April 12th, 2007


Reading for Fun & Prophets

A friend and I spent a few hours roaming the corridors of a local Barnes & Noble on Easter Sunday. I came away from there with a couple of books on religion. The one I want to focus on today is the book Who Wrote the Bible? by Richard Elliott Friedman. It’s a book I’ve read various references to over the years, and it has always sounded like an intriguing topic.

Before I can tell you more about the book, I need to tell you what the book is NOT – it’s not an anti-religion tome. It’s not even skeptical in that area. In fact, the book makes a point of not addressing that area at all. It’s quite the scholarly, respectful, well-researched work, despite its rather “popular” sounding title.

Research of this nature has had a tough time gaining much traction over the centuries. Many a scholar who asked unacceptable questions or came to unacceptable conclusions has ended up publicly ridiculed, imprisoned, or executed for their pursuits. One of the big breaks in opening up the field of investigation into biblical authorship came to us courtesy of Pope Pius XII. In 1943, in the encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu, he declared:

. . . Let the interpreter then, with all care and without neglecting any light derived from recent research, endeavor to determine the peculiar character and circumstances of the sacred writer, the age in which he lived, the sources written or oral to which he had recourse and the forms of expression he employed . . .

Coupling that formal encouragement with the tremendous surge in archeological knowledge and research into ancient cultures and linguistics, the past half century has seen an unprecedented growth in our theories and knowledge of biblical origins. The unraveling of this mystery, in Friedman’s telling, provides tremendous insight into the world and the people who produced the Bible. The story is a sprawling and complex one, but to someone like myself, who was raised in a Christian environment and who has always wished for the rediscovery of unknown, suppressed, or forgotten knowledge, a book like this makes the world into a slightly larger, deeper, and more illuminated place.
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