The Editorial Team Behind the Bible
Who wrote the first five books of the Bible--and spliced older texts with newer ones?
BY: Interview with Richard Elliott Friedman
In your introduction, you say your work--identifying and separating the different authors of the first five books of the Bible--is not meant to produce faith crises. Obviously, there are people out there with a strong belief about the author of the Bible. What's the role of divine inspiration here?
Some of the earliest Bible scholars who questioned who the authors were said, "Well, it wasn't all one person, it wasn't Moses who wrote the first five books"-even they were pious rabbis, priests, or ministers. Their answer was, "OK, it wasn't Moses who wrote it down, it was other people, but it still came from God." Today, there are religious Jews and Christians who take that same view: it could still be of a divine origin.
But for others, this is a troubling and unacceptable point of view. They stand by the tradition that it was dictated to Moses by God at Sinai. So, yes, for them this is difficult.
My purpose is to put the evidence in front of everyone so they can argue for it or against it. The purpose is not to hurt. People imagine I'm attacked all the time by fundamentalist Christians and orthodox Jews, but in fact I'm not. We disagree respectfully.
Your new book, The Bible with Sources Revealed, talks about the different authors of the first five books of the Bible. Who are these authors?
The largest main sources are the J and E texts, called that because among the many differences between them, each one has a different idea about when the name of God, Yahweh, became known to humankind.
One of them has the idea that the name "Yahweh" was known from earliest times, and is called J because of the German spellingJahwe
(German scholars played a prominent role in working J out).
The other source understands that the name of God was not revealed until very late, at the time of Moses, so God until that time is referred to as God, which in Hebrew is Elohim. That's why it's called E.
Those two sources come from a very early period of Israelite history. We know this for a variety of reasons, especially since they use a very early level of Hebrew than the other parts of the five books.
Like American English today vs. Shakespearian or Chaucerian English?
Exactly. They are that far apart from some of the later parts of the Torah. Every now and then we hear some biblical scholar suggest that those texts are late, but that's like if you and I were talking now and I started saying "forsooth!" and "whither?" and pulled out a bodkin.
In the book, we used different colors and fonts, italics, bold [read an excerpt
]--whatever would make it easier for people to read any given sentence of the first five books of the Bible and know which source they're reading.
J and E contain most of the Genesis stories we're familiar with-the Creation, the Flood, and so on, right?
Yes, a lot of the most famous stories first appear in J and E. J has the flood story, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the Tower of Babel. E has the sacrifice of Isaac. So the two of them together form a great collection of stories. The hypothesis is that the Holy Land was split in half from 922 to 722 BCE, with Israel in north and Judah in south. The E version of the stories came from the northern kingdom, and the J version from the southern kingdom.
Would writers from those kingdoms have different agendas?
Oh yes. The author of J was a layperson. The author of E was a priest, but from a priesthood group of Levites who traced their descent from Moses. In the E source, the Golden Calf is made by Aaron. Aaron is the ancestor of the other prominent priesthood in Judah, which had excluded the other Levites from the priesthood.
Whereas the J source does not tell the story of the Golden Calf.
With destruction of northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BCE, there were no longer two countries, there was one. Soon after those events, the two texts, J and E, came to be merged by a redactor who we call RJE.
If you read J and E together as put together by RJE, and take out everything else from the Bible, they read almost as a continuous source.