Jon Levenson is a professor of Jewish studies at Harvard University, where he had once received his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees. His book, Sinai & Zion, is one of the texts we are currently reading in my undergraduate class, “Creation and Covenant.” The book itself deals with the historical realities behind the Hebrew Bible (or, for us Christians, the Old Testament), and how those realities probably transformed the theology of Ancient Jews over time. It has been extremely informative and influential to how I understand Ancient Israel/Judah and the Bible they produced. I chose this quote because it deals with a problem many of my fellow Christians struggle with: How do we reconcile the modern understanding of history and ancient religions with the traditional theology that has been passed down to us? More specifically, how do we do theology without reading the Bible as science or history?
. . . The question must be asked, however, whether the choice really lies between “belief in the historic actuality of the Revelation at Sinai” and a liberal humanism which substitutes man’s conscience for God’s word. Can it not be the case that the literary form of the Torah conveys a truth which is not historical in nature? Is not fiction a valid mode of knowledge, a mode which God himself may have made use? Must we assume that the conventions of attribution of authorship among ancient semites were the same as those of later eras, os that all pseudepigraphical literature is only forgery? In short, what needs to be developed—and this is the prime task of Jewish philosophy in our time—is a model of divine revelation which takes account of the involvement of divine revelation which takes into account the involvement of the Hebrew Bible in history and its character as imaginative literature adn does not seek to deny this involvement and this character in the name of faith. The new model, when it emerges, will surely diverge significantly from what has been the tradition, but some elements of the tradition, such as the study of the Hebrew Bible, will grow stronger as a result. For the fact is that the belief in the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and kindred items of premodern conviction claim the allegiance today only of those Jews and Christians whose prior commitment of faith forbids them to accept anything else. As a result, among Jews at least, they have become a small minority, and most of the “people of the Book” are alienated from the Book, even at times repelled by it.
Levenson, Jon D. Sinai & Zion. Minneapolis, MN: Winston, 1985. Print.