My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Richard Elliott Friedman set out to write a highly accessible book tackling one of the most controversial and studied subjects there is: the authorship of the Bible. By anyone’s account it is a monumental task, and Friedman accomplished it brilliantly. It would be easy to dismiss this book for its relatively short length and friendly, conversational language, but that would be a mistake. Friedman is a master of the subject, and in very easy-to-understand language he lays down the important questions to ask, and the trail of historical, archaeological, and academic evidence that has led scholars to the most current answers.
So who wrote the Bible? I’d hate to rob you of the chance to read the book and find out, but without getting into too many details, what we find is that the evidence suggests that the five books of Moses are the work of four different authors. Designated as J and E for the way in which they primarily address God (either Yahweh or Elohim), these two seem to be the oldest sources, paralleling each other in the stories they tell, each with a different focus. Next is P, the priestly author that deals primarily with the vast number of laws, and lastly D, or the Deutoronomist author, creator of the book of Deuteronomy, as well as the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. Friedman talks about each of the authors, their times and environments, their reasons for composing their works, and how they relate to all the other authors. There’s also a fifth “author,” called the Redactor, who is responsible for bringing it all together into the book that we have had for hundreds of years. Spoiler alert, you will recognize full well two of the authors, as their names are in the book of books.
Friedman even includes a section dealing with the inevitable question that this book brings up: how does knowing the human history of the document affects a person’s faith? Friedman doesn’t suppose to categorically tell anyone how to feel, what to believe, but talks candidly about his own experience, and how he has answered that question after years of pursuing this study.
To answer the question myself: As much as I have always believed that the Bible is the word of God, I have also always believed that it was the work of humans. It was fascinating to read about the world that shaped the writers and thus the document, and how it all took shape, culminating in the book that has shaped our civilization. This knowledge enhances my understanding of the Bible, of its stories and lessons, for the final work is far more than the sum of its parts. It is a fascinating glimpse into how God orchestrates events to achieve His goals.
I devoured this book, and even though the one I read was borrowed from the library, I foresee buying a copy for my personal library, and to read again down the road.