Chapter 1 The Modern View of the Bible

It will not be necessary here to review the various stages marking the course of Biblical scholarship during the past century. It will suffice if we present the highly developed system which is the culmination of those studies. This system was articulated and put into its present widely accepted form by Prof. Wellhausen4 who is regarded, therefore, as the one who securely laid the foundation for the entire reconstruction of Biblical knowledge. He also greatly helped in building the superstructure.

There has been no material advance since beyond the point reached by him, except in matters of detail. The position, which he took, may perhaps best be described as the documentary-historical-evolutionary viewpoint of Bible literature and history. By this is meant:

(1) That this literature is made up of various early documents in which myth and legend are recorded side by side with actual historical events, and that these earlier documents were afterward combined with later literary productions of the ninth to the fifth or fourth centuries b. c. This is the process by which the Pentateuch, Joshua and the other historical books (Judges to Esther) were compiled. During those same centuries there was added to the Scriptures, the writings of the prophets and the wisdom or experience books;

(2) That since narratives of a supernatural and miraculous nature must be regarded not as history, but simply as myths and legends of the Israelitish tribes, similar in character to those of other peoples such as the Greeks or Romans, therefore this miracle element must be eliminated from the Biblical literature and along with it much of the narratives with which it is interwoven. Accordingly for the real starting point of reliable history, for solid ground upon which historical criticism can stand, we must begin with the picture of the condition of the Hebrew tribes presented in the book of Judges.

This position is taken because, it is declared, no clear evidence of either the knowledge or practice of such an economy of religion as is presented in the legislation of the Pentateuch is anywhere discoverable from Joshua’s day up to the Josiah period (over six centuries). This also becomes the reason given for assigning the compilation of these history Books to the later epoch mentioned.

The conclusion reached from these premises is that there was a gradual rise of the Hebrews from an idolatrous condition, little better than that of neighboring peoples, to the purity of concept found in the prophetic writings and to the elaboration of ritual and temple service given in the priestly reformation and legislation of the Josiah-Ezra period. The authors of this reformation and legislation must have woven from some very slender threads of fact their whole story of the Tabernacle in the wilderness and the rest, for the sake of throwing round the nation’s religious development the sanctity of an ancient age by connecting it with the name of the greatest hero in Israelitish mythology—Moses. From this there results:

(3) The theory that an evolutionary process in the history and religion of Israel explains how the Old Testament literature developed perfectly naturally in the above historical manner.

This evolution, of course, went through various stages. Since we can know very little, according to the canons of historical criticism, about the wilderness and Egyptian experiences of the Israelite families—these told only in the legend-laden Pentateuch—we must begin with the Judges period, and pass through the decline and fall of the Judges to the rise of the kingdom period, passing on again to find, however, that the decline and fall of the nation was but the occasion when the religious development reached the climax to which it had been slowly evolving side by side with the progress and decay of the social order. We are assured that “the ruin of ancient Israel was necessary to the birth of the Old Testament.”

This religious history, it is claimed, is the story of an upward climb from polytheism with its many altars and sanctuaries to monotheism with one central sanctuary, an organized priesthood, an established system of sacrifice and service, and a large body of law. Further, that while certain documents were in existence during these centuries, purporting to give the earliest history of the people and even carrying back the record to the creation as well as containing perhaps a limited number of simple laws, the work of compiling, editing, and greatly amplifying them was not undertaken until the decline of the kingdom, the ensuing exile and subsequent restoration.

This is stated thus:

The Mosaic Law, instead of being the force that set the peculiar development of Israel in motion, was itself the product of that evolution.


Religion was in the world many ages before the Hebrew nation was born. Our problem is not, How did religion arise? but, How did Bible religion arise? When we go behind the scenes, and begin to consider the circumstances amid which, and through which, the Bible religion came into the world, we are thrown back upon a local, definite, concrete situation of great interest. Yahweh5 (i.e., Jehovah) emerges into distinction through a struggle against Baal-worship which was derived from the Amorite side of the nation’s ancestry. We do not connect him with warfare against Marduk of Babylon, or Amon of Egypt, or any other far-away deity. It is the Baal-idea that serves as the foil against which the Yahweh-idea takes on its distinctive character.

The Bible religion then, took form around the idea of “Yahweh.” We shall never know how the worship of Yahweh first became current,6 any more than we can trace the steps by which the Greeks got the worship of Zeus, the Egyptians that of Osiris, or the Babylonians that of Marduk. But there is no evidence that the worship of Yahweh stood at first upon any different footing than did other cults of the ancient world… The Bible religion came into existence by the sifting of ancient religious ideas through the peculiar national experience of the Hebrews. This national experience was unlike that of any other ancient people; and it set the Hebrew mind at work in channels different from those opened before their contemporaries. [It] took form gradually through a series of emergencies, or crises, in which the idea of Yahweh passed from stage to stage. The epochs in this process have left their marks in the Bible as clearly as the various geological periods have left their traces in the strata of the earth.7

4 His epoch-making book, Geschichte Israels, appeared in 1878. “In that masterly work the new literary and historical study of the Bible was formulated and extended in such a way as to command the attention and assent of learned specialists; and it produced a revolution.” It came as “the climax of a long campaign for scientific study of the Bible.”

5 The form accepted for the sacred Name by modern scholars who consider the usual form “Jehovah” to be a hybrid combination of the four consonants which alone compose the sacred Name, and the vowels of the Hebrew word Lord. These vowels were added by the Jews who feared, through superstition, to pronounce the Name in its original form and substituted the word Lord. Thus it comes that in our A. V. with few exceptions Lord is used in the almost seven thousand occurrences of the Name.

6 This is because the Pentateuch must be considered mythical and legendary, and not history, according to the critics.

7 The foregoing extracts are from Sociological Study of the Bible by Louis Wallis (1922 impression), pp. 86, 87, 213. Further quotations will be given from this book, which is without doubt a remarkably cogent presentation of the views here to be considered.