Wayne Marshall in his column about the Bible in The Observer of December 23, 2014 (Has Religion Seen the End of Its Useful Life?) reflected uncritical reliance on non-specialists in the appropriate academic disciplines and on the thoroughly debunked documentary hypothesis or 4-source theory of Old Testament scholarship via the writers he named. It is worthless to cite a mere carpenter’s ideas in a discussion on fibre optics!
What was the nature of the academic landscape when the German scholar Julius Wellhausen proposed his late-date 4-source theory to explain how the Pentateuch (Genesis to Deuteronomy) came to be written/edited? Was the hypothesis grounded in and informed by the related disciplines of Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) studies?
Veteran specialist in ANE archaeology and literatures, Prof. Kenneth Kitchen thinks not and points out the absence of material to work with in the late 19th century and as well Wellhausen’s distaste for specialists in Egyptology and comparative literature of the ANE.
The academic world of 1878 (when Wellhausen wrote his Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel) knew precious little about the Ancient Near Eastern world.
Bits and pieces were known about Egyptian kings and some history of the New Kingdom (approx. 1550 – 1213 BC). “The Neo-Assyrian kings and their deeds (first millennium) were beginning to be known, but not too much of them or Babylon for the earlier periods” (Kenneth Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, 2003, 486)
The Sumerians were unknown as such and traces of Babylonian tales of the flood and creation had only recently been published in 1873 and 1876 by George Smith. “For the Levant, only the Moabite Stone and some late Phoenician inscriptions had surfaced; Old South Arabian was known, but from just a modest handful of texts. And that was about it. At that time there were no Amarna letters (only found in 1887), no Code of Hammurabi of Babylon (only dug up in 1901), no other early law collections, no Siloam inscription (found only in 1880), no Hittites ([their existence became probable] only…in 1880/1884…Large-scale and scientifically enhanced archaeology lay far into the future, unimagined.
“No Ugarit, no Hurrian, no vast Ebla, Mari, Ugarit, Emar archives from outside Mesopotamia. So Wellhausen worked in a near vacuum and could speculate freely. But that day has long, long since gone. We today do have the vast resources hinted at just above. And they do enable us to profile ancient history accurately in its broad sweep. And straight bottom-to-top evolution [as proposed by Wellhausen] is out. It never happened like that; no, not ever.” (p. 487)
The illegitimacy of Wellhausen’s proposal concerning the Pentateuch and the bankruptcy of the continued dependence upon it by modern scholars is shown in a telling analogy drawn by Kitchen.
Kitchen, the leading Ramesside scholar in the world says, “I might choose to dream up a theory that the Ramesside kings of Egypt also once built pyramids in Egypt, twice as big as the Great Pyramid. But absolutely nobody is going to believe me unless I can produce some tangible, material evidence in its favor. And we require likewise, some kind of clear, material evidence for a J, E, D, or a P or an H, from outside of the extant Hebrew Bible…
“Some [manuscripts] please! If an excavation tomorrow produced a substantial chunk of a scroll that indubitably contained a copy of precisely J or E, and found in a clear, datable stratigraphic context, then I would welcome it with open arms and incorporate it into my overall appreciation of the history of the Hebrew Bible. But not just as unsubstantiated guesswork out of somebody’s head.” (p. 492)
Here then is the thing. Wellhausen’s documentary hypothesis does not have one shred of a tangible document anywhere in its support. The documentary hypothesis is pure, uncorroborated theory. Worse it has been falsified by archaeological discoveries since the late 19th century.
Concerning the Exodus though there is no direct Egyptian evidence for it there is an adequate amount of indirect evidence for it which qualifies as proof in the same way detectives prove a murder by circumstantial evidence even in the absence of a murder weapon and/or a dead body.
The presence of Israelites in Egypt is not usually questioned because it can be deduced from the correspondence between the mention of labourers making bricks without straw in Ex 5.1ff and an Egyptian wall painting the bottom section of which shows workmen doing brickmaking and intriguingly one Egyptian text (Papyrus Anastasi IV and V) bemoans the lack of straw for brickmaking.
“The straw (modern tibn) had an organic acid content that made the clay more plastic to work, and stopped shrinkage in the resulting bricks. The ancients did not know the chemistry but they appreciated the effects.” (Kitchen, p. 248) Straw was not typically used in brickmaking in Canaan.
An otherwise easily overlooked correspondence between the biblical text and Egyptian realities is the suggestion of daily visits to the Pharaoh by Moses and Aaron (Ex.7 – 11). This would have been possible only in the Ramesside era when Pharaoh was resident in Pi–Ramessee.
Now then, we have inscriptional Egyptian evidence of Israelites in Canaan round about 1207 B.C. This evidence is from the 7 1/2 foot high black granite slab called ‘Merenptah’s stele’ on which Pharaoh Merenptah boasts “‘Canaan has been plundered into every sort of woe; Ashkelon has been overcome; Gezer has been captured…Israel is laid waste, his seed is not.’
“unpronounced signs, called determinatives, indicate that while the first three names are cities, the fourth is the name of a people, not a place. Merenptah thus provides the earliest nonbiblical reference to Israel.” (Frank J. Yurco, “Merenptah’s Canaanite Campaign and Israel’s Origins” in Ernest S. Frenko and Leonard H. Lesko (eds.), Exodus: The Egyptian Evidence, 1997, 35.)
But why is there no direct Egyptian evidence of the Exodus? Kitchen in his book cited earlier responded to two leading critics of the Bible, Israel Finkelstein & Neil Silberman in their 2002 book The Bible Unearthed.
Kitchen informs, “The Delta [where the Israelites lived according to the Bible] is an alluvial fan of mud deposited through many millennia by the annual flooding of the Nile; it has no source of stone within it…A tiny fraction of reports from the East Delta occur in papyri recovered from the desert near Memphis. Otherwise, the entirety of Egypt’s administrative records at all periods in the Delta is lost; and monumental texts are also nearly nil. And, as pharaohs never monumentalize defeats on temple walls, no record of the successful exit of a large bunch of foreign slaves (with loss of a full chariot squadron) would ever have been memorialized by any king in temples in the Delta or anywhere else. On these matters, once and for all, Biblicists must shed their naïve attitudes and cease demanding ‘evidence’ that cannot exist.” (p. 246)
Kitchen is uncharacteristically brutal in his summary assessment of the book by Finkelstein and Silberman. He says “Their treatment of the exodus is among the most factually ignorant and misleading that this writer has ever read. F & S clearly have no personal knowledge whatsoever of conditions in Ramesside (or any other) Egypt. Their approach to chronology (for both patriarchs and exodus) is totally naïve…” (p.466).
To Wallace and his kind I say “a little learning is dangerous but a little reading of unqualified writers is even worse.”
 Ibid, 492.