Perhaps it is just me, but I have no confidence in any dating
methods for texts in the Hebrew Bible. My skepticism holds
equally for those arguing passages are late as for those who
argue they are early. The reason is that such arguments
typically seem to be based on the same sorts of (in my
opinion) inadequate evidence. Methodology and theory have
been discussed to death in biblical studies recently, but to
my knowledge so far I’ve yet to come across what strikes me
as historically valid criteria for dating a text.
As I do not have the time to write a comprehensive critique
(or, indeed, any answers), I will merely list some of the
commonly used methods which I find problematic.
1) Dating a text based on the theology it contains.
This criterion is used quite often. The problems I have are
twofold: one, the “dating” of the theology is usually based
on other similar texts deemed to be of similar date. Often
this becomes merely a circular argument: text A is this date,
so the ideas date to X period. This idea is of X period, and
so text A is too… Two, many many ideas recur repeatedly
throughout human history. This means many ideas (if not most)
are essentially timeless, making them unsuitable for dating
2) Using assumed “sociological” criteria to date poetic and
liturgical texts. This is often done with the notoriously
undatable psalms. The argument usually runs something along
the lines of perceived opposition=sociology of
deprivation=author’s pet period (usually “Persian Period”).
Although poetry may indeed reflect its sociological setting,
that does not imply the reverse can be reconstructed. Indeed,
poetry which lasts the ages (aka the psalms) usually does
because it is timeless, or reflecting common human issues.
Bad criterion for specific dating. Again, like the above,
this often ends up being circular. (Assume x in period a,
find x in text b, so date to period a, describe period a
along lines of text b…). Similar considerations apply to
liturgy. The Psalms are still used in Christian liturgy, but
no one would try to use a psalm one its own to analyze the
sociology of the Church of England.
3) Using edited texts to describe a period (Usually Neo-
Babylon, Persian, or Hellenistic periods). By definition, an
edited text previously existed in some form. Further, our
ability to distinguish between layers is notoriously
subjective. Yet, some authors try to use the fact that a text
was presumed to be edited in a period as an excuse to analyze
the entire text as reflecting ideas of that period. Surely
this is too simplistic. First, the old layers can’t directly
reflect the period (even if interest in them *might*).
Second, antiquarism existed then too: interest need not be
directly *interested*. Third, contemporary concerns never map
one-to-one with reception of previous texts. There may be
mileage in this method, but only after some previous criteria
are fulfilled (and I’m not convinced of any yet).
4) Linguistic dating. This one seems the most objective, but
it has been effectively critiqued many times already (by
Philip Davies, and by linguists who note the artifical nature
of our MT). Beyond clear evidence of growth, I’m not sure
anything other than loanwords mean much (and even those are
I’d love feedback on ideas for more objective criteria.
Otherwise, biblical studies is stuck in an a-historical
vaccuum of sorts.