The Bible is undeniably the most significant and influential literary work that has ever come into human creation. Its message is one so powerful; it can be recognized at the global level. The Bible is largely responsible for the order of the modern world, as well as the human condition. The shaping of human history can be attributed to the Bible and its teachings.
For the past several thousand years, the Bible has continued to influence the evolution of culture, history and religion into its present state. Decisions made by government officials have been based in biblical ideals. Men have taken up arms and gone to battle against one another in the name of the Bible. The rise and fall of empires, the division of kingdoms and the formation of new countries have all occurred for the sake of the Bible. It became the basis for major world religions, such as Christianity and Judaism, and found its way into the hearts of men and women everywhere. Numerous people turn to the Bible for spiritual sustenance and use it as a guide for living. Most would agree that life as we know it would be significantly different if there were no Bible to speak of.
Because of its monumental impact, it is no surprise that the Bible is a source of great fascination for archaeologists, scholars and historians. The Bible continues to be analyzed, debated, admired and respected as a great wonder of the world. Thousands have dedicated their life’s work seeking to unravel its mysteries. Despite the fact that the Bible has made such a phenomenal impact on the world, there are still many unanswered questions surrounding the Bible and its origins. For example, who wrote the Bible and why? Is it the Word of God? Was it divinely inspired or a masterpiece composed by men pushing an agenda? It is meant to be taken literally? Does the Bible affect me personally, and if so, how?
Sam Keen, author and philosopher, once said, “Being religious means asking passionately the question of the meaning of our existence and being willing to receive answers, even if the answers hurt.”(1)
Few people are willing to venture on such a journey that would require them to look past their tightly held religious viewpoints, many of which have been force-fed and accepted without further inquiry. I, on the other hand, have been questioning the meaning of existence ever since I can remember, almost obsessively so, believing I was ready to receive whatever answers came my way in search for the ultimate truth. After reading Dr. Richard Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible? I have a new appreciation for the old saying, “Ignorance is bliss.”
Dr. Friedman received his Doctorate in Hebrew Bible and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University. He achieved a Master’s Degree at Harvard and Jewish Theological Seminary and was a Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California at San Diego. He authored many highly esteemed books on subject matter similar to that which he covers in the popular book, Who Wrote the Bible? He also participated in archeological digs in the City of David Project in Jerusalem (2). Dr. Richard Elliot Friedman is a highly qualified biblical scholar, well suited for undertaking the colossal task of answering the question he poses in the title of his book, Who Wrote the Bible?
Dr. Friedman gives due credit to Julius Wellhausen, “a powerful figure in the investigation into the authorship of the Bible,” for culminating the original Documentary Hypothesis (Friedman, 26). This premise suggests that the Pentateuch, the first five books of Moses, and other books of the Old Testament, were actually written by several authors, none of which were actually Moses. This principle also indicates that the remaining books of the Old Testament were composed by a variety of people in different time periods and that ultimately, the modern Bible is a collection of these works fashioned together by a sort of “cut and paste” process. “The Bible is thus a synthesis of history and literature, sometimes in harmony and sometimes in tension, but utterly inseparable” (Friedman, 242).
While his book is built upon a pre-existing and well established theory, Dr. Friedman clearly outlines his personal objectives in the Preface. He is clear about what he hopes to accomplish in his presentation and promises to submit new evidence to support the Documentary Hypothesis. “I mean to be more specific about who the authors were. I mean to shed light on the relationship among the various authors. I mean to shed light on the chain of events that brought all of the documents together into one work. I mean to challenge the majority view of one of authors of the Bible. I mean to show why each story came out a particular way” (Friedman, 32).
Dr. Friedman lays extensive groundwork by establishing the world that produced the books of the Bible at appropriate times. He discusses the inhabitants of various geographic regions and their uses of language. He portrays the empires of both Kings David and Solomon, the division of Judah and the fall of Israel. Later, he introduces Kings Hezekiah and Josiah and depicts the destruction of Israel by the Assyrian empire. Such facts seem unnecessary and confusing at first, but the purpose of such details becomes more relevant as Dr. Friedman propels his presentation of evidence toward a final conclusion.
Dr. Friedman first concludes that the Pentateuch could not have been written by Moses because of obvious contradictions in the text. “It would report events in a particular order and later it would say that those events happened in a different order” (Friedman, 17). “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” (Friedman, 18). This glaring flaw seems so obvious that one would HAVE TO deduce that someone else did, in fact, write Pentateuch. The question, now, was who?
To summarize, Dr. Friedman proposes that there are four sources of authors for the Pentateuch: J, E, P and D. J represents the Judahites, a group who referred to God as Yahweh, and may embody a female influence. E represents those who called Him Elohim, most probably Israelites, P represents the Priestly group in the age of Hezekiah, supporting the Aaronid Priesthood and D is the source of Deuteronomy, most likely finalized by Jeremiah. He provides compelling evidence in his presentation that each of these groups seeks to preserve its own interests and further an agenda. “We can see the relationship between the biblical texts and the event of the author’s world. Every biblical story reflects something that mattered to its author” (Friedman, 206).While J and E are undoubtedly separate stories, they are somewhat complementary to one another, providing accounts of the same stories, but from opposing points of view. P is an alternative to J and E, and “reflected a different, hostile view of God, and history” (Friedman, 242). D acts as a Law Code, and its author’s resistance to P is an underlying theme within the text of Deuteronomy.
However subtle, the intention of each group was carefully woven into its own production of text and upon close scrutiny is revealed. Dr. Friedman illustrates the different uses of language which identify that there are, in fact, multiple sources. For example, Dr. Friedman dissects the Flood in Genesis 6: 5-8:22 and shows where doublets, or recurring stories, appear. He points out the variance in language, however slight. He demonstrates specific examples of the conflicting depictions of God, both in name and characteristic. He outlines just how and where the work was cut up and pieced back together again to create the illusion of one, complete story fashioned by a single author. “If you read either source from beginning to end, and then go back and read the other one, you will see for yourself two complete, continuous accounts, each with its own vocabulary and concerns” (Friedman, 55).
Dr. Friedman suggests that pious fraud occurs within the texts of the Bible and that there are insertions and deletions by authors at different points in history. He insinuates that there are intentional alternations by later authors to previously written biblical stories to change the course of historical events. For instance, he cites that P “eliminated items that he specifically rejected on theological or political grounds” (Friedman, 205). He also charges D with reinventing the history of King Josiah because, “The Deutoronomistic history looked ironic, even foolish, twenty-two years later” (Friedman, 136.)
One would assume by the title, Who Wrote the Bible, and after Dr. Friedman’s lengthy examination, there would be some defining moment where it would all come together. The closest Dr. Friedman comes to such a point is, “If Moses did not produce these books, who did? I think it was Ezra.” He identifies Ezra as redactor, the one who “arranged texts that already existed, not writing very much of his or her own” (Friedman, 218). Because Ezra was not only a priest, he was a scribe and lawgiver (Friedman, 225). He was therefore qualified to “take on the enormous, intricate and ironic task of combining these alternative versions of the same stories into one work” (Friedman, 226).
Dr. Friedman would certainly not be cited for lack of evidence in his composition, but he may very well be accused of “overkill.” It is important to note that a great deal of his text is crammed with so much information, valid points are often lost and the overall message is somewhat deluded. This is a book that needs to be read and reread in order to completely appreciate its value, however; it is a painstakingly detailed process of elimination and presentation of supporting evidence.
To credit Friedman, he does accomplish the objectives he set forth in the Preface. He tells a great deal about the identity of the many authors and establishes an obvious relationship between them. He lays groundwork for the events that brought all of the documents together. He challenges the majority view of one of authors of the Bible by introducing Ezra as the redactor and he shows why each story came out a particular way by outlining the motives of J, E, P and D. Now that the question of who wrote the Bible has been explained in a way that I have never before witnessed, a new question arises. Now what? Or, as Dr. Friedman eloquently puts it, “What are we to do with this knowledge?” (Friedman, 243).
After obtaining information I have never before been exposed to and gaining new insight into the Bible, life will never be the same. Based in the evidence that Dr. Friedman provides, the Bible is a fraud, a lie, a concoction of fantasy. It is nothing more than a collection of writings written by men, and perhaps women, as Dr. Friedman implies, who did not like each other. It is a cut and paste project that took centuries to finish. The motivation for its creation does not seem to be in any way related to God, or what God would want to communicate with His people, but rather, to perpetuate certain political agendas.
If everything that Dr. Friedman said is true, and the conclusion he arrives at is valid, what does this mean for millions of Bible believers? What does this say about life as we know it, the course of history, and the governments whose authorities we submit to? Since the Bible’s influence can be recognized on a global scale, is it now safe to assume that the entire human race has unknowingly been the victim of pious fraud?
I began reading Dr. Richard Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible enthusiastic about the truth it may hold, excited about taking another step along the path toward enlightenment, but upon its completion, I feel both bewildered and religious. I feel bewildered because I was not expecting the feelings I now associate with the Bible and the world I live in. I feel religious because I have passionately sought after the meaning of existence, I was willing to receive answers, and the answers hurt.
(1) Wisdom Quotes. 2006. November 4 2006.
(2 ) Jewish Libraries. 2001. November 4 2006. www.jewishlibraries.org/ajlweb/publications/proceedings/proceedings2001/friedmanr.pdf >
(3) Friedman, Richard. Who Wrote the Bible? New York: Harper Collins,1997.