We had a meeting tonight at Holy Grounds, the seminary's coffee house. Our Old Testament teacher put it together for anyone who was having issues with some of the ideas that have been presented in class. For a lot of people, their faith is connected to the historical truth claims of the Bible. Theologians, archeologists, historians and other scholars have discovered that some of the events in the Bible may not have happened in exactly the way that they are written. This can be a problem for people, like me, who have been taught that everything in the Bible happened exactly the way that it was written. For some people who's faith is so closely connected to the Bible stories being literally true, this can be scary.
What we have been learning in class is that tradition is not always going to give us an accurate picture of what the likely historical truth of biblical events are. Tradition tells us that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, otherwise known as the Pentateuch. Even the first time I heard this, I knew there was something wrong with that claim because these books are not written in the first person and there are events in it that occur long after Moses dies. It just doesn't make any sense.
There is also this idea called the "Documentary Hypothesis" that claims the Pentateuch actually comes from 4 different source documents, usually identified by the initials J, E, P & D. These documents were all written independently from each other and over time were integrated with each other to give us the Pentateuch as we have it today. If you read the Pentateuch closely, even in an English translation, it becomes obvious that there could not have been a single writer. If there was a single writer, then that person was crazy. You have people's names changing, God's name and the names of places change and there's stories that are told multiple time for no apparent reason and their details don't match up. And then, you have poor Moses going up the mountain, and down the mountain, and up the mountain, and down the mountain, and up, and down, and up, and up... wait a minute, when did he come down? Anyway, you get the picture.
But the thing is, our teacher is not teaching this to us to destroy our faith. She is trying to teach us the truth about what this document we call the Bible actually is. She's telling us the truth so that our faith can be based on more than just history, so that we can see the deeper truth behind the stories, which is so much more important than a simple historical truth. (Which is not to say that there is no historical truth to the stories in the Bible, because I still believe that there is historical truth to a lot of them.)
The way I look at it is this: we, as a church, accept that the Holy Spirit worked though people to have these documents written and that she (I've been told that the Holy Spirit's gender in the original language is feminine, so that is how I'm going to refer to her from now on. To be honest, I've never really been comfortable referring to the Holy Spirit in the masculine. Maybe this is why.) worked through people to make sure that it got put together in the form that we have it now. So this begs the question: Why all these different sources? Why the contradictions? Why the historical ambiguity? I think it's because God is too big for one voice to describe. I think it takes a harmony of voices, even if those voices, on the surface, seem to contradict each other, to give us even a glimpse of the nature of God. The different sources with their seeming contradictions don't bother me anymore. They were good enough for the Holy Spirit, and they're good enough for me.