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Categorized | Religion

The Bible in a Skeptic’s Eye (Part 1)

How can a document, tampered with by kings, tyrants, fools and scholars be the “true” and “inspired” word of God?

According to Christians, the Bible is the inspired word of God and for some it is even inerrant. However, looking at its history, we find that the book has been repeatedly revised and re-written.

Today, in this series, we are going to explore the history of this book.

We begin with the Old Testament.
There are no “autograph’s of the Old Testament that survived. The text we now possessed was transmitted to us by generation of scribes and there are ample evidence of how these scribes both wittingly and unwittingly altered the documents they were copying. There is no reason to suppose that the documents in our Old Testament, at least in the period before they regarded as sacrosanct, did not suffer from the usual type of scribal corruption.

The Old Testament was written during the course of more than one millennium, approximately in the period of 1200-100 BCE. Nine volumes from Genesis to Kings were written in 561 BCE in the time of the Jewish captivity and were edited about 400 BCE. The first five books were separated and canonized to become the written Torah, the four remaining were canonized (with an additional two) two centuries later.

In the development of Israel’s history, the Tanack gradually took form and reached completion in the late Persian period. The first move toward canonization can be seen in Deuteronomy. The Deuteronomist stated that their law was completed and that nothing can be added or removed (Deut. 4:2; 12:32) and that God made the law binding on all generation (Duet. 27:4-8). Scholars suggested that the Book of Deuteronomy was formed in the late 7th century BCE, a product of the religious reforms carried out under king Josiah, with later additions from the period after the fall of Judah to the Babylonian empire in 586 BCE.

The Book of the Law was found in the temple of Jerusalem and was ratified as a divine law of the land (2Kings 23:3)…well that was according to legend. M. L. de Wette suggested that King Josiah had Deuteronomy created as a type of “pious fraud” to further his agenda of religious reform. In that time, the study of the Law eventually becomes more vital than offering and sacrifices. Yahweh, the god introduced by the Jahwist writers (The Jahwist, also referred to as the Jehovist, Yahwist, or simply as J, is one of the four major sources of the Torah postulated by the Documentary Hypothesis (DH). It is the oldest source, whose narratives make up half of Genesis and the first half of Exodus, plus fragments of Numbers) becomes the creator of heaven and earth and the only god in existence.

The second step toward canonization was recorded in the Ezra tradition. During the festival, Ezra read publicly from “the Book of the Law” and instructed the people in the law (Neh. 7:73; 8:18).

The contents of the prophetic cannon appeared to be established between the forth and second centuries in two general groupings: The former Prophets and the Latter Prophets. The Former Prophets were recognized as a Deuteronomic history (Joshua, Judges, i-ii Samuel). The Book of Kings (1 and 2Kings) was written in 600 BCE.

The Hagiographa or Writings are an amorphous literary collection with an obscure history. The Psalms were attributed with King David. The wisdom writings were attributed primarily to Solomon.

The earliest mention of the collection of the Hagiographa were found in the prologue to Ben Sira’s word that he called “other books of our fathers”.

Until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, most of our OT documents and actual manuscript evidence for the text of the OT was relatively late.

The Cairo Genizah for example was dated within the 7th and 6th century CE but some so-called “earliest” fragments were dated to the 9th and 10th century.

The Cambridge Codex XIII, a complete Old Testament was made in early as the middle of the 9th century. The Cairo Karaite manuscript of the Prophets may be of the late 9th century.

The3 Aleppo Sephardic Codex was dated in the early 10th century. The Pentateuch Codex (4445) that is now housed in the British Museum is also of the 10th century. The St. Petersberg Prophet Codex is dated 916 CE and the six manuscripts in the Firkowitsch collection at Leningrad belong to the 10th century. The Codex Urbinus 2, now in Vatican, which contains the whole Old Testament, is also dated to the 10th century. The famous Codex L from Old Cairo was dated 1008.

The earliest printed Hebrew scripture were just portions and was also printed in the late 15th century. Example, the Psalms at Bologna in 1477, the Pentateuch at Bologna in 1482, the Megilloth also in Bologna in 1482 and the Pentateuch in Faro in 1487.

The first complete Hebrew Bible to be printed was issued at Soncino in 1488, the second was on naples in 1492 to 1493 and the third at Brescia in 1492. The first great Rabbinic Bible was printed by Daniel Bomberg at Venice in 1516 to 1517. The text was prepared by Felix Pratensis. The second Rabbinic Bible was compiled by Jacob ben Hayyim, a Masorah, in 1524-1525 at Venice. Paul Kahle edited the text of the 3rd edition of Kittel’s Biblia Hebraica (Stuttgarst 1937) and used a purer Ben Asher text base on the Leninggrad manuscript.

DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.