Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Indoctrination into Historical Criticism

How is one to regard historical criticism of the Bible and defend others from its faith destroying influence? A primary goal of this article is to help readers understand the basic ideas behind the methods of the highly educated historical critics. In the end my hope is that the reader can see that historical critical scholarship is a fragile house of cards, that the only threat historical criticism really poses to historic contextual Bible interpretation as practiced in Confessional Lutheranism is that of hiding the lie behind personality and pride, not of method or of substance.

When I was in graduate school, Odil Steck’s Old Testament Exegesis: A Guide to the Methodology (1998) was required on the graduate reading list at the UW-Madison. My copy from that time is the 2nd English edition translated by James Nogalski from the 13th German edition. It was published by Scholars Press as volume 39 in the Society for Biblical Literature Resources for Biblical Study series edited by Marvin Sweeney. 

The International Review of Biblical Studies , published by E.J. Brill stated “For a quarter of a century, Steck’s guide to exegetical methods as practiced by himself and other German-speaking scholars has served to train advanced students.” (back cover review)

Any Old Testament, Bible, or Ancient Near East degree program in college or university requires the knowledge of German of the student so that the student can become engaged in the current and historical literature of the fields. What this means is that Steck’s book gained wide acceptance as a standard among hundreds, if not thousands, of colleges and universities throughout the world. His presuppositions, definitions, philosophy, and methodologies were not considered bizarre or unorthodox by the academy. Rather, they are widely accepted and shared. Thus, Steck’s book represents a long period of widespread indoctrination into an interpretive orthodoxy shared by a large proportion of historical critics. As such, it is illustrative of the mindset and approach of the many students it influenced.

What I propose to do here is to highlight, sample, and comment on the distinctive traits of Steck’s presentation of scientific historical critical Old Testament exegesis. This is not a discussion of the whole book, nor is this a review of the work. There are several philosophical and theological presuppositions in Steck’s work that are more than a little problematic, even beyond the foundational difference about the possibility of the supernatural.

Steck may not have been the first to propose an interpretive system integrating literary criticism, form criticism, text criticism, tradition criticism, redaction criticism, et al. The Augsburg/Fortress Press series Guides to Biblical Scholarship spanned the years from 1971 to the early 2000s. These guides introduced each topic and method individually, not in an integrated way. John Barton’s 1984 Reading the Old Testament: Method in Biblical Study discussed each method separately and suggested a way to integrate the methods. All of these and other sources have been required reading for many graduate and undergraduate programs. But Steck’s integrated approach was unique.

“Rather than seeing the exegetical components as an eclectic assortment which only ‘specialists’ of the various components can ‘do,’ Steck’s introduction illustrates for them how the perspective provided by each methodological lens adds depth to the whole.” [Nogalski, “Translator’s Preface to the English Version, second printing.” xxiii]

From start to finish Steck’s book presented all techniques in an integrated method under the format of a workbook designed to be used by professors and students for guided instruction in Old Testament exegesis. His “book does not wish to be, indeed cannot be, an introduction to self-study. Rather, it is designed for use in academic instruction.” [xx]

It is not an exaggeration to say that Steck’s view was that without proper training in his method, the interpretation of the Old Testament was impossible and irresponsible. He stated that “mastery of the approaches and the paths” outlined in his book “are essential for exegetically determining meaning.” [xx]  The problem, however, is that his methodology and the practice of the historical-critical method of Biblical interpretation in general gives free reign to irresponsible interpretation which is impossible to objectively substantiate. 

Steck considered his approach to be “scientific exegesis” and that his book “shows one how to approach the historical meaning of Old Testament texts during the period of their productive formation. This meaning is the original meaning…. This meaning must be processed because it is the foundational meaning.” [emphases original, xiii].

Here there is at least lip service given to the concept of a historical meaning that is the original meaning, which must be processed or ascertained by a scientific exegesis.  But what Steck actually means by scientific exegesis actually permits and encourages  the historical critical interpreter to disregard and depart from  the historical meaning of the text we have.

Before we look at what Steck  means by scientific exegesis, let us consider his stated goals and the assumptions behind them.

The Purposes of Steck’s Workbook

Steck saw the purpose of his work as an essential and foundational part of the study of theology essential for presenting the biblical texts “in their authoritative significance for a Christian’s faith, doctrine, and life.” [xxv]

“The goal of all theological work is to bring the biblical word of God to life, and to give it dynamic and relevant expression for humanity today.” [emphasis original, xxv]

The assumptions behind this are that the biblical text as it stands now is not dynamic or relevant, but a dead letter, and what Steck proposes as a method is essential for Christian theology and preaching. Without his method the exegete, theologian, or preacher has no ability to speak with “authoritative significance.” Indeed, in Steck’s view the sociolinguistic and cultural distance between the original texts prevents the modern from understanding these texts.

“Therefore, Old Testament exegesis necessarily inquires into the past for the original meaning . The inquiry of Old Testament exegesis into the original historical meaning has fundamental significance if these ancient texts are to be protected from the caprice to which we of today honorably, dishonorably, or unknowingly subject them in order to hear what we want to hear from them. It also has fundamental significance if the texts are to be allowed to speak their own message, in contrast to all later recipients. These statements are true even though, for us today, the inquiry is only a first step on the path of conveying the word of God toward which all theological disciplines must work together responsibly. … it is a fundamental and indispensable approach.” [1-2]

One troubling but common view expressed here is that ascertaining the original historical meaning of the texts “speaking their own message” is “only a first step” on conveying the word of God for us today.This implies that the original historical meaning of the Biblical text is not intrinsically also meant to speak to us today, despite Biblical claims of universal relevance to human beings beyond the ancient Isrealite context in which the Old Testament was written.      

But even worse, when one actually studies Steck’s book,  the “ancient texts” of which Steck speaks are not the books of the Old Testament as they have been handed down to us. He is actually speaking of multiple layers of conjectured oral productions coalesced into discrete single purposed short initial literary documents which were redacted and re-purposed at different times to address various hypothetical cultural, political, and religious events or crises and finally woven together to justify the establishment of a post Exilic priesthood and temple system. It is the purpose of his manual to enable the student to puzzle out these various threads to what Steck calls the original meaning

Thus, Steck’s notion of protecting the Old Testament texts “from the caprice to which we of today honorably, dishonorably, or unknowingly subject them in order to hear what we want to hear from them”  means to protect modern interpreters from reading the Old Testament as its text has actually been handed down to us. 

Consider the implications of this. Now, it is true that many people abuse the Old Testament, selectively choosing the passages they want to fit into their own ideas or the teaching they have invented for themselves. But to put it simply: Steck’s whole book is designed to give students permission to dismiss the text of the Old Testament as it is in order to dissect it into unique discrete components so they can find whatever their imagined original meaning might be in these fragments of imagined ancient texts. One would be hard pressed to find a clearer example of the caprice Steck decries.  And yet his entire method introduces, justifies, and even requires caprice and, to use his own word, fantasy.   

Steck advocated for scientific exegesis as the opposite of capricious methods.

But What is Scientific Exegesis as defined by Steck?

Steck frequently maintained that his method of exegesis is scientific. He spent a few paragraphs in his first chapter on his use of the term. I believe it would be accurate to say that the word scientific implies a naturalistic methodological type of study that is subject to some kind of standards of empirical objectivity and even falsification. In more basic terms, the word scientific tends to imply that the study or results are not personal opinions or biased, but somehow factually true whether one believes it or not. But Steck defines scientific in the context of exegesis as follows: 

“Exegesis is a scientific procedure to the degree that its understanding of a text is grounded exclusively upon knowledge and arguments whose appropriateness to the subject can be evaluated (approvingly or disapprovingly) by others, and whose rationale can be substantiated.” [emphasis original, 3]

By this standard one could take a wilted avocado measure its bumps and relate that to the shapes on human heads mapping those features to personality traits. There is a rationale. There is a procedure and a standard. And arguments can be made “(approvingly or disapprovingly) by others” on the appropriateness of the standards, relationships, and measurements. But I do not believe that most people would find this to fit their idea what the word scientific is supposed to mean. Indeed, astrology, phrenology, radionics, ley lines and many other pseudo-sciences have vast bodies of literature that meet Steck’s qualifications. 

Perhaps the reader may think this is too judgmental. Perhaps Steck is really meaning to make the study more objective and empirical. Steck does actually address this concern in the same paragraph just after the above quotation:

“Exegesis certainly does not maintain its scientific character by orienting itself to the experimental and empirical sciences, and by binding itself to their ideal of an ever more precise objective knowledge. Exegesis would then have to limit itself to the analysis and description of the linguistic surface of the texts.” [2]

After 13 editions and over 25 years of opportunity, Steck certainly could have phrased this differently if he had not meant to include a renunciation of the linguistic surface content of the texts, objectivity, and empirical knowledge. But the issues of empiricism and objectivity have always been central problems with historical critical research. 

There are three reasons for saying this. First, there exists no such thing as objective, mutually agreed method or results. Exegetes and theologians in historical criticism might agree on a few general presuppositions, such as, a rejection of any supernatural causes. But the differences between the various literary critics; differences between the interpretations of various form critics; and the wide variety of exegetical results stand as testimony against the objectivity, or even consistency of method. Second, there exists within the schools of historical criticism a body of literature pointing out the lack of objectivity among the various methods. Studies by Whybray, Cassuto, Tur Sinai, Kaufman and others have shown not only this lack of objectivity, but they also demonstrated a lack of connection with the reality of the evidence claimed by literary, oral, tradition, redaction and other forms of historical criticism. Third, recently there has been an effort among practitioners of the historical critical method, albeit a very struggling effort, to provide arguments for or to produce some kind of empirical models that might be used to hold historical critical interpretation to account. 

Here consider The Formation of the Pentateuch . 2016, editors: Jan C. Gertz, Bernard M. Levinson, Dalit Rom-Shiloni, and Konrad Schmid. Published by Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, Germany. This volume is the result of the study group “Convergence and Divergence in Pentateuchal Theory: Bridging the Academic Cultures of Israel, North America, and Europe.” The first part of this volume is titled “Empirical Perspectives on the Composition of the Pentateuch.” Gertz’ introduction to this section highlights that for historical criticism there is an entire lack of external textual evidence as well as any external evidence regarding the circumstances around the formation of the Pentateuch or the writers. Nearly everything in Pentateuchal Theory is based on theoretical reconstructions of each of these lines of evidence. The issue is then to see if there are external sources that can provide “concrete analogies” for the historical critic. “Concrete analogies could function as models of literary development, providing the critic with firsthand experience with compilers’ or redactors’ technique.” These analogies would not be a primary source for the discussion about Israelite literature, but would provide “proof of plausibility.” (Gertz, et al., p. 11-13)

For Steck, however, his scientific exegesis is purely about being transparent in one's use of historical critical method. 

“Scientifically established exegetical work is methodologically transparent work.” [5]

Scientific exegesis is not objective methodology. Scientific exegesis is not necessarily even a widely agreed upon standard for methodology— although that is what his book seems to be attempting to provide. And without these external standards Steck still wanted to maintain that 

“Scientific historical exegesis is thereby an attorney for the original meaning of the text, providing the fundamental contribution for the clarification and enrichment of applied understanding.” [4]

This demonstrates a rather significant cognitive dissonance between what has been openly described as an objectively and empirically value-less method and his claims regarding the method’s value to the exegete.

Prejudices formulated into transparent methodologies are not objective. They are just systematized prejudices. The prejudices are not informed by external objective truth or empirical data. 

Imagination, Fantasy, and Scientific Exegesis

What does the exegete do with this void left by the absence of empirical evidence? Steck asks this basic question providing a clear, honest answer.

“But what access does historical exegesis have to the data of the text except the access of questions, observations, and argumentation guided by the methods? Here, the exegete’s imagination plays a decisive role in looking at the selected text, by employing fantasy in the desire to understand a text historically. This fantasy is not obstructed and not yet rigidly controlled by methodological instructions. On the basis of the original hermeneutical unity between the text and today’s reader, one’s fantasy and imagination must thereby move in two directions during constant reading and reflection.” [emphases original, 6]

Steck dedicates nine pages to “imagination and methodological direction during exegetical work” [5-14]. The starting point is a series of questions designed to help toward two goals:

“On the one hand, the exegete envisions how the text offers itself as a component of today’s world , and on the other hand, the exegete envisions how the meaning and the setting of the text in its own historical context are manifested.” [emphases original, 6]

But, again:text does not refer to the text as it is now in the Hebrew Old Testament. Text refers to the words isolated by the exegete out from the context of the Scripture and placed into the imaginative historical framework created by the exegete’s fantasy.

“[T]he goal is to achieve a comprehensive historical conception of the historical arena, origin, intention, meaning and effect of the text in its time, through the employment of fantasy and imagination prior to and alongside the methodological work.” [emphasis original, 8]

Understanding Steck’s Original Stated Goal and the Result

Steck wants to breathe new life into the text of the Old Testament, to make it relevant for today. This, he claimed, is the goal of Christian theological work. The current text of the Hebrew Bible does not work for Steck’s theology. The only way he can find his theology supported by the Hebrew text is to take apart the current text and recreate his own image based on his own fantasy. 

Both Pietism and Historical Criticism can trace their roots back to the secularizing rationalist influences and Reformed influences upon the Lutheran Church in Germany from the 17th century on. Pietism went the direction of overcoming the written word of God by focusing on the internal word in the heart. Historical criticism went the direction of overcoming the written word by creating complex frameworks for self-justifying reason. Both roads permitted their devotees to justify themselves in finding what they wanted from the Scriptures and to feel they have done no wrong in dismissing the rest.

The Old Lie: “Did God Really Say?”

Steck and the historical critics are doing nothing new. One can see pretty clearly that the scientific and imaginative methods of historical criticism are sophisticated arguments meant to justify two things. 

The first thing: to legitimize themselves. They wish to justify themselves, that they alone are the arbiters of what Scripture says. In order to be recognized as legitimate one must acknowledge their authority and their basic philosophical and religious claims. The historical critics defend themselves as an elite priesthood based on their schooling and mutual approval. Their enlightenment and secret knowledge must be gained through certain steps: a novitiate (Bachelors’ Degree); an apprenticeship (Masters’ Degree), and close guidance and tutelage under an authorized priest (Doctorate).

The second thing they wish to justify — and this is actually the purpose of the first reason — they wish to justify denying that the written word of God is God’s Word. They are the possessors of right understanding and interpretation. Anyone who does not hold their credentials is not recognized as a legitimate challenger to their enlightenment. It is very easily understood as a gnostic system.

One might object that professional development has largely consisted of these three stages of proficiency and approval. While that is true, Steck and others have already demonstrated that objective standards and empirical validation have almost no part in the methodology. This is very different from, say, the training of a physician, an architect, a translator, an accountant, a sculptor, or a plummer. 

In the late second century Irenaeus wrote regarding the Marcosian gnostics:

“Besides the above [misrepresentations], they adduce an unspeakable number of apocryphal and spurious writings, which they themselves have forged, to bewilder the minds of foolish men, and of such as are ignorant of the Scriptures of truth.”
[Against Heresies I:20:1 https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103120.htm]

The situation is the same with all the variety of imagined  literary, oral, and redactional sources put forward by the historical critics. Whether the object of study is the Old Testament or the New Testament there is a regular regurgitation of the same tired old arguments recast as new, controversial, and as upsetting the traditional understanding of Scripture.

Confessional Lutherans should be aware of the essential philosophical and religious presuppositions historical criticism brings to bear.  And Confessional Lutherans should recognize that those very anti-Biblical presuppositions frame all the works of the historical critics. 1

Luther’s paradigm on reading the Old Testament is drawn from Christ and his Apostles. Luther wrote:

“There are some who have little regard for the Old Testament. They think of it as a book that was given to the Jewish people only and is now out of date, containing only stories of past times. They think they have enough in the New Testament and assert that only a spiritual sense is to be sought in the Old Testament. … But Christ says in John 5, “Search the Scriptures, for it is they that bear witness to me.” St. Paul bids Timothy to attend to the reading of the Scriptures, and in Romans 1 he declares that the gospel was promised by God in the Scriptures. …  [T]he Scriptures of the Old Testament are not to be despised but diligently read. For they themselves [the New Testament authors] base the New Testament upon them mightily, proving it by the Old Testament and appealing to it, as St. Luke also writes in Acts 17, saying that they at Thessalonica examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so that Paul was teaching. The ground and proof of the New Testament is surely not to be despised, and therefore the Old Testament is to be highly regarded. … For these are the Scriptures which make fools of all the wise and understanding, and are open only to the small and simple, as Christ says in Matthew 11. Therefore dismiss your own opinions and feelings and think of the Scriptures as the loftiest and noblest of holy things, as the richest of mines which can never be sufficiently explored, in order that you may find that divine wisdom which God here lays before you in such simple guise as to quench all pride. Here you will find the swaddling cloths and the manger in which Christ lies and to which the angel points the shepherds. Simple and lowly are these swaddling cloths, but dear is the treasure, Christ, who lies in them.”
Martin Luther, “Preface to the Old Testament,” in Luther’s Works , vol. 35 (ed. E. Theodore Bachmann; Philadelphia: Muhlenberg, 1960), 235-26.

The historical critical enterprise denies Christ. It denies the need for Christ. It denies the promise of Christ. And theology, ethics, philosophy, morality, relevancy, history, and teaching derived from historical criticism is at base anti-Scriptural, and therefore anti-Christ. This is true of Wellhausen, and Gunkel and others from the classical period of historical criticism. It is also true of recent historical critical exegetes like Braaten, Jenson, Forde and their followers who dismiss the biblical text as it has come down to us in favor of their own historical critical re-imaginations of Christ and what they think Christianity ought to be.

Thus we say with the Epitome of the Formula of Concord:

1. We believe, teach, and confess that the sole rule and standard according to which all dogmas together with [all] teachers should be estimated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and of the New Testament alone, as it is written Ps. 119:105: Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. And St. Paul: Though an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you, let him be accursed, Gal. 1:8. 2 Other writings, however, of ancient or modern teachers, whatever name they bear, must not be regarded as equal to the Holy Scriptures, but all of them together be subjected to them, and should not be received otherwise or further than as witnesses, [which are to show] in what manner after the time of the apostles, and at what places, this [pure] doctrine of the prophets and apostles was preserved.
[Ep Summary Content, Rule, and Norm 1-2]

In the end, historical criticism is a baseless appeal to erudition, a class of fallacies based in an appeal to authority where the authority has created a vast network of scholarship giving the appearance of validity. The appeal to erudition also cloaks the weakness of arguments made in the dress of great individual learning and expert accomplishment. But historical critical scholarship still suffers from its unfounded claims, its imagination, its lack of objectivity, is failure to rest on empirical data, and especially its failure to treat the Bible as the actual Word of God.



Footnote 1

Bart Ehrman’s repristination of the Bauer Thesis is a perfect example of historical criticism’s lack of genuine insight as well of its lack of integrity. To society Ehrman looks like an innovator, a maverick moving against the dead orthodoxy of the historical repression of a Christian Church which conspires to keep its members and the world ignorant of the hidden truth. His re-presentation of Bauer’s arguments depends upon the ignorance of those uninitiated into the history of New Testament historical criticism. References to books, articles, and video presentations on this topic are plentifully available at the BIBEL website and the Diatheke website.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Historical Criticism and Bible Interpretation: Isaiah —

Notes on Driver, S.R. 1910 “Isaiah” Chapter III, p 204-246 in An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament. New Edition, International Theological Library, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York.

Pastor Joseph Abrahamson, April 2021

These notes are from a 2021 re-reading of Driver’s chapter on Isaiah in preparation for teaching a course for Lutheran Theological Seminary— Nyamira, Kenya (ELDK). These notes are a refresher on Driver’s work as well as a cautious examination and response to the worldviews and arguments behind Driver and historical critical research in the Bible.

Driver first published his famous Introduction in 1891. This version was published as an update after already having gone through seven editions and a German translation.

[ An electronic version of the edition I own is available at the Internet Archive. Several different editions are available at the Internet Archive and on Google Books.] 

The purpose of Driver’s book was to promote a secular historical approach to the study of the Hebrew Bible, the history of Israel, and the religion of the Israelites. The Introduction is both scholarly and generally accessible to an educated audience. This work was one of the primary vehicles through which secular historical critical interpretations of Scripture were made available and popularized in the English language in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I inherited the copy owned by C.U. Faye. If he bought this new, then it may have been part of Pr. Faye’s undergraduate coursework at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

Driver included references to those scholars whose works had significantly affected the academic and naturalistic interpretation of Isaiah up to the time of this edition (1910). This feature of Driver’s book makes this chapter particularly valuable to biblical apologetics. Driver meant these notes to be an introduction and an apologetic in favor of a secular naturalistic reading of Isaiah. But these references also provide valuable information to pastors and other students of Scripture about the assumptions and conclusions made by various commentators on Isaiah. They help readers to see which worldviews are espoused by various works and persons and what the implications of those worldviews are. This information, in turn, allows us to address how the assumptions of these scholars differ foundationally from the Bible and to filter through which books and commentaries from this period may or may not be worthwhile. 

Driver’s arrangement is as follows:

A Bibliography of Isaiah literature, 204f

A brief paragraph about the organization of the Prophets in the Hebrew Bible, 205

A Chronological Table, 205

A description of Isaiah, his life, and his work, 205f

An outline and summary of Chapters 1-39

This section is subdivided into units. Driver described the main content of each section, summarized the arguments and flow, and offered a proposed date for the composition and use of  most sections. The dating is based not only on biblical references and external evidence from Egyptian and Mesopotamian inscriptions but also based on an exclusively naturalist model of history. 

Predictive prophecy is denied. Predictions fulfilled since the time of Isaiah are read as proof that the text had to be written at the time of the events or after. More on this below.

I Chapters 1-12 , Driver dated these sermons from 740 B.C. to 701 B.C., considering them to be genuinely from Isaiah, for the most part. Regarding 7:14 Driver commented with what looks like a cautious vagueness: “To meet Ahaz’ distrust, Isaiah announces the birth of the child, who, in spite of the destitution through which his country must first pass, is still the mysterious pledge and symbol of its deliverance.” [209]

II Chapters 13-23 , the burden on Babylon (13:2-14:23) is a prediction about the coming Babylonian exile. Driver’s naturalistic worldview lead him to date this prophecy to the mid 6th century B.C. But his worldview also caused him to limit his understanding of what prophecy itself is to his own naturalistic worldview. This is a fallacy of historical presentism. That is, Driver imputed his notions of naturalism to the authors of Scripture. It is not merely that in Driver’s naturalistic view the prophets could not be given descriptions of the distant future by God. Driver also went so far as to assert that such kinds of predictions were foreign to the nature of prophecy in ancient Israel. 

“It was the office of the prophet to address himself to the needs of his own age, to announce to his contemporaries the judgments, or consolations, which arose out of the circumstances of their own time, to interpret for them their own history. To base a promise upon a condition of things not yet existent, [emphasis original] and without any point of contact with the circumstances of those to whom it is addressed, is alien to the genius of prophecy.” [212]

But then one must ask that if Driver’s notion of the “office of the prophet” were such a strict religious or cultural rule then why would a later editor, ostensibly of the same moral and religious position, so easily (and in Driver’s opinion so clearly) violate such a taboo. Moreover, how could such a violation of this moré be passed over to the religious community without objection? Driver and other commentators seem never to acknowledge or even see the stark cognitive dissonances manifest in these presentist assertions, which on their face are contradicted by a number of Old Testament prophecies that purport to do exactly what Driver asserts is supposedly “alien to the genius of prophecy.”  

To the extent that they recognize the problem, Driver and similar authors deal with it by attributing any language regarding distant prediction and fulfillment as belonging to a later period. Even this maneuver, however, cannot explain away all of the future predictions found in the Old Testament,including those which find their fulfillment in the life, sufferings, death, and resurrection of Christ as well as allusions to the Roman Empire in Daniel 2 and 7. Driver, along with the scholars he draws upon, interpreted the dating and context of the rest of the burden/oracles in this section based upon the state of the historical knowledge of Mesopotamia and Egypt available to them at the beginning of the 20th century. The focus of scholarly interest was not what the prophet had to state about God’s will to His people, but what kind of clues they thought they could tease out in order to draw a picture of the evolutionary development of Israel’s religion.

Thus, chapter 21 also addressed Babylon. This prophecy must also, therefore, be dated to the 6th century. In this case Driver and the other scholars asserted that this prophecy was motivated by Cyrus’ attack on Babylon, which they dated to 538 B.C. 

Driver’s discussion on this illustrates a key feature of this kind of historical research. Inherent to the method and its presuppositions is its regular practice of making historical declarations against the Biblical narrative based on the lack of supporting  data from other sources. Because these historians do not know of certain events or battles from sources outside the Scripture, they conclude that the Scripture must be in error regarding those events. It happens occasionally that after such a conclusion is pronounced, archaeology discovers other testimony about the same persons or events described in Scripture. When that happens,  the secular interpreters without much comment move on to a different person or event to hold out as an example of why the Bible is not historically trustworthy.

III Chapters 24-27 , which Driver considered to be a single prophecy, provides an example of what we have just considered. Driver wrote:

“Modern critics agree generally in the opinion that this prophecy is not Isaiah’s: and (chiefly) for the following reasons: — 1. It lacks a suitable occasion in Isaiah’s age.” [parentheses and emphasis original, 219

That is to say, Driver and the critics were unaware of any historical event during the lifetime of Isaiah which could be identified as the reason Isaiah would write these words. 

“2. The literary treatment (in spite of certain phraseological points of contact with Isaiah) is in many respects unlike Isaiah’s.” [parentheses original, 220

Driver’s  position was that even though the language is pretty much like the rest of what Isaiah wrote in chapters 1-39 Driver (and similar authors) did not think it possible that Isaiah could have a wider palette of expression. This is another argument based on wishful thinking with no supporting data. The fact that they have reduced their sample size of data of what they consider genuinely Isaiah makes this kind of claim not only untenable but absurd.  

This brings us to Driver’s third point, where he moved from making assertions based on lack of data to making assertions contrary to data.

“3. There are features in the representation and contents of the prophecy which seem to spring out of a different (and later) vein of thought from Isaiah’s.” [parentheses original, 220]

Driver’s explanation is replete with paradoxical and self-refuting expressions. Synonymous clauses, word repetitions, alliterations, wordplays, and rhyme, Driver stated,“all features … found occasionally in Isaiah” were to be considered evidence against Isaiah’s authorship of these chapters because they “are never aggregated in his writings as they are here.” [220]  

The argument in its essence is that, after having greatly reduced the sample size of data considered truly from Isaiah, the features normally found in this small sample of Isaiah are found too abundantly in chapters 24-27. Driver listed several common lexical features between this section and the rest of his reduced data set. And with these many similarities between the two sets he states that these similarities:

“are not sufficient to establish Isaiah’s authorship: they do not show more than that the author was familiar with Isaiah’s writings and sometimes borrowed expressions from them.” [220]

It is stunning that within three sentences Driver could claim that a different person “sometimes borrowed” after asserting that the aggregation of Isaaihanic features were too numerous. But Driver’s sentences are long. 

After having done all this to establish that chapters 24-27 may date from Alexander’s capture of Tyre in 332 B.C. Driver made the following claim:

“Of course the ascription of the prophecy to this age in no degree impairs its religious value.” [223]

But, as we have seen above, the value Driver placed upon prophecy is very limited. His notion of inspiration was small and limited— as were his paganizing characterizations of God. 

It is not that God’s teaching on how He inspired His word is vague or obscure in any way. God’s teaching on this is clearly stated in almost every book of the Bible: from “God said, ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light;” through “Did you eat of the tree of which I told you not to eat?” to Israel’s reaction to God’s Commandments at the base of Mt. Sinai; into the prophets, particularly the many places Isaiah preached on God’s inspiration “for the Lord God of Israel has spoken;” and on through the ending of the New Testament. 

Driver was insistent that the God of the Hebrew Bible does not reveal the future, does not do miracles, does not inspire His prophets to do more than address His people in their immediate historical context, and has no interest in whether or not His word to His prophets is changed by later editors.Where the Hebrew Bible contradicts Driver’s claims, Driver either ignored the contradiction or produced a scholarly reason why the clear texts refuting his position were not really pertinent or were historically suspect. 

Like many before and after him, Driver claimed that the God of the Hebrew Bible changed in the minds of the ancient Israelites from the worship of one god among many (Henotheism) to the claim that there is only one God (Monotheism).  Driver insisted that the only way to find out about this God of the Hebrew Bible was through advanced literary historical criticism.  The implication here is very clear: he asserted that reading of the Bible as it has come down to us cannot give us a true religious faith. Indeed, Driver insisted that the text is so full of historical complexities and misdirections that a sincere searcher of Scripture must ask (though Driver never says it in precisely this wording) “did God really say?”  Driver’s view of those whose religion is based on the plain reading of the Bible consisted of politely phrased erudite contumelies. 

IV Chapter 28-33 Driver attributed to Isaiah. Again, Driver assigned some dates to parts of this section based on what he believed were the historical events which motivated Isaiah to preach these sermons.

V Chapter 34-35 Driver claimed cannot be Isaiah since the “most prominent characteristic of this prophecy is the glow of passion which pervades it.” Thus it reminded Driver of Chapter 13, which was about Babylon.  Therefore the text “must be referred to the closing years of the exile.” [226]

VI Chapters 36-39 Driver generally attributed to Isaiah’s time and the generation following, though he argued that it sounded like the wording of whomever edited the books of Kings. But such similarities are not surprising considering the enormous historical overlap between 2 Kings 18-20 and these chapters. 

Driver’s Comments on Isaiah

After this review of Chapters 1-39 Driver spent a long paragraph praising “Isaiah’s poetical genius.” [227f] This is followed by a long paragraph praising “Isaiah’s literary style.” [228f

All the examples brought forth in these paragraphs are limited to the small data set considered by Driver and other scholars to be genuine. The features are described in everything but objective terms. The descriptions are more homiletical and laudatory than empirically useful. Regarding Isaiah’s poetry: 

“His characteristics are grandeur and beauty of conception, wealth of imagination, vividness of illustration, compressed energy and splendour of diction.” [227f]

Regarding literary style:

“It is chaste and dignified: the language is choice, but devoid of all artificiality or stiffness; every sentence is compact and forcible; the rhythm is stately; the periods are finely rounded….” [228]

And despite the claims Driver made previously that Isaiah was incapable of writing chapters 24-27 because it was at the same time different but yet the same as the rest of Isaiah’s writing, Driver asserted:

“He, moreover, possesses a rare power of adapting his language to the occasion…” [229]


“No prophet has Isaiah’s power either of conception or of expression; none has the same command of noble thoughts, or can present them in the same noble and attractive language.” [229]

With these self-conflicted thoughts expressed, Driver moved on to discuss the rest of the canonical book.

VII Chapters 40-66

Since his naturalistic worldview excluded the possibility of predictive prophecy, Driver maintained that this section did not belong to the genuine writings of the prophet Isaiah. This “prophecy opens at some date between 549 and 538: for the conquest of Babylon is still future; but the union of the Medes with the Persians appears to have already taken place.” [231

There are several contexts in these chapters where the nature of God is described in very clear terms and often clearly trinitarian language (42; 43; 44:1-8; 48:11-17; 63:7-16, and etc.). Driver does not bring this up at all.

He saw these chapters as “a continuous prophecy” which “may be divided into three parts” as follows. [230f]

1. Chapters 40-48

“Here the prophet’s aim is to demonstrate to the people the certainty of the coming release… ” [231] In this section Cyrus is named as the choice of God. And while this text does include the “servant” terminology, Driver does not consider this part of the so-called “servant songs.” These, according to Driver, are introduced in chapter 49. Driver does argue for a sort of unity of authorship for all these chapters, which — applying his standards — would beg the question of consistency in terminology regarding the use of the word “servant” in these texts. 

On Chapter 41 Driver wrote:

“A digression follows, v. 8-20, designed for the encouragement of Israel, which has been chosen by Jehovah as His ‘servant,’ and cannot therefore be discarded by Him. The judgment scene, interrupted after v. 4, is now resumed; and the second proof of Jehovah’s Godhead is adduced: He alone knows the future (v. 21-29). 42:1-6 Jehovah’s ‘servant’ appears under a new aspect, and with new functions, — no longer the historic nation of Israel (as 41:8f), but an ideal figure, reproducing in their perfection the best and truest characteristics of the actual nation, and invested by the prophet with a far-reaching prophetic mission. Here his mission is described as twofold: (1) to teach the world true religion ; (2) to be the medium of Israel’s restoration (to be a ‘covenant of the people’), v. 6.” [emphasis original, 232]

This statement is more enlightening about Driver’s view of Scripture and of God than about what Isaiah taught. Driver maintained that a prophet cannot predict the distant future. And we shall see again that he insisted here also that a prophet is limited to his own historical context. That then raises the question regarding Driver’s interpretation that “the second proof of Jehovah’s Godhed is adduced: He alone knows the future. ” We will look at this under the heading Authorship of Chapters 40-66 .

2. Chapters 49-59

Driver argued that this section reinforced the first section, but with less contentious language. This section is where the ideal servant of Jehovah is really introduced. The central song of 52:13-53:12 as described by Driver, has nearly the marks of a kind of substitutionary atonement. This section

“develops under a new aspect of his character and work. It represents, namely, his great and surprising exaltation, after an antecedent period of humiliation, suffering, and death, in which, it is repeatedly stated, he suffered, not (as those who saw him mistakenly imagined) for his own sins, but for the sins of others .” [parentheses and emphasis original, 234]

Others have done more to dissect this passage. It is noteworthy that even with Driver’s naturalistic worldview he still was able to see this much in the text. Though the resurrection of the Servant is plain in the chain of events described by Driver, he does not acknowledge this aspect of the text.

3. Chapters 60-66

In this third section “the prophet depicts, in still brighter hues, the felicity of the ideal Zion of the future.” [235] Driver refused to frame this with respect to final deliverance. He could write:

“A new order of things (v.17; cf. 51:16) is about to be created, in which Jerusalem and her people will be to Jehovah a source of unalloyed delight, and in which care and disappointment will cease to vex.” [236]

This and other sentences like it go only so far as to treat this future hope as a worldly utopian dream or idealized hope. But Driver does not admit of any final judgment or resurrection of the dead and eternal life. In Driver’s historical critical scheme,  these ideas had not yet been developed and incorporated into the religion of the Israelites. These, as well as the notion of original sin, Satan as the devil, and all apocalyptic ideas were, in the minds of the historical critics, actually products of intertestamental period as a result of the influence of the Persians. The very presence of these ideas in the texts was viewed as proof of late production and redaction of the text after the traditional date of the last Old Testament book around 400 B.C..

Authorship of Chapters 40-66 [236-246]

Driver enlisted three lines of argumentation as proof that chapters 40-66 are the work of a late exilic author and not of Isaiah. 1) what he called “internal evidence”[236], 2) what he called the “historic function of prophecy” as it “is confirmed in the literary style. ” [238] And 3) what Driver defined as distinctive “theological ideas of c. 40-66.” [242] These, however, are not objective empirical arguments. They are the expression of Driver’s worldview limited by his own presuppositions projected onto the text and onto the world. 

His (1) internal evidence “supplied by the prophecy itself points to this period as that at which it was written.” [237] All this means is that Driver did not believe that predictive prophecy was possible. As a consequence, any text attributed to an author at a time significantly before the occurrence of the events must, by his own worldview, have  been produced when those events happened and not significantly before. 

Here Driver makes the very clear statement:

“Judged by the analogy of prophecy , this constitutes the strongest possible presumption that the author actually lived in the period which he thus describes, and is not merely (as has been supposed) Isaiah immersed in the spirit in the future, and holding converse, as it were, with the generations yet unborn. Such an immersion in the future would be not only without parallel in the OT., it would be contrary to the nature of prophecy. The prophet speaks always, in the first instance, to his own contemporaries: the message which he brings is intimately related with the circumstances of his time: his promises and predictions, however far they reach into the future, nevertheless rest upon the basis of the history of his own age, and correspond to the needs which are then felt. The prophet never abandons his own historical position, but speaks from it. … In the present prophecy there is no prediction of exile: the exile is not announced as something still future; it is presupposed, and only the release from it is predicted. By analogy, therefore, the author will have lived in the situation which he thus presupposes, and to which he continually alludes.” [emphasis original, 237]

Driver repeats his constrained definition of prophecy and the prophetic office which we saw above. It is worth our time to consider again what this says about his worldview and what the implications are regarding the interpretation of Isaiah in particular and the Bible in general. Below we will briefly address what this chapter reveals concerning Driver’s view of God, inspiration, Scripture, and his notions of what religion is. 

Driver’s (2) second argument is, he says, “derived from the historic function of prophecy” and is “confirmed by the literary style of c. 40-66” [emphasis original, 238]. In large part this is not a second line of evidence for the presupposition here is exactly the same as that of the first (1) line of evidence: i.e., there is no such thing as predictive prophecy. 

Here Driver admits that aspects of content and style have clear and direct parallels with “Isaiah in his earliest, as in his latest prophecies”. [237] To demonstrate the clear differences between the two sections, however, Driver first offers a list of ten (10!) words and expressions that occur only in chapters 40-66. This might be compelling for someone who is satisfied with such an incredibly small set of comparative linguistic and literary data, and whose presuppositions are inclined against seeing these texts as by the same author. But in real life, authors of even short works often use more than ten unique lexical items in different documents. The words fit the purpose, subject, and audience. And since Isaiah, as Driver says, “possesses a rare power of adapting his language to the occasion…” [229] one wonders why Isaiah would be incapable of making use of ten different words for this sermon. 

Second , Driver offers a list of nine (9!) words which are used by Isaiah, but are used in a more nuanced ways in chapters 40-66. Is there really more needed to offer in rebuttal to such a claim?

After this  Driver mixes a couple categories of argumentation. A) He tries to make a case from some words he believed were later than the period of Isaiah. He says:

“A remarkable instance is afforded by 65:25, which is a condensed quotation from 11:6-9, and where יחדו, the common Hebrew word for together , is replaced by כאחד, an expression modelled upon the Aramaic כחדא, and occurring besides only in the latest books of the OT.” [240]

Think about this for a moment. Driver says that Isaiah 65:25 is a shortened restatement of 11:6-9. This fact, in itself, represents some kind of consistency or unity between these two sections. Even so, the vocabulary is held out as a parade example of definitive evidence. 

Regarding the vocabulary, כְאֶחָ֗ד in Isaiah 65:25, and elsewhere has very little semantic distance from כְּאַחַ֣ד as in Genesis 3:22 and elsewhere. This is the only example offered by Driver. He defers us to other sources for verification. If this is the strongest case to be made for a difference in authorship the very nature of 65:25 being a paraphrase of 11:6-9 would bear more weight in evidence to demonstrate unity of authorship.

And B) Driver enlists three (3!) other main literary features: duplication of words, which he admits also takes place in Isaiah, but with less frequency; a “habit of repeating the same word or words in adjacent clauses or verses”, which he also admits takes place in Isaiah, though with less frequency; and “Differences in the structure of sentences” which includes things which are used by Isaiah but with differing frequency. [240] After this comes a litany of vague and picturesque descriptions of literary features with no value for objective measurement:

“Isaiah’s style is terse and compact : the movement of his periods is stately and measured : his rhetoric is grave and restrained .” [emphasis added, 240]

In contrast to this the hypothetical author of chapters 40-66 often develops a subject:

“at considerable length : the style is much more flowing : the rhetoric is wam and impassioned ; and the prophet often bursts out into a lyric strain… ” [240f]

While Driver did go to the effort to provide references to examples of the phenomena he lists, these particular features are highly subjective in their framing. These phenomena are listed only because a decision has already been made about the authorship of the text for which Driver desired convincing supporting argumentation. But these are not independent lines of evidence. They are observations that exist only due to the perspective of his worldview.

Third, Driver insisted that there is a difference in the “theological ideas of c. 40-66” from chapters 1-39. [242] His main assertion was that conception of God is different between the two sections. For Driver, the picture of God in chapters 1-39 lacked any emphasis upon his infinitude , which is an attribute that is emphasized in chapters 40-66.

“He is the Creator, the Sustainer of the universe, the Life-Giver, the Author of history (41;4), the First and the Last, the Incomparable One.” [242]

These are, Driver asserted “a real difference” from God as he is described in chapters 1-39. 

Yet consider Isaiah 9:6-7, verses Driver argued are authentically from Isaiah, but are by no means the only passages on this topic:

For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever.The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. [NKJV]   

Driver next claimed that the “preservation from judgment of a faithful remnant” is not as present as in the first 39 chapters in chapters 40-66. The point being that this was seen by Driver as a real difference in theology. But the topical nature of chapters 40-66 is different than most of the previous sermons, and the audience is different. At the same time there is no contradiction with the descriptions of God and his actions found in the earlier chapters. The theology is not different. Rather what is taking place is an emphasis on different aspects of God’s teaching for the sake of the topic and the audience. 

Driver pointed out that in chapters 40-66 “the figure of the Messianic king (Is. 9:6-7; 11:1ff) is absent; the prophet associates his view of the future with a figure of very different character, Jehovah’s righteous servant”. [242

This is as much to say that in order for Driver to believe this preacher is Isaiah, the preacher needs to preach on the same topic with the same illustrations and the same focus in every sermon. Considering the nature of the work relegated to and the description of the person of God who is described both as the Messiah and the righteous Servant in both sections of Isaiah, we would urge much more caution than Driver showed in his claims about differences between them. This is especially the case given the identification with King David and/or David’s special descendant as Jehovah’s righteous servant in Isaiah 37:5 and frequently elsewhere in the Old Testament.

Driver stated:

“The attempt is sometimes made to meet the force of the argument derived from differences of phraseology and style by pointing to the examples of similarities observable between c. 40-66 and the acknowledged prophecies of Isaiah. No doubt a certain number of such similarities exist; but they are very far from being numerous or decisive enough to establish the conclusion for which they are alleged. It is the difference between authors which are characteristic, and form consequently a test of authorship:similarities, unless they are exceedingly numerous and minute, may be due to other causes than identity of authorship.” [and so on, emphasis original, 243f]

However, on the whole the differences Driver has presented are not distinctive. Nor are they really numerous. The only real foundational issue which leads Driver to his conclusions about authorship is his exclusive naturalistic worldview. All the arguments and ostensible data he enlists are controlled entirely by this single feature of his approach to Isaiah, and to the Bible.

Driver’s Worldview and Its Implications

Driver would have wanted his reader to believe the following:

“It need only be added (for the purpose of precluding misconception) that this view of its date and authorship in now way impairs the theological value of the prophecy, or reduces it to a vaticinium ex eventu : [prophecy written after the event has happened] on the one hand, the whole tone of the prophecy shows that it is written prior to the events which it declares to be approaching; on the other, it nowhere claims either to be written by Isaiah, or to have originated in his age. Nor upon the same view of it is any claim made by its author to prevision of the future disallowed or weakened.” [243]

Driver had rejected the possibility that the God of the Hebrew Bible would actually interact in a supernatural way with His creation. That means that Driver’s god and the God represented in the Hebrew Bible are not the same. Even Driver’s disclaimer in the above  about the theological value of the prophecy is predicated upon the rejection of genuinely predictive prophecy. All the other arguments are arguments from silence or misrepresentations of the actual content and context of the work he claims to interpret.

In the quotation above Driver tried to convince that he does not deny predictive prophecy, but Driver’s notion of predictive prophecy is not supernatural. His notion of predictive prophecy is limited strictly to the prophet’s current events the same way that an insightful political leader might grasp the importance of economic and world events so as to make a short term prediction about them for his hearers.

Consequently, Driver’s notion of what is of “theological value” in the preceding quote differs both from the text of Isaiah and the rest of Scripture. As pointed out above, the god Driver describes with his scholarship is perfectly content with shifting and changing points of view both about his nature and his proclamation. It is perfectly acceptable to take prophets' words, which came from Driver’s god, change them, rearrange them, and re-purpose them for a new situation. Driver’s god is not capable of informing his prophets about any events beyond their intellectual historical grasp. Indeed, Driver’s god would never call a prophet to do anything other than address his own current historical context. Long term prediction is contrary to the will of Driver’s god. 

With regard to inspiration, then, the word the prophets speak is considered inspired by Driver’s god, but again, this is only in the same way that an insightful political leader might grasp the importance of economic and world events so as to address people concerning them. In contrast to Driver’s puny god are the open and direct statements of the God of Scripture. From Genesis 1  and on the focus is on the open statements of God, “God said, ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light.” The problem of sin in Genesis 3 is the problem of not abiding in the stated word of God. The very notion of covenants from Genesis 3 to Noah, to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, to Moses and the promise of the New Covenant (Jer 31) is based on the unchangeable nature of the word God gives. 

Through his professorship and his books, Driver evangelized for his god. His worldview motivated him to promote his position as normative. He may have considered his view as Christian. But if so it is a christianity that refuses to accept what the God of the Bible says about Himself. Given the attitude Driver and his followers maintained over the written word of God, one cannot but help to observe that this turns christianity into a religion of moralistic virtue seeking and platitude oriented social preaching, thereby preparing a people ripe for harvest by totalitarian moral relativists and social justice causes. 

One might think that in the intervening century that secular Bible scholars would have worked to make their arguments more resilient and less obviously self-contradictory. But that is not the case. For example, Bart Ehrman keeps regurgitating arguments and claims that have long been answered satisfactorily or demonstrated as either false or without merit. He is an academic version of Dan Brown, a popularizer of the conspiracy theory that these things were hidden by the church and newly uncovered by his diligent research. 

Odil Hannes Steck at the end of the 20th century argued that “Exegesis is scientific” because people can talk about it and choose to agree or not on whether they think it makes sense. 

“Exegesis certainly does not maintain its scientific character by orienting itself to the experimental and empirical sciences, and by binding itself to their ideal of an ever more precise objective knowledge.” [ Old Testament Exegesis , Society of Biblical Literature, p. 3]

When Steck can insist that despite uniform questions of the text:

“Even with questions like these, the answers of different exegetes will deviate from one another both prior to and after the methodologically guided, scientific investigation of the text.” [13]

The problem has not changed since the time of Driver. And as far as methodology, the employment of the term scientific is a pretense. It is a term for self comfort and self deception as well as recruitment. Scientific in this sense is meant as a way to “Lift yourself” out of the unenlightened masses of the common deluded religious and into the sphere of special gnosis and enlightenment.  

Driver did not describe his exegetical method in this chapter in terms of being scientific . But he was very clear in his exclusions of anything supernatural as relevant to his naturalistic historical interpretation. This highlights an important philosophical issue in interpretation: empirical knowledge is not acquired only through materialism or naturalism. This assertion will probably not be acceptable to most naturalists who deny even the possibility of the supernatural. But when a supernatural event is witnessed by people, this is empirical evidence. It is not repeatable. And aside from other witnesses, it is not repeatable. But then that is also the nature of all other kinds of evidence in historical research. Their testimony to their empirical witness is valid. Driver could never admit to the possibility of long-term predictive prophecy. His denial would be seen  by other naturalists as being consistently empirical. But it is not. It is the opposite of empirical. 

With regard to Driver’s claims about authorship it must be noted that the same claims are being made by secular scholars today. These claims about being able to discern authorship based on so little evidence really are quite astounding. Despite the generations of scholarship on this issue secular bible critics seem to have avoided becoming aware about similar authorship scholarship in other fields. One could look at the scholarship surrounding the authorship of the Federalist Papers, as an example. Even with hundreds of pages of original writing by the authors, and in some cases thousands of pages, the authorship of a certain few of the Federalist Papers is still in doubt. The body of documents have been subject to various styles of statistical analysis, and yet the authorship is still not certain. This is an example of the kind of work and data needed to begin to make claims about authorship.  

And it is not really hard to find resources on this topic. Some of the basic research on this is even listed in the bibliography on the Federalist Papers at Wikipedia:
Mosteller, Frederick; Wallace, David L. (2012). Applied Bayesian and Classical Inference: The Case of The Federalist Papers. Springer Science & Business Media.
Collins, Jeff; Kaufer, David; Vlachos, Pantelis; Butler, Brian; Ishizaki, Suguru (February 2004). "Detecting Collaborations in Text: Comparing the Authors' Rhetorical Language Choices in The Federalist Papers." Computers and the Humanities. 38 (1): 15–36.
Fung, Glenn (2003). "The Disputed Federalist Papers: SVM Feature Selection via Concave Minimization." Journal of the ACM.

And finally, the academic prejudice exhibited by secular scholars against the ancient peoples mentioned in the Bible is often quite astounding. We mentioned Driver and others imposing their view on the ancients by means of the Presentist fallacy. Some of the prejudices have waxed and waned like fads in scholarship. And at the same time these modern era and postmodern scholars continue to impute a whole host of assumptions about literary habits, sacredness, the malleability of religion, and views concerning sacred texts. The assumption that the pagan religions of Mesopotamia could serve as examples of how the prophets of ancient Israel would view their own religious institutions is seriously problematic. 

[My thanks to Seth Neyhart and Ryan MacPherson for their suggestions to improve this paper.]