Why do the Bible and the different books have so many revisions?

I think the simplest answer to your question about bible revision is that the priests did not regard bible texts as sacrosanct and unchangeable the way we do today. We tend to impose modern ideas about texts on the past–for instance, we want to know who authored a text. But for the ancients an individual author  had no authority. That’s why some texts were attributed to famous people like Moses. 

You’re learning about bible revision of the Torah now, but we will talk less about Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic history books (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings). Scholars think Deuteronomy contains multiple layers, including:

  1. A large diverse group of commandments
  2. The literary frame  of Moses speaking to his people on Mount Nebo 
  3. Revisions in exile, including a long and very specific list of curses that describe the exile and frame it, retrospectively, as punishment for disobedience
  4. Some harmonization of Deuteronomy’s laws with those in later law books such as Leviticus

Moreover, the histories themselves were revised to frame all bad things as punishments for disobedience. That revision probably happened during Josiah’s period or during exile. For example, 2 Kings includes the story of Josiah’s reforms to worship after he discovered Deuteronomy. 2 Kings seems to have originally ended triumphantly, suggesting that the reform worked because Josiah did what the Israelites failed to do. But after Judah fell and Josiah was publicly executed, the story had to be revised to explain why God allowed Judah’s fall despite all its reforms. The answer, as always, was about foreign Gods. 

The fact that scholars detect these multiple layers in these key books shows that they saw the bible as a living document. Though the Hebrew and Christian canons are now closed, we still see people trying to apply predictions from Revelation, which clearly referred to Roman times, to the modern age. Ministers today frequently interpret disasters as punishment for something biblical. For example, I remember when Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of New Orleans was attributed to the gay people who lived there. Some people today see Trump as equivalent to the Persian King Cyrus, who Ezra and Nehemiah thought was God’s anointed. If the canon weren’t closed, I’m sure some believers would add these ideas to it, while others would argue vehemently against it. I guess I’m saying that we all want to revise and update the bible and make it more relevant to us. We just don’t all have that ability. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *