The Book of Deuteronomy is Found and King Josiah Reforms Israel

Boy is this topic endless and fascinating but I’m just going to give you a teaser and to really enjoy and appreciate its depth you’re going to have to do a little legwork on your own. But WAIT! If you don’t want to do legwork there’s still fun to be had with the Bible, so read on. For those of you with a little more time and interest, read on and then read on.

He Found What!?

In 2 Kings 22:8 is says, “The high priest Hilkiah said to Shaphan the secretary, ‘I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord.'”

Now, there are a couple of books mentioned throughout the Bible, most of which we don’t have anymore and can only drool at the vast wealth of information and resources that are now gone but once existed within them. For instance, the book of Kings constantly refers to the Annals of the Kings of Judah and the Annals of the Kings of Israel, what were obviously two large and lengthy indexes maintained through the reigns of each king of both states. If only we still had these books….

In any case, 2 Kings 22:8 has long troubled rabbis and scholars because the question is always, which book. For traditional Judaism it’s easy to think that this simply refers to the entire Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy) because the people were not doing what they were supposed to and the finding of this book was followed by an incredibly repentant King Josiah and a huge series of reform that reflects things in the Bible.

But There’s More to This

For scholars, however, it’s not so simple. By the time of King Josiah the Torah did not exist in the form that we have it. Four separate texts that currently comprise the Torah existed but no straight-up Torah. So what was this book. Well, based on when the book of Deuteronomy was written (or at least the bulk of its meat) and based on the particulars of King Josiah’s reforms, scholars have concluded that the book found was the book of Deuteronomy!

What do I mean when I said, based on the particulars of the reforms. Well, some of the laws presented in the book of Deuteronomy differ from the way they are given in the Leviticus-Numbers section that provides the bulk of the laws. Moreover, the book of Deuteronomy has certain interests that challenge the status-quo of what had been, like its obsession with destroying all high-places (any place around the country where people may have worshiped) in favor of a centralized location (the Temple in Jerusalem).

By further probing the texts we find more and more similarities between Josiah’s actions and the book of Deuteronomy that are actually different elsewhere in the Torah.

Summary

In this brief explanation these reasons may hardly have convinced you that the book of Deuteronomy was what the High Priest found and Josiah sought to implement the reforms of, but I challenge you to do some investigation of your own.

First, read 2 Kings 22-23 (at least everything about Josiah). Also, read the corresponding section in Chronicles 34-35 because it also talks thoroughly about what Josiah did (and curiously adds details absent from the book of Kings). Then go to Deuteronomy and read the laws and concerns expressed therein and notice the fascinating ways in which they line up. This next step is obviously a crazy undertaking but read from Exodus 19-Numbers 10 and notice different holiday celebrations, concerns of the text and more.

I’d love to hear your questions and thoughts about this so please ask below. If you have any trouble with the text let me know and I’ll be happy to work it out with you.

What do you think about all this?

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Fun with the Bible: 6 Great Reasons that Moses Could Never Have Written the Bible

I was asked during the first Fun with the Bible post to talk about the authorship of Genesis-Deuteronomy, also known as the Pentateuch, the Torah or the Five Books of Moses. The question was, is Moses the author of the books whose collective title bears his name. The answer is no.

What Are Our Premises?

Now, numerous religious people will be popping their lids right now and claiming that I’m wrong, a blasphemer, a moron, evil, Satan, etc. And who would I be to deny most of those appellations. But as for the first one, I must object. Moses is not the author of any part of the Bible.

How do I know such things? Well, I must admit that my criteria for investigating the Bible are reason, logic, linguistics, archaeological evidence and the actual words of the Bible. I’m not concerned with what religious authorities say unless they are basing their arguments on these criteria and not just tradition, which is the only thing that could contend for Moses’ authorship.

Though I can’t supply a full list of reasons right here, I will offer a few examples as food for thought to get you started, and then send you on your way to read the first books of the Bible yourself.

A Few Good Reasons

1. Reason number one is that the Bible NEVER claims to be authored by Moses or anyone else for that matter. No one internally claims authorship. If Moses authored the Bible, you think he’d have said something – or anyone who wanted to be remembered for doing so for that matter. Only later religious people, hoping to attribute authorship and lend validity, claimed that Moses was the author.

2. Another issue is time. The Pentateuch is written in such a way – and doesn’t try to hide the fact! – that implies looking backward. It refers to the present day by saying things like “until this day” or “that was current then.” For instance, Genesis 23:16 refers to weights and measures as they were current in the time of the story, not the author’s time. Things are said in Moses’ time that they are there until this day.

3. Getting things plain wrong is a problem too. Presumably if God was telling Moses the way things were, he wouldn’t get facts wrong. For instance, in Genesis 21:32-34, the Bible speaks of Abraham residing in the land of the Philistines, a people that, archaeologically speaking, weren’t in the land until hundreds and hundreds of years after the supposed time of Abraham.

4. Mistakes and inconsistencies exist in the text, problems that surely Moses, if God were telling him what to say, would not have created. The reason for these problems, scholars have discovered, is that there are multiple authors’ voices and texts in the Pentateuch. In fact, Genesis through Deuteronomy is the weaving together of multiple texts to create one story. It was done very well but the originals were not changed. Some characters have multiple names, contradicting or repeating stories, etc. We don’t have to get into the details here but this is called the Documentary Hypothesis. If you want to know more, we can talk about it. Just ask.

5. Logical inconsistencies exist. Read the first verse of Deuteronomy. “These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan.” Well, it’s logically impossible for Moses to have written such a sentence. “Beyond the Jordan” means on the other side of the Jordan (though some crappier translations try to gloss over this wording, the original biblical Hebrew has precisely this meaning) and it is a biblical fact that Moses never went into the land of Canaan. Therefore, if he was only on the eastern side of the Jordan River and the person said he spoke on the other side of the Jordan River the person writing must logically be writing from inside of Canaan (approximately modern day Israel). That person can’t be Moses. Get it?

6. Moses can’t speak of his own death, right? In the end of Deuteronomy, Moses talks of his own death – saying, “Moses died.” The author also says that Moses was “unequaled” after we are told earlier that Moses was the most humble man ever. Seems illogical that he could say both things about himself, huh?

Where to Go from Here

There are numerous other reasons besides and many more examples for each of the points I’ve mentioned but this should get you started. If you read Genesis through Deuteronomy from the beginning without the usual religious biases that people have trouble with then you’ll see all this for yourself.

Read the Bible like any other book that you would read, not affording it the privilege of not making sense simply because it doesn’t and because it’s the Bible. Ask questions and see what’s wrong. I’m here to help if you get stuck or don’t understand something.

This is having fun with the Bible – reading it on our own to see all the great things we can learn from it while trying to get at the truth about its history and origins.

Do you have any questions? Do you disagree with everything I’ve said and want to tell me why? Do you think Moses wrote the Pentateuch? Why?

Can you give any other examples of why Moses couldn’t have written the Pentateuch?

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Fun with the Bible: Tragedy Strikes – The Terrible Tale of the Ninth of Av

For our first Fun with the Bible Monday, we’re going to discuss the most tragic day on the Jewish calendar: Tisha B’Av, or the 9th of Av. Perhaps this seems sick and sadistic, but as I’ve told every woman I’ve ever loved, take me or leave me. And as it happens, this Sunday does happen to be the dreaded day, Tisha B’Av.

The History

Why so awful? Well, it’s purported to be the day that everything awful happened in Jewish history, beginning with the destruction of the first Jewish Temple, built by Solomon in Jerusalem (for more on this click HERE). This destruction, of course, led to the exile of the people from Judea to Babylon. The day was then extended in the memory of the Jewish people to include the destruction of the second Temple by the Romans, and even other awful days after that.

The rabbis who shaped the Jewish religion said that lots of things happened on the 9th of Av. Are you familiar with the biblical story where Moses led the Israelites to the border of Cana’an and sent spies in to scout out the land? Well, the spies returned to Moses and the people and complained about the land and how hard it would be to conquer it (Numbers 13:32). This badmouthing, the rabbis said, happened on the 9th of Av. In modern times, people have even tried to say that Hitler made his decision to liquidate the Warsaw Ghetto on the 9th of Av.

So, in short, the 9th of Av has been turned into the most terrible day of mourning and fasting on the Jewish calendar, and this coming Sunday is that terrible day.

Fun with the Bible

But here’s where Fun with the Bible comes in. If we look in the Bible, it doesn’t actually say that the original tragic event reputed to have occurred on the 9th of Av – the destruction of the Temple – really happened then!

First, turn to II Kings 25:8, the book that tells the story of the kings of Israel and Judah and ends with the destruction and exile. And the fifth month is Av. It reads, “In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month … Nebuchadnezzar … burned the house of the Lord.” (Don’t worry, I didn’t omit anything that changes what this means, so…) What!?! The seventh of Av? Suspicious, no?

Now turn to Jeremiah 52:12-13, a book by one of the great Israelite prophets alive and prophecying at the time of Jerusalem’s capture and destruction. It reads, “In the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month…he burned the house of the Lord.” I’m sorry – did everyone hear that. Jeremiah said it was the 10th of Av, and the writer of the book of Kings (maybe we’ll get into who that was another time) said it was the 7th of Av. Huh!?

So what happened here? Basically, there was an inconsistency between two equally valid texts, both agreed to have been written with divine inspiration (again, an issue for another time), and those people who commented on the texts and read and thought about them (eventually, the rabbis) had to do something about it. So what did they do? Rather than give precedence to either text, they effectively took an average and said, the actual date of the Temple’s destruction must be somewhere in between the two accounts. Lo and behold, the 9th of Av it is. Therefore, it is this day that Jews spend mourning, fasting and crying, and claiming that other terrible things happened on to compact the day’s sadness.

The Point

Now, why did I share this?

To undermine the integrity of the Bible? To cast doubt on faith or on the Jewish religion? No (though perhaps those are unintended bonuses). I did this, among other reasons, to point out the importance of reading the Bible for ourselves and not taking the word of other people for what it says.

The Bible is a fascinating and spectacular book. I dare say it’s my favorite book (and note, I’m not religious at all). It is incredibly long, written by numerous people over the course of 1000+ years, has every kind of story and writing imaginable (poetry, prose, tragedy, comedy, romance, social/political intrigue, every stratum of society included, sex, drugs, rock and roll, etc., etc.). In the meantime, it opens up a world of fascinating history (what may or may not be historically accurate is a discussion for another day), reveals the mindset, attitudes and worldviews of countless people, times and places and so much more. All that and it’s the most highly revered text by two world religions (Christianity and Judaism) and respected by Islam as well. And there are so many more reasons to love this book.

Recommendation

However, people manipulate the Bible every second of every day, striving to use it for their own purposes and designs. Now, I don’t have any problem with people reading the Bible and interpreting it after their theological fashion. I mean, hey, that’s religion for you and it’s part of the book’s beauty. However, that should remind us that the Bible can be made to say anything, and nearly any opinion can be plumbed from its cavernous depths. For that reason, we need to be careful and we need to read it ourselves. I encourage everyone to go get him or herself a copy of the Bible (the editions that have the most accurate translations are the Jewish Publication Society Edition and the New Revised Standard Version) and start reading from the beginning.

You’ll be amazed at what’s in there and at what’s not in there that people may have told you was – case in point, that the Temple was destroyed on the 9th of Av. Well, maybe no one told you that one but you’ll be surprised nonetheless. It’s a fascinating and wonderful book.

On Fun with the Bible days, we will look at some idea, theme, section or passage of the Bible and learn about it from a historical-critical perspective. That is, as scholars investigate it. We will leave our religious biases aside (though I do invite you to discuss your religion’s perspective on any particular theme or passage in the comments of the post) and try to learn about the Bible for what the Bible says (and we’ll add what archaeologists and historians have discovered as well). Then we’ll see how what we’ve discussed can be maintained as relevant today. Whether religious or secular I think you’ll have something to learn if you join me every Monday for Fun with the Bible. And generally posts won’t be as long as today’s.

I encourage you to send me your questions about the Bible or to recommend your favorite passages or themes for discussion. Email them to me at JaySolomon@thezenofsouthpark.com or just post them as comments. If you start reading the Bible on your own, I would be delighted to help you along with any places you get stuck or have questions about terms or anything else at all.

And remember, always read for yourself!

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