Sep 192007

I wanted to write a few words about the Bible, and explain why I think it is a book of great spiritual value but is not, especially in present form, a perfect and infallible guide to all truth. I’m in a bit of a quandary of how to begin, because what I generally like to do when trying to write persuasively is to first map out the points on which I agree with my intellectual opponents, and then move along to the points of disagreement. I find that people read what you have to say more openly when you convince them that you understand and respect their point of view first. (As an aside, this was something which my self-selected patron Thomas Aquinas taught me. He understood and presented his opponent’s arguments so well that modern readers are sometimes a bit confused about what position he is actually arguing for).

The problem is that the people I’d like to persuade fall into two drastically different groups – those who take a very literal view of biblical infallibility, and those who find no value in it at all. So…let’s go in chronological order and talk about what the Bible IS before talking about what it BECAME.

Our Bible critics correctly point out that the Bible contains contradictions. It contains points of view that are historically inaccurate and scientifically naïve. It endorses laws, customs and behaviors that we would find barbaric, and prohibits others for what seem to us to be no good reason, often crystallizing behaviors which seem to us to be merely outdated social customs into eternal moral precepts. It contains works from a wide variety of sources (some of them pagan) from different historical periods, and these sources have different and even contradictory points of view on spiritual and even factual issues. It contains several works which purport to be authored by individuals who almost certainly did NOT actually write them. Finally, both the old and new Testaments have been redacted, perhaps several times, by editors who re-wrote sacred history, included some sources and discarded others, and made editorial changes to the whole collection – in order to suit their own point of view.

So why read it?

Starting from the ground up, we need to read it because of its immense cultural significance. The Bible is not simply an attempt to record history – the Bible IS history. The book itself has had a more profound influence on Western civilization (for good and bad) than any other work. It has affected our law, our educational system, our philosophy, our systems of government, our customs, our social institutions, etc. It’s impossible to understand our world without understanding the Bible.

Secondly, we read it because of its literary value. Just as we read and appreciate the Iliad or the histories of Shakespeare for their own internal beauty (in spite of the fact that neither is good history or good science). The Bible contains the writings of gifted authors, containing poems and stories and writings full of beauty, savagery, pathos and glory. It has been a source of inspiration for countless works of literature, music, painting and sculpture. The poetry of Dante and Milton, the music of Handel and Bach, the painting of Rembrandt, the sculpture of Michelangelo… all steeped in Biblical themes and influences. Not to have read the Bible makes us artistically handicapped.
Then there is the element of scholarship. Because the books of the Bible have been regarded as sacred for much of their history, they have been preserved with as much care and accuracy as ancient methods allow. In fact, even many of the textual errors introduced into the Bible were for the sake of accuracy. Scribes would sometimes copy marginal notes into the text when recopying a manuscript, for fear that the notes might have been part of the original text, and being unwilling to take the chance of discarding holy words. Because of this, the Bible preserves layers of historically invaluable material which can help understand earlier periods of history.

It is true that it requires quite a bit of training and considerable research to understand what the Bible REALLY tells us about the times it was written in, and disputed opinions are many. During much of the time the Bible was authored, the concept and standards of writing “history” or “biography” as we know it today were unknown. The historical and biographical (and other) forms of the Bible have to be understood on their own terms, and not on ours.

Finally (and for many, most importantly), what about the SPIRITUAL value of the Bible?

In spite of the differing viewpoints and historical development mentioned earlier – in my position as someone interested in mystical spirituality and the Perennial Philosophy – the Bible is irreplaceably valuable. Let me explore for a minute a couple of concepts from Ken Wilber’s work on human spiritual history – the concept of stages vs. states.

Mankind passes through stages of spiritual, moral and social development. In the normal course of things, this can generally be regarded as “progress” (although there are pitfalls at each stage). These stages, which I’ve mentioned before, move from animism and shamanism up through goddess-centric horticultural societies, power-gods, mythic-membership societies, mental and intellectual abstractions of spirituality and eventually integral spirituality. (For some explanation on this development, see Ken’s essay ‘Which Level of God Do You Believe In at While there will always be a few forward-looking individuals who are several stages ahead of their culture, they will usually end up at odds with the culture as a whole until a critical stage of development is reached.

But the second factor to consider is extraordinary STATES of consciousness. At every stage of development, both culturally and personally, there are occasions when we have access to extraordinary and unusual STATES of consciousness. While the stages of consciousness need to be EARNED by hard work and development, these extraordinary states are often a free gift. From out of nowhere, Saul of Tarsus may be knocked off his horse or Ezekiel may see visions of strange symbolic beasts, or the tribal Shaman may enter a trance. We can group these (roughly) into nature mysticism, deity mysticism, formless mysticism, and nondual mysticism. And anyone can experience any of these, at any stage of development. BUT, on returning to their ordinary state of consciousness, they will tend to interpret these experiences in the context and language and trappings of their stage of development. An experience that a Greek might interpret as a visit from Apollo, for example, a modern Jungian might interpret as an experience of an inner archetype.

The reason for this slightly long explanation, and the application is this: Mystical states and truths are described in the Bible. They were experienced by prophets and seers and poets of various ages and at many stages of human development. But they are reported in the language of the stage of development the authors find themselves in. The Psalms, for example, which at times sink into bitter recriminations or lash out at enemies, are also full of poetry which proceeds from deep mystical insights from several states of consciousness. Spiritual insights, most likely the product of these experiences of extraordinary states of consciousness, abound in scripture.

In addition to the insights of extraordinary prophets and seers, the Bible contains many stories rich in universal archetypes and mythic themes. The need for powerful and expressive mythology seems to be fundamental to human spiritual development. Witness the popularity of modern mythological creations such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the entire fantasy genre is sparked, or the mythology of George Lucas’ ‘Star Wars’, which explicitly and deliberately utilized the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell in creating his storyline. Campbell described mythology as “the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human manifestation”, and believed that a lack of mythology had severe negative consequences for society and individuals. Mythology allows people to identify their own life and situations with universal patterns and themes, to feel connected with the cosmos. Whether we are David fighting Goliath or Joseph forgiving his brothers, we can find indispensable mythic images in the Bible that resonate with our life situations – particularly at certain stages of development.

It has been suggested that my method of finding valuable insights and patterns in the Bible is similar to finding shapes in a Rorschach ink-blot. I see the “higher message” because I’m LOOKING for a higher message. But this isn’t all I see. I’m quite aware of problems, provincialisms, contradictions and barbarities preserved in scripture. In addition to this, I find profound spiritual value. Perhaps the Rorschach criticism points both directions. It’s possible to read the Bible and see ONLY the difficulties – because difficulties are what we want to see.

But, granting that there is spiritual good in the Bible, wouldn’t it be better to simply extract that good and throw away the rest? Couldn’t a book with mystical insight and mythic purpose be written that was as good as or better than the Bible? While I’m all in favor of such books, I don’t believe they would replace the Bible for this reason: having been written from a variety of viewpoints at different stages of spiritual development, the Bible SPEAKS to all those viewpoints and stages, and can be used as a tool to lead us from one to the next. The individual at the “power-god” stage will find plenty of heart-warming stories in the Bible that assure him how much better and more powerful HIS God is than other gods. Meanwhile, such a person can be approached with the more subtle teachings of Jesus or Paul that call them to a higher stage of understanding. The “power-god” person is not going to even pick up a book by Krishnamurti or Eckhart Tolle. Which brings me to a final point about the Bible.

While I respect the right of others to disagree, I find something profoundly “providential” in the way the Bible has managed to come together out of apparently contradictory viewpoints to form a more balanced whole than any of it’s individual sources could have imagined or intended. In the Old Testament, some sources saw God as distant and transcendent. Others saw him as immanent and approachable. What results is a unique harmony of both views that see divinity both in the absolute and in the manifest. Lawgivers in the Old Testament are balanced by charismatic and iconoclastic prophets. In the New Testament, some sources emphasize Jesus’ humanity, others his connection with divinity. Some books argue for grace and others for morality. In the balance of these opposites, more profound truths are achieved than in either extreme.

It occurs to me that this is a long enough post without getting into the next part – how Bible reverence went awry. I’ll try to post on that presently.

Apr 172007

The Book of Revelation claims to have been written by “John”. While the “John” of Revelation doesn’t specifically claim to be the Apostle John mentioned in the Gospels, tradition claims that they are one and the same. According to Catholic tradition, which cites such sources as Ireneus and Tertullian, John moved, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, to Ephesus. In his older years, he was banished to the island of Patmos after the Romans were unable to harm him by throwing him into boiling oil. He supposedly died at a great age, but according to some Christians, he is still alive today (this is based on this saying of Jesus to Peter in the gospel of John: “Jesus said to him [Peter] , If I desire that he [John?] stay until I come, what is that to you? You follow me.” (John 21:22 WEB) Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, claimed to have personally encountered John the Apostle.

Critics would no doubt suspect this entire history of John of being legendary. And they would be correct. The early church leaders who particularly endorsed this theory were the ones who were particularly interested in championing the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation. But there is considerable historical evidence to the contrary.

A little known fragment of Papias, an early church Father who was familiar with John and Polycarp his disciple, says that “John the divine and James his brother were slain by the Jews”. This would coincide well with what Jesus tells James and John in Matthew 20:23, that they will drink of cup and be baptized with his baptism (in other words, suffer martyrdom as Jesus did).

In another better known fragment of Papias, quoted by Eusebius, Papias mentions receiving instruction from “John the Presbyter” in the PRESENT tense, but mentions John the Apostle in the PAST tense…

“If, then, any one came, who had been a follower of the elders, I questioned him in regard to the words of the elders,—what Andrew or what Peter said, or what WAS said (past tense) by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by JOHN, or by Matthew, or by any other of the disciples of the Lord, and what things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, SAY (present tense).”

This indicates that John was probably martyred quite early in Jerusalem. We’ll talk more of Presbyter John later.

In the ancient Syriac Christian calendar, December 27 is commemorated as the day of the martyrs “John and James, the apostles in Jerusalem”. The ancient Armenian calendar also lists them as co-martyrs, as does the Ethiopian and several other ancient lists of martyrs.

Heracleon mentiones several apostles (such as Matthew, Philip and Thomas) who were not martyrs. John is not mentioned, and so was presumably martyred.

Ignatius writes a very early Epistle to the Ephesians and greets Polycarp in particular, but makes no mention whatsoever of John the Apostle – a very odd thing to omit if John was living there, or HAD lived there, as Ignatius is careful to mention apostolic connections.

It seems likely, then, that John the Apostle died in Jerusalem, near the time of his brother James.

Mar 162007

In the collection of sources that went into the Bible, there were several different perspectives regarding Satan and the role of evil in the world. In fact, the book of Job is an all-out argument right in the pages of scripture between several of these competing views. Israel was in a unique position to experience and ponder the problem of evil because they lived in a land that was a crossroads between Egypt on one side and Asia and Mesopotamia on the other. During much of their history they were constantly conquered or invaded by one ambitious empire after another.

Before this period, God’s attitude toward Abraham and his descendents is one of unqualified benevolence:

Now Yahweh said to Abram, Get out of your country, and from your relatives, and from your fathers house, to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. You will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you. All of the families of the earth will be blessed in you. (Genesis 12:1-3 WEB)

God continues to bless Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in spite of their personal failings and problems.

The “Prophetic” View

As Israel began to experience repeated conquests by their neighbors, a religious question arose. If God promised to bless Israel and give them their land as a possession forever (see Gen 13:15), why were they often conquered and subjugated by their neighbors? The answer that developed has been called the “Prophetic” view of good and evil. God blesses Israel when they obey him, but he is prepared to punish them when they do NOT obey him.

Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you shall listen to the commandments of Yahweh your God, which I command you this day; and the curse, if you shall not listen to the commandments of Yahweh your God, but turn aside out of the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which you have not known. (Deuteronomy 11:26-28 WEB)

Remember that Deuteronomy was written long after the fact. The Deuteronomist (possibly Jeremiah) was looking back at Israel’s history from the perspective of repeated periods of suffering. Also notice that the blessings and curses are entirely physical, in there here-and-now. For example:

“I command you this day to love Yahweh your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, that you may live and multiply, and that Yahweh your God may bless you in the land where you go in to possess it.” (Deuteronomy 30:16 WEB)

The reward for obedience to God was not heavenly happiness. It was life, possessions, and posterity. Physical prosperity and happiness was the sign of God’s favor. Physical misfortune was the sign of God’s displeasure.

Also at this time, the concept of “Satan” began to occur in scripture. We are used to thinking of the serpent in the garden of Eden as the first appearance of Satan, but this is a later association. In the primitive original story, the serpent is only a serpent. “Satan” originally meant simply “adversary”. For example, in 1 Samuel 29:4, The Philistines are worried that if they take David into battle with them against Israel (David is serving the Philistines at that time) he will turn on them in battle and become a “satan” (an adversary).

God sends angels as “satans” to either oppose or test various individuals. In Numbers 22, for example, God sends an angel as a “satan” against Balaam, to prevent him from cursing Israel.

Gods anger was kindled because he went; and the angel of Yahweh placed himself in the way for an adversary [Hebrew = “satan”] against him. Now he was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. (Numbers 22:22 WEB)

In one case, God himself acts as the “satan”. We read:

Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel. (1 Chronicles 21:1 WEB)

But in a parallel version of the text, we read:

Again the anger of Yahweh was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them, saying, Go, number Israel and Judah. (2 Samuel 24:1 WEB)

Was it Satan, or Yahweh, who moved David to number Israel? It was God, acting as an adversary (satan) against David. He was, in other words, testing David.

Satan as God’s Prosecutor.

By the time the book of Job is written, the view is beginning to shift again. There have been various religious reforms in Judah and Israel, and even during periods of religious righteousness, the people continue to suffer from invading armies on several sides. Physical misfortunes don’t seem to be confined only to the wicked. The good suffer also. The book of Job addresses this issue.

Job, whom we are told is an entirely righteous man, suffers horrible calamities. He looses his children, his livestock, his health. His friends, echoing the prophets and the book of Deuteronomy, insist that if Job is suffering, he must have done something to anger God.

Is it for your piety that he reproves you, that he enters with you into judgment?
Isnt your wickedness great? Neither is there any end to your iniquities. (Job 22:4-5 WEB)

What Job’s friends don’t know, of course, is that Job is suffering at the hand of “Satan”. Instead of being just an occasional role filled by whatever angel is convenient, however, the role of “Satan” now seems to be a full-time position. Satan is seen as the chief prosecutor of the court of heaven. He is still an honored member of the “sons of God”, the highest angels. But his role is now to seek out unrighteousness and bring it to God’s attention for punishment, and to test even the righteous with trials.

Now it happened on the day when God’s sons came to present themselves before Yahweh, that Satan also came among them. Yahweh said to Satan, Where have you come from? Then Satan answered Yahweh, and said, From going back and forth in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. Yahweh said to Satan, Have you considered my servant, Job? For there is none like him in the earth, a blameless and an upright man, one who fears God, and turns away from evil. Then Satan answered Yahweh, and said, Does Job fear God for nothing? Haven’t you made a hedge around him, and around his house, and around all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will renounce you to your face. Yahweh said to Satan, Behold, all that he has is in your power. Only on himself don’t put forth your hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of Yahweh.
(Job 1:6-12 WEB)

We see here the beginnings of what will come to be called the “Apocalyptic” worldview. The good can expect to suffer in this life as a test of their faith. God will eventually make things right. In Job God shows up personally in the last chapter in a “personal” apocalypse, and makes everything right. But Job also begins to hint at the fact that not everything may end up justly resolved in this life. The unwarranted suffering of the righteous may require rewards AFTER this life.

For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: (Job 19:25-26 KJV)

These rewards are still seen in terms of a physical resurrection. They are still physical rewards – but postponed until the resurrection.

The Apocalyptic View

After the Babylonian captivity, the returning exiles rebuilt Jerusalem in a spirit of religious purification and reform. The Torah was codified and followed rigorously. And yet in spite of unprecedented religious purity and righteousness, Judea soon experienced some of the worst persecution of its history at the hands of the Seleucid Empire. Antiochus, ruler of the Empire, prohibited Jewish religious practices, and punished any demonstrations of Jewish piety with unprecedented cruelty. Jewish scriptures were burned and even women and children tortured and killed for refusing to sacrifice to pagan idols.

During this period, the “Apocalyptic” worldview came to full flower. It seemed obvious that a righteous God would not willingly order such atrocities toward the pious simply as a test. Borrowing perhaps from the Zoroastrian dualism to which they had been exposed by the Persians, the Jews began to see Satan not as the prosecuting attorney of heaven – but a fallen angel in total rebellion against God. This idea of fallen angels begins to appear in Daniel, which was written at the time of the persecutions of Antiochus. An angel is sent to Daniel, but is delayed due to having to fight off the “prince” (a fallen angelic governor) of Persia.

But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; but, behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me: and I remained there with the kings of Persia. (Daniel 10:13 WEB)

This is also one of the first mentions of Michael the Archangel. The introduction of angelic names and hierarchies – also a favorite topic of the Persians, would proliferate in later years.

Daniel is also filled with apocalyptic visions. God would eventually destroy the kingdoms of the world and set up his own. Until then, the righteous could expect persecution, because of the evil angelic powers – but God would reward them in the resurrection. For example, in 2nd Maccabees, an inter-testamental writing from this period, we read of seven brothers who were tortured to death for refusing to violate religious law. He says to his tormenters:

So when he was ready to die he said thus, It is good, being put to death by men, to look for hope from God to be raised up again by him: as for thee, thou shalt have no resurrection to life. (2 Maccabees 7:14 KJVA)

We begin to see that God will not only reward the righteous in the resurrection, but punish the wicked. This theme is amplified in another intertestamental writing, 1 Enoch.
Then I looked and turned myself to another part of the earth, where I beheld a deep valley burning with fire. To this valley they brought monarchs and the mighty. And there my eyes beheld the instruments which they were making, fetters of iron without weight (or of immeasurable weight) Then I inquired of the angel of peace, who proceeded with me, saying, For whom are these fetters and instruments prepared? He replied, These are prepared for the host of Azazeel, that they may be delivered over and adjudged to the lowest condemnation; and that their angels may be overwhelmed with hurled stones, as the Lord of spirits has commanded. Michael and Gabriel, Raphael and Phanuel shall be strengthened in that day, and shall then cast them into a furnace of blazing fire, that the Lord of spirits may be avenged of them for their crimes; because they became ministers of Satan, and seduced those who dwell upon earth. ( 1 Enoch 53: 1-6)
Here we have the concept of a hell of burning fire. Satan also has been “promoted” to the head of the fallen angels.


The Gnostic View

Things continued to be difficult for the Jews under the Roman Empire, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD. This event crushed the hopes of the most pious Jews. In a world that at times seemed utterly evil, some of the Jews began to question the wisdom of God in permitting such a situation. Combining influences of earlier philosophies, Jewish and Christian Gnostics took the next step past the apocalyptic viewpoint. The righteous suffered, said the Gnostics, not because evil was a test permitted by a good God, and not because a powerful fallen angel was on the loose opposing a good God. The righteous suffered because the God who had created the material world itself and all the powers that controlled it was an EVIL God (or at best, an incompetent one). This “Demiurge” had been created by a cosmic accident. He had incompetently created the world and ruled over it, demanding worship and obedience. To a number of these Gnostics – Satan basically WAS the God of the Old Testament. Satan had created the world and given the Old Testament law – demanding worship as the one and only God.

But above him was a TRUE God, of complete goodness and pure light. The true God, taking pity on the tortured creation of the Demiurge, had sent messengers into the world to show the way to escape from the clutches of the evil God of the material world.

The Apocryphon of John describes this incompetent creator:

"Now the archon who is weak has three names. The first name is Yaltabaoth, the second is Saklas, and the third is Samael. And he is impious in his arrogance which is in him. For he said, 'I am God and there is no other God beside me,' for he is ignorant of his strength, the place from which he had come.”

The Gnostic equating of Satan with the Demiurge or god of this world has it’s echos even in the New Testament writings

I will no more speak much with you, for the prince of the world comes, and he has nothing in me. (John 14:30 WEB)

For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the worlds rulers of the darkness of this age, and against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
(Ephesians 6:12 WEB)

in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the Good News of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn on them. (2 Corinthians 4:4 WEB)

We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.
(1 John 5:19 WEB)


The Gnostic view also regarded the next life as entirely spiritual. The physical world was evil, and so a physical resurrection made no sense.


To review, then, the conception of Satan has undergone considerable change in Biblical and extra-biblical writings, going hand in hand with a change in worldview and the perception of Evil. These changes can be summarized as follows:

The conception of Satan:

Primitive: An occasional role of God or his angels.
Prophetic: God’s official prosecutor.
Apocalyptic: A cosmic rebel against God.
Gnostic: The evil or incompetent creator of the world.

Conception of evil:

Primitive: An occasional fact of life.
Prophetic: God’s punishment.
Apocalyptic: Part of Satan’s civil war.
Gnostic: The primary nature of the material world.

Conception of rewards/punishments

Primitive: Earthly – unconditional
Prophetic: Earthly – conditional
Apocalyptic: Future earthly – conditional
Gnostic: Future spiritual – conditional



Feb 212007

Is Jesus the Jewish “messiah”, and if so, why do more Jews not believe in him?


The first difficulty in deciding if Jesus is the Jewish “messiah” is the ambiguity of the term “messiah” in Judiasm. “Messiah” is a rather general term in the Bible meaning “anointed”. Because kings and priests were anointed with oil to set them apart, the word “messiah” can apply to any king, high priest, or other “anointed” one.  Even the pagan King Cyrus is called the Lord’s “messiah” in Isaiah 45:1.


There are a number of prophecies in the Old Testament that seem to point to one particular messiah of unique importance. The problem is that Jewish interpreters differ on just what these prophecies mean. Reformed Jews tend to interpret the “messiah” prophecies as pointing to the nation of Israel as a whole. Kabbalist Jews often interpret the messiah as an immortal spiritual force. Even among those who interpret the prophecies as indicating a unique human individual, there is disagreement about the characteristics of that individual, or even how MANY “unique” messiahs there are supposed to be. These disagreements were even more significant in Jesus’ day – when Judaism was possibly even more diverse than it is today.


In particular, there were some teachers who talked about the Messiah “ben David” (son of David) and others who talked about the Messiah “ben Joseph” (son of Joseph). Some apparently believed in the priority of one or the other of these messiahs, some believed both would come, with different roles to play.


In very general terms, the Messiah ben David was seen as a military conqueror, who would restore the Kingdom of Israel and the temple. The Messiah ben Joseph was seen as bringing spiritual renewal through personal sacrifice (much as Joseph of Egypt saved his family through his own personal ordeal). Of those who believed in both messiahs, the Messiah ben Joseph was seen as a precursor to the Messiah ben David.


If we take into account what I wrote on earlier about the different sources of the Old Testament ( these two different messiahs fit rather neatly into the agendas of the primary sources of the Old Testament – the “J” (and “P”) sources and the “E” (and “D”) sources. The “J” and “P” sources champion David and the Southern Kingdom – whereas the E and D sources are more critical of David and champion the Northern Kingdom – home of the traditional descendents of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh)


In the context of Jews arguing about whether the primary messiah is the son of David or of Joseph, Jesus’ dialogue in the temple assumes a whole new meaning:

“Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, What do you think of the Christ [messiah]? Whose son is he?They said to him, Of David.  He said to them, How then does David in the Spirit call him Lord, saying,  The Lord said to my Lord, sit on my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet?  If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” (Matthew 22:41-45 WEB)  Jesus is apparently coming down on the “ben Joseph” side of the argument. It’s also interesting that “Joseph” is traditionally the name of Jesus foster father as well.  There is no doubt that many of those who followed Jesus did so because they HOPED we was the Messiah ben David. He is often addressed by the hopeful crowd as “son of David”, and he doesn’t seem to discourage this – but there are a number of indications that Jesus did not see himself in the role of Messiah ben David. When identifying his mission, he several times refers to Isaiah 61 – a relatively gentle and compassionate picture of messiahship – more in keeping with the Messiah ben Joseph.  As Jesus reads in the synagogue:  The Spirit of the Lord is on me,because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted,to proclaim release to the captives,recovering of sight to the blind,to deliver those who are crushed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19 WEB) Other indications of how Jesus saw his role: For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost. (Luke 19:10 WEB) For the Son of Man didn’t come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. (Luke 9:56 WEB) I argued earlier ( that Jesus seems to share some of Jeremiah and Isaiah’s criticism of the priestly code. It may well be that Jesus is not in agreement with the idea of the Messiah ben David.  However, it’s clear that some of the New Testament authors intend to keep that option open. Matthew and Luke both try to establish Davidic descent for Jesus, and Matthew in particular tries to mention every possible prophetic fulfillment for Jesus.  We need to candidly admit that some of these apparent “fulfillments” of prophecy are problematic. Some of them rest upon questionable translations and many of them are clearly taken out of context with regard to their primary fulfillment. Personally, I like to credit the New Testament authors with enough intelligence to realize (at least some of the time) that this is occurring.  When Matthew, for example, tells us that Jesus’ sojourn in Egypt fulfilled Hosea: “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.” (Hosea 11:1 WEB) …He must certainly realize that this verse of Hosea does not appear to be a messianic prophecy of any sort. What the author of Matthew seems to be saying is that Jesus recapitulates or represents various scriptural patterns or archtypes in scripture. Jesus can be understood, in other words, in terms of scriptural themes well known to readers of the Old Testament.  As a tangent, it’s interesting that the prophet quoted here, Hosea, is a prophet of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, not Judah – and the theme of the sojourn in Egypt is most associated with Joseph, and the suffering messiah.  This having of seeing the events of one’s own time in prophecy isn’t unique to Christian apologists.  For example the promise in Deuteronomy (18:15-18) that a second Moses would arise. Many Jews today regard this as a prophecy of a still-future messiah. But many scholars believe that the Deuteronomists who collected or created the “second Moses” prophecy actually saw them as being fulfilled by their great hero, King Josiah.  Compare the wording Deuteronomy 34:10 with 2 Kings 23:25 – and remember that scholars believe both Deuteronomy and 2 Kings 23 were written by the same individual or group.  There has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom Yahweh knew face to face (Deuteronomy 34:10 WEB) Like him [Josiah] was there no king before him, who turned to Yahweh with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him. (2 Kings 23:25 WEB) Nevertheless, the idea of a “second Moses” is an idea and pattern that persisted long after Josiah, and has been applied by Christians to Jesus and by Jews to a future Messiah.  Is Jesus, then, the Messiah?  He certainly has a spiritual anointing from God, and embodies many of the patterns and archetypes of messiaship found in the Old Testament, particularly when referring to the Messiah ben Joseph. The fulfillment, however, is often in a more spiritual sense. The messianic prophecies are, in effect, symbols of what Christians see in Jesus to be spiritual realities. Christians should have no problem in seeing Jesus as “anointed” – with it’s original meaning of “set apart for God’s purpose”.  In this sense, he is the Messiah (or “Christ” as it would be rendered in Greek). Jesus does NOT meet all of the specific requirements that have been derived from the Old Testament by Jewish tradition over the centuries. This is particularly true in that there are several versions of these requirements depending on the body of Jewish tradition being discussed.  As this short essay began as a response to a particular article on the web



         there are a few specific remarks I should make in response to that article directly. The point of the article is that Jesus does not meet the requirements of a Jewish Messiah – a conclusion with which I’ve partially agreed above. A few points in the article, however, need comment.


Regarding Jesus as a prophet, the site says:


Ø      Prophecy can only exist in Israel when the land is inhabited by a majority of world Jewry, a situation which has not existed since 300 BCE.


While this may be a Jewish tradition, it is, biblically, completely ad-hoc. No such rule is apparent from scripture.


Ø      The Messiah must be descended on his father's side from King David (see Genesis 49:10, Isaiah 11:1, Jeremiah 23:5, 33:17; Ezekiel 34:23-24). According to the Christian claim that Jesus was the product of a virgin birth, he had no father — and thus could not have possibly fulfilled the messianic requirement of being descended on his father's side from King David.


Actually, none of the scriptures cited actually SAYS this. They only mention Davidic descent.

 > The Messiah will lead the Jewish people to full Torah observance. The Torah states that all mitzvot remain binding forever, and anyone coming to change the Torah is immediately identified as a false prophet. (Deut. 13:1-4)

Actually, that’s not what Deut 13:1-4 says. It says a false prophet is identified by the fact that he… well, makes false prophecies. In point of fact, the authors and editors of Deuteronomy – Jeremiah very likely being one of them, believed that many of the priestly laws were not God-given at all.

 “For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices: “(Jeremiah 7:22 KJV)

>Throughout the New Testament, Jesus contradicts the Torah and states that its commandments are no longer applicable. For example, John 9:14 records that Jesus made a paste in violation of Shabbat, which caused the Pharisees to say (verse 16), "He does not observe Shabbat!"

Only rarely does Jesus contradict the Torah – or more specifically attribute a commandment of the Torah as being of human origin. What he does do on a regular basis is apply a very spiritual, humanistic interpretation to the Torah. Jesus does not believe that making paste to heal a blind man on the Shabbat violates the spirit of Shabbat. It certainly doesn’t violate scripture – only the traditional accretions piled on top of scripture. Jesus would have a few words to say regarding anyone who feels that leaving someone blind honors God.

> Of the thousands of religions in human history, only Judaism bases its belief on national revelation — i.e. God speaking to the entire nation. If God is going to start a religion, it makes sense He'll tell everyone, not just one person.

This national revelation has not prevented the existence of various “branches” of Judaism with different beliefs and practices, including different beliefs about the Messiah.

(from the footnotes)

Ø      Saying that God assumes human form makes God small, diminishing both His unity and His divinity. As the Torah says: "God is not a mortal" (Numbers 23:19).

Focusing on God’s transcendence and totally ignoring his immanence, on the other hand, can make God distant and unapproachable. Jewish mysticism doesn’t seem to have a problem with the immanence of God. To quote J. Abelson from “Jewish Mysticism”

“ALL finite creatures are, in divergent senses and varying degrees, part and parcel of the Deity. Creatio ex nihilo is unthinkable, seeing that God, in the Neoplatonic view, is the Perfect One, 'an undivided One,' to whom no qualities or characteristics can be ascribed, and to whom, therefore, no such idea as that of intention or purpose, or change or movement, can be applied. All existences are emanations from the Deity. The Deity reveals Himself in all existences because He is immanent in them. But though dwelling in them, He is greater than they. He is apart from them. He transcends them.”

There are also several criticisms of Jesus descent based on the problems of Joseph being only his adopted father, and of Mary and Joseph’s Davidic line as being tainted.

While I regard the genealogies of Matthew and Luke as primarily symbolic, it seems to me that the criticism is misplaced. If we allow that God being the father of Jesus (rather than Joseph) is absolutely literal, then we are dealing with a totally unique situation, and it seems difficult to argue that any conventional laws of adoption or descent apply. How can being the Son of God “disqualify” someone for any honor whatsoever? If the critic is going to concede that Jesus is literally the Son of God, then proper messianic descent is the least of the critic’s issues.

If the critic assumes this is figurative, but still wants to calculate ancestry, then there is no reason not to consider Joseph’s genealogy.

As to the Jeconiah curse, an excellent job of refuting it is done by the Jews for Jesus

In brief, there are good arguments that the curse was reversed due to Jeconiah’s repentance, and the site in fact quotes a number of rabbinical opinions that it is specifically through Jeconiah’s line that the Messiah WILL come!

Dec 282006

In an earlier post ( I began the topic of who wrote the books of Moses (or the Pentateuch) by pointing out incongruities in the five books attributed to Moses that suggested that someone besides Moses had a hand in writing them.

Students of the Pentateuch had also noticed, from a very early time, a number of “doublets” in the books, where the same story was told twice, with different details. There are two creation stories, two interwoven flood stories, two stories of the naming of Bethel, two stories of the covenant between Abraham and God, and a number of others. Also, the details tend to be somewhat contradictory in some of the different parts of the Pentateuch. Moses wife is a Midianite in some stories and a Cushite in others. The ten commandments change from one book to the next. Moses receives the law on Horeb in one account and Sinai in another. Dozens of apologetic arguments and techniques were developed to try to reconcile apparent contradictions and defend the books as the work of Moses.

Beginning in the 18th century, more critical scholars (beginning with French scholar Jean Astruc) noticed something very peculiar about some of these doublets. Almost without fail, any time there were two versions of a story, ONE of the versions would consistently identify God as “YHWH” (Yahweh) whereas the other version would simply call him God (El or Elohim). As scholars started sorting the material based on the criteria of the name used for God, a fascinating picture emerged. Each group of material told many of the same stories, but the “J” group (the ones using the name Yahweh) and the “E” group (the ones using the name Elohim) were very different in many ways, such as style and vocabulary.

To make things even more interesting, scholars noticed that SOME of the stories in the Pentateuch occur in TRIPLETS. Using vocabulary, grammar and style, a third source was identified. This one (which also used Elohim or El-Shaddai for the name of God) was very concerned with priestly rituals and procedures (it constitutes most of the book of Leviticus, for example) and was thus called “P”. I want to emphasize that it was not simply a matter of looking at the choice of the name for God that was used to identify sources. The sources turned out to be very different in many different respects.

“J” was eloquently written, but in a very early form of Hebrew. It had traces of the dialect of the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Many of the places in Judah appear in the “J” stories. J is full of angels, talking animals and supernatural occurrences. Aaron figures prominently. God is referred to as “Yahweh” from the beginning. Women appear prominently in “J”. God is very human-like.

“E” was also well written, in form of Hebrew slightly less old than “J”, and with traces of the dialect of Northern Israel. Many of the place names of the Northern Kingdom appear. Moses and Joshua are the primary heroes. The tribe of Levi is emphasized instead of Aaron alone. “E” is the least complete, and often seems included only to fill in details that are missing in “J”. God is human-like. “El” (especially at first) or sometimes “Elohim” is the preferred name of God until the incident at the burning bush. Then “Yahweh” is also used.

“P” is written in later Hebrew, but is a lower-quality of literary style. God is somewhat remote, distant and abstract, stern and just. He is called “Elohim” or “El-Shaddai”. “P” is full of lists, dates, priestly regulations and laws. Aaron is featured prominently and Moses is slightly minimized. No sacrifice is ever mentioned in “P” until Aaron comes on the scene. Judah and the Aaronid priesthood are critical in “P”. There are no angels, talking animals, magic trees or similar colorful characters. “P” seems to be something of a propaganda piece for king Hezekiah.

Once these three sources were identified, it was discovered that Deuteronomy didn’t fit into any of these categories or styles. A new source, “D” was proposed. “D” uses a later Hebrew but of a more elevated style than “P”. It is concerned with the Levites and the Shiloh priesthood. “D” seems to be something of a propaganda piece for King Josiah.

Perhaps an example of these sources in action would be helpful. 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.

Here is:

The Flood According to “J”

Genesis 6

(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.

[Gen 7]

(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.

Gen 7

(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.

[Gen 8]

(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,

Gen 8:8-22

(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.)

Genesis 6

(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.

[Gen 7]

(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.

[Gen 8]

(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.

[Gen 9]

(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.

Dec 272006

Someone responded to my introduction to the “documentary hypothesis” by pointing to a web site that disagrees with the hypothesis, here: In the interest of responding to objections in general, let me start by commenting on the points made on this site. I should mention that the site is well designed and maintained, and Rev Collins has a lot of excellent material, some of which I agree with. This response is not directed at Rev Collens personally. He seems like a very nice fellow.  I'm simply using his organization of material to formulate a response.

First of all, Rev. Collins implies that the difficulties in authorship were recognized, and accounted for, anciently. “As today, the concept of authorship included the possibilities of ghost writers and editors working under the author’s supervision. Therefore, neither Christians nor Jews had a problem with those passages of the Torah that describe Moses’ death and the ultimate disposition of his body.”

There are several points to be made about this. For one thing, while some of the more obvious problems (such as the account of Moses death) were noticed in ancient times as “issues” – the more analytical evidence assembled for the documentary hypothesis is a very recent development. For another thing, any challenge to Mosaic authorship in earlier historical periods was officially condemned. Both Jews and Christians who suggested any hand other than Moses’ in the Pentateuch suffered ridicule, excommunication, condemnation of their work, censorship and even arrest. Richard Friedman catalogues a few of these in his “Who Wrote the Bible?” The type of analysis that characterizes the documentary hypothesis was only possible when the power of official religion to condemn it had diminished.

But most important, in my earlier discussion ( I pointed out that the incongruities in the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch extended far beyond the death of Moses. Various statements are made from the point of view of authors who are looking back on legendary events from at least the middle monarchial period of Israel. Secretaries and scribal assistants of Moses don’t account for this at all.

Rev. Collins next states, “The documentary hypothesis was formulated in the nineteenth century before the bulk of the archaeological discoveries in the Holy Land.” This would be a valid point if Rev. Collins went on to mention any recent discoveries that tended to disprove the documentary hypothesis. Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be any. He does mention the discovery of the “Hittites”, but there is much debate about equating the biblical “Hittites” with the Anatolia Empire discovered by archeologists (see Even if they were indeed the same group, it would not alter the documentary hypothesis at all. Not only that, but there have been several discoveries that tend to support the documentary hypothesis. For example, many of the excavated sites in Israel show continuous occupation by the same groups of people since before the traditional time of the conquest of Canaan (see “The Religion of Israel” by William Doorly) This tends to suggest that the conquest as described in the Pentateuch was at least partially a later recounting of an earlier legend, as the documentary hypothesis would suggest. Also, archeological evidence suggests that Israel’s early culture and religion was more fragmented and polytheistic than the Pentateuch portrays it.

Names of God

Next we this: “Since the advocates of this theory use the name of God as the main criterion for detecting the constituent documents of the Torah, we must begin by asking if this criterion is truly valid.” This is a significant misunderstanding. Different names for God are not in fact “the main criterion” for detecting constituent documents – they were rather the first vital clue in suggesting the possibility of multiple authors. The idea of constituent documents was only pursued because differences in the name of God were found to correspond to differences in style, theology, geographic and historical emphasis, politics and point of view.

Rev. Collins compares the different names of God in the Pentateuch with Christian authors in the New Testament who sometimes use Jesus, sometimes Christ, sometimes Jesus Christ etc. in referring to the Lord. But supposing that – when we sorted all the New Testament writings according to their names for Jesus – we found that passages that called him “Jesus” always had a very different point of view and theology than passages that called him “Christ”. Suppose further than the “Jesus” passages always referred to places in Galilee and the Christ passages always referred to places near Jerusalem. With enough of these factors diverging, you would be entirely reasonable to wonder if two different authors were responsible. This is exactly the situation in the documentary hypothesis. Shortly I hope to prepare an illustration of this using the “J” and “P” stories of the flood, which are interwoven into one account in our current version of Genesis.

Hard Evidence

Rev. Collins makes a good point that we no hard evidence of the existence of any of the theoretical source documents of the Pentateuch. While this is an argument from silence, it would seem reasonable to give the benefit of the doubt to the text, if it claims to be a unified whole. Unfortunately, the Pentateuch does not make this claim. It seems to be an anonymous work, and there is no clear indication that the books belong together. It is only in tradition that the books of Moses take on a uniform identity with Moses as the author. And while it’s true that we don’t have any early manuscripts of “J”, “E”, “P” or “D”, neither do we have any early manuscripts of the complete Pentateuch. We have some fragments back to the 2nd century or so BCE, with some degree of variation. So there is no “hard” evidence of either the documentary or the traditional hypothesis.

Rev. Collins also complains that there are several versions of the documentary hypothesis, and that the divisions in the text vary somewhat depending on the researcher. But this is what we would expect of an attempt to separate an intricate redaction of at least four sources. Many of the sections being analyzed are short, and the shorter the text, the less likely that it will display ALL the characteristics of a particular author. Researchers have to decide how many characteristics they are willing to rely on to make their decisions on authorship – and it’s only natural that different researchers will make slightly different decisions. There was, at one point, a tendency to extract more and more sources from the Pentateuch, but these attempts have been largely unsuccessful, and opinion has consolidated around four or even three major sources.

“…methods of the documentary hypothesis have not been tested on modern documents to see if they do in fact accurately resolve the literary history of a document,” says In fact, there have been some spectacular successes of similar stylistic analysis on modern documents. For example (as seen here ) Professor Don Foster used similar methods to identify columnist Joe Klein as the author of the anonymous “Primary Colors”. Although initially denying his authorship, Klein finally confessed. Professor Foster went on to prove his methods on several texts presented to him by John Hockenberry of Dateline. Foster correctly identified all the sources in a combined text created by Hockenberry.

Ancient Literacy

Yes, it is entirely possible that if Moses really existed, and was really brought up as a member of the royal house of Egypt, he might have been literate. The only evidence we have of Moses and his status is, of course the Pentateuch itself. This isn’t evidence against the documentary hypothesis. It would simply make the traditional hypothesis a possibility.

The Supernatural

The documentary hypothesis does not require any denial of the supernatural. It is interesting, regarding this, that one of the sources (“P”) DOES seem to have less of a taste for the supernatural than “J” does. In “P”, there are no talking animals, angels, or anthropomorphic pictures of God. God is more transcendent and spirituality more formal. But “J” has supernatural beings and events a-plenty.

The Geographical Origins of the Torah

I’d not heard this point before, but Rev. Collins claims, echoing a claim I’ve now seen at various places around the internet, that the Pentateuch is more familiar with the geography, flora and fauna of Egypt than Palestine. Unfortunately, most of the sites that make this claim don’t provide examples. I found two in the footnotes at ( They are:

1. And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar. (Gen 13:10)

The problem with this is that Zoar in one of the five cities of the plain and is nowhere near Egypt. There are several theories to explain this passage, and I haven’t studied the theories well enough to pass judgment on them. But I certainly wouldn’t count this as good evidence of knowledge of Egyptian geography when, on the surface, it appears the author is totally clueless about where Egypt even is.

2. Acacia trees. Answers in Genesis claims that Acacia are native to Egypt and very rare in Canaan. In fact, there are several places in Canaan named for the acacia (or shittim) tree. It was a highly prized wood found in several places in Canaan. If it were scarcer in Canaan than Egypt, it is all the more natural that it would be used for holy objects, such as the ark.

There is also a claim that the “crop sequence” in Exodus 9:31-32 is Egyptian, not Palestinian. Since I’m not aware of any reliable source of information on crop sequences in ancient Egypt and Palestine, I’ll leave this one alone, but I’d not give it much weight until I saw it documented.

Literary Form

There’s something a little odd about using form criticism to attack source criticism, but in any case, I believe Rev. Collin’s attack is too general. He states that the Pentateuch has the literary form of an ancient suzerainty treaty between a vassal and conqueror. Looking at the example, it seems to me that applying this form to the Pentateuch as a whole is quite arbitrary. It DOES seem to apply quite well to Deuteronomy. This is not a problem for the documentary hypothesis. Friedman and others place the final composition of Deuteronomy at the time of Jeremiah, using older sources that could easily be pre-monarchial. As Jeremiah wrote in the 7th century BCE – a time when suzerainty treaties of this form were still in use, the documentary hypothesis is not disturbed by this form observation.

Synthesis of Northern and Southern Traditions

Rev. Collins finds it improbable that Northern religious documents would be synthesized with Southern, as the Northern kingdom had been destroyed for idolatry and this made all its religious writings tainted and apostate. This is too simplistic. The refugees who fled from the destruction of the Northern kingdom – particularly the priests of Shiloh (who were the probable compilers of “JE”) were unlikely to see this as a judgment of them personally. In fact, the priests of Shiloh likely saw it as a vindication of themselves and their tradition against the Kings who had slighted them. By merging the two traditions, the priests of Shiloh would have been able to attract public support, interests and power. Rather than being opposed by prophets, they were primarily opposed by the Aaronid priest, who (in Friedman’s version) compiled “P” as a polemic response. Ironically, both rival sets of scriptures were finally harmonized by Ezra.

The Origin of the Documentary Hypothesis

Rev. Collins begins: “It is also interesting that the documentary hypothesis did not arise among the rabbis, even though the rabbis have studied the Torah longer, harder, and more critically than anyone else.” We can agree with most of this except perhaps the word “critically”. Well, actually we have to disagree with the whole premise. Jewish scholars did occasionally suggest additional authors for the Pentateuch. In the eleventh century, a Jewish court physician, Isaac Iban Yashush suggested that someone other than Moses wrote parts of the Pentateuch. He was subsequently labeled “Isaac the Blunderer” by other Rabbis. Another Jewish scholar Bonfils of Damascus, wrote similar opinions. They were removed from subsequent editions of his work after his death. Spinoza, suggesting the same thing, was excommunicated from Judaism AND placed on the Catholic index of proscribed books.

Holocaust Connection?

The argument made next is that, by discrediting the Jewish tradition of Mosaic authorship, the documentary hypothesis became ammunition in the cause of anti-Semitism. It should go without saying that one should accept or reject an idea on the basis of the evidence for or against it. It would be not be correct to accept a bad theory simply to avoid discrediting the traditions of a persecuted group. Rev. Collins tacitly admits this, and says he is only bringing up the anti-Semitic angle to warn documentary hypothesis supporters to take precautions to mitigate the unintended consequences of their theory. It’s hard, however, not to see this as a veiled attempt at “poisoning the well”. The only real, lasting approach to teaching tolerance is a respect for the dignity of all human beings, rather than to pretend acceptance of religious traditions that don’t do a good job of explaining the facts.

Does Jesus endorse the Mosaic tradition?

Assuming we are willing to question religious tradition, what of Jesus’ apparent identification of Moses as the author of the Pentateuch? I have pointed out elsewhere ( that Jesus several times seems to question the traditional authorship of various passages of the Old Testament. “An eye for an eye” from Exodus is ascribed by Jesus simply to “them of old” – i.e. a human tradition. So we cannot rely on Jesus mentioning Moses as an endorsement of Mosaic authorship for the entire Pentateuch.

Also, in taking on our humanity, Jesus relinquishes his absolute prerogative to divine omniscience. While at times he displays supernatural knowledge, at other times he seems to share human limitation. Provided that salvation is not compromised, Jesus would not necessarily have omniscient information about the exact sources of the Pentateuch. Even if he did, he might well refer to “Moses” as the traditional author. Just as I might quote “Hamlet” as making a particular remark, when I know the author was actually Shakespeare.

Having responded to some initial objections, I’ll proceed later to the evidence for the documentary hypothesis.

Dec 222006

Someone asked me elsewhere WHY I would explore Biblical sources, when it might risk hurting someone’s faith. It’s a question worthing answering.

Why explore the historical sources of Genesis?

First of all, it’s just plain interesting. It’s a historical jigsaw puzzle and detective story that is absolutely fascinating – at least to me. And I suspect at least somewhat interesting to a few others.

Secondly, the truth never hurts true faith. Any faith that requires the truth to be actively concealed isn’t worth having. One of the best things that can happen to religion, as my bishop says, is to “get real”. Understanding who wrote the various books of the Old Testament, WHY they wrote them, what situations or events they were responding to, what the historical context was… all these things improve our understanding of the Bible. Ignoring these facts can lead to serious misunderstandings. For example? The two creation stories in Genesis. If you think that this is one continuous story by one author, you scratch your head about WHY the creation of man is described twice. To reconcile this, you may decide, as several churches teach, that the first chapter of Genesis is a story of “spiritual” creation and the second describes the actual physical creation. On the other hand, if you learn that these are two different creations by two different authors describing the same creation from two different perspectives – you don’t fall into the trap of inventing such un-biblical rationalizations.

For every person you think is turned away from God by this kind of study, I can point you to quite a few who are turned away from God because of the rationalizations and special pleadings required to shoehorn the Bible into some apologists own invented traditions of what the Bible really means – traditions not informed by the complexity of its sources.

Some people think the appropriate response to unbelief is to offer a superficial but supposedly faith-promoting answer and then become irate and abusive when it isn’t accepted. I tend to prefer a different approach.

Dec 212006

Who wrote the five books of Moses?

From the latter days of the Kings of Israel, the tradition had been established that certain writings had come from the hand of Moses himself:

When they brought out the money that was brought into the house of Yahweh, Hilkiah the priest found the book of the law of Yahweh given by Moses. (2Ch 34:14 WEB) [Referring to the famous “D” source we mentioned earlier]

By the time of Jesus, the tradition was firmly established, and continued for centuries after, that the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) had been written by Moses directly, as these scriptures imply:

But about the dead, that they are raised; havent you read in the book of Moses, about the Bush, how God spoke to him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? (Mar 12:26 WEB) [Referring to Exodus 3:6]

For Moses writes about the righteousness of the law, The one who does them will live by them. (Rom 10:5 WEB) [Referring to Leviticus 18:5]

But over the centuries, scholars who read the “books of Moses” carefully found a few puzzling verses that didn’t make sense coming from the pen of Moses. Here are some of the more famous examples:

So Moses the servant of Yahweh died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of Yahweh. He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab over against Beth Peor: but no man knows of his tomb to this day. (Deu 34:5-6 WEB)

[There are several problems here. Moses is referred to in the third person, which is rather a strange way to write about yourself. Secondly, how can Moses write in the past tense about his own death? Finally, when saying that no one knows the location of Moses’ tomb “to this day” – it implies that Moses death and burial is an event in the distant, even legendary past.]

Now the man Moses was very humble, above all the men who were on the surface of the earth. (Num 12:3 WEB)

[The problem here is obvious. Does a humble man praise his own humility? In the third person??]

When Abram heard that his relative was taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued as far as Dan. (Gen 14:14 WEB)

[This one is a bit harder to notice. Abraham pursued an army till he reached the city of Dan. The problem is, in Abraham’s day, AND IN MOSES’ DAY, the city was not called “Dan”. It was called “Laish”. In the scripture below, in Judges, the Bible explains that the tribe of Dan, AFTER the death of Moses, captured the city of Laish and renamed it to “Dan”]

They called the name of the city Dan, after the name of Dan their father, who was born to Israel: however the name of the city was Laish at the first. (Jdg 18:29 WEB)

Moving along…

Jair the son of Manasseh took all the region of Argob, to the border of the Geshurites and the Maacathites, and called them, even Bashan, after his own name, Havvoth Jair, to this day.) (Deu 3:14 WEB)

[This one also requires a little cross-checking. In the middle of a speech out of Moses’ own mouth in Deuteronomy 3, Moses mentions Jair capturing a region across the Jordan and calling it Havvoth Jair. The problem is, as we read about in the scripture below, Jair was a judge, who lived long after Moses, and his conquest took place after Moses was dead. Furthermore, Deuteronomy tells us that the city is called Havvoth Jair “to this day”. This means that the writer of this verse is looking back, not only on Moses, but on the time of the JUDGES as being in the distant, legendary past. Here’s the verse in Judges:]

After him arose Jair, the Gileadite; and he judged Israel twenty-two years. He had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkey colts, and they had thirty cities, which are called Havvoth Jair to this day, which are in the land of Gilead. (Jdg 10:3-4 WEB)


They took his land in possession, and the land of Og king of Bashan, the two kings of the Amorites, who were beyond the Jordan toward the sunrise; (Deu 4:47 WEB)

[What’s the problem here? It’s describing the Amorites as being “beyond the Jordan” – to the East. This only makes sense for a writer living IN ISRAEL, on the WEST side of the Jordan – a place Moses never reached.]

Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. The Canaanite was then in the land. (Gen 12:6 WEB)

[This explanatory comment makes no sense unless when the writer was writing, the Canaanites were no longer in the land… in other words, AFTER the time of the Judges.]

These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom, before any king reigned over the children of Israel. (Gen 36:31 WEB)

[But this implies that the writer is familiar with the time when kings DID reign over Israel! So we are looking at a comment written after Moses, after the conquest, after the Judges, and after the beginning of the Monarchy]

The obvious conclusion is that at least one of the writers who contributed to the five books of Moses lived in the middle to late monarchal period of Israel or Judah, many centuries after the time of Moses. Let me be careful, however, add some qualifications:

1. These later writers or editors might be using or editing much older sources.
2. Nothing in this argument prevents us from believing that these later writers or editors were spiritually inspired.

All it argues against is the tradition that Moses, and ONLY Moses, wrote the first five books of the Old Testament.

The next clue about the authorship of these books comes from examining the mysterious parallel accounts of the same events that they contain. More on that later.

Dec 182006

In previous postings, I argued against the notion that “The Word of God” means the written Bible. In the first, here:
I argued that the Bible itself says that it is more the spoken word that is portrayed in the Bible as carrying divine power. In a second installment, here:
I said that the written Bible represents a “static” form of the dynamic “Word”, which can sometimes choke the life out of any new, living, developing, growing expressions of divine power.

Taking a scholarly/critical approach to the Bible, I think we can see a few examples of this occurring. For the purposes of this discussion, I’ll simplify the scholarship somewhat, and assume that the scholars know what they are talking about. If time permits, I’d like to examine more of the evidence for the multiple sources in the Old Testament.

In 410 BC, on the Egyptian island of Elephantine, a group of Jews sent a rather peculiar letter to the Persian governor of Judah asking for authorization to rebuild the temple of Yahu (Yahweh) on Elephantine, which had been destroyed by jealous priests of a rival temple. This temple was apparently built shortly after the immigration of a garrison of Jewish soldiers to the island during the reign of Manasseh of Judah (son of Hezekiah). The Jews there not only worshiped Yahu, but also several other deities, including Yahu’s female consort. They express puzzlement in their letter that the Jewish leadership of Jerusalem, to whom they have written, haven’t answered them.

To modern readers who take the Bible as history, this is confusing. Didn’t these Jews know that the laws of Moses commanded the offering of sacrifice in only a single location, and that the prophets had said the temple at Jerusalem was this location? Didn’t they know that the laws of Moses dictated that only descendents of Aaron could be priests, and only Levites could assist them? Didn’t they know that ONLY Yahweh should be worshipped, and that he did not have a consort? No, apparently they didn’t know these things.

The reason they didn’t know these things is that the Law of Moses and most of the rest of the Old Testament is apparently a bit of revisionist history. It projects backwards into the ancient past – laws and regulations that were developed very late in the history of Israel and Judah, by two groups of what could be described as religious fundamentalists. Ironically, while these two groups (one from the Northern Kingdom and one from the Southern) not only disagreed with the popular religious practice of nearly everyone – they also disagreed quite strongly with each OTHER. These two groups were the Levite (Mushite) priests of Shiloh in the North, and the Aaronid priests of Jerusalem in the South.

At two periods in time, during the reigns of Hezekiah and later Josiah – each of these groups was able to alternately put “their man” onto the throne, to institute a religious reform according to their group’s ideas, and attempting to destroy all competing religious ideas and practices. We might think of this as the Jewish version of England’s enforced Puritanism under Cromwell – except that it happened twice, with a different group in charge each time.

In each case, the reforms probably centered around a written guideline – which was passed off as being “The Law given to Moses”. In Hezekiah’s case, this was probably a document that scholars call “P”, the “Priestly source” of the Old Testament. It’s showpiece is the book of Leviticus, but it includes other parts of the Old Testament, including the Genesis 1 and part of the flood story. P focused on priestly laws, systems of sacrifice, specific instructions for religious observance. It implied that the Jerusalem temple was the only proper place to sacrifice, and that only descendents of Aaron could be priests. Aaron was the hero of “P” and Moses role was downplayed slightly. “P” was written partly in response to several earlier collections of sacred writings which had begun to circulate. Apparently the “P” source felt these earlier sources had problems. This is not to say that the “P” writer necessarily acted dishonestly. He may have been assembling older traditions of his priestly family – traditions which had been legendarily created by Moses as part of the Law.

The other religiously zealous group – the priests of Shiloh, were not entirely pleased. They were Levites, and believed that ALL Levites were proper priests, not just the sons of Aaron. They believed themselves to be descendents of Moses, and superior to Aaron. Hezekiah had destroyed one of their most precious religious artifacts when he destroyed the brass serpent of Moses that was kept in the temple. The Shiloh priests were also the ones who had produced some of the writings that “P” was written as a “rebuttal” to.

One of these Shiloh was Jeremiah. Read carefully what he says in his book of prophecies.

Jer 7:21-22 WEB
(21) Thus says Yahweh of Armies, the God of Israel: Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices, and eat meat.
(22) For I didnt speak to your fathers, nor command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices:

In other words, Jeremiah is saying that this new “P” document, which is circulating, claiming to be the Law of Moses, and commanding all sorts of sacrifice, is a fraud. He’s even clearer in this scripture

Jer 8:8 WEB
(8) How do you say, We are wise, and the law of Yahweh is with us? But, behold, the false pen of the scribes has worked falsely.

The false scribes Jeremiah rants about were the authors of Leviticus.

The Shiloh priest waited their turn. Hezekiah died and his reforms were quickly overturned by a population that had no taste for the priestly religion. Several generations later, king Josiah comes onto the scene. He is raised from boyhood by the priests of Shiloh. When he is a man, he begins a reconstruction project on the temple, under the direction of the priests of Shiloh, who are now the favored group. Lo and behold, one of them “finds” in some dark corner of the temple, a book – “The book of the Law”, which they bring and show to Josiah. He is horrified at all the laws his people are breaking, and begins another purge, this time focusing on the particular enemies of the Shiloh priesthood.

Scholars are reasonably sure that the “book” Josiah was given was Deuteronomy – the law book of the Shiloh priests. Some scholars, such as Richard Friedman, believe the author of this book – or at least its editor, was Jeremiah himself. Again, Jeremiah wasn’t necessarily acting deceitfully. The Law code he wrote down may well have been passed down to him as having come from Moses. The act of “finding” the book in the temple, however, was probably a ruse. This source, called “D”, eventually included a longer history of Israel from the view of the Shiloh priests.

Josiah died young in a battle and his reform quickly died with him. It was not until the return from captivity that a scribe, most likely the Aaronid priest Ezra, assembled the various sacred sources, including “P” and “D” into one book of the “Law of Moses”. Ezra was sent back to Jerusalem with this book under his arm, and with authority from the Persians to enforce the rules of the book on the returning Jewish population.

It was in THIS third age of “bibliolatry” that the priests of Elephantine wrote to Jerusalem asking for help rebuilding their temple. This group, which left Jerusalem in the reign of Manasseh, apparently had no idea that Judaism had been totally transformed by Ezra into a religion of the book. To them, the reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah had been brief, odd blips in history. But as a result of the new books of Moses, the Elephantines with their multiple temples, multiple gods and “illegitimate” priests were now arch-heretics.

In summary then, while at various times in Bible history, the idea of a written Book as the authoritative “Word of God” was promoted, there was much controversy about such claims by rival groups, by the prophets, and as I said earlier, by Jesus himself. The Bible actually represents a compilation of several, somewhat contradictory written sources from various periods, each having a point of view and each claiming to come more or less directly from God.

Dec 072006

In a previous article I argued that Christians who think “The Word of God” means exactly and exclusively a leather-bound Bible with gold edging are laboring under a false assumption. The Bible itself uses the phrase to mean “the spoken word”, and the prophets Jesus, and the apostles had issues with the veneration of the literal words of scripture. I also pointed out that the history of the Bible shows no signs of God intending it to be his one and only communication to humanity.

I postponed the question “How did the Bible come to be so venerated” for another article – this one.

I’d like to begin at a very high level with a concept that Robert Pirsig uses in his works, particularly “Lila – an Inquiry into Morals”, and which I’ve discussed briefly before here:

Pirsig talks about “Static Quality” as opposed to “Dynamic Quality”. You may remember, from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, that Pirsig refuses to actually define “Quality”. But in spite of that difficulty, we would look for “Quality” at the cutting edge of experience. The ground floor of reality – before there is any time for analysis, or for subjects and objects to be distinguished, or for categories to be applied. You could easily associate “Quality” with God, or with the “God behind God” to use Tillich’s phrase, or the Tao, or many other things.

This primal Quality enters our existence as something called “Dynamic Quality”. As such, it is unstructured, but full of creative power. It is the force behind change, growth and new development. You may recall that I said the phrase “the Word of God” in the Bible conveyed a sense of dynamic creative power, that entered into a person or group and grew in an organic manner. This is Dynamic Quality. This is what the Bible seems to be referring to when it talks of God’s “Word”.

As the force of Dynamic Quality enters the world, it becomes habituated. It develops form, structure and order. It becomes “Static Quality”. This corresponds to things like the Bible. A static expression that solidified out of dynamic spiritual experience. Static Quality gives us laws, moral codes, dogmas, cultural patterns.

It’s easy to think of Dynamic Quality as “good” and Static Quality as “bad”, but both are necessary. By itself, Dynamic Quality is like fire. Its energy can not only create, but destroy. Jesus’ saying in the Gospel of Thomas is interesting in this context: “I have cast fire upon the world, and see, I am guarding it until it blazes… He who is near me is near the fire, and he who is far from me is far from the kingdom.” (Thomas 10,82)

But if it is totally uncontrolled, fire can destroy too much. Without something to contain and preserve the creative achievements of Dynamic Quality, there can be no progress. This is where Static Quality comes in. Static Quality is a stake in the ground – a foundation on which the next wave of Dynamic Quality can build. If it were not for Static Quality, every new human being who comes along would have to build from scratch starting with stone-age technology, stone-age thinking, and stone-age art. Isaac Newton said "If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”. The giants represent Static Quality, whose job is to solidly maintain the progress of the past.

On the other hand, Static Quality can easily become TOO static. Laws, systems, morals, dogmas and cultures can become so entrenched in the static that Dynamic Quality has little room to operate. In trying to keep the village safe from fire, Static Quality can end up outlawing fire entirely, and so dooming the village to cold, stagnant death. Whenever a system becomes so rigid that no new creative development can occur, Static Quality has been allowed too much authority.

So any culture, institution or system must find the appropriate balance to allow growth without dissolving into beautiful chaos. One of the reasons science has been so successful is because it seems to have found such a balance. New theories are encouraged, but established theories have some inertia, and are somewhat difficult to discard.

In religion, on the other hand, Static Quality has become a serious problem. Using the weapons of Divine sanction, with eternal rewards and punishments – Static Quality has been elevated to an ultimate religious virtue – Faith. Faith in the sense of absolute acceptance of an absolutely unchanging creed, and an absolutely infallible canon of scripture – the written Bible.

Dynamic and Static Quality often alternate in waves of fresh inspiration followed by a crystallization. Evidence of such waves can be found in the history of the Bible.

More on that next installment

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