After my 8-part series “Let’s Be Catholic,” some folks who either attended the talks or watched our live-streamed presentation have asked me for some fundamental sessions on the Bible. Given the issues of our calendar (eg, All Saints, Memorial Mass, Thanksgiving, 1st Reconciliation…) it was pretty well impossible to continue the Thursday evening talks, so in response I have decided to do a series of bulletin essays responding to the questions I have. Yes, they are mostly “Bible basics,” but that’s OK. If you have questions you’d like me to respond to, please email me.
Question number one is about the authorship of the books of the Old Testament (or sometimes also called “Hebrew Scriptures”). The short answer is that for almost 100% of those writings, we do not know who the author(s) actually was/were. But we can do better than that for a reply because the question as offered to me is more complex.
Were the Psalms written by King David? Some at least (and, at least, in part) were: Psalm 51, for example, has David’s “fingerprint” over much of the text. Many were not: for example, Psalms 137 and 126 (in that order) were written during and then after the Babylonian Captivity—clearly long after King David was dead. Were books like the Wisdom of Solomon written by King Solomon? Probably not; attribution of a writing to a famous (and deceased) person was (and in many ways still is) a very common practice. Many of the prophetic books surely are based on the pronouncements of the prophets for which they are named. But we cannot be sure who put them into final written form.
Now let’s move from likely authorship or assumed authorship to “we don’t have a clue” authorship. This embraces the bulk of the Old Testament. We can pretty well figure out that what we call Deuteronomy was put together by a reforming movement roughly during the times of Jeremiah. What we call Genesis now (especially the first 11 chapters) was likely assembled during the Babylonian Captivity (no, not by Moses). Much of the book of Daniel was probably written during the context of the persecution of the Jews by the Seleucid Greek rulers (as narrated especially in the 1st book of Maccabees). The intention was to encourage resistance in the face of persecution, especially stories about Daniel and the 3 young men in the fiery furnace. Much of what we now call II Samuel and I Kings was likely written by someone who lived through those times: they have the character of royal archival documents—what we would, in these days, call a historical account.
Sometimes books were written as “novels” to teach a basic point: Jonah, about God’s care and mercy for everyone; Tobit, about God’s providence and the power of prayer; Job, about God’s sovereignty in the face of innocent suffering. They need to be read as such. In fact, they need to be read!
This leads me to the topic of inspiration—that’ll be the next bulletin essay.