Hebrew In Israel | Sukkot and the Documentary Hypothesis – Learn Torah

Hebrew In Israel | Sukkot and the Documentary Hypothesis – Learn Torah

Yoel Halevi No Comments

One of the common arguments in Documentary Hypothesis (DH) is that the Torah is built from many documents (E, J, JE, P, H and D) which were written by different authors, and were placed together by someone later in time to create the whole Torah we have today.  This division has driven most of the Biblical Studies world, and is taught in many schools with some to little criticism.  However, new documentation from the Ancient Near East (ANE) has shown that at least some of the assumptions of the system are incorrect, and in some cases detached from historical discourse.

Sukkot Description and DH

In Leviticus 23:33-43 we find an example of document division.  In the case of the feast of Sukkot it is argued that the section is composed of two sections divided by a summary section.  From 23:34-36 there is a short commandment to keep seven days of the feast, and an additional eighth day for congregation (‘atseret).

דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֵאמֹר:  בַּחֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר יוֹם, לַחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי הַזֶּה, חַג הַסֻּכּוֹת שִׁבְעַת יָמִים, לַיהוָה

בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן, מִקְרָא-קֹדֶשׁ; כָּל-מְלֶאכֶת עֲבֹדָה, לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ

שִׁבְעַת יָמִים, תַּקְרִיבוּ אִשֶּׁה לַיהוָה; בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי מִקְרָא-קֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם וְהִקְרַבְתֶּם אִשֶּׁה לַיהוָה, עֲצֶרֶת הִוא–כָּל-מְלֶאכֶת עֲבֹדָה, לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ

Tell the people of Isra’el, ‘On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the feast of Sukkot for seven days to YHWH35 On the first day there is to be a holy convocation; do not do any kind of ordinary work. 36 For seven days you are to bring an offering made by fire to YHWH; on the eighth day you are to have a holy convocation and bring an offering made by fire to YHWH ; it is a day of public assembly; do not do any kind of ordinary work.

Verses 37-38 give a summary of all the feasts which have been presented, and exclude Shabbat as being one of them (a subject which needs to be addressed another time).

 אֵלֶּה מוֹעֲדֵי יְהוָה, אֲשֶׁר-תִּקְרְאוּ אֹתָם מִקְרָאֵי קֹדֶשׁ:  לְהַקְרִיב אִשֶּׁה לַיהוָה, עֹלָה וּמִנְחָה זֶבַח וּנְסָכִים–דְּבַר-יוֹם בְּיוֹמוֹ

מִלְּבַד, שַׁבְּתֹת יְהוָה; וּמִלְּבַד מַתְּנוֹתֵיכֶם, וּמִלְּבַד כָּל-נִדְרֵיכֶם וּמִלְּבַד כָּל-נִדְבֹתֵיכֶם, אֲשֶׁר תִּתְּנוּ, לַיהוָה

These are the designated times of YHWH that you are to proclaim as holy convocations and bring an offering made by fire to YWHW — a burnt offering, a grain offering, a sacrifice and drink offerings, each on its own day — 38 besides the Shabbats of YHWH, your gifts, all your vows and all your voluntary offerings that you give to YHWH.

Verses 39-43 go back to the feast and add a commandment to take four species to celebrate before YHWH.

אַךְ בַּחֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר יוֹם לַחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי, בְּאָסְפְּכֶם אֶת-תְּבוּאַת הָאָרֶץ, תָּחֹגּוּ אֶת-חַג-יְהוָה, שִׁבְעַת יָמִים; בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן שַׁבָּתוֹן, וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי שַׁבָּתוֹן

וּלְקַחְתֶּם לָכֶם בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן, פְּרִי עֵץ הָדָר כַּפֹּת תְּמָרִים, וַעֲנַף עֵץ-עָבֹת, וְעַרְבֵי-נָחַל; וּשְׂמַחְתֶּם, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם–שִׁבְעַת יָמִים

וְחַגֹּתֶם אֹתוֹ חַג לַיהוָה, שִׁבְעַת יָמִים בַּשָּׁנָה:  חֻקַּת עוֹלָם לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם, בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי תָּחֹגּוּ אֹתוֹ

בַּסֻּכֹּת תֵּשְׁבוּ, שִׁבְעַת יָמִים; כָּל-הָאֶזְרָח, בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, יֵשְׁבוּ, בַּסֻּכֹּת

 לְמַעַן, יֵדְעוּ דֹרֹתֵיכֶם, כִּי בַסֻּכּוֹת הוֹשַׁבְתִּי אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּהוֹצִיאִי אוֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם:  אֲנִי, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם

But on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered the produce of the land, you are to observe the festival of YHWH seven days; the first day is to be a complete rest and the eighth day is to be a complete rest. 40 On the first day you are to take choice fruit, palm fronds, thick branches and river-willows, and celebrate in the presence of YHWH your God for seven days. 41 You are to observe it as a feast to YHWH seven days in the year; it is a permanent regulation, generation after generation; keep it in the seventh month. 42 You are to live in sukkot for seven days; every citizen of Isra’el is to live in a sukkah, 43 so that generation after generation of you will know that I made the people of Isra’el live in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt; I am YHWH your God.

The issues presented by DH are that with the separation of the two segments by the summary, and the additional commandment for the four species, we are obligated to assume that these are two different feasts which originated from two different customs or sources.  The same argument is used also in the separation of Pesach from Chag Hamatsot (feast of unleavened bread), and the two are presented as two different feasts.


Arguments Against DH Division

There are three possible arguments against the above idea presented by the DH argument, both textual and historical.  The DH system mostly relies on textual analysis of the biblical text, and in many cases, recognizes seams in the way the text expresses itself.  However, a deeper understanding of the mechanisms used by the biblical text give us a different understanding.


Literary Arguments

The flow of Leviticus 23 is of a type which allows itself to bring in elements which do not automatically connect to the rest of the text.  A very good example of this is the introduction of Shabbat.  Shabbat differs from the Feasts (Mo’adim) by the fact that it is forbidden to do all forms of workכל מלאכה –, while the feasts allow some level of work which is not fully clear.  Exodus 12:16 presents some allowance of work for the sustenance of a person.

וּבַיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן, מִקְרָא-קֹדֶשׁ, וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי, מִקְרָא-קֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם:  כָּל-מְלָאכָה, לֹא-יֵעָשֶׂה בָהֶם–אַךְ אֲשֶׁר יֵאָכֵל לְכָל-נֶפֶשׁ, הוּא לְבַדּוֹ יֵעָשֶׂה לָכֶם

On the first and seventh days, you are to have an assembly set aside for God. On these days no work is to be done, except what each must do to prepare his food; you may do only that.

This rule is probably expanded to the rest of the feasts by stating that only מלאכת עבודה-servile work is forbidden.  If this is true there is a limited amount of logic to insert Shabbat into the text.  However, if we understand that items are not placed in the text for no reason, we can understand better what is actually going on.  Shabbat is mentioned for two reasons.  The first is to establish that the feasts are an extension of Shabbat, but not an actual Shabbat.  By this the text is letting us know that the feasts do not have the same limitations like Shabbat.  The second reason is that Shabbat is also used to contrast v.15-16 and indicate that the Shabbat mentioned in them is the same as Shabbat in Lev 23:3.

 שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים, תֵּעָשֶׂה מְלָאכָה, וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן מִקְרָא-קֹדֶשׁ, כָּל-מְלָאכָה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ:  שַׁבָּת הִוא לַיהוָה, בְּכֹל מוֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם

Work is to be done on six days; but the seventh day is a Shabbat of complete rest, a holy convocation; you are not to do any kind of work; it is a Shabbat for YHWH, even in your homes.

If the above is correct, we can now point to the reasons for the separation in verses which deal with Sukkot.

  1.      The separation of the segments is part of a literary system employed in the biblical text known as חזרה מגשרת– lit. A connective repeat, and the principle of enveloping.  The principle in this system is to create a small “bridge” connecting sections together when a distance is created between the segments.  Because the statement of v.4 is in the beginning of the text, and is placed between two segments (Shabbat and the rest of the feasts), it makes sense to present such a repeat before you are done to keep to the reader reminded of what the context is, and to create a nicely structured stanza of information with an envelope by placing the main information between two similar segments.
  2.      Another issue is the repeat principle discovered by Meir Paran who identifies poetic ideas in the language of Leviticus (both P&H).  In his work on the subject he demonstrates that the text uses in many locations a “chorus” which gives the listener a repeat to keep them interested and familiar with the “song”.  This is no different than how memory of song and music works today, and it helps listeners feel familiar with songs.

Historical Argument

Many new discoveries have been made since the DH was proposed in the 19th century.  These discoveries have shed light on many questions on the cultural context Israel and its neighbors had in their religious life.  Probably the most important argument against the DH division are the discoveries from the ANE city of Emar.  Emar was mostly active during the 14th-13th centuries BCE in northern Syria, a time which parallels the time of the Exodus and the settling of the land.  Emar shares many aspects of culture and cult with Israel, and the calendar used there was not very different in principle from the one used by ancient Israel.  Richard Hess demonstrates that the description of the calendar in the Emar culture (Emar 446) uses the exact system of literature by breaking the text into two segments.  This reality shows that it is not a late writer who added or edited the text in a clumsy way creating a “seam” in the text.  What the formula from Emar shows is that such scribal practices did exist, and that the formula used in Leviticus is actually original and did not originate from different writers or sources.  The text was originally composed in this fashion, creating variety and style for the text.



Unlike the common argument used in the academic and non-academic criticism of the bible, we actually find many details in the ANE which support a much earlier dating for many sections of the Torah.  Without going into many issues with the DH system, we can easily find basic flows in some of the most basic literary arguments used by DH supporters.  Instead of understanding a text as a detached idea from the surrounding culture of Israel, we find the text has a cultural reference of textual style which can be found in another culture giving us clarity of why it is as we have it (i.e split into two). There are, however, two important principles to remember:

1. Not everything we find in the ANE should be used in the discussion of ancient Israel and the biblical text.
2. Not everything we find or hear in the academic world is accurate.  In many cases, we must be careful what we take, and be critical of the facts.

פארן מאיר, דרכי הסגנוון הכהני בתורה, ירושלים 1989, עמ׳ 178-175
Hess Richard S., Israelite Religion, Grand Rapids 2007, pp.118-119

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