Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Book: The Bible: A Bio Chapter 1 - Torah

Now, to be clear. I'm not saying that everything said below is true and correct. I'm just recaping what Ms. Armstrong says. Feel free to point out any problems or alternative points of view that you like.

Ms. Armstrong begins in 597 BCE, when Judah rebelled against the Babylonian empire, and was crushed for the trouble. This was the beginning of the Jewish exile in Babylon. While not all Jews were removed, many were, including their king, priests and military leaders. (Solomon's temple was burned to the ground following a second rebellion in 586 BCE.) The belief of the Jews who were taken into exile was that this was a divine punishment for a failure on their part to keep the covenant with God, and so they turned part of the energies to discovering a way to correct this imbalance.

Into this environment came the prophet Ezekiel. (Though Armstrong would never refer to him *as* the prophet Ezekiel. He sparked a prophetic movement among the exiles. An attempt to find reason behind their humiliation and defeat and loss of the homeland that God had promised them.

The displaced Jews had brought a number of scrolls with them, though, according to the author they did not regard them as sacrosanct, and felt free to add to them as they saw fit. Though she offers no explanation as to how she comes to this conclusion. This statement lacks even a simple citation to another work. It's simply something that she states, over and over again. Perhaps in the hope that repetition will make it so? She claims that the story of heavenly tablets gifted to mankind imparting secret, divine knowledge were common in the Middle East, and so the story of Moses and the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai were nothing special.

Then, she goes back to the beginning, as it were. The Jewish people, in 1200 BCE, or thereabouts, were living tribal lives in the Canaanite highlands, and their history, along with religious tales, were all oral. The Jews lived in twelve tribes, bound together by a common ancestry and shared history - they believed that they were the 'family of Yahweh'. They had common stories, but each tribe, each area, had a different focus, a different emphasis to their stories.

'The priests of Dan, in the extreme north, for example, believed that they were descended from Moses; Abraham, the father of the whole nation, had lived in Hebron and was especially popular in the south. At Gilgal, the local tribes celebrated Israel's miraculous entry into the Promised Land, when the waters of the river Jordan had miraculously parted to let them through. The people of Shechem annually renewed the covenant that Joshua had made with Yahweh after his conquest of Canaan.'

The Books of Moses where not, in fact, written by Moses. They had three 'authors', or rather, three texts that were similar, and eventually merged together to form one narrative. They are broken up into 'E' for the Elohim text, 'J' for the Yahweh text, and a later addition 'P' or the priestly texts. Keep in mind, of course, that the E & J 'texts' were oral traditions, not actual written text. They wouldn't be set down until later.

In 622 BCE, during the renovation of the temple, a priest found the lost 'scroll of the Law', and it was 'reintroduced' to the Jewish people. Ms. Armstrong appears to believe that this was, in fact, a largely invented event, with the 'found' scroll being, in fact, a new one that the priests had written themselves. In any case, the 'Deuteronomists' attributed the scroll to Moses, and taught the people that this was the Law from the beginning, and that it was their falling away from it that had led to the enslavement of the Jewish people for so long.

It was this new/old Law that the exiles took with them into Babylon. In Babylon, supposedly, the 'P' layer was added - the books of Numbers and Leviticus were added to the extant texts. The 'P' authors are the ones who suggested that the entire Jewish population observe the purity laws as though they were serving in the temple, as a way to keep themselves separate and holy even while surrounded by the Babylonian idolators.

In 539 Cyrus, king of Persia, allowed the Jews to return to their homeland. Many chose to remain, but those that returned took back with them the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings. Along with anthologies of the oracles of the prophets and a hymn book. This was the beginning, the seed of the Hebrew Bible. They also took with them a conviction that their Yahwism was the only authentic Jewish faith.


  1. Glad you are sharing these things with us. Please keep it up. Many of these "historical facts" are new to me so I'm curious about her opinion. Thanks!

  2. Susanne,

    The problem is that I have no idea how she got to her opinions! She could be right, but I have no way of knowing. Like, one thing I didn't mention was her claiming that the story of Job was a retelling of an ancient creation myth, with God slaying a sea monster to create the world, only retold without it being necessary for creation to show how great God was. And she just says it, with no citation. No explanation of where she got that idea, just a footnote that references you to...the Book of Job! Well, *that* certainly doesn't tell me all that she said, so where'd it come from?

    Ugh. I'm trying to just gloss over the chapters, without going off into ranty-town, which is hard.

  3. Maybe she believes her opinions to be historical facts and we should accept them simply because she - the historian - is presenting them. Maybe she is used to readers who don't question her or ask where she gets her facts.

    Well,be as ranty or glossy as you like. I rather like both sides of Amber. Maybe you can mix it up. :)

  4. Are you interested in the sources she doesn't cite, or just irritated by her shoddy scholarship? I think her comment about the scrolls being changeable might be based on scholarship of the prophetic books...and others, like the 4-author theory for the first 3 books of Moses you talk about here. Biblical scholars see several authors for a single text and so the conclusion is that the community was ok with a revision process where they chose what to include and what was inspired. You might also know that there were arguments over whether Song of Solomon should be included because it didn't seem spiritual. So there were meetings and discussions about which of their "sacred texts" were actually sacred, much like the early Church had councils to determine which books belonged in the Bible. (And I know I'm pulling an Armstrong here and not citing my sources, and I apologize for that, but I am at work and my books are at home, so my sources would likely wind up being Wikipedia right now.)

    Anyway. Interesting stuff, her lack of sources would probably drive me too crazy to actually finish it, though. Maybe I'll try to search for some of the ideas and find other books that do give their reasons.

  5. Sanil,

    For some of her claims, I'd like to see the sources, just to understand where the original author was coming from - like the Job story being a bastardized creation myth. I've never heard that theory before, and I'd like to know how they arrived at that conclusion. But that's not a hit on their conclusion, just the fact that *I* don't see how they got there, so I want to have their process explained so I can maybe understand it and then judge it for myself. As it is, I can't make a judgment on it, because it appears to have dropped from the sky. For the most part though, it's just irritation at her shoddy scholarship.

    I know and have absolutely no problem with there being multiple authors for the books of Moses. Or any other books for that matter. It makes perfect, logical sense, and I can see (through other authors writing) the evidence for the same. The ancient practice of attributing ones works to a famous, respected ancestor is well known, and it doesn't detract from the importance of the work, in my mind. There was ongoing debate all the time over the inclusion of this or that, and I have no problem with that. I have a problem with her simply stating a thing with no explanation as to how we know that this is so. *That's* what gripes me. People buy this book because she's semi-famous, and theoretically respected, and just..swallow whatever she says. Maybe not even realizing that it's not her research or her thoughts, but the work of historians that she has repackaged in an easy-to-read form.

    Heh. We're bloggers, not writing a book. We're allowed to state things and not cite our sources. :)

    She does cite one work several times, (one of the few citations she uses at all) but I don't have the book with me so I can't say which one it is. Anyway. I was reading along, thinking, I should just pick up that book, since it appears to be where she's getting much of her historical information. And I might do that, after I research the author.

  6. Amber, can you let us know the books she cites? I'm curious now. :) Thanks, Muscle Lady!

  7. " I was reading along, thinking, I should just pick up that book, since it appears to be where she's getting much of her historical information."

    Ha! It's weird how they do that. I did a research paper last year and eventually realized quite a few of my sources kept quoting the same work. I finally went to find that book, and found out that author was pretty much the only person doing anything in Mithraic studies for quite awhile, and everyone just rephrased him and added little bits in their own research. Up until there was sort of a turn-around and the scholars in that area now say that first author pretty much made everything up. Making all the other people who just took him at his word and quoted him kinda obsolete. BRILLIANT.

  8. Susanne,

    I'll make sure to make a list once I've finished the book. :)

  9. sanil,

    *lol* Too funny! But that's the way it goes, doesn't it? Everyone seizes on a theory and then later on it's proved to be total bunk.

  10. Oh, Amber, I'm so sorry. I meant the BOOK she cites as you said there was one book she always referred to. Sorry for that. I don't care for the whole list. Just the main one. Ooops!


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