One of the most perplexing questions that a student of Tanakh can ask is derived from two verses of this week’s Parsha. God appears to Moses, after the Egyptians refuse to let the Jews go and opens up with this extremely troubling statement:
And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name YHWH I made not known to them. (Exodus 6:3)
What are we to make of this statement?
God is telling Moses that he has never revealed his name, ‘YHWH’ to any of his ancestors, including Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Now this is where our problem begins! We know that all throughout the book of Genesis the name YHWH was known and even frequently used. For instance, after the Akeda, Abraham invokes God’s name when he names the mountain:
And Abraham called the name of that place YHWH-jireh; as it is said to this day: ‘In the mount where YHWH is seen.’ (Genesis 22:14)
A few chapter’s later, during Jacob’s inveigling of the birthright, he tells his father that he was able to prepare dinner quickly because God helped him him.
And Isaac said unto his son: ‘How is it that thou hast found it so quickly, my son?’ And he said: ‘Because YHWH thy God sent me good speed.’ (Genesis 27:22)
These are just a few of the many examples that one can bring to contradict God’s statement in the beginning of our Parsha.
In answering this question one can turn to the many Rishonim who try and ameliorate this contradiction by arguing that this verse is actually philosophical in nature and that God is really revealing something about his essence or inherent nature. While these explanations may work for some, I cannot help but feel that they fall short. We seem to have a clear contradiction and there is no easy way out.
It is for this reason (along with many, many others) that rather then the single authored book that it claims to be, Bible scholars posit that the Torah is actually a document compiled from many disparate sources. While this verse happens to be one of the major clues of separation between two of the different authors, I do not wish to speak in length about the evidence for or against the multiple-authorship theories of the Torah.
Many people seem scared of the prospect that the Torah was written by multiple authors. They feel that if the Torah was not all given by once then it can no longer be viewed as divine or God’s work. But why should this be so? The question of the divinity of the Torah, whether authored by one or four, comes down to a question of faith not facts.
We see that even in Orthodox circles there are an increasing number of scholars that are accepting the Documentary (or other very similar) hypothesis. With the advent of the internet, it is simply too difficult to avoid information, especially information that can have a critical effect on how you see the world. We however have a choice: We can try and fight for as long as possible, throwing around apologetics that would not fly in any intellectual setting. Or, we can accept these theories and new ways of seeing the world with open arms and through that struggle become better Jews. Plus, with all the diverse opinions that we see among the Jewish community, is it really any surprise that our Torah was written by a few of them?