Engaging with the recent series in Mosaic on the problems with academic scholarship of the Bible, Jerome Marcus argues that the documentary hypothesis—the regnant claim that the Tanakh was synthesized from a series of earlier texts that can be disentangled through critical reading—should be ignored by anyone who wishes to take the holy book seriously. He writes:
Bible criticism . . . rests on the idea that to interpret the text accurately, the identity of the author and his historical location has to be reconstructed, and this requires the dating of the text and, correlatively, its extrication from texts by later or earlier authors with which it came to be interwoven.
One adopting this view of the Bible necessarily rejects the idea that the text is a coherent whole. . . . Yet someone who is focused on the text’s history and the identity of its author(s) will not study the text with the commitment of extracting meaning from the text itself. Instead, he will use the context to inject meaning into the text from outside it. . . .
It’s not just the religious reader—it’s also the truly careful and wise reader—who will never abandon the assumption of the Torah’s coherence for just this reason. The moment one abandons the assumption of coherence is the moment one stops learning from the Torah.
Note that this argument says absolutely nothing about the historical origin of the Torah. Biblical criticism may or may not rest on bad history. Instead, the argument here is that Bible critics advocate a shallow way to read any book, much less the Book of Books. Surely if one should read the Federalist Papers, or Shakespeare, or any other part of the Western canon, [assuming] that those books contain great ideas and that they are worth taking seriously as the vehicles for the transmission of those ideas, then the Bible can profitably be read in that way. And just as it would be a colossal mistake to dismiss Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay as no more than advocates for their class [as Marxist critics are inclined to do], so it is at least as big a mistake to dismiss the Torah—any part of it—as simply the work of a priest advocating for priests, or of any [member of some] group advocating for that group’s interests.