On Authorizing Anonymous Documents
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Concerning Don Foster, the person called upon to discover that the once-anonymous novel, Primary Colors, had been written by a known journalist he identified, it was said:

The work of scholars like Don Foster confirms that textual criticism is a valid science, yet when biblical scholars who analyze the Bible and find linguistic signs of forgery, interpolations, multiple authorships, and such like, biblical fundamentalists invariably dismiss their opinions as the efforts of "liberal" or "radical critics" to discredit the Bible.

No one denies that "textual criticism is a valid science" -- but Foster's findings aren't that relevant to Biblical issues.

  1. Foster's methods are indeed good, but these are NOT specifically the same methods that have been used by critics on Biblical works, and none of those critics are professors of literature. Foster's specific methods have not been applied to the Bible -- could they be? No, because:
  2. Foster's methods also work only because he has other works to make comparisons to. He was able to select Joe Klein as the author of Primary Colors because he had plenty of other works of Klein to make a comparison to -- Klein is a reporter for Newsweek and writes a column for nearly every issue.

    Foster likely has a minimum amount of material he needs in order to make a proper determination. In the case of works like Daniel or Isaiah, or that of many ancient writers, one work is all we have. One might wonder whether Foster would have had success and had the same conclusion had someone passed him only one paragraph or one chapter of Primary Colors. He would certainly have nothing to do if he were asked to determine if Columella was the real author of his one work on agriculture.

  3. Ancient literature of all types (not just the Bible) adds some problems to the equation -- the presence and common use of scribes, and matters of normal textual editing for things like anachronisms. If the Foster methods suggest that Paul didn't write the Pastorals, or other letters, it makes no difference -- in the Greco-Roman world people regularly hired scribes to do their writing, even if they could read and write themselves. (There is reason to believe Luke wrote the Pastorals.)
  4. Finally, it cannot be merely assumed that if "those who write in English put identifying linguistic markers in their works, there is no reason to believe that this is not true of those who write in other languages." There is yet reason to believe or NOT believe any such thing. It may be true, but cannot merely be decided to be so on assertion.

-JPH