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Ancient Man and His First Civilizations

History of The Bible

 

The Christian Bible consists of the Old Testament and the New Testament, with the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox versions of the Old Testament being slightly larger because of their acceptance of certain books, and parts of books, considered apocryphal by Protestants. The Jewish (European) Bible includes only the books known to Christians as the Old Testament. The arrangements of the Jewish and Christian canons differ considerably. The Protestant and Roman Catholic arrangements more nearly match one another.

Apocryphal - Of doubtful authenticity

Canon - The usually codified law governing a Church: the body of principles, rules, standards, or norms of a Church.

Note: Original religious writings of the ancient Hebrews (except for the “Dead Sea Scrolls” which have not been made public) are not known to currently exist, likewise no known copies of the original Septuagint are known to exist.

 

 

The first Bible: The Septuagint

The History of the Septuagint, and its Terminology.

 

The SEPTUAGINT, derived from the Latin word for "seventy," Septuagint, can be a confusing term, since it ideally refers to the mid 200 B.C. translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek in Alexandria, Egypt. There is a complicated story however, behind the translation and the various stages, amplifications, and modifications to the collection we now call the Septuagint.

The earliest, and best known source for the story of the Septuagint, is the Letter of Aristeas (see below), a lengthy document that recalls how the Ptolemy’s – the Greek family that Alexander the Great set up to rule Egypt for him – specifically Philadelphus II (285–247 B.C.), who desiring to augment his library in Alexandria Egypt, commissioned a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. He wrote to the chief priest Eleazar in Jerusalem, and arranged for six translators from each of the twelve tribes of Israel to come to Egypt for that purpose.

The seventy-two (altered in a few later versions to seventy or seventy-five) translators arrived in Egypt to the Ptolemy's gracious hospitality, and translated the Pentateuch: the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, believed to have been written by Moses, in seventy-two days. There is no information available, as to how differing versions between individuals and tribes were resolved. Although opinions as to when this occurred differ, scholars find 282 B.C. to be an attractive date.

As attested by the Dead Sea Scrolls (the oldest known Hebrew scriptures – see below), there was no “ONE” Hebrew belief or Canon at this time. Rather there were many sects, each with their own beliefs – some quite radical. Thus Ptolemy's need for many translators from each tribe, in hope of getting a consensus of the Hebrew religion. How much of the material presented was written (and when it was written), and how much was oral is unknown.

 

Those that dispute that Moses wrote the Pentateuch give as reasons..

1) One passage describes a sequence of events; a later passage states that they happened in a different order. Presumably Moses would have remembered the proper sequence.

2) In the story of the Flood, one passage has Noah collecting two of each species while another passage states that he collected 14. One verse describes water coming from the heavens and from below the ground; another describes all of the water falling as rain. The duration of the rain differs between two verses.

3) Genesis 11:31 describes Abraham as living in the city Ur, and identifies that location with the Chaldeans. But the Chaldeans did not exist as a tribe at the time of Abraham; they rose to power much later, in the 1st millennium B.C.

4) Deuteronomy 34 describes the death of Moses. It is difficult to attribute the description of a funeral to the deceased.

5) One passage in Genesis 33 has Jacob legally purchasing the location of Shechem for the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel. Genesis 34 has Jacob's sons killing all of the men of Shechem by a deceitful trick.

6) The first part of the story in Numbers 25 about the rebellion at Peor referred to Moabite women; the second part said that they were Midianites.

7) Moses is described as going to the Tabernacle in a passage where the Tabernacle had not yet been built.

8) A list of Edomite kings included some monarchs who were in power after Moses' death.

9) Some locations are identified by names that were invented long after the death of Moses. One example is seen in Genesis 14:14; it refers to the city of Dan. That name did not exist until a long time after Moses' death.

10) There are many verses in the Torah that state that something has lasted "to this day". That appears to have been written by a writer who composed the passages at a much later date.

11) Numbers 12:3 states "Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth." (NKJ) If Moses were that humble, it is unlikely that he would have described himself in these terms.

12) Deuteronomy 34:10 states "There has never been another prophet like Moses..." (NLT) This sounds like a passage written long after Moses' death.

 

The Letter of Aristeas

(Considered Bogus by some)
 
 

In the time of Antiochus IV a Greek translation of the Pentateuch was being prepared in Alexandria, where a large Jewish population had been transferred by Ptolemy Philadelphus in the previous century. The Jews of Alexandria had gradually lost their knowledge of the ancient Hebrew language, and many had adopted the Hellenistic culture to some extent. 

In the document known as the Letter of Aristeas, which scholars believe was written by a Hellenistic Jew in the mid second century BC, an elaborate story is related about how the translation of the Pentateuch was done, and the reasons for it, and the circumstances. The Aristeas document pretends to date from more than a century earlier, and the setting of the story is the court of Ptolemy Philadelpus in Alexandria. Some scholars view the work as fiction, but nevertheless, it is the basis for the name by which the Greek Bible has become known, the "Septuagint" or "LXX". It is also regarded as an important source document for the history of the period. 

The Aristeas story was clearly intended to persuade Jews of the authority and sanctity of the new Greek text. Whatever the specific date the translation occurred, evidence within the Bible itself, in the prophecy of Daniel chapter 8, suggests that changes to the cosmology of the Bible were ordered by the Seleucid king Antiochus IV (Greek king of Mesopotamia), who reigned in the second century B.C. These changes, in the guise of "corrections", probably first appeared in the Greek translation of the scriptures, and were subsequently introduced into the Hebrew text from the Greek. 

The Letter of Aristeas indicates that when the Greek translation of the Bible appeared, it was claimed that the new Greek text was even more authoritative than the Hebrew text. The Aristeas text contains a document purportedly written by Demetrius of Phalerum, the president of the library of Philadelphus the king. This document is reproduced below. Demetrius claims the Hebrew scriptures had been "somewhat carelessly committed to writing and are not in their original form." Further, this was supported by the evidence of "experts." Demetrius proposed that this could be rectified by making the new translation. 

 
THE MEMORANDUM OF DEMETRIUS

An exerpt from the Letter of Aristeas, lines 28-34

 

When this business had been dealt with, he ordered Demetrius to submit a memorandum about the copying of the Jewish books. For at the court of these kings, everything was managed by means of decrees, and with maximum security, and nothing was done in an offhand or casual manner. This is a copy of the memorandum: 

To the Great King, from Demetrius. In accordance with your Majesty's order concerning the library, that books needed to complete the collection should be acquired and added, and that those accidentally damaged should receive suitable attention, I submit the following report, having attended to my responsibility in the matter in no casual manner. Books of the Law of the Jews, with some few others, are wanting. For it happens that these books are written in the Hebrew script and language, but, according to the evidence of the experts, have been somewhat carelessly committed to writing and are not in their original form; for they have never had the benefit of royal attention.

It is important that these books, duly corrected, should find a place in your library, because this legislation, in as much as it is divine, is of philosophical importance and of innate integrity. For this reason writers and poets and the great majority of historians have avoided reference to the above mentioned books and to the people who have lived and are living in accordance with them because, as Hecataeus of Abdera says, the view of life presented in them has a certain sanctity and holiness. If then, your Majesty approves, a letter shall be written to the high priest in Jerusalem, asking him to send elders of exemplary lives, expert in their country's Law, six from each tribe, so that having established the agreement of the majority and obtained an accurate translation, we may give the book a distinguished place in our library, in keeping both with the importance of the affair and of your own purpose. May you ever prosper! 

In view of this memorandum, the king ordered a letter on the subject to be written to Eleazar.

The parts of the original Hebrew scriptures, and specifically, the Pentateuch, most likely to have been viewed by Greeks and Hellenistic Jews at Alexandria as needing such modification, were cosmological passages such as the creation account of Genesis 1, that omitted mention of the rigid sky and Olympus in appropriate places. The concept of a rigid sky was essential for the Greek geocentric theory, but would be entirely absent in the original Hebrew text.

The ancient Greek philosophers and poets believed in a stationary earth at the center of the universe. At night they could observe stars revolving in a circle around a point in the northern sky, so it seemed as though the heavens were in continual circular motion. They reasoned that the stars must be attached to a rigid heaven, that held them fixed in the sky, so that their positions did not change relative to one another as the sky turned. Above this rigid heaven was a great reservoir of water. The mystery of the rigid heaven was the focus of their religion. The starry heaven of the night and the blue daylight sky, were identified as "Zeus Olympus" by the Greeks, and the same deity was referred to as "Jupiter" or "Jove" by the Romans. The words "Zeus" as well as "Deus" are derived from an old Indo-European root meaning "to shine". "Jupiter" is derived from Deus (sky) + Pater (father).

Thus, the above statement by Demetrius alleging deviations from the "original form" existed in the Hebrew scriptures seems very much like a ruse or a pretext for altering the cosmology of the Greek version of the scripture, and Letter of Aristeas apears an attempt to explain the discrepancy between the Hebrew and the Greek text, which was subsequently hidden when the Hebrew text was altered to conform to the Greek. The changes, identifying the 'raqia' with the sky had been introduced into the Greek translation; the Letter of Aristeas was apparently designed to account for them. 

The Memorandum of Demetrius provides clear evidence that alterations were made to the scriptures, resulting in discrepancies between the Hebrew and the new Greek version; these were the parts that had been "somewhat carelessly committed to writing" and so were "not in their original form." The story related by Aristeas about the translation of the Pentateuch in Alexandria presents the new Greek text as superior to the Hebrew. The Greek text is touted as the more accurate version, in which the deficiencies due to "careless transcription" had presumably been corrected by the Israelite scholars.

 

 

 

The Septuagint continued.

 

According to Philo of Alexandria (100 A.D, he lived 200 years afterward?), only the Pentateuch was commissioned to be translated: and some modern scholars have concurred, noting a kind of consistency in the style of the Greek Pentateuch. Over the course of the next three centuries however, other books of the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek in an order that is not altogether clear. By observing technical terms and translation styles, and by comparing the Greek versions to the Dead Sea Scrolls, (see below), and by comparing them to Hellenistic literature, scholars are trying to stitch together a history of the translations that eventually found their way into collections. It seems that sometimes a Hebrew book was translated more than once, or that a particular Greek translation was revised. In other cases, a work was composed afresh in Greek, yet was included in the collection of original scriptures.

Philo of Alexandria –Greek speaking Hebrew philosopher, considered the most important representative of Greek Judaism. His writings provide the clearest view of this development in Judaism.

By Philo's time, the seventy-two translators enjoyed a religious cult following, Pilgrims both Jews and Gentiles, celebrated a yearly festival on the island where the translators were purported to have conducted their work. The popularity of the legend of the translation helps to explain why, when we first hear Christians explicitly mention the translation in the mid-second century (Justin Martyr and Irenaeus), the entire Old Testament in Greek, whether originally written in Hebrew or not, is credited to the Seventy-two. Thus, from the second century onwards, Christians embraced a Septuagint that encompassed a larger body of literature than was found in the Hebrew Scriptures, and they attributed it all, to the work of the seventy-two ancient Jewish translators.

For their part, Hebrew rabbis, particularly Pharisees, reacted to the Christian appropriation of their Scriptures by producing fresh translations of their Scriptures (e.g., Aquila, in 128 A.D, or Symmachus in the late 200 A.D.), and also by discouraging the use of the Septuagint. In any case, in the second century, Christian and Hebrew leaders seemed to stake out and codify their position on the form and character of the Scriptures. By and large, Christians held to the peculiar, prophetic character of their Septuagint, while Hebrews rejected it.

In the third century A.D, the great Christian scholar, Origen (184–254), keenly interested in the textual differences between the Hebrew and the Greek, set out to arrange the Church's Old Testament in six columns: 1) the Hebrew, 2) a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew, 3) Aquila's translation, 4) Symmachus's translation, 5) the Septuagint, and 6) Theodotion.

The volumes were compiled in Caesarea, probably between 230 and 240 A.D, a project funded by Origen's patron. The resultant work, the Hexapla, was massive, and has for the most part perished, probably due to cost and labor of transcribing all 3600 folios for posterity. Although Origen was a very careful scholar, it seems that he composed his version of the SEPTUAGINT from several different manuscripts and preferred readings that brought the text into conformity with the Hebrew. Thus, this fifth SEPTUAGINT column, while establishing the first "standardized text" of the Christian Church, created problems for modern scholars who would seek to recover a pre-Christian version of the SEPTUAGINT.

Further recensions of the Greek text in the fourth century are also attested. Hesychius (3/400 A.D.) is said to have created a recension for the Church in Egypt; Lucian (312 A.D.), did one in Antioch. Some scholars believe that there were even more recensions from this period. Thus, we find some Greek Church Fathers varying widely amongst themselves in their Old Testament citations. There is no indication however, that this was troubling to Church leadership. The insistence on letter-for-letter, word-for-word accuracy in the Scriptures was a feature that was not to emerge in Christian thought for many centuries to come, and then in imitation of Hebrew models. As far as early Christians were concerned, any Greek version of the Old Testament read in the Church merited the term Septuagint.

Recensions - A critical revision of a text.

Wherever Christianity spread, translations of the Hebrew Scriptures were made based on the SEPTUAGINT. Thus, it became the basis for translations into Arabic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Old Latin, Coptic, Georgian, and Old Church Slavonic. (It was not the basis for either, the Syriac version (known as the Peshitta), which is a pre-Christian translation based directly upon the Hebrew, or for St. Jerome's Latin translation, which is also based on the Hebrew.)

Modern scholars, sifting through this very interesting and eventful history, have attempted to create editions of the Septuagint that reflect as early a text as possible. Rahlfs's edition of the SEPTUAGINT (1935) is a diplomatic one, utilizing what he believed to be the chief manuscripts. Brooke, McLean, and Thackeray's partial edition (1906–40) sought a more critical approach. The Göttingen edition of the SEPTUAGINT (1931– ), now mostly complete, is the most critical edition of the SEPTUAGINT, taking into account over 120 manuscripts, many languages, and a multitude of patristic quotations. Modern Biblical scholars have accepted the Göttingen as the standard working edition, although the ease and accessibility of Rahlfs's edition has made it popular for less exacting work and study.

Thus, "Septuagint" could refer to any one or more of the states of the Greek translation throughout history. It is important to understand specifically what is meant in any given discussion of the SEPTUAGINT. A strict, purist use of "Septuagint" would allow the term to be used for only the earliest, (and probably) unrecoverable translation of the Pentateuch made by the Jewish scholars ca. 282 B.C. (some refer to this as the "Old Greek," but with some confusion, since the assignment of this term forces "Septuagint" to be applied to texts with no direct connection to the legend of the seventy-two). For our purposes, we use "Septuagint" to refer to the entire tradition of Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, and not to any single text or edition.

 

The Masoretic text (MT)

 

(From Hebrew masoreth, “tradition”), the traditional Hebrew text of the Hebrew Bible, meticulously assembled and codified, and supplied with diacritical marks to enable correct pronunciation. This monumental work was begun around 600 A.D. and completed in 1000 A.D. by scholars at academies in Babylonia and Palestine, in an effort to reproduce, as far as possible, the original text of the Hebrew Old Testament. Their intention was not to interpret the meaning of the Scriptures but to transmit to future generations the authentic Word of God. To this end, they gathered manuscripts and whatever oral traditions were available to them at the time.

During the middle years of the Masoretic’s creation, the powerful and influential Khazars, converted to the Hebrew religion. It is not known what input or effect, the Khazars had on the final version of the Masoretic text, or how closely the modern Jewish Bible reflects the Masoretic text.

Khazars – An ancient Turkic people who appeared in Transcaucasia, {the transitional region between Europe and Asia, extending from the Greater Caucasus to the Turkish and Iranian borders, between the Black and Caspian seas.} in the 2nd cent. A.D, and subsequently settled in the lower Volga region. They emerged as a force in the 7th century and rose to great power. By the 8th century the Khazar empire extended from the northern shores of the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea to the Urals and as far westward as Kiev. Also in the 8th Century, the Khazars converted to the Hebrew religion and made Judaism the State religion. “Itil” the Khazar capital in the Volga delta, was a great commercial center. The Khazar Empire fell, when Sviatoslav, duke of Kiev (945–72), son of Igor and of St. Olga, defeated its army in 965 A.D. The Khazars are the progenitors of European Jewry, the entomology of the term Jew or Jewish probably relates to these people.

 

The Shape of the Septuagint

 

The translation habits of the Septuagint vary from book to book. In some cases (e.g., Ecclesiastes), the Greek is a very literal, almost wooden, translation of the Hebrew. In other cases (e.g., Proverbs), it is more drawn-out. The quality and kind of translation must be taken on a book by book basis.

In many cases, it seems the SEPTUAGINT is based on a version of the Hebrew Scriptures that is different from the standard Masoretic text (MT), of 600-1000 A.D. There are a number of books in the Septuagint where the differences between the SEPTUAGINT and MT are very striking. For instance:

In SEPTUAGINT, Jeremiah is shorter than in MT Jeremiah by roughly one-eighth, and the order of its chapters is quite different.

In SEPTUAGINT, Job is about one-sixth smaller than in MT Job, and includes an ending not found in the Hebrew.

Almost half of the verses in SEPTUAGINT Esther are not found in MT Esther.

Material in SEPTUAGINT Exodus and MT Exodus differ in many places according to order of verses, and inclusion/exclusion of words and material.

Scholars vary as to their explanation for these differences, but in many cases, they suggest that the SEPTUAGINT reflects a very early Hebrew text no longer available to us. It is often difficult to say categorically how much in the SEPTUAGINT should correct the MT, since some books suggest more clear-cut changes to the Hebrew than others. This may frustrate some readers who would prefer a clear-cut account of the transmission of the Hebrew text, since close study of the SEPTUAGINT tends to raise more questions than answers. Nevertheless, this much seems certain: the MT changed over time, and the SEPTUAGINT is a crucial witness to this process.

Some of the differences between the SEPTUAGINT and MT crop up in the New Testament (NT), which draws extensively, but not exclusively, from the SEPTUAGINT. The meaning of the theological vocabulary of the NT is interlocked with that of the SEPTUAGINT, especially in the Pauline writings, and the peculiarities of the SEPTUAGINT are readily apparent in NT quotations. Notable is SEPTUAGINT Isaiah 7.14, which promises that a virgin will be with child. MT Isaiah 7.14 reports her merely as a "woman" (Heb: almah). Thus the argument behind Matthew 1.23, which cites this verse as a prophecy of Jesus Christ, only makes sense given the reading in the SEPTUAGINT. This, and examples like it, prompted early Christians to attribute to the SEPTUAGINT a special status, so as to safeguard the authority of the NT. As a result, the differences between the SEPTUAGINT and MT directly contributed to the distinct directions Judaism and Christianity took in Late Antiquity.

Although a factor for division, the SEPTUAGINT also constitutes common ground, since it bears witness to the way Greek-speaking Hebrews, before the Christian era, read and interpreted the Hebrew Scriptures. By their efforts, those who produced the SEPTUAGINT established a certain vocabulary and set of ideas that markedly changed the literature of the Graeco-Roman world. Many of these peculiarly Hebrew ways of reading the Bible filtered into the Christian community, often to the dismay of early pagan critics of Christianity (Celsus and Porphyry, notably), who saw in the SEPTUAGINT solecisms and myths. The early Christians who responded to these charges generally refused to be embarrassed by the SEPTUAGINT, and often sought to transform the sense and sensibility of the ancient world in favor of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Septuagint is of importance too, because it is translated from texts now lost. No copy of the original translation exists and textual difficulties abound.

 

 

The Modern Bible

 

The Old Testament

In its general framework, the Old Testament is the account of God's dealing with the Hebrews as his chosen people. The first six books of the Old Testament narrate how the Israelites became a people and settled in the Promised Land. The following seven books continue their story in the Promised Land, describing the establishment and development of the monarchy and the messages of the prophets. The last 11 books contain poetry, theology, and some additional historical works. The term Old Testament was devised by a Christian, Melito of Sardis, about AD 170 to distinguish this part of the Bible from the later New Testament.

The Hebrew canon recognizes the following subdivisions of the Old Testaments three main divisions:

1) The Torah/Pentateuch, in the broadest sense the substance of divine revelation to the Hebrew people: God's revealed teaching or guidance for mankind. The meaning of “Torah” is often restricted to signify the first five books of the Old Testament, also called the Law or the Pentateuch. These are the books traditionally ascribed to Moses, the recipient of the original revelation from God on Mount Sinai. Jewish, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant canons all agree on their order: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

2) The Nevi'im/The Prophets the second division of the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament. In the Hebrew canon the Prophets are divided into (1) the Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings) and (2) the Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel - and the Twelve, or Minor, Prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi).

This canon, though somewhat fluid up to the early 2nd century BC, was finally fixed by a council of rabbis at Jabneh (Jamnia), now in Israel, at about 100 A.D.

2a) The Protestant canon follows the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament. It calls the Former Prophets the Historical Books, and subdivides two of them into Samuel I and II, and Kings I and II. Some Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox versions further divide Kings into four books. Maccabees I and II are also included in the Roman and Eastern canons as historical books.

2b) The Prophets in the Protestant canon include Isaiah (which appears in two books in some Catholic versions), Jeremiah, and Ezekiel from the Hebrew Latter Prophets. The Minor Prophets (The Twelve) are treated as 12 separate books; thus the Protestant canon has 17 prophetic books. The Roman Catholics accept the book of Baruch, including as its 6th chapter the Letter of Jeremiah, both considered apocryphal by Jews and Protestants.

3) The Ketuvim/The Writings, the third division of the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament. Divided into four sections, the Ketuvim includes: Poetical books (Psalms, Proverbs, and Job), the Megillot, or Scrolls (Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations of Jeremiah, Ecclesiastes, and Esther), prophecy (Daniel), and history (Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles I and II).

3a) Thus the Ketuvim is a miscellaneous collection of liturgical poetry, secular love poetry, wisdom literature, history, apocalyptic literature, a short story, and a romantic tale. They were composed over a long period of time—from before the Babylonian Exile in the early 6th century B.C. to the middle of the 2nd century B.C. — and were not entirely accepted as canonical until the 200 A.D. Unlike the Torah and the Nevi'im (Prophets), which were canonized as groups, each book of the Ketuvim was canonized separately, often on the basis of its popularity.

The total number of books in the Hebrew canon is 24, the number of scrolls on which these works were written in ancient times. The Old Testament as adopted by Christianity numbers more works for the following reasons. The Roman Catholic canon, derived initially from the Greek-language Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible, absorbed a number of books that Jews and Protestants later determined were not canonical (see apocrypha); and Christians divided some of the original Hebrew works into two or more parts, specifically, Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles (two parts each), Ezra-Nehemiah (two separate books), and the Minor Prophets (12 separate books).

In the Apocrypha of the Old Testament, various types of literature are represented; the purpose of the Apocrypha seems to have been to fill in some of the gaps left by the undisputed canonical books and to carry the history of Israel forward to the 2nd century B.C.

Old Testament pseudepigrapha are extremely numerous and offer accounts of patriarchs and events, attributed to various biblical personages from Adam to Zechariah. Some of the most significant of these works are the Ascension of Isaiah, the Assumption of Moses, the Life of Adam and Eve, the First and Second Books of Enoch, the Book of Jubilees, the Letter of Aristeas, and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs.

Pseudepigrapha – Are works usually spuriously attributing authorship to some biblical character. Pseudepigrapha are not included in any canon.

 

The New Testament

 

The New Testament is the second and later, also smaller of the two major divisions of the Christian Bible, and the portion that is canonical (authoritative) only to Christianity.

The New Testament is an anthology, a collection of works written at different times by various authors. In almost all Christian traditions today, the New Testament consists of 27 books. The original texts are said to have been written beginning around A.D. 50 in Koine Greek, the lingua franca of the eastern part of the Roman Empire where they were composed.

Christians see the New Testament as the fulfillment of the promise of the Old Testament. It recounts the life and ministry of Jesus and interprets its meaning for the early church. Like the Old Testament, the New Testament is a collection of books, including a variety of early Christian literature.

The New Testament focuses especially on the new covenant created between God and the followers of Jesus. There are 27 books in the New Testament: The four Gospels of the New Testament deal with the life, the person, and the teachings of Jesus, as he was remembered by the Christian community. The book of Acts carries the story of Christianity from the Resurrection of Jesus to the end of the career of the Apostle Paul; The Letters (21), or Epistles, are correspondence by various leaders of the early Christian church, chief among them the Apostle Paul, applying the message of the church to the sundry needs and problems of early Christian congregations; and the Book of Revelation, a description of the coming apocalypse. The Book of Revelation is the only accepted canonical representative of a large genre of apocalyptic literature that appeared in the early Christian movement.

Apocalypse - The Jewish and Christian writings of 200 B.C. to A.D. 150 marked by pseudonymity – (a fictitious name), symbolic imagery, and the expectation of an imminent cosmic cataclysm in which God destroys the ruling powers of evil and raises the righteous to life in a messianic kingdom.

Most are believed to have been written shortly after Jesus’ death in the later 1st century A.D, though none can be dated precisely. Only two authors are known for certain: St. Paul, credited with 13 epistles; and St. Luke, writer of the third gospel and the Book of Acts. Attributions of other authors range from highly likely (for the other three gospels) to completely unknown (for the Epistle to the Hebrews). These documents circulated among the early churches and were used as preaching and teaching sources. The earliest known list of the current New Testament canons dates from 367 A.D, in a work by St. Athanasius. A church council of 382 A.D, gave final approval to the list.

Heretical movements such as Gnosticism and Montanism spawned a great body of New Testament pseudepigrapha. The existence of such purported scriptures lent great impetus to the process of canonization in the young and orthodox Christian Church. 

Heretical - A religious opinion contrary to church dogma.

All the New Testament apocrypha are pseudepigraphal, and most of them fall into the categories of acts, gospels, and epistles, though there are a number of apocalypses and some can be characterized as wisdom books. The apocryphal acts purport to relate the lives or careers of various biblical figures, including most of the apostles; the epistles, gospels, and others are ascribed to such figures. Some relate encounters and events in mystical language and describe arcane rituals.

Most of these works, arose from sects that had been or would be declared heretical, such as the Gnostics. Some of them argued against various heresies, and a few appear to have been neutral efforts to popularize the life of some saint or other early leader of the church, including a number of women. In the early decades of Christianity no orthodoxy had been established, and various parties or factions were vying for ascendancy and regularity in the young church. All sought through their writings, as through their preaching and missions, to win believers. In this setting virtually all works advocating beliefs that later became heretical, were destined to denunciation and destruction.

In addition to apocryphal works per se, the New Testament includes a number of works and fragments that are described by a second meaning of the term deuterocanonical: (“added later”). The Letter to the Hebrews attributed to Paul, who died before it was written, is one of these; others are the letters of James, Peter (II), John (II and III), and Jude, and the Revelation to John. Fragments include Mark 16:9–20, Luke 22:43–44, and John 7:53 and 8:1–11. All are included in the Roman Catholic canon and are accepted by the Eastern Church and most Protestant churches.

 

Aspects of the Christian religion

 

New Testament references to the “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (for example), Matthew 13:11; Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10) generated myth and legend. The New Testament emphasis on secrecy and on the mysteries of salvation became fertile ground for the exfoliations of myth and legend. Things hidden from the beginning of the world now blossomed in the signs of the new messianic age. These truths, now come to light, should be proclaimed to the whole world. Through myth and legend, Christians transmitted and explored, with the full force of the imagination, the wonders revealed in Christ and the secrets of his salvation.

Esoteric traditions, especially those based on apocalypses and apocrypha (such as the Apocalypse of Peter, Gospel of Thomas, Secret Gospel of Mark, and Gospel of Philip) preserve some legends and myths descending from the early Christian centers of Edessa, Alexandria, and Asia Minor. The First Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus (known also as the Arabic Infancy Gospel) recounts that one day, Jesus and his playmates were playing on a rooftop and one boy fell down and died. The other playmates ran away, leaving Jesus accused of pushing the dead boy. Jesus, however, went to the dead boy and asked, “Zeinunus”, who threw you down from the housetop?” The dead boy answered that Jesus had not done it and named another (I Infancy 19:4–11).

This and other such narratives describe the “hidden life” of Jesus in the 30 years before his public ministry began. The Acts of Paul narrates the story of a friend of Paul who was thrown to the lions—one of which defended her in a manner similar to that of the lion in the story of Androcles, a well-known legend. Other exemplary legends appear in the Acts of the Martyrs and other histories. After Christian theologians defined orthodoxies in terms of Greek philosophy or Roman juridical code, these mythic themes appeared clumsy or tasteless and in retrospect, heterodox or even heretical.

Groups of Gnostics and heretics, who based their ideas on alternative mythologies of Christian salvation, furnished exotic Christian myths, legends, and practices. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D, these groups often subscribed to theories of dualism, that is: the world of matter was created by an evil god (of the Book of Genesis), and the realm of the spirit was created by a good god (revealed in the New Testament), and they were irreconcilably pitted against one another.

Many Gnostic sects—among them the Valentinians, Basilidians, Ophites, and Simonians—developed a variety of myths. Valentinus lived in Rome and Alexandria in the mid-2nd century. Valentinian myths describe how the pleroma (spiritual realm) that existed in the beginning was disrupted by a fall. The Creator God of Genesis, aborted from the primordial world, became a Demiurge and created the material universe. He deliberately created two kinds of human being and animated them with his breath: these were the hylics and the psychics.

Demiurge - A subordinate deity who is the creator of the material world.

Unknown to the Demiurge however, certain remnants of pleromic wisdom contained in his breath lodged as spiritual particles in matter and produced a third group of beings called pneumatics. The God of Genesis now tries to prevent Gnostics from discovering their past origins, present powers, and future destinies. Gnostics (the pneumatics) contain within themselves divine sparks expelled from the pleroma. Christ was sent from the pleroma to teach Gnostics the saving knowledge (gnosis) of their true identities and was crucified when the Demiurge of Genesis discovered that Christ (the male partner of the feminine Holy Spirit) was in Jesus. After Christ returned to the pleroma, the Holy Spirit descended.

Another group: The Ophites (from the Greek word ophis, “serpent”) reinterpreted the mythological theme of the Fall of Man in Genesis. According to the Ophite view, the serpent of the Garden of Eden wanted Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, to eat from the tree of knowledge (gnosis) so that they would know their true identities and “be like God” (Genesis 3:5). The serpent thus, is interpreted as a messenger of the spiritual god, and the one who wanted to prevent Adam and Eve from eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge is viewed as the Demiurge. In their rejection of the God of the Old Testament, who gave the Ten Commandments, the Ophites flaunted their sexual freedom by extreme sexual license, a trait common to other Gnostic groups as well.

The Phibionites in Alexandria were another Gnostic sect described by Epiphanius. They gathered at banquets that became ecstatic orgies. Married couples changed partners for dramatic sexual performances. Sperm and menstrual blood were gathered and offered as a gift to God before being consumed as the Body and Blood of Christ. By such erotic communions they sought to re-gather the elements of the world-soul (psyche) from the material forms into which it had been dispersed through a cosmic tragedy at the beginning of time. The re-gathering amounted to salvation, for all things would be gathered up into the one glorious body of Christ.

 

The Magi and the Child of Wondrous Light

 

The legend of the Magi-Kings was embellished in apocryphal books and Christian folklore. The Proto-gospel of James and the Chronicle of Zuqnin, describe the birth of the Savior. Like the God Mithra, the divine child is consubstantial with celestial light and was born in a mountain cave on December 25. Such imagery of the Nativity of Christ and the symbolism of the royal visitors may originally have descended from Persian accounts of the birth of the cosmic savior, for the accounts seem to owe a great deal to Persian theologies of light.

But the themes have been recast in Christian terms. The Opus imperfectum in Matthaeum, relates that 12 Magi-Kings lived near the Mountain of Victories, which they climbed every year in the hope of finding the messiah in a cave on the mountaintop. Each year they entered the cave and prayed for three days, waiting for the promised star to appear. Adam had revealed this location and the secret promises to his son Seth. Seth transmitted the mysteries to his sons, who passed the information from generation to generation. Eventually the Magi, sons of kings, entered the cave to find a star of unspeakable brightness, glowing more than many suns together. The star and its bright light led to, or became, the Holy Child, the son of the Light, who redeems the world.

Mithra - pre-Zoroastrian Persia – The Sun god – also, the celestial deity who oversaw all solemn agreements.

Magi - Zoroastrian priest

 

 

The Vulgate Bible

 

(From the Latin editio vulgata: “common version”), Latin Bible used by the Roman Catholic Church, primarily translated by St. Jerome in 382 A.D. Pope Damasus commissioned Jerome, the leading biblical scholar of his day, to produce an acceptable Latin version of the Bible from the various translations then being used. His revised Latin translation of the Gospels appeared about 383 A.D.

The Septuagint was an important basis for St. Jerome's translation of the Old Testament into Latin for the Vulgate Bible; and, although he had doubts about the authenticity of some of the apocryphal works that it contained (he was the first to employ the word apocrypha in the sense of “noncanonical”), he was overruled, and most of them were included in the Vulgate.

Other apocryphal writings, canonical only to Roman Catholicism, with an exception or two, include the Book of Baruch (a prophet) and the Letter of Jeremiah (often the sixth chapter of Baruch); the First and Second Books of Maccabees; several stories from Daniel, namely, the Song of the Three, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon; and extensive portions of the Book of Esther. Certain other books found in the Septuagint—the Apocrypha for Protestants and Jews; the deuterocanonical books for Roman Catholics—were included.

Deuterocanonical works are those that are accepted in one canon but not in all.

Various editors and correctors produced revised texts of the Vulgate over the years. The University of Paris produced an important edition in the 13th century. Its primary purpose was to provide an agreed standard for theological teaching and debate. The earliest printed Vulgate Bibles were all based on this Paris edition.

In 1546 the Council of Trent decreed that the Vulgate was the exclusive Latin authority for the Bible, and declared the canonicity of nearly the entire Vulgate, excluding only the Third and Fourth Books of Maccabees, the Prayer of Manasseh, Psalm 151, and the First and Second Books of Esdras.

Eastern Christendom, meanwhile, had accepted some of the Old Testament apocrypha—Tobit, Judith, the Wisdom of Solomon, and Ecclesiasticus (Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach)—but rejected the rest.

The so-called Clementine Vulgate, issued by Pope Clement VIII in 1592, became the authoritative biblical text of the Roman Catholic Church. From it the Confraternity Version was translated in 1941. Various critical editions have been produced in modern times; in 1965 a commission was established by the second Vatican Council to revise the Vulgate.

 

 

John Wycliffe and the Lollards

 

The first complete English-language version of the Bible dates from 1382 and was credited to John Wycliffe and his followers.

John Wycliffe, a University of Oxford philosopher and theologian whose unorthodox religious and social doctrines in some ways anticipated those of the 16th-century Protestant Reformation. The name “Lollard”, used pejoratively, derived from the Middle Dutch lollaert (“mumbler”), which had been applied earlier to certain European continental groups suspected of combining pious pretensions with heretical belief.

At Oxford in the 1370s, Wycliffe came to advocate increasingly radical religious views. He denied the doctrine of transubstantiation and stressed the importance of preaching and the primacy of Scripture as the source of Christian doctrine. Claiming that the office of the Pope lacked scriptural justification, he equated the Pope with Antichrist and welcomed the 14th-century schism in the papacy as a prelude to its destruction. Wycliffe was charged with heresy and retired from Oxford in 1378. Nevertheless, he was never brought to trial, and he continued to write and preach until his death in 1384.

Transubstantiation - The miraculous change by which according to Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox dogma the Eucharistic elements at their consecration become the body and blood of Christ while keeping only the appearances of bread and wine.

The first Lollard group, centered on some of Wycliffe's colleagues at Oxford led by Nicholas of Hereford. The movement gained followers outside of Oxford, and the anticlerical undercurrents of the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 were ascribed, probably unfairly, to the influence of Wycliffe and the Lollards. In 1382 William Courtenay, archbishop of Canterbury, forced some of the Oxford Lollards to renounce their views and conform to Roman Catholic doctrine.

The sect continued to multiply however, among townspeople, merchants, gentry, and even the lower clergy. Several knights of the royal household gave their support, as well as a few members of the House of Commons.

The accession of Henry IV in 1399 signaled a wave of repression against heresy. In 1401 the first English statute was passed for the burning of heretics. The Lollards' first martyr, William Sawtrey, was actually burned a few days before the act was passed. In 1414 a Lollard uprising led by Sir John Oldcastle, was quickly defeated by Henry V. The rebellion brought severe reprisals and marked the end of the Lollards' overt political influence.

Driven underground, the movement operated chiefly among trades-people and artisans, supported by a few clerical adherents. About 1500 a Lollard revival began, and before 1530 the old Lollard and the new Protestant forces had begun to merge. The Lollard tradition facilitated the spread of Protestantism and predisposed opinion in favor of King Henry VIII's anticlerical legislation during the English Reformation.

The most complete statement of early Lollard teaching appeared in the Twelve Conclusions, drawn up to be presented to the Parliament of 1395. They began by stating that the church in England had become subservient to her “stepmother, the great church of Rome.” The present priesthood was not the one ordained by Christ, while the Roman ritual of ordination had no warrant in Scripture. Clerical celibacy occasioned unnatural lust, while the “feigned miracle” of transubstantiation led men into idolatry.

The hallowing of wine, bread, altars, vestments, and so forth was related to necromancy. Prelates should not be temporal judges and rulers, for no man can serve two masters. The Conclusions also condemned special prayers for the dead, pilgrimages, and offerings to images, and they declared confession to a priest unnecessary for salvation. Warfare was contrary to the New Testament, and vows of chastity by Nuns led to the horrors of abortion and child murder.

Necromancy – Making appeals to the spirits of the dead for purposes of magically revealing the future or influencing the course of events

Finally, the multitude of unnecessary arts and crafts pursued in the church, encouraged “waste, curiosity, and disguising.” The Twelve Conclusions covered all the main Lollard doctrines except two: that the prime duty of priests is to preach and that all men should have free access to the Scriptures in their own language. The Lollards were responsible for a translation of the Bible into English, by Nicholas of Hereford, and later revised by Wycliffe's secretary, John Purvey.

 

The Gutenberg Bible

 

Also called the Forty-two-line Bible, or Mazarin Bible, the first complete book existing in the West and the earliest printed from movable type, so called after its printer, Johannes Gutenberg, who completed it about 1455 working at Mainz, Germany. The three-volume work, in Latin text, was printed in 42-line columns and, in its later stages of production, was worked on by six compositors simultaneously. It is sometimes referred to, as the Mazarin Bible because the first copy described by bibliographers was located in the Paris library of Cardinal Mazarin.

Like other contemporary works, the Gutenberg Bible had no title page, no page numbers, and no innovations to distinguish it from the work of a manuscript copyist. This was presumably the desire of both Gutenberg and his customers. Experts are generally agreed that the Bible, though uneconomic in its use of space, displays a technical efficiency not substantially improved upon before the 19th century. The Gothic type is majestic in appearance, medieval in feeling, and slightly less compressed and less pointed than other examples that appeared shortly thereafter.

The original number of copies of this work is unknown; some 40 are still in existence. There are perfect vellum copies in the U.S. Library of Congress, the French Bibliotheque Nationale, and the British Library. In the United States almost-complete texts are in the Huntington, Morgan, New York Public, Harvard University, and Yale University libraries.

 

 

The Tyndale Bible

 

Because of the influence of printing and a demand for scriptures in English, William Tyndale began working on a New Testament translation directly from the Greek in 1523. The work could not be continued in England because of political and ecclesiastical pressures, so the printing of his translation began in Cologne (Germany) in 1525. Again under pressure, this time from the city authorities, Tyndale had to flee to Worms, where two complete editions were published in 1525.

Copies were smuggled into England where they were at once proscribed. Of 18,000 copies printed (1525–28), two complete volumes and a fragment are all that remain.

When the New Testament was finished, Tyndale began work on the Old Testament. The Pentateuch was issued in Marburg in 1530, each of the five books being separately published and circulated.

 

 

The Coverdale Bible

 

On October 4, 1535, the first complete English Bible, the work of Miles Coverdale, came off the press either in Zürich or in Cologne. The edition was soon exhausted. A second impression appeared in the same year and a third in 1536. A new edition, “overseen and corrected,” was published in England by James Nycholson in Southwark in 1537. Another edition of the same year bore the announcement, “set forth with the king's most gracious license.” In 1538 a revised edition of Coverdale's New Testament printed with the Latin Vulgate in parallel columns issued in England was so full of errors that Coverdale promptly arranged for a rival corrected version to appear in Paris.

 

The Matthew Bible

 

In the same year that Coverdale's authorized version appeared, another English Bible was issued under royal license and with the encouragement of ecclesiastical and political power. It appeared (in Antwerp?) under the name of Thomas Matthew, but it is certainly the work of John Rogers, a close friend of Tyndale. Although the version claimed to be “truly and purely translated into English,” it was in reality a combination of the labors of Tyndale and Coverdale. Rogers used the former's Pentateuch and 1535 revision of the New Testament and the latter's translation from Ezra to Malachi and his Apocrypha. Rogers' own contribution was primarily editorial.

 

The Great Bible

 

In an injunction of 1538, Henry VIII commanded the clergy to install in a convenient place in every parish church, “one book of the whole Bible of the largest volume in English.” The order seems to refer to an anticipated revision of the Matthew Bible. The first edition was printed in Paris and appeared in London in April 1539 in 2,500 copies. The huge page size earned it the sobriquet the Great Bible. It was received with immediate and wholehearted enthusiasm.

The first printing was exhausted within a short while, and it went through six subsequent editions between 1540 and 1541. “Editions” is preferred to “impressions” here, since the six successive issues were not identical.

 

Geneva Bible

 

Also called Breeches Bible – Was a new translation of the Bible published in Geneva (New Testament done in1557; Old Testament in 1560) by a colony of Protestant scholars in exile from England, who worked under the general direction of Miles Coverdale and John Knox and under the influence of John Calvin. The English churchmen had fled London during the repressive reign of the Roman Catholic Mary I, which had halted the publication of Bibles there.

The work acquired the sobriquet “Breeches Bible” because it described Adam and Eve as having made “breeches” to cover their nakedness (Genesis 3:7), instead of “aprons” or “loincloths.” The Great Bible (named for its large page size and first ordered by Henry VIII in 1538) was restored to the churches after Queen Elizabeth I's succession halted persecution of Anglicans and Protestants, but the Geneva Bible, imported from Europe and not printed in England until 1576, quickly surpassed the Great Bible in public favor. The work's enduring popularity made the Geneva Bible an important influence on the translators of the King James Version of 1611.

 

The Bishops Bible

 

The failure of the Great Bible to win popular acceptance against the obvious superiority of its Geneva rival, and the objectionable partisan flavor of the latter's marginal annotations, made a new revision a necessity. By about 1563–64 Archbishop Matthew Parker of Canterbury commissioned its execution and the work was apportioned among many scholars, most of them bishops, from which the popular name was derived.

The Bishops' Bible came off the press in 1568 as a handsome folio volume, the most impressive of all 16th-century English Bibles in respect of the quality of paper, typography, and illustrations. A portrait of the Queen adorned the engraved title page, but it contained no dedication. For some reason Queen Elizabeth never officially authorized the work, but sanction for its public use came from the Convocation (church synod or assembly) of 1571 and it thereby became in effect, the second Authorized Version.

 

King James Bible

 

Because of changing conditions, another official revision of the Protestant Bible in English was needed. The reign of Queen Elizabeth had succeeded in imposing a high degree of uniformity upon the church. The failure of the Bishops' Bible to supplant its Geneva rival made for a discordant note in the quest for unity.

A conference of churchmen in 1604, became noteworthy for its request that the English Bible be revised because existing translations “were corrupt and not answerable to the truth of the original.” King James I was quick to appreciate the broader value of the proposal and at once made the project his own.

By June 30 1604, King James had approved a list of 54 revisers, although extant records show that 47 scholars actually participated. They were organized into six companies, two each working separately at Westminster, Oxford, and Cambridge on sections of the Bible assigned to them. It was finally published in 1611.

Not since the Septuagint, had a translation of the Bible been undertaken under royal sponsorship as a cooperative venture on so grandiose a scale. An elaborate set of rules was contrived to curb individual proclivities and to ensure its scholarly and nonpartisan character. In contrast to earlier practice, the new version was to preserve vulgarly used forms of proper names in keeping with its aim to make the Scriptures popular and familiar.

The impact of Jewish sources upon the King James Version is one of its noteworthy features. The wealth of scholarly tools available to the translators made their final choice of rendering an exercise in originality and independent judgment. For this reason, the new version was more faithful to the original languages of the Bible and more scholarly than any of its predecessors. The impact of the Jewish upon the revisers was so pronounced that they seem to have made a conscious effort to imitate its rhythm and style in the Old Testament. The English of the New Testament actually turned out to be superior to its Greek original.

Two editions were actually printed in 1611, later distinguished as the “He” and “She” Bibles because of the variant reading “he” and “she” in the final clause of chapter 3, verse 15 of Ruth: “and he went into the city.” Both printings contained errors. Some errors in subsequent editions have become famous: The so-called Wicked Bible (1631) derives from the omission of “not” in chapter 20 verse 14 of Exodus, “Thou shalt commit adultery,” for which the printers were fined £300; the “Vinegar Bible” (1717) stems from a misprinting of “vineyard” in the heading of Luke, chapter 20.

The remarkable and total victory of the King James Version could not entirely obscure those inherent weaknesses that were independent of its typographical errors. The manner of its execution had resulted in a certain unequalness and lack of consistency. The translators' understanding of the Hebrew tense system was often limited, so that their version contains inaccurate and infelicitous renderings. In particular, the Greek text of the New Testament, which they used as their base, was a poor one. The great early Greek codices were not then known or available, and Greek papyri, which were to shed light on the common Greek dialect, had not yet been discovered.

A committee established by the Convocation of Canterbury in February 1870, reported favorably three months later on the idea of revising the King James Version: two companies were formed, one each for the Old and New Testaments. A novel development was the inclusion of scholars representative of the major Christian denominations, except the Roman Catholics (who declined the invitation to participate). Another innovation was the formation of parallel companies in the United States to whom the work of the English scholars was submitted and who in turn, sent back their reactions. The instructions to the committees made clear that only a revision and not a new translation was contemplated.

The New Testament was published in England on May 17, 1881, and three days later in the United States, after 11 years of labor. Over 30,000 changes were made, of which more than 5,000 represent differences in the Greek text from that used as the basis of the King James Version. Most of the others were made in the interests of consistency or modernization.

The publication of the Old Testament in 1885 stirred far less excitement, partly because it was less well known than the New Testament, and partly because fewer changes were involved. The poetical and prophetical books, especially Job, Ecclesiastes, and Isaiah, benefited greatly.

The revision of the Apocrypha, not originally contemplated, came to be included only because of copyright arrangements made with the university presses of Oxford and Cambridge and was first published in 1895.

 

The New English Bible

 

The idea of a completely new translation into British English, was first broached in 1946. Under a joint committee, representative of the major Protestant churches of the British Isles, with Roman Catholics appointed as observers, the New Testament was published in 1961 and a second edition appeared in 1970. The Old Testament and Apocrypha were also published in 1970.

Apocrypha (apokryptein) - To hide away.

In biblical literature, works outside an accepted canon of scripture.

The history of the term's usage indicates that it referred to a body of esoteric writings that were at first prized, later tolerated, and finally excluded. In its broadest sense apocrypha has come to mean any writings of dubious authority.

The New English Bible proved to be an instant commercial success, selling at a rate of 33,000 copies a week in 1970. The translation differed from the English mainstream Bible in that it was not a revision but a completely fresh version from the original tongues. It abandoned the tradition of “biblical English” and except for the retention of “thou” and “thy” in addressing God, freed itself of all archaisms. It endeavored to render the original into the idiom of contemporary English and to avoid ephemeral modernisms.

 

 

 

The Dead Sea Scrolls

 

The first of the Dead Sea Scroll discoveries occurred in 1947 in Qumran, a village situated about twenty miles east of Jerusalem on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. A young Bedouin shepherd, following a goat that had gone astray, tossed a rock into one of the caves along the sea cliffs and heard a cracking sound: the rock had hit a ceramic pot containing leather and papyrus scrolls that were later determined to be nearly twenty centuries old. Ten years and many searches later, eleven caves around the Dead Sea were found to contain tens of thousands of scroll fragments dating from app. 300 B.C. to 68 A.D. and representing an estimated eight hundred separate works.

The Dead Sea Scrolls comprise a vast collection of Hebrew documents written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and encompassing many subjects and literary styles. They include manuscripts or fragments of every book in the Hebrew Bible except the Book of Esther, all of them created nearly one thousand years earlier than any previously known biblical manuscripts. The scrolls also contain the earliest existing biblical commentary on the Book of Habakkuk, and many other writings, among them religious works pertaining to Hebrew sects of the time.

 

The Controversy

The shepherd who made the discovery at Qumran brought the seven intact scrolls that he had found to an antique dealer. Three were sold to a scholar at Hebrew University and four were sold to the Archbishop of Syria, who tried for years to place them with a reputable academic institution, but ultimately sold them in 1954, through a classified ad in The Wall Street Journal. The ad was answered by Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin, who donated these scrolls to the state of Israel, and established a museum for them, The Shrine of the Book, at Hebrew University.

Control of the remaining tens of thousands of scroll fragments however, was not soon resolved. But one year after the discovery at Qumran, the United Nations partitioned Palestine to allow for the creation of the state of Israel, and war began. Meanwhile, a U.N.-appointed, Jesuit-trained official had summoned Roland de Vaux, director of the Ecole Biblique, a French Catholic Theological School in Arab East Jerusalem, to oversee research on the scrolls. The slow pace of publication and the extreme secrecy of de Vaux's almost entirely Catholic group, fueled the theory that the Vatican wished to suppress information in the scrolls.

Then in 1967, Zionists seized East Jerusalem, and the Israel Antiquities Authority took control of the scrolls. Access however, was merely transferred to yet another small secretive group, which seemed determined to hide them from the rest of the world. Israeli officials told prominent visiting scholars, that they “would not see the scrolls in their lifetimes.”

The building media frenzy was furthered by the 1990 dismissal of the project's editor-in-chief, Harvard Divinity School professor Dr. John Strugnell, after he publicly criticized Judaism and the Israeli state. A breakthrough came in September 1990, when the Huntington Library in California, made available unauthorized photographs of the scrolls. The following year, text and translations of only fifty scrolls were published in book form.

 

Judaism, Christianity, and the Scrolls

 

The Dead Sea Scrolls offer unprecedented information about Hebrew religious and political life in Judea during the turbulent late Second Temple Period (200 B.C. to A.D. 70), a time of great corruption and conflict under Roman rule in Judea. Scholars estimate that the Dead Sea Scrolls were hidden in A.D. 68, when Roman legions reached the Dead Sea during the emperor Vespasian's campaign to Jericho.

The discovery of the scrolls established that Hebrew culture was far richer and more diverse at this time, than scholars had previously believed. Three main groups of Hebrews were prominent during the late Second Temple Period: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. Many other sects and political parties also flourished. This pluralism ended in 70 A.D, when six years after the start of the First Hebrew Rebellion, the Romans sieged Jerusalem, killing or enslaving half the Hebrew population and destroying Herod's Temple. The capitol fell to the Romans, and only the Judaism of the dominant Pharisees survived.

The scrolls also shed light on the time when Jesus and John the Baptist lived and early Christians began to organize. Specifically, they offer evidence that early Christian beliefs and practices had precedents in the Hebrew sects of the time. Sectarian scrolls tell of people who, like the early Christians, did not believe in the Temple worship of the Pharisees, people who had their own literature, their own rituals—including baptism—and their own beliefs, most significantly beliefs in a messiah, a divine judgment, and an apocalypse.

Three different scrolls depict a sacred meal of bread and wine. These similarities as well as parallels between the literary style of certain scrolls and that of the New Testament have led some scholars to claim that Jesus and John the Baptist were either part of, or strongly influenced by a sect at the Dead Sea. But no direct link has been established, and it is likely that similarities can be attributed to each being derived from a like strain of Judaism. Still, this debate has furthered speculation about the historical Jesus, such as the claim that he was a Zealot rather than a pacifist, a theory that does not fit with New Testament tradition but does fit with the history of this period (note: Jesus is NOT mentioned in the scrolls). And one of the most important discoveries in the scrolls has been the use of the name “Son of God” to refer to someone other than Jesus, implying a cultural use of the term that was not itself synonymous with God.

 

Who Hid the Scrolls?

Debate continues about who actually wrote, copied and stored the scrolls. The most prevalent theory is that this was done by an ascetic group of Essenes, who had retreated to the desert to await a Messiah, and who lived at Qumran in a community guided by the Manual of Discipline, or Community Rule, a scroll detailing the beliefs and practices of a messianic sect. In the 1950s, Roland de Vaux excavated a site between the Qumran caves and the Dead Sea that he claimed was a monastic library where Essenes had copied the scrolls.

Recent archaeologists, however, think that what de Vaux believed to be the remains of desks and inkbottles, are in fact remains of dining tables and perfume bottles, suggesting that the site was a Roman-style villa whose occupants were engaged in the lucrative perfume trade. Furthermore, not a single manuscript fragment has ever been found on this site. Some scholars believe that Sadducees lived at the Qumran site. Others believe that the scrolls were kept not by a religious sect but by a militant, nationalistic group, and that the Qumran site was in fact a fortress.

It has been argued also, that the people who lived at the Qumran site were not the same people who hid the scrolls in the caves. Still other scholars reject the idea that the scrolls can be identified with a single group, suggesting instead that the scrolls describe the beliefs and rituals of the many Jewish sects of the time. These scholars propose that the scrolls are copies of manuscripts from libraries throughout Jerusalem, that Jews sought to preserve as the Romans encroached upon the capitol. One scroll, called the Copper Scroll, offers a detailed description of efforts to hide documents.

 

The Scrolls Today

More than fifty years after their discovery, no one can claim to know the absolute truth about the Dead Sea Scrolls, although academics and amateurs alike generate ever more intriguing theories, wild claims, and media attention. It is a complicating factor that almost all the scrolls are copies of other manuscripts—some perhaps historical, others certainly fictitious, and all together, transcribed over the course of nearly three hundred years. It will probably never be possible to know for sure what among the scrolls is fact, when exactly it was recorded, and why. Their origins, scribes, keepers, and meanings will likely remain a mystery.

 

 

 

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