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“Who Wrote the Bible” by Richard Elliot Friedman

16 May 2017Literature Essays

“Who Wrote the bible” by Richard Elliot Friedman is a brilliant research of modern views and concepts about creation of the main Book of Christianity. The author managed to gather a huge batch of factual material into a relatively small volume and explain this material in simple and easy to read terms. He speaks about authorship of Torah, as well as five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Despite of claims that such investigations would undermine faith, Friedman uses a purely scientific approach without two much political correctness. However, he may not be called an atheist or anti-religious scholar, he simply gathers available factual evidence and brings it to the reader in a form of exciting book. Friedman does not find new facts or theories, he summarizes those, which have been found before him.

Friedman does not attempt to make his book a detective story or a mystery. He does pay some attention to undiscovered secrets of antiquity, such as the disappeared Ark of the Covenant, however, he concentrates on his key subject – authorship of the Holy Book. In contrast, he pays much attention to emotional conditions and motives of those, who created the modern variant of the Bible. He speaks, that there are actually two competing texts in the Old Testament, one of which is probably authored by the people of Israel and other – by the people of Judah. So there are two different views of god – one God is called Jahveh and marked “J” and other is called Elohim and marked “E”. Jahveh supports Judah and oppresses Israel and Elohim does the opposite. So, concludes Friedman, this is a reflection of two competing kingdoms each claiming to worship “real” God [Friedman 1997, 19].
Under Friedman the two texts have been combined at about 722 BC after Judah accepted Israel refugees from Assyria. Perhaps Israel lobby has been very influential at the time and this made Judah include some fragments of the “E” into the renewed variant of the Torah.

Another competition inside the Biblical text is a discussion between groups of priests, who, in their strive for power, were ready to put words into the mouth of God Himself. The most influential of such groups were the Aaronids and the Mushites. Aaronids had their centre in Jerusalem and believed to originate from Aaron. Mushites were most numerous in Shiloh and were said to descend from Moses. After Mushites supported Solomon as successor of David they managed to establish their power firmly and the Aaronides started losing their influence. Aaronides created a text called “P” (“priestly”, because it concentrates on clerical subjects and underestimates law), in which they proved, that they had the sole right to be priests as descendants of Aaron, leaving a secondary to other Levites. Mushites responded by creating the “D” variant of the text (from “Deuteronomist,” because D includes Deuteronomy) in which they tolled how Moses ordered Mushites to rule the people and even accused the Aaronides of deliberate lie [Friedman 1997, 73].

The last “layer” of the text is called “R” – a redactor. Obvious contradictions in the text of the Holy Book had to be removed by later priests and rulers, so they corrected the text as they saw fit beginning from about 500 BC and till the Medieval Bible, which we know today. The “R” can not be attributed to one author or group of authors. Corrections have been made during great Councils of early Christian Church, as well as by translators of the Bible from Aramaic into Greek and Latin. The last edition of the Bible is called King James Bible and dates back to 1611.

Despite of his skeptical approach and discovery of contraversial history of Biblical text, Friedman never disputed, that the authors have been inspired by God. He only speaks of the humans who wrote it. Under his opinion, profound investigation of Biblical would provide deeper theological understanding of what god was and what God is as well as how God was seen in different times and by different peoples. For example, the “J’ God embodies absolute and impartial just, in contrast to combined “EJ” God, who is merciful and is full of compassion [Friedman 1997, 85]. Another useful application of his studies is an opportunity to recreate historic events described in the Old Testament.

Those events have been greatly modified in the “R” version in order to make them moralistic and hortatory. Under Friedman’s idea both those who see Bible as a historic document and those who believe it to be a sacred scripture would benefit from knowledge of it’s composition and structure. As he puts it, in whichever way the bible was created, it remains a Book of the Books and the reader will anyway admire it, because no one can know the true intention of God for sure and no one can know, whether it was a divine plan to create the Book of Books in the way it was created.
In his book Friedman is pretty successful in summarizing facts and giving his own evaluation of those facts. His language is simple, perhaps even to simple for such complicated subject, as it makes a reader to read the book as an amusing story and in a way prevents him from deep understanding of the concept. Comparing the book to other related researches it is possible to say, that Friedman is one of the most objective and truth seeking authors.

He does not impose certain theory upon reader, but merely provides information for thinking and analysis. Some critics noticed, that the book is too simple, as it does not discover new facts or theories and is a purely authorial. They may be responded, that there are enough complicated Biblical investigations, which are hard to read and understand. Friedman managed to satisfy the demand of common readers, who know little of the subject for highly qualified and understandable explanation of the Biblical history.

On the other hand the book lacks references to sources and is poorly supported by fundamental studies. Friedman gives facts but does not relate those facts to factual evidence, which can be checked by the reader. In many ways the book is to simplified and does not review deep complicated reasons of facts. The book is to a great extent uncritical. Many of the facts are explained from personal positions without arguments pro and contra.
Considering the overstated the book can be recommended to the “beginners” in Biblical studies. It does put forth many of the complicated questions and attracts reader’s attention to alternative theories, however, it may not satisfy the demand for deeper investigation. So is may be reviewed as a useful introduction and incitement for further research.

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