Did God Write the Bible?

Evidence indicates that the Bible, in the form we have it, is a human document, but that does not mean it is not sacred.


Reprinted with permission from Beliefnet.com.

The Bible as a whole makes no claim for divine authorship. Although many passages are quoted in God’s name, the five books of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy) never assert that their entire content is divine. Nonetheless, due to various interpretations and doctrines, the belief has grown up in Judaism that the whole Torah (and to a certain extent, the subsequent biblical books and even the rabbinic tradition) is divine.

One engine of this belief is the existence of a fascinating intellectual problem. In modern times, the problem is called “the slippery slope.” Essentially, it points up the difficulty with drawing lines. Opponents of abortion use the slippery-slope argument very effectively: If a fetus is considered a human being at, say, eight months, what about eight months minus 30 seconds? Minus one minute? Five minutes? One day? At each step, it is hard to defend the absolute distinction between the point one defends and a point just marginally prior to it.

Similarly, the slippery slope wreaks havoc with arguments about biblical authorship. If one word, just one word, of the Bible is in fact of human origin, then how can one defend the divinity of any of it? If one word, why not two, or 10, or the whole book?

So it is intellectually neater to hew to a hard line. If it is all from God, then that’s the end of it. For centuries, Jewish exegetes (those who interpret texts) argued that this was the simple truth.

Unfortunately, the evidence does not always cooperate with our intellectual convenience. Once various other academic disciplines began to be developed–literary criticism, comparative religion, archaeology, and so forth–the divinity of the Bible seemed less secure.

Over the past several hundred years, the convergence of a mountain of evidence points to the human component of the Bible. There are parallel texts from other traditions (the 22nd chapter of Proverbs for example, parallels almost exactly an Egyptian text written centuries before); there are mistakes, duplications, emendations–even in the Talmud itself, the same passages in the Bible are often quoted with minute differences, demonstrating that more than one manuscript tradition was in circulation.

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David Wolpe is the rabbi of Temple Sinai in Los Angeles and the author of several books on Jewish belief.

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