The most authoritative source of all knowledge in the universe (yes, I am speaking of Wikipedia) says of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament):
Few scholars today doubt that it reached its present form in the Persian period (538-332 BC), and that its authors were the elite of exilic returnees who controlled the Temple at that time. Article here.
It’s true. I know a few scholars who doubt that the writers of the pentateuch were elite members of those who returned from the exile.
Quite a few.
Very many, in fact.
The notes in my Study Bible say pretty much the opposite of Wikipedia:
… Moses should be looked to as the original human author. … a number of features in the text look like clarifications for a later age. But this is quite different from supposing that the Pentateuch was essentially composed at a later age [this is what Wikipedia says “most” scholars believe].
This quote is from p. 37 of the ESV Study Bible who’s main editors include PhDs from Oxford and Cambridge. The author of this particular passage, Gordan Wenham, received his PhD from King’s College, University of London.
So, why am I making this point?
Well, I arrived at the book of Numbers today. There are a lot of numbers in Numbers. I forced myself to read through the first chapter where one paragraph is repeated 12 times with variations only in one name and one number. Did I cheat and skim? You bet I did!
But as I read, it occurred to me: Who would make this stuff up?
I mean, who would go to the trouble of writing up all these incredibly detailed accounting facts several centuries after the alleged census? Or just making it all up? What would be the point? What would anyone gain from such tedious fabrication? It’s not like they could cut and paste all those paragraphs in MS Word, either.
The only thing that makes sense is that a census occurred back in Moses’ day. And someone took notes then and there.
The same goes for the New Testament. Really, what benefit would Mark get from quoting this response to the gentile woman who asked Jesus to exorcise her daughter’s demon:
Jesus told the woman, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs [speaking of gentiles]…” Mark 7:27 (NCV)
I mean, this quote doesn’t seem to show Jesus in his best light. And it will probably not win any friends in the Roman and Greek communities.
Then, of course, Jesus heals the woman’s daughter – a gentile’s daughter. Mark’s not making any points with the Jewish community, either.
So what benefit does Mark gain at all from this story? Why would he make it up?
I love how my readings sometimes work together to encourage me. And it does encourage me to remember that I am reading a story that’s often stranger than fiction… yet true.
Numbers 1:1-2:34, Psalm 29:10-11, Proverbs 10:266-29, Mark 7:24-37. See About for what I’m up to with these daily posts.