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Who Wrote the Bible? Paperback – January 1, 1987

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Editorial Reviews Review

"J," "P," "E," and "D" are the names scholars have given to some authors of the Bible, and, as such, they are very important letters to a lot of people. Churches have died and been born, and millions of people have lost faith or found it, because of the last two centuries of debate about who, exactly, wrote the canonical texts of Christianity and Judaism. Richard Elliott Friedman's survey of this debate, in Who Wrote the Bible?, may be the best written popular book about this question. Without condescension or high-flown academic language, Friedman carefully describes the history of textual criticism of the Bible--a subject on which his authority is unparalleled (Friedman has contributed voluminously to the authoritative Anchor Bible Dictionary). But this book is not just smart. Perhaps even more impressive than Friedman's erudition is his sensitivity to the power of textual criticism to influence faith. --Michael Joseph Gross

From Library Journal

Friedman carefully sifts through clues available in the text of the Hebrew Bible and those provided by biblical archaeology searching for the writer(s) of, primarily, the Pentateuch. He does so with clarity and engaging style, turning a potentially dry scholarly inquiry into a lively detective story. The reader is guided through the historical circumstances that occasioned the writing of the sources underlying the Five Books of Moses and the combining of these diverse sources into the final literary product. According to Friedman, the most controversial part of his case is the identification of the writer and date of the Priestly source. This book is neither comprehensive nor unduly complex, making it a good introductory text for beginners and nonspecialists. Recommended for all academic libraries. Craig W. Beard, Harding Univ. Lib., Searcy, Ark.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; Reprint edition (March 21, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060630353
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060630355
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (236 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,910 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Richard Elliott Friedman is professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature and holds the Katzin Chair at the University of California, San Diego. One of the premier biblical scholars in the country, he received his doctorate at Harvard and was a visiting fellow at Oxford and Cambridge. Author of The Hidden Face of God, The Hidden Book in the Bible, Commentary on the Torah, The Exile and Biblical Narrative, and the bestselling Who Wrote the Bible?, Friedman is also the president of the Biblical Colloquium West. A consultant to universities, journals, encyclopedias, and publishers, he is also the editor of four books on biblical studies and has authored over fifty articles, reviews, and notes in scholarly and popular publications.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

410 of 436 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Campbell on December 2, 1999
Format: Paperback
I had read several books that purported to explain the origins of the Old Testament, but they tended to make assertions without explanations. Perhaps they were too advanced for me. This book, however, explains in great detail how it arrives at its conclusions.
It is great fun to read parts of the book and ask yourself: Whodunit? For example, there's one place where you are compelled to predict who wrote about the Golden Calf incident. I picked J, but the author picked E. After he explained his decision, I had to admit that he was probably right and I was probably wrong. Not so good for my ego, but an enjoyable puzzle nonetheless.
The author is careful not to overstate his case. In situations where he lacks sufficient evidence, he points this out. This level of caution makes the whole work much more credible.
I greatly enjoyed the way he explained how the political reality of the ancient Near East created pressures to write (or compile) a particular KIND of book. Prior to this, I knew that many Bible stories contained contradictions, but I didn't know why.
What is interesting about this -- though this may be lost on literalists -- is that the analysis of the Bible in no way diminishes it. Indeed, by explaining the reasons for the contradictions (rather than simply explaining-away), this book greatly increases my respect for the Bible.
I think everybody who claims to know the Bible should read this book. It's all very well to memorize chapter and verse, but if you don't know of the Bible's origins, you can hardly claim to understand all its implications.
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223 of 239 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on August 6, 2004
Format: Paperback
Friedman keeps to a very narrow, but clearly defined, path in assessing biblical origins. He goes to some effort to restrict his thesis to identifying authors and their likely locations. The validity of events nor theology never enter the picture. Contention over inconsistencies in what has come down to us as "the" bible have raged for centuries. Scholars in the Middle Ages, he reminds us, readily noted how styles varied, accounts were duplicated and traditions conflicted. With a keen analytical eye enhanced by long experience and good scholarship, he teases a coherent picture from this confusing collection of tales. Although not all the material here is original - and how could it be? - Friedman's assemblage is soundly researched, very ably organised and presented.

The fundamental issue rests on the division of the Hebrew-speaking peoples into the "dual kingdoms" of Israel and Judah. The result was the compilation of two "histories" with different styles and priorities. Each had a different focus and approach to what was meaningful. The later confusion resulted when this pair of accounts was amalgamated into a single document and promulgated as "the" book. Friedman strongly points out that this didn't invalidate the histories, it simply meant readers of it need to understand they are reading a parallel set of accounts.

From the outset, Friedman dismisses the traditional view of Moses' authorship. There are too many implausibilities for that to have occurred - not the least of which is the description of Moses' death. Friedman contends the books are historical accounts recorded by scribes, probably court priests, of their respective kingdoms. Their style differences allow him to pin letter designations for identification - the now well-known E, J, D and P.
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125 of 136 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 22, 1999
Format: Paperback
Richard Elliott Friedman's Who Wrote the Bible has a lot going for it. It is probably the clearest guide for the lay reader to the "Documentary Hypothesis" -- the notion that the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, were not written all at one time but assembled from at least four major sources composed at different times and under different circumstances. This idea, which was first proposed in late eighteenth century France and developed by Julius Wellhausen in the nineteenth century, allows one to see the religious traditions of ancient Israel as historically evolving from a nature cult, through centralized worship and sacrifice, to a text-based ethical religion. Friedman tells the story of the composition of the Torah with great clarity and verve, in a way that a reader lacking Hebrew can understand. Occasionally I find Friedman's exposition to be marred by what might be called "special pleading." Friedman will have a novel idea and will present it in a way that seems quite convincing, but since he doesn't really present the alternatives other scholars have considered, I sometimes feel he is pulling a fast one on the less learned reader. He has a theory, for example, that the E document (composed in the Northern Kingdom around the 9th century BC) was written by a priest at the old site of Shiloh, in the tribal area of Ephraim. He supports this by the Golden Calf episode in Exodus 32-34. This text attacks Aaron, and so, he argues, it couldn't have been written in the southern kingdom of Judah, where the priesthood was descended from Aaron. But it also presents idolatry in terms of a Golden Calf, and the Calf was the symbol Jeroboam used in place of the Cherub in the alternative temples he set up in the North at Dan and Bethel.Read more ›
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