Oral traditions should be assumed as in error in most details; perhaps true for some high level overview, for example: there was an ancestor of our people named something like Abraham who came from a far away land and who introduced us to our knowledge of the one true God.
From modern psychology we know that even eyewitness accounts are full of errors. Therefore, we should expect all written accounts to have errors.
Maintaining documents requires a social class of scribes and/or priests who are paid for by the rulers. Probably each Israelite tribe had some documents. But only with the kingdom and the priesthood of Solomon with its temple would documents begin to collect and be copied accurately.
Likely, a class of scribes would not only copy documents but would write their own. Therefore, over the generations the set of documents would get larger and some older ones would be destroyed by the ravages of time once they are no longer copied due to disinterest.
David likely recited his psalms to a scribe who wrote them down. Probably each psalm was a separate scroll and this collection of scrolls was kept safe by a loyal follower of David.
There must have been an event associated with the Babylonian captivity in which large numbers of documents were taken safely to Babylon and made available to Israelite priests or scribes; probably in 605 B.C. when Daniel was taken captive. Everything in the Hebrew Bible except things written in Babylon would have been in that collection of documents.
The idea of the documents J, E, and P of the Documentary Hypothesis seems unlikely to me. The D document does seem to be written as one document by one writer. Probably there were various documents written by people having various views contained within these J, E, and P documents. I can't imagine that these 3 documents have everything in the Hebrew Bible and that everything written was contained in only these 3 very long documents.
The 4 hypothetical documents of the Documentary Hypothesis...
- J, Yahweh — written in the southern kingdom of Judah ~950 B.C. during Solomon's reign. Presumably he continued David's emphasis of Yahweh as the name of God.
- E, Elohim — written in the northern kingdom of Israel ~850 B.C.
- D, Deuteronomy — written in Jerusalem ~600 B.C.
- P, by Jewish priests — finished in Babylon ~500 B.C.
Here are some important events in the Old Testament I consider as fiction...
- The 10 plagues of Egypt of Moses. There are clearly provable errors in this story. For example, all plant life is destroyed in a plague yet remains intact only to be destroyed again in another plague. And in one plague all the cattle were killed yet there were still cattle to be killed in a subsequent plague.
- That 2 to 3 million people wandered in close proximity through a barren desert for 40 years eating manna and drinking water from a rock. There is not enough vegetation to support their flocks.
- That these former slaves and shepherds became master warrors able to defeat the warrior tribes they encountered.
- That these former slaves who lived in Goshen many miles away from the Egyptians were able to convince them to give them gold, jewels, weapons, all the materials used in building the tabernacle, and all kinds of other wealth. And, that they were able to cart all this stuff around the desert while fleeing from the Egyptian army.
- The conquest of some of the cities as described in the book of Joshua did occur but not within the short time of one generation of military conquests; rather, they occurred over hundreds of years.
- The books of Job and Esther.
Critics of the Bible seem to think that by demonstrating the Bible contains fiction, they have proved it worthless. This is simply untrue. Monotheism, the gospel, and Christianity are true; this, even though the Old Testament and New Testament contain fiction.
- Truth — Matches past or present reality.
- Scientific Truth — Established facts of the material universe. Cosmology, age of universe and earth, geological observations. Archaeology.
- Historical Truth — It really happened. Not always possible to know. Uses archaeology and scholarship of documents.
- Philosophical Truth — Established via reason, logic, argument. Usually induction (the most likely explanation) and abduction (the simplest explanation).
- Fiction — Doesn't match with truth. Perhaps they know it's untrue, or perhaps they think it's true but are not in a domain in which they can know.
- Myth — Traditional story of past events having a purpose in the culture and presented as true. Maybe true, maybe error or deception.
- Story — An account of events having characters, not always fiction or myth.
- Error — They think it's true but it isn't; it's unintentional.
- Deception — They know it's untrue, but present it as true anyway.
In my view the essential dichotomy is truth vs fiction. If it's not true (for whatever reason), it's fiction. I don't use the term "myth" because it says nothing about whether or not something is true or not; it disguises that aspect which, for me, is the key issue.
Kinds of fiction...
- Totally invented story, perhaps as an allegory or having lessons, for the purpose of sharing truths.
- They think it's true, but it isn't. Perhaps from visions, dreams, hallucinations. Or merely speculation, for example, they think they can determine how far away the sun is by feeling its heat with no consideration for the impossibility of this.
- They know it's untrue, but present it as true. Perhaps to deceive. Perhaps they think they are helping their audience in some way.
In my view, the fiction of the Bible is infallible and inerrant. This, because fiction is not error...
- If a writer is trying to accurately describe what happened, but they don't know some specific details to the story; if they invent some details, this is not error but fiction.
- If a writer invents the words of a dialog, this is not error but fiction.
- If a writer is trying to accurately describe the structure of the solar system (for example) but has no accurate knowledge of the topic and so it's all scientifically untrue, this is not error but fiction.
- Anytime you describe things in a domain in which you don't or can't have knowledge, this is not error but fiction.
- If the writer is writing down a vision or dream and thinks it's true but it doesn't match reality, this is not error but fiction. Therefore, all prophecy is fiction; it may come true in the future, but it is, by definition, fiction.
- If you are recalling something from memory, perhaps as an eyewitness of the events, and some of the details don't match reality; this is not error but fiction. These are commonly called errors but I prefer to call them fiction, because the memory is untrustworthy.
- Error only occurs when you are capable of getting the correct answer but inadvertently write down the wrong thing or make an error in a calculation. If you are attempting to write down there are 13 horses, but inadvertently write down 12 horses, this is an error. If you are multiplying two large numbers in your head and get the wrong answer, this is an error.
- Passing along a story containing containing an error transforms the error into fiction. This is because passing along a story results in embellishments of various kinds which cannot be known as being true.
- Copying a text but miswriting a word results in an error. Additional coping of the error preserves the error as an error. The original text had no errors.
The Bible contains truth and fiction. These require different kinds of interpretation. The difficulty is in knowing which passages contain truth and which passages contain fiction. In a way, it's easier to just assume it's all fiction and interpret it all allegorically. This is not a bad approach because, even for the factual passages, you have to presume to know why the writer wrote it. You never know for sure, so even interpretation of these passages are allegorical in a sense.
Literal interpretation. Everything should be interpreted literally; this includes truth and fiction. For example, the firmament of Genesis literally means the dome of the sky above a flat earth and holding up the water above; it is fiction. People wanting to insist the Bible is inerrant often change the meaning of this term.
Categories of Old Testament writings...
- Fiction — Must be interpreted allegorically but subject to many conflicting interpretations. Should try to discern what the writer intended, but this is not always possible.
- Historical events containing a mix of truth and fiction — It's hard to know what's fiction except when it collides with science and archaeology. There was a purpose for its writing.
- Prophecy having visions of the future — The Holy Spirit set the stage for the appearance of the incarnation of Jesus.
Examples from the Old Testament...
- The Mosaic Law — Pure fiction. Invented with influences from surrounding cultures (circumcision, sacrifices, priesthood, temple). None of this was from God as claimed.
- Up to David — Mostly pure fiction, based on fact, sometimes more, sometimes less.
- Kingdom of David and Solomon — Actually existed but much smaller; lots of fiction.
- Kings, captivity, return from captivity — Much fact with lots of fiction.
- Poetry — Based on fact and fiction.
- Job, Esther — Pure fiction.
- Prophets — Much fact with lots of fiction.
- Creation stories — Pure fiction, influenced by other cultures, but having a distinct emphasis on monotheism. God is not created; humans are the ultimate purpose for creation; human struggles caused by human choice. Establishes the theme of monotheism expressed ultimately with the Israelites. In my view, Adam was a real person (not the first modern human), who was the first to learn of monotheism as revealed by God, and passed down via the patriarchs to the Israelites.
- The flood — Pure fiction, but rooted in an actual event, perhaps the flooding of the Caspian Sea.
- The patriarchs, Abraham — Pure fiction, except that the patriarchs existed and carried the message of monotheism.
- The 12 tribes — Pure fiction, written to provide a seemingly historical basis for unity among the various Israelite tribes.
- Joseph in Egypt, Moses and the Exodus — Pure fiction, except probably based on some Canaanites who were slaves in Egypt, escaped, joined the Israelites. Perhaps these were the Levites.
- Conquest of Joshua — Pure fiction, but based on real historical events occurring over 800 years.
When fictional stories or ideas from the Old Testament are used in the New Testament, it remains fiction. Therefore, interpretation of these passages must be allegorical. Examples include: (1) the many stories of the Old Testament, (2) the history of Israel before and after becoming a nation, and (3) discussions of the Jewish law and whether it still applies to Christians.
Jesus and the Apostles seem to believe the fictional stories of the Old Testament are true. Information Jesus received supernaturally seems to be limited to the same kind of thing as occurred with the Old Testament prophets via dreams, visions, and special knowledge.