Who Wrote the Bible?
by R. E. Friedman
by R. E. Friedman
When dealing with biblical stories, I mean to show why each story came out in the particular way it did and what its relationship was to the history of the period in which it was written - R. E. Friedman
People have been reading the Bible for nearly two thousand years. They have taken it literally, figuratively, or symbolically. They have regarded it as divinely dictated, revealed, or inspired, or as a human creation. They have acquired more copies of it than of any other book. It is quoted (and misquoted) more often than other books. It is translated (and mistranslated) more than the others as well. It is called a great work of literature, the first work of history. It is at the heart of Christianity and Judaism. Ministers, priests, and rabbis preach it. Scholars spend their lives studying and teaching it in universities and seminaries. People read it, study it, admire it, disdain disdain it, write about it, argue about it, and love it. People have lived by it and died for it. And we do not know who wrote it.
It is a strange fact that we have never known with certainty who produced the book that has played such a central role in our civilization. There are traditions concerning who wrote each of the biblical books - the Five Books of Moses are supposed to be by Moses, the book of Lamentations by the prophet Jeremiah, half of the Psalms by King David - but how is one to know if these traditional ascriptions are correct?
Investigators have been working on the solution to this mystery for nearly a thousand years, and particularly in the last two centuries they have made extraordinary discoveries.
If we think that the Bible a great work of literature, then who were the artists? If we think of it as a source to be examined in the study of history, then whose reports are we examining? Who wrote its laws? Who fashioned the book out of a diverse collection of stories, poetry, and laws into a single work? - R. E. Friedman
Professor Friedman's book raises important questions not important to the vast majority of believers. Among these are the following:
Story of Moses
According to Friedman, the story of Moses at Sinai, receiving the Commandments, and breaking them when he witnessed the cavorting Chosen People around the golden calf, was a tale composed much later in time. It was also written by a Levite priest who wished to convey a diatribe against the rulership of the two kingdoms, that of Israel and Judah. In other words, the Moses story is just that - a story.
It's also curious that when this kind of theory was advanced by earlier mavericks, such as Comyns Beaumont and others, it was repeatedly shot down. Now, eminent modern biblical scholars like Friedman are all too eager to espouse theories identical to once rejected and ridiculed by academia - Mtsar
...it is now evident that many events of biblical history did not take place in either the particular era or the manner described. Some of the most famous events in the Bible clearly never happened at all - Finkelstein & Silberman (The Bible Unearthed)
...by the dawn of the modern era, in the seventeenth century, scholars who devoted themselves to the detailed literary and linguistic study of the Bible found that it was not quite so simple. The power of logic and reason applied to the text of the holy scriptures gave rise to some very troubling questions about the Bible’s historical reliability - ibid
These factors convinced some seventeenth century scholars that the Bible’s first five books, at least, had been shaped, expanded, and embellished by later, anonymous editors and revisers over the centuries - ibid
Moses Describes his own Death
People also noticed that the Five Books of Moses included things that Moses could not have known or was not likely to have said. The text, after all, gave an account of Moses’ death. It also said that Moses was the humblest man on earth; and normally one would not expect the humblest man on earth to point out that he is the humblest man on earth - R. E. Friedman
In the simplest terms, Moses was further from the language of much of the Five Books than Shakespeare was from modern English.
Hobbes on Moses
In the third stage of the investigation, investigators concluded outright that Moses did not write the majority of the Pentateuch. The first to say it was the British philosopher Thomas Hobbes in the seventeenth century. Hobbes collected numerous cases of facts and statements through the course of the Five Books that were inconsistent with Mosaic authorship.
Four years later, Isaac de la Peyrère, a French Calvinist, also wrote explicitly that Moses was not the author of the first books of the Bible.
De la Peyrère’s book was banned and burned. He was arrested and informed that in order to be released he would have to become Catholic and recant his views to the Pope. He did.
About the same time, in Holland, the philosopher philosopher Spinoza published a unified critical analysis, likewise demonstrating that the problematic passages were not a few isolated cases that could be explained away one by one. Rather, they were pervasive through the entire Five Books of Moses.
Now his work was condemned by Catholics and Protestants as well. His book was placed on the Catholic Index, within six years thirty-seven edicts were issued against it, and an attempt was made on his life.
Once Isn't Enough
A doublet is a case of the same story being told twice. Even in translation it is easy to observe that biblical stories often appear with variations of detail in two different places in the Bible. There are two different stories of the creation of the world. There are two stories of the covenant between God and the patriarch Abraham, Abraham, two stories of the naming of Abraham’s son Isaac, two stories of Abraham’s claiming to a foreign king that his wife Sarah is his sister, two stories of Isaac’s son Jacob making a journey to Mesopotamia, two stories of a revelation to Jacob at Beth-El, two stories of God’s changing Jacob’s name to Israel, two stories of Moses’ getting water from a rock at a place called Meribah, and more.
Two scholars found that in the first four books of the Bible there were not only doublets, but a number of triplets of stories.
Scholars could open the book of Genesis and identify the writing of two or even three authors on the same page.
And Then There Were Four
And there was also the work of the editor, the person who had cut up and combined the source documents into a single story; and so as many as four different persons could have contributed to producing a single page of the Bible.
J, E, P Documents
There was evidence that the Five Books of Moses had been composed by combining four different source documents into one continuous history. For working purposes, the four documents documents were identified by alphabetic symbols. The document that was associated with the divine name Yahweh/Jehovah was called J. The document that was identified as referring to the deity as God (in Hebrew, Elohim) was called E. The third document, by far the largest, included most of the legal sections and concentrated a great deal on matters having to do with priests, and so it was called P. And the source that was found only in the book of Deuteronomy was called D.
The question was how to uncover the history of these four documents - not only who wrote them, but why four different versions of the story were written, what their relationship to each other was, whether any of the authors were aware of the existence of the others’ texts, when in history each was produced, how they were preserved and combined, and a host of other questions.
Documentary Hypothesis became known in English-speaking countries in large part because of the work of William Robertson Smith, a professor of Old Testament in the Free Church of Scotland college at Aberdeen and editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. He wrote articles in the encyclopedia and published articles by Wellhausen there as well. He was put on trial before the church. Though he was cleared of the charge of heresy, he was expelled from his chair. Also in the nineteenth century, in South Africa, John Colenso, an Anglican bishop, published similar conclusions, and within twenty years three hundred responses were written. He was called “the wicked bishop.”
The Holy Land
THE land in which the Bible was born was about the size of a large North American county...It had a fabulous variety of climate, flora and fauna, and topographic characteristics. In the northeast was a beautiful fresh-water lake, the Sea of Galilee. It flowed into the river Jordan to the south.
It was surrounded by hot wilderness. According to the traditions of that region the Dead Sea area had once been a pleasant, fertile place, but the people who lived there were so corrupt that God rained brimstone and fire on the place until it was left hardly fit for occupation.
The northern part of the country was fertile, with plains, small hills and valleys. the country had beaches and lowlands along the Mediterranean coast on the west, and hills and mountains on the east. The southern part of the country was largely desert.
As striking as the variety of the land itself was the variety of its people. The Bible refers to peoples from numerous backgrounds who mixed there: Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, Girgashites, Jebusites. There were also the Philistines, who stood out as different from the others, apparently having come across the Mediterranean from the Greek islands. There was also a circle of people around the borders of the land. To the north were the Phoenicians, who are usually credited with having introduced writing in that region.
Along the eastern borders were Syria in the north, then Ammon, then Moab, then Edom to the south. Then of course there were the Israelites, the most numerous people within the boundaries of the land from the twelfth century B.C., on.
The population was both urban and rural; it is difficult to say in what proportion. Certainly the percentage of city residents was large.
As introductions to the Bible often point out, there was no word in the Hebrew language of that period for “religion.” Religion was not a separate, identifiable category of beliefs beliefs and activities. It was an inseparable, pervasive part of life. A king could not have political legitimacy without religious legitimacy. A king who lost the support of his prophets and priests was in for trouble. And that is what happened to Saul.
The dominant religion across the ancient Near East was pagan religion. Pagan religion was not idol worship, as formerly it was thought to be.
At Nineveh alone - the greatest archeological discovery of all time - were found fifty thousand tablets, the library of the emperor of Assyria. At the Canaanite city of Ugarit, three thousand more tablets were found. We can read the pagan hymns, prayers, and myths; we can see the places where they worshiped; and we can see how they depicted their gods in art.
The chief pagan god in the region that was to become Israel was El. El was male, patriarchal, a ruler. Unlike the other major god of the region, Haddu (the storm wind1), El was not identified with any particular force in nature. He sat at the head of the council of the gods and pronounced the council’s decisions.
The God of Israel was Yahweh. He, too, was male, patriarchal, a ruler, and not identified with any one force in nature. Rather than describing him in terms of nature or myths, the people of Israel spoke of Yahweh in terms of his acts in history.
In J, the deity is called Yahweh from beginning to end. The J writer never refers to him as Elohim in narration. In E, the deity is called Elohim until the arrival of Moses.
There are traditions about the prehistory of the Israelites: their patriarchs, their experiences as slaves in Egypt, and their wandering in the Sinai wilderness. Unfortunately, we have little historical information about this from archeology or other ancient sources.
The first point at which we actually have sufficient evidence to begin to picture the life of the biblical community is the twelfth century B.C., the period when the Israelites became established in this region.
The Israelites’ political life in their early years was organized around tribes. According to biblical tradition there were thirteen tribes, with considerable considerable differences in size and population from the smallest to the largest. Twelve of the tribes each had a distinct geographical territory. The thirteenth, the tribe of Levi, was identified as a priestly group. Its members lived in cities in the other tribes’ territories.
One other type of person figured in a special way in the leadership of the community: the prophet. Being a prophet was not an office or profession like judge or priest. A person from any occupation could come to be a prophet. The prophet Ezekiel was a priest; the prophet Amos was a cowboy.
The Israelite prophets were men or women who were regarded as having been called by the deity to perform a special task with regard to the people.
When the Philistines’ domination in the area became too strong for any one or two tribes to oppose, the people sought a leader who could unite and lead all of the tribes. In other words, they wanted a king. It was Samuel who, somewhat reluctantly, anointed the first king of Israel, Israel, King Saul. That was the end of the period of the judges and the beginning of the period of the monarchy. Though there were to be no more judges, there still continued to be priests and prophets. And so Israel developed a political structure in which the king was by no means an absolute ruler. On the contrary, the king’s power was checked and balanced by the powers of the tribal leaders, the chief priests, and, above all, the prophets.
David vs. Saul
David was a well-known hero from the tribe of Judah. For a while he was a member of Saul’s retinue, and he married one of Saul’s daughters. Saul came to perceive David as a threat to his throne - quite correctly - and they became rivals. When David received the support of the priests of Shiloh, Saul had them all massacred.
Saul reigned until his death in battle against the Philistines. After his death the kingdom was split between his son Ishbaal and David. Ishbaal ruled in the northern portion of the country; David ruled in his own tribe, Judah, which was the largest of the tribes, almost the size of all the other tribes together, encompassing the southern portion of the country.
Ishbaal was assassinated, and then David became king over the entire country, north and south.
David stands out as a major figure in the Hebrew Bible, really the only one who comes close to the level of Moses in impact.
Bloodline of David
David holds among biblical figures is that David established an enduring line of kings descended from him. The Davidic dynasty was in fact one of the longest-lasting ruling families of any country in the history of the world. Hence the powerful endurance of the messiah tradition in Judaism and Christianity.
The Two Priests
David’s northern priest was Abiathar, who was the one priest who had escaped Saul’s massacre of the Priests of Shiloh. David’s southern priest was Zadok, who came from David’s former capital in Judah, the city of Hebron. Zadok and the priests of Hebron apparently were regarded as descendants of Aaron, the first high priest of Israel.
He married women who came from several regions of political importance, which could only strengthen the social bond between each of those regions and the royal family.
David Gains Independence
Most practical of David’s policies was his establishment of a standing professional army. This military force included foreigners (Cheretites, Peletites, Hittites) and was responsible to David and his personally appointed general. David was therefore no longer dependent on the individual tribes to muster (recruit) their men into service in times of crisis. David had solved the main part of the problem of dependence on the tribes.
The Temple was not impressive in size...no one was ever allowed to go inside the Israelite temple except the priests.
Solomon received help in building the Temple and the palace from Hiram of Tyre, king of the Phoenicians, who was Solomon’s father-in-law.
Ten Tribes of the North (Israel)
The old tribal divisions had not ceased to exist under David and Solomon, nor had the memory of a once independent north. Many of Solomon’s policies, nonetheless, alienated the northerners instead of encouraging their support.
The leaders of the northern kingdom are described in the Bible as all irretrievably sinful - Finkelstein & Silberman (The Bible Unearthed)
United Kingdom Falls
...when Solomon died, his son, King Rehoboam, lacked whatever was needed to hold on to the united kingdom. to Shechem, a major city in the north, for coronation. The northern leaders asked him there if he intended to continue his father’s policies. Rehoboam said that he did. The northern tribes seceded.
The Two Kingdoms, Again
Rehoboam ruled only Judah (and Benjamin, which Judah dominated). The rest of Israel chose a man named Jeroboam as king...David’s empire now became two countries: Israel in the north, and Judah in the south.
It is among the Levites...that we find people with Egyptian names...The Levite names Moses, Hophni, and Phinehas are all Egyptian, not Hebrew. And the Levites did not occupy any territory in the land like the other tribes.
...investigators suggest that the group that was in Egypt and then in Sinai worshiped the God Yahweh. Then they arrived arrived in Israel, where they met Israelite tribes who worshiped the God El. Instead of fighting over whose God was the true God, the two groups accepted the belief that Yahweh and El were the same God. The Levites became the official priests of the united religion, perhaps by force or perhaps by influence. Or perhaps that was their compensation for not having any territory. Instead of land, they received, as priests, 10 percent of the sacrificed animals and produce.
The treatment of the divine names in E explains why the name Yahweh was not part of the nation’s earliest tradition.
Levites Fall Out of Favor
Since the tribe of Levi had no territory of its own as the other tribes had, the Levites of Shiloh and elsewhere in Israel had only two choices: they could move to Judah and try to find a place in the priestly hierarchy there, or they could remain in Israel and make whatever living they could, perhaps performing various religious services outside of the two major religious centers, perhaps depending on others’ generosity. If the priests of Shiloh were indeed descendants of Moses, their present status, or lack of status, in both kingdoms must have been bitter for them. They had fallen from leadership of the nation to poor, landless dependency.
In Israel the monarchy was unstable. No family family of kings ever held on to the throne for more than a few generations. The kingdom lasted two hundred years. Then the Assyrian empire conquered it in 722 B.C., and ended its existence as a nation. The population was dispersed.
The exiled Israelites have come to be known as the ten lost tribes of Israel...there were also great numbers of refugees who fled from Israel south to Judah to escape the approaching Assyrian forces.
In Judah the monarchy was extremely stable, one of the longest-reigning dynasties in history. Judah survived for over a hundred years past the destruction of Israel.
...the mighty Assyrian empire brought unprecedented devastation to the cities of the northern kingdom and the bitter fate of destruction and exile in 720 BCE for a significant portion of the ten tribes. The kingdom of Judah survived more than a century longer, but its people could not avert the inevitable judgment of God. In 586 BCE, the rising, brutal Babylonian empire decimated the land of Israel and put Jerusalem and its Temple to the torch - Finkelstein & Silberman (The Bible Unearthed)
According to Friedman, the Pentateuch and other books of the OT were composed by priests intent on demonizing rival groups. The twelve normal priests of each tribe, the two high priests of each kingdom, the specially ranked Levites, the Shilohites and Zadokites, etc, hated each another, and apportioned blame to one another. Their diatribes and accusations have now been uncovered in various OT texts. Whole stories, once taken as historical fact, are now understood by top scholars as little more than covers for priestly mischief and malice.
Shiloh was the major Israelite worship centre before the first Temple was built in Jerusalem - Wikipedia
...the Deuteronomist shared the Shilonite priests’ antipathy toward Solomon and Jeroboam, the two kings who had removed the Shilonites from authority. In the case of Solomon, the historian said that Solomon went wrong in his old age, that he turned to pagan religion, that he followed the Sidonian goddess Ashtoreth, the Moabite god Chemosh, and the Ammonite god Milcom, and that he built high places to these deities on a hill opposite Jerusalem.6 Then the historian reported at the end of the history that part of Josiah’s reform was to eliminate these very high places - R. E. F
The priests of Shiloh could not have asked for more from Josiah. He was righting the wrongs that had been done to them three centuries earlier.
After the Assyrian Conquest
The land and the people were different after 722. The land was smaller. The kings of Judah ruled a territory that was about half the size of the united Israelite kingdom that David and Solomon had ruled. There was a different sort of international politics.
It was an age of great empires in Mesopotamia: first Assyria and then Babylonia. And these empires were capable of, and interested in, conquest in the west. Subjugating Judah meant income (spoils initially, tribute thereafter), control of a trade route between between Africa and Asia, and strategic placement on Egypt’s doorstep.
To some, the fact that Israel fell and Judah stood showed that Judah was better, ethically or in terms of fidelity to Yahweh.
The king’s power and stature were diminished. David’s descendants on the throne in Jerusalem were, most of the time, vassals to the emperors of Assyria or Babylonia. They were at all times dependent on the flow of events among the great powers - Assyria, Babylonia, Egypt - rather than being major political forces in their own region, much less in the ancient Near East as a whole.
There was no more role at all after 722 for tribal leaders. For virtually all intents and purposes, there were no more tribes.
The city of ‘Ashtartu in the Bashan is referred to several times in the Bible, as a city of Levites - Raphael Patai (The Hebrew Goddess)
Return of Pagan Worship in Judea
Hezekiah’s son and grandson who ruled after him in Jerusalem did not follow in his footsteps. Perhaps they were not able to. Assyrian forces returned to Judah during the reign of Hezekiah’s son Manasseh. According to biblical reports, the Assyrians even imprisoned King Manasseh for some period of time in Babylon. (The Assyrian emperor’s brother ruled Babylon at that time.) Whether because of Assyrian insistence, domestic pressures, or religious conviction, Manasseh and his son Amon reintroduced pagan worship in Judah, including pagan statues in the Temple. They also rebuilt the high places, the sacrificial locations outside of Jerusalem, thus ending Hezekiah’s religious centralization.
...the Babylonian exile of the Jews in the sixth century B.C. played a decisive part in the formation of what we call Judaism - John Marco Allegro
The Female Priesthood
The Shilohites...held Moses in particularly great esteem, and they may have been Moses’ descendants. King Josiah, on the other hand, who was the darling of the Shiloh priests, had a different record on the bronze snake. The term in Hebrew for the bronze snake was “Nehushtan.” Josiah married his son to a woman who may have been connected with the Shiloh circle, because she was named Nehushta.
The Rise of Babylon
An important change was taking place in international politics. The Assyrian empire was weaker, and Babylon was threatening to replace it as the major power of the Near East. Perhaps it was Assyria’s weakness that made it possible for Josiah to behave so independently.
Egypt, meanwhile, became an ally of its old rival Assyria against the rising power of Babylonia and others.
The year in which Nebuchadnezzar captured and burned Jerusalem was 587 BC. That year therefore stands as another turning point in the destiny of the people of Israel-Judah.
That year therefore stands as another turning point in the destiny of the people of Israel-Judah. The city was destroyed, the population was exiled as captives in Babylonia or as refugees in Egypt, their Temple was destroyed, the ark was lost, which is a mystery to this day, their four-hundred-year-old royal family was dethroned, and their religion was about to face perhaps the greatest challenges it had ever known.
...Nebuchadnezzar exiled Jehoiachin to Babylon along with thousands of other Judeans: the upper class, military leaders, artists; i.e., those who could be threatening in Judah or useful in Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar placed another of Josiah’s sons, Zedekiah, on the throne.
Zedekiah, a Babylonian vassal, ruled for eleven years. Around his ninth year, he rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar. The Babylonian army returned and destroyed Jerusalem. They exiled thousands more of the population to Babylon. The last thing that Zedekiah saw was the death of his children. Nebuchadnezzar executed Zedekiah’s sons in front of him and then blinded him.
In this horrible manner, King David’s family’s rule in Jerusalem ended. Nebuchadnezzar placed no more members of this family on the throne.
The book of Deuteronomy is presented as Moses’ farewell speech before his death.
The Deuteronomistic history covers the period from Moses to the end of the kingdom. It pictures Moses’ last days, it has stories of the conquest of the land, stories of the judges, the kings, the division of the country into Israel and Judah, the fall of Israel, and finally the fall of Judah. It is a fabulous collection of stories: battles, romances, miracles, politics. It is history, but told from a religious perspective.
The Deuteronomistic historian presents his history consistently in terms of covenant. He depicts the fate of the kings and the people as dependent on how faithfully they keep their covenants with God.
Frank Cross thus argued that the original edition of the Deuteronomistic history was the work of someone who lived at the time of Josiah, and the second edition was the work of someone living after the kingdom fell.
...De Wette said, Deuteronomy was written not long before it was “found” in the Temple, and the “finding” was just a charade. The book was written to provide grounds for Josiah’s religious reform...Though it may have been written for legitimate purposes, it was nevertheless falsely attributed to Moses.
“Pious fraud” is strong language to use about a part of the Bible. The “pious” softens the impact of the “fraud,” but only slightly.
. . .