Conclusion and summary
The Hebrew Bible underwent a long period of elaboration and redaction extending over many centuries before finally achieving canonical status in the first and second centuries CE. It was an extraordinarily long period of gestation and along the way the text mutated according to the social and environmental circumstances it experienced. Much of what occurred is now lost in the mists of time, but we can at least focus on one event as being instrumental in the formulation of the finished product: the Babylonian exile. This was a defining experience, leading not only to much retrospective embellishment of the text and the merging of once separate traditions, but containing also the projection of interpretative prophecies from the mystical past into the present with the object of providing an explanation as to why all this had come about. <span “font-size:12.0pt;font-family:”times=”” roman”,serif;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;mso-ansi-language:en-us;mso-fareast-language:=”” en-us;mso-bidi-language:ar-sa”=””>As a result, the captivity in Babylon is portrayed as a prophecy, and as a punishment for the faithful’s idolatry and disobedience to Yahweh, similar to the biblical presentation of the Israelite slavery in Egypt. <span “font-size:12.0pt;font-family:”times=”” roman”,serif;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;mso-ansi-language:en-us;mso-fareast-language:=”” en-us;mso-bidi-language:ar-sa”=””>As elaborated upon earlier in the text, it was during the exile that the Sabbath came to acquire a significance, as did the synagogue, the penitential prayer, and circumcision (a sign of the Covenant). The originally Canaanite festivals of Passover, Weeks and Tabernacles were recast and retrospectively converted into remembrances of the liberation from Egypt. The Jews, thinking of themselves as the Holy Seed and purified by their experience, returned from Babylon bringing in settlers to settle the land. They reconstituted their identity in the light of their traditions, the Torah was written and assumed a central role in their life, religious practice was centralised, intermarriage with foreigners forbidden and the sacred canon of the Hebrew Bible is about their survival.
The historical-critical method of analysis employed in this analysishas involved reading the text as the product of an elite group passing from one elite community to another, and being interpreted and reinterpreted according to the circumstances and standards of the time. With the forensic tools and evidentiary techniques we now have at our disposal, this has involved subjecting the text to some degree of scrutiny and critical analysis in order to identify changes which may have been made in earlier versions now lost or altered along the way by anonymous scribes who have long since faded from our view.
There are those who take the view that subjecting the text to this degree of scrutiny has damaged the religious dimension of the Bible, leading to an undermining of faith, and that an uncritical reading which fosters faith is to be preferred. For commentators such as Brevard Child, for example, the Masoretic Text is the authoritative text regardless of what occurred during the long process of finalisation along the way. But does this not involve substituting the work of one authoritative elite for another, and why should the faithful be destined to remain forever blind and deluded about the stages and processes through which the text has developed and progressed to its final stages?
On the other hand, the historical- critical approach is not perfect either. As Dr Glover says, the crisis of interpreting the Hebrew Bible, if there be one, must be considered in the context of a general crisis of faith in historical inquiry. Can we ever recover the past? The very nature of human inquiry is always subjective, and history and archaeology are strongly interpretative disciplines. So are we actually recovering the past or creating it?
The benefit of the historical-critical approach is that once written, the text is there for us and future generations to read and interpret in different social settings according to our own experiences and the standards of our time. Another generation may be able to express views the writers of previous communities were unable or unwilling to. The text stands forever open to analysis, interpretation and reinterpretation. Its social and political implications are then constantly read and analysed by the reader in the context of his or her present, and the questions to be asked are those which derive from the present.
The Hebrew Bible has undergone a long process of development, and is replete with many metaphors, myths and symbols. It is difficult to resist the conclusion that it should be read, considered and interpreted critically just like any other piece of literature. Nor, for those that possess it, should faith necessarily be a casualty as the result.