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Compilation by committee
on 6 August 2004
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 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. The first two refer to how the deity was identified. The "D" is for "Deuteronomist", identified by stylistic traits, while the "P" relates to priestly genealogies. Friedman uses various highlighting techniques to demonstrate variances in the text style or content. This rather hotch-potch arrangement was later organised into the single volume by the "Redactor" [the "E" for "Editor" having already been assigned.
Setting his thesis within a well-defined chronology, Friedman shows how the various authors had previously material to draw on producing their own accounts. With no possibility of retrieving the sequence, we have only the results passed down to us. This situation explains many of the inconsistencies, since Judaic scribes had different sources than those in Israel. They also, apparently, had different agendas to follow. Almost from the beginning, for example, there are differences in the roles of Moses and Aaron. Friedman lists other variations with their probable origins.
Friedman's book is the best current example of what has become known as the "Documentary Hypothesis". This phrase stands in contrast with the idea of "divine origins" of the collection. As examples of historical literature, the books of the Hebrew Bible merit serious investigation and analysis. Friedman, picking up from French and German studies of the past two centuries, has performed a significant task. He writes well, doesn't engage in idle speculation, and, perhaps most important, condemns none. The authors he discusses were products of their time. He recognises that, keeping the authors clearly within their contemporary context. An excellent book, worthy of anybody's attention. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]