The Hidden Book in the Bible
The Discovery of the First Prose Masterpiece
By Richard Elliott Friedman
HarperCollins, 1998, 404 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - March 9, 2010
Reading this book and its analysis of over a hundred different biblical sections will give new insights to individuals who insist that the Bible is a divine revelation or inspiration and people who contend that Scripture is of human origin. Dr. Friedman contends, and offers multiple proofs, that a single author, possibly a woman, wrote portions of the biblical books shortly before 722 BCE that are now spread out through nine books from Genesis 2:4 though Kings 2:46. Friedman incorporates what prior scholars called the J parts of the Pentateuch (Five Books of Moses) with other post-pentateuchal sections.
Friedman explains that an editor, probably living around the fourth century BCE, combined the bulk, but not all of J with other ancient writings and created the Torah from these combined books and fragments of books. Since the generally accepted view is that the early literature of all nations was written in poetry and since this book is composed in prose, it is the first prose masterpiece. It is a masterpiece because whether it is of divine or human origin, as Friedman demonstrates repeatedly, this work of about three thousand sentences is composed in a brilliant artistic fashion.
Friedman shows, among many other things, that when we read the masterpiece separate from the other biblical parts, we find items that exist nowhere else in the Bible. This work uses words and phrases frequently that are not in the other parts of Scripture. There are at least five sets of parallel stories in the Pentateuch, Joshua, Judges, I Samuel, and II Samuel that use common terminology. There are at least seven stories involving a brother killing a brother. Many other themes are repeated, such as the theme of drunkenness with Noah, Joseph's brothers, Hannah the mother of Samuel who Eli thinks is drunk, Nabal, and Bathsheba's husband. Similarly, an espionage plot reoccurs in nine different episodes in six biblical books. There are also many stories with sexual matters as its theme. The book is also filled with similar puns, irony, and allusion that show the hand of a literary artist.
Friedman establishes by many examples that the terminology throughout the masterpiece is the same, the narrative moves from Genesis 2 to Kings 2 with consistent continuity, the writer has repeated allusions to other sections of his/her work, the various accounts are similar in many ways, prose images are repeated, the technique is similar from beginning to the end, and there is a continuing thematic concern with the tribe of Judah and its interests. Friedman states that all of this proves that the work was composed by a single writer.
Many readers will agree with Dr. Friedman's conclusions. Moreover, even those who dismiss his idea of a human author will gain a deeper insight into the biblical style by seeing how the Bible repeats themes, events, and terminology beautifully.