What inspired the first creators of the Bible to write down what was happening and the history behind the creation?

The answer to your question about what inspired biblical writers depends on whether you look at the creation of the text through a lens of scholarship (you can probably tell I do) or a lens of faith. Certainly Deuteronomy states that God told Moses to write down “these words” (meaning Deuteronomy or the whole Torah, depending on how you read it). The prophets generally say that they are speaking for God; for example, Ezekiel eats a scroll, which seems to mean that he’s taking in God’s word and speaking to the people. And I think the prophets believed they spoke for God. Ancient prophecy and oracles sometimes involved going into a special trance, stimulated by music or hallucinogenic substances, to become inspired by God.

My own sense is that priests in exile like Ezra felt the Judeans were in danger of disappearing, much like the Israelites had, by being absorbed into the exile communities in Babylon. I think they felt creating this history– from the records and archives and memories and laws that the original exiles brought into Babylon–was critical to maintaining a cultural identity and a national memory. And they came to believe that reading this book, which they pieced together, editing, and supplemented, was key to understanding what God wanted from them. Knowing clearly what God wanted from them was critical to their survival, and the prophets weren’t always very clear on the subject. In the rebuilt city of Jerusalem and for ever after, the text was the center of everything. I suggest that the Jews believed that having access to that text meant that no one could claim to speak for God and mislead the people again.

As for what inspired individual writers of individual books, before they were collected together in the bible, I think each writer probably had a different reason. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I see Genesis 1.1 as a rebuttal or revision of the Babylonian creation story, Enuma Elish. I see Deuteronomy as an attempt to standardize and centralize worship during the 7th century BCE. I see Leviticus as a 4th century attempt by priests to mandate separateness from other exile communities. We’ll talk about several of these books, and when we do we’ll talk a little about how they might have come into being and been reshaped and adapted over time.

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