3 Writing from one perspective?

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Who is the writer of the Bible?  Well, it




Each piece of the Bible is written from a different perspective.  In the Torah, one might read from a priestly perspective, a story-teller’s perspective, a legal perspective–each with a rather different voice.  All of these people wrote parts of the first 5 books of the Bible.

Keep in mind that often the perspective of any given writer (ancient or modern, of course!) is rather one sided, and it can help the reader of the Bible to get information from another side of any particular story–so if one is reading about a battle in the Bible, it is very helpful to read what people on both sides of that battle had to say about it.  When reading about any history, make sure various voices have their say.

If you are reading about a place in the Bible, it might be useful to see what is known in documents, archaeology, and historical context for that place.  The Bible doesn’t approach history like modern historians.  If one is reading about Egypt and Moses, take a few minutes and look at Egyptian history from the possible era of Moses.  See what the Egyptian culture looked like, as what is known about Egypt now, with research and historical context, is not actually written anywhere in the Bible.  Having that alternative perspective really matters in understanding the material in the Bible.

One other thing to examine– and this happens a lot in the Bible– is that conflicting stories will occur and be found in Biblical texts. Clearly the editors and those who collected the material found in the Bible wanted those conflicting stories to all be in the Bible, and they did not somehow “tidy it up” for the reader’s consumption.  We have 2 complimentary creation stories, more than one gospel, some variety in telling about Noah, 2 (or more) versions of the 10 commandments, and so on.

Find out some of these ideas concerning history and written materials from an excerpt of an article in The Conversation:


Example: reading Biblical history

History Written by the Victors

Beginning in ancient times, historical narratives commonly celebrate purported victories and downplay or omit whatever detracts from them.

Take for example Egypt’s Pharaoh Ramesses II who, in the 13th century B.C., fought a battle with the Hittite king Muwatalli II at Kadesh, in what is now Syria. Ramesses portrayed the event as an Egyptian victory. But Hittite accounts of the battle, discovered by archaeologists, suggest the battle was a draw. The outcome of the battle depends on who tells the story.

Different narratives

The Biblical writers also provide accounts of victories. But they also acknowledge defeats and failures. They even preserve conflicting accounts of Israel’s past, providing multiple interpretations of the same event as part of one overall history – take, for example, the conquest of Canaan.

The Book of Joshua recounts a story of a sweeping military campaign to capture Canaan. Yet in the very next chapter, Joshua 13, readers learn things are not quite what they seem. Israel did not conquer all of Canaan. The first chapter of the next book, Judges 1, provides a different account of Israel’s life in Canaan.

Rather than a great military conquest, Israel takes possession of Canaan gradually and with setbacks. Israelites live among the inhabitants of Canaan, occasionally fighting limited battles to take particular cities or regions. The process took time.

Elsewhere in the Bible, there is the figure of King David. He is remembered as the one who unifies the people, makes Jerusalem the capital and has God’s favor. But he also impregnates another man’s wife and sends Uriah to his death in battle before marrying his wife Bathsheba.

He is also driven from Jerusalem when his own son, Absalom, leads a rebellion against him.

Replacing binary history

The point is, be it portraying a key figure as both heroic and flawed, or a campaign as triumphant victory and slow conquest, the Biblical writers often told more than one side of history.

They recount the good and bad of ancient Israel’s history, without resolution of the tension, discrepancies and unseemliness of past actions.

As the Bible shows, coming to terms with different historical narratives is possible.


Iliff School of Theology is a member of the Association of Theological Schools.The Conversation

The ATS is a funding partner of The Conversation US.

Mark K. George, Professor of Bible and Ancient Systems of Thought, Iliff School of Theology

This is part of an article republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.




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Reading the Bible as Literature: a Journey Copyright © 2022 by Jody L Ondich is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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