Thursday, June 30, 2011

Oh boy

This is what we need when reading the Old Testament, struggling to make sense of which bits belong where and were written by whom, J, D, E, P, or Thee:

"Over the past decade, computer programmes have increasingly been assisting Bible scholars in searching and comparing texts, but the novelty of the new software seems to be in its ability to take criteria developed by scholars and apply them through a technological tool more powerful in many respects than the human mind, Segal said.

Before applying the software to the Pentateuch and other books of the Bible, the researchers first needed a more objective test to prove the algorithm could correctly distinguish one author from another.

So they randomly jumbled the Hebrew Bible's books of Ezekiel and Jeremiah into one text and ran the software. It sorted the mixed-up text into its component parts "almost perfectly," the researchers announced."
NZH's whole article is here.


Andrew Reid said...

Hi Peter,
Do you think the Jeremiah/Ezekiel experiment is a fair test of the software's ability to sort out mulitiple sources within a single book? These are two separate books that have no claim to be from a single author/editor/compiler. The Pentateuch is consistently referred to as the Law of Moses, and so the text would surely be more difficult to separate into different strands than 2 completely different texts?

Another important point is that so much depends on the assumptions used in developing the program. Does the user specify how many supposed different authors there are or does the program do this by itself? How does the program go about distinguishing between authors - words, style, etc? Hopefully, they will publish a paper soon which describes how this happens so the OT scholars can evaluate its methods.

In the end, I wonder where this gets us. The Pentateuch was compiled into a single work of 5 books, each designed to be read as a whole. The gospel writers used multiple sources as well, but we still seem happy enough to read them as continuous works (apart from our "Historical Jesus" friends), rather than disassembling them in this way.

Brother David said...

That is a bit cool. What I found interesting in the full article is that some of the guys involved in developing this software are religious Jews whose faith stand is that the Pentateuch is actually dictated by God directly to one author, Moses.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrew
To have failed the Jeremiah/Ezekiel test would be a bad mark against the software.

I think this software intriguing inasmuch as it may confirm, deny, or offer correction to the "Documentary Hypothesis" or multiple sources analysis of the Penteteuch.

In the end, yes, the Torah is presented to us as one document.

Anonymous said...

Now if only the journos had applied this tool to 'A Gay Girl in Damascus'! They wouldn't have looked so foolish - or would they?

The interesting bit for me was this: "Similarly, the book of Isaiah is largely thought to have been written by two distinct authors, with the second author taking over after Chapter 39. The software's results agreed that the book might have two authors, but suggested the second author's section actually began six chapters earlier, in Chapter 33."

Three authors, not two, has been the critical orthodoxy since Duhm (in the 1890s on Isa 56-66) but I'll let that slide. But Isa 1-39 is a good deal more complex than the standard view. I like Hugh Williamson's view that Deutero-Isaiah redacted materials from Isaiah 1-39, which would certainly include ch. 33 but also numerous other earlier passages, incl. ch. 35 which has a return from exile theme, and ch.1, composed as an introduction to the book. The whole argument is beautifully expounded in 'The Book Called Isaiah'(1991) and will no doubt feature in the new ICC commentary.
The human authorship(s) of Scripture has never been a primary question for me. The central question has always been what the Lord Jesus affirms Scripture to be.

James said...

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