Who wrote the Torah? Most people you ask — depending on your circle of friends — will answer, “A group of very wise men got together and wrote it.” For the past 3,300 years the Jewish people have lived with the consciousness that the Almighty dictated the Torah to Moses who wrote it down word for word, letter by letter. Every Torah-educated Orthodox Jew believes that. Are they fools, fantasizers, misguided religious fanatics?
It will surprise some people to know that for the past 3,300 the Jewish people have taught their children the evidence for the belief that there is a God and that He dictated the Torah to Moses. Actually, I am sure that for the first hundred or two hundred years after the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai the authorship of the Torah was not even a question. For generations all a Jewish child had to do was to ask his father if he was at Mt. Sinai or if his father or grandfather was there. Even Moses himself tells all generations to “Go and ask … has a people ever heard the voice of God speaking … as you have heard and survived?” (Deuteronomy 4:32-35).
This post may trouble some readers. It really shouldn’t. Religious leaders in some circles have sought to suppress the overwhelming evidence that something like the Documentary Hypothesis is true. Attacks against this idea usually claim that those who believe this theory simply disbelieve God. Such attacks also tend to refer to Julius Wellhausen and his views, which actually do not represent what is essential about the Documentary Hypothesis. The Documentary Hypothesis (DH) has many forms and is better known as JEDP. In my opinion, the best developed understanding of the DH is found in Richard Friedman’s work, including the very readable Who Wrote the Bible? (which was a bestseller).
“Exodus 6:2-3 and the Documentary Hypothesis”
Messianic Jewish Musings
I haven’t revisited this topic in a long time and even after I read Derek’s blog post, I was determined not to regurgitate it again from the murky depths so that it could come back up into the cold light of day. Then I read Rabbi Packouz and I was reminded that there is a fair distance between the stories we tell ourselves about the Bible and the story that the Bible tells us about itself (I know these gentlemen are specifically discussing the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, but I’m choosing to expand the discussion to the Bible as a whole).
I don’t mean the story the Bible tells in the actual text, but the history and evolution of the creation of the Bible as we have it today. I’m no scholar, but even I’ve read enough to realize that the Bible has lots and lots of warts, bruises, wrinkles, and other imperfections. No reliable and trustworthy Bible scholar would suggest that God literally dictated the Bible word-for-word to its various human authors.
So where is God in the Bible? No I don’t mean where is God mentioned, but is there anything of God in the actual composition of the Bible? Or is the Bible just the stories we tell ourselves about it? Frankly, we have told ourselves some pretty interesting stories about the Bible.
One way to establish and support an acceptance of Talmudic interpretation and judgment relative to Torah for post-Second Temple Judaism is to project the values and even the “reality” of Talmud (and later, Kabbalah) not only forward in time but backward. Peering at the Patriarchs through this lens, we can indeed “see” Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob studying Torah and Talmud in the study house of Shem when by historical knowledge and a plain reading of the Torah, such events seem very unlikely to have actually taken place.
-from my blog post:
The Rabbinization of Abraham
I periodically wrestle with this issue. Back on my previous blog, I wrote such articles as Reading the Bible in the Dark, The Bible is a Mystery Novel, and Who to Believe. I manage to “tame” the questions and conundrums by reading the Bible as if it were a series of Chassidic, or in my case, Messianic Tales. Maybe that’s the only way to make sense of the Bible, and especially the Gospels.
He read the Gospels in German. Then he obtained a Hebrew version and reread them. Though he was in the midst of a Gentile, Christian city where Jesus was worshiped in churches and honored in every home, Feivel felt the Gospels belonged more to him and the Chasidic world than they did to the Gentiles who revered them. He found the Gospels to be thoroughly Jewish and conceptually similar to Chasidic Judaism. He wondered how Gentile Christians could hope to comprehend Yeshua (Jesus) and His words without the benefit of a classical Jewish education or experience with the esoteric works of the Chasidim.
Taken from Jorge Quinonez:
“Paul Philip Levertoff: Pioneering Hebrew-Christian Scholar and Leader”
Mishkan 37 (2002): 21-34
as quoted from Love and the Messianic Age
But this presents a problem. During last Sunday’s sermon, Pastor said (I don’t have my notes with me, so what I’m about to write isn’t an entirely accurate quote) that the only way to show an unbeliever how to encounter God and come to faith in the Father through Jesus Christ is by reading and using scripture.
Given everything I’ve said above, plus Derek’s commentary, plus just a boatload of Biblical scholars , scripture is not and cannot be the literally dictated words of the God of Heaven as whispered into the little, shell-like ears of the prophets and other writers of the books of the Bible.
In fact, I’m hard-pressed to tell you what the Bible is and who actually wrote it. Even portions of the New Testament weren’t in all likelihood, written by the people whose names are attached to them. Not all of the epistles written by Paul? Probably not. Did the Apostle John who (supposedly) wrote the Gospel of John also write Revelation?
Once you stop taking the Bible for granted, a lot of new territory opens up in front of you…in front of me.
In defense of the Bible (the Torah actually), Rabbi Packouz has this to say:
Perhaps the most powerful example is Shmitah (the Sabbatical year for the land). Modern agriculture science has taught us the value of letting the land rest and replenish itself. A sensible law would be to divide the Land of Israel into 7 regions and each year let one region lie fallow while people eat from the crops of the other 6 regions. However, that’s not the law of the Torah! The Torah writes, “For six years you may plant your fields … but the seventh year is the Sabbath of the land in which you may not plant your fields nor prune your vineyards (Leviticus 25:36).
The WHOLE land is to rest all at the same time! What happens to an agrarian society that stops farming for one year? Starvation! And how long does a religion last that advocates letting the whole land rest in the 7th year? My guess … about 6 years!
Perhaps they could avoid starvation by buying food from surrounding countries? A good idea and a reasonable idea … but the Torah has other plans. The Almighty says, “I have commanded My blessing to you in the sixth year and you will have produce for three years” (Leviticus 25:20-22).
Either one has to be God to have the “audacity” to make a law for the whole land to rest and then to promise a bounty crop 3 times as large as usual in the sixth year — or a stark raving mad lunatic!
Yet, the Jewish people neither starved nor abandoned the Torah! 3,300 years later a sizable portion of our people still adhere to the laws of Torah and still trust in the promises of the Almighty!
How could any human being promise in writing something that requires powers totally beyond his control?
And furthermore, why would anyone be willing to risk his own credibility and the legitimacy of his religion, when it would be easier to present a more rational solution and avoid the credibility issues.
Can we accept that somewhere in the pages of the Bible we might actually be able to encounter the Divine? If so, where and how (apart from Shmitah)? If we can’t take the Bible as literally, page-by-page, the Word of God, then what do we consider it? If God is in there somewhere, then is it an intellectual and scholarly race to discover the secret location of the well of God’s Spirit?
Derek Leman seems to think that it’s possible to have a very questioning view of the Bible and yet still have faith:
People get from their religious background the idea that “Moses wrote all” or “Moses wrote almost all” of the Torah. For example, people will say “Moses wrote Genesis.”
This is complicated by things like Yeshua referring to “Moses and the prophets.” People take this to mean that Yeshua, who they suppose was omniscient during his earthly sojourn (but he was not) affirmed that Moses wrote all of Gen-Deut. He did not. His references to Moses actually writing all concern commandments, not narratives. With Moses as the originator of the commandments (or original vessel through whom they were revealed), all the five books are called “of Moses” but this need not mean authorship.
Anyway, because some of the earliest people to doubt Moses as the final author of Torah were skeptics, it is common for people to think anyone with a more complicated view than “Moses wrote it” are doing so because of a small faith or a lack of faith or a dislike of faith.
But I’ve never heard a satisfactory explanation of how other people do it. I only have how I do it and my “method” requires usually suspending disbelief for the sake of faith. I have encountered God before, so in an extraordinarily subjective way, I know He is real, He is alive, and He is God. I’m not going through the crisis of faith I had when I first faced this particular realization, but I do allow myself to periodically become aware of just how fragile a knowledge of God is if based solely on the Bible. On the other hand (and I’ve alluded to this already), basing knowledge of God solely on our experiences with the Holy Spirit can be just as hazardous, because most human beings have very little ability to tell the difference between an emotional experience and a spiritual one (barring the occasional saint or tzaddik).
I may not be able to take everything I read in the Bible and everything that Christianity and Judaism says about those events as actual, factual events (though some of them probably are), but I can still take what I read and what I study and try to apply them so that I can learn to live a better life.
The Patriarch Abraham was tested (by God) ten times and withstood them all. This proves Abraham’s great love for God.
-Ethics of the Fathers 5:3
Abraham was tested with ten trials of progressively increasing severity, ultimately culminating in the test of sacrificing his beloved son Isaac if God so willed.
Abraham successfully passed all the tests. Still, while he did demonstrate his intense loyalty and devotion to God, how did it prove his love for God?
In yesterday’s message we learned that God does not challenge people beyond their capacities. It follows, then, that as they advance in spiritual growth and strength, they actually render themselves vulnerable to trials of greater intensity. In the course of his many trials, Abraham detected this pattern. He could have logically decided to avoid any further spiritual progression, because it might subject him to even greater ordeals than those he had already sustained.
Abraham decided otherwise. He desired so much to come closer to God that he was willing to pay any price. Thus, when he was put to the ultimate task – to sacrifice Isaac – Abraham was not taken aback. He had fully anticipated such an eventuality.
We are not of the mettle of Abraham, and we pray every day, “Do not put us to test.” While we indeed wish to advance spiritually, we ask to be spared the distress of trial. Yet, should we experience adversity in life, we would do well to realize that this may be a testimony to our spiritual strength.
try to advance myself spiritually. Although I pray to be spared from distress, I will try not to recoil if adversity does occur.
-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tevet 26”
Thomas Gray once penned the famous words, “Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise” (in the poem “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College,” 1742). I suppose many “Bible-believing Christians” feel very blissful as long as they don’t consider the rather troubling questions I’m bringing up this morning. On the other hand, once the “bliss bubble” is popped, then we can only face the painful trial of reality, if not the wisdom, of whatever we have left.
Chances are, Abraham never faced the ten challenges, at least as we see chronicled in Pirkei Avot (but not the Bible). Chances are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob never studied Torah in the academies of Shem and Eber as we learn from the Talmud. Maybe the only place we really encounter God is in our prayers. Or maybe we encounter God everyday, as long as we continue to seek Him.
According to Gedaliah Nigal’s book The Hasidic Tale, some of the goals of the hasidic story are to “rouse its hearers into action for the service of God” and to win “adherents, among them some outstanding individuals, to hasidim.” In relation to this, I’ve said:
The “Chasidim” of Jesus also made sure the stories of their Master were passed on from generation to generation, eventually being recorded and passed on to the future…to us.
Paul Philip Levertoff thought that the teachings of Jesus read like a collection of Chasdic tales. Perhaps as Gentile Christians reading tales of the Chasidim, we can also find a connection to the Messiah, the Prophet, and the greatest Tzadik, whose own death atoned for not just a few, but for all.
Having gone through all this again, I feel reassured.