Traditioning

There has been in modern times a serious perspective change or paradigm shift in studying the Scripture. This is not simply a hermeneutical retelling or re-interpreting of what we in Christendom have always known as the “Word of God.” This is a major re-evaluation claiming that biblical literature is a man-made work produced over a series of redactions by sources unknown to provide the masses—you and me—with a well-thought out religious ritual designed to give us a standard set of traditions and rules for life and conduct.

This began with a proposed theory known as the “Documentary Hypothesis” [1878] which theorized that

“the Torah [is] a series of successive ‘documents’ … each of which reflected a particular mode of Israel’s religion. … The hypothesis was an attempt…to understand the complex traditioning process evident in the text itself. … [Scholarship] called attention to the artistic, imaginative dimension of the material that could not be regarded in any scientific way as “history.” [Brueggmann 2012, 38]

So if the Torah is not history, neither could Moses be or as Breuggmann sees it:

“This does not mean that Moses was the “author” of this literature in any modern sense of authorship, but that the literature claims the unrivaled authority of this character in the tradition. [Brueggmann 2012, 36]

Professor Devers, a well respected archeologist sums this up for us:

“The whole ‘Exodus-Conquest’ cycle of stories must now be set aside as largely mythical, but in the proper sense of the term ‘myth’: perhaps ‘historical fiction,’ but tales told primarily to validate religious beliefs” [Dever 2001, 121]

If the exodus story is not historical and Moses is a fictional character, does the bible lose accreditation as God’s message of grace and salvation? The message of the prophets and the writings (the poetry of the Old Testament) as well as the New Testament itself are all built on this record! It gets easier to scorn the text and ridicule the account as man-made fiction. [But the big miracle we cannot give away in debate is Jesus’ resurrection on the first Easter Sunday. I trust you agree!]

Brueggmann and Dever are not attempting to discredit our faith in the inspiration of the scriptures. In fact in a gentle but scholarly way they are bringing to our attention this “shift’ in how our bible is read. Unfortunately, this rethinking of the value of the scriptures is well-accepted and now considered the clear front runner in biblical studies.

The only problem here is that there’s something wrong with this picture. Subtile comments and a slight of nuance (a slight of tongue in disbelief) and—wallah!—our faith is tainted and compromised. ..And we didn’t even see it coming. While we struggle in a civilized world to keep faith alive, in parts of the, so-called, third world they are finding God every bit as real as we once did! This is something that should figured into our figuring.

Professor Brueggmann endorses this “non-historical” approach to Bible truth. But he thinks the “documentary hypothesis” may have run its course. Although we see some astute observations buried in that mindset, he cautions against a carte-blanch acceptance of its implications. He accepts the idea that the Torah may not have flowed directly from the pen of Moses but the traditions may still be considered providentially Mosaic and promoted to written form after the Babylonian exile. He calls this the “canonical” method. To him, the Word is, therefore, inspired. He calls this process of collecting traditions for publication as “traditioning” (a word, I think, he invented). He credits the authors of the various books with an active “human imagination” going so far as to credit some unknown author with——among other things—the design of the Tabernacle made after Solomon’s Temple. He calls this a “human ideology,” that is to say, someone other than Moses dreamed up the Jewish religion from which Paul derived so much figurative truth about our salvation.

I am personally not ready to say all this. My studies over the decades—and primarily most recently—still leave the door open to believe in a plenary theory of inspiration [every word is inspired] that endorses a large part of the “Word” as true history. Even ideologies are made of “words” and if we maintain that the hand of God was behind the formation of our Bible, we most definitely must be looking closely at the wording.

 

And although Dever regrettably informed us,

“To everyone’s frustration, new [archeological] data brought more questions than answers. In fact, no one has ever found any archeological evidence for the Exodus…” [William Dever. Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? (Grand Rapids MI. :Wm Eerdmans Press, 2001. ), .5 ]

He was quick to qualify this, adding, if Israel “wandered” forty years in the desert,

“There never was any archeological evidence … of peaceful migrations [ancient encampments of desert nomads because ] …movements of people leave far less physical evidence than catastrophic destructions—usually none at all.” [Dever, 2001, 13] .

How nomadic were the Israelites in the wilderness? If they stayed any length of time in any one place during the forty years, one might aspect to see the remains of their habitation. But then again, maybe not.

Let me quote Brueggmann again (I feel a poem coming on; so I’ll see ya later):

When Christians speak of the Bible as “inspired,” we mean to say much more than [the author was gifted]. We mean to say that God’s own purpose, will, and presence have been “breathed” through these texts. Such a claim need not result in a literalist notion of “direct dictation” by God’s Spirit, as though God were whispering in the ear of a human writer; it is clear that the claim of ‘inspired” is an inchoate [rudimentary] way of saying that the entire traditioning process continues and embodies a surplus rendering of reality [even a story can be realistic] that discloses all of reality [the Babylonian exile was a kind-of wilderness experience, for example] in light of the holiness of YHWH [Jehovah]. Through that disclosure, which happens in fits and starts by way of human imagination and human ideology—but is not finally domesticated by either human imagination or human ideology [this is not man’s story but GOD’S!]—we receive a “revelation” of the hiddenness of the life of the world and of God’s life in the world. And because we in the church find it so, we dare to say in the actual traditioning process with trembling lips, “The Word of the Lord … Thanks be to God.” [Brueggmann, 2012, 13]

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