Friday, March 3, 2017

Who Wrote the Bible, Pt. 2 The Torah

Loftus in his book Why I Became an Atheist brings us finally to the denouement of the story of the Torah. He proposes, along with many of the New Biblical Scholars, that the Torah and other books having to do with Israel's early history were written as some say much later in the history of Israel, around the time of the Babylonian Exile, either shortly before or shortly after. In doing so these scholars must write a new history, a metanarrative, to explain the features they have identified as problems for the traditional understanding of the writing of the Old Testament.

     But any history narrative, the biblical narrative or the new metanarrative,  stands or falls not merely on a scenario or the analysis of the text - texts can be added to or edited over the years as we've seen with Genesis -  but on the brute facts of primary sources and artifacts. And for this new story there are none.
Tel Arad. Credit Abraham Wikimedia Commons

     But new facts surface regularly. For example, recent finds of ostracons in the area of Arad in southern Israel provide evidence that literacy was high in the period before the Babylonian Exile.
We found indirect evidence of the existence of an educational infrastructure, which could have enabled the composition of biblical texts," said Piasetzky. "Literacy existed at all levels of the administrative, military and priestly systems of Judah. Reading and writing were not limited to a tiny elite.     Arad
Archaeologist Israel Finkelstein adds
Following the fall of Judah, there was a large gap in production of Hebrew inscriptions until the second century BCE, the next period with evidence for widespread literacy. This reduces the odds for a compilation of substantial Biblical literature in Jerusalem between ca. 586 and 200 BCE.         Finkelstein
     It is at that point the metanarrative of the New Biblical Scholars falls apart. There simply are no brute facts to support the new metanarrative of the creation of early biblical texts after the Exile. None. In fact, the brute facts imply the metanarrative is unlikely. So what about just before the Exile?

     Let's take just one example that Loftus puts forward to demonstrate that the Torah, meaning specifically Exodus and Leviticus, were perhaps written in the time of Josiah King of Judah, perhaps by Jeremiah, circa 620 B.C. He quotes from Jeremiah, a contemporary of Josiah:
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Go ahead, add your burnt offerings to your other sacrifices and eat the meat yourselves! For when I brought your ancestors out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you. (Jeremiah 7:22-23)
     Loftus claims that Jeremiah is admitting that the law having to do with sacrifices and ritual was not what God commanded when God brought Israel out of Egypt. Never mind that Loftus and the New Biblical Scholars do not believe that Israel came out of Egypt in an exodus. Never mind that they do not really believe in an actual Moses. It would be ironic enough to propose a solution built entirely on what they consider a fictitious narrative, but what I find particularly ironic in this piece of the metanarrative is that Jeremiah is standing in the one place where brute facts are undeniable, within eye shot of the temple.

     Now, the temple stood only - and I emphasize ONLY - because there was an Exodus and a Leviticus. It is in those books that the tabernacle, the forerunner of the temple, is described and constructed. It is in those books where all the implements of the tabernacle and temple are described and created. It is in those books where the sacrifices are commanded. It is in those books where the priesthood is commissioned. Suffice to say, without Exodus and Leviticus there is no temple. That is a pretty brutal fact that the metanarrative does not and cannot explain without claiming that virtually everything - ironically including Josiah himself - is a fiction. Everything.

     At that point the new biblical scholars should either go home or transfer to the literature department because they can only be creating a fictional story and not history. Given the massive numbers of brute facts for the Israelites in Canaan and for elements of the biblical narrative - not the least of which is the site of Arad which Finkelstein was digging - it is simply foolish to prefer a metanarrative over the biblical narrative. It is worse than foolish. It is a denial of the standards of doing history.

     Now, I am not saying that the New Biblical Scholars' work is without value. The observations they have made about the text should not be dismissed out of hand. I like Finkelstein. He writes lucidly and is open to new facts and ideas. I am simply saying that the conclusions they come to are without support. And I am saying that none of this should shake the faith of knowledgeable Christians. If anything, the brute facts of which we are reminded should strengthen our confidence in the biblical narrative.

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