The Bible Part I

June 26, 2008

My original intent in creating this blog was to discuss the Bible. Over the years, I’ve gotten a lot of questions and seen (and heard) a lot of criticism pointed at the Bible. Probably no more so than just a few years ago when Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code was all the rage. People would ask me if there was any possibility that Brown’s premise might be right. Some even got mad when I shot them down. One co-worker made the comment that the Dead Sea Scrolls had been intentionally omitted from the Bible as part of some Catholic conspiracy to cover up “the truth”.

Well, as part of my first discussion on the Bible itself, I wanted to discuss the Bible, its origins and how we got it in its present form. I am speaking of the Protestant Bible without the Apocrypha, because I know next to nothing about the Apocrypha.

The Bible is composed of sixty-six books written by more than forty men spanning three continents over a period of about sixteen hundred years.

The Bible is of course comprised of the Old and New Testament. Much of the Old Testament comes from the Hebrew Tanak, which is an acronym representing the three parts of the Hebrew Bible. These are the Torah (teachings), Nevi’im (prophets), and the Ketuvim (writings)1.

The Torah is the first five books of the OT. These are traditionally thought to have been penned by the hand of Moses himself. But, these original writings called the autograph no longer survive.

After the Torah, there are a number of other writings, some not included in the Kevitum. These writings make up the history of Israel. Then there are the poetic books, which are Psalms, Proverbs, Job, and Song of Solomon. These are followed by the prophets.

Understanding why some ofthe above mentioned books would be listed in the Bible is easy. These were for the most part official history and legal documents that have been preserved for centuries. Also, in about 300 BC, much of what makes up the Old Testament was organized into what’s called the Septuagint. These books were converted into the Greek language of the time by seventy rabbis.2

One of the things I want to touch on here is around a comment a friend made to me one time. He said that certain parts of the Bible became confusing because they kept retelling the same stories over and over. He couldn’t remember which “parts” he was referring to, but I’m making an educated guess here to say that he was probably referring to Kings and Chronicles. These four books repeat a lot of the same stories with different viewpoints and different details.

Throughout the historical timeline presented above, many other books were written. I’m talking about the prophets; guys like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel. The prophets covered periods from before, during and after the Babylonian Exile. Much of what the OT prophets wrote became popular, and was distributed and read among the Israelites.

Now, the creation of the New Testament was a little different. Techincally speaking, you could basically break down all of the NT into two categories: History and Letters. (I am referring to the Gospels through Acts as History). Everything from Romans to Revelations is a letter written by someone to some person or group of people. Now it is commonly accepted that none of the Gospels were actually penned pior to about 60 AD, thirty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. But many of the letters of Paul were written before that.

The letters of Paul, Peter, and others were distributed to churches and copied. The original letters, called autographs are lost to the ages. But, the copies were distributed and preserved by the early churches.

The New Testament was finally canonized until the fourth century, but it was mostly settled as early as 130 AD, and it’s basic form was recognizable by 150. A fellow named Marcion started a controversy because he only accepted Luke and the Pauline epistles as scriptural. Marcion had many followers and churches began to set down a canon. Every canon included the four gospels, the letters of Paul, the Book of Acts, James, Jude, 1 Peter and John’s three epistles. Several works continued to be dsiputed into the third and fourth centuries. Moreover, the early church worked hard at historical criticism. Nothing in the modern canon was written after 130 AD and most works are much older than that. Many books claimed to be old, but the early church was able to distinguish them from the true accounts of the 1st 100 years after Jesus.3

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Okay, with all of my treatment on rape, women’s rights etc., I thought I should touch a little on the slavery issue, because it is connected to the discussion (with all those concubines and stuff).

First, let’s consider that the Torah was written by and for the Israelites.  So, if the Romans or Assyrians or anybody else practiced a different type of slavery, we can’t blame that on God.  Secondly, saying that God condoned slavery doesn’t capture the whole picture either.

Slavery brings up connotations of race, abuse and the exploitation of a whole people.  But Biblical slavery as it applied to Israel was different.  First, one often sold himself into slavery as a last resort.  That’s right, people would sell themselves into slavery.  Slavery was what happened when a person got into such debt that he could no longer pay it off, so often after selling all of his property, a person would sell himself.

But that was not the end of it.

God instituted the Year of Jubilee for cancelling debts.  Every seventh year all debts were cancelled, and slaves were to be released from service. (There were a few exceptions).  So, it didn’t matter if you went into slavery the year before Jubilee or the year after, once the Year of Jubilee came around, all debts were cancelled, and slaves released.


Some will note that concubines were never to be released as regular slaves.  This is because Biblically, once a man has sexual relations with a woman, he has entered into a covenant with her and cannot simply “throw her away”.  Now, why would anyone sell his daughter as a concubine?  For the most part it was a way to give the daughter a better life.  If a girl’s family lived in a place where “marrying” at her own socio-economic level mean that she would have stayed in poverty, it might give her a better life to let her live as a concubine to someone more well off.

What about all those slaves taken from othe countries?

War was a fact of life in the ANE as it is now.  In some cases, it became necessary to totally destroy an enemy.  I know it sounds crass, but if women and children were left behind to fend for themselves, the society might collapse, or at least they would die off with no men to help with procreation.  Yes, some women became concubines.  Although many of the virgins were too young to marry, some were adopted into Israelite families and some would later enjoy the status of Israelites themselves.