With their defeat of Judah and the scattering of Judah's people at the end of the 600s BCE, Babylonians took some of Judah's priests back to Babylon with them as captives – to be known as the Babylonian Captivity. The temple that Solomon had built and had been the place of worship of the god Yahweh had been destroyed. In effect it was no more. The captive priests no longer had place for proper ritual, and rather than ritual they were more dependant on the written word as a means of holding their religion together. They were more dependant on identity through documentation and declarations as to what was expected of Yahweh's followers. It was a challenge as many others who had lived in Judah and were now scattered including to Babylon were conforming to the ways of those around them, including various forms of what the Yahweh priests saw as idolatry.
The captive priests drew as best they could from the stories, some dating back centuries, that were available to them. Their work would be described as riddled with gaps and missing key scriptures. In the PBS documentary "The Bible's Buried Secrets: Archeology of the Hebrew Bible," Michael D. Coogan, a lecturer on the Hebrew Bible at Harvard Divinity School, describes their work as a kind of anthology " over the course of many centuries, by different people adding to it, subtracting from it." It was to be called the Hebrew Bible, the Torah, the Pentateuch and later by Christians as the first five chapters of the Old Testament. Modern scholars have identified the captive priests as representing a school of thought rather than as a single author. They have been described as writing about faith beyond the limits of any geographical area. According to the PBS documentary "It was a kind of universal religion based on a creator god, not just a god of a single nation, but the God of the world, the God of the universe."
The priests are described as having drawn from what scholars call the Elohist source, a source that consists of writers who called their god Elohim rather than Yahweh and lived in the northern holy land called Israel in second half of the 800s BCE. And the captive priests drew from another group of writers from Judah who held a bias against those who lived in the north. And there was another source that dated from around 621 BCE. It has been described as the work of a compiler observing the conquered holy lands and the sins of the Hebrews who had stirred up God's wrath. He writes of prophesies from men such as Samuel, Joshua and Moses, and the hope for redemption. He is said to retell the story of the Exodus and the covenant Moses made between God and the people of Israel.
In examining the Hebrew Bible, scholars have found conflicting descriptions about Noah and the flood. There is text describing Noah as bringing a pair of every kind of animal aboard his ark and text describing seven pairs of clean animals and only two of unclean animals. The flood is described in one place as lasting 40 days and 40 nights and in another place as lasting 150 days. Noah is described as sending out a raven and also as sending out a dove. The discrepancies are thought likely to be the result of the work drawing from more than one writer.
Every culture had it Creation story, and the Book of Genesis describes the ancient Hebrew version. The Book of Genesis put together by the captive priests describes God as having created man in his own image. It contains the story of Adam and Eve and Cain and Able as their two sons. Cain is the first human born and Abel was the first human to die. Cain is described as a crop farmer and his younger brother Abel is a shepherd (fitting the times in which the story was created, when people were farming rather than hunting animals and gathering food).
The story of Cain and Abel is followed by a history of begetting that is to connect the Hebrew people with Adam and Eve. The descendant Enosh is described as having lived eight hundred years. Chapter 14 describes a man called Abraham as a Hebrew, the son of Terah and the brother of Nahor and Haran. He is a member of a family that dwelled at Ur in the land of the Chaldeans. According to Genesis, Terah took his family to Haran, where he died. And from Haran, Abraham migrated with his family into Canaan. Some would date this toward the end of the 2000s BCE. Some others speculate that Abraham's migration from Haran came much later. In recent years, archaeologists have concluded that we have no evidence as to dates regarding Abraham.
According to Genesis (Chapter 22), Abraham was at least familiar with human sacrifice. He is described as having been tested by God's command that he make an offering of his son Isaac.
The Book of Exodus follows the Book of Genesis. It tells the story of Moses, a story important in the founding of Judaism that followed the freeing of the captives at Babylon by Persians.
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