Who Wrote the Bible? Does it Matter?

Does “proving” the Bible matter? Even before its nationwide broadcast tonight, Nov. 18, on PBS, “The Bible’s Buried Secrets,” an … Continued

Does “proving” the Bible matter?

Even before its nationwide broadcast tonight, Nov. 18, on PBS, “The Bible’s Buried Secrets,” an archaeological and literary investigation into the origins of the Bible, is at the center of the storm in the eternal conflict between faith and science.

When the film was announced to the press in Los Angeles this past summer, it was attacked, not by journalists, but by a religious group that believes “God has communicated absolute truth to man through the Bible.” Even though they hadn’t seen the film, they were so incensed by the show’s suggestion that the Bible was written by human hands that they started a petition to defund PBS. When science and faith intersect, this is an all-too-common reaction.

But just this week, at a New York screening and panel discussion, “Science and Faith: Complementary or Contradictory?, co-hosted by the Interfaith Center of New York and NOVA and moderated by Newsweek’s religion editor Lisa Miller, the reaction of three leading clergy representing Judaism, Christianity, and Islam was entirely different.

Why such a varied religious response?

The clerics had seen the entire film and pointed to its well-reasoned approach as an opportunity for dialogue between the over three billion people who believe in a single God. Even the scientist/archaeologist on the panel agreed.

“The Bible’s Buried Secrets” takes a mainstream, peer-reviewed approach into the investigation of how the Israelites find their one god. The film challenges the simplistic Sunday school story that the belief springs fully formed at the time of Abraham. Instead, “The Bible’s Buried Secrets” portrays monotheism as a human endeavor that evolves over centuries. The film also demonstrates that, contrary to the literal interpretation that Moses is the author of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible are actually the product of four groups of scribes writing over a period of hundreds of years.

Ironically, it was out of one of the most tragic events in Jewish history, the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the Exile of the Israelites to Babylon in 586 BCE, that produces the first five books of the Bible as we know it today and firmly establishes the Israelites’ exclusive worship of one god.

So where’s the conflict?

Those who reacted negatively to the ideas in the film value the Bible because they believe it is the word of God. For them, if the Bible is not divine in origin, then it has no authority.

But is that not a disservice to the Bible and its writers? The fact is science will never reveal that God wrote the Bible. This question will always remain in the realm of faith. But does “proving” the Bible even matter? Can we find inspiration in its human origins?

Those who reacted positively to the film saw new possibilities for dialogue arising from the very fact that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam share a common heritage. One audience member asked whether this newfound religious common ground could be a critical tool for public policy in the future. All three clerics on the interfaith panel expressed optimism that monotheism might be on the verge of a new ecumenical age when the belief in one god can unite rather than divide us – a future free of conflict between faith and science.

Gary Glassman is writer, producer and director of NOVA’s “The Bible’s Buried Secrets,” which begins airing tonight on PBS.

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  • Farnaz2

    I keep wondering at why the Christians/Catholics et al are so obsessed with the Tanakh.How about the New (sic) Testament’s buried secrets.Too scary for the C people, I guess. Might find out that JC didn’t walk on water, or Josephus has been tossed, or there was no Sanhadrin (we already know this. We’ve seen the book. Where’s the movie?)There is no conflict between religion and science here. There is C people politics, and other interests. Same old, Same old. Yawn.

  • Arminius

    Farnaz,The Christian New Testament has been examined at great length, and the scholarship is extensive, and, to me, quite fascinating.

  • emonty

    Farnaz,Catholics ARE Christians so you need a few more adjectives to delineate who exactly you are speaking of. I have been studying theology with a major Catholic university and I haven’t noticed any ‘obsession’ with the Tanakh, nor do Catholics believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, including the Tanakh. Other Christian denominations do and they are more likely the ones to be upset.

  • CCNL

    Based on the review of the Nova study, it agrees with the conclusions of many Conservative Jews and their rabbis. e.g. New Torah For Modern MindsNew Torah For Modern Minds Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation. Such startling propositions — the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years — have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity — until now. The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called ”Etz Hayim” (”Tree of Life” in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine document. ”When I grew up in Brooklyn, congregants were not sophisticated about anything,” said Rabbi Harold Kushner, the author of ”When Bad Things Happen to Good People” and a co-editor of the new book. ”Today, they are very sophisticated and well read about psychology, literature and history, but they are locked in a childish version of the Bible.” ”Etz Hayim,” compiled by David Lieber of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, seeks to change that. It offers the standard Hebrew text, a parallel English translation (edited by Chaim Potok, best known as the author of ”The Chosen”), a page-by-page exegesis, periodic commentaries on Jewish practice and, at the end, 41 essays by prominent rabbis and scholars on topics ranging from the Torah scroll and dietary laws to ecology and eschatology.

  • Paganplace

    As a lover of history, it’s always been a yawning gap in my sense of it that all of that stuff in that time and place has been effectively excised from the record and placed in a pseudo-historical never-never land that only Abrahamic religious authorities can touch, lest someone lose tenure or something. Have to admit I couldn’t *quite* shake my tendency to glaze over when people make a documentary about said times and places, but, I could see it was good stuff.