The Ark of the Covenant: that most mysterious and powerful object that we are led to believe was the object of the Templars sojourn and searches in Jerusalem. What do we really know about the Ark?
In order to come to any idea about the Ark, we will naturally have to make a careful examination of the religious structure in which it is situated: Judaism. When I began to study the issues that concerned me: religious questions, philosophical problems, and so on, I really had no idea that I would uncover something so horrific and far reaching as what I came to realize about religions in general and monotheism in particular. Please don t misunderstand me or think that I am promoting paganism or any other form of worship of gods or images of god. I am quite convinced that the source of all existence is consciousness, and that this consciousness is, at its root, what we would call God, or Divine Mind. What we are concerned about here is the imposition of monotheism in the form of any one group claiming that their version of who or what god is or is not is the only correct one. And the further result of this is that Judeo-Christian monotheism prevailed with its twisted conception of linear time borrowed from Zoroastrianism.
People have been reading the Bible for ages. It has achieved a status in our culture assigned to no other single body of text. There are more copies of the Bible on the face of the planet than any other single book. It is quoted (and misquoted) more often than any other book. It is translated into more languages than any other book ever written as well. More people in recorded history have read it, studied it, taught it, admired it, argued about it, loved it, lived by it, and killed and died for it. It is the singular document at the heart of Judaism and Christianity, and yet the common man doesn t really seem to ever ask: Who wrote it, really? They think they know: it is divinely dictated, revealed or inspired
In spite of what the average person believes about it, many investigators mostly theologians – have been working on this question for about a thousand years when they aren t being burned at the stake for even asking it. What is ironic is the fact that most of them have only been seeking closer communion with God by trying to get closer to the original text from the Hand of God, so to say.
When one studies literature in a classroom setting, it is important to also study the life of the author, even if only through the clues of the literary works under examination. One is enabled to see significant connections between the life of the author and the world that the author is depicting. In terms of the Bible, these things become crucial. Nevertheless, the fact is, when we are talking about such fuzzy things as religion and history, we immediately come up against a certain problem.
Historians, when writing about history, not only discuss the theoretical facts that are being proposed as the timeline, but also the means by which they arrived at their ideas. Generally, they draw their conclusions about history by reading “sources,” or earlier accounts of the matter at hand. In some cases these are eye-witness accounts, in others, accounts told to a scribe by a witness, and so on.
Historians try to make a distinction between sources as “primary” and “secondary.” A primary source is not necessarily an eye-witness account – though it would be nice if it was – but is defined by historians as one that cannot be traced back any further and does not seem to depend on someone else s account. Secondary sources are those that are essentially copies or “re-worked” primary sources. Often, they consist of material from several sources assembled together with commentary or additional data.
Well, obviously this could present a problem if the primary source is completely falsified.
Primary sources can legitimately require interpretation and assessment; this is the role of a good secondary source, providing the distinction between source and interpretation is made clear. Indeed secondary sources – analyses – are vital to the average reader who may not have the necessary linguistic, historical and cultural background to assess the primary sources. But, all too often, historians deal with their sources exactly as J. K. Huysmans has described:
Events are for a man of talent nothing but a spring-board of ideas and style, since they are all mitigated or aggravated according to the needs of a cause or according to the temperament of the writer who handles them.
As far as documents which support them are concerned, it is even worse, since none of them is irreducible and all are reviewable. If they are not just apocryphal, other no less certain documents can be unearthed later which contradict them, waiting in turn to be devalued by the unearthing of yet other no less certain archives. [Huysmans, 1891, Ch II].
One theologian wrote about the Bible:
The Bible is an Extraordinary Book: A book which claims infallibility; which aspires to absolute authority over mind and body; which demands unconditional surrender to all its pretensions upon penalty of eternal damnation, is an extraordinary book and should, therefore, be subjected to extraordinary tests.
But it isn t.
Neither Christian priests nor Jewish rabbis approve of applying to the bible the same tests by which other books are tried.
Because it will help the bible? It can not be that.
Because it might hurt the bible? We can think of no other reason.
The Truth is that The Bible is: A Collection of Writings of Unknown Date and Authorship Rendered into English From Supposed Copies of Supposed Originals Unfortunately Lost.
So wrote M. M. Mangasarian, former Congregationalist and Presbyterian Minister, who studied at Princeton Theological Seminary, and very early in his life renounced his Christian affiliation and pursued a remarkable career as a proponent of Free Thought.
Recently, Richard Dawkins, author of the Blind Watchmaker, suggested that religion was a virus.
Dawkins argued that the widespread presence of religion despite its lack of obvious benefits suggests that it was not an evolutionary adaptation. [...] Society provides a breeding ground for the virus of religion by labeling children with the religion of their parents. Children, in turn, absorb these beliefs because they are conditioned to do so.
Though it is universal, Dawkins said, religion is not widely beneficial. Rejecting the theory of many of his contemporaries, Dawkins argued that religion has not helped people to adapt or to survive. Beyond acting as a source of solace, religion provides no protection against diseases or physical threats.
A person who is faced with a lion is not put at ease when he s told that it s a rabbit, Dawkins said. Religion, in Dawkins view, not only provides false comfort it is actively divisive and harmful. Designated as Christians or Muslims by their parents, children are apt to face the discrimination associated with these labels, Dawkins said. Dawkins pointed to the example of Protestant fundamentalists in Belfast spitting at young Catholic girls merely because their parents labeled them Catholic. 
Dawkins is right in many respects. Even if I do not agree with his ideas that promote existence as solely the consequence of the “accidental mechanicalness of the universe,” I have to say that he has zeroed in on the crucial element of religion – or cult – as it is known in our day: that it is a virus, and a deadly one at that. One thing that Dawkins said that I disagree with is: A person who is faced with a lion is not put at ease when he s told that it s a rabbit. As it happens, that is exactly the problem we face when we consider the use of religion in our reality. Many people are “put at ease” by being told that the lion is a rabbit. It doesn t help them to survive, or to solve the problems of humanity, but it distracts their attention away from asking uncomfortable questions about our reality that the Powers That Be do not want them to ask. As to why people believe the lies of the Monotheistic Cults, Dawkins points out rather succinctly that religion is a societal norm that stems from children s psychological tendencies. It is their unique obedience that makes them vulnerable to viruses and worms, Dawkins said.
“Their unique obedience.” Religion is a form of coercing obedience a la Machiavelli.
As the reader might know, I spent a number of years as a hypnotherapist as part of my search for answers in the realm of mind. That work gave me a unique perspective on just about every other branch of study I have followed since. The main thing I learned from this is that most, if not ALL, human perspective is rooted in emotional thinking. Emotions have a curious tendency to frame and color what we see, experience and remember so that what we think becomes, very often, a matter of wishful thinking.
The problem with the subject of the Bible and History is that there are so many fields that can contribute data – archaeology, paleontology, geology, linguistics, and so forth – these types of things provide DATA, which are discarded in favor of “wishful thinking. On the other side we have mythology and history. They are, unfortunately, quite similar because, as it is well known, the victors write history. And people are prone to do many evil deeds in difficult situations, which they later wish to cover up in order to present themselves in a more positive light for posterity.
The oldest extant texts of the Old Testament in Hebrew are those found at Qumran which date only to (by some estimates) two or three centuries before Christ. The oldest version before those were discovered was a Greek translation from about the same period! The earliest complete Hebrew text dates only from the tenth century AD! Something is wrong with this picture.
It is generally believed from textual analysis, that a very small part of the Old Testament was written about 1000 BC and the remainder about 600 BC. The Bible, as we know it, is the result of many changes throughout centuries and is contradictory in so many ways we don t have space to catalog them all! There are entire libraries of books devoted to this subject, and I recommend that the reader have a look at the material in order to have some foundation upon which to judge the things I am going to say.
Biblical scholars generally date Abraham to about 1800 – 1700 BC. The same scholars date Moses to 1300 or 1250 BC. However, if we track the generations as listed in the Bible, we find that there are only seven generations between and including these two patriarchal figures! Four hundred years is a bit long for seven generations. Allowing 35 to 40 years per generation, places Abraham at about 1550 BC and Moses at about 1300 BC. This obviously means that there are a few hundred years not accounted for in the text. Tracking back to Noah, using the generations listed in the Bible, one arrives at a date of about 2000 to 1900 BC – about the time of the arrival of the Indo-Europeans into the Near East. The geological and archaeological records do not support a cataclysm at that time, though what could be described as a global discontinuity of cataclysmic elements is supported right around 12,000 years ago. In this case, we have lost 8,000 years, give or take a day.
In a more general sense, using the Bible as historical source material presents a number of very serious problems, most particularly when we consider the mythicization factor. There are many contradictions in the text that cannot be reconciled by standard theological mental contortionism. In some places, events are described as happening in a certain order, and later the Bible will say that those events happened in a different order. In one place, the Bible will say that there is two of something, and in another it will say that there were 14 of the same thing. On one page, the Bible will say that the Moabites did something, and then a few pages later; it will say that the Midianites did exactly the same thing. There is even an instance in which Moses is described as going to the Tabernacle before Moses built the Tabernacle! (I guess Moses was a time traveler!)
There are things in the Pentateuch that pose other problems: it includes things that Moses could not have known if he lived when he is claimed to have lived. And, there is one case in which Moses said something he could not have said: the text gives an account of Moses death, which it is hardly likely that Moses described.
All of these problems were taken care of for most of the past two thousand years by the Inquisition, which also took care of the Cathars and anybody else who did not follow the Party Line of Judeo-Christianity.
For the Jews, the contradictions were not contradictions; they were only apparent contradictions! They could all be explained by interpretation! (Usually, these interpretations were more fantastic than the problems, I might add.) Moses was able to know things he couldn t have known because he was a prophet! The medieval biblical commentators, such as Rashi and Nachmanides, were VERY skillful in reconciling the irreconcilable!
In the 11th century, a real troublemaker, Isaac ibn Yashush, a Jewish court physician in Muslim Spain, mentioned the distressing fact that a list of Edomite kings that appears in Genesis 36 named a few kings who lived long after Moses was already dead. Ibn Yashush suggested the obvious, that someone who lived after Moses wrote the list. He became known as Isaac the Blunderer.
The guy who memorialized clever Isaac this way was a fellow named Abraham ibn Ezra, a 12th century rabbi in Spain. But Ibn Ezra presents us with a paradox because he also wrote about problems in the text of the Torah. He alluded to several passages that appeared not to be from Moses own hand because they referred to Moses in the third person, used terms Moses would not have known, described places that Moses had never been, and used language that belonged to an altogether different time and place than the milieu of Moses. He wrote, very mysteriously, And if you understand, then you will recognize the truth. And he who understands will keep silent.
So, why did he call Ibn Yashush a Blunderer? Obviously because the guy had to open his big mouth and give away the secret that the Torah was not what it was cracked up to be, and if the truth got out, lots of folks who were totally into the Jewish mysticism business would lose interest. And keeping the interest of the students and seekers after power was a pretty big business in that day and time. More than that, however, we would like to note that the entire Christian mythos was predicated upon the validity of Judaism, being its New Covenant , and even if there was apparent conflict between Jews and Christians, the Christians most desperately needed to validate Judaism and its claim to be the revelation to the chosen people of the One True God. It was on that basis that Jesus was the Son of God, after all. In short, it could even be said that Christianity created Judaism in the sense that it would have faded to obscurity long ago if there had not been the infusion of validating energy during the Dark Ages.
In 14th century Damascus, a scholar by the name of Bonfils wrote a work in which he said And this is evidence that this verse was written in the Torah later, and Moses did not write it. He wasn’t even denying the revealed character of the Torah, just making a reasonable comment. Three hundred years later, his work was reprinted with this comment edited out!
In the 15th century, Tostatus, Bishop of Avila, also pointed out that Moses couldn’t have written the passages about the death of Moses. In an effort to soften the blow, he added that there was an old tradition that Joshua, Moses successor, wrote this part of the account. A hundred years later, Luther Carlstadt commented that this was difficult to believe because the account of Moses death is written in the same style as the text that precedes it.
Well, of course, things were beginning to be examined more critically with the arrival of Protestantism on the world stage and the demand for wider availability of the text itself. The Inquisition and assorted Catholic Majesties tried, but failed, to keep a complete grip on the matter. But, it s funny what belief will do. In this case, with the increase in literacy and new and better translations of the text, critical examination led to the decision that the problem was solvable by claiming that, yes, Moses wrote the Torah, but editors went over them later and added an occasional word or phrase of their own!
Wow. Glad we solved that one!
A really funny thing is that the Catholic Index blacklisted one of the proponents of this idea of editorial insertions, who was only trying to preserve the textus receptus status of the Bible. His work was put on the list of prohibited books! Those guys just kept shooting themselves in the foot.
Well, finally, after hundreds of years of tiptoeing around this issue, some scholars came right out and said that Moses didn’t write the majority of the Pentateuch. The first to say it was Thomas Hobbes. He pointed out that the text sometimes states that this or that is so to this day. The problem with this is that a writer describing a contemporary situation would not describe it as something that has endured for a very long time, to this day.
Isaac de la Peyrère, a French Calvinist, noted that the first verse of the book of Deuteronomy says “These are the words that Moses spoke to the children of Israel across the Jordan… “ The problem was that the words meant to refer to someone who is on the other side of the Jordan from the writer. This means that the verse amounts to the words of someone who is WEST of the Jordan at the time of writing, who is describing what Moses said to the children of Israel on the EAST of the Jordan. The difficulty is exacerbated because Moses himself was never supposed to have been in Israel in his life.
De la Peyrère s book was banned and burned. He was arrested and told that the conditions of his release were conversion to Catholicism and recanting his views. Apparently he perceived discretion as the better part of valor. Considering how often this sort of thing occurred, we have to wonder about the sanctity of a text which is preserved by threat and torture and bloodshed.
Not too long after this, Baruch Spinoza, the famous philosopher, published what amounted to a real rabble rousing critical analysis. He claimed that the problem passages in the Bible were not isolated cases that could be solved one by one as editorial insertions, but were rather a pervasive evidence of a third person account. He also pointed out that the text says in Deuteronomy 34 There never arose another prophet in Israel like Moses…. Spinoza suggested, quite rightly, that these were the words of a person who lived a long time after Moses and had had the opportunity to make comparisons. One commentator points out that they also don t sound like the words of the humblest man on earth! 
Spinoza was really living dangerously because he wrote: It is clearer than the sun at noon that the Pentateuch was not written by Moses, but by someone who lived long after Moses.  Spinoza had already been excommunicated from Judaism; now, he was in pretty hot water with the Catholics and Protestants! Naturally, his book was placed on the prohibited books list, and a whole slew of edicts were issued against it. What is even more interesting is that an attempt was made to assassinate him! The lengths to which people will go to preserve their belief in lies are astonishing.
A converted Protestant who had become a Catholic priest, Richard Simon, undertook to refute Spinoza and wrote a book saying that Moses wrote the core of the Pentateuch, but there were some additions. Nevertheless, these additions were clearly done by scribes who were under the guidance of God or the Holy Spirit, so it was okay for them to collect, arrange and elaborate on the text. It was still God in charge here.
Well, you d think the Church would know when it was ahead. But, nope! Simon was attacked and expelled from his order by his fellow Catholics. Forty refutations of his work were written by Protestants. Only six copies of his book survived burning. John Hampden translated one of these, getting himself into pretty hot water. He repudiated the opinions he had held in common with Simon [...] in 1688, probably shortly before his release from the tower. 
In the 18th century, three independent scholars were dealing with the problem of doublets, or stories that are told two or more times in the Bible. There are two different stories of the creation of the world. There are two stories of the covenant between God and Abraham. There are two stories of the naming of Abraham s son Isaac, two stories of Abraham s claiming to a foreign king that his wife is his sister, two stories of Isaac s son Jacob making a journey to Mesopotamia, two stories of a revelation to Jacob at Beth-El, two stories of God changing Jacob s name to Israel, two stories of Moses getting water from a rock at Meribah, and on and on.
Those who simply could not let go of the a priori belief that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, tried to claim that these doublets were always complimentary, not repetitive nor contradictory. Sometimes they had to really stretch this idea to say that they were supposed to teach us something by their contradictions that are not really contradictions.
This explanation, however, didn’t hold up against another fact: in most cases one of the two versions of a doublet would refer to the deity by the divine name, Yahweh, and the other would refer to the deity simply as God, or El. What this meant was that there were two groups of parallel versions of the same stories, and each group was almost always consistent about the name of the deity it used. Not only that, there were various other terms and characteristics that regularly appeared in one or the other line of stories, and what this demonstrated was that someone had taken two different old source documents and had done a cut and paste job on them to make a continuous narrative.
Well, of course, at first it was thought that one of the two source documents must be one that Moses had used as a source for the story of creation and the rest was Moses himself writing! But, it was ultimately to be concluded that both of the two sources had to be from writers who lived AFTER Moses. By degrees, Moses was being eliminated almost entirely from the authorship of the Pentateuch!
Simon s idea that scribes had collected, arranged and elaborated on the textus receptus was, finally, going in the right direction.
I would like to note right here that this was not happening because somebody came along and said, hey, let s trash the Bible! Nope. It was happening because there were glaring problems, and each and every researcher working on this throughout the centuries was struggling mightily to retain the textus receptus status of the Bible! The only exception to this that I have mentioned in this whole chain of events is our curious guy Abraham ibn Ezra, who KNEW about problems in the text of the Torah in the 12th century and enjoined others to silence! Remember what he said? And if you understand, then you will recognize the truth. And he who understands will keep silent. What do we see as the result of this silence? Over eight hundred years of Crusades, the Inquisition, and general suppression, and in our present day, the wars between the Israelis and Palestinians based on the claim that Israel is the Promised Land, and that it belongs to the Jews. Which brings us to another startling bit of information.
The great Jewish scholar, Rashi de Troyes, (1040-1105), makes the astonishingly frank statement that the Genesis narrative, going back to the creation of the world, was written to justify what we might now call genocide. The God of Israel, who gave his people the Promised Land, had to be unequivocally supreme so that neither the dispossessed Canaanites nor anyone else could ever appeal against his decrees. Rashi s precise words were that God told us the creation story and included it in the Torah to tell his people that they can answer those who claim that the Jews stole the land from its original inhabitants. The reply should be; God made it and gave it to them but then took it and gave it to us. As he made it and it s his, he can give it to whoever he chooses.
The fact is, the Jews are still saying this, with the support of many Christian Fundamentalists whose beliefs are being pandered to by George Bush and his purported Christian cronies for their own imperialist and economic motives.
This leads us to another interesting point: the establishing of one god over and above any and all other gods, is an act of violence no matter how you look at it. In The Curse of Cain, Regina Schwartz writes about the relationship between Monotheism and Violence, positing that Monotheism itself is the root of violence:
Collective Identity, which is a result of a covenant of Monotheism, is explicitly narrated in the Bible as an invention, a radical break with Nature. A transcendent deity breaks into history with the demand that the people he constitutes obey the law he institutes, and first and foremost among those laws is, of course, that they pledge allegiance to him, and him alone, and that this is what makes them a unified people as opposed to the other, as in all other people which leads to violence. In the Old Testament, vast numbers of other people are obliterated, while in the New Testament, vast numbers are colonized and converted for the sake of such covenants.
Schwartz also writes about the idea of the provisional nature of a covenant: that it is conditional. Believe in me and obey me or else I will destroy you. Doesn’t sound like there is any choice, does there? And we find ourselves in the face of a pure and simple Nazi Theophany.
In the 19th century, Biblical scholars figured out that there were not just two major sources in the Pentateuch; there were, in fact, four. It was realized that the first four books were not just doublets, but there were also triplets that converged with other characteristics and contradictions leading to the identification of another source. Then, it was realized that Deuteronomy was a separate source altogether. More than that, there was not just the problem of the original source documents, there was the problem of the work of the mysterious editor.
Thus, after years of suffering, bloodshed and death over the matter, it was realized that somebody had created what Westerners know as the Old Testament by assembling four different source documents in an attempt to create a continuous history, designated at different times as Torah, as well as additional edited documents. After much further analysis, it was concluded that most of the laws and much of the narrative of the Pentateuch were not even part of the time of Moses. And, that meant that it couldn’t have been written by Moses at all. More than that, the writing of the different sources was not even that of persons who lived during the days of the kings and prophets, but were evidently products of writers who lived toward the end of the biblical period!
Many scholars just couldn’t bear the results of their own work. A German scholar who had identified the Deuteronomy source exclaimed that such a view suspended the beginnings of Hebrew history not upon the grand creations of Moses, but upon airy nothings. Other scholars realized that what this meant was that the picture of biblical Israel as a nation governed by laws based on the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants was completely false. I expect that such a realization may have contributed to a suicide or two; it most definitely led to a number of individuals leaving the field of Theology and textual criticism altogether.
Well, they couldn’t handle this. After years of being conditioned to believe in an upcoming End of the World, with Jehovah or Christ as saviors of the chosen during this dreaded event, the terror of their condition, that there might not be a savior, was just too awful to bear. So along came the cavalry Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918) – to the rescue.
Wellhausen synthesized all of the discoveries so as to preserve the belief systems of the religious scholars. He amalgamated the view that the religion of Israel had developed in three stages with the view that the documents were also written in three stages, and then he defined these stages based on the content of the stage. He tracked the characteristics of each stage, examining the way in which the different documents expressed religion, the clergy, the sacrifices and places of worship as well as the religious holidays. He considered the legal and narrative sections and the other books of the Bible. In the end, he provided a believable framework for the development of Jewish history and religion. The first stage was the nature/fertility period; the second was spiritual/ethical period; and the last was the priestly/legal period. As Friedman notes: To this day, if you want to disagree, you disagree with Wellhausen. If you want to pose a new model, you compare its merits with those of Wellhausen s model. 
I should also note at this point, that even though Wellhausen was trying to save the buns of Judaism and Christianity from the fire, he was not appreciated in his own time. A professor of Old Testament, William Robertson Smith, who taught at the Free Church of Scotland College at Aberdeen, and who was the editor of the Encyclopedia Britannica, was put on trial before the church on the charge of heresy for promoting the work of Wellhausen. He was cleared, but the tag the wicked bishop followed him to his grave.
Nevertheless, analysis of the Bible has proceeded. The book of Isaiah was traditionally thought to have been written by the prophet Isaiah who lived in the eighth century BC. As it happens, most of the first half of this book fits such a model. But, chapters 40 through 66 are apparently written by someone who lived about 200 years later! This means that, in terms of prophecy, it was written after the fact.
New tools and methods of our modern time have made it possible to do some really fine work in the areas of linguistic analysis and relative chronology of the material. Additionally, there has been a veritable archaeological frenzy since Wellhausen! This archaeological work has produced an enormous amount of information about Egypt, Mesopotamia, and other regions surrounding Israel, which includes clay tablets, inscriptions on the walls of tombs, temples and habitations, and even papyri. Here we find another problem: in all the collected sources, both Egyptian and west Asian, there are virtually NO references to Israel, its famous people and founders, its Biblical associates, or anything else prior to the 12th century BC. And the fact is, for 400 years after that, no more than half a dozen allusions can be deduced. And they are questionable in context. Yet the fundamentalist Orthodox Jews cling to these tattered references like straws in the hands of a drowning man. Oddly, the Fundamentalist Christians just simply close off any awareness to the entire matter by the simple expedient of the execution of the 11th commandment: thou shalt not ask questions!
The problem of the lack of outside validation of the existence of Israel as a sovereign nation in the area of Palestine finds reverse correspondence in the Bible itself. As Donald Redford points out, the Bible displays absolutely no knowledge of Egypt or the Levant during the 2nd millennium BC. The Bible says nothing about the Egyptian empire spreading over the entire eastern Mediterranean (which it did); there is no mention of the great Egyptian armies on the march (which they were); and no mention of marching Hittites moving against the Egyptians (which they did); and especially no mention of Egyptianized kinglets ruling Canaanite cities (which was the case).
The great and disastrous invasion of the Sea Peoples during the second millennium is not even mentioned in the Bible. In fact, Genesis described the Philistines as already settled in the land of Canaan at the time of Abraham!
The names of the great Egyptian kings are completely absent from the Bible. In other places, historical figures that were not heroic have been transformed by the Bible into heroes as in the case of the Hyksos Sheshy (Num. 13:22). In another case, the sobriquet of Ramesses II is given to a Canaanite general in error. The Egyptian king who was supposed to assist Hosea in his rebellion of 2 Kings 17:4 has suffered the indignity of having his city given as his name. The Pharaoh Shabtaka turns up in the Table of Nations in Genesis 10:7 as a Nubian tribe!
The errors of confirmed history and archaeology pile higher and higher the more one learns about the actual times and places, so that the idea that comes to mind again and again is that the writers of the Bible must have lived in the 7th and 6th centuries BC, or later, and knew almost nothing about the events of only a few generations before them. Donald B. Redford, Professor of Near Eastern Studies at the University of Toronto, has published extensively on archaeology and Egyptology. Regarding the use of the Bible as a historical source, he writes:
For the standard scholarly approach to the history of Israel during the United Monarchy amounts to nothing more than a bad attack of academic wishful thinking. We have these glorious narratives in the books of Samuel and 1st Kings, so well written and ostensibly factual. What a pity if rigorous historical criticism forces us to discard them and not use them. Let us, then, press them into service what else have we? and let the burden of proof fall on others.[ ]
While one might be unwise to impute crypto-fundamentalist motives, the current fashion of treating the sources at face value as documents written up in large part in the court of Solomon, arises from an equally misplaced desire to rehabilitate the faith and undergird it with any arguments, however fallacious.[ ]
Such ignorance is puzzling if one has felt inclined to be impressed by the traditional claims of inerrancy made by conservative Christianity on behalf of the Bible. And indeed the Pentateuch and the historical books boldly present a precise chronology that would carry the Biblical narrative through the very period when the ignorance and discrepancy prove most embarrassing. [ ]
Such manhandling of the evidence smacks of prestidigitation and numerology; yet it has produced the shaky foundations on which a lamentable number of histories of Israel have been written. Most are characterized by a somewhat naive acceptance of sources at face value coupled with failure to assess the evidence as to its origin and reliability. The result was the reduction of all data to a common level, any or all being grist for a wide variety of mills.
Scholars expended substantial effort on questions that they had failed to prove were valid questions at all. Under what dynasty did Joseph rise to power? Who was the Pharaoh of the Oppression? Of the Exodus? Can we identify the princess who drew Moses out of the river? Where did the Israelites make their exit from Egypt: via the Wady Tumilat or by a more northerly point?
One can appreciate the pointlessness of these questions if one poses similar questions of the Arthurian stories, without first submitting the text to a critical evaluation. Who were the consuls of Rome when Arthur drew the sword from the stone? Where was Merlin born?
Can one seriously envisage a classical historian pondering whether it was Iarbas or Aeneas that was responsible for Dido s suicide, where exactly did Remus leap over the wall, what really happened to Romulus in the thunderstorm, and so forth?
In all these imagined cases none of the material initially prompting the questions has in any way undergone a prior evaluation as to how historical it is! And any scholar who exempts any part of his sources from critical evaluation runs the risk of invalidating some or all of his conclusions.[ ]
Too often Biblical in this context has had the limiting effect on scholarship by implying the validity of studying Hebrew culture and history in isolation. What is needed rather is a view of ancient Israel within its true Near Eastern context, and one that will neither exaggerate nor denigrate Israel s actual place within that setting.
Please take careful note of Redford s comment: any scholar who exempts any part of his sources from critical evaluation runs the risk of invalidating some or all of his conclusions. The seriousness of this cannot be understated. You see, people have died by the millions because of this book called The Bible and the beliefs of those who study it. And they are dying today in astonishing numbers for the same reasons!
In the end, if those who read and/or analyze this book and come to some particular belief about it are wrong, and they then impose this belief upon millions of other people, who are then influenced to create a culture and a reality based upon a false belief, and in the end, it is wrong, what in the name of God is going on? (No pun intended!)
The problem with using the Bible as history is the lack of secondary sources. There is considerable material from the various ancient libraries prior to the 10th century BC, grist for the historian s mill, but these sources fall silent almost completely at the close of the 20th dynasty in Egypt. Thus, the Bible, being pretty much the only source that claims to cover this particular period, becomes quite seductive; never mind that the archaeology doesn’t really fit, or can only be made to fit with a large helping of assumption or closing of the mind to other possibilities.
But, might there be a REASON for this silence of other sources? That s one good question about what is.
The person who is using the Bible as history is forced, when all emotion is taken out of the picture, to admit that he has no means of checking the historical veracity of the Biblical texts. As Donald Redford noted above, the scholars who admit, when pressed, that rigorous historical criticism forces us to discard the Biblical narratives, nevertheless will use them saying what else do we have?
Again, I ask: why?
In older times, we know that the many books written about the Bible as history were inspired from a fundamentalist motivation to confirm the religious rightness of Western Civilization. In the present time, there is less of this factor involved in Biblical Historical studies. Nevertheless, there is still a tendency to treat these sources at face value by folks who ought to know better!
I could go on about this in some detail, but I think everyone reading this is with me here in having a clue about what I am saying, even if they don t agree. But, the point is, again, Who wrote the Bible and WHY?
We come back to that curious assertion of Rashi s that the Genesis narrative was written to justify genocide. If we put that together with Umberto Eco s implication in his book, The Search for The Perfect Language, that validation of the Hebrew Bible was supported by early Christian scholars primarily to validate Judaism, which was necessary in order to then validate Christianity as the one true religion, we begin to get the uneasy feeling that we have been had. What this amounts to is that we are all Christian so that the rights of the Jews, the unappealable decrees of Jehovah/Yahweh, could be inherited by the Christian Church as instituted for political reasons by Constantine! Nevertheless, by the very act of validating Judaism, and creating Christianity in the form of the Egyptian religion, the Western world, in its greed for power, may very well have taken a tiger by the tail.
During this very period when the New Testament came into being, (incorporating some older texts, based on internal evidence, but highly edited and mostly a cut and paste job), we find the Western world in the midst of the dark ages from which, again, very few primary or secondary sources survived.
Isn’t that strange?! The Old Testament is written about a Dark Age, though a few hundred years after it, and the New Testament is written about a Dark Age, also a few hundred years after it. Both of them incorporate some probably valid folk stories though mostly they are edited, cut and pasted, with a lot of glossing and interpolation from the perspective of a definite political agenda to create a religion of control.
Do we see a pattern here? Could there be a reason?
At the end of it all, what we observe is a basically Draconian, monotheistic system in place over most of the globe. It is the wellspring from which nearly every aspect of our society is drawn. It has been the justification for the greatest series of bloodbaths in recorded history. Could there be a reason for this?
Considering this, one would think that the knowledge of who wrote the Bible, and when they probably did it, would be considered crucial to anyone who wishes to be better equipped to make decisions of faith and belief upon which every aspect of their lives may depend.
As we have already discovered, what began as a search for answers about the puzzling contradictory passages in the Pentateuch led to the idea that Moses didn’t write them. This then led to the discovery that several widely divergent sources were combined into one, and that even this was done at different times, in different ways. Each of the sources is clearly identifiable by characteristics of language and content. New breakthroughs in archaeology and our understanding of the social and political world of the time have helped enormously in our understanding of the milieu in which this document was created. Because, in the end, the Bible s history is really the history of the Jews.
The Old Testament is a book that is a combination of several sources, J (Yahweh), E (lohim), D(euteronomy), P(riestly) and the final editor who combined all of these and added his own touches: the Redactor.
It is theorized, based on the evidence, that the E version was written by a Levite priest advocate of the Mosaic line of priests at Shiloh, and J was written by an advocate of the Aaronic line of priests and the Davidic royal house at Jerusalem. The conclusion is that they were each written down from oral sources of myth and legend with some history mixed in after the purported split of the two kingdoms, and then recombined after the Syrian conquest during the reign of Hezekiah. However, it is also entirely likely that there never was a united kingdom of Israel in Palestine, but that these stories of a great kingdom were tribal memories of something else altogether. The author of J is estimated to have lived between 848 and 722 BC and the author of E between 922 and 722 BC. Thus it is that E is probably the older document and J represented either a different perspective, or changes that were added.
In the Bible, the story of the unification of the tribes of Israel under David, followed by the great reign of Solomon, followed by schism in the reign of Solomon s son Rehoboam, is the central theme. The hope of Israel is based on the idea of reunification of Judah and Israel under a Davidic king. Of course, all of this is based on the giving of the land to the Children of Israel when they were brought out of Egypt by the hand of God during the Exodus to begin with. Moses represents the divinely inspired leader who revealed the god of the patriarchs to the nation as the Universal Deity. Does the testimony of the spade support the Exodus on either side of the story?
The Exodus story describes how a nation enslaved grows great in exile and then, with the help of the Universal God, claims its freedom from what was then the greatest nation on earth: Egypt.
Powerful imagery, yes? Indeed! So important is this story of liberation that fully four-fifths of the central scriptures of Israel are devoted to it.