Professor Yehuda Elitzur and Bible Study: Part II

[Previous Sections: Introduction]

[Translator’s note: I made some stylistic changes to make the article more readable. It’s really strange that an article published in 1966 feels like it could have been written yesterday…]

I think that I will not be exaggerating if I say that in the context of the issue of science and faith, the most problematic and sensitive subject is the Tanach. The status of this subject cannot be compared, in the context of the confrontation of faith and science, to the status of the natural sciences, for instance. The difficulty stems in large part from the rule established by Dr. Etzion, who said that in science, one must ensure a total separation between the study of phenomena and the various conjectures and hypotheses regarding these phenomena, at the base of which always lie certain axioms.

Indeed, the science of Bible of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, is at its core a system of conjectures, on which a scientific structure with refined methods and beautiful strides is built. However, this whole system of conjectures relies on fairly obvious axioms. The most important axiom is the principle of evolution and more precisely the denial of revelation and the placement of the idea of evolution in its stead. As we all know, the theory of evolution occupied a substantial place in human thought in the 19th century.

It can be said that the thinker’s mind in the West completely adapted itself to think in categories of evolution. All human knowledge was organized in patterns of evolution from the low to the high levels and from the primitive to the developed.

Naturally Biblical science also adapted this mode of thought. At the foundation of this science is the assumption that the Israelite faith and the truths of the Tanach were the result of prolonged evolution. Only at the end of the Biblical period did the monotheistic belief, message and laws take final form. Later scribes fixed and improved the ancient history of their people, they attributed to forefathers and ancients beliefs and actions which according to evolution could not have come into existence until hundreds of years later. The Israelite belief evolved and progressed in various paths. The different schools of thought wrote books each according to their particular methods and in their spirit. The Biblical editors collected these “sources” and merged them together even though they are at odds with one another.

Biblical Criticism

The main occupation of the science of Biblical literary criticism is to differentiate between the various sources – E, J, P, D, etc. – which ostensibly comprise the Tanach (especially the Chumash – AIWAC) and determine dates for the parts and bits of sections in the Biblical books in light of the estimated stages of evolution as well as substantial  and insubstantial problems and contradictions.

At the margins of this brief description it is worthwhile to stress that indeed, methodically speaking, Higher Biblical Criticism is a sophisticated science and brilliant in appearance, but in terms of evidence, it is one of the strangest sciences around. The whole world of “sources”, parts of sources and schools has not been verified by a single piece of documentary evidence over the course of decades of research in the field, this in spite of the fact that thousands of Bible-era documents have been discovered in the relevant countries. The entire gamut of conjectures built on the all-powerful theory of evolution, does not match the conclusions of the geographical, sociological and historical research, which grew organically from study of the Biblically relevant countries over these decades.

This Biblical Science, established by German Protestant researchers, cannot according to simple human logic find common ground with the approach of the believer (with the exception of unique Kabbalistic speculations), since the foundation of the believer’s approach to the Tanach is the principle of revelation. And in point of fact, the science of Higher literary Biblical Criticism, teaches that all the main truths and theses of the Tanach developed from low to high, from the primitive to the advanced in the manner of all human cultures.

This state of affairs has led to confusion in the ranks of those who teach, interpret and study Tanach. This confusion has led to two contradictory attitudes. The first of these, which comes from those who espouse Biblical Criticism explains that, in truth, there’s nothing new here from a Jewish point of view, since all those issues brought up by Biblical Criticism were already the lot of the classical Jewish interpreters and Chazal. It can be proven that Chazal and the classical interpreters dealt with texts, the problem of the relation of psukim to parshiyot and of statements to different nevi’im etc.

On the other hand, the shocked camp of believing Jewry responded with complete denial. They didn’t suffice themselves with the argument that classical interpreters and Chazal, God forbid, had nothing to do with any of this. The degree of disgust and shock felt by this camp led them to retreat from delving deep into the Tanach – even from paths and methods of study that were acceptable for centuries.

Great interpreters arose, such as the Malbim, “Ha’ktav ve-Hakabala”, whose main goal was to prove that the drash actually can be found in the words of the pasuk and that it was actually the pshat. In their wake came even more stringent methods, there were those who declared that it is forbidden to stray from Chazal’s interpretations, that it is forbidden to innovate, that we must remain within the framework of “emunat chachamim”. Anyone who dared make any type of comment on text in the Tanach or discuss historic or archaeological parallels was considered a Bible Critic who has put himself outside the pale.

To make a long story short: Just as Sannecherib “confused the nations”, Biblical Criticism has sown confusion of opinion in the ranks of Israel.

To Be Continued in Part III: Chazal and Tanach: The True Story…


Hi, my name is Avi Woolf. I'm an American-Israeli MO Jew living in Israel. I have a background in Israeli (as in Land of Israel) and Jewish History and an insatiable need for knowledge. I also have professional experience as an editor, translator and indexer. Enjoy the ride! If you are interested in using my services or just want to drop me a line, contact me at:
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2 Responses to Professor Yehuda Elitzur and Bible Study: Part II

  1. Pingback: Professor Yehuda Elitzur and Bible Study: Part III | QED

  2. Pingback: Professor Yehuda Elitzur and Bible Study: Part IV | QED

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