(May 28, 2014)
The thing about the Bible is that it wasn't primarily written, to my knowledge, as a religious text. It is primarily a political text, and the religious events are used to demonstrate the legitimacy of the political authority. It is the equivalent of the founding myths of Rome, or other such documents.
You would think that such a reaction would make me more suspicious of the Bible as a source of truth. Not so, and in fact it is the very opposite. Intermingled with the language of Judah and Joseph’s inheritance are proscribed behaviors – making this a text that includes a founding myth that also provides an ethical foundation. You don’t see that in other founding myths. It is distinct in its character – the closest you get it some concern about ethics on the margin (for example, the warning of anger in the Iliad). Most foundational texts are so worried about explaining why the rulers rule that there is nothing that explains why they might not rule.
In the Bible, we have that. We have a text that explains why the Israelites were given the Promised Land and why they would lose it. The prophecy (unarguably pre-dating the text we have) was fulfilled, and the Israelites were taken into bondage. Then they were restored, but only in part. All along, the explanation as to why they were in bondage rather than ruling the Promised Land were clearly given.
Thus the Bible is something different – something unique. It is the text we would expect to have arrived to us from the past based upon the covenant nature of the Lord’s chosen people. For all of the difficult parts to it (and they exist), this carries throughout the text.