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375 of 400 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Detective Story of the Highest Caliber, December 2, 1999
This review is from: Who Wrote the Bible? (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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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 10 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 21, 2007 12:15:50 PM PDT
Timothy's stated respect for caution is wise. Some years after reading Richard Elliott Friedman's 'Who Wrote the Bible?', having continued to read concerning the Documentary Hypothesis, both its proponents and its skeptics and the evidences put forward by both, I must say that I find Friedman's arguments to be less compelling. We will continue to speculate regarding the authoring and editing of Biblical texts, but there is significant evidence against the Documentary Hypothesis (literary evidences and evidences involving the text's use of place names), that places the writing of at least some specific texts much earlier than Friedman argues, and, in fact, suggests that an author familiar with 12th or 13th century BC Egypt and educated in the literary art and styles of Egypt in that era, most likely produced them (giving us none other than - Moses - as their probable author). Literary analysis may itself negate many of the 'source' markers claimed by source analysis.

Critical readers will keep an open mind. Seeing how many reviewers have embraced Friedman's arguments as though they were the final word, some will not have an open mind. Those readers interested in counterpoint to Friedman's arguments would be well served in reading 'On the Reliability of the Old Testament' (2003), by Kenneth Anderson Kitchen, Professor Emeritus of Egyptology and Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Archaeology, Classics and Oriental Studies, University of Liverpool, England.

Kitchen's treatment is more extensive than Friedman's and perhaps less entertaining. I recommend examining this puzzle from more than one viewpoint and accessing the best and most recent scholarship (especially contrasting those scholarships that are in disagreement with each other), and doing so with due critical caution.

Posted on Mar 15, 2008 9:09:21 AM PDT
Paul Henry says:
Wesely L. Janssen states that we should be wary of Friedman's book, and instead rely on Kitchen's. However, in fairness, I should point out that Kitchen is an evangelical Christian, who wrote that if one thinks there is more than on source for the Pentateuch, you would be a committing a mortal sin. So I don't think that Kitchen is necessarily a reliable alternative to those who want to find out the truth.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 22, 2008 6:18:43 PM PDT
We should always be critical and careful in our method of research. Before drawing any conclusions we should assess the quality of the research and the argument. Therefore, I agree with Janssen that it is be best to consider the issue from alternative viewpoints in order to come to the best reasonable interpretation of the facts. This will require us to set aside our presuppositions, but will also make us better scholars.

One of the great errors of fundamentalist, and even some evangelical, Christians is to say, "an atheist cannot be a reliable source in pursuit of the truth," simply because the author has an unbelieving mindset. In the same way, we should be critical when this same reasoning is suggested from another vantage point. Thus, the contention by Henry that Kitchen is not reliable in pursuit of truth because he is an evangelical goes against a proper mindset for research. Instead, let us move beyond the childish paradigm of categorizing and name calling and start doing quality research for ourselves.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2009 1:13:43 PM PST
Drew Hensley says:
This is a very sad remark, Paul. I could write a list of great evangelical scholars a mile long. This is like saying we should avoid reading the works of Bishop N.T. Wright or Ben Witherington, III on historical Jesus.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 9, 2009 7:41:37 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 9, 2009 7:46:51 PM PST
But we are discussing Friedman's work. Not the Historical Jesus. The terrific thing about "Who Wrote the Bible?" is that Friedman is bent upon uncovering and understanding the origins--the who what when & perhaps most importantly WHY of the text. Rather than shying away from political schisms and the interaction between the "church" (temple, priestly class) and monarchy of the day, he considers the impact they had on one another. He is willing to confront the fact that the priestly class (Levites) were also the literary class of the day--the scribes. Thus history, written or oral, was transcribed through the eyes--and impacted by the beliefs--of the priestly author of book such as Dtr1 and later possibly Dtr2.

Rather than assuming a perfectly orthodox world and trying to explain away and justify blatent contradictions, Friedman considers their implications and confronts contradictions. This is what sets this work apart as a scholarly examination as opposed to simply another so-called orthodox (esp. modern Christian--no disrespect) explanation. A true help to those with a sincere interest in Judaic studies. I am spent with those trying simply to pound the facts into the mold of their own belief system. Although I may not agree with all of them, Friedman's discussions at least, make sense.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 5, 2009 1:23:44 PM PST
Several commenters are critical of your skeptical attitude toward Kitchen, suggesting that open mindedness and consideration of varying views is healthy. I think that is precisly your own point. You are suggesting Kitchen is unreliable because he doesn't have an open mind nor does he consider varying views. Kitchen sounds like a conservative apologist rather than a seeker after truth.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 5, 2009 1:25:02 PM PST
Several commenters are critical of your skeptical attitude toward Kitchen, suggesting that open mindedness and consideration of varying views is healthy. I think that is precisly your own point. You are suggesting Kitchen is unreliable because he doesn't have an open mind nor does he consider varying views. Kitchen sounds like a conservative apologist rather than a seeker after truth.

Posted on Jul 23, 2012 8:56:53 PM PDT
Paul Newcomb says:
Wouldn't it be nice of God to come down from the heavens to once and for all end all need for interpretation and speculation and just set everything straight? After all, he is an omnipotent and omnibenevolent entity, so one would think he'd have a desire and capability to end all the petty debates and commotion. Until that happens, I will be convinced that either God doesn't exist, or he's NOT omnipotent or omnibenevolent.

Posted on Jun 1, 2013 12:41:47 AM PDT
Clayton says:
Friedman's book is well-written and entertaining and to the non-scholar, sounds very convincing. But as my book Who Really Wrote the Bible? points out, not all of the scholars who support the Documentary Hypothesis agree with Friedman's version of it. Nor do they agree with each other on the details of the Hypothesis. And many scholars, including some who are not evangelical Christians or orthodox Jews, reject the DH altogether. That is because they recognize the flaws in the DH. My book points out those flaws. In addition, it points out another flaw that has not been mentioned until now, namely that the arguments Friedman uses to divide the Pentateuch into four documents can also be used to divide his own book into four documents. Another book that also points out the flaws of the DH but does not overlap my book (but goes by the same title) is Who Really Wrote the Bible? by Eyal Rav-Noy and Gil Weinreich.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 12, 2014 11:49:14 AM PST
bogtrotter says:
The thing that astonishes me is that anyone who believes in a unified authorship of the "Five Books" could believe that the single author in such a case is "Moses." I am prepared to accept there may have been miracle workers. But no other prophet has ever been alleged to have written a whole "history" of events which were to take place after his own lifetime. My bet would be that there was some kind of scriptural chronology before Moses, which may have been incorporated into an extension written in Moses' day, and that it was then extended in later days. Would not Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, have had some kind of scripture? I have also wondered about how Hebrew scripture was reconstructed after the Babylonian captivity. Perhaps there were rabbis with total recall amongst the Hebrews in Babylon, or perhaps their captors allowed the preservation of a few Bibles.
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