Fables Of The Construction

From time to time I talk about the Coursera classes that I take [1], and I decided to take one on the history of the Bible, as it is a subject I am interested in. Unfortunately, biblical scholarship does not often remotely approximate the glory and wisdom of the Bible itself. In stark contrast to the immense respect by which classical scholars treat the works of Greek and Roman literature, or Medieval scholars treat the works of their period, biblical “scholars” show an immense disrespect for the Bible, for reasons that are easy enough to comprehend but still mark biblical scholarship as being a far more intellectually dishonest and unethical field than just about any other field of scholarship.

There are a lot of ways where this particular dishonesty is portrayed. One of the more common ways is that biblical scholars treat the Bible far differently than they do other texts. They do this in many ways. Some comparisons would be helpful. For one, we have no copies of the Gallic Wars by Caesar prior to 900 AD, almost a thousand years after it was written. Yet despite this large gap of provenance, it is generally (and generously) accepted that the versions of the book that we possess are complete and correspond with the long-lost original copies. This same respect is not accorded to the Bible. Even though we have manuscripts of the New Testament going back mere decades after they were written, biblical scholars show little respect for the texts of the Bible, being far more concerned to delegitimize those aspects of scripture that they dislike.

This is even more true when one looks at the history of writing itself as it relates to the Hebrew. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, they demonstrated that the Masoretic text (which dates to around 900 AD or so as well) was nearly entirely correct, owing to the extreme conservatism of Hebrew textual procedure, and so going back nearly a thousand years did not demonstrate any particularly massive errors (there was a grand total of one verse added to one of the psalms that made it a full acrostic, for example). Yet the discovery of the faithfulness of the Masoretic text thanks to the discoveries in Qum’ran did not in any way lead to a greater respect for the basic validity and completeness of the Hebrew text as a whole, which was still treated like the red-headed stepchild of ancient texts. While it is common, even expected, for scholars to refrain from assuming that the oldest known example of writing in a given area is the oldest writing that could exist, this assumption is regularly made in terms of the Bible, which has written components going back a long way before the first example of written Hebrew in the 10th century BC, for example. Despite the ravages of time that make archeology a very inexact art, the only credit that scholars will give to biblical peoples is based on those relics of history that manage to have survived endless conquests and reconstruction efforts, without giving any credence to the text of the Bible itself.

In few cases is this tendency more unethical and more nonsensical than in the case of the documentary theory. According to the documentary theory [2], the Torah is made up of four different strands of writing, known as JEPD. J stands for the Jehovist or Yahwist text, E for the Elohimist text (these first two names correspond to the predominant names of God used in the Hebrew Bible), P stands for the priestly text (which is supposedly a late text dating back to 700BC or even later, to get rid of the validity of those pesky moral requirements of the Law), and the D text supposedly dates to around the time of Josiah (again, no one wants to actually consider the laws of Deuteronomy to be valid for people, after all). There is a wide variety of disagreement about which particular verses or statements belong to which text, or whether they belong to endless botching and revision by incompetent hacks, but there is wide agreement among such so-called scholars that the Bible itself is not an organic whole, but is rather a melange of different layers combined together without any particular degree of elegance by someone who was incompetent enough to expect people to gloss over what are apparently gross contradictions and who had to make use of a lot of various texts that were in a hopeless state of confusion, and that had to be added together the way that music producers in a studio combine together different tracks to create an organic whole that never took place in a real performance.

The only problem is that texts don’t work this way. In fact, anyone who has any sort of appreciation for writing, whether one is dealing with history or literature or law, is that the (nearly) universal human tendency of writers is to represent a strong and honest personal perspective, a high degree of fidelity to one’s ideals and goals, and the possibility of complex layers of irony, wit, and sarcasm as well as an organic unity. Many of the simple tensions or duplications that are pounced on by biblical scholars as evidence of contradiction or multiple sources are in fact evidence of a very complicated attempt to address a complicated reality, along with some aims and larger significances that are nearly entirely missed by biblical scholars who are interested in debunking the Bible text so that they do not have to take it seriously, which is contrary to the way that scholars treat any other text they happen to encounter.

When she was a child, Jane Austen (who came from a family of modest gentry but at least some literary accomplishment) wrote a humorous and satirical history of England [3] that manages to view history from a strong perspective, with a large amount of critical irony towards the pro-Tudor accounts that were then predominant. Despite her youth, she wrote with flair, with a sense of unity, and with layers of meaning that included the attempt to wrestle with the complex reality of English history as well as a certain criticism of contemporary historiography. If this can be true of a child’s work of history, we ought to consider that this sort of wit and intellectual depth can be expected of serious-minded people inspired by God who share the same sense of passion and deep involvement with the reality around them. We should not expect them to behave as fraudulently and unethically as critical scholars of the Bible who do not respect those works which they study, and which are willing to grant to precocious children levels of intellect and reason that they do not give to men (and possibly women) imbued with the very Spirit of God and writing about matters of utmost importance.

The laughable nature of the documentary theory can be demonstrated somewhat briefly by two avenues of argument. Let us first begin with a proof by analogy. Let us compare the treatment of the Torah to a treatment of the Italian front of World War I, showing how a critical scholar would behave if he treated that history with the same level of contempt and disregard for reality that he treats the very Word of God. First, he would be likely to point to contradictions in the text, showing that the text showed Italy as an ally of Germany and Austria-Hungary in the period before WWI but shows Italy fighting on the side of the Allies during WWI as an example of a clear contradiction that simply cannot be true. Likewise, the scholar will look at history about Italian naval efforts to blockade the base of the Adriatic Sea to keep the Austro-Hungarian fleet hemmed in or the narrative of the successful amphibious assault on Istria from Venice at the end of WWI as evidence of a Naval Source (N) that the author had to include but that represents a later and distinct tradition that has no part in the coherent role of the account of the war as a whole. Likewise, the critical scholar would view the eleven battles of the Isonzo (and the later battles of the Piave River and Vittorio Venteto) to be an example of an Italianist text that showed a great deal of effort at furthering the interests of the Italian state, but view the account of the Battle of Caporetto and the immense defeat afterward as example of an Austrianist text that demonstrated the superiority of the Central Powers, viewing the resulting complex text as a sign of two contradictory layers that were put in by a later editor who lacked sufficient skill of harmonizing texts into a coherent reality.

The reason why this account seems so ridiculous is that knowing the actual history of WWI, the account told by the historian that dealt with repetition (endless battles over the same objectives), irony and tension (the treacherous behavior of Italy vis-a-vis their sworn allies in Germany and Austria-Hungary), and multiple fronts (naval as well as land) are all coherent aspects of a complicated reality. The same is true of scripture. The Bible itself shows evidence of textual layers that are consecutive and chronological in nature (this is especially true of Genesis [4], but also true of the Torah in a larger sense, with a precise grasp of timing in the larger account, and also true of the Former Prophets with their complicated synchronization that shows co-regencies and a grasp of complicated schemes of calculating regnal years) and that show repetition for deeper layers of meaning and importance than merely different strands of tradition that must be harmonized in a clumsy fashion. Duplications, like the two times that Moses struck the rock at Meribah, are related to matters of importance far deeper than the original reading audience, or critical biblical scholars, could have understood and appreciated (to wit, that the rock that was struck the first time was a symbol of Jesus Christ, who would only suffer and die once for our sins). For example, there is a consistent use of Yahweh to deal with covenantal aspects of God, and God’s interaction with covenantal believers, with whom God’s relationship is close and intimate (see, for example Genesis 2). On the other hand, where God is dealing in a more distant and universal sense, the term for God used is Elohim, which itself represents the complex unity of God between God and Jesus Christ (see, for example, Proverbs 30:4, Psalm 110, and Daniel 7, for examples of early evidence showing a differentiation between God and the one who became Jesus Christ in the Godhead). Rather than showing poor splicing and incomplete repetition, the two layers of language represent two different approaches in a complex reality, a subtle dance of truths that show both the immanence and transcendence of God, of God’s particular and personal relationship with beloved believers and His larger but more distant rule over the entire universe and the beings within it in the grand and cosmic scope of history. This tale is told in multiple forms (some poetic, some prose history, some legal works) with high degrees of passion, integrity, and honest wrestling with complex realities. These are, we should note, qualities that are distinctly lacking in most of the work by those who profess to be scholars and experts on the Bible.

Why is this so? Why is it that in general those who specialize in the Classics are passionately in love with such works and the culture that created them, as is true of those who specialize in British Literature or Medieval literature or any other related field, while those who specialize in biblical studies are generally critical and hostile of God’s ways and the integrity of God’s word? What accounts for this tendency of biblical scholars to treat the Word of God in the same way that Howard Zinn [5] and others of his ilk treat American history, without any sort of respect or regard? There are essentially two types of drives that lead us to an intense study of something, and that is either intense love or intense hatred. A study that is born of intense love will be full of beauty and grace, respect for the texts that one is dealing with, and a wholeness and integrity that seeks to inspire confidence and regard for readers in the object of one’s study. In contrast, a study that is born of hatred and criticism will dishonestly and viciously seek any sort of means possible to discredit the legitimacy of what one is studying and will attack it at every possible turn, treating it as unworthy of respect even if it is apparently worthy of over-scrupulous critique. It is clear that biblical scholars study the Bible not because they wish to understand it, and certainly not because they wish to see its influence spread and deepen, but rather because they hate it and wish to drag it down to the level of heathen competitors like Greece and Egypt and Mesopotamia and also drag its moral and ethical standards down to the level of the scholars themselves. This motive ought to be plainly obvious to those who examine the rhetorical ignorance and moral obscurity of the scholars and their endless fighting over rival figments of their own vain imaginations.

What are we to do about this lamentable state of affairs? How are we to redeem the study of the Bible from the scoffers who now predominate in the field of biblical studies? It has been typical among people who resent the anti-biblical view of such self-professed experts to denigrate intellect and scholarly study in general, as if it had nothing to offer, leading to a two-way conversation of ignorance that ends up separating believers from proper areas of study that deserve to be under the sovereignty of God’s ways. It is far more useful and godly to counteract the corrupt use of intellect with a godly and proper use of intellect that combines a humility in the face of the limits of our understanding with a genuine faith in God and with an appreciation and use of the skills of reason, intellect, textual analysis, genre analysis, history, economics, archeology, political science, law, and many other areas of related study that are touched by the implications of the Bible. We do not wage war against the principalities of evil in high places (and this includes the domains of corrupt intellectual and cultural elites) by walling ourselves in a cultural and intellectual ghetto. In contrast, we wage war aggressively and confidently, knowing that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whom we worship and serve, is far greater than the false picture of god in the imaginations of our enemies seeking to do the will of their satanic master, and seeking to better understand and model God’s ways, loving what God loves and hating what God hates, wherever it may be found.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/05/06/snuggle-time/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/12/09/the-bittersweet-between-my-teeth/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/11/14/what-lies-beneath/

[3] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/01/05/book-review-two-histories-of-england-by-jane-austen-and-charles-dickens/

[4] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/01/18/examining-the-source-material-for-genesis/

[5] Author of the Maoist Communist “A People’s History Of The United States,” popular among left-wing culture warriors

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, History, Military History, Musings and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Fables Of The Construction

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Framing Faith | Edge Induced Cohesion

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  3. Pingback: Citizen Scholars | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: Book Review: Misquoting Jesus | Edge Induced Cohesion

  5. Pingback: Book Review: The Untold Story Of Qumran | Edge Induced Cohesion

  6. Pingback: Book Review: Second Thoughts On The Dead Sea Scrolls | Edge Induced Cohesion

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