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Luke Harley Gospels
The Bible is the sacred book of Christians. It was the first printed book and has been translated into more languages than any other written work. Described as the most influential book ever produced, it arguably addresses most issues that affect human beings and has been referred to in almost every imaginable situation. To consider oneself to be well read one must first be well versed in the Bible.

The Bible is generally divided into two books: the Old Testament, of Jewish origin, and the New Testament, written after the time of Jesus. Although version of the New Testament are available, it is unusual to find a Christian Bible with only the Old Testament. Christians accept the books of the Jewish, or Hebrew, Bible as sacred Scripture. This is essentially what the Old Testament is. The Old testament has 5,800 different word, compared to 4,800 words in the New Testament. Hugo used 38,000 different words; Shakespeare 24,000; Homer 8,500.

Christians largely believe that the Bible is the word of God as written down by men. The Old Testament is made up of the twenty four books of Hebrew Bible (Tanakh). The Roman Catholic Church also includes parts of what is known as the Septuagint, or the Apocrypha, while the Eastern Orthodox Church includes still other Jewish texts. Protestants generally accept that the twenty-four books of the Hebrew Bible as their Old Testament. [Source:]

The New Testament, contains the accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus in the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), along with the Acts of the Apostles, the letters of Paul, other letters (Catholic Epistles), and the Book of Revelation. Much of the New Testament consists of reinterpretations of Old Testament writings in relation to the life, teaching, ministry, and person of Jesus. [Source: Michael J. McClymond, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”, 2000s,]

Books: “Oxford History of the Biblical World” by Michael D. Coogan; “Oxford Companion to the Bible” by Bruce Metzger and Michael D. Coogan.; “Eerdman's Dictionary of the Bible” by David Noel Eerdman. “How to Read the Bible” by James Kugel (Free Press 2008) explains how the entire Bible was read as much as the texts themselves to determine how the text were canonized by Jews and Christians.

Websites and Resources: Early Christianity: PBS Frontline, From Jesus to Christ, The First Christians ; Elaine Pagels website ; Sacred Texts website ; Gnostic Society Library ; Guide to Early Church Documents; Early Christian Writing ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins ; Christianity BBC on Christianity ; Candida Moss at the Daily Beast Daily Beast Christian Answers ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library ; Bible: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible ; King James Version of the Bible; Bible History Online ; Biblical Archaeology Society

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible,; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) , Frontline, PBS, Wikipedia, BBC, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Live Science,, Archaeology magazine, Reuters, Associated Press, Business Insider, AFP, Library of Congress, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

Early Christian Art ; Early Christian Images ; Early Christian and Byzantine Images


Websites and Resources: Saints and Their Lives Today's Saints on the Calendar ; Saints' Books Library ; Saints and Their Legends: A Selection of Saints libmma.contentdm ; Saints engravings. Old Masters from the De Verda collection ; Lives of the Saints - Orthodox Church in America ; Lives of the Saints: ; Early Christianity: PBS Frontline, From Jesus to Christ, The First Christians ; Elaine Pagels website ; Sacred Texts website ; Gnostic Society Library ; Guide to Early Church Documents; Early Christian Writing ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins ; BBC on Christianity ; Candida Moss at the Daily Beast Daily Beast Christian Classics Ethereal Library;

The Bible — One Really Big Book

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ancient Byblos in present-day Lebanon,
the source of the word Bible
After laboring for 17 years, Dr. Thomas Hartwell announced in 1862 that the Old Testament contained 22,214 Verses, 593,493 words and 2,728,100 letters and the New Testament contained 7,959 Verses, 181,253 words and 838,380 letters. He also found that the word "and" appeared 46,727 times in the entire Bible and word "girl" appeared only once (in the 3rd verse of the 3rd chapter of Joel).

Modern versions of Bible have almost 800,000 words, making it more than ten times longer than the Koran. Over the years a number of people have complained about what a chore it to read. Historian Edward Gibbon, author of the multi-volume “Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire”, complained about its “endless incoherent rhapsody of fable and precept,” Thomas Carlyle said it was “as toilsome reading as I ever undertook: a wearisome, confused jumble, crude, incondite.”

According to the BBC: The Bible is not just one book, but an entire library, with stories, songs, poetry, letters and history, as well as literature that might more obviously qualify as 'religious'. The Christian Bible has two sections, the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament is the original Hebrew Bible, the sacred scriptures of the Jewish faith, written at different times between about 1200 and 165 BC. The New Testament books were written by Christians in the first century AD. [Source: John Drane, July 12, 2011 BBC |::|]

“The sheer diversity of literature in the Bible is one of the secrets of its continuing popularity through the centuries. There is something for all moods and many different cultures. Its message is not buried in religious jargon only accessible to either believers or scholars, but reflects the issues that people struggle with in daily life. Despite their different emphases, all its authors shared the conviction that this world and its affairs are not just a haphazard sequence of random coincidences, but are the forum of God's activity - a God who (unlike the God of the philosophers) is not remote or unknowable, but a personal being who can be known by ordinary people. |::|

Bible World Records

The Bible has been called the most popular book in human history. It has been translated into hundreds of languages, disseminated around across the globe and periodically burned . According to the Guinness Book of Records, the Bible is the world's best selling book. An estimated 2.5 billion copies in 337 languages have been sold between the beginning of the 19th century and the 1990s, when Bible publishing was a $425 million to $650 million business in the United States alone. Today it is worth much more than that. It is estimated that about 100 million copies of the Bible are sold or given away worldwide every year.

As of 2018, according to National Geographic, the entire Bible had been translated into over 670 languages; the New Testament alone can be read in more than 1,500 additional languages.

The British and Foreign Bible Society was established in 1804. Its goal was to translate the Bible into every language. As of 2006, the Bible had been translated into 2,426 languages (covering 95 percent of the world’s population), up from 2,123 languages in 1996. There include 601 languages and dialects in Africa, 527 languages in Asia, 191 in Europe, 527 in North and South America and 355 in Oceania. Among the more recent ones added to the list are Yami, spoken by a people on an island off the coast of Taiwan, and Borana, spoken by a nomadic tribe in Kenya. A couple of Star Trek geeks have even translated parts of it into Klingon.

In May 2023, the Codex Sassoon — a Hebrew Bible written around A.D. 900 — sold for $38 million at a Sothbey’s auction in New York. It was purchased by the former US ambassador to Romania Alfred H Moses on behalf of the American Friends of ANU and donated to ANU Museum, where it will join the collection, Sotheby’s said in statement. Sotheby's pre-sale estimates put the manuscript's value at between $30 million and $50 million. In 2012, The British Library paid $14.3 million for the St. Cuthbert Gospel, a remarkably well-preserved seventh-century manuscript described by the library as the oldest European book to survive fully intact. As of the 1990s, The highest price ever paid for a book was $11.9 million paid for a 226-leaf manuscript “The Gospel Book of Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony” at a Sotheby's of London auction in 1983. The 13½-by-10 inch book was illuminated in 1170 by the monk Herimann of Halmershansen Abbey, Germany. [Source: Associated Press, May 18, 2023]

According to the Barna Research group, nine out of every ten American homes have a Bible and the median number of Bibles per American family is four. Additionally about 20 million new Bibles are sold every years. But despite this many Americans are ignorant of the Good Book’s contents. A Gallup poll found that less than half knew the first book of Bible (Genesis), only a third knew who gave the Sermon on the Mount (Billy Graham was a popular answer), a quarter did not know what Easter celebrates (the resurrection of Christ, the central act of Christianity) and 12 percent thought Noah was married to Joan of Arc. [Source: The Economist]

History of the Bible

The word Bible comes from Greek words “byblos” or "ta biblia",, meaning book, or papyrus, an expression Hellenistic Jews used to describe their sacred books several centuries before the time of Jesus. . There is also a town in Lebanon called Byblos that used to ship the holy book. The Bible was written between the 13th century B.C. and the A.D. 3rd century.

According to the BBC: Christians adopted the phrase "Old Testament" to refer to these sacred books they shared with Jews. Jews called the same books Miqra, "Scripture," or the Tanakh, an acronym for the three divisions of the Hebrew Bible: Torah ("instructions" or less accurately "the law"), Neviim ("prophets"), and Kethuvim ("writings," including Psalms, Proverbs, and several other books). Modern scholars often use the term "Hebrew Bible" to avoid the confessional terms Old Testament and Tanakh. As for the New Testament, its current twenty-seven book form derives from the fourth century CE, even though the constituent parts come from the first century. Christians did not agree on the exact extent of the New Testament for several centuries.

Michael J. McClymond wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”: When Christianity emerged, the Jewish people had synagogue services in which the Hebrew Bible was read aloud, sometimes in a Greek translation known as the Septuagint, and yet there was variation in the books that were used. A larger canon that was prevalent among Greek-speaking Jews included various books and added portions of books (Tobit, Judith, Ecclesiasticus, Additions to Esther, and others), while a smaller canon was common among non-Greek-speaking Jews. The books included in the larger canon became known as the Apocrypha, or deuterocanonical books. Jewish Bibles published in modern times do not include the Apocrypha, and Protestant Bibles typically follow the Jewish custom of excluding them. The situation in early and medieval Christianity, however, was fluid. Some groups used the Apocrypha in their worship services, while others did not. In 1548 the Council of Trent decreed that the Apocrypha was a part of the Old Testament, and since then Catholic Bibles have consistently included it. [Source: Michael J. McClymond, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”, 2000s,]

The debate regarding the Apocrypha pertains only to the Old Testament, and all major Christian groups agree about which books belong in the New Testament. The so-called New Testament Apocrypha (Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Peter, and others) consists of books that claim to come from the time of the apostles but probably originated many decades later. These books have not played a part in Christian worship in any of the historic churches.

Old Testament

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “The Old Testament is a collection of selected writings composed and edited by members of the Hebrew-Jewish community between the twelfth century B.C. and the beginning of the Christian era. It includes such diverse materials as prophetic oracles, teachings of wise men, instructions of priests and ancient records of the royal courts. Some material is historical, some is legendary; some is legalistic, some is didactic. For the most part the literature was written in Hebrew, but a few passages were written in Aramaic, a kindred language which came into common usage among the Jews during the post-Exilic era (after the sixth century B.C.). The Aramaic portions include Dan. 2:4b-7:28; Ezra 4:8-6:18, 7:12-26; Jer. 10:11; and one phrase in Gen. 31:47 "Jegar-sahadutha," translated "Heap of Witness."[Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,”1968, ]

“The term "Old Testament,"1 or more properly "Old Covenant," is a Christian designation, reflecting the belief of the early Christian Church that the "new covenant" mentioned in Jer. 31:31-34 was fulfilled in Jesus and that the Christian scriptures set forth the "new covenant," just as the Jewish scriptures set forth the "old covenant" (II Cor. 3:6-18; Heb. 9:1-4). Jewish scholars prefer the term "Tanak," a word formed by combining the initial letters of the three divisions of the Hebrew Bible: Torah (Law), Nebhiim (Prophets), and Kethubhim (Writings).

New Testament and Gospels

The New Testament focuses on the life of Jesus and the early development of Christianity. Originally written in Greek, it is comprised of the Gospels, the Acts and sayings of Christ, the Epistles and the letters of Paul and the Apostles. It contains 27 books and 260 chapters. Most of it was written down in late A.D. 1st century and early 2nd century.The authoritative New Testament was not canonized until the 4th century.

The Gospels are the most important part of the News Testament. Based on oral traditions, they are four accounts of Jesus’s life and teaching written by four evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Gospels differ in some details but are the same on essentials. For example all the Gospels tell the story of Jesus’s death and resurrection but each tells it in a different way with a different viewpoint and a different message.

Few old examples of the Gospels exist in part because of the massive destruction of Christian materials ordered by the Roman Emperor Diocletian in A.D. 303. A rare example of a pre-Diocletian manuscript was found at the Fayyum oasis in Egypt. The earliest Christian Bibles, all in Greek, date to 4th and 5th century. Most are from fragments kept at St. Catharine’s in the Sinai or were found elsewhere in Egypt.

Content Differences and Inconsistencies Within the Bible

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Ethiopian Tana Bible
The content of the Bible is different with different denominations and is read differently too. Candida Moss wrote in the Daily Beast: Jews, Catholics, and Protestants do not use the same Bible. Catholics and Protestants don’t even agree on which books the Bible should contain, much less how we should understand the content of those books. Add to this the fact that some denominations read certain passages metaphorically while others are more invested in literalist interpretations. [Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast, February 10, 2019]

Christians vehemently disagree with one another about what the Bible says and doesn’t say; which Biblical laws are eternally proscriptive and which are defeasible; and what the Bible actually means and who gets to decide. But even apart from these debates there’s a lot of blank space in the Bible—places where a lack of information has led readers and interpreters to supply extraneous information. Add to that all the things people think are in the Bible but aren’t and you have a whole different book. [Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast, March 15, 2015]

To start off, there’s the insertion of mammals and botanicals in places where they shouldn’t be. Most people grow up learning that Eve took an apple from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, gave it to Adam, leading to the ejection of humanity from the Garden of Eden. But there’s no apple in the Garden—there’s only a piece of fruit. The interpretation that it’s an apple sneaks in in the King James Version of the Bible.

And there isn’t any mention of unicorns processing twosies by twosies, hooves–a-clattering onto Noah’s Ark. Once again we have fearless band of translators to thank. The English “unicorn” is a translation of a Latin rendering of a Greek word that sounds unicornish (monokeros—one-horned). The Greek is itself a translation of the Hebrew word for wild ox (re’em). From wild ox to unicorn in three easy steps—that’s one heck of a makeover.

The Bible tells us two diverging things about how David kills Goliath. In the first version David kills Goliath with a slingshot and specifically without a sword (1 Samuel 17:50); in the second version he knocks Goliath down with the slingshot, pulls his sword out, kills Goliath and beheads him (1 Samuel 17:51). The reason for the discrepancy, according to Yale professor of Hebrew Bible Joel Baden’s The Historical David, is that two different, conflicting versions of the David and Goliath story were combined. Presenting descriptions of the geology of the region makes everything – and especially the Biblical text itself – seem more straightforward than it is.

Books of the Jewish, Protestant and Catholic Old Testaments

Jewish — — Protestant — — Roman Catholic

The Law (Torah) Genesis — — — Genesis
— — — — — — Exodus — — — Exodus
Genesis — — — Leviticus — — — Leviticus
Exodus — — — Numbers — — — Numbers
Leviticus — — — Deuteronomy — — Deuteronomy
Numbers — — — Joshua — — — Josue (Joshua)
Deuteronomy — Judges — — — Judges
— — — — — — Ruth — — — — Ruth [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968,]

The Prophets (Nebhiim) — I Samuel — I Kings (=I Samuel)
The Former (Earlier) — II Samuel — II Kings (=II Samuel)
Prophets: — — — I Kings — — — III Kings (=I Kings)
Joshua — — — II Kings — — — IV Kings (=II Kings)
Judges — — — I Chronicles — — I Paralipomenon
I Samuel — — — II Chronicles — (= I Chronicles)
II Samuel — — Ezra — — — — II Paralipomenon
I Kings — — — Nehemiah — — (= II Chronicles)
II Kings — — — Esther — — — I Esdras (Ezra)
The Latter Prophets: Job — — — II Esdras (Nehemiah)
Isaiah — — — Psalms — — — ** Tobias (Tobit)
Jeremiah — — Proverbs — — — ** Judith
Ezekiel — — — Ecclesiastes — — Esther (with additions)
The Twelve: — Song of Solomon Job
Hosea — — — Isaiah — — — — Psalms
Joel — — — — Jeremiah — — — Proverbs
Amos — — — — Lamentations — Ecclesiastes
Obadiah — — — Ezekiel — — — Song of Songs
Jonah — — — — Daniel — — — ** Book of Wisdom
Micah — — — Hosea — — — — ** Ecclesiasticus
Nahum — — — Joel — — — — Isaias
Habakkuk — — Amos — — — — Jeremias
Zephaniah — — Obadiah — — — Lamentations
Haggai — — — Jonah — — — — ** Baruch (including the
Zechariah — — Micah — — — — Letter of Jeremiah)
Malachi — — — Nahum — — — Ezechiel
— — — — — — Habakkuk — — Daniel

The Writings — Zephaniah — — Osee (Hosea)
(Kethubhim) — — Haggai — — — Joel
— — — — — — Zechariah — — Amos
Psalms — — — Malachi — — — Abdias (Obadiah)
Proverbs — — — — — — — — — Jonas (Jonah)
Job — — — — — The Apocrypha — Micheas (Micah)
Song of Songs — * I Esdras (or III Esdras) Nahum
Ruth — — — — II Esdras (or IV Esdras)Habacuc
Lamentations — * Tobit — — — Sophonias (Zephaniah)
Ecclesiastes — — * Judith — — — Aggeus (Haggai)
Esther — — — — — — — — — Zacharias (Zechariah)
Daniel — — — — * Additions to Esther Malachias (Malachi)
Ezra — — — — * Wisdom of Solomon — **I Machabees
Nehemiah — — * Ecclesiasticus — ** II Machabees
I Chronicles — — * Baruch
II Chronicles — Letter of Jeremiah
* The Song of the Three Young Men
* Bel and the Dragon
Prayer of Manasseh
* I Maccabees
* II Maccabees

  • Books accepted by The Eastern Orthodox Church but not included in the Jewish Canon. ** Books accepted by Roman Catholics but not included in the Jewish Canon.

4th Century Bible and Commentary Says It Should not Be Taken Literally

In October 2012, Dr. Lukas Dorfbauer, a researcher at the University of Salzburg, was looking through manuscripts of the Cologne Cathedral Library and found part of the 100-page A.D. 4th century commentary, with the earliest Latin translation of the Gospels. The author of the commentary was Fortunatianus of Aquileia, a fourth-century North African who later became a northern Italian bishop. Scholars had known about the commentary from references to it in other ancient works, but until Dorfbauer identified it in the Cologne manuscript it was thought to have been lost for more than 1,500 years. An English translation of the text, prepared by Dr Hugh Houghton of the University of Birmingham, became available in 2017. Up until this discovery, the oldest complete Latin version of the Gospels was the Vulgate, assembled by Jerome, who was a great admirer of Bishop Fortunatianus, describing his commentary as “a pearl without price”. [Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast, September 3, 2017]

Candida Moss wrote in the Daily Beast: What’s most revealing about the commentary is the manner in which its author interprets his source text. Rather than treating the Gospels as literal history, Fortunatianus viewed these stories as a series of allegories. For example, when Jesus enters a village, Fortunatianus might see the village as a cipher for the church. Other “figures” of the church include boats, sheep, and hens. Other instances of this kind of reading involve numbers–The number 12 is always a reference to the 12 disciples, the number five is a symbol of the five books of the Pentateuch, or Jewish law, and the number 99 (an imperfect version of 100) is a symbol of evil and the Jews. [The Church held the Jews to be responsible for the death of God!] Houghton said:

“For people teaching the Bible in the fourth century, it’s not the literal meaning which is important, it’s how it’s read allegorically.” It’s not that Fortunatianus thinks that the Bible cannot be read literally, it’s just that he is much more interested in its symbolic meaning. While he sometimes uses the verbs “to figure” or “prefigure” to explain his interpretation, he mostly describes the passages as “showing” or “indicating” a particular allegorical truth.

What’s especially striking about this new discovery is that Fortunatianus is commenting on the content of the Gospels, the central component of the Christian message. This seems strange to modern readers because so much modern religious Biblical interpretation, especially among conservative Christians, assumes that Bible should be read literally. Houghton notes that literal interpretation did not become de rigueur until the mid-15th century, when the invention of the printing press brought precise uniformity and conformity to the Biblical text. Prior to this point no two manuscripts of the Bible were identical to one another, and literal reading of the text was just one (and not even necessarily the most important) interpretive method.

Of course, allegorical readings of the Bible pre-date Fortunatianus. One of the most celebrated ancient interpreters of scripture, the third-century theologian Origen of Alexandria (who is a likely source for Fortunatianus), argued that the Bible could be interpreted literally (what he calls the “letter”) and spiritually (allegorical interpretation). He actually distinguished three kinds of interpretation that he mapped on to the parts of the human body: “the flesh,” “the soul,” and “the spirit.” Origen’s three senses of scripture have been profoundly influential and led him to offer some startlingly modern interpretations.

For example, when writing about the (in modern contexts) highly controversial Creation stories of Genesis 1-3, Origen says this: “For who that has understanding will suppose that the first day, and second and third day, and the evening and the morning existed without a sun, and moon, and stars? And that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky?… And if God is said to walk in paradise in the evening, and Adam is to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance and not literally.”

In other words, Origen doesn’t think that the Genesis stories are literally true. He doesn’t write this as a response to scientific discovery, but he also does not think that the stories are bankrupted as a result. Instead, he thinks, like many others, that these stories are meant to be interpreted allegorically. Allegory isn’t a response to science, it’s an authentic and traditional way of reading and writing texts.

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons except Bible Development Timelines, Relevancy 22 and New Testament Canon, Bible Diagrams

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible,; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) , Frontline, PBS, Wikipedia, BBC, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Live Science,, Archaeology magazine, Reuters, Associated Press, Business Insider, AFP, Library of Congress, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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