We had a single aim in writing this volume: to open a window through which readers might glimpse traditions that existed before the Bible came into being. In this way we hope to give readers the ability to appreciate the varied strategies that the biblical writers used to cope with the traditions known to them. These traditions needed to be adapted and refined in order to make them suit the lofty ideals of monotheism, to elevate them to the morals and value system that the Bible sought to instill in its readers.
The ancient traditions dealt primarily within the realm of myth (e.g., the creation of the world; the origins of manna, the food of heavenly beings), cult and holy places (the origins of Shechem’s sanctity; the reason for eating matzah), the biographies of central and even holy figures (Abraham’s origins; the births of Samson and David; the death of Moses; the biography of Jeroboam), and affairs between men and women (Jael’s relationship with Sisera; the queen of Sheba’s ties with King Solomon). The Bible, unable to ignore popular traditions, offered alternate versions of these stories or revised them in ways that would dull the sharper elements that it could not tolerate.
Is it conceivable that the Bible did not faithfully transmit events as those events occurred? That it allowed itself to alter what had been recounted in our forebears’ homes about the history of Israel and its heroes and even about the acts and pronouncements of God? To each of these questions we answer yes. Indeed, it was not the chronological reporting of events, of recording facts as they occurred, that constituted the chief interest of the biblical writers. These writers served a much