People have been reading the bible for nearly two thousand years. Some have taken it literally, others figuratively and others symbolically. Some say it was divinely dictated, revealed or inspired, others that it is a human creation. They have acquired more copies of it that any other book. It is quoted (and misquoted) more often than any other book; it is translated (and mistranslated) more than any other book. It is seen as a great work of literature, the first work of history and it is at the heart of Judaism and Christianity. Ministers, priests and rabbis preach it, scholars dedicate their lives to study it, people read it, admire it, distain it, write about it, argue about it and love it. People have lived by it and died for it. But do we know who wrote it?
No matter how strongly you believe the Old Testament to be the word of God, there is no denying that the hand of man wrote it. In this book Richard Elliot Friedman sets out to see if he can identify specifically which hand. Now this may seem futile and even sacrilegious depending on your viewpoint but on closer examination of the nature of the books creation shows that it may not be such an impossible task. As for the argument of sacrilege, might not knowing the author even strengthen the character of the book, especially if it turns out that a well respected and easily recognisable name is actually responsible? I will say as part of this introduction that the although this book is penned from a historical and scholarly viewpoint, it is at no point trying to impose any religious ideas, beyond those which deal with the job at hand. Friedman retains a healthy respect for his subject at all times as you would expect for such a well respected writer, a writer who also happens to be a Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Religion. If anyone is best armed to undertake such a quest to find the Old Testament author, a task that needs to combine sensitivity with superior scholarship, it is Richard Elliot Friedman.
There are certain traditions in place regarding various authors, Moses, Jeremiah and David are all supposed to have had a hand in the penning of certain parts, but are these assumptions correct. Like all good authors Friedman sets these assumptions aside and starts from scratch examining firstly the world that created the book and importantly the reasons why these various oral teachings were assembled in one place in the first place. With an understanding of the events of the ancient Middle East the reasons for its creation and evolution can be seen more clearly. A lot of store is put by the specific viewpoint that a particular piece of writing shows. If a story makes detailed reference to particular religious rituals or the inner workings of the temple, as some clearly do, then it follows that the author was probably a priest. Similar lines of thought can be upheld for tales more militarily or agricultural based themes. With this in mind it is possible to argue for a number of different authors to the stories. Similarly an understanding of the political set up of the area is important. The lands of the Hebrews was based on twelve tribal groups aligned with one of two kingdoms, Israel and Judah and the allegiances of the writer also has a bearing on the way many tales seem to have been written. There is also a visible evolution of the stories over time, as you would expect from texts rewritten through out successive generations, the changing mindsets, political considerations and important events all playing their part in this.
What the author manages to show the reader is the complex process that brought various important stories to be collated in one place and its ever-evolving meanings. It is a book that manages to bridge a gap between the religious academic and the general reader in a subject area that has long been the ivory tower of the professional biblical scholar. It is a book that at times seems to be part detective story, for the very reason of that is the only way to approach such a subject. It brings the subject to a wider audience and does so in an eminently readable style full of new insights and fresh discoveries. Although a very specialist subject, if you have any interest in this area, this is a must have book for your collection