from the Pentateuch, thus suggesting no relationship to that source;
  3. The Numbers 6 passage comes from P, which is generally dated much later than the amulets.
  4. It has long been recognized that the benedictions in Num 6:22-26 derive from oral sources, even containing five different expressions referring to oral speech.

The Elephantine Papyri

Here Gmirkin addresses the second of the fundamental principles for historical inquiry that I have stressed here so often: the need for independent controls or external witness to corroborate a written narrative. He speaks of “a fundamental difficulty in the [DH] theory” being “the lack of independent evidence for the sources and the stages of development that the theory postulated.” (p. 29)

Arguments for the Documentary Hypothesis have therefore tended to assume the absence of relevant external sources is complete and that it is therefore permissible to ignore the question of corroboration by external evidence as necessarily irrelevant to the discussion. (p. 29)

But Gmirkin points out that there are two external sources “of great evidentiary value to the question of Pentateuchal origins and development which have previously been overlooked in discussions of the Documentary Hypothesis.”

One is the Ketef Hinnom amulets, — see above.

English: A letter from the Elephantine Papyri,...

English: A letter from the Elephantine Papyri, a collection of 5th century BCE writings of the Jewish community at Elephantine in Egypt. Authors are Yedoniah and his colleagues the priests and it is addressed to Bagoas, governor of Judah. The letter is a request for the rebuilding of a Jewish temple at Elephantine, which had been destroyed by Egyptian pagans. The letter is dated year 17 of king Darius (II), which corresponds to 407 BCE. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other, the Elephantine Papyri.

The Elephantine Papyri consist of approximately 80 papyri in Aramaic discovered at Aswan in Egypt and originating from the Jewish military colony at Yeb (Elephantine), at the second cataract of the Nile, guarding the Egyptian–Ethiopian border. Many of the Elephantine Papyri were dated in terms of the regnal years of the Persian kings who then ruled Egypt. The collection as a whole came from the period 494–ca. 400 BCE.

Most of these were letters, legal documents, supply accounts and the like, but

— one (no. 21) contained an order from Darius II in 419 BCE to the Jews at Elephantine enjoining them to observe the Days of Unleavened Bread,

— while a second series (nos. 27, 30-34) documented the Egyptian destruction of a Jewish temple at Yeb in 411 BCE and the fruitless efforts of the colonists during the years 410-407 BCE to secure permission to have it rebuilt. (p. 29, my formatting and bolding)

These papyri confirm

  • the Jewish worship of the god Ya’u alongside the worship of ‘Anath, Bethel, Ishum and Herem;
  • the Jewish observance of the Days of Unleavened Bread and probably the Passover;
  • the religious authority of the Jewish high priest at Jerusalem: Jews in Egypt could appeal to him to have their temple at Yeb rebuilt.

The papyri are silent concerning

  • the existence of the Pentateuch or any part of it;
  • the priesthood being related in any way to Aaron or Levites;
  • Jewish names found in the Pentateuch (there are over 160 Jews mentioned in the papyri, not one with a “Pentateuchal” name)
  • any biblical history of the Jews, such as the Exodus, or of the tribes, or any prophets;
  • any knowledge of the Laws of Moses or any other authoritative writing;

The observance of the Days of Unleavened Bread were

  • allowed on the authority of Darius II and the Egyptian governor to whom Darius wrote, permitting the Jews to observe the festival,
  • and to a Jewish official who added further instructions;
  • without any reference to the authority of the Torah;
  • and without reference to the Exodus.

The actual practices of this festival

  • omitted any instruction to read the Torah;
  • were not said to be in accordance with any Jewish law code.
  • were governed by direct decree from the Jerusalem temple priests without any reference a written Law.

The temple at Yeb

  • possessed altars for sacrifice and incense offerings
  • was destroyed by Egyptians in a local uprising in 411 BCE (presumably over sacrifices of animals sacred to Egyptians)
  • was clearly in violation of the Deuteronomic code that forbade any temple or sacrifice outside Jerusalem.

Yet the Elephantine Jews had no problem appealing to the Jewish high priest and his colleagues in Jerusalem to help them rebuild their temple. Their relations with Jerusalem priests were evidently cordial and mutually supportive.

The Elephantine papyri demonstrate

  • the Jewish colonists in Egypt followed religious practices emanating from Jerusalem;
  • the Jewish colonists recognized the authority of the Judean high priest and his colleagues;
  • the Jewish colonists remained loyal to Jerusalem’s practices and remained on friendly terms with the Jerusalem Temple hierarchy;
  • yet indicate that they and the Jerusalem priesthood had no knowledge of the contents of the Pentateuch, both following practices contrary to its injunctions.

That is, the Papyri show

  • no knowledge of a written Torah or Pentateuch
  • no knowledge of names of figures in the Pentateuch
  • but clear knowledge of a Jerusalem priesthood with religious authority
  • and knowledge of a Jerusalem Temple priesthood supporting another temple and altars of sacrifice as well as non-Levitcal priests.

Gmirkin opines that if the Elephantine Papyri had been discovered before the DH was developed it would never have taken off.

biblesources[There remains one more angle from which to work with any criticism of the DH. R. E. Friedman in The Bible With Sources Revealed complains that critics of the DH have not addressed the actual evidence presented by proponents for the DH. He writes of seven main arguments:

  1. Linguistic
  2. Terminology
  3. Consistent Content
  4. Continuity of Texts (Narrative Flow)
  5. Connections with Other Parts of the Bible
  6. Relationships Among the Sources: To Each Other and To History
  7. Convergence

That task remains a future series of blog posts.]



Russell Gmirkin has also commented in response to a query about the DH on an earlier post on this topic.



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Why the Books of Moses should be dated 270 BCE (clue: “Rabbits”)

In Berossus and Genesis, Manetho and Exodus: Hellenistic Histories and the Date of the Pentateuch Russell Gmirkin presents a case for the Books of Moses, Genesis to Deuteronomy, being based largely upon the writings of Babylonian and Egyptian historians:

  • Berossus (278 BCE)
  • Manetho (ca 285 BCE)

His first task is to demonstrate that we have no evidence of any knowledge of the Pentateuch until after the appearance of those works.

In the previous post we overviewed Russell Gmirkin’s argument that there we have no evidence in Greek writings of any knowledge of the Pentateuch before the appearance of the Septuagint. Gmirkin shows that the authentic writings of Hecataeus of Abdera do reveal knowledge of Moses as a lawgiver, but the same writings do not show any knowledge of written Mosaic laws. Besides, as we will see in this post, the portrayal of Moses as the lawgiver followed the stereotypical pattern of leaders who led expeditions to found new Greek colonies: the laws were always given after the new settlement (with its cities, temple and tribal organization) was established in the new land.

This post explains how Gmirkin arrives at the date of around 270 BCE for the earliest appearance of the of the first books of the Bible. He concludes that

the first evidence of Pentateuchal writings is the Septuagint translation itself, probably dating to the late 270s BCE. (p. 72)

Disposing of three false witnesses

There are three remaining ancient texts that do claim these books of Moses were much older than 270 BCE.

  • Pseudo-Hecataeus: cited by Josephus in Apion, claims the existence of a scroll of Jewish law in the time of Hecataeus (the real Hecataeus was dealt with in the previous post);
  • Fragments of Aristobulus of Paneas: these speak of a Greek translation of the Jewish laws predating the Septuagint;
  • The Letter of Aristeas: also speaks of a Jewish laws (in Hebrew and Greek) prior to the Septuagint.

Before reading about these, recall from the previous post that Hecataeus of Abdera (fourth century BCE) wrote that Moses first founded the new settlement of Egyptians in Palestine and then gave them their laws. This, of course, is the reverse of the story found in the books of Moses and Joshua. What Hecataeus was relating was a stereotypical story of the way Greek colonies were founded. He demonstrates no knowledge of any writings of Moses. The following accounts, in one way or another, all took their knowledge from Hecataeus of Abdera and confused his account with evidence that he had read the Pentateuch.


Certain writings ascribed to Hecataeus were quoted at Josephus, Apion 1.187- 204.

Speaking again o(Jewish high priest, Ezekias, in the time of Ptolemy 1 Soter), (Hecataeus) says: “This man, who had attained to such a position of honor and who was now part of our society, gathered together some of his friends and read to them his whole scroll. For it contained the story of their settlement and their political constitution. [that is, the ‘books of Moses’]

The authenticity of this material has long been debated . . . . The definitive treatment of this question, which settled the matter for most scholars, was Bar-Kochva’s book Pseudo-Hecataeus, which demonstrated that the essay purportedly written by Hecataeus contained considerable anachronistic material pointing to the late second century or first century BCE. Since then no scholar has seriously advocated the authenticity of the Pseudo-Hecataean account. (p. 72)

The Josephan reference to “Hecataeus” contradicts the genuine references to Hecataeus that inform us that the only knowledge the real Hecataeus had was from Egyptian priests. The accounts of the genuine Hecataeus assure us he had no knowledge whatever of Jewish scriptures or oral sources. It appears that a pseudo-Hecataeus had been crafted to explain how the writings of the real Hecataeus knew so much (e.g. the Exodus from Egypt) and so invented the story of a Jewish high priest reading the books of Moses to him.

Pseudo-Hecataeus consequently introduced a fictional account of an encounter between Hecataeus and a Jewish high priest in Egypt in order to explain Hecataeus’s apparent acquaintance with Jewish scriptures. (p. 74)

Both Pseudo-Hecataeus and Hecataeus’s Aegyptiaca (see previous post) refer to

  • first, Jerusalem being colonized before the law was given;
  • second, political institutions (and religious laws) being established by the founder

That is, the sequence in both accords with stereotyped Greek foundation stories. Pseudo-Hecataeus was entirely dependent upon Hecataeus’s Aegyptiaca.

Aristobulus (ca. 150 BCE)

Aristobulus likewise wrote that the Pentateuch had very ancient roots. His motivation was clear: he was “proving” that the great names of Greek literature and philosophy — Homer, Hesiod, Orpheus, Linus, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato — owed their wisdom to Moses and the Jewish traditions.

In order to find evidence that the laws of Moses were written and translated into Greek at such an early date, Aristobulus also found (presumably in Hecataeus) early accounts of an exodus from Egypt, those people being settled in Palestine, with cities and a temple built by Moses, all followed by Moses giving them the law. Aristobulus seems to have taken this as close-enough reason to believe the Pentateuch was known very early.

The Letter of Aristeas

This letter presents a colourful narrative of how the Septuagint came to be written in Egypt by seventy Jewish priests sent from Jerusalem for that purpose. The same letter claims that before this event the Laws of Moses were well-known in both Hebrew and an earlier faulty Greek translation.

Gmirkin shows in detail that we have good reason to believe the author of this “Letter of Aristeas” was in fact Aristobulus himself. If so, it is hardly an independent witness.

To summarize, the fragments of Aristobulous and The Letter of Aristeas reflect the same date, provenance, social and philosophical outlook, unique exegetical approach, historical theories and even historical inaccuracies. Every datum is consistent with Aristobulus having penned The Letter of Aristeas. Given Aristobulus’s probable authorship of The Letter of Aristeas, then, the allusions to scriptures predating the Septuagint in The Letter of Aristeas will also have derived from Aristobulus’s misreading of Hecataeus. (p. 80)

Context Capture




The Origin of the Septuagint

We have firm evidence that the Septuagint was being used at the time of Ptolemy IV Philopater who reigned ca. 221 to 204 BCE.Demetrius the Chronographer at that time used the Septuagint to compile his chronology of Genesis.

A few decades later we come to the time of Ptolemy VI Philometer and his tutor, Aristobulus. Aristobulus was clearly in a position to have access to the Alexandrian Library and historical material of the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt. So we may accept that he was in a position to know when he says the Septuagint was produced under the patronage of Ptolemy II Philadelphuswho reigned between 282 BCE and 246 BCE.

Unfortunately there are problems. Aristobulus is known to have made mistakes. For example, he wrote that Demetrius of Phaleron was librarian of the Alexandrian Library and supervised the creation of the Septuagint. In fact, Ptolemy II exiled Demetrius from Egypt at the beginning of his reign (and apparently arranged for him to die of an asp bite) and Demetrius was never the librarian of the Alexandrian Library.

But there is one detail Aristobulus gives us that may be a more certain clue to the date the Septuagint was composed. In the fictional Letter to Aristeas (recall that Gmirkin believes this to have been written by Aristobulus) he tells us that the Septuagint was written at the time Arsinoe II was the wife of Ptolemy II.

Cameo Gonzaga/ Камея Гонзага. Ptolemy II and A...

Cameoz: Ptolemy II and Arsinoe II, III c. BC, Alexandria. Hermitage (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Though this datum is in a fictional letter, it is nonetheless true that this Arsinoe, who was the full sister of Ptolemy II, did marry her brother (according to Egyptian royal custom) some time between 279 and 273 BCE. She died in July 269 BCE.

Now we come to stories of rabbits and sexual impropriety.

More significantly, these stories are supported by data found within the Septuagint itself when read against the tradition found in the Babylonian Talmud.

That Talmud informs us that the Septuagint avoids the word for “rabbit” (arnebeth) (substituting another meaning “short-footed”) because Ptolemy II’s wife’s name in Hebrew was Arnebeth (probably a Hebrew pun on Arsinoe). The composers were keen to avoid any appearance of mocking Ptolemy and his wife. Moreover, the Greek word for rabbit, lagos, was too easily connected with the family name of both Ptolemy and Arsinoe. Their grandfather, and father of the first Ptolemy, was Lagus. Theocritus, around 273 BCE, wrote a poem in which he called Ptolemy II a Lagid.

Now the rabbit was a symbol of promiscuity in antiquity, and Arsinoe had been married twice before she married Ptolemy. A certain Satodes of Maroneia wrote a lewd epigram in honour of their marriage and was promptly imprisoned for his efforts. Unfortunately he managed to escape to Crete. “Unfortunately” because there he was recaptured, bundled into a lead coffin, and dropped into the ocean.

So it appears the royal couple were rather sensitive to rumours of sexual impropriety and jokes about rabbits.

It is true that the Septuagint does avoid the use of the word for rabbit. It would seem that the reason for this was fear of offending the brother and sister “Lagids” around the time of 273 BCE – 269 BCE (the death of Arsinoe II).

Since the Septuagint provides the first objective external evidence for the composition of the Pentateuch, the date of the Septuagint translation becomes a terminus ad quem for the books of Moses. There exists no external evidence that the Pentateuch was written earlier than the time of Ptolemy II Philadelphus. A proposed date of composition any time prior to 269 BCE is permitted by current evidence and must be seriously considered. (p. 86)

But there is evidence that something did indeed happen at the time of around 270 BCE. It is from that time that we see “an explosion of derivative Jewish writing in the third century BCE, both in Syria and in Egypt.”

  • Septuagint — Egypt — ca 273-269 BCE
  • 4QSam, 4QEx — Qumran — ca 250 BCE?
  • Astronomical Book of Enoch — Samaria — ca 250 BCE?
  • Pseudo-Eupolemus — Samaria — ca 250 BCE?
  • Book of Watchers — Judea — ca 240 BCE?
  • Demetrius the Chronographer — Egypt — ca 221-204 BCE
  • Testament of Levi — Judea — ca 220-200 BCE?
  • Genesis Apocryphon — Judea — ca 200-180 BCE?
  • Sirach — Judea — ca 180 BCE
  • Jubilees (final redaction) — Judea — ca 175-161 BCE
  • Apocalypse of Weeks — Judea — ca 170 BCE
  • Animal Apocalypse — Judea — 165, 163 BCE


The terminus ad quem evidence for the composition of the Pentateuch, decidedly at odds with the Documentary Hypothesis, allows for the possibility that the composition of the books of Moses took place as late as 273-269 BCE. There is no external evidence whatever for the Pentateuch — or any written precursor of the Pentateuch — prior to the Septuagint translation, even when such evidence would be expected under the Documentary Hypothesis. Rather, one only has evidence as late as ca. 400 BCE or what Wellhausen called “Oral Torah,” that is, an authority vested in the Jerusalem priesthood rather than in a written code of laws.

The first evidence that the Jews their laws to a figure called Moses appears in Hecataeus of Abdera’s Aegyptiaca (320-315 BCE), but this book does not yet provide evidence for the existence of actual books of Moses.

But with the Septuagint, the Pentateuch appears full-blown, in its present form. The absolute silence of external sources prior to the Septuagint translation regarding a Jewish law contrasts with a proliferation of Jewish writings using the Pentateuch following on the heels of the Septuagint. (pp. 87-88, my emphasis and formatting)




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 Russell Gmirkin

2013-01-01 10:09:43 UTC - 10:09 | Permalink

First, let me comment that Neil Godfrey is providing a commendably high quality summary of my book.

I don’t devote much space to the DH in Berossus and Genesis, other than to argue that the traditional dates assigned to the JEDP sources are certainly incorrect. I tend to broadly credit many of the traditional arguments used in the DH for the different sources J, E and P in Genesis, JE and P in Exodus-Numbers, D in Deuteronomy, JE P and D in Joshua, and some Deuteronomistic touches in Genesis-Numbers. However, I do not accept the Documentary Hypothesis as such. In Berossus and Genesis I show that both J and P traditions in Gen. 1-11 as well as JE and P traditions related to the Exodus all date to ca 270 BCE, when D must also be dated (given D’s use of JE traditions of ca. 270 BCE, and Deuteronomy as part of the Septuagint translation of ca. 270 BCE). I therefore reject the “diachronic” (sequential) model of J, E, D and P as distinct sources dated to different eras. Instead, I view these as “synchronic” (contemporary) voices of different authorial groups of ca. 270 BCE. Viewing the Pentateuch as a collaborative project among a group of diverse authors solves the long-standing problems regarding the relative sequence (and in some cases intertwining) of JEDP. The Septuagint tradition as found in the Letter of Aristeas suggests the presence of a group of highly educated Jewish scholars at Alexandria in 270 BCE who were in a position to collaborate on the authoring of the Pentateuch, using Greek sources from the Great Library of Alexandria such as Berossus, Manetho and (as Philippe Wajdenbaum argues) Plato. Although the Letter of Aristeas must be used with all due caution, a careful reading independently supports the theory of multiple, contemporary authors.

Best regards,
Russell Gmirkin



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 Russell Gmirkin

2013-01-03 12:08:35 UTC - 12:08 | Permalink

The standard reference work, arranged in chronological order, is M. Stern, Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism (3 vols.; Jerusalem, The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1970).
For the most part, Greek and Roman writers on the Jews wrote about the region or about well-known Jewish customs such as sabbath observance and special dietary laws. Where these writers do quote from the Jewish Bible, it is almost invariably from the Septuagint translation. (Even the Jewish authors of the New Testament used the Septuagint, not the Hebrew text.) None of the Greek writers who mention Judea or the Jews before the Septuagint (Herodotus, Aristotle, Theophrastus, Hieronymus of Cardia, Hecataeus of Abdera, Megasthenes, Clearchus of Soli, Berossus or Manetho) have any knowledge of Jewish writings. Hecataeus and Manetho know a figure called Moses, but nothing about him that comes from the Jewish Bible. The first quotes from the Jewish Bible (Septuagint) come from Apollonius Molon in ca. 80 BCE. Theophanes of Mytilene knew quite a bit about the Jews from his visit there with the Roman general Pompey in 62 BCE and quotes a line from the Pentateuch, probably translated by one of the Jewish dignitaries.



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 Rick Sumner

2013-03-21 06:39:45 UTC - 06:39 | Permalink

I just got around to reading this. Some brief thoughts: I’ll put the question of Manethos aside, since I’m not familiar enough to comment on it in any meaningful sense.

The argument from the Elephantine texts is almost unshakable. For anyone who hasn’t read it, its essense is pretty straightforward. The Elephantine papyrii request Jerusalem’s blessing in rebuilding a temple at Elephantine. They do so c. 400 BCE. This is wholly irreconcilable with the conventional DH, where Jerusalem as the only cultic center should have been well established by this point. Since we don’t have Jerusalem’s response, it’s not quite as air-tight as Gmirkin would have it, but it’s good. Gmirkin is probably right to suggest that if we had Elephantine when the DH was proposed it would probably not exist in the form we recognize it.

The single strongest literary case made is for Gen.1-11. Gmirkin is right to point out not only that it is heavily dependent on a rather short selection of texts, but those texts are of a fairly limited assortment. A massive majority of Gen.1-11 could be written with Standard Gilgamesh and the Enuma Elish. That majority could be expanded mightily with the addition only of a few variants of Gilgamesh. One or two more texts–all Babylonian–could easily round it out. Gmirkin is right to point out that this is really, really odd, and far better explained by deliberate, post hoc selection (perhaps with an eye to an illusion of antquity?) than the accruement and preservation over a millenia. Berossus seems as likely a source as any, and more likely than most. It’s difficult to imagine how else they would have gotten their hands on the particular selection they did.

The dating starts to give me a little more trouble though. The Table of Nations is particularly important to his proposed date, with his dating of the ToN being particularly exegesis heavy. This is really all that can be done with what survives, but I’m of the opinion that in such situations it’s best to simply state that we don’t know, and view all arguments as fabrications. As any half-assed post-modernist will quite rightly point out, to do otherwise isn’t dating a text, it’s telling a story. Stories are fun and all, but they aren’t data, and don’t produce data, they can only be produced from it.

The arguments against Hecataeus (touched upon in your post) make me nervous. Any time a section of a work is devoted to a nice long list of conventional readings we need to throw out I become hyper-skeptical, and would cheerily argue that such a response is not only appropriate, but the *only* appropriate one. I’ll offer more thoughts on it after a bit more time to digest, but to this point I don’t think it’s solid enough to justify such a bold conclusion.

-- Edited by Admin on Monday 7th of March 2016 02:01:56 PM

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