Who wrote the bible? Did the bible copy from pagan myths? Are there alterations? Why should we trust it? How was it constructed? Can we trust it as a historical book? This is an exploration of how some of the books in the bible were possibly compiled based on literary design and a little comparison with other legends.
Some books have specific authors associated with them that are writing from their perspective, but some do not because they are compilations. There are many different theories on how the bible was constructed but I’m sharing my own thoughts. Moses is credited for writing the Torah, which is the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). Exodus through Deuteronomy were all written by Moses in his era with a few annotations at the end by Joshua since Moses died, however, Genesis is about events that predate Moses so how did he write it?
It seems to me that there was a pre-Moses version of Genesis compiled by Joseph from the stories passed down to him by his father Jacob and their forefathers going back to Noah. In Genesis, there are 12 chapters dedicated to Joseph’s story and much less about Isaac and Jacob. Abraham gets a big chunk (13 chapters) of Genesis but he is a central figure to the whole faith so that makes sense. Joseph may have even had some tablets from before the time of Abraham (that may have come from Melchizedek), for Genesis 1-11. The first eleven chapters are from before Abraham’s day and that section features the creation story, the fall, the flooded world, and genealogies that connect the pre and post-flood worlds. This section also could have been all oral tradition down to Joseph. However, the main thing is that Moses wrote the version of Genesis that we are familiar with even though its events preceded Moses’ birth by over 200 years. Since so much of Genesis is oriented toward Josephs’s perspective and even ends with Joseph’s story, it seems most likely got the info from Joseph’s writings. Joseph was a Hebrew who became a vizier of Egypt and Moses worked and was raised in Pharaoh’s house for the first 40 years of his life before he fled to Midian as a murdering fugitive. Since Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s house he likely read and wrote in Egyptian, which means he was able to read Joseph’s records from the many decades before. Both would have been bilingual, in fact, Gen 46:21-24 reveals to us that Joseph was bilingual. We can see further evidence of pre-Genesis writing with the use of toledoth passages (‘These are the generations of …’) which seem to reference an external list of historical records of previous generations. Genesis 5 and 11 use the phrase “these are the generations of” when listing out the genealogies of Adam to Noah and Noah to Abraham respectively.
In addition, Moses added annotations in regard to place names and such. For example, in Genesis 2:10-14, he gives us the names of rivers that flowed from Eden, and gives us the names of these rivers and tells us what direction they are flowing by giving us the names of the countries they are flowing towards.
Gen 2:10 (NLT) A river flowed from the land of Eden, watering the garden and then dividing into four branches. 11 The first branch, called the Pishon, flowed around the entire land of Havilah, where gold is found. 12 The gold of that land is exceptionally pure; aromatic resin and onyx stone are also found there. 13 The second branch, called the Gihon, flowed around the entire land of Cush. 14 The third branch, called the Tigris, flowed east of the land of Asshur. The fourth branch is called the Euphrates.
The nations mentioned (Cush, Asshur, etc) don’t exist yet since they are named after descendants of Noah from the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. Moses is helping his original readers/hearers (the Israelites that sojourned in the wilderness), visualize and locate these places that have been long lost to history. The earth was terraformed in the flood so the landscape is different. Rivers come from mountains and flow into other water bodies like the ocean, so that implies the garden was on a mountain in Eden. This would explain the Tower of Babel, it is an attempt to create an artificial version of the garden with a mountain, and it was built where Noah would have said the garden used to be somewhere in the plans of Shinar (Babylon). Moses is using the present-day (of his time) place names to talk about past events.
Similarly, Moses often refers to the region of Bethel (House of God) in the stories of Abraham – Joseph. However, we find out that Bethel was first called Bethel by Jacob in Genesis 28:19 after Jacob had the dream of angels going up and down from heaven. Moses tells us here for the first time that the place was originally called Luz by the Canaanites. That means that at the time of Abraham and Isaac it was actually called Luz, but Moses called it Bethel for most of Genesis because that is the name Jacob (aka Israel) their forefather gave it. Moses is writing for an original audience of his time, the Israelites in the wilderness, so certain details are not written with originality intact for the purpose of their understanding. Although, he does take the time to explain the origins of the names he gives in order to lead the readers/hearers to know that these names were not original. Even after Moses’ death, in Joshua 16:2, 18:13, and Judges 1:23-26, Luz is mentioned because the original inhabitants are still calling it that, but there is a reference to it also being called Bethel because that is what the Israelites called it. Just like in the modern globalized world, every nation has a different name depending on the language spoken when saying the name of a country.
The book of Judges is the same. Samuel or someone from his era likely complied it together, since the events in it proceed Samuel’s birth. The book of Samuel was not written by Samuel, since Samuel dies mid-way through it. The book of Samuel which deals with King David’s reign is written by later authors who used source text to compile the stories. The sources are listed in 1 Chronicles 29:29, which says, “All the events of King David’s reign, from beginning to end, are written in The Record of Samuel the Seer, The Record of Nathan the Prophet, and The Record of Gad the Seer”. Judges 18:30 even tells us that Micah’s idol was worshipped by the tribe of Dan “until the exile”. This is referring to the Babylonian Exile which is around 500+ years after the events of Judges, so this annotation was added after the exile. It seems obvious that many historical narratives of the bible were recorded by chroniclers and later composites were made most likely post-exile to preserve key elements. The same is true for the book of Psalms, David only wrote about 70 of them, and the others were written by choir directors like Asaph, but all the Psalms were compiled together post-exile. The Books of Kings like the Chronicles pair has references to larger books that contain more detail. The book of Kings usually ends each section with “and the rest of XX’s reign was recorded in the Book of the Kings of Israel/Judah”. This shows that some books preserved in the Tanakh(Old Testament) are actually just summaries of information from other sources, that serve to simply highlight key events.
Some secular scholars will say the whole bible was written post-exile based on a bunch of Ancient Near East myths and legends. Usually, it’s claimed that the bible was written around 400 BC while Israel was under Persia. Similarities can be found between the creation story in Genesis 1-3 and the Enuma Elish (Babylonian creation story). Skeptics often say that means the bible is plagiarism. One must realize that if these events are true then multiple sources will have a version of these stories, so it would be expected that since everyone descends from Noah they would all have the same story. The same claims are made about the similarity between Noah’s flood story in Gen 6-11 and the Epic of Gilgamesh (Mesopotamian flood story).
The similarities are not just between the bible and other Ancient Near Eastern myths, these similarities span various flood stories around the world. They involved gods causing a great flood and some people being saved in a boat.
– The Epic of Gilgamesh mentions how Utnapishtim, his wife, relatives, and baby animals survived a flood caused by gods, in a boat.
– Tapi and his wife in Aztec tradition took animals on a boat to survive a flood.
– An Incan flood story tells of how Viracocha (the god), caused a flood to wipe out giants, Manco Cápac, the founder of the Incan civilization, and his wife survived by floating in a box.
– Nu’u in one of the Hawaiian traditions built a giant canoe to survive a great flood.
– The Hindu story of Matsya, is when Vishnu causes a great flood but preserves Manu and the 7 sages (Saptarishi) and animals in a boat.
– In the Chinese language, the character for “boat” is made of characters that reference “8 people in a boat”. The character for boat 船 is made up of 3 characters. 舟 means vessel, 八 means 8, and 口 means mouth or person. Noah, his wife, his 3 sons, and each of their wives make 8 people, and they were on the Ark. Image below.
These and more seem to echo the Noah flood story. It’s almost as if there is a collective memory of a historical event rather than people just stealing each other’s work and taking it around the world thousands of years before globalization. The variations would be due to the fracturing of language at the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. Something to think about.
There are other theories that Israel was never one nation before the exile and that the Genesis story came from Judah while the Exodus story came from Israel and the stories were untied under Persia to create a false history of a united nation. Usually, this is based on the J, E, D, P, R theory by Julius Wellhausen (1844–1918) which states that there are 5 different authors of the bible and that bible evolved over time in stages and the books were never original complete documents. This suggests that Judaism was originally another polytheist animist pagan religion that evolved into what it is today over time and the bible morphed along with it to suit the later cultural needs. J and E are in reverence to the names of God used J(Jehovah/YHWH), E (Elohim). It is believed that two different authors used two different names for God. However when looking at the context of usage Genesis 1 uses Elohim which is a tile for God as creator, and Genesi 1 is about cosmic creation. Whereas Genesis 2 is localized to the personal interaction of God with the first humans so it makes sense that is the first use of YHWH/Jehovah since this is God’s personal name revealed to Moses. The D is in reference to the Deuterist, an author from the time of King Josiah that supposedly wrote Deuteronomy. This is based on that story in the bible when King Josiah rediscovered the Torah when cleaning out the Temple, after many years of abandonment due to the idolatry in Israel initiated by his predecessors and he lead Israel to repent (2 Kings 22-23). The book he found is believed to be Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is referenced in the books of Joshua and Judges as Moses’ writing, yet will say it was written around the 600s BC. P refers to the priest, from post-exile temple Judaism. It is believed they wrote a bunch of things to ti the whole bible together around that time creating the foundation of modern Judaism. Then R is the revisionist who went in and cleaned it up and compiled it a few hundred years before the AD era.
JEDP theory assumed that the Israelites were 100% illiterate and had to wait hundreds of years before writing their law and their foundation history, but the story itself was chronicled as they when through the wilderness like a diary. In addition, Moses was literate since he was raised in Pharoah’s house in Egypt and wither used Egyptian or proto-siniatic script (pre-cursor to the Semitic alphabet) to write these things. Also, the Torah uses several Egyptian words and references cultural practices that go back to the 2nd millennium. Lastly, Moses even wrote annotations on place names alongside ancient to indicate name changes to his original audience using phrases like “to this day”. This times the document to his life span.
More on Egyptian words in the Tanak here.
This idea reminds me of like an old theory that King David didn’t exist, but David’s existence has been confirmed in recent years by archeological finds like the Tel Dan Stele and Mesha Stele. Claims can be made here and there but if there are not backed by the evidence they are just theories, and some have been debunked by newly discovered evidence. Bible skeptics will always have their theories until they run into new archeological evidence that disproves them.
My point in writing this is to say, the bible didn’t need to be written in this perfect linear fashion to be true. It would be more suspicious if it were because that would be the work of one person at one time telling a story. Yet when examining the text much closer there are a lot of different cultural and historical settings through the different books of the bible. It is a compilation of many different writings from the view of a persecuted minority in Israel, the prophets. The same is true with the gospels, Mark and Luke are not eye witnesses of the events in the Gospels so they gathered eye witness testimony. John and Matthew on the other hand are apostles themselves and interacted with Jesus himself. Yet all four gospel accounts are valid records of Jesus’ life, teachings, and the revelation of whom he said he was according to the prophecies of the Tanakh (old testament). Despite being a compilation the bible is harmonized by a consistent belief in and worship of the one God and of Israel, even though community preference for worshipping idols and engaging in pagan practices at different times resisted its influence. Each author has their own specific motives and writing style but the main concept is that they are moved by the spirit of God. This doesn’t mean God took control of them and forced them to write something they didn’t know. What it means is that each person was moved to write was important for the people of their generation, and often times they used preserved sources to gather information. The author’s views are usually opposed to the community who have moved on from the worship of the God of Abraham and are breaking the commands, this is why these prophets are usually persecuted and even killed.
None of the above is a threat to the historicity of the bible. No history book is actually written in a perfectly linear fashion, things are categorized based on subject and theme. For example, a US history book about the 60s will have a lot of cover in that decade, but rather than writing a linear story with overlapping major events it will divide the story into parts like “The Civil Rights Movement”, “The Cold War”, “The Space Race”, etc. These things are collections of interrelated stories that happened in the same era but the presenter must present them in a way that readers can digest. This is how the bible is written except it has around 40 key authors, plus annotators, and it covers a span of 1500+ years. Therefore there are going to be annotations and commentary so that readers at the time of new copies will know things like changes in the names of cities and regions, as well as whom certain ethnic groups are related to and such. All these things are necessary parts of the process of preservation. Copies needed to be made because animal parchment and papyrus leaves are organic and will decay if not preserved under the right conditions. Keeping the scriptures in the right conditions wouldn’t have been feasible when they were expected to be read aloud and every copy was considered holy and to be put to use. The historicity of the bible is not under threat because it is a compilation with updates nor it is threatened by similarities with other cultures in the region.
CMI – Did Moses Write Genesis?
CMI – Who Wrote Genesis?
Tel Dan Stele – Wikipedia
Mesha Stele – Wikipedia
6 Archaeological Finds that support the bible
Crash Course – Meso American Flood Stories
A discussion with Nick Liguroi author of Echoes of Ararat
Epic of Gilgamesh vs Noah’s Ark
ICR – Flood tradition similarities around the world
ICR – Chinese characters and the bible
CMI – Chinese characters and bible – defense
AiG – Noah’s of various cultures
AiG – Australian Aborigines flood story
AiG – Comparisons of Various Flood Legends
AiG – Scientific evaluation of various flood accounts
AiG – Worldwide Flood legends
Ancient Egypt Flood Story:
” Chapter 175 of the Egyptian Book of the Dead is one example. This chapter describes a divine complaint made to Thoth by Atum, who states the children of Nut rebelled, caused evil, tumult, strife, and slaughter. This is exactly analogous to the situation before the Flood with the pre-Flood world being full of violence (Genesis 6:11). The chapter goes on to detail the destruction of all that was made, turned into Nun (the primeval ocean) by a floodwater. Only those left on the solar bark (called the Boat of Millions), along with Horus and his father Osiris, sail to the “Island of the Two Flames” where Horus inherits his father’s rule. This is all very evocative of the Genesis Flood and Noah’s family.”
CMI – Read More here