• The Bible: An Expose: A Brief History

    As Jaroslav Pelikan, the late Professor of History at Yale University, said, the bible, before it was in written form, was most likely transmitted through an oral tradition for many generations. [1] Later the various songs, sayings, and stories were put to paper and collected, sifted through, and mostly “standardized” after about the 4th Century. [2] Each of the three monotheisms, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, have each claimed to have been descended from Abraham and each of these religions is claimed to be based upon these writings. Over the centuries these separate writings were put together in what were called biblos, or “papyrus,” in Greek, which eventually became to be known as “books.” [3] These books lay out the laws, traditions, and the history of the Jewish people and their relationship with their god.

    These biblos, written over the span of one-thousand years, were originally written in Hebrew but eventually were mostly written in Greek “when many Jews realized that they no longer understood the Hebrew of their ancient religion.” [4] [5]

    The study of the bible has discovered much, but one thing that is still unknown is who is responsible for writing the books of the bible. When the various books of the bible were studied researchers realized that they all didn’t seem to be written in a continuous manner, but rather, were written over long stretches of time, by many different and anonymous persons, and they often contradicted themselves. Biblical scholars studying the bible realized that,

    Often, these [various stories in the bible] made references to events that happened much later than the events being described. […] Empires that didn’t exist when Moses was alive were mentioned. A king of the Philistines was said to be around hundreds of years before the Philistines moved into the neighborhood. Camels were described in use before they were actually domesticated. [6]

    This belief that various books and stories of the bible were written at different times and then later put together is called the “Documentary Hypothesis.” To help sift their way through the various writings these biblical researchers developed a method of distinguishing one book and story from another by their different authors or groups of authors. Because biblical scholars do not know who actually wrote the books and stories of the bible they have given the anonymous authors “names” which consist of letters from the alphabet. The divisions scholars have worked out are as follows: J, E, D, P, and R.

    J, taken from the word “Jehovah,” which is the mistranslation of the Hebrew word for god, “Yahweh,” is supposedly the oldest of these authors and it’s claimed “he” (or according to Harold Bloom, “she”) lived in Judah sometime between 950 and 750 BCE. [7]

    E, taken from the word Elohist, which is derived from the fact that this author prefers to use the word Elohim for god, this author is said to have lived between 850 and 800 BCE, though some scholars believe that E should be placed at the same time or before J. [8]

    D, taken from the term “Deuteronomist,” because this author is said to have written a majority of the book of Deuteronomy, is said to have written between 700 and 600 BCE. [9]

    P, known as the Priestly author, is said to have written between 550 and 500 BCE. [10]

    R is known as the Redactor, or editor, of each of these several books and was responsible for putting them all together, maybe around 400 BCE. [11]

    Over the centuries various religious denominations developed and each had different beliefs about which sequence of books were the correct ones. For example,

    When the Christian church split during the Protestant Reformation, the Protestants accepted the Jewish canon. […] However, Roman Catholics considered the Septuagint holy, and Roman Catholic Bibles include eleven books that are not in the Hebrew or Protestant Old Testament. [12]

    After many other translations over centuries a standard form of the bible was written by a priest, William Tyndale, who wanted the scriptures to be available to all people. In 1526 he published the New Testament, and then the Old Testament in 1530. As punishment for making the scriptures so widely available the church authorities captured him and tried him for heresy. In 1536 Tyndale was strangled to death, and yet in 1611 a new translation of the bible was written based upon the work of Tyndale. It became known as the King James Version, the most popular of the English translations, and is still used to this day. [13]

    Unlike what many Christians believe the bible was not in any way written by a single author with a single belief about doctrine. The history of the bible is much more haphazard than many believers are aware of or are willing to admit.

    1. Whose Bible Is It? A History of the Scriptures Through the Ages, by Jaroslav Pelikan, Viking Penguin, 2005; 9-25

    2. Ibid.; 46

    3. Don’t Know Much About the Bible: Everything You Need to Know About the Good Book but Never Learned, by Kenneth C. Davis, Eagle Book, 1998; 5

    4. Ibid.; 5

    5. Ibid.; 28

    6. Ibid.; 19

    7. Ibid.; 20

    8. Ibid.; 20-21

    9. Ibid.; 21

    10. Ibid.; 21

    11. Ibid.; 21-22

    12. Ibid.; 29

    13. Ibid.; 31-32

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    Article by: Arizona Atheist