The Hebrew Bible contains twenty-four books.
These were written over a period of more than a thousand years. And it contains under its covers many different views and perspectives, and includes very different telling of the same events.
Over this time, the circumstances of its authors, and the circumstances of the ancient Israelites and their neighbors, changed greatly. So did many of their views. Even within single books (Like Isaiah) scholars observed different voices and outlooks.
These written texts were edited together by others, and later still, canonized by others, and each of these people brought their own prejudices and politics into the text.
To hope to learn from these books just what the people they describe thought about nature or anything else is to hope for the impossible.
Already in 1678, a French priest named Richard Simon (1638 – 1712) had concluded from the double and repeating narratives in Genesis that Moses had transcribed part of the Pentateuch, and that anonymous authors had written the rest.
Seventy five years later, in 1753, another Frenchman, a physician named Jean Astruc, hypothesized that the two different names used for God in Genesis (Elohim and Yahweh) were used by different authors writing different stories that were later merged.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, scholars had identified four separates documents bound up in the Five Books of Moses – a “Priestly” one, an “Elohim” one, a “Jehovist” one and a “Deuteronomist” one – and had found signs of a group of overall editors, or redactors. They were identified by their initials, P, E, J, D and R.
What can we learn from the Bible about ancient Israel itself? The answer maybe very little. Some scholars insist that we know close to nothing, and that much of what earlier researchers have concluded, based on their exacting study of the Bible is simply wrong.