Defending the Bible – part 1

This is the beginning of the follow-up to my previous post, in which I presented a semi-serious critique of the Bible from a critical liberal perspective.  Granted, it’s kind of a straw man argument, but it was based on real critiques that people have made about the Bible.  That’s why I called it “a bible for liberal post-modernists” rather than “the bible for…”

Since the critiques in the previous post were not argued very deep, I’m not going to go too deep in the defense arguments either, but hopefully enough to get us pointed in the right direction.

the Pentateuch

In the 19th century, some German scholars started picking up on some quiet corners of critical biblical scholarship following this interesting theory that the Pentateuch was not written by Moses, but rather, complied by him from earlier sources.  One set of sources referred to God as Jehovah (YHWH, as we translate it today), and one referred to God as Elohim.  Other vocabulary features were identified to develop these two ‘voices’ in the first books of the Bible.  And, over time, these two sources (J and E they’re called) were expanded to add a third source who was interested in liturgical/sacrificial priestly stuff (called P).

Then the real kicker came when some scholars decided that Deuteronomy was a “pious fraud.”  It talks about what Israel should do when it has a king, which didn’t happen for hundreds of years after Moses!  Therefore, it was written much later – probably in the time of King Hezekiah when the book of the Law was supposedly “rediscovered.”  Deuteronomy was an attempt (and a good one, at that), to put the centralized political & religious system of Judah into Moses’ mouth to buttress their position over against Israel.  This Deuteronomist also edited bits of the other books of the Law to make them all fit together better (called source D).  So that’s JEPD.

It’s based on the idea that one person can’t have a wide vocabulary, can’t write in more than one literary style, and can’t prophesy the future in the power of God.  From the very start, this whole theory stems from an attitude that the Bible is the word of man only, and that God does not do miracles in this world.  Some of it makes sense to a non-theist, but a devout Christian shouldn’t have any interest in believing this stuff.  Even the multiple-source thing has begun to fall apart in recent years, because very few scholars can agree as to exactly where the J E P D contributions are.

Historical Books

Inserting a new book into the Bible just to get a “fair” history of pre-Israelite Canaan is, of course, out of the question to both Jews and Christians.  The Bible may not tell us much about them, but we believe it tells us enough of what we need to know: their religious and moral structures were increasingly oppressive and wicked until they reached a point when they were ready for God’s judgment, and that’s when Israel was called in to replace them.

This is related to the issue with Joshua – it’s difficult to understand why such a bloody book is in the Bible unless you have a firm grasp of God’s righteous justice.  It’s tempting for us to stand in God’s place of judgment and say “nobody deserves such destruction!”  And unless you do believe in God’s holiness and perfect will, Joshua is going to be a hard book to swallow.  I wouldn’t blame people for wanting to remove it from the canon of Scripture at first, but I would hope that every Christian gets a chance to learn why it’s there and what it really means.

As for lumping together some of the other books, that’s not such a big deal.  The narrative of Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, and 1 & 2 Kings is nicely continuous; and the Samuel & Kings books were originally one anyway.  But to separate them out and call them “Israel” and Chronicles “Judah” is an oversimplification.  The Chronicles were written after the Israelite exile in Babylon, and focus on the good moments in Judah’s history in order to provide positive examples for the Jews returning home.  Kings, on the other hand, is more of a theological commentary on the history of Israel & Judah, showing both good deeds and the bad deeds that brought them to the exile in the first place.

The impulse to bring Judith from the Apocrypha to the Old Testament proper because it’s the story of a woman heroine is my critique of a sexist impulse that I’ve seen in some liberal folk today.  Some people seem to have the attitude that in order to liberate women completely from male domination is to exalt women over men in return… which is sexist.  Besides, people of the extreme liberal camp don’t have much concern for canonicity in Scripture anyway, so “bringing back” a piece of the Apocrypha isn’t so bad in their eyes.

the Prophetic Books

Chopping Isaiah in half is not an argument with which I’m very familiar.  There’s the concept of “Deutero-Isaiah” (2nd Isaiah) in which the first half of the book is so different from the second half that it stands to reason that it’s an anthology of multiple prophets under one name.  This strikes me as a similar argument made about the Pentateuch: different literary styles indicate different authors.  If I’m understanding that argument correctly, then I can comfortably say it’s a silly idea.  The book of Isaiah is indeed an anthology of prophecies and statements, and they are grouped by genre or topic.  But to say that Isaiah was incapable of preaching in more than one style is like saying that J.S. Bach couldn’t have written both Cantatas and concertos!

Next time I’ll pick up on the New Testament portion and address some of those critiques.

About Fr. Brench

I'm an Anglican Priest and a sci-fi geek. Therefore, I write about liturgy & spiritual formation, theology & biblical studies, and Doctor Who. But I keep those blogs separate so I don't confuse too many people!
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1 Response to Defending the Bible – part 1

  1. Pingback: Defending the Bible – part 2 | Leorningcnihtes boc

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