Who Wrote the Bible?

by Richard Elliott Friedman

Book, 1987



Call number

002 FRI


[San Francisco] : HarperSanFrancisco, [1997], c1987.


The contemporary classic theNew York Times Book Review called "a thought-provoking [and] perceptive guide," Who Wrote the Bible? by Richard E. Friedman is a fascinating, intellectual, yet highly readable analysis and investigation into the authorship of the Old Testament. The author of Commentary on the Torah, Friedman delves deeply into the history of the Bible in a scholarly work that is as exciting and surprising as a good detective novel. Who Wrote the Bible? is enlightening, riveting, an important contribution to religious literature, and as the Los Angeles Times aptly observed in its rave review, "There is no other book like this one."… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member apswartz
I love this book. I have read it three times now and I know I will turn to it again and again. Friedman writes in a clear, concise manner that is highly readable. He provides a clear presentation of the Documentary Hypothesis and traces the various strands providing theological, historical, and
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political motivations for each strand and for the different steps in the redaction of the text. This would be a wonderful first book for a person new to source criticism.
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LibraryThing member fundevogel
The title is a bit miss leading. Friedman really only addressed the first five books of the Bible traditionally attributed to Moses. However as complicated as those origins become once Moses' authorship is shown to be purely pseudo epigraphical it makes sense to devote a whole book to them. The
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author (a Biblical scholar studying the origins of the books for ten years prior to this book) presents his version of the Documentary Theory. Simply put the Documentary Theory states that the Bible (at least the parts in question) was compiled from various preexisting sources in such a way that they were literally intertwined. The theory was originally introduced as an explanation for the often contradictory story doublets and inconsistent language and purpose of the text. Essentially, rather than all the Pentateuch being written by a single man it is composed from four separate works known as J, E, P and D.

That makes sense to me, Friedman does a fine job of explaining the evidence for this theory and the four sources. After that you dive into his personal attempts to place the sources in time and authorship. He explains that J & E were oppositional texts the appeared when Israel and Judea split. They maintain the important Jewish traditions that had already been established, but have differing emphasis relating to their own political and religious status. Later, once outside invaders crush Israel, the two Jewish sects are reunited and their separate texts are combined in what is likely and political and religious compromise. Then the P source arises which serves to solidify the role of the current priesthood. D is a response to P reflecting shifts in practice and perspective in the time of the second temple. Friedman makes a strong case for these positions, I'm a bit more leary of his attribution of D to Jeremiah and his naming Ezra the redactor of the all five books. There simply doesn't seem to be much available to support such specific claims of authorship.

All told I found it terribly informative and easy to read. However the complexity of the research and Friedland's failure to more specifically explain the sources of his theory leave me reluctant to simply swallow all of his assertions. It would have been nice if he had explained what came from literary analysis, what was supported by archeology or outside sources and when he simply relied on the content of the Bible. That's really the shortcoming of the book. It produces a lot of plausible theories that depend on complicated research that is unavailable in the book. It's also really frustrating to read about the intertwining of the various sources without being able to to crack open the Pentateuch and see for yourself where one source stops and another begins. I'd like to be able to do that and maybe get a feel for how the sources were recognized to begin with, at least as well as a non Hebrew speaker can. All and all it's a good read, but I don't think it shuts the book on the subject. There are simply too many unknowns, as far as I can tell, to prove all of Friedman's positions.

There is an odd bit at the end. I read the first 13 chapters unable to tell if Friedman was a believer or not. Simply put he was only addressing scholarly issues in scholarly terms. And then at the end the last chapter becomes a plea that his previous arguments do not in any way threaten Christian belief. That really doesn't make sense to me. how could a case that the Pentateuch not only had multiple authors, but that they had significant differences in politics and religion and that they were later combined in a way contrary to their original intent not threaten the veracity of the Bible? I guess ultimately as compelling as his research is, it doesn't really have any bearing on Mr. Friedman's faith. This is a man that can put on his scholar hat and do some good work, and then put on his religious hat and be completely immune to any problems raised by his own research.
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LibraryThing member EclecticGreg
Very interestingly written; though it is history, it reads like a mystery as he solves questions about the origins of the books of the Torah, not the entire Bible as the title would lead you to believe.
LibraryThing member Exeterfriends
Gift of Janice Chappie in memory of her son, Damon.
LibraryThing member Siliconopolitan
This is an excellent introduction to the Documentary Hypothesis and the problems - according Friedman's research - with some of the traditional conclusions.

Friedman writes engagingly and convincingly, but there are the occasional dubious statements in this work. For one he repeatedly refers to the
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rules of Saul, David and Salonmon as if there ever were a united kingdom of Israel prior to the post-exile Second Temple. To the best of my knowledge such an entity has been ruled out archaeologically. It may be, though, that these discoveries postdate the 1987 publication date.

Secondly, Friedman is understandably proud of his identification of the proportions of the traditional Tabernacle and his hypothesis of of its residing in the Temple of Solomon. Unfortunately, he is inconsistent about these dimensions and it isn't clear to me, if this is due solely to typoes or something more severe.
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LibraryThing member Hanuman2
Very useful historical work.
LibraryThing member reannon
My mother introduced me to this book years ago and I loved it. Was reminded of it recently and decided to re-read it. Yep, still good.

Friedman first talks about the history of Biblical textual analysis. Doubts that Moses wrote the Torah arose in the Middle Ages but were viciously suppressed. But
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the question had been raised and became more common, increasing steadily from the 17th century on.

The result is that we now know much more about who wrote the Bible, when, what their viewpoint was, and when they wrote. Friedman concentrates on the Torah, or Pentateuch, and the Deuteronic books (beginning with Deuteronomy and going through Judges, Kings, and the Chronicles). There were four authors and an editor who combined the source documents into what we have today.

The earliest were the J and E documents, which were then edited together. Following them were the D and P documents. All of these were written before the Babylonian exile, but the editor combined all the documents in the period of the Second Temple.

Since I'm a historian, I love the history he talks about, from the time Israel was ruled by judges, then kings, broke into the separate kingdoms of Judah and Israel, the fall of Israel, and so on. Then there's the viewpoints of the different authors. The P, or Priestly, document, for example, was written by an Aaronid priest - a descendent of Aaron, who made his living through sacrifices brought to the temple. So in his telling of Biblical stories, Aaron is emphasized more, Moses is slightly denigrated, all sacrifices must come to the temple, God is just and worship must be mediated by the priests, and so on.

Excellent book, and a good starting point on the topic. As follow ups I recommend books by John Shelby Spong, especially Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism, which covers the New Testament as well as the Old, and almost any of Bart Ehrman's books that concentrate on the new Testament. A friend of mine also recommends Isaac Asimov's book on the Bible.
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LibraryThing member MartinBodek
I should not be reading such things.
LibraryThing member antao
“The question, after all, is not only who wrote the bible, but who reads it.”

In “Who Wrote the Bible” by Richard Elliott Friedman

Some of the texts date to 400 AD or later, such as the second half of Matthew, the whole of John and the whole of Revelation. I would consider a "complete,
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unabridged Bible" to consist of all texts either used by, or referenced by, any Abrahamic sect whatsoever from 2,200 B.C. through to 1,400 A.D., plus the Book of Mormon (it is as legitimate as any other sect, which isn't saying much). In other words, a document from which you could reconstruct the actual founding of the original sect by Babylonian or Sumerian priests amongst the Canaanite animists and magi, all travels by all the differing groups, and the root causes of every schism, through to the present day. No such book has ever been compiled, but the word "Bible" means "The Book". Singular. The only true singular book you could ever have that can be true to every Abrahamic group (and if it can't be, it's not singular) is a book that includes everything that has ever been relevant to any of them. This is the same way the Saxon Chronicles are treated. There are (ok, were) many versions (a fire destroyed a great number of them), but the Saxon Chronicles as a unified concept refers to the compilation of this material. The abstract concept of the "complete" Saxon Chronicles refers to all of the versions, whether they survive or not, as an entity. Not a physical entity but what a computer scientist or mathematician would call a logical entity. A set is a logical entity, it exists but it doesn't exist in any physical sense. In this aspect I’m siding with Friedman. I can't quite accept that all Bibles are equal, as we can identify authors and therefore can identify later forgeries, material that doesn't belong in a unified collection, etc. We can define a logical entity that truly is The Book, the superset of all material that has ever existed, organized into logical subsets by some means. The Old Testament is a logical subset. It's a collection of material that has enough commonality to be a distinct grouping. But it does not exist, in any sense. Different Old Testaments use different books, so the Old Testament is the superset of all the different books that fit in this grouping. All of the real Old Testaments are subsets of this master set. The universal set, the set that contains all the material ever used in any Bible by ANY Abrahamic sect, contains a great deal of material that no longer exists. So what? The universal set still exists, the fact that we can't establish what's in it would still be true even if all the material survived and all records preserved. It's a limitation of logic. But there has been only one history. At time “t”, person “p” only held specific things to be true. If they had held any other beliefs, we would have a different history. The infinity of possibilities doesn't apply because only one of them happened. Time is sequential, so only a finite number of intervals have ever existed. These produced a finite number of different belief systems. Even if everyone had their own, it was still finite. If you imagine everything ever thought or said by these people as being written down (with duplication removed), you'd have a lot of writing but it would be finite.

A lot of these events are of no consequence, so we can imagine those removed as well. For similar beliefs, you only need the common bit once and the differences noted. Keep going and you end up with a stupendous theoretical book, but one which is not only finite but well within human capacity to both imagine and, indeed, record. Bigger volumes of data are handled all the time.

The information is lost to humanity, but so what? In order to understand why the Iraqi followers of John the Baptist regard Jesus as a Satanist, you have to have knowledge that doesn't exist. But we still know that we need that information to understand the big picture and therefore we still know we need to have place markers for where the information would have been. The need doesn't vanish because some scroll got burned.

Circumstantial evidence cannot scientifically prove that an unobserved phenomenon is true. How did life on earth form? Living cells consist of a number of molecules including proteins and nucleic acids (DNA, RNA). Proteins are chains of amino acids which are linked together with the aid of RNA. There are 20 amino acids which can be linked together to form any number of combinations which in turn determines the type and function of the protein. How were the first amino acids created in the primordial seas without the assistance of RNA? Or maybe RNA was created first? As you can see, a single protein is outrageously complicated (just look up the structure of a protein molecule if you still don't believe me), but nucleic acids, DNA and RNA are even more complicated. DNA, RNA, proteins, lipids, and carbohydrates are not molecules that randomly come into existence in a chaotic, torrential environment (this is called spontaneous generation, proven wrong by Louis Pasteur), they are the products of an omniscient/omnipresent being. A single prokaryotic cell (bacteria) is more complicated than a space shuttle yet are we to believe the space shuttle was designed but not life? Science tells me that spontaneous generation is impossible. If you want to know how a cult that practiced snake-charming in tombs with saucers of milk acquired a belief that handling snakes was the way to Heaven or that the dead would rise from their graves, you’ll have to read this. Nevertheless, relativism is only true if an objective observer is capable of absolutism.
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LibraryThing member tony_sturges
The contemporary classic the New York Times Book Review called “a thought-provoking [and] perceptive guide,” Who Wrote the Bible? by Richard E. Friedman is a fascinating, intellectual, yet highly readable analysis and investigation into the authorship of the Old Testament. The author of
Show More
Commentary on the Torah, Friedman delves deeply into the history of the Bible in a scholarly work that is as exciting and surprising as a good detective novel. Who Wrote the Bible? is enlightening, riveting, an important contribution to religious literature, and as the Los Angeles Times aptly observed in its rave review, “There is no other book like this one.”
Show Less
LibraryThing member jameshold
Excellent book. Wonderfully researched. Can be enjoyed by believers and non-believers alike.

Original publication date



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