Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Let's Talk Torah: Who Wrote It?

I don't know how it happened -- I blame the 1.5-hour, corporate-style commute -- but I've become one of those people that mechanically purchases a coffee product every morning, without fail. No matter how hard I try to avoid the purchase, it happens. I haven't gotten to the point where I go to the same coffee shop or have the same barista or where the patrons happen to be the same day in and day out at the same hour every day, but it's still sort of frightening. I'll make my way to campus, avoiding Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts, and still manage to get to campus and hit the Starbucks down here, or -- even after making it to my office, going back out -- to the Divinity School.

Yes, the Divinity School here at the U of Chicago is right next door, and yes there is a coffee shop in their basement. They even sell T-Shirts that says something along the lines of G-d drinks our coffee, or somethign similar. The boon to going to the Div School coffee shop is that I get to stop in the lobby and peruse the various texts that faculty in the School have published recently. So the other day, and once again today, I noticed a new book -- "Rewriting the Torah" -- and of course the title piqued my interest. I found a preview of it on Google Books, and it seems like an interesting read. Here's what the Amazon description says:
Jeffrey Stackert explores literary correspondences among the pentateuchal legal corpora and especially the relationships between similar laws in Deuteronomy and the Holiness Legislation (Lev 17-26). Through an analysis of the pentateuchal laws on asylum, seventh-year release, manumission, and tithes, he argues that the Holiness Legislation depends upon both the Covenant Collection and Deuteronomy. The author also elucidates the compositional logic of the Holiness legislators, showing that these authors employ a method of literary revision in which they reconceptualize source material according to their own ideological biases. In the end, the Holiness Legislation proves to be a "super law" that collects and distills the Priestly and non-Priestly laws that precede it. By accommodating, reformulating, and incorporating various viewpoints from these sources, the Holiness authors create a work that is intended to supersede them all.
Now, when I took Hebrew Bible many moons ago in my undergraduate education, I grew quickly fascinated with the idea of various authors composing Torah. The idea initially seemed logical, then outlandish, then made sense as we studied the literary themes and stylings of the different books and even various parashot within Torah. However, after that class, I sort of put my notes/exams/thoughts into a notebook and filed them away and haven't really thought much about it since then. In fact, I don't even know what traditional Judaism's thoughts on the idea of various authors composing the written Torah are -- is it accepted or denied, that is, among the religious community (I know the academic community is pretty much in agreeance about the concept of various authors, known as the documentary hypothesis

It is my understanding (and this will also work itself into my BIG POST ON THEOLOGY) that within Orthodox Judaism (note: the term Orthodox was really coined only in the early 19th century),  the belief is that Torah was given at Sinai (both oral and written?) to Moses, and that it was then transmitted throughout the generations until it was written down. The oral tradition was meant to never really be written since, well, it's the oral tradition. My blank comes with the "written" portion of the revelation, being Torah: is it believed that G-d actually gave Moses the Torah? Or that Moses composed the Torah during the revelation and that it was passed down? Or is it believed that both traditions were passed along and composed later, so the idea of multiple authors would be acceptible, if not absolutely logical under the circumstances?

So, nu? Tell me what you know. I'll probably pick up this book at some point -- likely after I move and have a shiny new UConn library card. As a writer/poet/amateur blogger, the way a person combines words into complete thoughts is fascinating and watching how different authors are and how their personal styles manage to reveal themselves even in anonymous instances absolutely excites me. So this is going to be an ongoing conversation, and I hope to glean some useful information from you -- my readers!

Be well, friends!