When I first became a Christian, I was told that the Bible was the inerrant word of God, a reliable historical source that would tell me how things were, how they are and how they will be. My first lessons were in prooftexting - taking selected verses out of their context and applying them literally into my own. However I was soon keen to start reading the Bible for myself and this inevitably challenged such understandings again and again.
One doesn't have to go very far - take these three texts from the first book of the Bible as an example: Gen 12:10-20; 20:1-18; 26:1-13. This is clearly the same story repeated three times with minor changes in character and setting. If the stories are historical they demonstrate either unbelievable co-incidence or bizarre manipulation on the part of the protagonists and/or God (if God is thought to be the shaper of history).
Taken individually, the stories are quaint and even vaguely amusing at times. However together they cannot fail to challenge a historical literalist view of the Bible. Is it more likely that God twists historical circumstances towards deja vu experiences or that ancient storytellers reframed their tales with new characters and settings to re-iterate moral points?