The Importance of Being Jacob

The story of Jacob in the book of Genesis (25:19) is one of the most important narratives in the entire bible but most people totally miss it.


Because they read the Bible literally – as if it were a record of history as it happened.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook said, in his work “The Pangs of Cleanings”:

“The tendency of unrefined people to see the divine essence as embodied in the words and in the letters alone is a source of embarrassment to humanity, and atheism arises as a pained outcry to liberate man from this narrow and alien pit, to raise him from the darkness of focusing on letters and expressions, to the light of thought and feeling, finally to place his primary focus on the realm of morals.”

Orot 124 Zeronim.


In this blog, I will argue Rav Kook’s point and show that the character of the Patriarch Jacob (Yaqub) in the book of Genesis was never meant to be understood as a historical character.

In fact, I will show that the fundamental components of the Jacob narrative echo the experiences of the Hebrew people as they evolved from their Canaanite roots in the shadow of the Egyptian empire.


The Story of Jacob: a summary.

Jacob and his twin brother, Esau, were born to the patriarchs, Isaac and Rebecca. From the beginning, the story sets up Esau – the first born – as the fall guy of the story. He is wild and uncultured. He is covered in red hair and likes to hunt, while Jacob lives in tents and is his mother’s favourite.

When his brother is starving, Jacob offers to buy his brother’s inheritance in exchange for food. Later, on the instruction of his (typically Jewish) mother, he tricks his father, Isaac, into giving him what is his brother’s rightful inheritance.

There then follows two remarkable events, which are commonly summed up in the following ways:

  1. Jacob wrestles with God and is given the name Israel.
  2. Jacob dreams of a ladder reaching up to heaven.

The rest of the story deals with his wives and his travels.

In the second part of this blog, “Jacob Vs. Jacob” we will discuss the two events above but for now, I would like to focus on the wider context of the greater Jacob narrative.



In order to grasp the intention of the original writer of this story, let’s examine the fundamental components of the character arc:

  1. The ages given for the main characters are ridiculously old. Jacob was 130 years old when he stood before Pharaoh and Isaac was 60 when Jacob was born.
  2. The characters are fantastical rather than descriptive – Esau is covered in red hair.
  3. The way that the characters behave is contrary to the morality expressed within the biblical ethos
  4. The characters are not driven by the events in the story but rather act as avatars for the sociopolitical ambitions of Judean elites.

It is evident then that the narrative was never intend to record history – as it happened. Nor was the story meant to offer the patriarchs as models of behaviour.

I would suggest that the ridiculous ages of the characters were inserted into the story specifically to prevent anyone from taking the story literally. Unfortunately, the writer may have under estimated the power of organised religion to create cognitive dissonance in the weak minded.


Jacob as Genetic Memory:

We know from contemporary records and the archaeology (See Professor Israel Finklestein’s book “The Forgotten Kingdom: The Archaeology and History of Northern Israel”)

That the Canaanites, which later become the Hebrew people, often migrated down to Egypt in times of famine and drought in the Southern Levant. In fact, we know from contemporary sources and the historian Josephus that during 16th and 17th century BCE the Hebrew people had taken control of a large part of Egypt, forming the Hyksos polity.

I suggest that the Jacob story acts as an avatar for the friction that would have existed between the Hebrew families living in Egypt and their relatives still living a pastoral life in the hills of the Southern Levant.

It seems evident that the character of Esau is a characterisation of the “Folks back home”. Uneducated, a little slow and somewhat uncouth compared to the educated and civilised Egyptian-Hebrews.


We know that “Yaqub (Jacob)-Har” was the name of a Hyksos king between 1750 and 1650 BCE. An earlier 18th century BCE cuneiform inscription reads Ya-ah-qu-ub-el (Jacob-el) so there is strong evidence that Jacob was a name familiar to the Egyptian-Hebrews and the name may have been linked to the Canaanite God “El” as far back as the 18th Century BCE.

Simcha Jacobovici suggested that king Yaqub-Har formed the pattern for the much later character of Jacob in the book of Genesis. He provided a signet ring found in Avaris, the Hyksos capital, as evidence. As usual, people have subsequently totally misrepresented what he said by interpreting the bible story literally.

In our next blog: “Jacob Vs. Jacob” we will examine the story in the context of the Elohist source and the possible synergy with the religious reforms of Pharaoh Akhenaten how the story is reflected in the teachings of the Jesus of History.

If you enjoyed this blog you might like to read, “The Evolution of the Bible

The Moses Scroll

The Evolution of the Bible

The earliest copy of the book of Deverim (Deuteronomy) is evidence of the evolution of the Bible. Why is that important?

For anyone who has not already watched our DocuVlog review of Professor Ross K. Nichols’ new book “The Moses Scroll”, go to our YouTube Channel and watch that HERE.

This short blog is designed to address the obvious question, “Why should we care?”

All three Abrahamic faiths, Christianity, Judaism and Islam, are based on a literal interpretation of the Bible – the belief that the Bible contains – word for word – the words of God.

Over the last two hundred years, many of the people in Western countries have become atheists in reaction against this religious literalism.

Unfortunately, the loss of God has proved a disaster for Western civilisation.


The Good News:

The existence of the Moses Scroll demonstrates that, in reality, the books of the Bible evolved with the Hebrew people. Those texts directly reflect the changing socio-political interests of powerful groups within the Judean elite and their need to control the Hebrew people through a manipulation of their beliefs.

In the text of Shapira’s scroll, we see a text largely without reference to the Judean God Yahweh from the Negev desert. He is only mentioned by the editor at the beginning and the end of the Book. This demonstrates the evolution of Elohist theology into the Yahwist and confirms the position that the Jesus of History took against Judean literalism. We know from Epiphanius of Salamis that the religious school to which the Jesus of History belonged (Nazareans) believed (as did the Essenes and the Samaritans) that the Judeans had forged the Bible.

Interestingly, the text does not contain the openly xenophobic tone of the later versions.

Like the teachings of the Jesus of History, the text is almost entirely concerned with our inner relationship with our selves and God.

In light of the Moses Scroll, we can say that the Hebrew Bible is a record of a people’s struggle to find God and themselves within a changing and challenging world. We must test our weight on each line, as a climber tests a handhold because each line may contain a profound spiritual insight or it might be the evidence of an ancient evil. Reading the Bible without first engaging our commonsense has and will lead to madness.

That being said, the Moses Scroll suggests that maybe the God that atheists don’t believe in never really existed.

If you enjoyed this blog you might like to read “Two Gods, Two Countries”

Same Sex Couples

Gay Jesus – Same Sex Couples in the Bible

Modern progressives, for various reasons, promote a gay Jesus and claim that he used same sex couples in his sermons. Some people go even further and suggest that Jesus condemned only Hebrew homosexuals but gave Romans a free pass.

Over the last few years, not a week goes by without someone asking us (The Jesus of History Project) “Is this true? Is there any evidence to support the claims that Jesus was Gay and taught about same sex couples?”

The problem is that these claims – Gay Jesus and Gays in the Bible – are often made by people who hold prestigious degrees from divinity schools and are themselves part of the clergy.

So is it true?

In order to answer the question let’s examine the evidence.

In Luke 17:34 and Matthew 24:40 both Gospel writers have their Christ character give a sermon, both versions of this sermon include the following Christological points:

  1. The rapture is imminent. The rapture is supposed to be the time when all those who believe in Christ will be magically transformed into heavenly beings. Unfortunately, it was supposed to occur within the lifetime of the people listening to his speech.
  2. Those who are to be saved and those who are condemned will be together, in close proximity, but one will be taken up to be with Christ and the other condemned.
  3. Both accounts, suggest that Christ (the Son of Man) will initiate the event and judge who is to be saved and who is to be condemned.

I will quote here the English translation of the oldest text – from the Codex Sinaiticus – from both Luke and then Matthew. I have expanded the quotes to include the narrative context.


Luke 17:22-34

22 But he said to his disciples: Days will come when you shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and shall not see it.

23 And they shall say to you: Lo here, lo there: go not after them nor follow them.

24 For as the lightning flashing out from one place under heaven shines to the other place under heaven, so shall the Son of man be in his day.

25 But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected by this generation.

26 And as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.

27 They were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were giving in marriage till the day on which Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed all.

28 Likewise as it was in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building;

29 but on the day in which Lot went out of Sodom, there rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed all.

30 So shall it be in the day in which the Son of man is revealed.

31 In that day he that shall be on the housetop, and his goods in the house, let him not come down to take them away; and he that is in the field let him likewise not turn back.

32 Remember Lot‘s wife.

33 Whoever shall seek to gain his life shall lose it: and whoever shall lose it shall save it alive.

34 I say to you, on that night there shall be two men lying on one couch: one shall be taken and the other left:

35 There shall be two women grinding together: the one shall be taken, but the other left.


Matthew 24:34-43

34 Verily I say to you, this generation shall not pass away till all these things take place.

35 Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.

36 But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of the heavens, nor the Son, but the Father only.

37 But as the days of Noah, so shall the coming of the Son of man be.

38 For as they were in the days that were before the flood, eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, till the day in which Noah entered the ark,

39 and knew not till the flood came and took them all away; so also shall the coming of the Son of man be.

40 Then shall two men be in the field, one shall be taken and one left:

41 Two women shall be grinding at the mill, one shall be taken and one left.

42 Watch therefore: for you know not in what day your Lord comes.



The first question that comes to mind is “Is this something that the Jesus of History would say?”

Those of you who have followed my work and have read my book “The True Sayings of Jesus” will know about the common source sayings (Q Source). If you haven’t had the chance yet, the Q Source refers to the core set of Hebrew sayings that we can tentatively attribute to the Jesus of History. They represent only 18% of the words attributed to Christ.

(Read more HERE about the search for the actual words of the Jesus of History.)

The Jesus of History had a vision of God that differed radically to that shared by the Pharisee movement. If you want to know more, get a copy of my book already!

The important thing to note is that he did not see himself as a God or anything more than just a man.

“Why call me good? There is none good but one! God!”
Mark 10:18, Matthew 19:17, Luke 18:19

The Jesus of History understood that God does not judge us:

“God sends his sun on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
Matthew 5:45

He did not believe that he was a judge in any sense of the word:

“Who made me a judge over you?”
Luke 12:14


Preliminary conclusion:

It is obvious therefore; that whoever spoke those three phrases above did not give the two sermons in Luke 17:22 or Matthew 24:40.

Those three sayings above – from the Q Source – enshrine a philosophy that is the exact opposite to the idea of God judging us based on faith rather than volition (what you choose to do). If we assume that the Jesus of History was sane, he could not have made both statements above and the sermon on two women grinding.

So if the Jesus of History didn’t give the sermon about two women grinding, who did?


Textual Detectives: Who gave this sermon?

It was Saint Paul who taught the dogma of the rapture and the judgement of his Christ. It was Saint Paul who taught that Christ would return within Paul’s lifetime to judge those who are alive and those who are dead. When those people who believed in Paul’s radical message would be taken up to heaven.

Evidence that suggests Paul did it:

“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also those that have fallen asleep, will God through Jesus bring with him.

15 For this we say to you in the word of the Lord, that we, the living, who remain over to the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those that have fallen asleep;

16 because the Lord himself, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, shall descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ shall arise first;

17 then we, the living, who remain over, shall, together with them, be caught away in clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we always be with the Lord.”

1 Thessalonians 4:14


Second Preliminary conclusion:

I won’t bore you with too many textual examples here as I think it is obvious exactly whose words the Gospel writers were copying into their Gospels.

So if the sermon of the two women grinding was from Saint Paul, was Saint Paul teaching about same sex couples and a Gay Jesus?


Textual evidence for same sex couples in the two sermons on women grinding:

Gay Men:

Well, Luke says that two men will be lying on a couch (Klinè – Strong’s Greek 2825 – often this word is translated as “Bed” but that it is incorrect – Kliné actually means pallet, stretcher or couch) so people have jumped on the image of two men in one bed or on the same couch and suggest that they must have been Gay, but when you read the text in Greek, it is obvious that is not what the text is implying.

In the first century Southern Levant all civilized people ate whilst reclining, which is where we get the name Recline (From the Greek word Kliné). (Find out more HERE)

It is obvious from the text that the entire point of the narrative was the proximity of the two men, not their activity. In Matthew’s example, two men are working in a field and in Luke they are eating. It is only our modern obsession with all things homosexual that suggests that there is anything more than that to the story.

Two Men on a couch

Gay Women:

The next line that Luke includes tells us that two women will be grinding (“Alaytho” Strong’s Greek 229) at the same place. Again the Gay lobby have jumped on this line to suggest that the two women were lesbians (“Grinding!!!” Get it?) But if Luke had intended to describe a sexual act he would not have felt the need to add “in the same place” so that connection is a little weak. (However, please note that the Hebrew word for “Grind” is a metaphor for sex but just because a word has a secondary meaning as a metaphor that doesn’t change its primary meaning – otherwise it would no longer be a metaphor!)

In  Matthew’s Gospel, it is clear that the Greek word “Alaytho” (Grinding) is used to describe grinding grain as the writer adds “at the millstone.”

So where does that leave us? When we actually read the Gospel of Matthew in Greek the whole issue becomes clearer – the two men were in a field and the two women were grinding at the mill.

Women Grinding


As you have seen, it is obvious that the Jesus of History did not give the sermon on same sex couples. This is a perfect example of how Saint Paul’s words were often put into the mouth of Christ by the Gospel writers and it would be easy to just dismiss the issue as an example of Christian fanaticism – both then and now.

But, what of us, in this modern world, how are we any different? Once again people are trying to put words into the mouth of the Jesus of History in order to justify their own agenda.

And that would be fine but for the fact that yet again the words of the Jesus of History are being ignored.

Ironically, it is those words – the words of the Jesus of History – which enshrine clarity – a holistic philosophy – that offers us a way to re-balance our lives from within – without the need to judge each other. Maybe it’s time that we gave the Jesus of History a chance to speak for himself.

If you found this blog interesting, you might like to read this BLOG.

If you prefer to watch videos, don’t miss our DocuVlog “Was Jesus Gay”

Cuneiform Tablet

Are there two Gods in the Bible?

There is a question that has been waiting for an answer for two thousand years. “How many Gods are in the Bible?” It is one of the most common questions in Bible or Torah class. Any one with even a rudimentary grip of language comprehension would be forced to conclude there is certainly more than one God described.

Ultimately, the Bible is just a book. It is a compilation of lots of stories and God is just a character in the story. Like any long running television series, it is vital that the characters are true to themselves.

Ian Fleming is 007

Another famous fictional character is James Bond. Commander James Bond has been played as a Scottish psychopath, and as a smooth English gentleman. David Niven even played him as a comedian. The author, Ian Fleming, based some of the character’s tastes on himself but much of the character’s flare is based on the men with whom Ian Fleming served during the war. No matter how much the producers changed the character to suit popular fashion the men on whom the story was based remained the same.

Whatever you believe God to be, when God is a character in a book, he is a product of the writer’s imagination. The character of God is dependent on the writer’s ability to interpret what he is thinking into words. How those men interpreted God was also dependent on their own cultural history and the demands of the moment. What were they trying to achieve with that story. Before I offend anyone, it is important to remember that none of these stories actually affects God.

Broken Tablets

Long before the Kingdom of Judah came into existence, there was Israel. The word Isra’EL means ‘May El Preserve’. The original capital of the Kingdom of Israel was Shechem just between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea to the west of the Jordan.

In Genesis 35 God says to Jacob, ‘Arise, go up to Beth-El and dwell there’. We can assume from that reference that the ‘House of God (El)’ was in a high place. El-Shaddai (El of the Mountain).

What we know of El comes from Ugarit clay tablets written in Cuneiform (northwest Semitic) by the Amorites. El is known as ‘The Creator of all living things’ and ‘The Compassionate’. He was also often represented by a bull.

It seems likely to me that the tablets, which Moses broke, may have been made of clay rather than stone, as this was the most popular writing material at this time. There certainly seems to be some parallels here that should be explored.

The Serpent Staff

In Genesis 35:14 Jacob worships El by pouring wine and olive oil on the pillar of stone he had set up as an altar. It is important to note that the worship of El at this point did not involve sacrifice. Pillars are not very good for slaughtering animals on.

When the later Judean kings destroy what they call ‘idolatry’ it is the worship of El that they are destroying. The groves and high places where the people offered incense and libations, the Serpent Staff that God had given to Moses, all of these things were destroyed by the Judeans. Namely Hezekiah the son of Ahaz (2 Kings 18:4) and Josiah.

So most independent Biblical and Torah Scholars agree that ‘El’ was the first God of the Jewish people.

Yahweh on the other hand came later and took over the popular places of worship. Just as Christianity took over pagan sites and now Islam takes over buildings that were once popular churches, this process seems to be common to all cultural appropriation and religious atrophy.

Marduk and his Dragon

Many of the characteristics of Yahweh are the same as the Babylonian God, Marduk and his Dragon. Like Marduk, Yahweh is a God of anger and judgement. He, like Yahweh, is a duel God of both ultimate good and evil. Yahweh is a God of sacrifice and blood. He was also the God of storms and of vegetation. One moment he might bless the people and the next, on a whim, he would destroy them. This calls to mind (Exodus 4:24) the Yahwist insertion into the Elohist story of Moses with Yahweh’s sudden decision to kill Moses for no apparent reason. Zipporah, the Midianite wife of Moses has to sacrifice her son’s foreskin to save her husband’s life. (Handy girl that!)

I personally suspect that it was Hezekiah who introduced the worship of the Babylonian version of Yahweh into Judah and I’m still researching that point. Eventually the identity of the Gods became blurred and the name Yahweh was inserted over the Elohist stories until it became hard to tell them apart. Reading the Hebrew, I’ve noticed you can often see that the insertion of Yahweh is quite superfluous. Usually, it is obvious that the person is talking about God (Elohim) and there is no need to insert Yahweh. I’m no expert in Hebrew. (Read Dr. Steven DiMattei’s excellent blog for stronger references.)


So we have seen that there are clearly two fictional characters described in the Torah who could be called ‘God’. The characters of the two Gods were originally very different and it is often possible to see that difference in the context and meaning of the source stories. Obviously, both of these characters are expressions of the people who created the original stories. Stories are dependent on the writer’s skill and the ability of the reader to understand the cultural references and language of the writer.

The problem with the writers of the New Testament is that, except for James the Just, they were not Jewish. Paul was either a Hellenised Jew who knew nothing of his own culture or a convert. They misunderstood translation and cultural references and garbled the Tanakh. There is no basis in the Torah for the idea of the Trinity. The historical Jesus never said that he was the ‘Son of God’ in the Greek sense and Genesis makes no provision for this concept. The Holy Ghost beloved by Paul was his misunderstanding of the concept of the Shekhinah. Most independent Biblical Scholars all agree that it took the Gentile Church three hundred years to come up with the idea of the Trinity. No matter what intellectual yoga you want to go through the idea is purely Greek paganism.

More Gods

So through the Bible there are different Gods described, and as the Gentile Christians appropriated the Torah and Tanakh and bolted it onto their own Gospels, even more Gods were added.

None of this affects the nature of God and in themselves these stories tell us little of any use about God. Mostly these stories tell us more about the people who wrote them. Just as the fictional character of James Bond tells us nothing about Patick Dalzel-Job, Wilfred (Biffy) Dunderdale, or indeed Peter Fleming.

It doesn’t affect God

Ultimately, our minds create phantoms and then our ego will invest our belief in our own projections and make fools of us. Just as men dying of thirst in the desert will argue over a mirage, none of these visions IS God. They may or may not reflect the vision of God held by the writer in that time and place.

If you are looking for God on paper then I suggest you might be looking in the wrong place. Whether you see God as one or three, your concepts do not affect God so don’t take yourself too seriously.

I will leave you with a quote from Rav Abraham Kook, of blessed memory. “The tendency of unrefined people to see the divine essence as embodied in the words and in the letters alone is a source of embarrassment to humanity, and atheism arises as a pained outcry to liberate man from this narrow and alien pit, to raise him from the darkness of focusing on letters and expressions, to the light of thought and feeling, finally to place his primary focus on the realm of morals. Atheism has a temporary legitimacy, for it is needed to purge away the aberrations that attached themselves to religious faith because of a deficiency in perception and in the divine service. This is its sole function in existence…”

If you enjoyed this Blog, then you might like: My God is Better than Yours and Was the Jesus of History a God?

Dr Steven DiMattei website

Non-Fiction – ‘The True Sayings of Jesus: The Jesus of History Vs. The Christ Myth

The True Sayings of Jesus

What is the Bible

Dr Steven DiMattei asks “What is the Bible?”

Dr Steven DiMattei writes:

What do we mean when we ask ‘What is the Bible?’

TorahThink about it for a moment. Think about the question, about what the question might already assume or take for granted. Think about the ways in which we might respond to such a question, about the assumptions or predispositions we might harbor that would influence our response prior to actually examining and studying the biblical text itself.

For instance, is what I as a biblical scholar mean by this question the same as someone whose relationship to the text is defined by their faith? Should it be different? How exactly does one, or should one, go about answering our question in the first place? Might one’s faith or inherent presuppositions about the text prematurely prescribe what the response ought to be, prior to actually investigating the biblical text on its own terms? In other words, have we as individuals, faith communities, a culture, already imposed a predefined answer to the question ‘what is the Bible?’ that is rather based on what the Bible means to us as individuals and faith communities?

Aren’t the questions ‘what is the Bible?’ and ‘what does the Bible mean?’ two different questions? Wouldn’t the latter question elicit a subjective response, that is one that is defined by its subject, in this case the reader or hearer of the text?

Does this have anything to do with what the Bible is on an objective level? That is, does not one question focus on understanding the Bible from the perspective of its subjects, what it means to its readers (real or implied); while the other question focuses on understanding the Bible from the object of study itself, namely the biblical text and what it reveals about its own compositional nature—what it is independent of what the text has come to mean to its vast and divergent readership? And how are we to distinguish between ‘what the Bible is’ and ‘what the Bible means’? If it’s a given that the Bible means something to us as a culture, as individuals, then have we not already prematurely answered the question ‘what is the Bible?’ with the response appropriate to ‘what does the Bible mean?’ Could, in fact, what the Bible means to a particular individual, community, or culture be completely different than, or even at odds with, what the Bible actually is? What if this turns out to be the case?

As we can see, the question ‘what is the Bible?’ is more complex than would initially appear. The questions above were meant to get us thinking about not only the complexities behind our query, but more so the assumptions and predispositions that we might unconsciously harbor that would influence our responses. In other words, we must distinguish objective responses (what the Bible tells us about itself and its compositional nature) from subjective responses (what the Bible means or is with respect to its readership). Our aim should be to provide an objective response to our query: what do the biblical texts themselves reveal about what the Bible is? Yet before we embark on this discovery, there are other preliminaries to ponder.

What was the Bible before the Bible was?

ThomasIndependently written texts and traditions, to answer this section’s question directly. We will return to this topic later, but presently we need to get our heads around the word “Bible” and all that it implies and invokes. For instance, the question ‘what is the Bible?’ already presupposes the existence of the Bible. But the Bible itself is composed of texts that were all created and written before there ever was a Bible. So what is our question really asking? What are the textual components of what later generations came to label “the Bible”? Or are we talking about what the word “Bible” means or signifies, or what the label “Bible” implies or imposes as an interpretive framework upon these earlier once separate texts?

In other words, how exactly does this later label, “the Bible,” which means “Book,” affect our reading and understanding of these earlier, once separate, texts? Is what is implied and invoked through the term “Bible”—”Book”—something different than what were the once independent scrolls and codices that are now book-ended together under this label? Does the word or concept associated with “Bible” impose a different interpretive understanding of what the Bible is than an examination of the individual biblical texts before there was a Bible? Is, therefore, the question ‘what is the Bible?’ asking us what this collection of texts as a “book” means and implies? Or, is the question asking us about the texts that were before the Bible was, their authors, their audiences, and the historical circumstances that prompted these texts to be written in the first place?

Apparently then, the question ‘what is the Bible?’ already prejudices and presupposes a biased answer through that which is already taken as an unquestioned given in the question itself: namely that our question is posed to, and of, a Book! Since Bible means “Book” our question already presupposes we are dealing with a Book, and therefore dealing with what this label means and implies when applied to an earlier assortment of independent texts. But isn’t this a different query than enquiring about the nature of the biblical texts themselves before there was a Bible? One query implies its object of study is a “book”—itself a subjective label, a label applied as a result of a particular readership’s understanding and perception of these texts—while the other implies its objects of study are the once separate texts and traditions which were independently written over a period of roughly 1,000 years, by varying authors, and under diverse historical circumstances and religious and political convictions, before they were co-opted by a later generation of readers as part of this so-called “Book.”

We know that the Bible as we have it was not formed until the  3rd century AD, and largely under a Christian interpretive agenda. Would our answer to the question ‘what is the Bible?’ be the same or similar to that of a culture or community which existed before there was a Bible? In other words, is what the Bible is the same as what the Bible’s many scrolls (or biblia, “books”) were or meant to pre-biblical communities? What if we were hypothetically to ask a community of Hellenistic Jews living circa the dawn of the common era what were the scrolls that they were reading—commonly know as ‘the (scroll of the) law and the (scrolls of the) prophets’—do you think their response would be similar to our response to the question ‘what is the Bible’? Should it be? What about the ascetic Jews living at Qumran who were frantically copying and safeguarding numerous scrolls (deemed both canonical and non-canonical by later communities), would they respond similarly? Or what about the Judean Jews (the educated scribes and Levites) living in the 5th-4th centuries BC who actually collected, codified, and authenticated as scripture the texts and traditions that now make up ‘the scroll(s) of the law of Moses,’ the Torah—would they respond similarly? The question ‘what is the scroll of the law of Moses?’ cannot possibly invoke the same response, nor mean the same thing, as ‘what is the Bible?’ with its additional 61 books, different agendas, different audiences, and different expressed political and religious concerns and beliefs. Could it? Should it? What if we moved even further back in time, to the actual authors of the texts and traditions that later became collected together and labeled as “the Bible”?

To the Levite priest writing a scroll in the 7th century BC that will become the core of the book of Deuteronomy: What was the text that he was writing and to whom? This is certainly not the Bible! nor even envisioned as part of what almost 10 centuries later will be labeled “the Bible” by vastly different people, for vastly different audiences, and to address vastly different concerns and beliefs. What about this Levite priest’s rival, the Aaronide priest writing a century or two later (6th-5th c. BC), who most probably was writing a scroll—now the book of Leviticus and a large portion of Numbers—to replace the scroll of his Levite predecessor and to denounce the claims written therein: would these two priestly schools have responded similarly to what they thought was the scroll they were writing? Is this the same as ‘what is the Bible?’ Or, what of the chronicler (the author of the books of Chronicles), who, living in the 4th century BC, rewrote the ‘history’ of Israel as preserved in the earlier books of Samuel and Kings in order to have ‘history’ now represent and address the chronicler’s own religious concerns, beliefs, and worldview—what did he think were the scrolls that he was writing? And what were the scrolls that he saw himself replacing? Are these all to be answered with the same response as ‘what is the Bible’?

We could go on like this citing many more examples and we have not even addressed the New Testament authors, many of whom dramatically changed the parameters of what is or what was becoming the Bible. Furthermore, the Bible itself, as it was formed, even preserves variant responses to our question ‘what is the Bible’? To take one example out of many: Paul’s dispute with his Jewish brethren as depicted in his letter to the Galatians (circa 54-56 AD) is not only one centered around the reinterpretation of the figure of Abraham, but the whole ‘biblical’ story. Paul’s hypothetical answer to the question ‘what is the law and the prophets?’ (since the Bible was still not created) would have not only clashed with the Judean church’s response (as depicted in the Galatian debate), but also with the responses from the chronicler, our 7th century BC Levite priest, the author of the book of Ezekiel, and even of Isaiah, although Paul cites this text to support his gospel (reading Isaiah through a new interpretive lens). These examples can be duplicated hundreds of times.

Dr Steven DiMatteiWhat becomes apparent from this brief survey is that the modern response to ‘what is the Bible?’ is not at all equivalent to asking about the nature of each of its independent texts before the Bible was? In other words, what the Bible is for our modern culture is vastly different from what the scroll that would become the book of Leviticus was to its author and community, and this example can be duplicated hundreds of times when we look at the texts that eventually became the Bible independently and on their own terms. What the Bible is, therefore, cannot be reduced to an interpretive framework imposed by later generations of readers, but must be answered with respect to the pre-biblical texts themselves, each of which were written independently to address the specific needs, concerns, and beliefs of specific communities living in different geo-political worlds and time periods.


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More from the Jesus of History regarding the evolution of the Bible HERE