Source criticism

Critical study of the biblical sources is an attempt to trace the oral traditions before they were written down, since practically every oral story was older than its written text.  Thus, literary criticism in biblical studies has been designated as source criticism.  Examples of this include the Pentateuch four source theory and the two-source theory for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Gradual development of the Bible

The books of the Bible were formed gradually.  They are the product of Jewish and Christian religious communities that was 95% illiterate.  These stories were first word of mouth, then later put into writing.  Moses did not write all the books of the Pentateuch.  Paul did not write all the letters ascribed to him.  Matthew and Luke partially rewrote Mark with other sources.  There were additions and deletions, but we have what God wanted us to have.

The library of Nehemiah (2 Macc 2:13-2:15)

“The same things are reported in the records

And in the memoirs of Nehemiah.

He also founded a library.

He collected the books about the kings and prophets,

And the writings of David.

He collected the letters of kings about votive offerings.

In the same way Judas also collected all the books

That had been lost on account of the war

That had come upon us.

Now they are in our possession.

So if you have need of them,

Send people to get them for you.”

We do have the book of Nehemiah. Whether there were other records or memoires that is mentioned in a library, we are not sure. Nowhere else is there a mention of a library, but Nehemiah and Ezra were 5th century BCE scholars who worked with the law. They may have been the first to have what might be called an unofficial canon of the Bible. He may have been the one who collected the works of the prophets and the books about the kings together with the Pentateuch to create the Hebrew Bible. Judas Maccabeus may have done the same thing. He may have gathered all the biblical books into a library since that is what the Bible means, a library of books. The other biblical moment would have been under King Josiah in the 7th century BCE, when they discovered the book of the law. These Jewish people were willing to lend them out. Alexandria was a major world library at this time. It was there in the 2nd and 3rd century BCE that the translation of the Hebrew Bible into the Greek Septuagint Bible took place. This is one of the few biblical occasions where someone is vaguely talking about the makeup of the Bible itself.

Torah or Pentateuch

One of the most interesting problems is what to call the first five books of the Bible. Pentateuch seems to be the easiest because these are the first five books of the Bible. As the Greek based word Pentateuch means five and it is an old English word this seems to be the answer, the Pentateuch.

However, the question remains are these five books part of the Jewish Bible or the Old Testament Christian Bible? The answer at first glance is that they are part of both. However, the fact is that these books were established in some set format before the time that Jesus of Nazareth or any of his followers come on the scene. These five books have nothing to do with Jesus Christ. Jesus and his followers knew about these books and probably read them, if they could read. Nevertheless, these five books were adopted by the followers of Jesus, but only after a minor dispute with Marcion in the second century as to whether they were necessary for Christians. Certainly Jerome in the fourth century made them part of the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Greek Septuagint. The Latin Vulgate became the Christian Bible that served western Christianity for over a thousand years. For the sake of argument we can simply say that Christians have accepted these five books, the Pentateuch, to be the first five books of their Bible, or more specifically the first five books of the Old Testament.

Thus the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Christian Old Testament, was not created by Christians. The early Christians adopted these books as they understood them as part of their holy scripture as Jesus and his Jewish followers had done. Who then created these holy books? For many Christians the answer is God. This is God’s word. How did God write or present these books to humans. These books were originally written in Hebrew, not Greek, nor in Shakespeare English, as some might believe.

So now we have to go to a Jewish source to find out about these books. Where did they come from? Jewish Hebrew writers appear to be the correct answer. Traditionally, these five books were called the Mosaic books, written by Moses. In fact, many Christians and Jews today believe that God dictated to Moses these written works which he wrote down. In fact, the Book of Deuteronomy seems to indicate that this is the case when it talks about Moses writing a book. Now let me sure that you understand that Moses was not a disciple of Jesus. Therefore, these books are not Christian in origin or purpose, no matter who wrote them.

These first five books of the Bible are Jewish Mosaic books. Both Christians and Jews believe that God inspired Moses or someone to write these holy books so that they have become known as the holy writings, Holy Scripture, or the ‘Word of God.’ They are in fact words about God and his relationship to a group of people known as Israelites, a term that appears a lot. I translated it as Israelites, but others have used terms like ‘children of Israel,’ or ‘people of Israel.’ Israel is the name given to Jacob who had twelve sons from four different women that became the twelve tribes of Israel.

There are numerous Hebrew terms for God, but Yahweh is the predominate one, used over 6,800 times. As I am using the Jerusalem Bible, this was their exclusive term in their earlier editions. Quite often the term ‘the LORD’ appears in English translations. However, this is a particular English term with hints of feudalism in it. In fact, England does have a ‘House of Lords’ as the upper house of their parliament. Many religious have appropriated this term to apply to their deity. Lord comes from the Greek kurios, but these were Hebrew writings. Therefore, I stuck with the unique word ‘Yahweh,’ based on the non-vowel Hebrew Tetragrammaton ‘YHWH.’ Strangely enough, Tetragrammaton is a Greek word. I also know that many Jewish people do not use the term ‘Yahweh’ when reading of speaking about God, but use Adonai or the name of God when addressing God, especially since the Second Temple times. They feel that it is too holy of a name to pronounce. I am also aware that Pope Benedict XVI in 2008 recommended that Yahweh not be used in any Roman Catholic liturgical services, since it was offensive to Jews. However, the factual use of the term better illustrates the uniqueness of Yahweh God than the more generic ‘the LORD. This I will continue to use this term, even if it is offensive to some people. In fact, Yahweh may have been the name of some gods among the Canaanites or Moabites around the first millennium, 1,000 BCE.

Now back to our Jewish Bible. The Hebrew canon of the Bible is called the Tanakh,which is an acronym for their three main divisions of the Bible, Torah, Nevi’im, and Katuvim, TaNaKh. The first of these three parts of the Tanakh is the Torah, or the law, the teachings, which consists of five books with the Hebrew title the first word of the book: (1) Bereshit, In the beginning, Genesis; (2) Shemot, Names, Exodus; (3) Vayikra, And He called, Leviticus; (4) Bəmidbar, In the desert Numbers; (5) Devarim, Things or Words, Deuteronomy. These are the five books that make up the Jewish Torah, the Jewish law, of the Hebrew Tanakh. So we are clear. We are dealing with Hebrew sacred writings of the Jewish people. These writings were later accepted into the Christian Bible as the Old Testament. This is where we come up with the Greek English names that we use today, (1) Genesis, origins; (2) Exodus, going out; (3) Leviticus, relating to the Levites; (4) Numbers, numbering of the Israelites; (5) Deuteronomy, the second law.

There is no doubt that these are ancient oral stories that existed for hundreds of years before they were written down. We might call some of these stories folk tales or fairy tales. Most scholars agree that the ancient belief that Moses literally wrote all these books cannot be held today. The fact that it records his death goes against that literal interpretation. However, the opposite is also true. These are Mosaic inspired oral stories that cannot be disputed. There must be something behind these stories. The nineteenth century four source theory put the actual writing of the texts between 800 and 450 BCE. Two of the sources were the Jahwist and the Elohist sources based on the name of God used. For me, the Jahwist dominated. These would be the older oral tales where Yahweh God is more capricious and angry. The Elohist God is more laid back. The other two sources were more concerned with laws and commandments. The Priestly God and the Deuteronomist God is more concerned about following the laws. However, the Deuteronomist source talks about following the law with love from your heart and soul. The Priestly source is more legalistic, and probably the final editor of these books. Nevertheless, there are many strains and stories combined in these five books. Somewhere around the fifth century BCE these Hebrew books got their final form. However, the actual text with all its uniformity of vowels and consonants does not occur until the early Middle Ages with the Masoretic texts in the Middle East from the seventh to the tenth century CE. This is precisely the same time when the western Christian monks are producing Latin versions of the Vulgate Bible in their scriptoriums.

The five books of Moses contain the following stories: 1) Prehistory before Abraham; 2) Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; 3) Joseph; 4) Moses; 5) Exodus from Egypt; 6) Covenant at Mount Sinai; 7) Building the Tabernacle; 8) Aaron and laws for sacrifice offerings; 9) Holiness Code; 10) Unbelief in the wilderness; 11) Forty year wanderings in the desert; 12) The capture of the east side of the Jordan River; 13) Moses speeches; 14) Deuteronomic Code; 15) the end of Moses; 16) and the new leader Joshua.

What did the Torah mean to the Jewish people? Everything, their whole life and being was dependent on these stories and the laws, ordinances, statues, and commandments contained in these books. Torah means teachings. This is not merely a story book or a legal document. They are bound together. The land was everything. It was tied to God Yahweh and his commandments. Everything came from Yahweh. This was a Theo-centric world. Everything made sense within this world with Yahweh as its leader. Moses was the great intercessor. He interpreted Yahweh’s words for the Israelite people. He pleaded with Yahweh to save his people. There is an intense relationship between Yahweh and Moses and his people. It is a great love-hate relationship with betrayal and great forgiveness. However, it is a brutal world. People do die. People need to be punished. The rewards are long life, many children, and great land to prosper on. The punishments are separation from the community, uncleanness, and death.

If I were Jewish I would call these books the Torah.   However, Torah within the Jewish community has a wider meaning since it also includes oral teachings not written down, sometimes referred to as Midrash or Talmud. However, I am a Christian with a Jewish base. I accept and believe that the Old Testament or the Jewish writings are sacred divine writings, and part of the Bible. These human Hebrew words are the words that God wanted the Israelites to follow, neither to the right or left. Of more importance for a Christian is the fact that Jesus and his followers considered the Torah to be their law. So whenever they talk about the law they are referring to the Torah, which are the laws and commandments in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. If we accept the fact that Jesus was certainly Jewish, then we have to accept the Hebrew writings as he did, the Torah. So it is that I have finished reading and commenting on the first five books of the Torah as well as the first five books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch. Let the debate continue.