Thoughts on Bibles, part 1

All bibles are based upon the Tanakh, the 24 books of the Jewish Bible. Generally, the current Jewish Bible is derived from the Hebrew Masoretic text. The first five books are called the Pentateuch, and are always given in the same order, as they are considered the history of the Jewish people. They are also called the Books of Moses, or the Torah. The rest of the books are organized as the Prophets, and the Writings, and they are not always in the same order in the various translations. They were compiled by various scribes in Israel and Babylon over hundreds of years, and the Masoretic text version was codified between 700 ad 1000 AD.

There is also the Greek translation of the Hebrew pre-Masoretic texts, called the Septuagint. It was supposedly commissioned by the Greek King of Egypt, Ptolemy II, the son of the general of Alexander, in the 3rd century BC. The Jews of Alexandria did not have full command of Hebrew, so Ptolemy found six scholars from each of the 12 tribes, and placed them in 72 isolated rooms with only the command, “Write me the Torah of your leader Moishe (Moses).

The additional books of the Tanakh were added at various times during the next several centuries. Nearly 600 years after the first commission, it was known by the Latin term “translation of the Seventy”, or the Septuagint, sometimes abbreviated as LXX.

The Septuagint includes numerous books no longer considered canonical in some traditions: Esdras, Judith, Tobit, Maccabees, the Book of Wisdom, Sirach, and Baruch. When Jerome translated what was to become known as “The Vulgate Bible”, he included these texts as the apocrypha. Jerome used only the Hebrew sources as he thought the Septuagint to be the inferior.

The books of the New Testament were written in Greek at various times between 50 and 96 AD according to most scholars. Some of the leading scholars believe the first 4 of the 27 books were written before 70 AD. The first four books are generally called The Gospels, and the first three are further grouped as the Synoptic Gospels (one eye), meaning they witness the events with a similar perspective.

The Gospels are followed by Acts, the Epistles (Letters), and the last book is Revelation. The earliest books so far are fragments of two stories of the Epistles, 1 Thessalonians in 51 AD, or possibly Galatians in 49 AD

It is significant that we call the New Testament writings as books because they were originally produced as Codexes, printed on parchment or vellum. This was much easier to produce, versus the traditional Old Testament Scripture written on scrolls. Even today, the Torah in the Synagogue is on one continuous scroll.

The Catholic Church began to use the Vulgate as the official bible and the Greek Orthodox Church used a version of the Septuagint. The Protestant Churches used various Latin versions without the Apocrypha, and several versions that were translated in the vernacular, or the language of the people.

Vernacular languages were unique to the regions, or country, and were spoken, but not written. Literacy was not wide spread, and was controlled by the Church. Writing a book was tedious, with all copies being written by teams of monks. If it was going to be published it was going to be published in Latin. After the printing press was invented, it was much easier to print in the vernacular, with printing presses springing up in nearly every large city in Europe, except Russia.

An English version of the Vulgate Bible was translated by John Wycliffe in the early 1380s. How much of the translation was by Wycliffe can be debated, but he certainly organized the effort. The Catholic Church was unhappy with the translation of the Vulgate but during Wycliffe’s lifetime there was no direct opposition. However, after Wycliffe’s death in 1384 he was excommunicated and declared a heretic. He was exhumed from his gravesite, his body burned at the stake, and the ashes spread into the River Swift.

The only Bible allowed was to be the authorized version of the Vulgate in Latin, and all others were to be burned, and the translators burned at the stake.

An example of the changes in English over 300 years…

Later Wycliffe: For God louede so the world, that he ȝaf his oon bigetun sone, that ech man that bileueth in him perische not, but haue euerlastynge lijf.

King James Version: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.