Wednesday, September 15, 2010

status of religious texts

The idea that the Bible is a single unified text, intended to be "God's word for all time" or some such rubbish, is an entirely modern idea, invented in the late 19th / early 20th century by fundamentalist nut-jobs (the original Fundamentalists who actually coined the word).

The point is that the Bible was put together by a bunch of different people, and the law codes of Deuteronomy were produced at a time of extreme social conservatism, some time in the late Bronze Age. More liberal authors of the Torah, Nevi'im (e.g. Amos) and Ketuvim would probably have been horrified by what appears in Deuteronomy.

The Qu'ran was originally produced as an oral tradition, handed down by the followers of the Prophet Muhammad, and intended to be interpreted by qadis (judges) and modified by hadiths (sayings of the Prophet). It wasn't written down until well after Muhammad's death.

The Torah (Jewish scriptures) were always subject to constant reinterpretation and discussion by the scholars (which was basically every Jew who could read and comment on them).

This notion that a religious text should be a completely infallible law code for a religion and be taken completely literally is therefore an entirely modern invention.


Gerrarrdus said...

I'd disagree that there's any evidence that Amos edited the Torah, but other than that, certainly the Bible is the product of dozens of, frequently contradictory, authors. And I find that quite exciting.
How one jumps from that to the idea that it's directly dictated by God - and that it's the King James that is somehow the definitive version - is absolutely beyond me.

Yewtree said...

I didn't suggest that he was an editor, more of a contributing author.

Gerrarrdus said...

Sorry, force of habit from Biblical Critical studies! It's so much redaction that you forget anyone ever wrote any of it in the first place!
However I've still not heard that Amos contributed to any part of the Torah.

Yewtree said...

Oh sorry, my bad, I mean Tanakh. I just dislike the term "Old Testament" - it smacks of dispensationalism to me. Of course the prophetic books don't count as part of the Torah. Duh.

Yewtree said...

Have now edited the post to make it clearer - thanks for that.

atimetorend said...

Good post, and I agree with your conclusion. I also like that you refer to them as "fundamentalist nut-jobs". I think their interpretation of the proof-texts they use to support their interpretation is wishful thinking and eisegesis.

Yewtree said...


I take it you are a fan of Ecclesiastes :) It's a great poem.