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The Biography of the Bible

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Author Topic: The Biography of the Bible  (Read 875 times)
Azrael
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« Reply #45 on: July 18, 2009, 09:51:26 pm »

the love of Jehovah for his people, this secular work crept into the Jewish sacred canon and from it was transferred to the Christian canon with the further misinterpretation that it symbolized the wedding of Christ and his Church. Conceived in this light, it was the favorite reading of the German medieval mystics, Eckhart, Tauler, and Suso, as well as that of both the antagonistic religious leaders of New England, John Winthrop and Roger Williams.

From the end of the fourth century came the collection of the half-secular, half-religious gnomic verse known as the book of Proverbs, really a collection of collections, including the proverbs originally attributed to Solomon, a later compilation of the time of Hezekiah, and others attributed to a mysterious "King Lemuel" and to "Agur, the son of Jakeh." The book of Proverbs is an example of what the Hebrews called "wisdom literature," a term of broad significance covering prudential folklore maxims such as are common to all nations and also highly philosophical discourses in which human reason was regarded as identical in nature with the divine "wisdom" revealed in the order of the universe. On the one hand, we find:

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Azrael
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« Reply #46 on: July 18, 2009, 09:51:43 pm »

Go to the ant, thou sluggard;
Consider her ways, and be wise.

And, on the other:

"I wisdom have made subtilty my dwelling,
And find out knowledge and discretion. . . .
The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way,
Before his works of old.
I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning,
Or ever the earth was.
When there were no depths, I was brought forth;
When there were no fountains abounding with water.
Before the mountains were settled,
Before the hills was I brought forth:
While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields,
Nor the beginning of the dust of the world."

Wisdom literature in its loftiest form is found in the Book of Job. Building upon the framework of an old pre-Deuteronomic folk tale, the unknown fourth-century author constructed a dramatic poem which took up again more poignantly that problem of evil which had embarrassed Habakkuk and Jeremiah—the question of how to reconcile God's justice with the suffering of the innocent. Though he probed deeply, he found no answer other than

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Azrael
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« Reply #47 on: July 18, 2009, 09:52:03 pm »

that such suffering seemed a necessary part of a general scheme of things which in its grand totality he was fain to accept, but in his central figure he created, not the "patient Job" of popular tradition but a Promethean character, the most rebellious in the Bible, whose insistence upon personal integrity recalled the old prophetic strain here re-enunciated with an intensity unequaled elsewhere in the Old Testament.

Oh that I had one to hear me!
(Lo, here is my signature, let the Almighty answer me);
And that I had the indictment which mine adversary hath written!
Surely I would carry it upon my shoulder;
I would bind it unto me as a crown.
I would declare unto him the number of my steps;
As a prince would I go near unto him.
If my land cry out against me,
And the furrows thereof weep together;
If I have eaten the fruits thereof without money,
Or have caused the owners thereof to lose their life:
Let thistles grow instead of wheat,
And cockles instead of barley.

A century or more later, the book of Ecclesiastes carried the questionings of Job still further to the point of doubting the objective basis of the entire system of human values.

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Azrael
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« Reply #48 on: July 18, 2009, 09:52:25 pm »

"Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher; vanity of vanities, all is vanity. What profit hath man of all his labour wherein he laboureth under the sun? . . .

"I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also was a striving after wind. For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow. . . . For of the wise man, even as of the fool, there is no remembrance for ever; seeing that in the days to come all will have been already forgotten. And how doth the wise man die even as the fool! . . . All is vanity and a striving after wind."

This profoundly pessimistic work, in which reason seemed to turn its subtlest weapons against itself, would hardly have been admitted into the Jewish sacred canon but for the additions of a pious redactor which served to blunt its point. Even with these conventional scholia attached, Ecclesiastes has remained the favorite Old Testament reading of philosophical skeptics.

Probably as late as the second century B.C. was made the world's most important collection of sacred poetry called the Book of Psalms. Many of these were of pre-exilic origin, some possibly even going as far back as the time of King David, but the

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Azrael
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« Reply #49 on: July 18, 2009, 09:52:42 pm »

great majority were unquestionably postexilic. They make up the most varied book in the entire Bible: all the inner conflicts of the Hebrews are expressed in it—the struggles between sacerdotalism and the individual conscience, between nationalism and humanism, between vindictiveness and tolerance, between despair and the uttermost of faith. Because these conflicts were permanently human as well as Hebrew, because the positive tone of hope and thanksgiving usually emerged triumphant, and because of the tender yet exalted notes of highest poetry often present, the Psalms have always been the best-loved portion of the Bible. Divided by the Hebrews into five books, a division not usually retained in modern translations, they were sung in the synagogues to the accompaniment of musical instruments and early became the chief hymnbook of the Church.

In the centuries after the return from captivity, great events had happened in the outer world leaving the isolated community in Judea long untouched by them. The glory that was Athens had waxed and waned in the interval, Sparta and Thebes had risen and fallen, Alexander had overthrown the Persian Empire, and it was parceled out among his generals. All this meant nothing to the subject nation

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Azrael
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« Reply #50 on: July 18, 2009, 09:53:00 pm »

of the Hebrews, who passed unmurmuring from subjection to the Persians to subjection to the Greeks. But when that unusually intolerant Greek, King Antiochus Epiphanes, attempted in the middle of the second century to root out the Jewish religion, the nation rose in arms under Simon Maccabeus and his son Judas. The literary fruits of their heroic and ultimately successful rebellion were the three works of patriotic fiction, the partially apocalyptic Book of Daniel, the Book of Esther, and the Book of Judith, together with the last of the Biblical narratives, the two Books of the Maccabees.

Judith, the two Books of the Maccabees, and the earlier mentioned Tobit belong in the collection known as the Apocrypha which also includes two notable works of wisdom literature, the book of Ecclesiasticus, written by Jesus, the son of Sirach, in the second century and translated from Aramaic into Greek by his grandson, and the later Wisdom of Solomon, the only book of the Old Testament to reflect the influence of Greek philosophy and the only one to breathe any strong hope of personal immortality; the charming tale of Susanna and the elders, added at the beginning of the Book of Daniel, and a less worthy addition at the end of the same work, the exaggeratedly fantastic "Destruction

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Azrael
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« Reply #51 on: July 18, 2009, 09:53:16 pm »

of Bel and the Dragon"; also a poetic interpolation in the Book of Daniel, "The Song of the Three Children," which is included in the Prayer Book of the Church of England; an unauthentic "Prayer of Manassas King of Juda When He Was Holden Captive in Babylon"; seven rather stupid chapters added to Esther; a book attributed to Baruch, Jeremiah's secretary, followed by a letter of Jeremiah; and the two Books of Esdras consisting of a Greek expansion of the Hebrew Ezra.

The books mentioned in the preceding paragraph were excluded from the Hebrew canon of sacred literature, not because of literary inferiority, which characterizes most but not all of them, but because the canon reached its final formulation in the triple division of the Law, the Prophets, and the Hagiographa (or Writings) at the end of the second century B.C. before the Apocryphal works had become widely known and indeed before some of them had been composed. The Greek canon adopted later by the Jews of Alexandria included the Apocrypha, and it formed an integral part of the Septuagint and Vulgate translations. Although some question of their value always existed, the Roman Catholic Church officially placed the Apocryphal books on an equality with the other books

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« Reply #52 on: July 18, 2009, 09:53:34 pm »

of the Bible by action of the Council of Trent (1545–63). The more skeptical Protestants admitted them usually with the qualification that they were to be read for "edification" but not for the "establishment of doctrine." They were included in the King James version and regularly appeared in editions of it until, beginning with 1827, they were arbitrarily omitted in the millions of copies circulated by the British and American Bible Societies. As a result, the great majority of British and American Protestants have long since come to regard as the true Bible one artificially limited, not by the official action of any of their churches but by the decision of semiprivate missionary agencies. Thus the British and American Societies, which should be given credit for the greater part of the popular knowledge of the Bible which now exists, must also be held responsible for the regrettable ignorance of the Apocrypha. From the literary and historical points of view, at least, a Bible without the Apocrypha is a truncated Bible.

From the same points of view it is regrettable that Jewish sacred writings of the first century B.C. such as the very influential Book of Enoch and Book of Jubilees were omitted, because of their late date, from both the Hebrew and the Greek canon. As

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« Reply #53 on: July 18, 2009, 09:53:55 pm »

matters stand, there is a gap of over a century between the Old and the New Testaments, and it was precisely in the literature of that period, unrepresented in our Scriptures, that a number of the ideas taken for granted in the New Testament were first fully developed: the doctrine of personal immortality, the belief in the immediate coming of the Messiah, and the expectation of the imminent destruction of the world.

 

Thousands of books have been written and will continue to be written on the New Testament. For the purposes of the present volume, however, it may be treated much more briefly than the Old Testament, and this for several reasons. Its writing occupied little more than fifty years instead of a millennium. To all but orthodox Jews it is now much more familiar than the Old Testament. And it presents fewer purely historical problems.

The order of the books as they appear in the New Testament is, of course, as far from chronological as is that of the Old Testament. They are arranged, very roughly, according to importance, with little regard to the date of writing. A chronological rearrangement would place most of the Epistles first, then the Synoptic Gospels, then a

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« Reply #54 on: July 18, 2009, 09:54:13 pm »

few late Epistles and the Book of Revelation, and finally the Gospel and Epistles of John.

The earliest Christian compositions were the Epistles of Paul, written in Greek, like the rest of the New Testament, during A.D. 50–61. It is hardly too much to say that the labors of the Apostle in those few years transformed Christianity from a local cult into a world religion. Certainly no other man ever achieved results of such magnitude in so short a space of time. His success arose as much from the direct influence of his powerful personality on his many missionary journeys as from the persuasiveness of his writings; yet the popularity of these with Christians of all ages is the best evidence of their enduring power. Much in them was highly legalistic, but whenever their author freed himself from the entanglements of rabbinical learning and the involvements of argument, his language became simple yet eloquent, moving with ease from moods of emotional tenderness to passionate invective. His influence was so great that other writers soon attempted to wield his pen. Of the Epistles attributed to him, the unquestionably genuine ones were, in the order of composition, First Thessalonians, Second Thessalonians, Galatians, First Corinthians, Second Corinthians, Romans,

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« Reply #55 on: July 18, 2009, 09:54:27 pm »

Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. The authenticity of the excellent Epistle to the Ephesians is more doubtful; those to Timothy and Titus are now generally rejected; and the great Epistle to the Hebrews has long been recognized as not of Pauline authorship.

Little is known of the writers of the minor Epistles in the New Testament. Jude is only a name; the two ascribed to Peter were really anonymous, as were the three attributed to John, the author of the latter, however, being probably also the author of the Gospel according to John. The Epistle of James may just possibly have been the work of James, the brother of Jesus; at any rate, its spirit is close to that of the Synoptic Gospels in its protest against social injustice and in its emphasis upon salvation by works rather than upon salvation by faith.

If all we knew about the life of Jesus of Nazareth were derived from Paul and his followers, it would be next to nothing. Paul had ample opportunity to have familiarized himself with the details of Jesus’ life through his personal acquaintance with the original disciples, but he seems to have been little interested in the human Jesus; it was the resurrected Jesus who was valuable to him as a sign of God's

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« Reply #56 on: July 18, 2009, 09:54:48 pm »

redemptive love for man, and in spite of the famous passage in First Corinthians—"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity"—Paul's emphasis was normally laid upon faith in the divine Christ rather than upon the moral teachings of the actual Jesus of Nazareth.

The first record of the latter is believed to have been a lost collection of the "Sayings of Jesus" made by Matthew, which is mentioned by the early Christian writer Papias (about A.D. 130). There was also, presumably, a lost Aramaic account of the life of Jesus. Most likely on this basis, John Mark, a missionary companion of both Peter and Paul, produced in about A. D. 70 his Gospel in Greek, a simple biographical account which included few of the parables or other teachings,—followed, perhaps a decade later by the Gospel according to Matthew which made much use of the lost "Sayings" together with some use of Mark and the lost Aramaic Gospel. Finally, after still another decade, Luke, the most accomplished literary artist among the Gospel writers, combined Mark and Matthew, together with fresh material gathered through his own researches, in a finished and complete biography. When, afterwards, Luke added his invaluable account of the early Christian

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« Reply #57 on: July 18, 2009, 09:55:20 pm »

 Church in the Acts of the Apostles, what may be called the historical portion of the New Testament was completed. The Fourth Gospel was written much later, probably in the first quarter of the second century A. D., and under the influence of Greek philosophy as expressed in the work of Philo Judaeus; though it contains some fresh material such as the incident of the woman taken in adultery, as a whole it seems to represent a conscious rearrangement of the Synoptic narratives in order to emphasize the divinity of Jesus.

Mark's Gospel was much the briefest of the four and can easily be read at a single sitting—as indeed it should be to obtain the full effect of its swift dramatic narrative. Matthew's, more massive and inclusive, was written primarily for the Jews, with many quotations from the Old Testament to buttress the new teachings; it is less vivid than Mark's and not well unified, but it has the inestimable value of containing the collection of parables. Only about a third of Luke's Gospel was original, but this section introduced sixteen fresh parables, several Christian hymns, and a number of characters, mainly women, who do not appear in the other Gospels; its shorter form of the Sermon on the Mount seems to represent an earlier version than

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« Reply #58 on: July 18, 2009, 09:55:46 pm »

that in Matthew; it is the tenderest of the Gospels, foreshadowing the feminine element in Christianity to be developed centuries later in the Catholic worship of the Virgin and the saints; and although a compilation, it was so skillfully constructed that its parts blend beautifully into a consistent whole. The author of the Fourth Gospel was the mystic among the Gospel writers, interested chiefly in the symbolic meaning of the events recorded, this meaning being brought out in the conversations and long discourses with which the book abounds. Nearly all the great theological disputes of the next three centuries turned on the doctrines of this Gospel, which exercised a greater influence on the immediate future than the other three together.

Probably about the year A.D. 90 was written the book of Revelation, which now stands at the end of the New Testament. While it is chronologically misplaced and while ethically it represents a reversion to a pre-Christian way of thought, dramatically it is exactly where it should be. Picturing, in a series of apocalyptic visions almost blinding in their splendor, the destruction of the earth and the final conflict between the armed hosts of good and evil, this, the most Hebraic of the New Testament writings, breathing the spirit of the Prophets

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and thunderous with shouts of battle and cries of victory, formed a fitting conclusion to a thousand years of literature that was born of suffering and heroic struggle.
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« Reply #59 on: July 18, 2009, 09:56:06 pm »

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THREE
The Conflict over Creed and Canon

THE CHRISTIANS of the first century A. D. lived in expectation of the second coming of Christ, therefore they felt no need of a permanent creed or sacred canon. As most of them were converted Jews, they naturally accepted the Old Testament, known to those outside of Palestine in the version of the Septuagint (completed in the first century B.C.), but beyond that they had only such fragmentary Christian writings as their particular congregations happened to possess.

When during the second century the hope of Christ's immediate return gradually faded and the necessity of finding some definite body of doctrine to hold the Christian communities together began to be recognized, the difficulties in the way were almost insuperable. The Christian congregations were scattered throughout the separate cities of the Roman Empire. The enhancement of the value of the individual brought by the Christian emphasis upon personal immortality, while it was one of the main reasons for the rapid spread of the new religion,

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