Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The More Things Change . . .

You know the cliche - the more things change, the more they stay the same. I started re-reading Wellhausen's Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel just now. He tells about his epiphany when he learned that Graf dated the Prophets before the Law, and later on, he describes the controversy engendered by the idea that P (the Priestly Source - Leviticus, etc.) was later than D (Deuteronomy).  I found his description of the apologetic attempted rebuttals strangely familiar.
To say all in a word, the arguments which were brought into play as a rule derived all their force from a moral conviction that the ritual legislation must be old, and could not possibly have been committed to writing for the first time within the period of Judaism; that it was not operative before then, that it did not even admit of being carried into effect in the conditions that prevailed previous to the exile, could not shake the conviction--all the firmer because it did not rest on argument--that at least it existed previously (pp. 11-12; emphasis original).
Julius Wellhausen, Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel, Meridian, 1957 [originally published 1878, German]. E-book version available here.


  1. I find as I read this that I also have such prejudices that do not rest on argument. So, I wonder why this is.

    Obviously, a person of faith is inclined to take the story in the Hebrew Bible at face value — so there is always going to be some resistance at that level. An historian would need to convince me otherwise.

    But, it occurs to me this morning, there may be something else going on here as well. We know that in human moral development rule-making / rule-keeping precedes the stages where one articulates principles and ideas that lie behind the rules. (The classic example I guess is Jean Piaget talking to children about the game of marbles. Rules come first.) So, I find the notion that a social group could form and persist without hammering out its rules and laws at an early stage of its formation deeply counter-intuitive. A sociologist would need to convince me otherwise.

    It may not be possible for things to change.

  2. Nice quote. As Bon Jovi said, "It's all the same, only the names change."

    Incidentally, it's the 91st anniversary of Jules's death today.