Did God Write the Bible?

Evidence indicates that the Bible, in the form we have it, is a human document, but that does not mean it is not sacred.

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Once all this evidence began to be accumulated, those who read the Bible were left with several choices. One could simply ignore the evidence, refuse to read the studies of biblical critics, and continue to believe that the traditional interpretations survived intact.

Alternatively, one could marshal one's intellectual forces, as many have done, and attack the conclusions of the scholars with counter-arguments by believers. After all, many of the [issues] noted by biblical critics were noted and discussed centuries before.

Yet as time has passed, these arguments have seemed increasingly strained, because the accumulation of evidence is by now not merely formidable, but mountainous. Yet there is nothing so flexible and resourceful as human reason deployed in a cause, so many still seek to rebut the conclusions of biblical critics, and some do so with considerable skill and élan.

Finally, one could seek, as many have, to straddle the ideological divide. Perhaps the Bible was written by human beings, wholly or in part. Does this necessarily mean that it has no divinity in it? Must the realization that human hands were involved in the gathering of traditions mean that it is the spiritual equivalent of Shakespeare--remarkably insightful and beautiful, but having no special standing in the cosmos?

Liberal theologians (here meaning those who believe in the human authorship of the Torah) struggle to maintain the Torah's special status without violating what they believe to be the canons of intellectual integrity.

Several [approaches] have arisen that try to simultaneously keep the Bible's special status without negating the findings of biblical criticism. Some have argued that the Bible was in some sense a collaborative effort between God and human beings. There is warrant for that in the Bible itself, which often seems to be the words of the prophets, and not directly of God. Moreover, there are times when an omniscient narrator reports on God's doings, suggesting that someone other than God wrote it.

Others have sought to argue that the Bible is a human record of response to God's self-revelation. God somehow--in ways not exactly describable in human language--was made manifest in the Sinai desert, and perhaps at other times, and human beings wrote of their struggle to comprehend that appearance.

This seems close to what the theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel meant when he said that the Bible was a "midrash," that is, an interpretive story. He argued that the Bible was a record of God's search for human beings and the human search for God; the cardinal sin in reading the Bible, said Heschel, was "literal-mindedness."

Finally, some argue that the Bible is sacred, as the scriptures of other people are sacred, as the human chronicle of a search for the divine.

All these ideas, it must be emphasized, are influenced by tradition as well as biblical criticism. Our increased knowledge of the ancient world, of the making of literary traditions and texts, and of the workings of all religions, [has] had a profound impact on how educated people view the Bible. Those who are interested in the conclusions of biblical criticism and its evidence can investigate it in a fluent and readable book, Richard Elliot Friedman's best-selling Who Wrote the Bible?

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Rabbi David Wolpe

David Wolpe is the rabbi of Temple Sinai in Los Angeles and the author of several books on Jewish belief.