I have been reviewing what I have written in this blog in 2013. Actually, I’ve gone back to November 2012, which is when my father died and marks a kind of watershed for me.
At that time I was reading Israel Knohl’s Divine Symphony. Knohl says that the Hebrew Bible contains many voices: the sources of the Pentateuch, the Prophets, the Wisdom writings and Psalms, and the Holiness School–the Holiness School is very important for him and brought the priestly source of the Torah into line with the prophets, especially Isaiah. These represent a chorus or symphony with point and counterpoint.
To someone with a background in the American battle-for-the-Bible conflict between the idea that scripture speaks with one inerrant, divine voice and the idea that scripture is a varied, human, ethical resource; Knohl’s notion seems way out on the liberal end of things. But it isn’t. His title includes the word “divine” for a reason. This symphony or chorus of voices, according to Knohl, does indeed convey the word of God. It is revelation. Behind the symphony is a single composer.
One of the things to note about Knohl and several other writers that I have blogged about–both Jewish writers and Christian writers–is that they have a conservative view of the date of many of the books in the Hebrew scriptures. I do not mean conservative in the sense that they think Moses wrote the Pentateuch or that Isaiah wrote the whole book of Isaiah. I mean conservative in the sense that they put a lot of the Hebrew scriptures and sources into the pre-exilic period.
There is a widespread, perhaps dominant, scholarly view today that most of what Christians have called the Old Testament came into being late, in the days of the Persian empire. Notice that this reduces and consolidates the number of voices, especially in the Pentateuch. This is a scholarly fashion that I think is just wrong. It seems to me to run counter to a lot of facts.
I am grateful to Knohl for having put together an overview of the Bible based on an acceptance of the long development and many differing theologies we find there. I am grateful to him for affirming that through these varied perspectives we still hear the voice of God. He speculates sometimes and goes beyond the evidence. But what I have come to see in the months since I wrote about him is that his more daring views fit into a larger framework of very solid realities.
For instance, he connects Isaiah to the Holiness School. He sees the Holiness School as priests chastened by the prophets so that ethics now impinges on rituals of the priesthood. You can’t prove this connection. But it puts both the priestly editing of the Torah and the career of Isaiah into a more intelligible light. The career of Isaiah and the priestly editing of the Torah are facts. The connection is reading between the lines. But it is smart reading between the lines.
Where I have been going with this over the last several month is this: I have been thinking of the New Testament as a divine symphony as well. There are several voices we hear in the New Testament. We have four gospels. They all four sometimes tell the same story (like the woman anointing Jesus, or the resurrection) with different, conflicting details. Behind the gospels some have detected other voices like Q and the Signs Gospel. Then there is Paul–maybe an early Paul and a late Paul–and the semi-Pauline writings like his speeches in Acts, the Ephesian epistle, and the Pastoral letters. Then there are other voices like Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, and more.
What would an overall theory of this look like? Do the divisions and denominations within Christianity continue to separate these voices out and listen to only certain ones. Are evangelicals listening mostly to the early Paul? Is the mainline listening mostly to Q and James? Are Catholics more invested in John and the pastorals. What would it mean to hear the whole symphony?