Who Wrote the Bible? Does it Matter?

The following is an op-ed piece that Gary Glassman wrote for the Newsweek/Washington Post website:

Does "proving" the Bible matter?

Even before its nationwide broadcast tonight, Nov. 18, on PBS, "The Bible's Buried Secrets," an archaeological and literary investigation into the origins of the Bible, is at the center of the storm in the eternal conflict between faith and science.

When the film was announced to the press in Los Angeles this past summer, it was attacked, not by journalists, but by a religious group that believes "God has communicated absolute truth to man through the Bible." Even though they hadn't seen the film, they were so incensed by the show's suggestion that the Bible was written by human hands that they started a petition to defund PBS. When science and faith intersect, this is an all-too-common reaction.

But just this week, at a New York screening and panel discussion, "Science and Faith: Complementary or Contradictory?, co-hosted by the Interfaith Center of New York and NOVA and moderated by Newsweek's religion editor Lisa Miller, the reaction of three leading clergy representing Judaism, Christianity, and Islam was entirely different.

Why such a varied religious response?

The clerics had seen the entire film and pointed to its well-reasoned approach as an opportunity for dialogue between the over three billion people who believe in a single God. Even the scientist/archaeologist on the panel agreed.

"The Bible's Buried Secrets" takes a mainstream, peer-reviewed approach into the investigation of how the Israelites find their one god. The film challenges the simplistic Sunday school story that the belief springs fully formed at the time of Abraham. Instead, "The Bible's Buried Secrets" portrays monotheism as a human endeavor that evolves over centuries. The film also demonstrates that, contrary to the literal interpretation that Moses is the author of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible are actually the product of four groups of scribes writing over a period of hundreds of years.

Ironically, it was out of one of the most tragic events in Jewish history, the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the Exile of the Israelites to Babylon in 586 BCE, that produces the first five books of the Bible as we know it today and firmly establishes the Israelites' exclusive worship of one god.

So where's the conflict?

Those who reacted negatively to the ideas in the film value the Bible because they believe it is the word of God. For them, if the Bible is not divine in origin, then it has no authority.

But is that not a disservice to the Bible and its writers? The fact is science will never reveal that God wrote the Bible. This question will always remain in the realm of faith. But does "proving" the Bible even matter? Can we find inspiration in its human origins?

Those who reacted positively to the film saw new possibilities for dialogue arising from the very fact that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam share a common heritage. One audience member asked whether this newfound religious common ground could be a critical tool for public policy in the future. All three clerics on the interfaith panel expressed optimism that monotheism might be on the verge of a new ecumenical age when the belief in one god can unite rather than divide us - a future free of conflict between faith and science.

Gary Glassman is writer, producer and director of NOVA's "The Bible's Buried Secrets," which begins airing tonight on PBS.