Saturday, April 25, 2015

How We Got the Bible - Part One - The Old Testament

This information is drawn from several sources, including those listed at the end of the post.
Writing in Ancient Times At least five different systems of writing are known to have existed in the general area of Syria-Palestine when Moses lived (c. 1500 BC). In fact, writing was widespread in Mesopotamia at least by 3000 BC.
Writing Materials
Stone Earliest writing material mentioned in the Old Testament. On it was written the Ten Commandments. (Ex 31:18; cf. 34:1, 28; Deut 10:1-5).
Ink on plaster On stones coated with lime. (Deut 27:23). An Aramaic text (700 BC) from the plaster of a temple wall in the Jordan valley says, “This is the record of Balaam, son of Beor…” (Num 22-24). This inscription appears like a column of a scroll. 
Clay Most common in Mesopotamia. The moist clay was made into tablets, then written upon and baked in an oven or allowed to dry in the sun. In Ezekiel 4:1 the prophet is commanded to sketch a plan of Jerusalem on a brick. Clay tablets were very durable.
Wood and wax The OT makes specific reference to writing on wooden rods and sticks (Num 17:2-3; Ezek 37:16-17). Isaiah 30:8 and Habakkuk 2:2 may well refer to wooden writing boards. In Greek and Roman times a whitened board was used for public notices, and this was called an “album.” The inscription on Jesus’ cross was likely written on a whitewashed board.
Metal Gold is noted in Ex 28:36. Cuneiform writings appeared on gold, silver, copper, and bronze, on plaques or tablets made of these metals. Two small, silver amulets worn around the neck contained scrolls with the priestly blessing of Numbers 6:24-26. The inscription in old Hebrew letters, from the sixth century BC, is the earliest piece containing Scripture.
Ostraca Broken pottery was readily available and was used in antiquity very much as we use scrap paper. Large numbers of ostraca have come from Egypt, representing much of its history.
Papyrus The earliest manuscripts of the New Testament were on papyrus, a plant found along the Nile River.  The manuscripts were copied by hand on scrolls (30ft long and 10 inches wide— average).  The columns were usually 3 to 4 inches wide.  Scribes often wrote on both sides of the roll.   Papyrus was used as a writing material in Egypt as early as 3500 B.C.  The earliest extant copies of the New Testament were written on papyrus.
Vellum or Parchment Goat or lamb skins processed to be written upon with ink.  This process was perfected in the second century B.C. and became the dominant means of preserving the New Testament in the fourth century A.D.
Paper Paper was not used in the West until the twelfth century.  Of the 5,400 known mss of the New Testament, about 1,300 are written on paper.
The Canon of the Old Testament
Canon: a straight rod or ruler; those writings which conform to the rule or standard for acceptance as inspired scripture.
The OT is based on the conviction that God spoke to Moses, who then wrote God’s words.
Deut 31:24 When Moses had finished writing the words of this law in a book to the very end …
Ex 24:4 And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.”
Deut 31:9 Then Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel. 10 And Moses commanded them, “At the end of every seven years, at the set time in the year of release, at the Feast of Booths, 11 when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. 12 Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, 13 and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.”
Jos 8:34 And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them.
Later writings built on the Torah and applied its truths. History, Poetry, Prophecy. These writings in Israel were measured against the standards of Moses and in light of the signs associated with the authors. Moses even gave some criteria of canonicity.  Deut 13:1-5; 18:14-22. For example, 1-2 Kings evaluates Israel’s and Judah’s kings according to the words of Moses.
1 Ki 2:1 When David’s time to die drew near, he commanded Solomon his son, saying, 2 “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man, 3 and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn, 4 that the Lord may establish his word that he spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’
2 Ki 14:6 But [King Amaziah of Judah] did not put to death the children of the murderers, according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, where the Lord commanded, “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. But each one shall die for his own sin.”
The books were not formally chosen by a committee; they were naturally recognized.
The Hebrew Bible (OT) is organized as follows:                    24 total = our 39
The Torah (Gen, Ex, Lev, Num, and Deut)                              5
The Prophets
The Former Prophets (Josh, Jud, Sam, Kings)                4
The Latter Prophets (Isa, Jer, Ezek, and the Twelve)      4
The Writings
Poetry and Wisdom (Ps, Job, Prov)                             3
Megilloth (Rolls) (Ruth, Song, Eccl, Lam, Esth)               5
History (Dan, Ezra-Neh, Chron)                                   3
Grouped in two categories, Law and Prophets or Moses and Prophets. Matt 5:17; Luke 24:27.
Grouped in three categories, the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. Luke 24:44.
The OT Apocrypha (meaning “hidden” books), like 1 and 2 Maccabees, were written between the OT and the NT. The Jews did not consider them inspired. The Catholics do, however. These books do not claim inspiration; some even deny it.
The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (OT), produced in the 3rd century BC. The order of the books is the same order that we have in our OT. The books were given Greek names (Genesis = beginning, Ex = the way out, Deuteronomy = second law, etc.). The Septuagint is often called “the Bible of the early church.” The NT quotes it often. There are about 300 existing copies of the Septuagint.
The English OT is organized as follows:                                   39 total
Law (Gen, Ex, Lev, Num, and Deut)                                       5
History (Josh – Esth)                                                           12
Poetry (Job – Song)                                                            5
Major (longer) Prophets (Isa – Dan)                                      5
Minor (shorter) Prophets (Hos – Mal)                                     12
Josephus (Jewish historian, 37 BC – c. AD 100): “For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another [as the Greeks have], but only twenty-two books, which contain all the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine; and of them five belong to Moses, which contain his laws and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death… the prophets, who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God, and precepts for the conduct of human life.” (Josephus may have joined Jud-Ruth as one book and Jer-Lam as one book. As a result his 22 books equal the 24 noted above.)
Josephus also noted the close of prophecy after the time of Artaxerxes. “It is true, our history hath been written since Artaxerxes very particularly, but hath not been esteemed of the like authority with the former by our forefathers, because there hath not been an exact succession of prophets since that time.” (Against Apion, Book 1, Paragraph 8)
1 Maccabees, written between the testaments, also noted that prophecy had ceased.
1 Mac 4:46 and stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple hill until a prophet should come to tell what to do with them.
1 Mac 9:27 So there was great distress in Israel, such as had not been since the time that prophets ceased to appear among them.
1 Mac 14:41 The Jews and their priests have resolved that Simon should be their leader and high priest forever, until a trustworthy prophet should arise …
Jesus and the early disciples took no issue with the Jews regarding the OT canon. Matt 5:17-18
So the New Testament speaks of “Scripture(s)” (Matt 22:29; John 10:35; 19:36; Acts 18:24; Rom 1:2; 2 Pet 1:20), “sacred writings” (2 Tim 3:15), or “Law and Prophets” (Matt 5:17; 7:12; 22:40; Luke 16:16; Acts 13:15; 28:23).
The Transmission and Preservation of the Old Testament
Very few manuscripts survived Rome’s siege of Jerusalem in AD 70 when the city and temple were destroyed. In addition, once an old, worn, tattered manuscript had been copied it was destroyed! So, except for a few fragments, no Hebrew manuscripts from before AD 980 were known to exist. Of course the Septuagint provided a tremendous resource.
The Masoretes The Jewish Masoretic (from a word meaning transmission of a tradition) scribes (AD 500-1000) copied Old Testament manuscripts, using a very meticulous system of transcription. They had an almost obsessive respect for the text and preserved its accuracy. They had specific rules on the type of ink and the quality and size of parchment sheets. No individual letter could be written down without having looked back at the copy in front of them. The scribe could not write God’s name with a newly dipped pen (lest it blotch). Even if the king should address him, while writing God’s name, he should take no notice of him. They counted all the paragraphs, words and even letters, so they could know that they had done it perfectly. They knew the middle letter of each book; they could count back and see if they had missed anything.
The Leningrad Codex, or Leningradensis, is the oldest complete Hebrew Bible still preserved. While there are older parts of Bibles, or biblical books, still in existence, there is no older manuscript which contains the whole Hebrew Bible. The Leningrad Codex is considered one of the best examples of the Masoretic text. The manuscript was written around AD 1010, probably in Cairo, and later sold to someone living in Damascus. It is now in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Are such copies of copies accurate? Yes! There was an amazing discovery in 1947.
The Dead Sea Scrolls
Young Bedouin shepherds were looking for a stray animal in the caves near the Dead Sea. One threw a rock into a cave and heard the sound of breaking pottery. Among the manuscripts found inside the clay pots was the “Great Isaiah Scroll.” Dated to the first century AD, it contains the entire text of Isaiah. Except for minor scribal errors it is identical to the AD 980 manuscript written about 800 years later. Conclusion: the OT text had been transmitted accurately.
The Dead Sea Scrolls have given us nearly the entire Hebrew Bible in manuscripts that are 800-1000 years older than those previously available. The accuracy of the transmission is remarkable.
Sources / For Further Study:
F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Fifth Edition (Eerdmans 1960).
Neil R. Lightfoot, How We Got the Bible, Third Edition (Baker 2003).
Wayne Jackson, “The Holy Scriptures—Indestructible”
Larry Stone, The Story of the Bible: the Fascinating History of its Writing, Translation, and Effect on Civilization (Thomas Nelson, 2010).

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