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Why Are the Books of the Bible Written So As To Conceal their Writers’ Identities?

I’ve started reading Meir Sternberg’s The Poetics of Biblical Narrative after hearing about it from Professor Atwood shortly before he left for Mongolia. It’s good. In chapter 2, he shows how similarly an ancient Rabbi and a modern Bible scholar reason in trying to establish authorship. Who wrote II Samuel? M. H. Segal says, after dismissing Ahimaaz and Abiathar,

“Clearly, the writer was one of David’s closest servants… This man was nobody but Jehoshafat ben Ahilud, who served both David and Solomon as their mazkir (recorder, II Samuel 8:16, I Kings 4:3)…”

Professor Sternberg says,

“Insiders need no telling that such idle speculation passes for scholarship in biblical circles, where it has long occupied a place of honor. (The phrase “higher criticism” was coined, in J. G. Eichhorn’s Einleitung in das Alte Testamente (1780-83), to distinguish and promote the inquiry into questions of authorship.) Indeed, this exercise in futility is worth lingering over only because it dramatizes a traditional will-o’the-wisp of source criticism. I have in mind the focus on the real writer (or writership) as a historical figure (or process) at the expense of the author or narrator as an artistic persona, or worse, the confusion of the two.

This line of inquiry has yielded over the centuries a prohibitive ratio of fantasies to findings, let alone explanations—and not for want of trying or ingenuity but of data on which to exercise them. …

Before casting about for answers, to start with, biblical geneticists (including the rabbis in their empirical vein) might have stopped to consider why answers are so hard to find. Biblical narrative exhibits such a rage for impersonality as must lead to the conclusion that its writers actively sought the cover of anonymity.”

Good stuff!

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