So, who wrote the Bible anyway? You’d think somebody would know, right?. It turns out it’s not as easy to nail down as you might think.
The Old Testament alone covers thousands of years, hundreds of people and myriad locations.
It covers the creation of the world, the early history of humanity, how and why Abraham and his family are so important, a bunch of rules to live by, a boat-load of prophecies and finally, the rise and fall of the Jewish empire.
Then we have the New Testament which covers the life and times of Yeshua ben Yosef, better known as Jesus of Nazareth, more rules to live by, and a bunch of letters and prophecies concerning the early Christian church and the end of the world.
So who wrote all this stuff down and, more importantly, who collected it into the book we now know as ‘The Bible’?
When we look at the Old Testament, the fact is, nobody knows. The oldest known fragments we have date back to about 600-400 B.C.E.17 which isn’t very old when you figure Moses was around about 1,100 years before that and Abraham a whopping 1,700 years earlier. Not to mention Adam and Eve.18
Though we don’t know for sure who wrote it all down there’s this thing called the Documentary Hypothesis that says what we generally call the Old Testament is actually a compilation of various oral accounts that weren’t actually written down until somewhere around 600-400 years B.C.E.
According to this theory, all the books of the Old Testament were originally stories conveyed through word of mouth and date back hundreds, if not thousands, of years before being written down. Whether they are legends, mythology, parables, or factual accounts is anybody’s guess19, but there’s no doubt they were each important nuggets of Hebrew lore.
Throughout history this story-telling tradition has been typical of nomadic tribes. The early Hebrews were nomads, constantly on the move, and so it’s only natural they would use stories to pass on their heritage from one generation to the next. They’d been conquerors and been conquered themselves. More than once they’d been led off as captives to a foreign land. As time went by, it became more important these stories be written down and a record kept for posterity.
But who did the writing? When did someone finally put pen to parchment, so to speak? We need look no further than the Bible itself to find some important clues.
Around 450 B.C.E. there was this priest named Ezra. The Babylonians had conquered Israel some150 years before and carted off most of the people to Babylon. Apparently Ezra was born in Babylon where he became a scholar and preeminent authority of Jewish tradition and law.20
The Babylonian leaders liked Ezra and were intrigued with Jewish tradition. They ended up sending him back to Palestine and encouraged him to study the ways of his people and even rebuild the temple they’d previously destroyed.21
As luck would have it, Ezra found Moses’ “Book of the Law” buried in the ruins of the temple. Being a prodigious scholar and scribe and the leader of a team of over seventy scribes,22 Ezra was just the right man to happen upon this ancient sacred writing.
Many scholars believe Ezra didn’t ‘find’ anything. They believe he and his team documented the laws and statutes of Moses and other stories and then presented them to the people as having been there the whole time. He just ‘found’ them. Regardless of what really happened, the people bought it, and consequently Ezra is often referred to as the Father of Judaism.23
Many people take these stories literally and many others believe they are legends and metaphoric stories derived from Jewish lore. But the fact remains, Ezra and his team could have made a lot of this stuff up. Who would have known?
Apparently, when Ezra finally read his findings to the people, they had no clue about any of it. They didn’t know about Passover or Moses or any of God’s laws. They didn’t know about any of the feasts, rituals or sacrifices they were supposed to have been doing. None of it. They were clueless. It was all new to them.
Interestingly, there’s a story in Ezra’s findings of a king named Josiah who did essentially the same thing about 200 years previous. Josiah also ‘found’ the Book of the Law in the ruins of the temple24 and read them to the people. And, just like with Ezra, the people had no idea of their history or what was expected of them. It was like it all came out of nowhere.
Was Ezra using the story of Josiah to cover his tracks? Was he the one actually doing the documentation but giving credit to a legendary king from 200 years ago? It’s easier to say you found some sacred writings than to say, “Oh yeah, we wrote all this stuff, but trust me, it’s all true.”
This Documentary Hypothesis is an interesting theory and it’s even more interesting that the earliest evidence of a written record of the Old Testament coincides with Ezra ‘finding’ the sacred books around 400 B.C.E.
If you care to look into this further I suggest you Google it. There are plenty of articles you can find about it. Happy hunting.
Now when it comes to the New Testament it’s a little easier to keep track of when things came together because, for the most part, the Greeks and Romans were heavily involved and they were meticulous record keepers.
Without getting into what is a true gospel or not, the fact is, there are plenty of copies of New Testament writings, some dating back as far as 60 C.E.25 while others weren’t written until as much as 300 years after Jesus’ death.
The Apostle Paul26 and his followers were prodigious writers and loved to share their revelations about Jesus with the world27. There were so many of these, often competing, accounts that when the Romans took control of the Christian church, they basically decided what writings were ‘official’ and which were not. This is where they ‘canonized’ certain books and condemned all the others. These canonized books were deemed ‘sacred’ and make up what we now know as the New Testament.28
You can still find some of the other ‘condemned’ books, stories and writings that didn’t make the cut29. Some survived30 but we’ll never know how many did not. The Roman church did a pretty ruthless purge of the books they didn’t approve of and the people who believed them.
It’s important to remember none of this stuff, let me repeat NONE of it, was written by anybody who actually knew Jesus, who hung out with him, or knew anybody who did. It’s all hearsay. ALL hearsay. These are all stories heard by someone who heard it from someone, who knew somebody, who heard it from somebody, who swore it was true. Then somebody finally wrote it down, decades and even hundreds of years after the fact.
Needless to say, there’s a lot of room for discussion about this but personally, I believe Ezra and his crew documented the Old Testament and the Roman Catholic Church authorized the New Testament. But since, for the purposes of this book, I’m going to approach it like a literalist.31 I’m going to act like God wrote it himself and see where it leads us.
Now here’s the real kicker; there is absolutely no independent evidence that any of the people in the Bible ever existed, any of the events actually occurred, or any of it is true on anything other than a metaphorical level.
That being said, I have to stress the ‘independent’ evidence part. That means you can’t use the Bible to prove its own existence. I learned in grade school you can’t use a word to define another word derived from it; ie: you can’t define ‘consciousness’ as ‘the state of being conscious’.32 See what I mean? If you take the Bible out of the equation there is no evidence anywhere of any of it. No Noah, no flood, no Tower of Babel, no Moses, no David, no Solomon, no Jesus, no Paul, none of it.
And it’s not like there weren’t other people around who could have written about it. After all, pretty much all of it happened in the Cradle of Civilization among significant civilizations who we do have independent evidence of and who were prodigious record keepers. The Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Greeks and Romans all documented everything.
Even though the Israelites apparently had contact with several of these civilizations, nowhere is there any record of a guy named Abraham33. There’s no record of his son Joseph or how he saved Egypt and the entire known world. There’s no record of Moses, much less the escape of two and a half million Hebrew slaves. There’s no record of David or Solomon or the huge kingdom they created. There’s no record of Noah’s Arc, Sodom and Gomorrah, or the Tower of Babel. And believe it or not, there is no record of Jesus or the Apostle Paul or any of Jesus’ disciples. There’s a bit of empirical evidence that people point to that may or may not refer to someone or something. But as far as hard, independent evidence, none, zilch, nada, nothing. We take it all on faith.34
The earliest record we have of anyone known as an Israelite is on the Merneptah Stele35 which is a big obelisk thing covered in hieroglyphics. It dates back to 1206 B.C.E. and refers to a group of people known as Israelites who weren’t big players in the region. They weren’t numerous enough to be a city state or kingdom but there were enough of them to at least rate mention as a ‘people’ living in the land of Canaan. This is when, according to the Bible, Israel was on a roll and basically dominated the entire region.
Then there are the Tel Dan Stele and Mesha Stele, both dated around the mid 800’s B.C.E. that seem to make a reference to the ‘House of David’. The Mesha Stele actually refers to the ‘House of Omri’ which some claim to be a reference to David while others say it refers to the Moab king named Balak. Either way, none of that, if true, actually proves the existence of the David we read about in the Bible.
Think about it; we have the state of Washington, Washington D.C. and a ton of people named Washington, but none of that proves George Washington ever existed. The only reason we believe there was ever such a man as George Washington is because there is loads of independent evidence of his life and times. Even still, legends have grown up around him that are complete fabrications.36
History is littered with fictional characters and places that were all created for one reason or another. For instance, there was a guy named Geoffrey of Monmouth who wrote a book back in the 12th century called ‘The History of the Kings of Britain’ where he basically made up a whole history of Britain, including King Arthur, and claimed it as fact.
By referring to real places and accepted lore, Geoffrey’s account was counted as a valid history of Medieval England for centuries. He was basically the Ezra of Britain. Except Monmouth’s history has since been proven to be complete fabrication.
If you’ve ever read Mark Twain’s “Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc” you get the idea how writers can take liberties with accepted fact and create an absolutely believable fiction.
Some refer to the Dead Sea Scrolls as proof of the Bible. What they fail to realize is the oldest of these scrolls only date back as far as 408 B.C.E. In fact, they are copies of Ezra’s books and a plethora of early Christian writings, many of which didn’t make the cut at the Council of Nicea and were not included in the New Testament. They were hidden in caves in the Judaean desert as a means to preserve them from the purges of the Roman church.
Remember, you can’t use a source to prove its own existence, and these scrolls can in no way be viewed as independent evidence; they are just earlier writings, some of which match up to contemporary Biblical content and many that don’t.
I know this can be pretty daunting, It sure was to me. But when I finally started digging, I was amazed that the Western world has built so much of its history on a very shaky foundation.
I realize no amount of science will shake some people’s faith and that’s okay. It doesn’t really matter anyway. People believe what they want to believe, whether it’s true or not. Who am I to say what’s true and what’s not? I admit, I may be completely off base. So, at the very least, I encourage you to do your own research and, based on what you find, decide for yourself.
How are we going to define God? There must be as many ways to define God as there are people on the planet. Some think he’s a big guy in the sky while others think he’s not a ‘he’ at all but a gender-less, formless, infinitely intelligent energy. I love the way Ernest Holmes refers to God as “the Thing Itself”.
I stand more with the latter group but, for the purposes of this book, I’m going to refer to God pretty much as the Bible does, as an all-powerful man in the sky. I know a lot of people get turned off just by the mention of the word ‘God’ but, if we’re going to approach the Bible literally, then we have to use the literal terms given us.
The Bible says we were created in God’s image but it seems, at least in the Old Testament, that man created God in the image of the most powerful kings and rulers of the time. Like these despots, God comes off as a petulant deity with a short temper who demands absolute loyalty and obedience. He is generous to those he likes and unbelievably cruel to those he doesn’t.
The Old Testament God is moody and prone to temper tantrums. Sometimes he can be argued with and he’ll change his mind. But then, at the next turn, one little slip up will doom you forever.
To confuse the issue even more, even God’s form is inconsistent. Sometimes he shows up as a clueless guy walking around the garden, sometimes he’s hiding in a burning bush, sometimes he’s just some guy who shows up on your doorstep. He’s even been known to get into wrestling matches with humans. But one thing that is consistent, he’s always a ‘he’. So, although it pains me, that’s how I’m going to refer to him.37
It wasn’t until Jesus came along that the entire narrative on God changed. Suddenly he was this loving, benevolent, super tolerant ‘father’ who doesn’t judge you and is eternally forgiving. The New Testament God wants nothing more than to give you all the gifts life has to offer.38 Quite a change from the Old Testament fire and brimstone God.
Another thing about this God/gender thing; it does make it easier to talk about this infinitely intelligent source-energy thing if we just call it God and refer to it as ‘him’. Although I don’t believe it’s literally correct, I do see why people have been doing it for eons; it’s just easier.
Early on, the king was the most powerful dude around so it was just natural that God would be the biggest, baddest dude ever. That’s pretty much how a lot of people still think of him today. Thinking of God as some abstract energy life-force is just beyond some people’s ability to comprehend.39
It is self-evident a power exists in the universe that is greater than we are. Something grand and glorious gave rise to all this. It is pointless to deny the existence of Life Itself but where we take it from there is up to each one of us. Regardless of how we think of it, it is what it is.
Each one of us, within our own subconscious mind, will define God in whatever way works for us.40 I like how Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, called it “the God of his understanding”. He knew each person understands God in a completely unique way and nothing else matters except we acknowledge it in our own way. Ultimately, God, as far as we’re concerned, is whatever we think it is. God is quite happy to let us think whatever we want.
The nature of God is fodder for a whole book, but not this one. To state it plainly, as far as I’m concerned, God is infinite and therefore cannot be defined in any real way anyway. But if I were to try, I would say God is an all-powerful, absolute Intelligence, infinite Wisdom, LIFE itself, unconditional love and the source of all. God is ALL and all of creation is made ‘of’ God, which is way different than being made ‘by’ God. I believe God exists in its fullness in each and every one of its creation, including you and me. I believe our potential ability to create is exactly the same as this infinite creative force. It is only a matter of degree and our ability to believe we can.41
So, it doesn’t matter if you think of God as an infinitely intelligent Life force or a big powerful guy up in the clouds taking notes and getting ready for the judgment day. It doesn’t matter if you refer to God as your Inner Being, your Higher Self, Source energy, Nature, Life, the Universe, or just plain God. For the purposes of this book I’m going to stick to the literal narrative and refer to God as ‘God’, and that God is a he/him.42
Rarely is hygiene considered when we examine Biblical writings. Frankly, there wasn’t much hygiene going on. But we have to remember that most of these Old Testament stories happened during the Bronze Age43 when advanced civilization was just getting a foothold on the planet.44 These were nomadic people used to living in the dirt and sleeping with the animals. It would be thousands of years before somebody finally made the connection between washing your hands and getting sick.
As strange as it may seem, hygiene does come into play when we start talking about the Laws of Moses. It’s very likely many of these laws were motivated more by basic health issues than the idiosyncrasies of a petulant God.
In a nutshell, Old Testament hygiene consisted of the following;
- You only had to wash your clothes if you’d touched a dead thing, were cured of leprosy, or you slept in a moldy house.45
- But you had to wash your clothes AND take a bath if you’d had a discharge46, you’d touched someone or something that had a discharge, you’d touched a menstruating woman, consummated sex47, or eaten something that died on its own.48
- If you found a dead rat or lizard or something like that in a bowl you had to break it if it was pottery or wash it if it was wood or brass. Same thing if the guy with the discharge touched it.49
- Leprosy was a big deal back then but basic hygiene wasn’t part of the treatment protocol.50 Only when you were finally rid of it did you have to wash your clothes. But if your clothes got leprosy you had to burn them and if your house got it you had to remove the part that had it, or maybe even have to tear the whole thing down.51 I’m not sure how your clothes or house can get leprosy but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say they were probably talking about mold and didn’t know any better.
- The only mention of what we might call ‘bathroom etiquette’ is in Deuteronomy when the people are instructed to go outside the camp, dig a hole, do their business, then bury their pooh pooh.52
- Numerous declarations demand that someone “remain unclean until evening.” This indicates a clear indication that they knew enough to stay away from these ‘unclean’ people for a reasonable amount of time.53 Whether it helped or not we’ll never know but it never hurts to error on the side of not dying. Remember, this is when a small cut or infection of any kind could easily kill you.
It’s clear these people had a rudimentary understanding of the things that could make them sick. But it’s also clear staying ‘clean’ had more to do with what you ate than it did with how often you took a bath. That being said, they did have a variety of ways of keeping themselves healthy. These become a significant factor when we consider the ‘do’s and don’ts’ Moses laid out later on in his laws and statutes.
Well, that pretty much lays out the foundation of the who, what and why of this book. So, if you’re still with me, let’s dive right in. Next stop, Genesis and the beginning of the world.
17 They used to call this BC, ‘Before Christ’ but in an act of political correctness it’s now called BCE, ‘Before the Common Era’.
18 Traditional Biblical timeline puts Adam and Eve a little over 6,000 years ago. We fix this error in our discussion of Genesis.
19 …and a point of contention among many traditionalists.
20 How a Jew born in Babylon would become the preeminent authority on a Law he had no record of is a big question in itself.
21 A lot had changed in 150 years.
22 These 70 scribes were known as ‘The Great Assembly,’
23 Who knows, maybe he invented it
24 That temple got destroyed more than once
25 Common Era…used to be called A.D. (after death). See footnote about B.C.E. if you must.
26 Paul is the father of Christianity.
27 Much of the New Testament is letters written by Paul giving instruction on how to live your life.
28 Interestingly there are numerous versions of the ‘official’ New Testament; Catholic, King James, Coptic, etc.
29 ‘The Lost Books of the Bible’, ‘The Gospel of Thomas’, ‘The Gospel of Mary’, ‘The Gospel of Judas’ to name a few.
30 Notably as what we call the Dead Sea scrolls
31 Someone who interprets the Bible literally.
32 Or being ‘believable’ as ‘having the quality of being believed’
33 In the Old Testament Abraham was a really big deal
34 And the fact that it’s been literally beaten into the Western Civilization mindset for several thousand years
36 Cutting down the cherry tree; having wooden teeth; throwing a coin across the Potomac River.
38 That’s the ‘Good News’ Jesus was talking about
39 My mom was one of them
40 As John Lennon said, “Whatever gets you through the night”
41 So did Jesus. Read on
42 I’m cringing
43 Just after the Stone Age
44 At least on that part of the planet.
45 Leviticus 11:25 & 28, Leviticus 11:40, Leviticus 12:6 & 14:34, Leviticus 14:47
46 Your guess is as good as mine
47 You know what I mean
48 Leviticus 15:13, Leviticus 15:7-12, Leviticus 15:18-27, Leviticus 17:15
49 Gross; Leviticus 11:32, Leviticus 15:7-12
50 But there was a lot of sacrificing involved
51 Leviticus 14:35-45
52 Deuteronomy 23:11-14 With over 2 million people out there, that’s a lot of pooh.
53 Like social distancing in a pandemic.