The stories which were collected together eventually into the Torah, and into what is now called the Old Testament of the Bible, were BOTH supposed to be accepted as HAVING TRUTH to them, and were supposed to be teaching tools at the same time.
Yes. The "truth" part is that the mythology was taught as having some basis in actual history. A child would ask "where do people come from" and an elder would answer that God created man in his own image, and that all men are descended from those original people. It's an easy answer to give when you, yourself, don't know, or understand, what really happened. Naturally, there would be further questions about "but how come there are so many people? Did God create all of them?" This leads to the natural consequence of the flood, and a man, Noah, having three sons, being the progenitor of every other person on earth, which the Book of Genesis explains in some detail, right down to even the people on the other side of the HImalayas. What this story really indicates is that the stories were not written before people knew those mountains were as big and as unconquerable as they were, and that they also knew there were people on the other side of them. So this gives a clue as to when it was written. But I digress.
What I've been doing this year, apart from preparing my manuscript for publishing, is to take the Bible, from Genesis 1:1, verse by verse, and referring to the guides in my Bible to follow links to other similar verses, and using mechon-mamre to get the Hebrew text, and by doing that learning to recognise symbols, in the Hebrew text, quite well. When you do that you can see exactly what it is. With the help of a few people who have done the same thing, and a couple who have written doctoral theses on the subject, I came to this conclusion:
Written by mostly unidentified authors, the Bible is generally attributed with being the moral compass of the world of Judeo-Christian religious adherents. In fact, the Bible is mostly mythological history, inaccurate science, exaggerated reports of violence and discrimination against the people who settled the Fertile Crescent, and a set of laws plagiarised from those already in existence in the area. Even the writing of it, claimed to be that of the patriarchs, can clearly be identified, in the reading
of it, as belonging rather to a period when all people in the civilised world were writing their stories. It was not written, as atheists often charge, by illiterate nomadic tribespeople in pre-history. Instead, it was written by politicians and priests at a time when the western civilisations were making their mark on the world’s politics.
The books of Genesis and Exodus, I doubt, were ever intended to be serious history, just as the story of Troy, and Odysseus' tour of the Greek islands, were intended to be historical accounts. They are mythological stories intended to explain the inexplicable, to create a fantasy-legend to perhaps educate children a little about their ancestry and how their ancestors were great conquerors, rather than just ordinary people struggling to make a living in a world they didn't understand. It is more modern people, who, not knowing what the ancient world was about, and being overwhelmed by the greatness of it all, that offer the myths up as possible answers.
I became involved in a fairly heated argument with someone like this over the weekend. She asked questions: if there is no God, then where did we come from? When I offered the scientific answer, she responded with "but where did they come from"? When I tried to field questions that were really not appropriate for the situation, she finally came up with "but if you believe that it all 'just happened' then what caused it to happen?" I countered with a question as to what she thought, her response, "God". Of course. That is why people still believe in the Bible stories. They are a simply explanation for all sorts of things they don't understand: how were the pyramids built? where did laws come from? why do we know not to murder and steal? The answer they give to everything is that it's all there in the Bible. Because that is easy to understand. Assign magic to it, and you can rest easy. Remove the magical mythical story, and you come across questions you have to work at, really hard, to answer. I finally ended the conversation with "if God did it, who created God?" She had never heard that question before, so she responded with "that's a very good answer. Thank you!"
You see if you take each verse, cross-reference it, look for as close to the original translations as you can, and it becomes clearer and clearer that it is merely mythology from start to finish, and that very little, up to David and Solomon, is anything more than mythology.
After the kings, and the exile in Babylon, the bits and pieces of the history, and the few written stories they did have (Job being the oldest), were cobbled together by very clever people, who also included their songs and poetry, and bearing in mind that they were not illiterate (yes they actually were not illiterate goat-herders), by the middle of the first millennium BCE, they were also able to write down their fears about the invasions happening by the Greeks and later by the Romans, to create guidelines as to how to worship Yahweh in order to avoid a third diaspora. They didn't succeed, but that was in the next millennium.
I've also made the mistake most atheists do: just dismissing what is a rather spectacular collection of stories, simply because the worship the main character causes obscene acts in our own world, as being rubbish written by bronze-age goat herders. They weren't bronze age, and they weren't goat herders. The people who assembled the Old Testament were learned people who found a way to appeal to ordinary people to 1) give them the means of support, so they didn't have to "get a job"; 2) subdue them, keep them in some sort of civil order with a law for every single occasion. The threat of exile, after Babylon, was very real, so telling them to not sleep with their friends' wives, or suffer God's wrath, was a lot easier than doing what we do with criminals today: spend fortunes to keep them locked up in unnatural surroundings. They simply sold people into slavery, or stoned them, or worse, and that kept the order. I'm also fairly certain that just as we don't apply the laws of Hammurabi, or the Roman Twelve Tables, in our world, they didn't expect their laws, or even their religion, to survive another 2,000 years.
The outcome of the discussion with that woman is, I've been asked to present an address, on the Pentateuch, to a group of people who meet on a regular basis, just so they can listen to people who are knowledgeable about their subject, tell them about it. This will happen early next year. I'm a little chuffed about that.