Books and Authors, Documentary Hypothesis

YHWH: An Insecure Deity

In the middle of the second century CE, a Christian bishop, the son of the Bishop of Sinope, realized something that only the most daring have been willing to entertain since.  His name was Marcion and his realization was that the God of the Old Testament could not possibly be the same deity as the God of the New Testament.  The New Testament God was loving and forgiving, but the Old Testament God appeared to be judgmental and even malicious.  This was an idea that was shared by many Gnostic Christians in early Christianity, but (of course) the concept was rejected by the proto-orthodox Christians.  These ideas earned Marcion the title of “Heretic”, but were very popular in early Christianity.

In a recent conversation regarding the differences between the Old Testament God and the New Testament God, I went a step further and suggested that the Old Testament God was even different than the Old Testament God.  That statement is most certainly confusing, but a fact nonetheless.  Here is one example:  Is God merciful?  Is God just?  Is it possible to be both?  If God is merciful, then he is not just.  If God is just, then he cannot be merciful.  It is a contradiction in terms.  The God of the Old Testament is both and the key to understanding that, I think, lies with understanding the Documentary Hypothesis.  It is a matter of syncretism, as culture moves forward, the ‘understanding’ of the divine changes.  Bible-Jesus’ view of God was not the same as the predominant view of Second Temple Judaism.  Not only was it not the same, but it was a response to and a challenge to those contemporary views.  But it was not the first time that the “understanding of who God was” had challenged and changed. It should also be noted that the view of God has repeatedly and constantly changed since then, and continues to change every day.  In other words, the statement, “God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow”, is complete and utter bullshit.  God changes as culture changes, always has, always will.

For about a week now I’ve struggle with how best to relay this information and I find myself woefully inept at being able to combine the thoughts into a concise blurb, so I had an idea. (which should always be considered dangerous)

Anyone who knows me knows that the book at the very top of my list of recommended reading is Richard Elliot Friedman’s “Who Wrote the Bible”.  In this book, Friedman relays the history of the Documentary Hypothesis, evidences and examples that support the theory and attempts to pursue the question of “Who Wrote the Bible”.  “The Bible”, of course, is the Hebrew Bible, the non-Christianized Old Testament, specifically the Torah.  The conclusion of his book addresses the specific idea that I’ve struggled to put into words, and since Friedman did such an outstanding job of sharing that information, I thought it best to let him speak for himself.

So here’s the idea.  I am going to take the next several posts and quote the last chapter of the book.  In doing so, I am hoping that, A) I’m not violating any copyright laws, and B) this will urge others to get their hands on this excellent book and read the chapters that lead to the conclusion.  IMO, it is well worth the investment of time for anyone who is actually interested in the age old question of “Who Wrote the Bible”.

Excerpting from: “Who Wrote the Bible” – Richard Elliot Friedman, 1987, Summit Books, ISBN 0-671-63161-6

Chapter 14 – The World That the Bible Produced

-The Final Product
-In the Image of God
-Cosmic and Personal
-Justice and Mercy
-Whence and Whither

-The Final Product

Is the Bible more than the sum of its parts?

Of course.

The mixing of the different stories, laws, poems and points of view produced things that none of the authors dreamed of.

The author of E composed the story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Isaac, one of the most famous, intriguing, and troubling stories in the Bible.  It is the story of Abraham’s being so committed to his God’s will that he is even prepared to sacrifice his son.  Divine intervention stops him and saves Isaac’s life at the last instant.

The author of P, perhaps a hundred years later, composed the story of Abraham’s buying the cave of Machpelah.  Abraham buys the cave as a family burial plot because his wife Sarah has died.

The redactor, about two hundred years later, placed the story of Sarah’s death and the purchase of the cave right after the story of the sacrifice of Isaac.  The sacrifice of Isaac is in Genesis 22; the death of Sarah is in Genesis 23.

Interpreters ever since have suggested that perhaps the cause of Sarah’s death was that she saw her son being taken to be sacrificed, and she died of grief.  That was not planned by the person who wrote E, nor by the person who wrote P.  Even the redactor hay not have intended it.  But it works.  The mere juxtaposition of the two texts added another human element to the story.  It added a new level psychologically.  It opened up new possibilities of interpretation.  It raised new questions and invited new answers.

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of examples of such new elements and ideas being born out of the mixing of the sources—new twists in the stories, new psychological levels, and new possibilities for interpretation.  We still have barely begun to appreciate the impact of the Bible’s extraordinary history on the way that the book came out.

Most remarkable of all, that history affected the Bible’s picture of the relationship between God and humankind.

In the Image of God

(next post)



4 thoughts on “YHWH: An Insecure Deity

  1. Okay, you’ve made me want to get the book!
    I do have something to say about your statement “In other words, the statement, “God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow”, is complete and utter bullshit. God changes as culture changes, always has, always will.”
    I totally agree with what you said about how, as culture progresses, our understanding of God will inevitably change. But that does not mean that God Himself must necessarily change too ne? Take, for example, human Boeing’s understanding of science. Till about the 18th century or so, the accepted scientific version (or should I say the accepted European scientific version) was that the world began in 4004 BC, which is plainly quite ridiculous given the amount and age of archaeological and palaeontological evidence found since. Before that, in the Renaissance, the Church penalized Galileo for daring to suggest that the earth went round the sun. So as you see, our concept of science has change quite drastically. But does that mean that as the culture changed to one of acceptance of the above theories, that the Earth itself changed, and lengthened in geological age and began to circle round the sun?

    Likewise, I think our perception of God may change,but He has always been the same. It’s just that we honestly can’t comprehend all of Him. Which is a very annoying concept for people like me who like being in control and knowing what’s going on.

    And now I know someone’s going to say that the Church was the one generally who stood in the way of scientific progress, and that would be historically accurate. And you could say that if the Church was wrong then it might be wrong now,and with good reason. But I’m speaking not as the Church, which is a huge body, but as an individual who has experienced God in bits of my life.

    I’m sorry I’m so bad at explaining things. I hope you read what I’ve written though and actually think about it, because I thought about your points as well.

    Posted by Timaandra Wijesuriya | October 31, 2016, 12:13 am
  2. Very interesting. My friend, Byron Smith, has a copy of “Who Wrote the Bible” and he also says it’s excellent. I plan to get a copy myself soon.

    Posted by Larry Jones | March 29, 2011, 11:06 pm
  3. another great read X. Tell the others i said hello and please keep up the Xcellent blog posts.

    Posted by NorCal88 | March 22, 2011, 8:50 pm

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