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The meaning of the term "history" is itself dependent on social and historical context.
Paula Mc Nutt, for instance, notes that the Old Testament narratives "do not record 'history' in the sense that history is understood in the twentieth century ...
There is a Christian tradition of criticism of the creation narratives in Genesis dating back to at least St Augustine of Hippo (354–430), and Jewish tradition has also maintained a critical thread in its approach to biblical primeval history.
The influential medieval philosopher Maimonides maintained a skeptical ambiguity toward creation ex nihilo and considered the stories about Adam more as "philosophical anthropology, rather than as historical stories whose protagonist is the 'first man'." The publication of James Hutton's Theory of the Earth in 1788 was an important development in the scientific revolution that would dethrone Genesis as the ultimate authority on primeval earth and prehistory.
We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood." But prominent scholars have expressed diametrically opposing views: "[T]he stories about the promise given to the patriarchs in Genesis are not historical, nor do they intend to be historical; they are rather historically determined expressions about Israel and Israel's relationship to its God, given in forms legitimate to their time, and their truth lies not in their facticity, nor in the historicity, but their ability to express the reality that Israel experienced." A central pillar of the Bible's historical authority was the tradition that it had been composed by the principal actors or eyewitnesses to the events described – the Pentateuch was the work of Moses, Joshua was by Joshua, and so on.
But the Protestant Reformation had brought the actual texts to a much wider audience, which combined with the growing climate of intellectual ferment in the 17th century that was the start of the Age of Enlightenment threw a harsh sceptical spotlight on these traditional claims.
By the end of the 19th century the scholarly consensus was that the Pentateuch was the work of many authors writing from 1000 BCE (the time of David) to 500 BCE (the time of Ezra) and redacted c.
450, and as a consequence whatever history it contained was more often polemical than strictly factual – a conclusion reinforced by the then fresh scientific refutations of what were at the time widely classed as biblical mythologies.
While versions of the Documentary Hypothesis vary in the order in which they were composed, the circumstances of their composition, and the date of their redaction(s), their shared terminology continues to provide the framework for modern theories on the composite nature and origins of the Torah.This can be extended to the question of the Christian New Testament as an accurate record of the historical Jesus and the Apostolic Age.When examining the books of the Bible, scholars examine the historical context of passages, the importance ascribed to events by the authors, and the contrast between the descriptions of these events and other historical evidence.Archaeological discoveries since the 19th century are open to interpretation, but largely do not lend historical support for the Old Testament's narratives as history and offer evidence to challenge some stories.The Bible exists in multiple manuscripts, none of them an autograph, and multiple canons, which do not completely agree on which books have sufficient authority to be included or their order (see Books of the Bible).