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A Low View of the Scriptures: Old Testament

(with eventual likely extension to the New Testament too, I fear.)
David Alexander
December 2009

Between 600 and 300 B.C.E., in the Persian Empire, the literati belonging to a sect of essentially
monotheistic Zoroastrian Puritans assembled their history, laws and theology. They used bits of 1)
Babylonian legend, law and literature, 2) Egyptian, Assyrian, and Babylonian histories, 3) Semitic
camp-fire stories and 4) Priestly codes. These materials became the core of the Torah, which came into
the basic form we have today at about that time.1 Hymns, poems, collections of wisdom statements
and tales, and other materials accreted to this core, but were regarded as of secondary status.

The group lived in their own territory, governing themselves under the watchful eye of a local satrap,
but without much direct interference from by the imperial government.2 Since their scriptures did not
include an entry to Canaan (the Torah ends with Numbers, east of the Jordan), they explained their
continued sojourn in the “east” where they located their ancestors Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah,
Jacob, Leah and Rachel, by various means. Through these ancestral tales they maintained the belief
that the land that God had promised to them lay in the “west”, across the Jordan.

Then an opportunity presented itself. The Canaanite lands in the west of the empire fell under Persian
control and became available for colonization. If the entire community, or at least a significant number
of these monotheists, could go there, a “homeland” could be theirs. Far from the imperial center, they
would be free to develop as a society, religious community, and political entity. To gain the rights to
emigrate, to control territory and tax people under the authority of a western satrap, the leaders
obtained an imperial edict. To motivate their people to make the trek and subdue any who dwelt in the
territory intended for colonization, they needed a history.

A second generation of literati went to work, scavenging Assyrian, Babylonian, Chaldean and
Egyptian histories, digging deeper into Semitic folklore, and incorporating more developed
monotheistic ideas into what has become known as Deuteronomistic history.3 This corpus included a
previous entry into Canaan, sovereign rule of the territory, tales of princes, kings and prophets (Elijah,
Elisha, et. al.) and books of prophecy, culminating with Jeremiah. Equipped with the imperial edict,
treasure from the backers of the enterprise, a colonial charter and a freshly minted history, some set
out. Others followed later. The new colony was settled, the local people were subdued, and the local
politicians bought off or intimidated into submission.

Konrad Schmid “Late Persian Formation of the Torah: Observations on Deuteronomy 34” in Lipschits,
Knoppers & Albertz, eds. Judah and Judeans in the Fourth Century B.C.E. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2007. pp
237-251. See Also Steven S. Tuell, First and Second Chronicles, Louisville: Jonh Knox Press, 2001. p.10.
M. J. Dresden, “Persia” in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Nashville, Abindgdon, 1963. p. 742.
Anthony F. Campbell and Mark A. O’Brien, Unfolding the Deuteronomistic History: Origins, Upgrades,
Present Text. Minneapolis, Fortress, 2000 pp. 1-37.
After a few generations, though, the Deuteronomistic History, suitable for a colonizing expedition,
proved insufficient for a settled population. Reverting to the tradition of manufacturing histories and
ancient documents as needed, a later generation of literati went to work. The Chronicles, Ezra and
Nehemiah were born.4

More “ancient prophecy” was added to support the claims of the governors of the settled colony and to
bolster such history as had been created anew and presented to the peoples (both the original Persian
immigrants and the local residents of what came to be known as Judea). Hymns, wisdom statements,
poems and other materials typical of religious and cultic life grew in number. Some were added to the
“scriptures” and others were not.

Time passed, things changed, later needs were met with new “ancient” documents produced by seers,
singers, lawyers, liars, poets and priests. These included things like Daniel, Haggai, Zechariah and

Where was God in all of this?… in, under, behind and through all of it. God inspired the writers of the
stories, even as God’s inspiration was in, under, behind and through the stories and parables that Jesus
composed on the spot and told to the people.

Because no nation, people or ethnos is perfect, God chose a people who were “good enough to start
with as raw material.” Because no religion is perfect, so God chose one that was moldable. It was not
necessarily better than the others in the world, but neither was it worse.

God sits on high and guides us mercifully. Errant children that we are, God is amused by our feeble
antics which pretend to be high religion, saddened by our willful ignorance and active sin against what
is manifestly righteous, and moved to intervene in our history to save creation from the inhumanity of
humanity. God comes among us in Jesus Christ, who is far beyond our minds’ grasp yet became one of
us. The maker of heaven and earth, the cosmos and all that fills it, takes on the sin of the world and
clears the way for us to slip the surly bonds of Earth, put out our hands, and touch the face of God.5

Jacob M. Myers, I Chronicles The Anchor Bible, New York: Doubleday, 1965. p. xxx.
John Gillespie Magee, “High Flight”, More Poems from the Forces, 1943

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