Crossing the Red Sea in the Torah

The Canon that forms the basis of Old Testament and Torah was written at different times by different people, often long after the events they described took place. Passages often conveyed a particular vision or point of view that was more a product of the time they were written than the time they took place. Moreover, many passages are not meant to be taken literally, according to to some, and the translations of different words and passages can vary a great deal.

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “Writings accepted as authoritative for faith and teaching are said to be canonical, and when gathered together constitute a canon. The term "canon," the Anglicized form of the Greek word kanon designating a rod used for measuring, is related to a Semitic root appearing in Hebrew as kaneh, meaning a "reed." Used metaphorically in reference to religious matters, it signifies the measure or guide or standard for principles of belief and practice. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,”1968, <=>]

“The idea of a canon rests upon belief in revelation and inspiration: the revelation of divine will to and through inspired persons. In Jeremiah's day, those who opposed him referred to the three accepted channels of inspired utterance in ancient Israel when they declared, "The law shall not perish from the priest, nor the counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet" (Jer. 18:18). The will of Yahweh was made known to priests through the Urim and Thummin, or other means of divination, but the means of sanctification and atonement, particular concerns of the priesthood, had been disclosed to Moses on Mount Sinai/Horeb and had become means of sustaining the divine-human relationship. The words of the wise, revealed by divine Wisdom, were in harmony with the very principles that brought the cosmos into being. The prophets were spokesmen for Yahweh and their words were Yahweh's words. Some of the biblical materials are representative of these three classes of "inspired" persons. How their words came to be canonized can only be inferred from hints within the writings themselves, but it is clear that prior to the Exile these three kinds of literature were accorded some sort of special status.” <=>

“The number of books constituting the canon of Old Testament Scripture varies among different religious groups. The Jewish Bible contains twenty-four books; the Protestant Bible, thirty-nine books; the Eastern Orthodox Bible, forty-three books; and the Roman Catholic Bible, forty-six books. The difference between the Jewish and Protestant versions is easily explained: one book in the Jewish Bible entitled "The Twelve" (Dodecapropheton), actually contains twelve prophetic writings which, in Christian versions, are counted individually, and four other writings which are treated as individual units in Jewish Bibles are each sub-divided into two books by Christians (I-II Samuel, I-II Kings, I-II Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah) . The additional books in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Bibles include writings not accepted as canonical by Jews and Protestants, who place them in a collection known as "The Apocrypha."” <=>

Websites and Resources: Bible and Biblical History: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible ; King James Version of the Bible ; Bible History Online ; Biblical Archaeology Society ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) ; Judaism Judaism101 ; ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; ; Chabad,org ; Religious Tolerance ; BBC - Religion: Judaism ; Encyclopædia Britannica,; Jewish History: Jewish History Timeline ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Jewish History Resource Center ; Center for Jewish History ; Jewish ; Christianity and Christians Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; ; BBC - Religion: Christianity ; Christianity Today


Works not accepted as canonical are called "Apocrypha." Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “The term "Apocrypha" as applied to writings is first known to us through the work of Clement of Alexandria ( Stromata iii, 5), a Christian theologian-philosopher living in Egypt at the close of the second and beginning of the third centuries A.D. In the preface to his translation of Samuel and Kings (Prologus Galeatus) in the fourth century, Jerome, the great Christian scholar who made the Latin translation of the Bible known as the "Vulgate", applied the term to books found in the Greek translation of Hebrew scriptures but excluded from the Jewish canon. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,”1968, <=>]

Apocrypha scene: Mattathias punished idolatry

“Etymologically, "apocrypha" is derived from a Greek word meaning "hidden" or "concealed." The explanation as to why certain books were hidden may give to the word "apocrypha" either a complimentary or derogatory significance. In one sense, the books were hidden because they contained esoteric knowledge to be revealed only to members of a particular group. In another sense ' they were concealed because they were heretical writings not acceptable in the canon of scriptures. How parts of the Apocrypha came to be accepted by some and rejected by others is part of the story of the development of the canon. <=>

“It is estimated that close to 1,000,000 Jews lived in Alexandria, Egypt, during the third century B.C. Having been separated from Palestinian Judaism for many generations, the Alexandrian Jews spoke only Greek and could not understand the Hebrew scriptures. According to a legend preserved in "The Letter of Aristeas,"3 in response to a request that the Jewish scriptures be translated into Greek, seventy Jewish scholars (another tradition says seventy-two) went to Egypt and translated the first five books of the Bible (the Law or Torah). These books, believed to be the work of Moses, had achieved a relatively fixed form and canonical status during the fifth century B.C. <=>

“Subsequently other Jewish writings were translated: first the prophetic writings (the Prophets or Nebhiim), which had almost achieved canonical standing, and finally the Writings or Kethubhim, which incorporated all other authoritative religious documents. The tradition of the translation by the seventy was extended to include the entire Greek version which came to be known as "The Seventy" or in the Latin form as Septuaginta, now Anglicized to "Septuagint" and given a numerical abbreviation LXX.” <=>

Creation of the Old Testament in Solomon’s Empire

Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “It has been noted that Solomon's time was marked by great literary activity and, if one can generalize from the Gezer Calendar, literacy may have been widespread.1 In addition to the material pertaining to the monarchy, the so-called "J" materials came into being. J should not be treated as history, in the modern sense, but rather as a religious saga recounting myths, legends and folktales. How much of J was in written form, gathered and combined prior to this time, cannot be determined. Some legends were probably preserved in oral form as tribal recitations. Certain stories appear to be Hebraized Canaanite shrine legends, for they refer to Canaanite cult objects2 and some designations suggest shrine deities.3 Some stories, such as the flood story, can be traced back to Babylonian and Sumerian accounts and were perhaps drawn from Canaanite versions of these stories. A few passages, such as Gen. 4:23-the song of Lamech-come from specific tribal groups. This is to say that the J writer did not originate the material but compiled, edited and reworked sources into a great schematic framework. Three major themes appear to have been combined: [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, <=>]

Solomon dedicating the Temple at Jerusalem

“Legends and myths pertaining to human beginnings, containing aetiological materials explaining why certain aspects of life are the way they are. 1) Patriarchal narratives demonstrating that Yahweh, the creator of the heavens and earth and all that is within them, was the same deity who miraculously led the fathers of the Hebrew nation and prepared the Hebrew people for their glorious role, rejecting other neighboring groups which became subsidiaries of the Solomonic kingdom (such as the legends about Esau/Edom). 2) The Mosaic tradition leading up to the invasion of Palestine. <=>

“Within this framework, a pattern can be discerned consisting of a series of waves, with each peak symbolizing a new beginning in Yahweh's relationships with man and each trough representing the miscarriage of the experiment. Man is introduced as Yahweh's gardener in Eden, but is expelled when he attempts to become like the deity. Yahweh expunged this poor beginning with the flood and preserved only a righteous remnant, Noah, as the foundation for a new beginning. When Noah's descendants attempted to invade the realm of the divine, Yahweh limited mankind's powers by creating non-co-operating language groups. From one group Yahweh chose Abraham, and when the patriarch's descendants became enslaved in Egypt, a new beginning was made in the Exodus under Moses. Because the people sinned in the desert, they could not enter Palestine. Another new beginning, of which J was a part, is to be seen in the Davidic kingdom, firmly established in J's time in the promised land. If J saw signs portending failure in Solomon's reign, he gives no clear indication in his writings.” <=>

Development of the Canon During the Babylonian, Exile and Persian Periods

Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “In the development of the history of Israel we have been able to see how the Torah gradually took form and reached completion in the late Persian period. The beginning of the canonization of this portion of the Bible may go back to the ancient belief that the law of the land was a divine promulgation, an idea prevalent throughout the Near East.1 The Bible bears ample evidence that the Hebrews believed that Yahweh himself wrote some of the laws (Exod. 24:12; 31:18; 32:16-16; 34:1), and that those written by Moses were dictated by Yahweh (Exod. 34:27). The formularies of the Shechem covenant were labeled "the book of the law of God" and were deposited in Yahweh's sanctuary (Josh. 24:26). The first clear move toward canonization can be seen in Deuteronomy. The Deuteronomists stated that their law was complete, with nothing to be added or removed (Deut. 4:2; 12:32); that the laws were revealed by Yahweh and were binding on all generations (Deut. 29:29); that they were designed for public proclamation (Deut. 27:4-8) but as holy writings were to be given special treatment (Deut. 31:24-26). The curses and blessings, the covenant setting, the attribution of the laws to Moses and Yahweh, make Deuteronomy the equivalent of a divinely revealed national constitution, completely removed from the sphere of ordinary literature. The use of the book in cultic settings further enhanced its unique status. During the Exile, Ezekiel's teaching that disobedience to Yahweh's will had brought divine punishment underscored the importance of those laws that purported to reveal what Yahweh demanded. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,”1968, <=>]

“Perhaps the most important step toward canonization is recorded in the Ezra tradition. During the New Year festival, Ezra read publicly from "the book of the law" and instructed the people in the law (Neh. 7:73b-8:18). What this "law" embraced cannot be determined from the account.2 It is possible that the scroll included Deuteronomy and those parts of P compiled by Babylonian Jews during the Exile. It is unlikely that the bulk of the Pentateuch was read, although this document must have been nearing its final form. Ezra's law could not have been completely new to the listeners, and it is clear that the Chronicler is suggesting that the structure of the new community was to be determined by this law which was, therefore, automatically recognized as possessing divine authority. <=>

“About this same time, the Samaritan canon, which includes the complete Torah, came into being, and in the third century the LXX translation was made. The Law had reached its final form and had attained canonical status, but the details of this process lie hidden in the obscure history of the Exilic and early post-Exilic periods. <=>

“The oracles of the prophets were preserved by disciples (Isa. 8:16; Jer. 36) and perhaps by the temple cult. Knowledge of what the prophets had said was not restricted to the cultus or to the inner circle of disciples. Micah's words were quoted by an elder in Jeremiah's time (Jer. 26:17 ff.), and it is possible that prophetic utterances enjoyed much wider circulation than we have been willing to admit. Hosea's portrayal of Israel as an unfaithful wife and Isaiah's parable of the vineyard became standard illustrations of apostasy during the Exile. <=>

“The fulfillment of some predictions, such as those forecasting the fall of Syria and Israel, gave eighth century prophecy special significance.3 If a prophet had foreseen events that had occurred, there was good reason to heed warnings concerning that which was yet to happen.4 When Judah collapsed in the sixth century, there could be little doubt that prophetic predictions had, once again, demonstrated their inspired basis, for only Yahweh could know and make manifest the future.”

One of the writers of Lamentations commented:
Yahweh has done what he purposed,
has carried out his threat;
as he ordained long ago,
he has demolished without pity. -Lam. 2:17

Bible Development Time

Canon From the Exile and Post-Exile Period

Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “During the Exile, the prophetic oracles were studied for signs of restoration. The hope of return appears to have grown out of the interpretation and expansion of the remnant concept. By the time of the post-Exilic era, prophetic writings were well on the way toward canonization. <=>

“In the post-Exilic period, perhaps because of the development of hope for an idealized eschaton, prophecy began to fall into disrepute (Zech. 13:2-3; Neh. 6:7, 14). If one had assurance of an idyllic future from sources that had been proven reliable (despite the fact that the restoration oracles were added to earlier prophecies during the Exile), all further prophecy became unnecessary. By the time of the Maccabees, it was a common assumption that there were no prophets (I Macc. 4:46; 9:27; 14:41), although there was hope that true prophets would appear. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,”1968, <=>]

“The contents of the prophetic canon appear to have been established between the fourth and second centuries in two general groupings: the Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, I-II Samuel, I-II Kings) and the Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and The Twelve). The Former Prophets are part of what Martin Noth has recognized as a Deuteronomic history. Whether or not they were included as part of the prophetic canon because they have much to report about prophets and prophetesses or because they were ascribed to prophets cannot be known. Possibly because they had been part of a theological history that extended from Genesis through Kings, when the first five books of the collection were ascribed to Moses, the remaining volumes of the sacred history were given sacred status too. <=>

“The Hagiographa or Writings are an amorphous literary collection with a most obscure history. Perhaps the cultic use of the Psalms and the ascription of many hymns to David tended to set this collection apart from secular songs. Wisdom writings, attributed primarily to Solomon, stressed reverence for Yahweh (Prov. 1:7) and declared that wisdom was a gift of Yahweh (Prov. 2:6; Sirach 1:1; Wisdom 7:7). Other documents survived through popular appeal and common usage. The fluidity of the "hagiographic canon" raised problems when the Jews attempted to standardize authoritative writings. The earliest mention of the collection is found in the prologue to Ben Sira's work where reference is made to the "other books of our fathers," presumably the Hagiographa.” <=>

Samaritan and Alexandrian Canon and Qumran Scriptures

Samaritan high priest with and Old Pentateuch, 1905

Larue wrote: “The relationship between the peoples of Israel and Judah had always been marked with suspicion and distrust and, on occasion, open hostility. When Solomon's empire was divided after his death, tensions between the two nations were never resolved. The destruction of Samaria by the Assyrians and the deportation of thousands of Israelites had not eliminated Yahweh worship in the northern kingdom but had tended to center the cult in Judah. What form the worship of Yahweh took in the Assyrian-held province of Israel is not known. In the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, Jewish-Samaritan hostility reached a new peak, and the Samaritans became openly hostile to the reconstruction of Jerusalem and the temple, partially, no doubt, from fear of any form of neo-Judaean power that might affect Samaritan political or theological well-being. When the Samaritan temple was constructed (probably in the fourth century)5 the Samaritans, like their Jewish neighbors, possessed a body of sacred scripture consisting of the Torah or Pentateuch, which differs at many points with the Jewish Hebrew text and in some instances supports LXX readings. The exclusion of prophetic and hagiographic writings suggests that the schism took place before these collections had attained authoritative standing, although it is possible that the many anti-Ephraim statements in the prophets may have made these works unacceptable. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,”1968, <=>]

“In reality, there is no "Alexandrian canon," for the Jews of Alexandria never officially canonized the LXX. The term, a misnomer, is used to designate the combined Jewish canon (Tanak) and the Apocrypha. “When the LXX was formed, the Jews had placed limits only on the Torah and the prophets. The authority of the larger group of writings out of which the Kethubhim were to be selected, had not yet been determined, although some sort of selective process must have been at work, for the LXX did not include such other well-known Jewish documents as Enoch or Jubilees or other writings now relegated to the Pseudepigrapha. What principles determined the contents of the LXX beyond the Law and the Prophets is not known. <=>

“Like their fellow Jews, the sectaries of Qumran made use of writings now included in the Jewish Bible, with the possible exception of Esther of which no fragment has, as yet, been found. They also possessed copies of Ben Sira's work and Tobit, as well as Jubilees (at least ten copies), Enoch and The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs which are today placed in the Pseudepigrapha. In addition, they consulted writings that appear to have been uniquely their own, including a collection of thanksgiving hymns, a manual of the order of the community ("The Manual of Discipline"), an apocryphal scroll called "The Wars of the Sons of Darkness versus the Sons of Light," a Genesis Apocryphon, a copper "treasure" scroll, commentaries on the books of Nahum and Habakkuk and numerous other writings. Clearly, the library of Qumran was not limited to books later adopted by the Jews as authoritative. At the same time, there is no way to determine how the Qumran sect weighted the authority of individual writings. Jubilees, on the basis of manuscript counting, appears to have been a popular work, and is quoted in one of the sect's documents, The Damascus Document, but one cannot assume that it was given more weight than the book of Isaiah which was also represented by several copies.” <=>

Jewish Canon

Larue wrote: “The earliest reference to the Jewish canon is in Josephus' defense of the Jewish faith, Contra Apion 1:8, in which he states that the Jews have only twenty-two "divine" books. He explains that "of these, five belong to Moses," and that to encompass the period between Moses and Artaxerxes "the prophets, who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their time in thirteen books," and "the remaining four books contain hymns to God." The thirteen "prophetic books" include Joshua, Judges, I-II Samuel (one book), I-II Kings (one book), I-II Chronicles (one book), Ezra-Nehemiah (one book), Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, The Twelve (one book), Job, Daniel and Esther. Ruth was probably combined with Judges, and Lamentations with Jeremiah. The "hymns" incorporated Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs. Josephus' listing represents what came to be the Jewish canon, although scholars were wrestling with problems of the authority of certain writings at the very time he was writing. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,”1968, <=>]

“After the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, a colony of Jewish scholars led by Johanan ben Zakkai gathered at Jabneh or Jamnia, a village located near the Mediterranean about thirty miles west of Jerusalem, and by A.D. 90 were in deep discussion about the canon. Ben Zakkai had escaped from Jerusalem during the siege-according to one tradition, in a coffin-and was permitted by Vespasian, who was then a general, to establish a school at Jamnia. Ben Zakkai was a Pharisee, a well-known product of the famous school of Hillel.6 Sacrifice had ceased with the destruction of the temple. It was clear that the future of Judaism would have to be anchored in the Scriptures. If the Scriptures were to be the norm for faith, it was imperative that the authoritative writings be separated from all others. Jews of the Dispersion had taken a somewhat freer attitude toward sacred writings than the Jews of Palestine. Moreover, the Christian sect, which was fast developing into a religion apart from Judaism, employed Jewish writings, including some of questionable authority, to demonstrate that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. Because it was commonly believed that inspiration had ceased in Ezra's time, there was really little point in keeping the canon open, and there was danger that some Jews, not so well informed, might continue to use questionable material or begin to use Christian writings in matters of the faith. Finally, there was a growing desire to determine the official text and to keep that text free of scribal errors, and without an official canon this was almost impossible to accomplish. <=>

“There were no problems concerning the Law. Among the prophetic writings, only Ezekiel came under serious discussion. Certain conflicts with the Torah, which was considered to be the supreme and final source of revelation, had to be resolved (cf. Ezek. 46:6; Num. 28:11) It is said that Hananiah ben Hezekiah ben Garon, a follower of Shammai, labored day and night, burning 300 barrels of oil, to harmonize the discrepancies.7 Esther was accepted after much debate because of its association with Purim, and because it was said to have been revealed to Moses.8 The greatest controversies were concerned with Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs. Ecclesiastes was judged by the followers of Shammai to be a product of Solomon's own wise speculation, but members of the Hillel school judged it a divinely inspired document. The final decision, that the book was a product of the Holy Spirit, was debated for centuries. The Song of Songs, after much discussion, was finally admitted to the canon as an allegory of God's love for Israel. Perhaps Rabbi Akiba, the famous scholar of the second century A.D., put the quietus to the argument with his emphatic declaration, "All the Scriptures are holy; but the Song of Songs is holiest of all."9<=>

“The principles guiding the rabbis in the selection of sacred books have not come down to us in any clear-cut delineation but appear to have included the following:<=>

“The writing had to be composed in Hebrew. The only exceptions, which were written in Aramaic, were Daniel 2-7, writings attributed to Ezra (Ezra 4:8-6:18; 7:12-26), who was recognized as the founding father of post-Exilic Judaism, and Jer. 10:11. Hebrew was the language of Sacred Scripture, Aramaic the language of common speech. 1) The writing had to be sanctioned by usage in the Jewish community. The use of Esther at Purim made it possible for it to be included in the canon. Judith, without such support, was not acceptable. 2) The writings had to contain one of the great religious themes of Judaism, such as election, or the covenant. By reclassifying the Song of Songs as an allegory, it was possible to see in this book an expression of covenantal love. 3) The writing had to be composed before the time of Ezra, for it was popularly believed that inspiration had ceased then. Jonah was accepted because it used the name of an early prophet and dealt with events before the destruction of Nineveh, which occurred in 612. Daniel, a pseudonymous writing, had its setting in the Exile and therefore was accepted as an Exilic document. <=>

“The canon produced by the Jamnia Council is usually dated in A.D. 90, but in reality represents the results of discussions taking place over many years. The canon was not closed easily. Debates over controversial books continued, and some writings, such as that by Ben Sira, continued to be pushed toward canonization. Ultimately the canonical norm was fixed in accordance with the decisions of Jamnia to include Torah, Nebhiim and Kethubhim. The three-fold division reflects the order of priority. Within the last two divisions, there was some fluctuation in arrangement of books. The poetic books-Psalms, Proverbs and Job-were grouped and placed first in the Kethubhim, perhaps because of the religious significance of the Psalter. Next, the five festal scrolls (Megilloth) used in Jewish festivals were brought together in the order in which they now appear in the Tanak: The Song of Songs, which was recited at Passover; Ruth, which was used in the Festival of Weeks; Lamentations, which was associated with the commemoration of the fall of Jerusalem; Ecclesiastes, which was associated with the feast of Tabernacles and Esther, which was read at Purim. Daniel, treated as a prophetic work, followed Esther, and finally came the historical works-Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles.” <=>

Christian Canon

Larue wrote: “Missionaries of the early Christian movement used the LXX in their appeal to the Greek-speaking world and did not hesitate to draw upon documents later classified as uncanonical by Jewish savants. The canonization issue had not become a particularly serious matter when the New Testament literature was being produced, and there are numerous references to sources excluded from the Jewish Bible. For example, Jude 14-16 quotes Enoch 1:9, and Hebrews 11:35 f. refers to II Macc. 6-7.10 Even after the Jamnia decisions, Christians continued to use the LXX, for there was no theory about the cessation of inspiration among Hellenistic Jews or Christians. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,”1968, <=>]

“Not all Christians approved of the use of Jewish scriptures. In Rome, Marcion, a Christian from Sinope, a city on the south shore of the Black Sea, rejected the Jewish Bible and pressed for the acceptance of what was to become part of the New Testament as the Christian canon. In A.D. 140, he was expelled from the Christian community in Rome and formed a church of his own. For 100 years his followers were to challenge the tenets of other Christian groups.11 Apart from Marcion, no other Christians appear to have raised serious questions concerning the use of the LXX. For most Christians, the Jewish Bible was "Holy Scripture" and was to be understood and interpreted in the light of Christian convictions.12 Some uneasiness about the authority of the Apocrypha was expressed by Jerome (ca. A.D. 340-420), whose translation of the Old Testament into Latin rested on the Hebrew text. Jerome was in general agreement with the Jewish position and separated the extra books found in the LXX, which he admitted could be edifying, from the Jewish canon. Jerome's views did not prevail, and in A.D. 393 at the Synod of Hippo, the LXX was canonized, largely because of the influence of Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (ca. 354-430). Later in 397, the Synod of Carthage confirmed the action taken at Hippo, and once again, Augustine exerted significant influence.” <=>

Catholic and Protestant Canons

Larue wrote: “Despite formal actions by the Synods, there were those who were uneasy about the canonization of books not found in the Hebrew canon, and up to the time of the Protestant-Catholic schism, there were scholars who made sharp distinctions between canonical and apocryphal writings.13 With the development of the Protestant Church and the tendency of the reformers to base translations of scriptures on original tongues rather than upon the Latin version, statements were included in the Protestant Bibles indicating that the Apocrypha was not to be placed on the same level as the other documents. Luther's translation (1534) included the Apocrypha between the Old and New Testaments with this title:"Apocrypha, that is, books which are not held equal to the Sacred Scriptures, but nevertheless are useful and good to read." [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,”1968, <=>]

“A year later Coverdale's Bible was published with the Apocrypha placed between the two Testaments under this statement: "Apocrypha, the books and treatises which among the fathers of old are not to be reckoned of like authority with other books of the Bible neither are they found in the canon of the Hebrew." There were doctrinal reasons back of the Protestant refusal to accept the Apocrypha, for it was here that the Roman Catholic Church found Scriptural authority for the doctrine of Purgatory and for prayers and Masses for the dead (II Macc. 12:43-45) and for the efficacy of good works (Tobit 12:9; Ecclesiasticus 8:33). <=>

“At the Council held in Trent (Tridentum), Italy (1545-1563), the Roman Catholic Church officially accepted the Jewish canon and the Apocrypha, except for I and II Esdras (III and IV Esdras in Catholic Bibles) and the Prayer of Manasseh,14 as the official Old Testament. In response, various Protestant groups took formal action, either encouraging the reading of the Apocrypha for edification but not for doctrine, as in the Church of England,15 or placing the Apocrypha completely outside of the Canon as in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1648) which stated:<=>

“"The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration are no part of the Canon of Scripture, and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings."<=>

“The Eastern Orthodox Church took separate action. From the earliest times, the Eastern Church, which used the LXX, was undecided about the Apocrypha:16 some Greek Fathers quoted from these books; others preferred to follow solely the books accepted by the Jews. The matter of the Apocrypha was raised in the Trullan Council at Constantinople in 692, but no binding conclusions were reached. Again in 1612, at the Council held in Jerusalem, the issue of the canon was considered and I Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men and I, II and III Maccabees17 were accorded canonical status. However, because the Jerusalem Council was a "Regional Council" and neither Ecumenical nor pan-Orthodox, its decrees were not obligatory unless accepted by all Orthodox Churches. Although there has been no official acceptance of the canon outlined at Jerusalem, all editions of the Bible published by the Orthodox Churches include the books selected in 1672.< In 1870, the Council of the Vatican reiterated the concepts set forth at Trent concerning the canon. Since this time, there have been no official statements issued concerning the canon either by Jews, Catholics or Protestants. It must be noted that in recent years there has been closer cooperation in biblical studies among the three faiths.”<=>

Manuscripts of the Old Testament

Larue wrote: “The task of the textual critic, to recover, insofar as possible, what the original writer wrote, is formidable. No autographs have been found, and in some instances our oldest manuscripts are separated by many centuries from the original writing. We are dependent upon the work of copyists, and some of these made many errors. A glance at photographic reproductions of the Qumran documents demonstrates the fallibility of copyists in scribal schools,1 for it is apparent that, from time to time, the scribe himself recognized and corrected his own errors. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,”1968, <=>]

“The importance of protecting manuscripts from mutilation was slowly recognized by the Jews, and by the time this awareness had become a principle, numerous additions had been made to some documents, as we have seen in the literary analysis of the texts. Books were reproduced in quantity in scribal schools and, on occasion, by special request for some wealthy collector. Because there was no sense of literary ownership or copyright, there was no reason why additions or deletions might not be made. Only when books acquired sanctity and authority were efforts made to maintain the purity of the text. The first major step toward accurate preservation came with canonization, and even after that, both voluntary and accidental changes were made. <=>

“Before attempting to recover the text, the textual critic makes certain basic assumptions. First, he assumes that the original author would not deliberately write a text devoid of meaning. If the text before him is incoherent, it is because it does not accurately represent the original. Second, he works believing that no text is to be treated as though it were infallible in all of its parts. Even the best texts are based on earlier works that may contain errors, and the most careful copyist may make mistakes. Third, he does not assume that earlier manuscripts are automatically better than later ones. Late manuscripts may accurately reproduce good early copies, and an early copy may be the work of a careless scribe. When it is possible, the text critic may attempt to ascertain the ancestry of a document. Certain "families" of manuscripts tend to be more reliable than others. Fourth, he treats with cautious respect quotations from the Old Testament in the New Testament, early Church fathers and early rabbinic sources. Quotations may be from memory and may be generally correct, but not precise,2 or may be a compilation of several sources.3 Fifth, where the text appears to be meaningless, he may, with extreme caution, venture conjectural emendations. Such emendations presuppose exhaustive knowledge of the textual history and languages involved.” <=>

Mistakes in Old Testament Manuscripts

Larue wrote: “ A partial list of the most common errors found in manuscripts includes: 1) Dittography or the repetition of a letter, syllable, word, clause or sentence. Once such an error was made, it was faithfully reproduced. In the Hebrew text of Lev. 20:10, the first five Hebrew words "If a man commits adultery with the wife of . . ." are repeated. The translators of the King James Version of the Bible incorporated the dittography in the English text, but in the Revised Standard Version the repetition is eliminated by placing one statement in the footnotes. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,”1968, <=>]

2) Confusion in transmitting letters. Many Hebrew letters look enough alike that, unless care is taken in writing, confusion may result. Because the Hebrew letters "n" and "r" were confused, the name of the Babylonian king Nebuchadrezzar was transmitted as "Nebuchadnezzar." When the letter "m" was confused with a "b" the name Merodoch-Baladan in II Kings 20-12 appeared as "Berodoch-Baladan." 3) Errors of hearing. When the reader dictated from a master scroll and the scribe misunderstood, something that sounded like the original words was often recorded. On this basis, Psalm 100:3 was written "and not we ourselves" rather than "and we are his." The change in preferred readings of this verse may be seen by comparing the passage in the King James Version and the Revised Standard Version. 4) Errors of seeing, such as homoioteleuton. When the scribe copied from a manuscript and his eyes skipped from a line ending in one word to another line ending in the same word, all intervening material was omitted. <=>

“This is what happened in I Sam. 14:41, which reads: "Therefore Saul said, O Yahweh, God of Israel why hast thou not answered thy servant this day? If the guilt is in me or in Jonathan, my son, O Yahweh, God of Israel, give Urim; But if the guilt is in thy people Israel, give Thummim." “The scribe moved from the word "Israel" in the first line to the word "Israel" in the next-to-last line and omitted the italicized portion. The full reading was preserved in the LXX. Deliberate changes. On occasion, a scribe might deliberately alter a reading to make it conform to his beliefs. We have noted the change in the name of one of Saul's sons from Ish-ba'al ("man of Ba'al") to Ish-bosheth ("man of shame") by someone who disapproved of Hebrew royalty bearing the name of a Canaanite deity. These and other errors demand of the textual critic a high degree of perspicacity. Sometimes he can determine precisely what happened to cause a particular textual variation, but at other times he can only guess. <=>

“Until the discovery of the Qumran scrolls, the earliest Hebrew biblical manuscripts were from the ninth century A.D. Pious Jews destroyed worn-out copies to prevent them from falling into impious hands. There were, of course, earlier versions in other languages. With the discovery of the Scrolls, scholars were enabled to move back nearly 1,000 years in the history of the Hebrew text.6 The fidelity of textual transmission was obvious, for despite numerous variations no major alteration of the text had taken place.7 Some Qumran manuscripts are closer to the LXX or Samaritan than to the Hebrew text, demonstrating that manuscripts with varying texts were in circulation during the first centuries B.C. and A.D., and that no one text had attained unique priority among the scribes of Qumran.”<=>

Translations of the Old Testament

Bible page from 1300

Larue wrote: “As Hebrew and Aramaic continued to be living languages during the first 500 years of the Christian era, there was little cause for concern about proper reading of the text. When these languages began to die, a group of Jewish scholars known as Massoretes8 came into being in Babylon and Palestine. Their work embraces a period roughly between A.D. 600 and 1000. They were, in a sense, successors to the scribes and deeply concerned with the purity and preservation of the text, but their efforts extended beyond care in copying because of the emergence of new problems. The Hebrew text had been written without any division between words.9 Because Hebrew and Aramaic had become dead languages, the words were separated to give ease in reading. To keep the text constant, the Massoretes developed mechanical checks and counted the number of words and letters, noted the number of times the divine name was used or special words appeared, and determined the middle verses, words and letters of individual books. Any manuscript that failed on any of these counts was defective. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,”1968, <=>]

“Efforts were made to correct scribal errors, although some "corrections" appear to have been made on dogmatic grounds.10 The Hebrew text had been recorded without vowels.11 The Massoretes invented a vowel system which was added to the text to preserve correct pronunciation. Where the Massoretes questioned the reading, special notations were added, and the Massoretes distinguished between Kethib, what is written, and Qere, what is to be read. Perhaps the best known alteration was the placing of the vowels of 'Adonai under the tetragrammaton YHWH, indicating that although the name is written YHWH ( Kethib) it is to be read 'Adonai ( Qere). Most other notations of this kind rest upon grammatical rather than dogmatic reasoning. Massoretic notes placed in the margins of manuscripts became so extensive that they had to be compiled separately. <=>

“Not all Massoretic traditions were in agreement. Babylonian scholars had developed a vowel system that differed from that of the Palestinian or Tiberias school. Because the Palestinian pattern prevailed, manuscripts with other notations fell into disrepute and began to disappear. Two of the most famous and most authoritative manuscripts by Palestinian Massoretes are from the tenth century: one by Moses ben David ben Naphtali is known as "ben Naphtali," and the other by Aaron ben Moses ben Asher is known as "ben Asher." The ben Asher text, the product of a family of Massoretes, is preferred and is the basic Hebrew text used by scholars and translators. The Massoretic text is designated by the letter M.”<=>

Early Translations of the Old Testament

Larue wrote: “The first translation of Jewish religious writings out of the Hebrew and Aramaic, the LXX, was the product of several different translators.13 Unfortunately no early copies of the LXX remain, and those we do have were preserved by the Christian Church. Some manuscripts contain alteration by those who wished to make certain passages sustain Christian beliefs. By the middle of the fourth century, the LXX had become sadly corrupted. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,”1968, <=>]

“During the second century A.D., Aquila, a Jewish proselyte from Pontus and a pupil of Rabbi Akiba, made a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Although Greek was his native tongue, he chose to make a stilted word-for-word translation that imitated Hebrew language patterns and perpetrated outrages on the structure of the Greek language. Because of his anti-Christian attitude, Aquila translated certain passages differently from the LXX, rendering them unusable for Christian doctrine. For example, he translated bethulah in Isa. 7:14 as "young woman" ( neanis) rather than "virgin" ( parthenos) and avoided the Greek term christos as a translation of the Hebrew word for "anointed." In 1897, a collection of manuscripts from the genizah of the old Cairo Synagogue was found to include a palimpsest,14 Containing portions of Aquila's work dated in the fifth century A.D. <=>

“Theodotion, a follower of Marcion according to Epiphanus (a fourth century writer), or an Ebionite15 according to Jerome, revised the LXX, or some text closely approximating it, during the second century. Theodotion's version was closer to M than to the LXX. Only fragments remain of the work of Symmachus who, near the end of the second century, made a Greek translation from the Hebrew text. According to Jerome, Symmachus was an Ebionite, but Epiphanus says he was a Samaritan who became a Jewish proselyte. Symmachus consulted various Greek versions in preparing his work. <=>

“As Christianity reached into new areas of the world, it became more and more important to provide converts with the Bible in their own language and dialect. The ancient Syrian Church produced a translation known as the Peshitta, a term that may be derived from a word meaning "common" or perhaps "simple." The Peshitta is relatively close to the Hebrew text but reflects the influence of Jewish targums.16<=>

Ancient manuscripts

“During the third century, Origen composed the Hexapla in an attempt to harmonize Greek and Hebrew versions. The text was written in six parallel columns. The first contained the Hebrew text; the second, the Hebrew text translated into Greek; the third, Aquila's version; the fourth Symmachus' translation; the fifth, the LXX and the sixth, Theodotion's version. The fifth column was, in reality, a new text, an adaption of the LXX, and only contributed to the textual confusion. <=>

“Perhaps the most important translation was the Latin Vulgate ("common"). In response to an appeal by Pope Damasus, Jerome, the great Christian scholar of the late fourth and early fifth centuries, undertook a revision of the Latin Bible. His work relied heavily upon the Hebrew text, but in some places Jerome drew upon the LXX to support Christian beliefs. For example, he retained the word "virgin" in Isa. 7:14. His translation met with strong opposition but ultimately found favor and became the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church. <=>

“A Coptic version was prepared during the fourth century to meet the needs of Christian converts in upper Egypt. Ethiopian, Armenian, Gothic, Slavonic, Georgian and Arabic translation were made. The scroll form had been virtually abandoned by this time in favor of the codex or book form. Three of the most important Greek codices are Sinaiticus, Vaticanus and Alexandrinus, all representing texts which probably originated in Egypt. <=>

“When, during the early years of the fourth century A.D., the Emperor Constantine made Christianity an officially sanctioned religion, the Church entered one of its periods of great expansion. Helena, mother of Constantine, was devoted to commemorating religious sites. Her interest led her to determine the precise place on Mount Sinai where God had revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush, and there she erected a tower. Nearly two hundred years later, the Emperor Justinian built a church on the site, which was to become the Convent of St. Catherine. The convent became a popular place for pilgrimages, and those who came brought precious manuscripts to swell the rich library.”<=>

Going Back to the Early Translations

Larue wrote: “In the middle of the nineteenth century, a famous German textual scholar, Constantin Tischendorf, became convinced that ancient manuscripts were preserved in the libraries of Greek, Syrian, Coptic and Armenian monasteries. His search led him to St. Catherine's, and there he found a fourth century A.D. manuscript known as Codex Sinaiticus.17 This codex is composed of pages fifteen by thirteen-and-a-half inches, with four narrow columns of writing per page, except for the poetic books, which have only two columns per page. There are no word divisions. The hands of three scribes can be discerned, largely on the basis of spelling variations. Of the estimated original 730 pages, 390 pages remain of which 242 belong to the Old Testament. Codex Sinaiticus was sent to Russia, where it remained until it was sold to the British Museum for $500,000 in December, 1933. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,”1968, <=>]

Pentateuch with vocalizations and cantillation marks

“An earlier fourth century codex, known as Codex Vaticanus, was also of great interest to Tischendorf. The Vatican library was established by the scholar Pope Nicholas V in 1448. just how the fourth century codex came into the possession of the library is not known, for it is first listed in a catalogue made in 1475. It had always been considered of extreme value and importance, but because of restrictive rules, was available solely to scholars officially connected with the Vatican. Napoleon had removed it to Paris, where it remained until 1815 before being returned to Rome, but no one appears to have taken advantage of its availability. <=>

“Tischendorf made two attempts to see the manuscript. The first in 1843 failed. The second, in 1866, succeeded, for by this time Tischendorf had won fame as the discoverer and publisher of Codex Sinaiticus. Contrary to his agreement with Vatican authorities, Tischendorf copied and published some pages of the codex. Soon restrictive policies were relaxed and an official photographic copy was released in 1890. Codex Vaticanus contains 759 leaves, and from the Old Testament only the first forty-six chapters of Genesis and Psalms 106 to 138 are missing. Vaticanus is, perhaps, the most valuable of all Greek manuscripts of the Bible. <=>

“The history of Codex Alexandrinus is obscure. In 1624, it was offered by the Patriarch of Constantinople to King James I of England. James died before it arrived, and it was received by Charles I. It remained in the possession of the royal family until George II gave it to the British Museum. Alexandrinus is dated in the fifth century and is only slightly less significant than Vaticanus and Sinaiticus. About fifty pages appear to have been lost, but 630 pages of the Old Testament remain. <=>

Translations of the Bible into English

Larue wrote: “The story of the English Bible is marred by tragedy, martyrdom, tyranny, bigotry and other aspects of human misunderstanding, stupidity and greed. The account can only be sketched here, but there are many excellent books that tell the story in detail. Christianity was brought to England in the second century, but the expansion of the faith did not occur until near the end of the sixth century. It can be assumed that Latin versions of the Bible were in the possession of monks and that the "message" of the Bible was conveyed to the non-reading laity through sermons and other modes of teaching. During the early years of the eighth century, the Venerable Bede, a monk of Jarrow, recorded the story of Caedmon, a gifted monk of the seventh century who made poetic paraphrases of biblical themes in Anglo-Saxon. The few fragments of his work that have been preserved make it impossible to call his efforts "translations," although they do represent an attempt to make the contents of the Bible known to the masses in their own language. Bede was also a translator of the Bible, but nothing remains of his work. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,”1968, <=>]

Malmesbury Bible

“Toward the end of the seventh century, a certain Aldhelm, who became Bishop of Sherborne, translated the Psalms into Anglo-Saxon. An eleventh century manuscript in Paris is supposed to be based on his work. King Alfred (ninth century) is reported to have continued the work of Bede and Aldhelm and to have affixed to his own laws parts of the Mosaic code, including the Decalogue. He was supposed to have been engaged in the translation of the Psalms at the time of his death. Unfortunately, none of his writings has survived. <=>

“There is only limited information concerning English translations before the fourteenth century. The Abbot Aelfric summarized parts of the Bible in Anglo-Saxon in his sermons, and one of his manuscripts is in the British Museum. Following the Norman conquest (eleventh century), William of Shoreham and Richard Rolle made separate translations of the Psalter. By this time Anglo-Saxon, influenced by new words imported from the continent, was becoming the English language. Like their predecessors, William of Shoreham and Rolle based their translations on the Vulgate. A most important contribution to Bible study was made by Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, who, about 1205, introduced chapter divisions into the Latin Bible. It was not until 1330 that these divisions were first applied to the Hebrew version. <=>

“Through John Wycliffe (also spelled Wickliffe, Wyclif, etc.) and his Oxford associate Nicholas of Hereford (fourteenth century), great strides were taken in Bible translation.19 This was the age of Chaucer, a time of literary and cultural growth. Hereford was responsible for translating most of the Old Testament from the Latin, but his work terminates abruptly at Baruch 3:19. During the early fifteenth century, John Purvey, a friend and disciple of Wycliffe, revised the Hereford-Wycliffe edition to produce a smoother, more readable work which became extremely popular. Wycliffe's Bible was proscribed in 1408 by Archbishop Arundel, and in 1414 a law was passed stating that those found reading the Bible in their own language "should forfeit land, catel, lif, and goods." Despite legislation, the burning of Bibles and killing of readers, the Bible continued to be copied and read. <=>

Translations of the Bible During the Renaissance and Reformation

Larue wrote: “The second half of the fifteenth century introduced a period of change in Europe that has been labeled the Renaissance. Men became increasingly aware of "the world" through new explorations by travelers, scientists and thinkers. It was the century of Columbus, Copernicus and Leonardo da Vinci. In 1453, when Constantinople fell to the Turks, scholars from that great center of learning fled to Europe, introducing classical knowledge of the ancient world. The Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 and five years later from Portugal, and they moved northward in Europe, revitalizing interest in the Hebrew Scriptures and Jewish scholarship. It was also the era of the Protestant reformation. Most important for the literary world was the discovery of the means of printing, using movable type. Now rapid and cheap reproductions of written works, including the Bible, became possible. The first printed Bible, a Latin version, appeared in 1456 and is attributed to Henne Gensfleich or, as lie is better known by his assumed name, Johann Gutenberg (Gutenberg was his mother's maiden name). About this same time, a certain Rabbi Nathan provided the Old Testament with verse divisions.20 In 1475, the Jews of Italy began to publish printed portions of the Hebrew text, and in 1488 there appeared the beautiful Soncino edition, the first printed edition of the Hebrew Bible, to be followed in 1494 by the Brescia edition, the version which Luther was to use. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,”1968, <=>]

detail from the Old Testament of the Gutenberg Bible

“In this turbulent era of developing concepts, William Tyndale grew up (born 1484). After study at Oxford, Tyndale conceived the idea of translating the Bible so that, as he put it to one clergyman, "ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scripture than thou doest." His efforts received little encouragement from the clergy or crown and only engendered growing hostility, which caused him to flee to Hamburg and then to Cologne so that he might work in safety. His initial translations were of the New Testament, but by 1531 he had published a rendering of the Pentateuch and Jonah based on the Hebrew text. Shortly afterward he was entrapped by his enemies. After sixteen years of imprisonment, he was brought to trial, sentenced, strangled at the stake and burned. Tyndale's determination to place the Bible in the hands of the common man was to bear more fruit. His translations became the basis of subsequent English versions. <=>

“As Tyndale was publishing in England, translations were appearing in other languages. A new Latin version was made by Sanctes Pagninus in 1528. A German edition by Zwingli and Leo Juda was published in 1530. In 1534, Luther translated the Bible into German,21 and his work became the basis for subsequent translations in Scandanavian countries. Chanteillon made a French translation in 1551. <=>

“It is not too surprising to find that when Miles Coverdale prepared his edition of the Bible (1535-6), he drew upon the translations of Tyndale, Luther and Zwingli-Juda. Coverdale's work was dedicated to King Henry VIII and was widely approved, for it appeared to meet the demands of both laity and clergy. For the first time, the books of the Apocrypha were printed separately. <=>

“More English versions followed, for it had become clear that there was a thriving market for Bibles. Matthew's Bible (1537) was little more than a compilation of the work of Tyndale and Coverdale, probably prepared by John Rogers, a disciple of Tyndale. In 1539, Coverdale brought out the Great Bible, a publication of splendid proportions and form, printed in France. This Bible was authorized by King Henry VIII. The Old Testament was a revision of the Matthew (Rogers-Tyndale-Coverdale) edition. <=>

“The English reformation encountered serious difficulties and Henry VIII took drastic action that can only be called anti-reform. In 1543, all Tyndale Bibles were proscribed, and by 1546, all Bibles except the Great Bible were outlawed. Bible burning became the order of the day. During the short reign of Edward VI, successor to Henry, Bible reading once again became legal. <=>

“When Mary Tudor, a Roman Catholic, became Queen of England in 1553, all use of the English Bible was forbidden. English Protestant scholars fled to Switzerland and began a revision of the Great Bible. Their finished product, the Geneva Bible (1560), was dedicated to Queen Elizabeth, who was now on the throne. This Bible became the popular version of the people, but the Great Bible, revised by a committee composed largely of bishops (1563-4), was the authoritative edition for ecclesiastical purposes. The revised Great Bible was known as "The Bishops' Bible."<=>

“The popularity of the English Bible among Protestants produced a demand by Roman Catholic laity for a version they too could read and understand. Roman Catholic refugees from England had opened an English College at Douai, France, and the official Catholic translation was begun there. Shortly afterward the seminary moved to Rheims. The New Testament was issued from Rheims in 1582. By the time the Old Testament appeared in 1609, the school had returned to Douai. The completed Bible is called the Rheims-Douai version, translated, according to the title page, from "the authentical Latin."”<=>

King James Bible

frontpiece of a 1611 King James Bible

Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “In 1603, James I became King of England. He inherited the benefits of the Elizabethan age: the developing attitude of tolerance, the strong spirit of intellectual excitement (prompted by such men as Shakespeare, Bacon, Jonson) and broad interest in religious matters. James was something of a Bible scholar, and is said to have tried his hand at translation. In an attempt to ease some of the tensions among Christians, he responded to a suggestion of Dr. John Reynolds of Oxford, a Puritan, that a new translation of the Bible be undertaken. Forty-seven scholars and learned clergymen were appointed to the translation committee (James' letter of authorization mentions fifty-four). Among the guide rules developed for translation were the following: [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,”1968, <=>]

“The Bishops' Bible was to be followed and only altered where necessary. 1) Old ecclesiastical terms were to be retained. 2) No marginal notes were to be included except to give suitable alternate readings or to cite parallel passages. 3) Wherever Tyndale, Matthew, Coverdale, the Great Bible, or the Geneva Bible, were closer to the original text, these translations were to be followed. <=>

“The finished product, the famous King James Version of 1611, was not a perfect work, and in 1613 a revised edition appeared. As a result of sharp criticism, a third revision was made in 1629. Unfortunately, the Codex Alexandrinus had not arrived in England in time to be consulted, and eminent scholars were pressing for a new translation. The King James Version went through further revisions, one in 1638, another more extensive one in 1762 and in 1769 still another, in which spelling and punctuation were brought up to date. The Rheims-Douai version was revised in 1749 by Bishop Richard Challoner. <=>

19th and 20th Century Revisions of the Bible

Larue wrote: “In the nineteenth century, a complete, scholarly, revision of the King James Version, utilizing codices recently available, was undertaken, and the finished product appeared in 1885 as the Revised Version. It immediately came under fire. It lacked the smoothness and beauty of the King James English, which by this time had become hallowed with age. In America, there were those who thought that too many English idioms and too many archaic words and phrases were included. An American Standard Version, a special revision of the English Revised Version, was published in 1901. The American edition had a better reception than its English counterpart, but remained second in importance to the King James Version. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,”1968, <=>]

“In 1884, the first Jewish English language Bible was published in the United States. In 1917 another translation, called The Holy Scriptures According to the Massoretic Text, was published by the Jewish Publication Society. In England the noted British scholar, Dr. James Moffatt, translated the Bible into what he termed "the English of our own day" and what he hoped would be "effective, intelligible English." The New Testament appeared in 1913, the Old Testament in 1924, and the combination of the two entitled A New Translation of the Bible in 1926. Shortly afterward, in 1939, The Complete Bible: An American Translation, the work of eminent Canadian and American scholars, was published. There were four translators of the Old Testament and a single translator of the Apocrypha, each of whom was free to follow individual style in all but basic essentials. The aim was to present "the Old Testament to the modern world in its own speech" making use of the latest and best knowledge of Hebrew linguistic studies. Despite the popularity of these modern language versions, the King James version continued to be the standard text used by Protestant churches and laity, and among Christian educators there was a growing conviction that the time was at hand for a revision of the King James Bible. <=>

“In 1937, the International Council of Religious Education, composed of representatives of forty major Protestant denominations in the United States and Canada, voted to begin a revision of the American Standard Version, which would "embody the best results of modern scholarship as to the meaning of the Scriptures, and express their meaning in English diction which is designed for use in public and private worship and preserves those qualities which have given to the King James Version a supreme place in English literature." The Revised Standard Version of the New Testament appeared in 1946. When the National Council of Churches was formed in 1950, the International Council of Religious Education was one of the merging agencies, and the Bible translation program came under National Council sponsorship. In 1952, the RSV Old Testament was published, and in 1957, the Apocrypha. Broadly speaking, the new version was enthusiastically welcomed, but criticisms by a vocal minority tended to be dogmatic and for the most part devoid of scholarship.23<=>

“Meanwhile, numerous other translations have been published. The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine Version, a product of Roman Catholic scholarship, has appeared. A new Jewish edition has been undertaken. Scholarly translations of individual books with notes and comments appear in the Anchor Bible series. <=>

“It is not anticipated that translations will cease. Agencies such as the American Bible Society have translated parts of the Bible into tongues ranging from Abor-Miri to Zulu, and they are still a long way from their objective of making the Bible available "to every man on earth in whatever language he may require." As the English language continues to change, new versions will become necessary, and perhaps, through the discovery of new manuscripts, troublesome passages will be explained and better readings emerge. No one version should ever be permitted to become authoritative for all time, but each translation must be measured on the basis of its faithful presentation of the best manuscripts. <=>

Agnes and Margaret Smith: Sisters of the Sinai

Ladder of Divine Ascent from St. Catherine's

In a review of the book “Sisters of the Sinai”, Caroline Alexander wrote in the New York Times: “Despite its popular characterization as a period of stultifying stuffiness or, as the O.E.D. puts it, of “prudishness and high moral tone,” the Victorian age abounded with adventurers intent on intellectual discovery. These included the explorer Richard Burton, who brought back to mother England not only geographical information from Africa and Arabia, but also translations of Oriental erotica; and Mary Kingsley, whose travels in equatorial Africa made her an enlightened amateur scholar of African fetish beliefs; not to mention Charles Darwin, whose travels in South America rewrote the history of the world. As Janet Soskice makes clear in “The Sisters of Sinai,” figuring among the ranks of such adventurous seekers were Agnes and Margaret Smith, identical Scottish twins, whose travels to St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai desert resulted in the electrifying discovery of one of the oldest manuscripts of the Gospels ever found. [Source: Caroline Alexander, New York Times September 1, 2009 /*\]

“The Smith sisters were born in 1843, in Irvine, Scotland, and raised with stern enlightenment by their very wealthy widowed father, who, as Soskice reports, “educated his daughters more or less as if they had been boys.” In particular, he promised his daughters that he would take them to every country whose language they learned, a pact that, given the happy combination of the twins’ love of both languages and travel, resulted in their mastery of French, German, Spanish and Italian at a young age. Unshakably devout Presbyterians throughout their lives, the twins were deeply interested in biblical studies and languages, and between them eventually acquired Hebrew, ancient and modern Greek, Arabic and old Syriac. A desire to see the land of Abraham and Moses prompted their first adventure, a trip chaperoned by a lady companion, Grace Blyth, to Egypt and the Nile. Manifesting the unflappable hardiness that would serve them well on their many future travels, the twins not only survived the duplicitous mismanagement of their dragoman, or interpreter guide, but also enjoyed their near misadventure. /*\

“Both sisters eventually made happy, if brief, marriages, Margaret to James Gibson, a Scottish minister of renowned eloquence and wide travel, and Agnes to Samuel Savage Lewis, a librarian and keeper of manuscripts at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and a scholar of enormous energy and erudition; Lewis’s circle of learned, progressive Cambridge associates was to transform both sisters’ lives. Each marriage lasted some three years, and each ended with the abrupt and much-lamented death of a husband. It was in great part as an antidote to grief that the widowed sisters determined to fulfill a long-deferred wish to visit St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Egyptian desert, near Mount Sinai.” /*\

Book: Sisters of the Sinai by Janet Sockice, Knopf 2009

Smith Sisters Discoveries at St. Catherine’s in the Sinai

Alexander wrote in the New York Times: “Margaret Gibson and Agnes Lewis arrived in Cairo in January 1892, equipped with the usual expeditionary paraphernalia and letters of introduction, but also, more unusually, with elaborate photographic equipment. As Soskice emphasizes — and as jealous biblical scholars would pretend to forget — the twins had not stumbled into Egypt, but had come on a carefully meditated and prepared mission: to find manuscripts of interest in the legendary library of St. Catherine’s. As Soskice writes, “the latter half of the 19th century was a time of anxiety over the Bible,” an anxiety that, in an age of escalating scientific interest and discovery, pertained not only to the soundness of some of the Bible’s claims — manna from heaven, for example — but the soundness of the very text upon which believers pinned their faith. The search for earlier and better manuscripts had taken scholars into obscure corners of the globe. [Source: Caroline Alexander, New York Times September 1, 2009 /*\]

“The library of St. Catherine’s, where the twins were destined, had already been searched, and even rifled, by earlier European visitors, including, most notoriously, the German scholar-adventurer Constantin von Tischendorf, who in 1859 found and “borrowed” the mid-fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus, one of the oldest and most complete manuscripts of the Bible ever found. More recently, and more significantly for the twins, J. Rendel Harris, a Quaker scholar based in Cambridge, had found in the same library an important document that gave unexpectedly early evidence of a well-developed system of Christian belief datable to the second century A.D. When Harris learned, through a chance encounter, of the twins’ plans to visit Sinai, he hastened over to meet them — and to share a secret: in a small, dark closet off a chamber beneath the archbishop’s rooms were chests of Syriac manuscripts that he had been unable to examine. /::\

When, then, Agnes and Margaret arrived at St. Catherine’s, having traveled nine days by camel through the desert, they were specifically intent on examining the contents of this closet. At Harris’s suggestion, they had also come prepared to photograph manuscript finds they would not have the opportunity to transcribe on site — preparations that give evidence of both their seriousness of purpose and their expectations of success. And successful they were. Handling a dirty wad of vellum, sharp-eyed Agnes saw that its text, a racy collection of the lives of female saints, was written over another document. When close scrutiny revealed the words “of Matthew,” and “of Luke,” she realized she was holding a palimpsest containing the Gospels. Written in Syriac, a dialect of the Aramaic Jesus had spoken, the Sinai Palimpsest, or Lewis Codex, as it came to be called, would prove to date to the late fourth century; the translation it preserved was even older, dating from the late second century A.D. — “very near the fountainhead” of early Christianity.

Soskice follows the aftershocks of this extraordinary discovery as they reverberate both through the twins’ lives and through the world of biblical scholarship; among other things, the new codex’s Book of Mark lacked the final verses describing Christ’s Resurrection.

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons except Bible Development Time, Relevancy 22, and canon list, Bible diagrams

Text Sources: Internet Jewish History Sourcebook “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Old Testament Life and Literature” by Gerald A. Larue, King James Version of the Bible,, New International Version (NIV) of The Bible, Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), translated by William Whiston, , Metropolitan Museum of Art “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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