Bible Review 18:4, August 2002

From Storm to Scroll

How the thundering voice of God became sacred scripture.

By Mary Joan Winn Leith

Bible Review

The ancient Israelites were not a people of the book. King David had no Bible. Neither did the prophets. The later tradition that Moses wrote the Bible is never even mentioned in the biblical text. In biblical Israel animal sacrifice—not scripture—was the basis of worship. So how did the concept of a sacred written text develop?

In Jewish, Christian and Muslim tradition, the word is the primary mode of God’s revelation to humans. The belief that humans can gain access to God’s word through written scripture—can even hold it in their hands—is one of the distinguishing characteristics (along with monotheism) that sets these three religions apart from other living religious traditions. We can glimpse the initial stages that led to the concept of a written scripture in the Old Testament or Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible).

In the Bible, the most common Hebrew term for God’s “word” is dabar. But I’d like to begin with the term qol, translated “voice,” which is used to describe the thunderous noise made by Yahweh (the personal name of the Israelite God).

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