Category Archives: Studying the Bible

Whose Bible is it anyway?

If you’re following the latest Yahoo news feed [here], then you know that another modernized translation (more appropriately aberration) of the best-loved, best-selling classic “the Bible” has apparently squeezed itself onto bookshelves across America right next to the already densely populated and voluminous (and worthless it might be added) collection of modernized versions of the Bible, written specifically for: the modern man, the modern women, the teen, the pre-teen, the pre-pre-teen, the pregnant mom, the knife-flaying chef, the chicken-soup soul seeker, the manly man’s group huddle in their basement man-cave, grandpa and grandma, and even the dandy across the street. How blessed are we to have such an extensive proliferation of the Almighty’s word!, extracted and personally sculpted to fit the needs of every American on this plant. Or more so, what a lucrative business this has all become!

This latest version fancies itself “The Voice” and attempts … Read more

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Literary Form of Deuteronomy

Concerning its literary form, Deuteronomy presents itself as a set of orations or farewell speeches delivered by Moses on the plans of Moab shortly before he dies. That is to say, the Deuteronomist uses speeches as a literary device to disseminate, and even authorize, his message. Historiography in the ancient world largely entailed crafting speeches and placing them in the mouths of great personalities and ancestors of the past. This literary technique was used to lend authority to the particular ideology and aims of an author by placing that ideology on the lips of a heroic ancestor, even a deity. The speech form thus allowed the Deuteronomist to express his own ideology and beliefs by making Moses the mouthpiece for them. Indeed, the Deuteronomist presents Moses as authoring the very text he is writing. We will see that the Priestly writer does the same thing when he sets out to … Read more

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History and Structure of Deuteronomy

The book of Deuteronomy, like many of the Bible’s books, was composed in stages and by different authors living in different historical eras. Despite this fact, Deuteronomy displays a remarkable unity in its style, theology, and message. This is largely because the various revisions, additions, and rewritings that the book of Deuteronomy underwent were done by a specific scribal school, which we shall label as the Deuteronomic school, and its authors the Deuteronomists. This scribal guild and its redactional activity spanned a lengthy period of time, from the late monarchal period of the 7th century BC, through the exilic period of the first half of the 6th century BC, to the Persian period of the 5th and 4th centuries BC. Thus the making of the book of Deuteronomy was an accumulative process of ever increasing redactional activity that transpired over three centuries. Because these three centuries witnessed radically different historical … Read more

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How well do you know the book of Deuteronomy?

I am currently working through the book of Deuteronomy and will soon post about it. So if you’re interested in studying Deuteronomy with me, pick up a Bible and join in. I’m particularly interested in when and why this text was composed, and how the author uses, or misuses as the case may be, his sources—the older ‘Elohist’ traditions that now make up Exodus 19-24 and passages from Numbers. What do you already know, or would like to know, about the book of Deuteronomy? Do you think the author has the hutzpa to contradict these earlier traditions?… Read more

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The Documentary Hypothesis: How Scholars Discovered J, E, D, and P (3)

This posts is part 3 of the ‘Did Moses Write the Torah?’ series. It too has been excerpted from my writing.

Nineteenth century scholarship: post-Mosaic by centuries

The observable textual data collected over the centuries leading up to and including the nineteenth century no longer supported the long-standing traditional and pre-critical claim that the Pentateuch was written by Moses—a traditional view, moreover, that the text never claimed to begin with and which only came into existence through culturally conditioned theological and ideological interpretive agendas of late antiquity and the Middle Ages. By the nineteenth century the large majority of biblical scholars realized that the Pentateuch was composed out of a variety of sources, all of which postdate Moses by centuries. It was the work of Wilhelm de Wette (1780-1849) that ushered in this new paradigm.

Previously commentators had claimed that the textual data suggested that much of the Pentateuch’s narrative … Read more

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Did Moses Write the Torah? (2)

This and the forthcoming post outline the centuries-long discovery that led careful readers, professors, and clergymen alike to conclude from the accruing textual data that the Torah was composed out of, primarily, 4 once separate sources which were later redacted together. This centuries-long discovery culminated in the 19th century with the Documentary Hypothesis, which is still the most reliable hypothesis that explains, and continues to explain with its variations, the textual data observed. The following is again excerpted from my Introduction. It follows directly from Part 1.

Early evidence of post-Mosaic authorship: anachronisms

Not only was the account of Moses’ death to continuously resurface, implying, as the text itself does, that it was written by a later author—“no man has knowledge of his burial place to this day” (Deut 34:6)—but as early as the eleventh century, educated readers of the Bible, Jewish rabbis, and Christian clergy alike, began … Read more

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Did Moses Write the Torah? (1)

The traditional view held in both Jewish and Christian circles was that the Pentateuch, the Torah, was penned by Moses under divine inspiration. This traditional claim, however, should be tempered by a couple of initial observations. First, the Torah as a whole makes no such claim. Nowhere does the Pentateuch claim to have been written by Moses, or anyone else for that matter. In fact, the sparse references to Moses writing in the Pentateuch are rather specific in nature. For example certain passages, that is certain authors, claim: that Moses writes a memorial reminding later generations that the Amalekites must be exterminated (Ex 17:14); that Moses writes “the words of Yahweh” (Ex 24:4), which contextually could refer to the Covenant Code of Exodus 21-23 or merely the Ten Commandments (there are various traditions combined in this section of Exodus); that Moses is instructed to write “these words” (Ex 34:27) which … Read more

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Contradictions in the Bible: an introduction

My current research and writing projects display an interest in the textual history of the Bible. In other words, how did the various and once independent texts and traditions that now make up what later generations of readers dubbed “the Bible” come about? And more significantly, how do these once independent texts now interact with each other in their new composite framework? Thus the title of the other project that I am working on: The Bible’s Many Authors and the Contradictions They Left Behind. I’d like to post parts of the introduction to this project and then continue by actually posting various textual contradictions and explaining how they came about and what they tell us about the Bible’s composite nature. I hope to generate some sort of feedback and discussion as we move along. We will limit our inquiry to the Torah.

There are literally thousands of contradictions in … Read more

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What’s in a name? from biblia to Bible

This post follows the What is the Bible? series and is excerpted from a chapter I’m writing.

The English “Bible,” literally “Book,” is derived directly from its Latin cognate biblia, which itself is a loan word from the Greek βιβλία. The Greek however is a plural noun meaning “books.” So how do we move from the plural “books” (Greek biblia) to the singular “Book” (Latin biblia) while seemingly not changing the noun nor its form? And moreover how does this transition affect the way we read and understand the books of the Book?

The Greek βιβλία, transcribed in Latin letters as biblia, is a neuter plural noun which is often understood as meaning “books.” However, this understanding is in fact anachronistic. For books did not yet exist; there were no books in the time period we’re concerned with. There were instead “texts” or “scrolls” of papyri. … Read more

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The Bible vs “the Bible”

Can the Bible be opposed to, or contrary to, “the Bible”? Huh? Are there two Bibles? Well that might depend on what we mean by Bible? The word “Bible” literally means “book,” and indeed this Book is in fact composed of 66 different “books” (biblia)—more exactly scrolls and codices—many of which are also composed of smaller units of texts and traditions. But that is not the conversation I am aiming at here. Rather, put bluntly: is there a difference between the label “the Bible”/“the Book” and all that it implies, and the actual texts that make up this so-called “Book”?

Huh?

Let’s say I write a text that serves a specific purpose or ideological aim, the writing of which is prompted by my own or my culture’s historical circumstances and concerns, and is addressed to a specific audience or community. It is a text advocating a particular practice, … Read more

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