Why I wrote “J”
Over the winter of 2006-2007, I read Harold Bloom’s “The Book of J” – an enthralling literary critique of Genesis and Exodus, accompanied by a stunning, elemental new translation from the Hebrew by David Rosenberg. The translated passages were the only ones that scholars contend can be attributed to the “J” author of the Old Testament, hence, The Book of J. In Bloom’s critique, he surmises that “J” may very well have been a woman, a member of the royal court of David, and one whose irreverant and humorous attitude toward Yahweh, the patriarchs and religion itself would have naturally led to subsequent priestly censorship.
Scholars agree that the Hebrew Bible (the Christian “Old Testament”) was written and composed over many hundreds of years by different people. The oldest or earliest sections of the text were probably composed at Jerusalem in the tenth century B.C.E. (“before the common era”) during the reigns of David and Solomon. Later versions often completely suppressed earlier stories for political, social or religious reasons; sometimes duplicate versions were just tagged on, and of course, many new stories, histories, poetry and polemics were added as time went on.
“J” stands for the original author, the “Yahwist” named for Yahweh – or Jahweh, in the German spelling, as it was German theological scholars who started this author naming process in the 19th century. They named this first author after the name of God most frequently used in those texts. The later strands of Bible stories in Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers are all revisions or censorings of J, and their authors are known as “E” (Elohist for “Elohim,” the plural name of God used for Yahweh in that version); “P” for the Priestly Author or School that wrote Leviticus; “D” for the author(s) of Deuteronomy; and “R” for the Redactor (or revisionist/editor) who performed the “final” revision after the return of the Israelites from the Babylonian Exile.
After reading Professor Bloom’s book, I was compelled to write my own story of J, and how she came to be The Woman Who Wrote the Bible. Here’s a taste of the novel.