You give the author a great deal of credit. In some places, you take issue with the notion that the Bible's author was just a bumpkin incapable of sophisticated stylistic devices like foreshadowing.

Absolutely. The more people look at the Bible, the more they see. It's just so brilliant. I'm in love with it.

Are there passages where you haven't been able to explain what seems like very crude writing, where you say "that must be a scribal error"?

I never say that. I say "I must be such a cluck."

There are passages where I say "I don't understand this but I don't really care so much"--a war scene or whatever. And there are passages where I say "I don't understand this yet, but maybe someday something will happen in my life that will resonate, and I'll say 'Oh, that's what that meant.'"

I do think my explanations cover more of the ground without relying on scribal errors or saying, "this must be by a different author. "

You don't think there are ever any repetitions or garbled passages that are meaningless? You see it all as conscious devices and never just an accident?

No. Repetition is one of the Bible's favorite devices. So I'll stick with a text until I see an answer. I just don't feel that this author can be brilliant 99.44% of the time and yet speak gobblydegook the other 0.56%.

So you never blame problems on dual authorship?

I never do. I agree that the entire Bible was not written by the same author. But whoever did it was super-attentive. So if there are passages that look difficult, they're difficult! Let's figure 'em out. It's too easy a way out to dismiss the problem and say "oh, it must be a different author." If you're going to say that, then there are no problems in the Bible.

You fill in plot gaps by suggesting motives for biblical characters. For example, you say that Joseph's brothers may have disobediently gone to a "town of ill repute"--an ancient equivalent of Las Vegas--and then tried to get rid of Joseph so Joseph wouldn't tell on them. Do any critics say you are relying too much on your imagination to fill in the gaps?

I do have plenty of people who don't agree with me, but if they say "You imagined this," I always feel I have enough logical evidence in any particular essay to back it up what I've said. For example, in Joseph story, Joseph is introduced with the words that he's a tattletale. Then, if you don't agree with my conclusion, you wouldn't see any tattling involved [later in the story]. The author tells us he's a tattletale and then drops it.

But if you agree that the brothers were afraid that Joseph would tell where he found them, and that the father was not expecting them to be there because it was a different place than where the father sent them, then the tattling is part and parcel of the story. The tattling is important because it shows the brothers' motivation.

Another proof--what I consider a proof--that makes me think I'm right about the Las Vegas notion is, why else have the brothers be where they're not supposed to be? When an author tells a story, he wants it to be a good story. And if the author moves the brothers from Shechem to Dotham for no reason, and introduces a whole new character in order to effect that (whoever that unnamed man is who tells Joseph "your brothers aren't here, they're someplace else") -why would you even need to bring in somebody unless the location of the brothers is an important plot device?

The medieval Jewish interpretation, Midrash, often relies on very fanciful explanations. They're darling, but I don't like to use them. I don't like to do that. I like to have backup in the text. I like to feel that I am truly reading the lines, not between the lines, not my own fancy or predilections. I want to stick to what the author says or what he omits, because sometimes the author omits things on purpose and we're meant to notice that.

Can you give an example of a purposeful omission?

When Abraham takes Isaac to the mountain to sacrifice him. Abraham takes wood, a knife, and fire to light the wood. Isaac says, "Daddy, how come you've taken wood and fire, but there's no animal to sacrifice?" Note that Isaac says "the wood and the fire," and he omits the word 'knife.' The professor presenting this to me--this wasn't my idea--says Isaac is already scared and can't bring himself to say 'knife.'

That's very psychologically intense.

This author, you know he's good. You know he doesn't leave out anything by mistake. If the word 'knife' is left out on purpose, why is it left out? And when you realize why, the story becomes so much more poignant. When you know that Isaac knows why they're going up that hill and what's going to be sacrificed, and his father knows that he knows. His father also hears him leave out the word 'knife.' It's just so sad.

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