This post is an illustration of my video on “Who Wrote The Bible – Part 2”. This video discusses the “documentary hypothesis” which says that there are several different independent sources of material that the writers of the first five books of the Bible used. Two of these are called “J” (because it uses the name of Yahweh or Jehovah for God) and the other “P” (because it is concerned with priestly rituals and regulations).
Let’s look at the flood story in Genesis. This is a particularly interesting case, because verses from “J” and “P” are interwoven in our current Bible, with a section from one, then a section from another, etc. The really remarkable thing is that when taking apart, both are essentially complete stories – but with interesting differences. I’ve used the WEB (Web Bible) version because it helpfully uses “Yahweh” when that word appears in the Hebrew. I’ve kept the reference verse numbers from our current Bible so you can see how they were spliced together.
The Flood According to “J”
(5) Yahweh saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
(6) Yahweh was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him in his heart.
(7) Yahweh said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the surface of the ground; man, along with animals, creeping things, and birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.
(8) But Noah found favor in Yahweh’s eyes.
(1) Yahweh said to Noah, Come with all of your household into [a] ship, for I have seen your righteousness before me in this generation.
(2) You shall take seven pairs of every clean animal with you, the male and his female. Of the animals that are not clean, take two, the male and his female.
(3) Also of the birds of the sky, seven and seven, male and female, to keep seed alive on the surface of all the earth.
(4) In seven days, I will cause it to rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights. Every living thing that I have made, I will destroy from the surface of the ground.
(5) Noah did everything that Yahweh commanded him.
(7) Noah went into the ship with his sons, his wife, and his sons wives, because of the waters of the flood.
(10) It happened after the seven days, that the waters of the flood came on the earth.
(12) The rain was on the earth forty days and forty nights.
(16b) And Yahweh shut him [Noah] in [the ship].
(17) The flood was forty days on the earth. The waters increased, and lifted up the ship, and it was lifted up above the earth.
(18) The waters prevailed, and increased greatly on the earth; and the ship floated on the surface of the waters.
(20) The waters prevailed fifteen cubits upward, and the mountains were covered.
(22) All in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, of all that was on the dry land, died.
(23) Every living thing was destroyed that was on the surface of the ground, including man, livestock, creeping things, and birds of the sky. They were destroyed from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ship.
(2b) And the rain from the sky was restrained.
(3a) The waters receded from the earth continually.
(6) It happened at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ship which he had made,
(8) He sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from the surface of the ground,
(9) but the dove found no place to rest her foot, and she returned to him into the ship; for the waters were on the surface of the whole earth. He put forth his hand, and took her, and brought her to him into the ship.
(10) He stayed yet another seven days; and again he sent forth the dove out of the ship.
(11) The dove came back to him at evening, and, behold, in her mouth was an olive leaf plucked off. So Noah knew that the waters were abated from the earth.
(12) He stayed yet another seven days, and sent forth the dove; and she didn’t return to him any more.
(13b) Noah removed the covering of the ship, and looked. He saw that the surface of the ground was dried.
(20) Noah built an altar to Yahweh, and took of every clean animal, and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.
(21) Yahweh smelled the pleasant aroma. Yahweh said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for mans sake, because the imagination of mans heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again strike everything living, as I have done.
(22) While the earth remains, seed time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.
Now let’s see:
The Flood Story According to “P”
(the priestly source.)
(9) This is the history of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time. Noah walked with God.
(10) Noah became the father of three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
(11) The earth was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.
(12) God saw the earth, and saw that it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.
(13) God said to Noah, The end of all flesh has come before me, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.
(14) Make a ship of gopher wood. You shall make rooms in the ship, and shall seal it inside and outside with pitch.
(15) This is how you shall make it. The length of the ship will be three hundred cubits, its breadth fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits.
(16) You shall make a roof in the ship, and you shall finish it to a cubit upward. You shall set the door of the ship in its side. You shall make it with lower, second, and third levels.
(17) I, even I, do bring the flood of waters on this earth, to destroy all flesh having the breath of life from under the sky. Everything that is in the earth will die.
(18) But I will establish my covenant with you. You shall come into the ship, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons wives with you.
(19) Of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ship, to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female.
(20) Of the birds after their kind, of the livestock after their kind, of every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, two of every sort shall come to you, to keep them alive.
(21) Take with you of all food that is eaten, and gather it to yourself; and it will be for food for you, and for them.
(22) Thus Noah did. According to all that God commanded him, so he did.
(8) Clean animals, animals that are not clean, birds, and everything that creeps on the ground
(9) went by pairs to Noah into the ship, male and female, as God commanded Noah.
(11) In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the same day all the fountains of the great deep were burst open, and the sky’s windows were opened.
(13) In the same day Noah, and Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah’s wife, and the three wives of his sons with them, entered into the ship;
(14) they, and every animal after its kind, all the livestock after their kind, every creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind, and every bird after its kind, every bird of every sort.
(15) They went to Noah into the ship, by pairs of all flesh with the breath of life in them.
(16a) Those who went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God commanded him;
(19) The waters prevailed exceedingly on the earth. All the high mountains that were under the whole sky were covered.
(21) All flesh died that moved on the earth, including birds, livestock, animals, every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every man.
(24) The waters prevailed on the earth one hundred fifty days.
(1) God remembered Noah, all the animals, and all the livestock that were with him in the ship; and God made a wind to pass over the earth. The waters subsided.
(2a) The deeps fountains and the sky’s windows were also stopped
(3b) After the end of one hundred fifty days the waters decreased.
(4) The ship rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on Ararat’s mountains.
(5) The waters receded continually until the tenth month. In the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen.
(7) and he sent forth a raven. It went back and forth, until the waters were dried up from the earth.
(13a) It happened in the six hundred first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from the earth
(14) In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry.
(15) God spoke to Noah, saying,
(16) Go out of the ship, you, and your wife, and your sons, and your sons wives with you.
(17) Bring forth with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh, including birds, livestock, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, that they may breed abundantly in the earth, and be fruitful, and multiply on the earth.
(18) Noah went forth, with his sons, his wife, and his sons wives with him.
(19) Every animal, every creeping thing, and every bird, whatever moves on the earth, after their families, went out of the ship.
(1) God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.
(2) The fear of you and the dread of you will be on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the sky. Everything that the ground teems with, and all the fish of the sea are delivered into your hand.
(3) Every moving thing that lives will be food for you. As the green herb, I have given everything to you.
(4) But flesh with its life, its blood, you shall not eat.
(5) I will surely require your blood of your lives. At the hand of every animal I will require it. At the hand of man, even at the hand of every mans brother, I will require the life of man.
(6) Whoever sheds mans blood, his blood will be shed by man, for God made man in his own image.
(7) Be fruitful and multiply. Bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply in it.
(8) God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying,
(9) As for me, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your offspring after you,
(10) and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the livestock, and every animal of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ship, even every animal of the earth.
(11) I will establish my covenant with you: all flesh will not be cut off any more by the waters of the flood, neither will there ever again be a flood to destroy the earth.
(12) God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations:
(13) I set my rainbow in the cloud, and it will be for a sign of a covenant between me and the earth.
(14) It will happen, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow will be seen in the cloud,
(15) and I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh, and the waters will no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.
(16) The rainbow will be in the cloud. I will look at it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.
(17) God said to Noah, This is the token of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.
Some points to notice.
- In “J”, Yahweh is quite human-like. He grieves, he is sorry, he favors Noah, he enjoys the smell of sacrifice, he has a heart.. In “P”, he is more distant. No human emotions or characteristics are mentioned. This corresponds to the theology of the priestly source, who see God as a distant power who can only be approached by priestly sacrifice.
- In “J”, Noah brings seven pairs (14) of all clean animals and a pair (2) of all unclean animals. In “P” he only brings a pair of all animals. Why? As we see, in “J”, a sacrifice will be offered, and those extra animals will come in handy. In “P”, no sacrifice occurs, so no extra animals are needed. Why no sacrifice in “P”? Because one of the main points of “P” is that ONLY Aaronid priest can offer sacrifice! There is no sacrifice in “P” until Aaron. “P” would not want to admit that Noah or anyone else before Aaron could offer a valid sacrifice.
- In “J”, There are no elaborate instructions. Noah just grabs a ship. In “P” there are elaborate instructions. This fits the priestly mentality that pleasing God requires obedience to explicit ritual instructions.
- In “J”, no exact dates are given. There is more of a story-like quality. “P” likes exact dates and lists.
- In “J”, The flood is caused by 40 days and nights of rain. In “P”, it’s a cosmic catastrophe, with the fountains of the deep opening and the windows of heaven opening, and the flood prevails for 150 days before beginning to subside. The flood has definitely become more grandiose in the interval between “J” and “P”.
- In “J”, The waters of the flood are 15 cubits deep (about 45 feet) Enough to wipe out cities and cover small local hills. In “P”, the floodwaters are so huge that the take the ark to Mt. Ararat – clearly a global catastrophe.
- In “J”, The flood stops in 40 days, and Noah is able to leave after waiting 14 days for the waters to dry. In “P”, the flood stops in 150 days (P records the date precisely) and Noah doesn’t leave the ship till more than a year from the day he entered it.
- In “J”, Noah sends out doves. In “P” he sends out a raven.
- In “J”, Noah offers a sacrifice and it convinces God never to send a flood again. In “P”, it’s a sovereign decision on Gods part, ratified with a religious covenant contract and a cosmic sign (the rainbow), again corresponding to the priestly view of God as a remote and abstract force interested in precise laws.
Not only does each of the sources have its own very identifiable character, but each story makes much more cohesive sense when extracted from the other and read in isolation. I believe this is a very good illustration of why the explanatory power of the documentary hypothesis makes it a good working model of the sources of the Pentateuch.
In the last article, One Way or Another, I suggested that God is present in the teachings of other religions than just Christianity. But aren’t these religions just deceptions of the devil? Well if they are, then the devil seems to have a pretty strange agenda. Let’s look at the lives of three famous people of other faiths.
Let’s start with Ashoka the Great – an emperor who ruled most of India in the third century BC. According to tradition, Ashoka began his reign as a ruthless tyrant, purging dissent and violently conquering his neighbors. But as he surveyed the death and destruction of his latest conquest in Kalinga, and heard the wailing of the mourners, something changed in him. He became a Buddhist, and completely reformed his life and his empire. He made peace with his neighbors, forgave his enemies, released many prisoners, built schools and hospitals, and encouraged compassion and kindness in his laws. He protected the forests and animals and encouraged all religions.
“Whoever praises his own religion, due to excessive devotion, and condemns others with the thought “Let me glorify my own religion,” only harms his own religion. Therefore contact (between religions) is good. One should listen to and respect the doctrines professed by others.” 1
H. G. Wells, said of him:
“Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history, their majesties and graciousnesses and serenities and royal highnesses and the like, the name of Ashoka shines, and shines, almost alone, a star.” 2
So who would inspire an enlightened empire of peace and compassion. Satan or God?
Guru Teg Bahadur
Let’s look now at a Sikh, Guru Teg Bahadur who became the ninth guru of the Sikhs in 1665. He was a humble but powerful leader of the Sikh’s but also wrote beautiful verses that became part of the Sikh scriptures. Such as this one:
“Oh mind, love the Lord. With your ears, hear the glorious praises of the Lord of the Universe, and with your tongue, sing his song.” 3.
When the viceroy of the Mugal emperor began trying to convert the Hindus of Kashmir to Islam by force, their leaders approached Teg Bahadur for help. He told them to tell the viceroy that if he could convert Guru Teg Bahadur, they would convert also. But after four months of prison and torture, the Guru still refused to convert, and the viceroy had him beheaded.
Many Christians have found the grace and strength to die for their faith. Guru Teg Bahadur died not merely for his own faith, but to protect others of a different faith. Does satan inspire this kind of grace?
Finally, let’s look at Rabia Basri, a Muslim saint and Sufi mystic who lived in the 700’s AD. Captured by bandits and sold into slavery, she would spend most of her nights in prayer after finishing her duties. When her master overheard these prayers he realized what a saintly person she was and released her. She moved into in the desert where she taught about divine love to a group of disciples. Many religious leaders came to seek her counsel.
She once said to God,
“Everyone prays to You from fear of the Fire;
And if You do not put them in the Fire,
This is their reward.
Or they pray to You for the Garden,
Full of fruits and flowers.
And that is their prize.
But I do not pray to You like this,
For I am not afraid of the Fire,
And I do not ask You for the Garden.
But all I want is the Essence of Your Love,
And to return to be One with You,
And to become Your Face.”
As we close up this discussion of heaven and hell, I wonder how many of us come anywhere close to understanding God like Rabia did? How many of us only try to be good out of fear of hell, or a desire for heaven? How many of us understand the true object of our search?
I carry a torch in one hand
And a bucket of water in the other:
With these things I am going to set fire to Heaven
And put out the flames of Hell
So that voyagers to God can rip the veils
And see the real goal.
Is Jesus Christ essential to the salvation of humanity? If so, how? One verse in the Bible in particular is often quoted by Christians to suggest that no one who does not explicitly believe in Jesus can be saved:
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.1
On it’s face, this seems to be pretty bad news for anyone who hasn’t known about Jesus during their lifetime. Billions of people have lived and died on earth and never heard the name “Jesus”. Among these were some very good people – some probably better than the average Christian. Among these were some very sincere people, who tried to follow the truth as they understood it – possibly trying harder than the average Christian. Would God really deny someone entry into heaven simply because they hadn’t heard of Jesus, while allowing someone to enter who was less moral, less sincere – but who said a “sinner’s prayer” and used the name of Jesus?
In spite of all attempted defenses or explanations of this by Christians, we all know deep down that something’s wrong with this picture. When our deepest moral intuition conflicts with our understanding of a particular scripture – we need to at least ask ourselves if we have possibly misunderstood the scripture.
The Gospel of John, in addition to the above scripture, includes many similar “I am” scriptures in which Jesus claims great power and authority, for example:
And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. 2
Or… Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 3
Or… Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. 4
Critical readers may be willing to simply dismiss all these saying of Jesus as later additions by Christians who had developed a much more elevated Christology than Jesus originally claimed. And they have a point. But let’s follow this train of thought a little further.
Remember what God told Moses his name was from the burning bush? “I AM that I AM”. 5 “I Am”, in other words, is one of the names of God, and it is no accident that Jesus is portrayed in John as constantly using it. In the last scripture quoted, Jesus claims to be the “light”, not simply of his disciples, or his town, or the Jews in general… but of the entire world – including, by implication, people who had NEVER HEARD OF HIM. This echoes a similar set of statements earlier in John’s gospel:
In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not…the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. 6
Who is this “He” who is the “light of the world”? John identifies it as the “Word” (“logos” in Greek). This “Word” is coequal with God himself. The “Word” is eternal, and creates all things. In the Greek philosophies, “logos” was used to speak of the underlying reality of the universe – the animating power, the supreme truth. John implies that this “Logos” is, in fact, Jesus. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”.
It sounds almost like we are talking about two different beings. In other gospel accounts, particularly earlier ones, Jesus (although a miracle worker) seems very human in many respects. He was born, suffered, and died. He didn’t know who touched him in the crowd. He asked God to save him from suffering. He was hungry and thirsty. Then there are these statements in John about the eternal, uncreated, omnipotent, omniscient Logos of God. What is the relationship between these two descriptions?
The answer worked out and agreed to by some Christians (after centuries of squabbling) is that Jesus Christ had TWO completely different “natures”. He had a human nature (let’s call that one “Jesus”) and he had a DIVINE nature as the Logos of God (let’s call that one “Christ”) and these two natures were seamlessly united in one person. In eastern or New-Age terminology – one might say that Jesus was an “Avatar” – a person completely united with the Divine Nature so as to be an incarnation of God. Others believed Jesus had a nature that was single, but was human AND divine at the same time. These distinctions (over which people killed each other in an earlier age) are probably not that important to modern Christians. The key point is that in some way, Jesus is united with a particular aspect of God, called The Logos.
This helps us to understand some of the otherwise incomprehensible claims of John. How, after all, could Jesus – one individual man – be the light which enlightens EVERY SINGLE PERSON who comes into the world? (even those who’ve never heard of him). The answer is that it is the Logos of God who enlightens all people.
As the Logos, Jesus created everything 7. Even invisible spiritual realities such as angels 8 And all human beings have this Logos inside them giving them life 9 All people, in other words, have access to the underlying Reality of the cosmos. All of them are connected to the creative energy which animates the universe. All of them have access to the universal Truth at the root of all things. All people who have ever lived are immersed in the Logos. All people are enlightened by “Christ”, even if they have never heard of “Jesus”. Only in THIS way can Christ be the light of the world, and enlighten all.Such a statement fits in Jesus’ mouth only because he is united with the Logos of God.
But now let us re-examine our problem scripture: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” But does this refer to the human nature “Jesus”? Does it refer to the preacher of Nazareth, born in Bethelem and crucified in Jerusalem? Or does it refer instead to the divine nature of “Christ”, the light of the world?
If it refers to “Christ” the Logos – then the whole puzzle is solved. We might imagine a person worthy of heaven who didn’t know the name “Jesus” – but can we imagine a person in heaven other than by the path of universal truth and light? Everyone who comes to the Father comes through the Christ principle – but many of them do not know the name of Jesus.
“Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up a rock, and you will find me” 11
If Jesus is in everything. If he was in the symbol of a rock, where else might he be? Might he be in the hearts of everyone, urging them toward God? Might he be in the lives of millions of people every day who are examples of forgiveness, and gratitude, and joy?
Every person who has ever lived is in touch with the Christ principle. It lives at the core of every soul. It enlightens the world’s great religions, and inspires all the world’s great saints. Every good deed is done through Christ. Every beautiful thing expresses Christ. Every truth embodies Christ. And it is through Christ the Logos that God is approached.
I’ve quoted it several times here, but one of my favorite passages on this is from the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis. In “The Last Battle”, a soldier who worships a demon (named “Tash”) meets Aslan (Jesus) in a final judgement. He is accepted into heaven, and is confused, because he has served Tash all his life. Aslan explains to him:
“For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child? I said, Lord, thou knowest how much I understand. But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou shouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.“