Where can I find well documented source material by strictly orthodox Rabbis or scholars which directly address most (or all) of the major themes of academic biblical criticism such as, but not limited to:

  • the documentary hypothesis
  • Entire torah (+/- last 8 verses) was not given at Sinai
  • the torah we have today is/ is not the exact replica of that which was given by God
  • Higher or lower criticism? (AKA source vs textual)
    – Double AA
    Mar 22, 2013 at 14:55
  • @DoubleAA any and all pls
    – user2110
    Mar 22, 2013 at 15:01
  • 1
    A number of Rishonim held it is more than 8, but that's really a detail.
    – Double AA
    Mar 22, 2013 at 15:36
  • @DoubleAA i am only familiar with the ibn ezra, not others. but, as you say, that is a detail
    – user2110
    Mar 22, 2013 at 15:44
  • 1
    daat.co.il has all of R' David Zvi Hoffman's important work disproving (his word, not mine) Wellhausen's hypotheses in detail here.
    – WAF
    Mar 22, 2013 at 17:00

3 Answers 3


As mentioned by @WAF, R' David Zvi Hoffman wrote a response to bible criticism in the early 1900's which is available on Daat.co.il.

Umberto Cassuto, while not strictly orthodox, published a book in reply to the DH in 1941. There are some notes on it here, and a new edition is available online here: http://www.shalempress.co.il/download/Products/29_3_2011_55_29_cas%20gen.pdf

R. Nathan Lopes Cardozo has also written on the topic, and an article of his is available on Aishdas.

Others have taken accepted many of the DH's claims, but made them fit with Orthodoxy. R. Mordechai Breuer wrote how God gave the whole torah to Moshe, but it was a Divine combination of texts. An english discussion of his views appeared in "Modern Scholarship in the Study of Torah: Contributions and Limitations", and Hirhurim links to some relevant articles.

Some have taken an approach that many would find issue with (it goes against the Rambam et. al.), that stress that the Torah is divine, but may not have been 100% given to Moshe. Marc Shapiro recently started writing about this on the Seforim blog.

With regards to the last issue, one does not need to believe that every letter is from the original Torah. This is discussed in "Fundamentals and Faith" by R. Y. Weinberg from Ner Yisrael. It is clear from a number of places in the Talmud that there may have been minor textual errors over time, such as the discussion of Ezra comparing the text in three different Torahs. The Talmud itself also cites pesukim slightly different from our Torah. Traditional belief is just that the overall Torah is from Moshe, but not necessarily that there was never a letter omitted by a scribe. This means lower criticism, while problematic, isn't in the same category as higher criticism.

  • +1 for Umberto Cassutto. I read the book a while ago when educating myself in Biblical Criticism 101. It is a brief series of lectures undermining the fundamental tenets of the DH. I still cannot find a work that responds to his "disproofs".
    – jake
    Mar 22, 2013 at 20:48

Jewish society and practice are based on a single, well-known account of their founding. It states that in the year 2448 on the Jewish calendar, an entire nation gathered at the foot of a mountain in the Sinai Desert and witnessed G-d speak. They made multiple copies of the written record and had them spread among the people. They passed on their eyewitness accounts together with the copies of the record to their descendants, teaching them to read the record publicly and observe the many rituals it contains. This is called the Torah.

The suggestion that at a later date someone introduced a change into that account represents the biggest conspiracy theory ever proposed, because it would require an entire nation of people to all knowingly agree to (and live by) the same lie.

It is true that people make up stories and confuse details, but only when one or two people tell a story to those who were not there to contradict them. It is much harder to fool someone if you are telling them about themselves.

We are talking about the common history of a nation. People would notice if their own family history suddenly changed, and would certainly object if that change made demands of them as the Torah does. Getting an entire nation to go along with such a scheme is simply implausible. Additionally, the challenge of coordinating a nation to tell the exact same lie without the use of modern technology would be insurmountable. This is assuming it was done intentionally, because to happen accidentally would be all the more difficult.

This notion is explored by the earliest Jewish thinkers, such as Saadia Gaon, Maimonides, and the Kuzari. See Tzvi Freeman, Lawrence Kelemen, and Jonathan Sacks for modern treatments.

  • @Baruch - You still haven't addressed the fact that the only source we have for "an entire nation gathered at the foot of a mountain in the Sinai Desert and witnessed G-d speak. They made multiple copies of the written record and had them spread among the people" is this exact written record which we are trying to verify. It's a circular argument. The Torah is true because it was given at Har Sinai. How do we know it was given at Har Sinai? Because the Torah says so.
    – Shmuel
    Apr 18, 2014 at 6:08
  • And if you claim that it's not based on the written text of the Torah, but rather on "family history," well, I challenge you to recite your family history going back 3,000 years, without any mistakes, omissions, or embellishments. I know that I can't go back more than 5 generations or so before the details get kinda sparse.
    – Shmuel
    Apr 18, 2014 at 6:10
  • You said, "we still establish facts based on the preponderance of evidence. We tend to disbelieve conspiracy theories not because they couldn't have happened, but because they are not indicated by the available evidence." As things stand, the only evidence we have for Matan Torah at Har Sinai is the Torah itself, which, due to the logical fallacy mentioned above, is not admissible as evidence at all. Thus, by your own logic, Matan Torah is more likely than not to be a "conspiracy theory." I don't understand why you can't apply your own standard. (@DoubleAA)
    – Shmuel
    Apr 18, 2014 at 6:18
  • @Shmuel - The Torah is a first-hand account of the event at Sinai, which makes it a primary source. It is a particularly credible source because the many people who would know if it is true (i.e. those who were present and their descendants) believed it.
    – Baruch
    Apr 20, 2014 at 19:17
  • Without any other evidence to support this claim, we don't know if it's a first-hand account, or an account written many years later that claims to be first hand. | We don't know what the people there actually believed, because our only source for what we think they believed is the Torah. We don't even know if there were people "there" to begin with. Nor do we know what their immediate descendants believed, other than what the Tanach tells us they believed, and it's been well established that Tanach was written many years after the actual events (see Bava Batra 14-15).
    – Shmuel
    May 29, 2014 at 21:41

Two other sources one may want to check:

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