How the Bible Is Written

Once again, we must keep in mind that all of this literature was heard, so that the ancient listener to this text needed to apprehend all these variations on the spot, in the moment, for there was no returning to the prior iteration.  We today, who read silently and access a text visually, have the advantage of comparing and contrasting passages in easier fashion, including juxtaposed side-by-side, as I have done above.  To repeat, for the ancient listener, this was not an option; rather, he/she needed to remain attentive at all times to the oral presentation in order to appreciate the text to its fullest.

See Also: How the Bible Is Written (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2019).

By Gary A. Rendsburg
Rutgers University
May 2019

The first paragraph of my new book reads as follows:  “Learned colleagues have written books entitled Who Wrote the Bible?, How to Read the Bible, How the Bible Became a Book, and How the Bible Became Holy.

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Article Comments

Submitted by melliott1 on Thu, 05/02/2019 - 08:18


Many thanks to Gary Rendsburg for his effort to deal with some very interesting nuances of our biblical literature. It is a difficult task with many nuances and difficult to deal with. I respond very positively to his effort, especially his brief analogy of word-play and alliteration marking closure and the entire discussion of the "smallest building blocks of biblical literature.

Might I ask that he clarify further about biblical literature as hearing what was spoken and his implied discussion of "oral tradition," especially how he departs from the work of Stith Thompson and Milman Parry. Much of such reiterative work is closely tied to the Masoretic pointing, which of course is much later than his assumed authors of "ancient Israel." I would also ask whether his ancient Israel refers to the Samaritan tradition of composition.

With most readers of this essay, I  would be very interested in a more expansive clarification of his critique of the classical documentary hypothesis.

Thomas L. Thompson

Professor emeritus, University of Copenhagen 

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