bible, biblical writers, Deuteronomist, Elohim, God, Hebrew Scriptures, nationality, Priestly, tribes, Yahwist
I’ve said it many times before; the more deeply I probe the bible for understanding, the more I stand in awe of it. Fundamentalists may protest that all this unpacking will destroy faith, but I find it the opposite.
It remains, and is, all the more clearly a human document, but as I’ve been wont to say in the past, the inspiration seems to grow when one sees it for what it is: the work of human hands, telling their story of God and His involvement in human history.
I’ve pointed out that I was no novice as I began this more intense study of the Hebrew Scriptures. I was well aware of the various writers of Genesis for instance. Two, the Elohim and Yahwist traditions are considered ancient, and it is not clear that these were written until perhaps even centuries after the stories had passed into Hebrew folklore.
These ancient traditions arose from different Hebraic tribes, not all of which had even participated in the Egyptian “bondage” and escape. Archaeology and anthropology have done much to assist us in understanding how disparate groups of Hebrews some in Canaan and some not, came, for the most part to coalesce into the unity of the confederacy and then monarchy of David’s time.
During the time of the Davidic monarchy, another writer, known as the Deuteronomist arose. He views the world through the lens of the successes and failures of the monarchy under King David. And finally, after the Babylonian exile, the Priestly writer comes forth to organize finally it seems much of the material thus far acquired. He writes/edits/theologizes from the point of view of a destroyed Jerusalem and the need to unite once more after the long exile.
What becomes exceedingly clear to me at least, is that the E, J (Yawhist tradition designated J because in German, the name is Jehovah), D and P, continued well past the Pentateuch, of which I was aware, and continues into the books of Joshua, and Samuel. I am thinking that perhaps it permeates the entire Hebrew Scripture.
What I mean by this, is that as you continue reading, you find again and again, stories being told twice. As a novice, I think that I concluded that these stories must be of particular importance since God chose to repeat himself. If I saw what appeared to be contradictions or inconsistencies, I attributed that to my faulty learning as do most fundamentalists today. However, of course, I now understand that they merely reflect a different tradition who understood the story somewhat differently, often having major or minor contradictions to the other tradition.
What is even more apparent as one reads, is that the editor (often the Priestly writer, but also the Deuteronomist) had very clear theological ideas. In fact, they provided often, the framework around these stories, they gave them context and meaning. They never suggested that they were being “objective” and simply giving you all possible theories and one was free to chose which one was “best.”
Reading the bible is reading a point of view. God’s creation was “good.” The Deuteronomist makes it clear again and again in Joshua and Judges that “the people did what was evil in God’s sight” and were thus punished by God. When they returned to faithfulness, God blessed them with victories and good life. It is always clear upon reading what is the “right” response and what is wrong. The synchronization of Canaanite and Yahwistic faith tradition which was common in the confederacy years was unacceptable to the Deuteronomist, and he makes it clear it is apostasy. His point of view is that the Israelites were “different” and their God was the only one they needed.
So, it is astounding, given this, that the writers continued at all times it seems, to include other traditions that disagreed with their theology. Yet we see this time and time again. The Priestly creation story (the first encountered at the beginning of Genesis) reflects Priestly theology and is represented by the “modernized” view of creation of the 300-500 BCE period. The J-E version, located in chapter two, reflects a more primitive version of creation that would have preceded the period of the monarchy (1000-800 BCE).
We wonder why. Some scholars see the J-E and D and P as reflecting ideas from the “southern” tribes and later kingdom, and the “northern” tribes and later kingdom. We know the confederacy was only loosely united, the bible itself makes that clear. The kingdom of course split itself. Yet, the Priestly writer, probably a Levite, chooses to include the traditions of what may well have been political enemies of sorts, those that he might well have claimed “caused” much of Israel’s woes.
In this I see great inspiration–these were the stories of a “people” something the Israelites were well before they were a nation. In fact, they were not a nation one might argue until the time of the kingdom of Saul and then David. As such, these stories belonged to all the people, even when they were at odds with one another.
A case in point should suffice. In 1Samuel, we have the story of the movement from confederacy, and the time of the judges to monarchy. There are two traditions represented. One is called the “Saul tradition.” This makes the claim that the movement to monarchy was blessed by Yahweh upon the request of the people. A second tradition is the Samuel one, represented I believe by the Deuteronomist, who maintains that a change to monarchy makes them apostates, no better than the rest of their neighbors.
The writer chooses to include both. It seems the reason is that he understood that no unity could be approached but through the combined traditions of the Hebraic community. The story in some sense, must be “common,” even when parts were in contradiction. One may be favored as “correct” by the writer, but the two traditions perhaps serve to emphasize the “confusion” of the people and thus their falling into sin. It is from this linked and troubling “history” that the people find themselves in the place they are at the time of the final redactions.
This beautiful genius if you will, is surely inspired. Threaded through this mosaic are the clear indications of each writers sense of providence–how God worked within history to walk with his people. Nothing could be more inspiring to us as readers as we struggle to find answers to our own perplexing problems. We are reminded that we are all “a people” and we are best when we share our history, which is truly “all” ours.