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6/07/2008                                                                                       View Comments

Who wrote the Bible?

A film by Robert Beckford



In 2004, Robert Beckford hosted a documentary called Who Wrote the Bible? in the UK. Beckford begins this documentary with this question and pursues the assertion that the Bible's history involves multiple revisions, exclusion and political imperative.

The documentary is NOT meant to be inflammatory, but informative.

Length: approximately 100 minutes long.

13 comments:

baz said...

This was an interesting and I thought comprehensive look at the historicity of the Bible. I was disappointed however that, although Beckford said early in the film that he wanted to come down on one side or the other, at the end he did so in such a pathetically apologetic way.

His conclusions are pretty straightforward - the Bible is riddled with inconsistencies, prejudice, politics and spin - and yet he concludes that 'life is complicated' and the Bible merely reflects this complication... what sort of "conclusion" is that?

I would also like to know whether the film *is* actually comprehensive. He doesn't, for example, mention anything about the similarities between the story of Christ and the very similar pagan traditions of the time, and doesn't touch on the theories of early Christianity simply being a 'sexed-up' version of these religions.

resonate11 said...

I think this is well done and worth watching.

Dan said...

I'm afraid I really can't be as enthusiastic about it. Beckford is not a Biblical scholar and it shows. He presents very basic and often erroneous arguments. His treatment of Paul's scribes especially so, the canon and so forth.
I know this sounds like a hit and run 'fundie attack' but I can't go through everything I found unsatisfying. If someone wants to point out a particular argument they found cogent I will see if I can offer any qualifications to it.

Also Baz, Beckford actually produced a film on the pagan similiarities to Christianity 6 months ago. It was interesting this time he couldn't get hold of hardly any scholars talk to about it- why ? Because the pagan-myth hypothesis has been almost entirely disregarded as a serious enterprise since the late 50's. Only living on in the minds of internet conspiracy theorists and self-published books [sorry! but its true].

Pull The Other One! said...

Dan,

Just to see where you are coming from, are you claiming, for example, that Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament?, that a prophet called Daniel actually wrote the book of that name during the time of the Babylonian empire?, that the gospels were written by eye-witnesses or from eye-witness accounts?, and that none of the letters of the New Testament were forgeries, i.e. written by somebody pretending to be somebody else?

As for the pagan-christ business. You're right to a certain extent. I think that you'll find that many people here realise that this has been grossly exagerated, and that all this 'carbon-copy saviours' stuff is a load of crap.

But that doesn't alter the fact that certain parts of the Jesus story are very like pagan myths (e.g. a human woman giving birth to the son of a god), and that the gospels are full of Hellenistic-type anti-Jewish ideas, making Jesus say and do things that would have been anathema to a religious Jew in Palestine at that time.

Dan said...

Pull,

Well my opinions on these matter fluxate. They are more broader ones that Beckford dealt with. My critique isn't always necessarily what he is arguing for- but the arguments he used.

His presentation of the JEDP and Moses' authorship theory for example is old hat and needing heavy qualification. As for Daniel I'd probably have to say it was a 2nd Temple Jewish writing.

As for the N.T. yes I would quite firmly hold that the Gospels had eyewitnesses material. I'm thinking of the works by Richard Bauckham, Graham Stanton, Martin Hengel, Blunt, Williams etc....
Beckford's presentation of the canon was completely inadequate and calling it 'misleading' wouldn't be too far.

Pseudonymity is a harder issue. Again I'd have to say it isn't so much the issue but Beckfords' attempts at explicating the argument. Perhaps it was because I watched his documentary just after reading two recent studies on ancient letter writing.But anyway I think I actually began shouting at the T.V. at this point. Beckford clearly hasn't got the slightest appreciation of the work a amanuensis had. But then again he has no need- he is not a Biblical theologian or a Classical scholar but an academic observer of the contemporary Black Church. I image if I made a documentary on Black Christianity we find it equally as a frustrating experience!

Hope that goes some way in placing where I am coming from in context.

Pull The Other One! said...

Dan,

Thanks for your reply.

I must admit that I haven't had time to watch the documentary here, but I did see it a few months ago.

What's wrong with the JEDP (and let's not forget R - redactor/editor) theory? and does it mean that you don't think that the first five books of the OT were spliced together from seperate accounts. There are at least two discernable versions of many stories (The creation, Noah's ark, etc) don't forget.

If Daniel was a 2nd Temple writing as you put it (i.e. after the return from exile in Babylon) doesn't that make at least the second apocalyptic part of the book a blatent fraud? After all, somebody was only pretending to be Daniel, and pretending to come from a different time in order to make retro-prophecies.

As for the gospels, are you saying that the writers were eyewitnesses themselves, or that they spoke directly to eyewitnesses?, or do you think that the stories passed through several intermedieries first?

You said that pseudonymity is a 'harder issue'. Let's be more specific: Who wrote Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus? Was it Paul, as stated in the first verse of each letter?, or was it someone else? If it was someone else, wasn't that another specific attempt to deceive?

And who wrote the Peter and John letters?

Dan said...

[i]What's wrong with the JEDP (and let's not forget R - redactor/editor) theory? and does it mean that you don't think that the first five books of the OT were spliced together from seperate accounts.[/i]

Whats wrong is that the presumpitions, definitions and historical underpinnings of the JEDP theory have/area going under intensive criticism in modern scholarship. Beckford instead presents the pre-60's version of the theory as fact. I found that completely unacceptable- he wouldn't get away with it if proper Biblical scholarship was better known in the public domain

[i]
If Daniel was a 2nd Temple writing as you put it (i.e. after the return from exile in Babylon) doesn't that make at least the second apocalyptic part of the book a blatent fraud? After all, somebody was only pretending to be Daniel, and pretending to come from a different time in order to make retro-prophecies.[/i]

Yes I think you have a point.

[i]
As for the gospels, are you saying that the writers were eyewitnesses themselves, or that they spoke directly to eyewitnesses?, or do you think that the stories passed through several intermedieries first? [/i]

I don't think the evidence can allow us to say whether the ultimate collator was an eyewitness or not- how would you know that? What I am saying is that the gospels contain eyewitness accounts.

Beckford's presentation of the Gospels and their historical context vis-a-vis non-canonical gospels was absolutely lamentable.

[i]
You said that pseudonymity is a 'harder issue'. Let's be more specific[/i]

I am fairly convinced all the writings in the N.T. were written by the people they claim to have been. A caveat I would attatch is that its only an issue I've studied in depth with regards to the Pastorals though. A lot of the skepticism came from a fairly anachronistic idea what a 1st century charismatic vs. institutional church would look like and, again, a lack of appreciation of a amanuensis did. Colossians and Ephesians is a more interesting one though.

Dan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dan said...

What's wrong with the JEDP (and let's not forget R - redactor/editor) theory? and does it mean that you don't think that the first five books of the OT were spliced together from seperate accounts.

Whats wrong is that the presumpitions, definitions and historical underpinnings of the JEDP theory have/area going under intensive criticism in modern scholarship. Beckford instead presents the pre-60's version of the theory as fact. I found that completely unacceptable- he wouldn't get away with it if proper Biblical scholarship was better known in the public domain


If Daniel was a 2nd Temple writing as you put it (i.e. after the return from exile in Babylon) doesn't that make at least the second apocalyptic part of the book a blatent fraud? After all, somebody was only pretending to be Daniel, and pretending to come from a different time in order to make retro-prophecies.


Yes I think you have a point.


As for the gospels, are you saying that the writers were eyewitnesses themselves, or that they spoke directly to eyewitnesses?, or do you think that the stories passed through several intermedieries first?


I don't think the evidence can allow us to say whether the ultimate collator was an eyewitness or not- how would you know that? What I am saying is that the gospels contain eyewitness accounts.

Beckford's presentation of the Gospels and their historical context vis-a-vis non-canonical gospels was absolutely lamentable.


You said that pseudonymity is a 'harder issue'. Let's be more specific


I am fairly convinced all the writings in the N.T. were written by the people they claim to have been. A caveat I would attatch is that its only an issue I've studied in depth with regards to the Pastorals though. A lot of the skepticism came from a fairly anachronistic idea what a 1st century charismatic vs. institutional church would look like and, again, a lack of appreciation of a amanuensis did. Colossians and Ephesians is a more interesting one though.

Pull The Other One! said...

Dan,

Well, you may not be a literalist, but I'm certainly detecting a tendency for you to give the bible a lot more credit than it is due.

First, I would agree that there have been some disagreements about certain elements of the JEDPR theory, for example, over the various times that the individual authors were writing, but the basic idea - that several different accounts were woven together, sometimes rather clumsily - is still very much supported in academic circles to this day.

I'm glad to see that you are willing to come clean on Daniel, but have you sat down and thought out the implications of what you are saying?

If one book of the bible can be admitted to be a deliberate fraud, then it must also be admitted that there is no sacred forcefield around the bible keeping out deception and falsehood. Other books should therefore be treated with extreme scepticism.

As for the gospels, if they are based on eye-witness accounts, why does Mark get so many of his facts wrong on Jewish customs and Palestinian geography. Who told him that Jesus included 'Do not defraud' among the Ten Commandments?, and which eye-witness was it that told Matthew that Jesus road into Jerusalem on two donkeys, or did Matthew prefer to get his details from the Old Testament instead?

You should also be aware that there is general agreement among scholars that the style of writing and the content of letters such as the ones to Timothy indicate a different writer from the person who wrote to the Galatians and the Corinthians, for example.

Dan said...

were woven together, sometimes rather clumsily - is still very much supported in academic circles to this day.

Indeed. It is a rather startling turn around though. The once assured result of higher criticism has started severely pealing. But again though its not that I object to the idea of redaction. But Beckfords paltry explication of it was frustrating- especially with the smug look of his face.


I'm glad to see that you are willing to come clean on Daniel, but have you sat down and thought out the implications of what you are saying?



I guess you are wondering how I square that with my Christian faith. Well the idea of inerrancy was only manufactured in the 16th century. Take a look at Benjamin Witherington's Divine Spiration of Scripture, for a evangelical errantists viewpoint. In some senses its a strawman. Knock it down but your only knocking down a recent, and still outside of the English speaking world, marginal viewpoint.


If one book of the bible can be admitted to be a deliberate fraud, then it must also be admitted that there is no sacred forcefield around the bible keeping out deception and falsehood. Other books should therefore be treated with extreme scepticism.


We are getting out of Beckford's documentary here; but I do understand why you want to know. You can e-mail me if you want or check out Witherington's book.


As for the gospels, if they are based on eye-witness accounts, why does Mark get so many of his facts wrong on Jewish customs and Palestinian geography. Who told him that Jesus included 'Do not defraud' among the Ten Commandments?, and which eye-witness was it that told Matthew that Jesus road into Jerusalem on two donkeys, or did Matthew prefer to get his details from the Old Testament instead?

Well that wouldn't do anything to counter the evidence that there were eyewitness accounts. A secular approach assume Jesus was just as liable to misquote the O.T. as Mark?-given that Jesus would have been as falible as Mark. That says nothing about eyewitnesses material that is argued for convincingly. That probably doesn't satisfy you though, if you are wondering how I deal with that, well, I'd probably tell you I thought it something to do withJewish exegesis. Jews knew the decalogue, they'd certainly know if it was mis-quoted inappropriately. I can look into it if you want and make a more definite decision. I'm not aware of what you mean about the two donkeys sorry.

You should also be aware that there is general agreement among scholars that the style of writing and the content of letters such as the ones to Timothy indicate a different writer from the person who wrote to the Galatians and the Corinthians, for example


Yes I am aware of that. Its quite apparent even in my own reading it.
This was what I meant by understanding how an amanuensis worked though. This objection might very well be a problem for a 19th century higher critic in Tubigen University- but not, if you understanding the most basic facts of how ancient letter writing worked*. Which, again, was completely ignored by Beckford. Its like he has picked up an introductory textbook from the 1950's and not bothered to spend the time carrying out the research. Its either plain sloppy or its done to further his particular aim.

* not that I'm saying that those who do understand this point don't also think some of Paul's letters were pseudonymous. Klauck in his recent Ancient Letters for example, who does understand this but still thinks the Pastorals aren't Paulinian.

Pull The Other One! said...

OK Dan, as it's getting on for midnight where I am, here's a bedtime story:

Matthew 16: 1-6

1 'As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away."

4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

5 "Say to Daughter Zion, 'See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.' "

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on.'


That's two donkeys, right?

It's quite obvious from the above that the writer of Matthew believes that the passage in Zechariah foretells that 'a king' will ride into Jerusalem on two donkeys.

But Matthew made a big mistake here. The author of Zechariah (9:9), using a typically Jewish poetic technique found elsewhere in the OT, actually meant that 'not only will it be a donkey, but it will be a young donkey!'

But what we end up from Matthew is an account stating that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on two donkeys, like a circus performer perhaps? (although I'm willing to admit that compared to walking on water it's a piece of cake!)

So, ask yourself this: What did Matthew really care about - eye-witness accounts?, what somebody had actually seen?, or stories that would match up with what he saw as prophecies of the Messiah from the OT?

By the way, it's worth having a look at the other OT prophecies mentioned in Mathew (in their original context).

ryan said...

I thought I would walk in just briefly.

The subject of bible prophecy becomes amusing.

Matthew 2:23: "He (jesus) shall be called a Nazarene" There is no such prophecy.

John 7:38: the scripture says that whoever believes in jesus "streams of living water shall flow from within him" There is no such scripture.

And then there is the infamous isaiah 7. It is not about jesus. The mysterious child in verse 14 is a sign given to King Ahaz; a sign that his enemies would be defeated.

Micah 5: Bethlehem Ephrathah is a man, not a village. See 1 chronicles 2:50. Ephrathah was his great-grandmother. The prophet though that this prominent family would provide leadership against the Assyrians.

More than once, I have sat down with a xristian and have taken them through these "prophecies" verse by verse, line by line, and they do not get it. Their conditioning is complete.