How much of scripture was dictated by the Holy Spirit? How much of scripture was given in its totality, communicated from “the outside”? The question has two dimensions: a phenomenological one, and a theological one.
Barnstone’s memoir of his friendship with Borges, touched on in this fine post by Joseph Hutchinson, indirectly answers the question on the phenomenological side: the contents of Scripture may have been “dictated” far more than moderns like to think. Moderns, after all, are scaredy cats when it comes to ghosts and spirits and even muses.
In order to countenance this possibility, it is necessary to pose all over again The Big Questions, as Hutchinson calls them: “Why do I exist? What do my dreams mean? Is there a real difference between dreams and waking experience? How do our creations originate and why?” Here is the skinny:
[In the course of a discussion of the genesis of a magnificent poem, La Cierva Blanca (see below for text and translation),] Borges tells Barnstone that he "physically dictated the words" [he was blind by this time and typically dictated his writings to the companion who would ultimately become his wife, María Kodama] but that he "didn't make them up":
The poem was given to me, in a dream, some minutes before dawn. At times dreams are painful and tedious, and I object to their outrage and say, enough, this is only a dream, stop. But this time it was an oral picture that I saw and heard. I simply copied it, exactly as it was given to me. . . . My dream was there, one-sided, in a flash, in the morning as I was waking.
“You were cunning enough to receive the dream, as it was, and be its scribe," replied Barnstone. Borges: "I was cunning enough."
I am convinced, though of course proof will never be forthcoming, that much of the poetry in the Hebrew Bible, that of the psalms as much as that of the prophets, “came” to its authors in this sense, or one not far from it. The texts were "incubated," as it were, though not necessarily in a dream or dream-like state.
Is Borges’ poem fully his? Yes. Was it given to him, in its entirety, from the outside, the issue of a source beneath and above conscious thought? Yes. Is the act of creation about seeing and hearing and then transcribing? Yes.
It is probably also the case that parts of the narrative in the Bible, and not just its poetry, were given, not invented. Though we have to allow for the possibility of retouching (in the case of a poet like Borges as well), it remains the case that a piece like Genesis 22, no less than Isaiah 40:1-11 and Psalm 19, is perhaps best understood as a product of inspiration in the phenomenological sense, rather than of “the closure of cleverness,” as Hutchinson so aptly puts it.
So much of what passes for biblical scholarship is an exercise in the closure of cleverness. Such work is not worth the dead trees on which it is printed.
Here is Borges’ magnificent poem which he received in a dream, with Hutchinson’s translation:
LA CIERVA BLANCA
¿De qué agreste balada de la verde Inglaterra,
De qué lámina persa, de qué región arcana
De las noches y días que nuestro ayer encierra,
Vino la cierva blanca que soñé esta mañana?
Duraría un segundo. La vi cruzar el prado
Y perderse en el oro de una tarde ilusoria,
Leve criatura hecha de un poco de memoria
Y de un poco de olvido, cierva de un solo lado.
Los númenes que rigen este curioso mundo
Me dejaron soñarte pero no ser tu dueño;
Tal vez en un recodo del porvenir profundo
Te encontraré de nuevo, cierva blanca de un sueño.
Yo también soy un sueño fugitivo que dura
unos días más que el sueño del prado y la blancura.
THE WHITE HIND
From what rustic ballad out of green England,
from what Persian picture, from what secret zone
of nights and days that our yesterday encloses,
came the white hind I dreamed this morning?
It lasted only a second. I saw it cross the meadow
and lose itself in the gold of an illusive evening,
a slight creature made from a pinch of memory
and a pinch of forgetfulness, a one-sided hind.
The gods that govern this peculiar world
let me dream you but not be your master;
perhaps at a bend in the deep time to come
I'll find you again, white hind of a dream.
I too am a fleeting dream that lasts
a few days longer than dreams of meadows and whiteness.
The subject matter of inspiration, viewed phenomenologically, intersects with that of orality. That’s why it is so exciting that discussion of the question of orality is heating up very nicely again, more so in the study of the Mishnah than that of the Bible. For an excellent introduction to the question of the Mishnah's orality, see this essay by Ishay Rosen-Zvi.