HMS 5765-15: Who Wrote The Bible?

Lessons in Memory of my brother Dale Alan Konigsburg

January 10, 2005 – Number 5765-15

Who Wrote The Bible?

The Talmud itself tells us that many of the books of the Prophets and all of the later Writings were not composed by Moses, but were composed by those who came later in Jewish History. Since there is little that relates to Jewish Law in these last two sections of the Bible, there has been little controversy about how these books were written. While it may surprise some people that David did not write all the Psalms, it has little impact on the way Judaism is practiced.
The Torah itself is a different matter. All of Judaism is based on this document. All of Jewish law, both ancient and modern is tied in some way to the words of Torah. But the Torah is filled with evidence that was written over a span of time by a number of different authors. A literary analysis shows us that there are two very different creation stories and two different flood stories. There are differences in style of writing between some books and there are passages that seem to indicate that the narrator was living a long time after the events that are described. Classic commentators from the middle ages noted these problems with the text. ibn Ezra mentions these problems but he refused to comment on their implications. Even the Talmud has different ideas of how the last verses of the Torah were written.
To the fundamentalist, the Torah has to be a unified document that was handed to Moses by G-d at Mt. Sinai in the form that we have it today. It is the unchangeable word of G-d. To the modern scholar, we see at least five different hands involved in the text writing from a number of different times. To be sure some of the texts are quite old. Whoever collected these stories, collected what he knew from ancient history. While it is hard to date the Torah exactly, it seems to have been collected and edited around the time of Ezra, the time the Jews returned from their exile in Babylonia, toward the end of the sixth century, B.C.E.
So if the Torah is written by human hands, than how is it a divine text? It is a divine text on a number of levels. First of all, the contents of the Torah alone, and their importance to Jews and western civilization indicate that there is something more to this text than just another story. The wisdom in the Torah is certainly far beyond what has appeared in any other book to this very day. How G-d got in the text I can not say with certainty, but I know for certain that G-d and G-d’s word is in this text. Second, the Torah never tries to be a book of facts, it is a book of truth. The truth of its words have stood the test of time. It does not matter what the facts are anymore. The Torah is not a history book, it is a book of faith. The narrative and the laws speak to that faith even if they did not happen in the historical context that the Torah assigns to them. There is no way to know, at this time if the Exodus from Egypt really happened or not, but the understanding that people are meant to be free and that the struggle for freedom in the Torah is also our struggle that all people should be free. Rabbi Barry Starr of Sharon, MA sums it up saying, “Our tradition in its liturgy often suggests that “G-d is the G-d of truth.” We never need to worship the G-d of fact.”
It does not matter if the world was created in six days or in six million years. What matters is that the world was created in order, and in that order of nature, we can find evidence of G-d’s hand. The Torah represents our ancestors attempt to share their understanding of G-d with us, and in their faith, and in their words, we find the core principles upon which we base our lives. Torah is then the foundation of all that we believe to be true. Everything in Judaism is based on what we learn from Torah. We do not have to give up our natural curiosity nor ignore modern scholarship to be strong in our faith. And yet, by keeping G-d in the text, we also do not give ourselves over to the conceit that human beings are the ultimate good in the universe.

Next week: Teaching Torah: Writing a D’var Torah

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