Saturday, February 12, 2011

Ask Otto: Who Wrote the Bible?

From Byter Maureen:

An earlier Bytes reminded us of a subject causing us some conjecture of late. Who wrote the Bible? Ok, a lot of old blokes. But then who decided what was to go into the tome? There was a Bible before King James decided on what he wanted. What is or was the difference? Mathew Mark and Luke put their names down for royalties, but who wrote Genesis? Who decided on the Psalms?

Next question, assuming the answer is some Pope or head of church, who authorised him?

The reason this has been a subject in the Sadler household is because of some opposite quotes from the Bible that you hear from time to time. Kevin says: why should I believe this one over that one? Just because one man says so? Who is that man? What authority does he give over the other?

Or is this just too big a question and that is why clergy say we have to believe what it says “with faith”. Sorry not a good enough reasoning.

“If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”

- Revelation 22:18-19

A medieval Hebrew Bible scroll

Why not give me something hard next time, or something that has a bit of meat on the bone. 

I had written the following response to Maureen before my hospital sojourn but unfortunately I was admitted before I was able to post it.  It is a lengthy article but then again, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of books have been written about the same topic, so a couple of pages isn't so bad.

Whether the book of choice be the Book of Mormon, delivered to Jospeh Smith  on gold plates by the angel Moroni, or books on Dianetics and Scientology by sci fi hack L Ron Hubbard, or a collection of small books selected by a group of men ato be the definitive word of God, all claim to be the one true voice.  To paraphrase a comment someone once made about religious wars, that they come down to my imaginary friend being better than your imaginary friend, then sacred texts can probably be regarded as the word of my imaginary friend being the true divine word, unlike the word of your imaginary friend.

The Holy Bible:
• There are various bibles used by Judaic and Christian faiths. This discussion is limited to the Christian bible, usually referred to as the Holy Bible (“the Bible”).
• The Bible is not one book by one author but rather a collection of writings by at least 40 authors written over approximately a 1,600 year period.
• It comprises 66 separate books. The Old Testament contains 39 books written from approximately 1500 to 400 BC, and the New Testament contains 27 books written from approximately 40 to 90 AD.

Oral history and scriptures:
• Before looking at authorship and assembly of the Bible, it should be realised that the written books often came after a long period of oral tradition. History and theology were passed down by word of mouth, sometimes over thousands of years, before being put into written form. The writings were on scrolls and the authors ranged from kings to shepherds, prophets and other leaders.

The Law and word of God:
• The first 5 books of the Bible are known as the Torah or the Pentateuch and tell the story of creation and the history of the Israelites, up to the entry to the promised land. They are also referred to as The Law, reflecting the giving of laws to Moses by God, those laws thereafter governing Israelite society, relationships, even diet. Although the traditional view is that the books were written by Moses, the modern thinking is that the Pentateuch was authored by multiple persons over a number of centuries. It has also been suggested that the books represent an amalgam of fragments from various other sources.The Pentateuch dates from around 1,400 BC.
• Over the next 1,000 years, more scriptural texts were written and collected and were added to The Law.
• About 90 AD, after many years of debate and study, groups of Jewish rabbis determined that 39 books would make up the Hebrew Bible, regarded as the sacred and inspired authority of God. This was the first official determination by men as to which writings would consitute the word of God.
• The Jewish scriptures were arranged by topic, including The Law (Torah), the Prophets (Nebiim), and the Writings (Ketubim). These scriptures, forming books, became the Hebrew Bible and the first letters of these Hebrew words - T, N and K -- form the name of the Hebrew Bible - the Tanakh.

Translations and copying:
• The Jewish scriptures were painstakingly copied by Jewish scribes who maintained strict accuracy. A single error saw the entire scroll scrapped.
• About 250BC the Jewish scriptures were translated into Greek by Jewish scholars in Alexandria, Egypt. This translation was known as the Septuagint, meaning 70, possible a reference to the translation team comprising 70 persons.
• The Hebrew Bible, or more correctly, the Septuagint, forms the basis of the Old Testament.

• Nothing much happened for adding to scripture for about 400 years until Jesus came onto the scene.
• Jesus was himself a rabbi trained in the ways of the Tanakh. His teaching, however, was that he had not come to destroy the Jewish scriptures but to fulfil them – “all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.” (Luke 24:44)
• The accounts of Jesus activities were not written down by eyewitnesses at the time that those events were taking place. As happened with the ancient Jewish scriptures, persons spread news of those activities by word of mouth from person to person. The disciples had no texts, no computers, no internet at their disposal to spread the word. We may well ask with Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar:  “…why'd you choose such a backward time and such a strange land? If you'd come today you could have reached the whole nation, Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.”
• Moreover, it was considered that there was no need to maintain a written record because Jesus was coming back soon and the Kingdom of God would be established.
• The risk with oral tradition is that things get forgotten, things get altered, there is no uniformity or quality control as the word is spread.
• As it became apparent that Jesus wasn’t coming back within the next few days, or even years, the need to write down the events and scriptures became apparent.

The New Testament:
• Between 40 AD and 90 AD, the various eyewitnesses to the events concerning Jesus put their memories into written format. These writings comprised scrolls, books and letters.
• For those of us raised in a Christian society based on standardised teachings from an established primary source document, beliefs and teachings are relatively uniform. This was not the case in the early days of Christianity. There were varied and conflicting accounts, including in written format, of the events concerning Jesus, his messages and teachings and, especially of his alleged resurrection. Some maintained that the resurrection was a physical one and that the apostles were now the leaders of the Christian movement. Others held that the resurrection was a spiritual one that anyone could experience.
• There has been much scholarship as to which apostles wrote which gospels and as to authorship of the various other books of the New Testament, much too much to go into here.
• Suffice to say that a point was reached where the church authorities felt the need to determine which writings would constitute the word of God as regards Jesus and his teachings.

Another determination of the word of God:
• Compared to the determination of the books of the Old Testament in 90 AD, the determination of the books to form the New Testament was much harder. In 90 AD it had been necessary to only assess books against the Torah. People knew what Judaism was, what its tenets and traditions were and as to what its scriptures were.
• Christianity, on the other hand, was new. The early Christians argued about both what the nature of Christianity was and what the nature of Jesus Christ was. There were no historical traditions, tenets or scriptures and Christianity was splintering into various faiths and groups.
• In 367 AD, Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria under Constantine the Great, made up a list of books he considered definitive after the Old Testament. Such lists were not new, many had been made by various ecclesiastical figures from at least the second century, Athanasius’s list, however, set forth what proved to be the final canon of New Testament books in a letter listing 27 works.
• In 382 AD, at a synod held at Rome under Pope Damasus, church leaders influenced by Jerome adopted the Athanasius list. The list was affirmed in councils at Hippo in 393 and 419 AD under Augustine and was officially ratified at a council in Rome around 473 AD.
• The Greek Orthodox Church did not finalise its canon until the tenth century (primarily in doubt was inclusion of the book of Revelation). The Syrian Church had an even more complicated debate, and today recognises only 22 books in its New Testament (excluding 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation). The Copts and Ethiopians have a few additional books included in their New Testament.
• The books excluded from the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, are collectively often referred to as the Apocrypha. Although there is a school of thought that at least some of these books are as genuine and sacred as the books selected for inclusion in the Holy Bible, others maintain that they are not divinely inspired, that they contain spurious material that is sometimes totally at odds with Christianity and that the books make various wild claims.
• As to which persons wrote the various books of the Bible, see:

Gutenberg Bible

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