According to scholars there is no doubt that the biblical authors shaped history in a creative way for their theological purposes (1). Old Testament scholar and professor Peter Enns explains that “Few biblical scholars, including evangelicals, hesitate to acknowledge this.” However, explains Enns, this certainly isn’t unique to biblical history for “Such creative historiography is not the sole property of Old and New Testament writers but simply part and parcel of any historian, ancient or modern, who wants to write a compelling account of the past to persuade or inspire his or her readers” (2).
Most notably one sees this with Luke’s presentation of the Apostle Paul. In his gospel Luke seems to present Paul as a present-day prophet in attempt to defend Paul’s status. In Luke’s writing Paul, like the prophets of God before him, is a chosen instrument of God for a great purpose. Prominent scholar Luke Timothy Johnson suggests that there is some connection between Luke’s portrayal of Paul and the story Joseph and Asenath (possibly late first century BC to second century AD) in his description (3). In some agreement Enns explains that there is a connection between Paul and Joseph in the context of Paul’s dramatic conversion, “In this legendary story of the patriarch and his Egyptian wife (see Gen. 41:45–50; 46:20), Asenath undergoes her own call of sorts (Joseph 14): the heavens open, a great light appears, she falls on her face, and an angel tells her to dress in new clothes, thus symbolizing her acceptance by God and marriage to Joseph… the presence of a diversely articulated motif of divine encounter, with details similar to those we find in Acts 22:9, may help us understand the details of Luke’s presentation of Paul” (4).
It is clear that Luke, alongside many other biblical authors, significantly shaped his narrative account in light of significant historical events and the stories of the past (5). Beyond Luke, however, we find such a creative portrayal in the account of Moses’ birth, abandonment, and eventual exaltation in Exodus 2:1–10, “This narrative echoes the much older legend of Sargon (ancient king of Akkad, 2300 BC). Of humble birth, Sargon was  placed by his mother in a reed basket lined with pitch,  set afloat on a river,  found by the king’s water drawer, who raised him as his son, and  eventually became king” (7). Such similarities in the fine details to the narrative of Moses are unlikely to simply be coincidental. Victor Matthews explains that the story of Moses’ birth emerges through the lens of an ancient Near Eastern literary convention of drawing on “precedent to certify a new event or a new leader” (8). In other words, it was Luke’s intention to certify Paul as a new leader.
And as Enns continues, this is not “an isolated incident here and there in the Bible; it’s the very substance of how biblical writers told the story of their past” (6). Scholars would generally identify narratives such as the exodus, the Canaan conquest narratives, and certain narratives surrounding Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus as clear examples of a creative remodelling of the past. Enns believes that “a better grasp of the creative nature of ancient portrayals of the past can and should inform our understanding of how biblical portrayals work” (7).
1. For a good articulation see The Art of Biblical History (1994) by Philips Long.
2. Peter Enns in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (2013). p. 133 (Scribd ebook format).
3. Johnson, L. Acts of the Apostles. p. 167–78.
4. Peter Enns in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (2013). p. 136 (Scribd ebook format).
5. Matthews, V. 2005. Old Testament Turning Points: The Narratives That Shaped a Nation. p. 62.
6. Peter Enns in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (2013). p. 104.
7. Peter Enns in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (2013)
8. Matthews, V. 2005. Ibid.