More correctly, one should refer to “the bibles” rather than “the bible”. Many, many translations have been made, and recently, using freestyle wording rather than a translation of the text, both the Old Testament and New Testament in these free-style versions have little resemblance to the original texts.
For example, in the Massoretic Text, the Bible begins in Genesis as follows:
“In the beginning God created the heaven and earth. Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters. And God said: ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light;”
In the Tanakh “translation” of the same Jewish Publication Society it reads thus:
“When God began to create heaven and earth—the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water—God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light”
The Bible is considered to be based upon divine revelation by both the Jewish and Christian communities, and by some Christians as inerrant i.e., every word to be true and revealed by God, incapable of error, infallible.
Orthodox Jews believe their bible is inerrant.
Of course, the same can be said for the Koran, revealed by the angel Gabriel to the prophet Mohammed over a period of a number of years.
As to what books should be included in the bible, the Jewish and Protestant bibles agree insofar as the Old Testament is concerned, but the Roman Catholics include the “Apocrypha” from the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament into Greek. These are 7 books, plus additions to Esther, Jeremiah and Daniel.
The Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew was done by 70-72 Jewish scholars meeting in Alexandria, Egypt in 200-300 B.C. It is still used by the Eastern Orthodox Church, who have included 3 of the books of the Apocrypha.
The Vulgate is a Latin translation of the Septuagint, done by Jerome and completed by 404 AD, and was accepted as official by the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent (1545-1563 AD).
Several editions of the Vulgate have been prepared, i.e. in 1590 AD and 1976 AD.
It contains all the books of the Apocrypha.
The first translation of the bible was the Aramaic Targum.
The Talmud refers to an oral tradition of this Aramaic Targum in the time of Ezra (458 B.C.).
This marked the first activity of the Sopherim (the Scribes), namely in the origin of the Aramaic translation, first made orally and afterwards committed to writing.
The Targums have several versions and are translations—often interpretations or paraphrases—of the Old Testament. They appear in written from about 200 B.C., and the final text was codified by the 5th century A.D.
The Targum Onkelos has a Masorah, and numerous commentaries.
Intermediate (western) Aramaic is the language of the Palestinian Talmud, the Targum Jonathan, and the Samaritan translation of the Pentateuch.
The Babylonian Talmud is written in eastern Aramaic.
There is evidence that Aramaic was known to educated Hebrews in the latter part of the 8th century B.C.
Is it possible that the Old Testament as we know it was first written in Aramaic, and then translated into Hebrew ?
The actual text of the Old Testament is unsure, and cannot be authoritatively determined.
The original Hebrew text used by the 70 Jewish scholars in 200-300 BC to create the Greek Septuagint translation has disappeared, although the dead sea scrolls and other sources tend to confirm its authenticity. It consisted only of consonants, strung together.
Biblical Hebrew showed many signs of decay and uncertainly in usage after the Babylonian exile.
Postexile Hebrew showed great simplicity and uniformity of style, largely due to Aramaic influence.
The reasons for this influence were firstly that, from 539-331 B.C., Aramaic was the language of the officials, and was spoken by many Jews. In fact, the current Hebrew letters are shaped as the Aramaic letters.
The oldest manuscript of Isaiah in Hebrew is dated circa 100 B.C., one of the Dead Sea Scrolls from the Qumran Cave. It is practically equivalent to Isaiah from the Masoretic Text.
The oldest copy of the full Old Testament in Hebrew is dated from the 9th-10th century A.D., the Masoretic Text (Massora equals tradition), which was the work of rabbinical scribes.
The Masoretes between 700-1000 A.D. codified this biblical text tradition.
Masorah in Hebrew literally means “uncertain”, and is the body of traditions regarding the correct spelling, writing and reading of this Hebrew Bible.
The most common Hebrew text is the Masoretic, dated between 600-800 AD., nearly 1000 years after the missing Egyptian Hebrew text, which added vowels by adding marks to the consonated text, and it divided the words and sentences.
A comparison of the Septuagint and Masoretic translation shows so many differences that an authoritative decision as to which is correct is impossible.
By comparison, the earliest Aramaic document is dated 200 B.C., 1000 years earlier.
The scribes were first described, at the time of Ezra (400 B.C.), as literate men occupied in particular with the study of the Jewish law. Later they became those who wrote the Scrolls of the Law, preserving the tradition of the correct text.
The Masoretic Text is in Hebrew, with the exception of solitary words written in Aramaic in Genesis and Jeremiah, and a few chapters in Ezra and Daniel.
The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Samaritan Hebrew Pentateuch display the diversity of manuscripts from the Second Temple Period (circa 540 B.C.)
This Masoretic text was used by the U.S. Jewish Publication Society of America as the main basis for their English translation of the bible.
The Masorah (textual traditions) were really documenting the uncertainty of the Scribes as to the correct spelling, etc. of the text.
However, regardless of the many variations, they hardly do not affect the meaning of the Hebrew.
This Masoretic text is distinctly different from that of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Samaritan’s Aramaic Pentateuch, or that from which the ancient versions were translated (which are non-existent today).
In the Tannaitic and Amoraic Periods (200 B.C.), many words were still written differently from the text now used.
There was an Eastern school (Babylonian) and Western school (Palestinian) which had at least two branches of texts, called by the names of the families Ben Asher and Ben Naphtali. This latter was written in 930 A.D., is housed in Jerusalem, and was recommended by Maimonides in his Code (1170-80 A.D.
In fact, a comparison of the Septuagint and Masoretic translations shows so many differences that an authoritative decision as to which is correct is impossible.
“The Bible as History”, a book by Werner Keller, documents some of the differences between the Bible and historical writings from the ancient world.
The Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew was traditionally done by 70-72 Jewish scholars meeting in Alexandria, Egypt in 200-300 B.C. It is still used by the Eastern Orthodox Church, who have included 3 of the books of the Apocrypha.
There are several versions of the text, departing from the Masoretic Hebrew in many deviations, and evidencing a different Hebrew text, traits of which are also preserved in the Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
A copy of the original source Hebrew text does not exist at this time.
In Jesus’ time, the Greek New Testament makes references and quotations from the Apocrypha, plus Enoch, and a few others.
The Vulgate is a Latin translation of the Greek Septuagint, done by Jerome and completed by 404 A.D., and was accepted as official by the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent (1545-1563 A.D.).
Several editions of the Vulgate have since been prepared , i.e. in 1590 A.D. and 1976 A.D..
It contains all the books of the Apocrypha.
An official translation in English for the Roman Catholic church is the Reims-Douai version of 1582 A.D. for the New Testament, and 1609 A.D. for the Old.
Another official Roman Catholic translation is that of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, published in 1953.
Old & New Testaments
The oldest, and most complete, text of the Old and New Testaments were, until recently, the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus, both dated from the 4th century A.D., supplemented in 1931 by the Chester Beatty papyri dating from the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D., all in Greek.
The task of sifting through the writings of the early church occupied Christians well into the 4th century A.D., our current canon being published for the first time in the 39th Festal Letter of Athanasius in the year 367 A.D.
However, in the different churches, east and west, questions continued as to which books to include, and a second canon called the “Quinisextum”, was published by the second Trullan council of 692 A.D.
Still, today biblical scholars continue to consider a revision of the canon for the New Testament.
The final criteria for inclusion in the evolving “New Testament” was the judgment that the writing “contained apostolic teaching as that teaching was being interpreted by the church”.
Examples of rejected writings are the New Testament Apocryphal Gospels, Gnostic books, the various Act of the Apostles books, and epistles.
There are so many omitted titles and books that I would refer you to the Encyclopedia Britannica’s treatise “Apocrypha, New Testament” for their names.
There is also a whole class of early Christian writings of the early 2nd century called “Apostolic Fathers”, some of which were included in the canon of the New Testament by some branches of the early church.
Presumably, the books of the New Testament were written, in Greek (?) between 30-100 A.D. (by Jewish fishermen from Galilee, Mark and John; Matthew, a Jewish tax-collector)
As for these New Testament books, the earliest text is a part of St. John’s gospel, the so called Papyrus Bodmer II, in Greek, circa 98-117 A.D.
Next is the parchment “Codex Sinaitinus”, in Greek, from between 300-400 A.D. which contains the New Testament and parts of the Old, as well the Epistle of Barnabas, and part of the “Shepherd of Hermas. It is now in the British Museum.
The Codex Vaticanus is from the 4th century, contains nearly the complete Greek bible, and is housed in the Vatican library.
The Codex Alexandrinus contains an almost complete Greek bible, together with incomplete copies of I and II Clement. It is dated from the early 5th century, and also is in the British Museum.
The Codex Ephraemi Syri Rescriptus is from the 5th century, and its text is important for certain portions of the New Testament, every book of which is represented to some extent except for two. It is preserved in the Bibliotheque National, Paris.
The Codex Bezae, in both Latin and Greek, is significant for its text of the Gospels and the Acts. It is housed at Cambridge University.
Many other manuscripts from the 2nd and 3rd centuries exist, written on papyrus, in Greek, Latin and Syriac.
Taken all together, scholars strive to evaluate each and choose those parts of each which they prefer.
A problem arises with this choosing.
For example, the Authorized (or King James) version, which is found in some of the manuscripts, reads for Luke 2:14:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men”
However, in the Codices listed above, as well as Latin versions, and the Revised Standard version of 1946, the verse reads:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased”.
The Inerrantness of the Bible
Evangelical, fundamentalist Christians believe that every word in the Bible is the word of God, accurate and perfect, free from error, infallible.
A comment from the Encyclopaedia Britannica:
“Textual criticism becomes necessary because of the thousands of variations in the existing manuscripts and versions”.
In Genesis there are two accounts of the Creation, both in different sequences.
The first has man created last, on the sixth day.
Genesis 1: 27 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him: male and female created he them.”
Genesis 1: 31 “And the evening and the morning were the sixth day”.
The second version has man created first.
Genesis 2: 7 “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground”
Genesis 2: 8-21 Plants and animals created.
Genesis 2: 22 “And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman”
Three separate and distinct renditions of the Psalms were created by St. Jerome, the first two based on the Septuagint, and the third translated from the Hebrew.
And in determining the correct “text” for the Gospel of Mark, scholars have debated whether its last chapter, Chapter 16, should end at verse 8 (as it now does in the best manuscripts); or should it continue with verses 9-20 (as it now does in the New Testaments) ?
Incidentally, the term “Jew” only arose after 587 B.C., in the exile and postexile literature. The name for Israel was now Judah, and its members were called Judahites (Jews).
The Inerrantness of God
The question of evil in the world and in heaven is one that has confounded the minds of mankind for centuries.
If we define God as all-powerful, all-knowing, omnipotent, infallible, then how does He allow Satan to exist, and furthermore, to have limitless power over the people of the earth ?
And knowing in advance the evil that mankind would do, why did He create man with the nature he has ?
We read God saying “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth: both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them”. (Genesis 6:7)
We have Noah and his family surviving the flood, and the descendents of Noah seem to be as wicked as those people that were destroyed.
Citing the biblical story, it did not take long before Cain murdered his brother Abel.
David commits Adultery and Murder
In 2nd Sam. 11:2-5 we read that David commits adultery with Bathsheba, wife of a Hittite, has her husband killed, and has two children by her;
their second was Solomon.
From Judges 8:30 “And Gideon had threescore and ten sons of his body
begotten; for he had many wives.”
Solomon worshipped other Gods
From 1st Kings 11:6 “And Solomon did that which was in evil the
sight of the Lord, and went not fully after the Lord, as did
David his father.”
1st Kings 11:7 “Then did Solomon build a high place for Chemosh
the detestation of Moab, in the mount that is before Jerusalem,
and for Molech the detestation of the children of Ammon.”
The Promised Land
Canaan was promised to Abraham by God as follows: “Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates…..for an everlasting possession”. Abraham is dated to be about the 17th century B.C.
This prophesy is certainly true if you consider that Ishmael, father of the Arabs, was also a son of Abraham. (Gen. 15:18-17:8)
However, the history of the heirs of Isaac vis-à-vis Canaan is extremely fragile.
Joshua’s efforts to conquer Canaan were not successful (between 1300-1350 B.C.)
Only under Solomon (circa 902 B.C.) was this biblical prophesy fulfilled— 448 years later—but by 721 B.C. the kingdom of Israel had fallen, and the heirs of Isaac have never again come close to regaining the borders of the biblical Promised Land.
Bibliography: * “The Holy Scriptures According to the Masoretic Text”,
The Jewish Publication Society of America,
Philadelphia, Pa. 1955
* “Tanakh The Holy Scriptures, The New JPS Translation
According to the Traditional (Masoretic) Hebrew Text”
The Jewish Publication Society
Philadelphia, Pa. Jerusalem 1985
* The Standard Jewish Encyclopedia, Doubleday & Co., Inc,
Garden City, NY
* “The Bible as History”, by Werner Keller,
William Morrow and Company, Inc. New York 1981
* “The Dead Sea Scrolls”, by Millar Burrows,
The Viking Press, New York
* The Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. 1970