Bible Myths and their Parallels in other Religions Being a Comparison of the Old and New Testament Myths and Miracles with those of the Heathen Nations of Antiquity Considering also their Origin and Meaning
Page: 66B. C.).
These priestly passages are partly occupied with historical matter, comprising a very free account of things from the creation of the world to the arrival of Israel in Canaan. Everything is here presented from the priestly point of view; some events, elsewhere recorded, are touched up in the priestly spirit, and others are entirely invented.[95:1]
It was the belief of the Jews, asserted by the Pirke Aboth (Sayings of the Fathers), one of the oldest books of the Talmud,[95:2] as well as other Jewish records, that Ezra, acting in accordance with a divine commission, re-wrote the Old Testament, the manuscripts of which were said to have been lost in the destruction of the first temple, when Nebuchadnezzar took Jerusalem.[95:3] This we know could not have been the case. The fact that Ezra wrote—adding to, and taking from the already existing books of the Pentateuch—was probably the foundation for this tradition. The account of it is to be found in the Apocryphal book of Esdras, a book deemed authentic by the Greek Church.
Dr. Knappert, speaking of this, says:
"For many centuries, both the Christians and the Jews supposed that Ezra had brought together the sacred writings of his people, united them in one whole, and introduced them as a book given by the Spirit of God—a Holy Scripture.
"The only authority for this supposition was a very modern and altogether untrustworthy tradition. The historical and critical studies of our times have been emancipated from the influence of this tradition, and the most ancient statements with regard to the subject have been hunted up and compared together. These statements are, indeed, scanty and incomplete, and many a detail is still obscure; but the main facts have been completely ascertained.
"Before the Babylonish captivity, Israel had no sacred writings. There were certain laws, prophetic writings, and a few historical books, but no one had ever thought of ascribing binding and divine authority to these documents.
"Ezra brought the priestly law with him from Babylon, altering it and amalgamating it with the narratives and laws already in existence, and thus produced the Pentateuch in pretty much the same form (though not quite, as we shall show) as we still have it. These books got the name of the 'Law of Moses,' or simply the 'Law.' Ezra introduced them into Israel (B. C. 444), and gave them binding authority, and from that time forward they were considered divine."[95:4]
From the time of Ezra until the year 287 B. C., when the Pentateuch was translated into Greek by order of Ptolemy [Pg 96]Philadelphus, King of Egypt, these books evidently underwent some changes. This the writer quoted above admits, in saying:
"Later still (viz., after the time of Ezra), a few more changes and additions were made, and so the Pentateuch grew into its present form."[96:1]
In answer to those who claim that the Pentateuch was written by one person, Bishop Colenso says:
"It is certainly inconceivable that if the Pentateuch be the production of one and the same hand throughout, it should contain such a number of glaring inconsistencies. . . . No single author could have been guilty of such absurdities; but it is quite possible, and what was almost sure to happen in such a case, that, if the Pentateuch be the work of different authors in different ages, this fact should betray itself by the existence of contradictions in the narrative."[96:2]
Having ascertained the origin of the Pentateuch, or first five books of the Old Testament, it will be unnecessary to refer to the others here, as we have nothing to do with them in our investigations. Suffice it to say then, that: "In the earlier period after Ezra, none of the other books which already existed, enjoyed the same authority as the Pentateuch."[96:3]
It is probable[96:4] that Nehemiah made a collection of historical and prophetic books, songs, and letters from Persian kings, not to form a second collection, but for the purpose of saving them from being lost. The scribes of Jerusalem, followers of Ezra, who were known as "the men of the Great Synagogue," were the collectors of the second and third divisions of the Old Testament. They collected together the historical and prophetic books, songs, &c., which were then in existence, and after altering many of them, they were added to the collection of sacred books. It must not be supposed that any fixed plan was pursued in this work, or that the idea was entertained from the first, that these books would one day stand on the same level with the Pentateuch.[96:5]
In the course of time, however, many of the Jews began to consider some of these books as sacred. The Alexandrian Jews adopted books into the canon which those of Jerusalem did not, and this difference of opinion lasted for a long time, even till the second century after Christ. It was not until this time that all the books of the Old Testament acquired divine authority.[96:6] It is not known, however, just when the canon of the Old Testament was closed. The time and manner in which it was done is [Pg 97]altogether obscure.[97:1] Jewish tradition indicates that the full canonicity of several books was not free from doubt till the time of the famous Rabbi Akiba,[97:2] who flourished about the beginning of the second century after Christ.[97:3]
After giving a history of the books of the Old Testament, the author of "The Religion of Israel," whom we have followed in this investigation, says:
"The great majority of the writers of the Old Testament had no other source of information about the past history of Israel than simple tradition. Indeed, it could not have been otherwise, for in primitive times no one used to record anything in writing, and the only way of preserving a knowledge of the past was to hand it down by word of mouth. The father told the son what his elders had told him, and the son handed it on to the next generation.
"Not only did the historian of Israel draw from tradition with perfect freedom, and write down without hesitation anything they heard and what was current in the mouths of the people, but they did not shrink from modifying their representation of the past in any way that they thought would be good and useful. It is difficult for us to look at things from this point of view, because our ideas of historical good faith are so utterly different. When we write history, we know that we ought to be guided solely by a desire to represent facts exactly as they really happened. All that we are concerned with is reality; we want to make the old times live again, and we take all possible pains not to remodel the past from the point of view of to-day. All we want to know is what happened, and how men lived, thought, and worked in those days. The Israelites had a very different notion of the nature of historical composition. When a prophet or a priest related something about bygone times, his object was not to convey knowledge about those times; on the contrary, he used history merely as a vehicle for the conveyance of instruction and exhortation. Not only did he confine his narrative to such matters as he thought would serve his purpose but he never hesitated to modify what he knew of the past, and he did not think twice about touching it up from his own imagination, simply that it might be more conducive to the end he had in view and chime in better with his opinions. All the past became colored through and through with the tinge of his own mind. Our own notions of honor and good faith would never permit all this; but we must not measure ancient writers by our own standard; they considered that they were acting quite within their rights and in strict accordance with duty and conscience."[97:4]
It will be noticed that, in our investigations on the authority of the Pentateuch, we have followed, principally, Dr. Knappert's ideas as set forth in "The Religion of Israel."
This we have done because we could not go into an extended investigation, and because his words are very expressive, and just to the point. To those who may think that his ideas are not the same as those entertained by other Biblical scholars of the present [Pg 98]day, we subjoin, in a note below, a list of works to which they are referred.[98:1]