Tuesday, May 17, 2005

What a mess

The bible has many authors, most of which are not recongized by modern religion. For example, the first five bible books, or Torah have four or five sources. These sources are often called J, E, P and D. There may be a fifth source as well. There is also evidence of significant redaction from any number of additional sources. I’m not going into detail on this. It’s just important to know this because the Torah is presented as though is it one continuous and harmonious inspired work detailing the history of the world and the Israelite peoples. It turns out that it is made up of several competing set documents that were meshed together long after the original texts were written. When one starts to identify the sources of each section of the Torah, one finds just how poorly the sources have been combined. Very often, there are direct contradictions between sections of the various sources, even within the same story.
Personally, I believe the four sources themselves have many other sources from which they were derived. The sense I get is that each tribe in the Israel nation had its own set of stories to give itself legitimacy, serving as metaphors for their place in the region. In fact, I believe they were intentional written as metaphors, and never were meant to be taken literally. When all of Israel was finally conquered by an outside power, there appeared to be an effort to assembly a unified history of the Hebrew peoples, maybe to find hope or meaning in their new role as a conquered people. Since most of their other tribes of Israel had already vanished by this time, this assemblage (which became the Torah) mostly reflects stories of the last surviving tribes and priestly establishments.
Given this view, it is possible that Israel was never one nation. It appears that it was an alliance of different nations that changed through time. Fact is the bible has several different lists of the tribes of Israel. These lists vary substantially. It wasn’t until King David established his empire that all these various nations become one country. At that time, the fluid alliance formalized under one central power. If I remember correctly, the list of tribes doesn’t change after this period.
The further implication is that the peoples that made up the Israel alliance where originally polytheistic, with each tribe choosing which gods to represent them. The struggle between Baalist and Yahwehist survives in the bible because Yahwehist (the winners) got to write the final versions of that part of Israel’s history. They used the struggle and defeat of the Baalist to justify their position. However, Yahweh himself is a composite of 3 other gods, prolly combined to unify the religion, link up the various tribal stories and expand the priestly orders. Some early images of Yahweh (before he was declared an invisible god) show him as a lion with legs as serpent bodies. Hmm, there is an underlining serpent story to the earliest parts of the Torah. God used serpents to punish his people. Then Moses made a statue of a serpent for people to seek salvation from the serpents. It’s possible that story was created in order to explain away evidence of early serpent worship by Israelite ancestors. What other gods disappeared from Israelite history at the hands of the victorious Yahwehist?
So, both gods and peoples vanish from Israelite history. The victors wrote stories justifying their conquests. Later generations took these stories as fact, combining them into the Torah. They also informally attributed the Torah to Moses. The informal credit to Moses as the writer later became fact by tradition, and the Torah become undeniable truth. And there stands the foundation of three great religions.
Reference: 101 Myths of the Bible


Mickey Glitter said...

Very interesting post! I didn't know all of that was behind the Torah, what with the different sources and whatnot.

fcsuper said...

For a basic introduction, check out "Who Wrote the Bible". I'm reading it right now. I've learned much of this stuff from other sources, but I'm finding this one to be a good reference