Sunday, November 20, 2005

Where Did The Bible Come From?

Here is my disclaimer:
I do not profess to be a bible scholar, or a historian, and so I have not drawn any conclusions here. I make no representations about the divine nature of the Bible, but merely present the results of a little research I have done on several websites regarding it's physical history, combined with what I was able to validate about some things I have learned along the way from various articles, etc. over the years. To get a balanced view, I drew equally from websites that seemed to attack the historical validity of the bible, and from those that seek to defend it. Most of the facts here were corroborated from multiple sources.
This article represents my findings and impressions. If anything you read here disturbs you or doesn't agree with what you feel is true, then you can choose to ignore it, or read further and see if it makes any sense to you. You can take away whatever facts from this you find useful.

I always feel more information is always better. However, this is only a single small article, and this is a big, deep subject. Entire series of books can easily be written on this topic, but that level of detail is out of scope for this introduction to the subject. If you wish to correct some of these points with better information from reliable sources, please feel free to add your comments to the comment area at the end of the article. I am completely open to new information.

I live in Texas. Some call it the "Buckle of the Bible Belt"
Definitely, here you have a strong adherence to the protestant forms of Christianity such as Southern Baptist, Methodist, Evangelical Churches, Episcopalian, as well as the original Christian faith, Catholicism.

Things are a little different here than where I grew up. (which was up in the more secular "north") So, from time to time, the subject of the Bible comes up, and I hear an articulate, intelligent, educated person telling me that the Bible is the "exact unerring word of God" published directly as God spoke it.
The person seems unaware of the history of how, where or from whom those words came to be in the published work known as the Bible. They simply accept it in it's entirety, without exception or exclusion, or any explanation or qualifications, as the very EXACT words of the creator of the universe.

I was taught a little differently. But though I certainly do not claim to be a bible scholar, nevertheless, just a little bit of research reveals a lot more detail than that level of understanding. It's perhaps surprising that people will live their entire life basing their whole existence and understanding of the world, and life and death, and their rules for living, on the various interpretations of the exact wording of a book without ever doing a little objective checking to get some details on the history and making of that book and it's authors and editors.

Let me show you what I found when I started looking into it. You might be surprised.

First, let's put it in perspective. Is the bible the only official religious book to explain how the world came into being, and set out a master plan for humanity?

No, of course not. Each major religion has it’s own holy book(s), and each claims that their holy book is the truth of the universe, and the followers of each religion each typically deny the validity of the holy books of the other religions.

Christians have the Bible (and there are several versions depending upon the denomination within Christianity)
Jews have the Tanahk (which is the Old Testament from the Christian Bible. The Torah is part of that)
Muslims have the Qur’an (also spelled Koran by some)
Hindus have the Bhagwad Gita
Tibetan Buddhists have the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
Taoists have the Tao Te Ching
Confucionists have 5 books written by Confucius, including The Confucius Doctrines, I Ching, etc.
The Zoroastrarians have the Avesta (note: this may be the origin of most modern religions that we see today. The founder, Zarathustra, originally invented the concepts of "good" and "evil", the struggle between them, heaven and hell, a single creator: God, and his angels vs the single evil: the Devil, and his demons. Before him there was a concept of Gods, but no Devil, and no concept of good vs evil. All Judeo-Christian faiths, and Asian faiths as well, took their cues on these things from the by-then older religion of Zoroastrarianism)

And there are many more holy books as each religion around the world has defined it’s own stories and legends and lessons to teach as doctrine to their members.

That places the Bible in global and historical context, I think. It is not the ONLY holy book in existence. There are many. But it is the holy book for the Christian faiths, and that is what we will focus on here.

So where did the Bible come from exactly? Who actually wrote it?

Well, to begin with, the modern bible is a collection of 66 books, written by 40 people, over the course of 1600 years, translated into Latin from original documents written in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, and then later translated again into English.

The Bible itself is composed of two main parts, the Old Testament (OT) and the New Testament (NT). In the Protestant Bible, the OT, called by Jews the Tanahk, was derived and translated from the Hebrew Masoretic Text, and the NT was derived from the Greek Textus Receptus. There are today 5,300 handwritten copies of the original Greek Textus Receptus, and 14,000 copies of the original Hebrew Masoretic text. (although the vast majority of these copies were written after 1000 AD)

These books in turn were derived from earlier works, of course.
The Masoretic Text was composed of three sections:
1. The Torah, (The laws) which was 5 books supposedly written by Moses.
2. The Nevi'im (The Prophets) written by Ezekiel, etc.
3. The Kethuvim (The Writings) including book of Job, etc.

These books were written in the 2nd century BCE. But because the Jews were scattered and were forgetting their Hebrew language, and written works were becoming lost in the process, the works they could find were then collected, compiled and translated into Greek by 70 Jewish scholars during the reign of Ptolemy Philadephus (in 300 to 200 BCE) and this was done in Alexandria, Egypt. This Greek translation was called the Septuagint, which means "The Seventy" in Latin.

The Septuagint is the original Old Testament and contains the standard 39 books of the Old Testament canon, as well as certain apocryphal books. The term "Apocrypha" was coined by the biblical scholar, Jerome, in the 5th century and refers to the set of ancient Jewish writings written during the period after Malachi (the last book in the Jewish scriptures), and the arrival of Jesus Christ, which is the end of the Old Testament(OT) and defines the beginning of the New Testament (NT).
The apocryphal books include Judith, Tobit, Baruch, Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus), the Wisdom of Solomon, First and Second Maccabees, the two Books of Esdras, additions to the Book of Esther, additions to the Book of Daniel, and the Prayer of Manasseh.

The Masoretic Text is the Hebrew version, and the Septuagint is the Greek version. The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1947 in Qunram region near the Dead Sea, highlights some differences and inconsistencies between them.
The Septuagint is still the source for the Roman Catholic Bible and Greek Orthodox and other Orthodox religions. The Protestant Bible OT is based on the Masoretic text.

Constantine The Great and the Council of Nicaea
The full complete(Catholic) bible was assembled in 325 AD by the council of Nicaea set up by Constantine The Great, the Caesar of the Roman Empire at that time.

Constantine wanted an official religion that he could command and that could control and appease the masses and would imbue his leadership with unquestioned support by the population. Constantine felt that in order to have this control, the single religion needed to have a single holy book of sacred writings, and so that is why, in 325AD, he created the council of Nicaea and appointed a group of 318 Bishops to it, and tasked them with creating such a book of holy writings.

This was an unruly group who came from many different religions of which Christianity was only one. It was said that there was an atmosphere of dissension, jealousy, intolerance, persecution and bigotry. All the usual expected hallmarks of religions when considering other religions.

For the most part, Constantine didn't care about what the specific beliefs were of the religions, nor which religion won out as the main official state-sanctioned religion of the empire, he merely wanted the different sects to agree, so he could make them into a single religion which would unify the population under a single ecclesiastical leadership and which he could then control. However, the Christians had helped him defeat Maxentius's army in 312, and he had the Christian symbols on their shields when he and his forces took Rome, so, in gratitude, presumably he perhaps gave more credence to the Christian Bishops in the Council, despite the fact that they were little known at the time.

According to the various sources researched, the bishops fought over the deification of Jesus Christ, and whether or not he should be considered God, or a God, or part of God, or remain as a prophet and historical figure (as the Jewish faith still sees him today). They argued over the concept of the holy trinity. (to this day many people are unclear as to whether this is 3 gods or one God. If Jesus is the 'Son of God', then does that mean there are two Gods?, And who is 'the holy spirit? A 3rd God? And should they make Mary a Goddess? That would make four Gods in all, etc.) Some accounts say that the Holy Trinity issue was actually decided by a single vote because the dissenting Bishops were assassinated for it.

They also argued and debated over which books to include or exclude, and which they should consider to be the real words of God, and which should be rejected, and they changed books, removing passages they didn't agree with, like the raising back to life of Lazarus, and they removed the concept of reincarnation because they felt they needed the sense of only having a single lifetime on Earth in order to have greater obedience from the population.
Also, up until the council of Nicaea, there were many different prophets besides Jesus Christ, but we will never know who they were or the stories of them because they were lost when Constantine had 300 different competing versions of the bible burned and destroyed in order to leave only one legitimate version. There is an account by Socrates in his book Historia Ecclesia, that speaks of Constantine exiling Arius, one of the Bishops, and his followers and casting his work into the fire and making it a death penalty for anyone to retain a copy of his version of the bible.

Constantine enforced the single holy book version with an iron hand, once he had a majority vote on the content.

In the end, most of what ended up in the bible was decided by a voting majority of very political and viciously battling Bishops, and to some extent, the caprice and biases of an Emperor in that council in 325AD.

Those bishops that did not agree with the majority were anathematized and/or killed. It was very political with some Bishops holding sway and influence over others and the trading of favors and influence and votes in exchange for favors later, etc. Not dissimilar to how legislation bills are passed in Washington D.C. today.

The result of all this fighting, arguing and deal-making, was the first version of a new holy book called The Bible, and the formal establishment of the Roman Catholic Church, the first official Christian religion. There were other versions of the bible that came later, as suited the needs of future Popes or Kings at the time.

The translations by the original council from the Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic into Latin are considered suspect by many people today.
Suffice it to say that when the Bible was first being assembled and written, the Bishops and scribes translated the earlier books written in ancient Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic into Latin, (and then hundreds of years later again into English), and it has been suggested that some things were possibly lost, and some perhaps invented, in the translations.

Please remember that ancient languages in those days were based on oral tradition and were made to accommodate the simple needs of uneducated people in a simpler time. So there were only a few hundred words in the ancient languages, and there were large discrepancies among local dialects from town to town and region to region, and they had to be interpreted into Latin which had about 7,000 words, (and that was later translated into English, which today has over 850,000 words.) So, although the translations were faithfully replicated in copies once translated, the original translation decisions were necessarily fraught with potential interpretation error.

For example, there are 34 references to dragons in the original Hebrew Masoretic texts. The Hebrew word for dragon was "tannin". This was translated as "leviathan" or "behemoth" in the Book of Job for instance, which was later changed to elephant, hippo, or crocodile, which are modern-day creatures. The existence of dragons in ancient times is another subject for another article, but here we can simply take note of how widely varying the translations into our current version of the bible are from the original source documents.
An interesting and surprising take on the translation process is found in the book, "Genesis Revisited" by Zecharia Sitchin, a noted scholar of ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, Sumerian, Hittite and Babylonian.

Also, many of the original books of the bible were deliberately left out. The apocryphal books were eliminated over several of the following ecumenical councils. In 553AD, in the second ecumenical council of Constantinople, the remaining ideas of reincarnation and the transferring of souls from one body to another was deleted from the bible.

Did you ever wonder what happened to Jesus between the age of 12 and 32? Most of his life was left out of the final version of the New Testament. I have read in some places that he left Jerusalem, and went to India during that time and learned Buddhism from the Indian masters. Well, that obviously just didn't fit the agenda of the church or Constantine's agenda at the time, so all books and passages referring to those many years of the life of Jesus Christ were removed from the scripture that ended up in the bible we see today.

So, is the Bible we see today the “unerring exact word of God” as told to the 40 people credited with writing the various books remaining in the bible? Or is The Qur’an the real truth? Or is it the Bhagwad Gita? Or the Tao Te Ching? Or the Avesta? Or some other holy book? These are all holy books that represent the teachings of many major religions and each has literally hundreds of millions of followers who believe completely in the validity of THEIR respective holy book.

You must decide for yourself which you believe is the divinely-inspired words of the creator of the universe – or if any of them are. Perhaps you may decide none of them are and they are all merely the machinations of politics and power. It’s up to you.

The purpose and scope here is not to determine such heady questions, but merely to outline some of the history behind the Bible and path that the original documents took before they became the Bible we see today.


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