Biblical Studies/Christianity/The Bible/Origin of the Bible

Bible (books, from biblos, the inner bark of the papyrus, on which the ancients wrote), the collection of the sacred writings or Holy Scriptures of the Christians. Its two main divisions, one received by both Jews and Christians, the other by Christians alone, are termed Testaments. The original languages of the Bible are Aramaic, Greek and Hebrew, the latter being the best adapted for the many styles of composition. The Jewish religion being represented as a compact between God and the Jews, the Christian religion was regarded as a new compact between God and the human race; and the Bible is, therefore, properly divisible into the Writings of the Old and New Covenants. The 24 protocanonical books of the Old Testament received by the Jews were divided by them into three classes: 1, The Law, contained in the Pentateuch. 2, The Prophets, comprising Joshua, Judges, I and II Samuel, I and II Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the twelve minor prophets. 3, The Ketuvim (holy writings), containing the Psalms, Proverbs, Job, in one division; Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, the Song of Solomon, in another division; Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah, I and II Chronicles, in a third. These books are extant in the Hebrew language; others have been rejected from the canon as apocryphal by Protestants, although for some time those of a pseudepigraphical nature were inserted as intertestamental works. The 72 books in the Bible canonization according to the Council of Trent, including parts of the Apocrypha, are sacred to Roman Catholics.

The books of Moses, with other sacred writings, were deposited, according to the Bible, in the tabernacle near the ark. They were removed by Solomon to the temple, and on the capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar they probably perished. According to Jewish tradition Ezra, with the assistance of the great synagogue, collected and compared as many copies as could be found, and from this collation an edition of the whole was prepared, with the exception of the writings of Ezra, Malachi and Nehemiah, added subsequently, and certain obviously later insertions in other books. When Judas Maccabeus repaired the temple, he placed in it a correct copy of the Hebrew scriptures. This copy was carried to Rome by Titus. The exact date of the Hebrew canon is uncertain, but no work known to be written later than about 100 years after the captivity was admitted into it by the Jews of Palestine. The Alexandrian Jews, however, were less strict and admitted many later writings, forming what is now known as the Apocrypha, in which they were followed by the Latin Church. The Protestant churches at the reformation gave their adherence to the restricted Hebrew canon, though the Apocrypha was long included in the various editions of the Bible. The division into chapters and verses, as it now exists, is of comparatively modern origin, though divisions of some kind were early introduced. About the middle of the sixteenth century the verses were for the first time marked by numbers.

The earliest and most famous translation of the Old Testament is the Septuagint, or Greek translation, executed by Alexandrian Greeks, and completed probably before 130 B.C.E. This version was adopted by the early Christian church and by the Jews themselves and has always held an important place in the interpretation and history of the Bible. The Syriac version, the Peshito, made early in the second century C.E., is celebrated for its fidelity. The Coptic version was made from the Septuagint, in the third or fourth century. The Gothic version, by Ulphilas, was made from the Septuagint in the fourth century, but mere insignificant fragments of it are extant. The most important Latin version is the Vulgate, executed by Jerome, partly on the basis of the original Hebrew, and completed in 405 AD.

The nearly intact Great Isaiah Scroll from the Dead Sea discoveries dating from the 2nd century BC is almost identical to the manuscript version of the Masoretic text from the 900's AD The oldest complete Hebrew Bible dates from 1009 and resides at the Saltykhov-Shchedrin State Library in Leningrad. This codex is a priceless work of pen and parchment and was ignored for close to a hundred years by a state that shunned religion. The Masorete scribe’s name, that of Schmuel ben Yaacov, is intact, complete with the margin notes or Masora. The printing of the Old Testament between 1450 and 1455 was the first book printed by Gutenberg reproducing the Latin Vulgate text which came to be known as the Mazarin Bible, being found years later in the library of Cardinal Mazarin. The rapid spread of knowledge made possible by Gutenberg's printing press contributed to the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution, and the Protestant Reformation. The printed editions of the ancient Hebrew Bible are very numerous. The first entire edition was printed at Soncino, Italy in 1488.

The books of the New Testament were all written in Greek, unless it be true, as some critics suppose and attested to by Papias, that the gospel of Saint Matthew was originally written in Hebrew (or Aramaic). Most of these writings have always been received as canonical; but the Epistle to the Hebrews, commonly ascribed to Saint Paul, that of Saint Jude, the second of Peter, the second and third of John and the Apocalypse, have been doubted. The three oldest manuscripts are: 1, the Sinaitic manuscript, discovered by Tischendorf in a convent on Mount Sinai in 1859, assigned to the middle of the fourth century; 2, the Vaticanus manuscript at Rome, of similar date; 3, the Alexandrian manuscript in the British Museum, assigned to the fifth century. Each manuscript contains also in great part the Septuagint Greek of the Old Testament. The Vulgate of Jerome embraces a Latin translation of the New, as well as of the Old Testament, based on an older Latin version. The division of the text of the New Testament into chapters and verses was introduced later than that of the Old Testament, but it is not precisely known when or by whom.

Isaiah: chapter 12  William Tyndale (1534).

Of translations of the Bible into modern languages the English and the German are the most celebrated. Considerable portions of the Holy Book were translated into Anglo-Saxon, including the Gospels and the Psalter. Wycliffe's translation of the whole Bible (from the Vulgate), begun about 1356, was completed shortly before his death, 1384. The translation spearheaded by Martin Luther, published in its entirety in 1534, by reason of its widespread circulation facilitated the emergence of the modern German language by standardizing it for the peoples of the Holy Roman Empire that would become Germany in the nineteenth century, and it is considered a landmark in German literature. The first printed version of the Bible in English was the translation of William Tyndale, whose New Testament was printed in quarto at Cologne in 1525, a small octavo edition appearing at the same time at Worms. He also published the Pentateuch in 1530 and translated some of the prophetical books before his public execution. Tyndale's translations from the original languages became the foundation of subsequent English versions. A translation of the entire Bible, undertaken at the instance of Thomas Cromwell, was published by Miles Coverdale in 1535 and, being made from German and Latin versions, was inferior to Tyndale's. The first Bible printed by authority in England was an edition with a preface by Cranmer, hence called Cranmer's Bible. A royal proclamation in 1540 ordered it to be placed in every parish church. This continued, with various revisions, to be the authorized version till 1568. In 1557-1560 an edition appeared at Geneva, based on Tyndale's—the work of Whittingham, Coverdale, Goodman, Gilby, with the influence of John Knox and other exiles, and commonly called the Geneva, or Breeches Bible, from "breeches" standing instead of "aprons" in Genesis 3: 7. This version, the first printed in Roman letters, and also the first to adopt the plan, previously adopted in the Hebrew, of a division into verses, was for sixty years the most popular in England and was allowed to be printed under a patent of monopoly in 1561. It separated the Apocrypha except for the Prayer of Manasseh, left the authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews open and put words not in the original in italics. The Bishop's Bible, published 1568 to 1572, revised by Archbishop Parker and eight bishops, succeeded Cranmer's as the authorized version, but did not commend itself to scholars or the people. In 1582 an edition of the New Testament, translated from the Latin Vulgate, appeared at Rheims, and in 1609-1610 the Old Testament was published at Douay. This was the English version recognized by the Roman Catholic Church.

In the reign of James I, Hugh Broughton, a Hebrew scholar, insisted on the necessity of a new translation, and at the Hampton Court Conference (1604) the suggestion was accepted by the king. The work was undertaken by forty-seven scholars, divided into six companies, two meeting at Westminster, two at Oxford and two at Cambridge, while a general committee meeting in London revised the portions of the translation finished by each. The revision was begun in 1607 and occupied three years, the completed work being published in folio in 1611 and known as King James' Bible. Through the general accuracy of its translation and the purity of its style, it superseded all other versions. In response, however, to a widespread desire for a translation even freer from errors, the Convocation of Canterbury in 1870 appointed a committee to consider the question of revising the English version. Their report being favorable, two companies were formed, one for the Old Testament and one for the New, consisting partly of members of the Convocation and partly of outside scholars. Two similar companies were also organized in America, to work along with the British scholars. The result was that the Revised version of the New Testament was issued in 1881; that of the Old Testament appeared in 1884. The American Standard Version, its variant embodying the preferences of the American scholars associated in the work, was published in 1901.




Return to The Bible

Last modified on 4 March 2011, at 17:40