July 27 | Biblical criticism

Who Wrote the Bible? Introduction to Biblical criticism

No book in human history has had its authorship contested – and no book has had as much at stake — as the Bible.  All major religions hinge, to one degree or another, on the Divinity of the Bible. Namely, that it was dictated by God and written by Moses. For centuries, people generally accepted that. But at the end of the seventeenth century, that began to change. 

Scholars and novices alike voiced questions about the nature of the text, and broader questions about the very nature of authorship have since entered the conversation as well. What does it mean to be an author? If we were to look at our own lives as a text, is it coherent? Should it be? Maybe life is made up of multiple strands, orientations, stages, that have been stitched together. Does that preclude the notion of having an underlying narrative that animates the text of our lives? Join 18Forty, as we think about Biblical criticism, and these questions, together. 

Why are we exploring Biblical criticism and who will we be talking to? Read on.

Why Talk About Dangerous Topics? 

Curious readers may wonder – why journey into such weighty, contentious territory? Why not stay in safer waters? Might this not hurt one’s faith? To think through this question, we have to think about the choice – or perhaps the perspective – of faith. 

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., who served as the Associate Justice on the Supreme Court, is often quoted as saying that  “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Faith can be simple; faith can be complicated. And perhaps it can be both: there might be a faith on this side of complexity, and a faith on the other side of complexity. One can value the faith on each side of complexity – the texture and merit of a simple faith uninfluenced by the intellectual challenges to faith, as well as the value of a faith hard-earned after engagement with challenge. 

 Victor Frankl put the question of risk in faith best: 

“There is always an element of risk involved in faith. One may spend one’s entire life believing, yet God may remain silent and the loneliness of the soul may never be healed on this earth. Then to affirm that God is “silent in His love” is the highest creative commitment of which a man may be capable. The element of risk is the source of tension that keeps the act of faith forever young. Because of the risk one has to believe every day anew, one has to affirm again and again. Therein lies the essential significance of faith.” 

Engaging in conversations around uncomfortable topics is one way to keep one’s faith “forever young,” as Frankl puts it. Faith is an act of courage, and the vulnerability of faith is a testament to the strength of faith – not to its weakness. This month, 18Forty will be thinking about an area of faith that is vulnerable for some, empowering for others, and will do so with insight and perspective about the dangers and possibilities that such conversations pose to faith. 

This Month in 18Forty: Who You Need to Know

Headshot of Joshua BermanJoshua Berman: Rabbi Dr. Joshua Berman is a professor of Bible in Bar-Ilan University, and the author of many books on Biblical criticism and the nature of Jewish belief. His most recent book, Ani Maamin: Biblical Criticism, Historical Truth, and the Thirteen Principles of Faith, is a learned and thoughtful journey through the most pressing questions that face religious readers of the Torah.  Tune in for erudition, scholarship, and sensitivity. (Podcast episode available August 4.) 




Headshot of Sara Susswein TeslerSara Susswein Tesler: Sara has taught classes on Tanach to high school and post-high school students, and brings to 18Forty her insight into the ways conversations around Biblical criticism and scholarship can take place in the classroom. Sara has thought critically about teaching these tense topics, and her voice from the classroom is an important contribution to the discussion around the dangers and opportunities of Biblical scholarship. (Podcast episode available August 11.) 




Headshot of Gil StudentGil Student: Gil Student is many things. Rabbi, actuary, and editor, he is best known for his online writing, first in the form of Hirhurim, and then Torah Musings. He has written about a wide array of topics, including Biblical criticism, and is a learned and passionate commentator on issues large and small. He brings to his conversation with 18Forty the insight of a life spent in deep engagement with Jewish ideas and beliefs, free from any one label or box. (Podcast episode available August 18.) 


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