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The Bible and History

Updated on November 14, 2014
lawrence01 profile image

Loving God and loving mankind is an important part of who I am, in these hubs we explore what it's like to really follow Jesus.

Genesis. Who gave it that title?

Genesis is actually the Greek translation of the Hebrew word 'Bischt' (or as close as I can write it in this script and literally means 'Beginnings' as that's the primary function of Genesis. Not to argue a theological point of whether was literally six days but to give everything a starting point.

Myth, Legend or real events? (And what's the difference?)

There has, and will probably always be much debate about the early books of our Bible and whether they can be considered real history or are they Legends passed down from a 'prehistorical' (before man learned to write) or are they simply myths based on man's need to believe in something or someone greater than himself.

The early chapters of Genesis are some of the most intriguing literature ever written, purportedly written centuries after the events that they describe took place. Attributed to Moses who lived around 1,400BC they go back at least three thousand years to the very dawn of life on the planet (OK 3,000 years if you accept the the Bible's timeline, 4 billion years if you don't!) so how can we know whether what this book tells us is really accurate and is it a true record? a Legend? or a Myth?

Before we answer that question we need to look at what the differences between the three are.

(1) True record This one's easy. It simply means that what is recorded actually happened. Usually it also means that it happened in the time frame that is told in the record. A historical example here would be William Wallace (of Mel Gibson's 'Braveheart' fame. He really existed and he really led an uprising against the English, he was also executed by being hung drawn and quartered, yet no physical evidence of his life exists, not even a grave!

(2) Legend a Legend is actually within the realm of possibility (according to Wikipedia) and is something that is largely perceived by both the teller and the listeners as being largely true (though not necessarily 100% true). For example the legend of Robin Hood fits the historical context of Medieval England, Richard the Lionheart did lead the third crusade, he was imprisoned in a Castle in Austria on his return and England did have to pay a ransom for him, but there's no evidence of a 'Robin of Loxley' 'robbing from the rich to give to the poor' yet many of the events took place, hence it's a Legend!

(3) Myth The Concise Oxford dictionary defines a Myth as a 'traditional narrative involving supernatural or fancied persons that embodies popular ideas on natural or social phenomenon' or basically an allegorical idea to teach a hidden truth. In other words the purpose of a myth isn't to communicate something as having happened to but teach an idea behind it. The classics in this area would be Greek Mythology that have their roots not in factual events ut in what they show us about people and life in general

What's the point?

How we see these ancient books affects every area of our lives (whether we like it or not) so it's important for us to know how we really view them and what the evidence might be for others having their opinions. Learning why someone believes what they do helps us to understand where they are coming from and why they think that way

So, Fact, Legend or fiction to explain something we can now lay aside, which is it?


Let's take a look

What do you think?

Before going any further say whether you think the Bible is

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Why even consider this question?

Like it or loathe it the Bible is the foundation of Western Civilization. Our laws are based on the Jewish laws of the Oldest part of the Bible and in particular the Ten Commandments.

Over the last two hundred years scholars and scientists have sought to undermine this with varying degrees of success. Not all of their motives were totally pure and what they've left us with is supposedly enough to draw into 'reasonable doubt' the authority of the Bible.

Naturally the confirmed atheist would seek to dismiss the Bible as nothing more than fairy stories for the weak minded and uninformed where the Christian would more or less tell us that the Bible is a true and accurate record of events. Do either stand up to close scrutiny?


This hub won't answer all the questions but it we will be shedding light on some interesting facts that aren't often reported.

Source

How old is the Bible?

Before we go any further that's the question that we need to answer. How old is it? Who was the first to start penning the books that later became our Bible? Can we trust what they wrote?

The Bible itself isn't one book but a collection of sixty six books for the Protestants and seventy two for the Catholic Bible.

The reason for the difference isn't necessarily Theological so much as Historical. The Catholic Old Testament follows the Greek Septuagint which was the translation of the Old Testament around at the time of Christ, in other words it was the Bible that the Apostles would have used and has about eight books from the time between 400BC and the birth of Christ. The Protestant Bible follows the later revision of the Old Testament that the Jews made and leaves these books out.

The first five books of the Old Testament are called the Pentateuch and the earliest stories have them being written by Moses. Did he write it? Did he even exist?

What about the manuscripts?

What's the oldest documents we have?

The oldest written on something like our paper would be The Dead Sea Scrolls that were found by a Palestinian shepherd boy around 1948 in a place called Qumran on the West Bank. What he found were huge jars with wax seals on them. As the jars were opened they revealed thousands of scrolls intact, many of them were copies of books of the Old testament and commentaries on the books along with other teaching material from a community of Israelites called the Essenes.

Archaeologists finally dated the scrolls at from 150BC to around 60AD when the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. The stunning thing was that when they were compared with more modern translations of the Old testament they found that they were almost identical in content, a feat that was amazing considering that prior to that the oldest copy of the Old testament in Hebrew in existence was from around 900 AD

Could Moses have written the first five books?

Up until the early part of the twentieth century most scholars and historians believed that writing had not been developed when Moses was supposed to have written the Bible.

Egyptian Hieroglyphics weren't deciphered until the early part of the nineteenth century and it was thought that much of that wasn't written until around 1,000 BC but then in the early part of the twentieth century discoveries were made that were to change the way we understand how writing developed.

Archaeologists began finding clay tablets and inscriptions that challenged the whole idea of when man began to write and slowly the date for the invention of writing was pushed further back into antiquity until today we now realize that writing was actually developed around 3,500 BC and earlier forms seem to have gone back much further than that.

  1. The Babylonian "Law code of Hammurabi" actually predates the time when Moses is reported to have written the Pentateuch by at least three hundred years.
  2. The Ebla Tablets These weren't discovered until around 1975 so they aren't in much of the earlier writings but they are vital for our understanding of who wrote the Bible as they have been dated to around 2,500 BC and are the Royal archives of a small Kingdom in Syria around that time


The Law code dates from around 1750 BC
The Law code dates from around 1750 BC | Source

So. It is possible he wrote it?

I actually do believe that he did, but I'm not so sure that he sat there while God dictated all five books to him, in fact I would say that God would have only dictated Exodus Chapters 20 to 23.

The problem is Moses lived around 1400 BC yet most of Genesis happened a long time before that! Where did Moses get his information? And can we trust it?


First things first. Who was he?

The Bible tells us that centuries before Jacob and his sons had gone down to Egypt to avoid a famine. After the famine was over and because one of them was prime minister in Egypt they stayed on and became the Royal Shepherds for Pharaoh.

Whether this happened or not isn't what we're looking at here so we'll skip that part and look at the situation a couple of hundred years later.

By now the Israelites had multiplied to the point that they were actually a threat to the ruling Egyptians so the Pharaoh decided to do something about it. He had all the male children killed as soon as they were born, but one family decided that they weren't going to carry out the decree and they kept the young child.

This child had an older brother (Aaron was three years older) and sister (Miriam at seven years older) so they could get away with it for a while, but soon the boy was a few months old and the risks for the family were too great, but rather than kill the child they decided to take a chance and set him afloat on the River Nile.

The basket was found by a princess and soon the child was being brought up as as prince of the nation that was persecuting his people.

There is no direct evidence that names Moses but there are some intriguing clues from around 1400 BC.

  1. The Amarna Letters. in 1988 discoveries were made at Tel El Amarna in Egypt in the form of letters sent from a vassal King in Canaan to the Pharaoh of the time in which he pleads with Pharaoh for military assistance against a marauding group of 'Habiru'. These tablets (about 400) were part of the royal archives of Amenhotep III
  2. Re-dating many of the Pharaohs. Egyptologists have finally realized that the way the Pharaohs have been dated previously was erroneous as it gave us more than five thousand years of history and in fact many of the Pharaohs ruled as co-regents with overlapping reigns. This has meant that some of the events that happened in one reign but was said to be too far back in time for the Bible has had to be re- evaluated and it is possible that some of the timelines would fit. An example of this is Tutankhamen the boy prince of the 18th Dynasty who die mysteriously. If his dynasty was around 1450 BC (as it seems likely with the new dating) then he could very well have been the son of the Pharaoh who died in the plague (this would also explain why his tomb wasn't desecrated as he wasn't actually buried in a Royal Tomb)

Moses by all accounts grew up in the home of the pharaoh and according to both Josephus and ancient Ethiopian tradition was a general in the Egyptian Army commanding the southern garrisons. One thing is clear, someone led them out of Egypt

The name "Moses' actually isn't Hebrew in origin but Egyptian and simply means 'taken from the bulrushes' In ancient societies names were more than just labels that we stuck on people. They were given to describe a person's personality and what the father hoped the person would grow into e.g. the name Abram (Genesis 12) literally means 'Father of many' but when the God changes his name (in Genesis 17) it becomes Abraham meaning 'father of nations' which he was to become. It is quite likely that Moses would have had a name by which the Egyptian court knew him but wasn't recorded in the text as it wasn't important to the story (Daniel was known as Daniel to the Hebrews but as Beltshasser to the Babylonians!).

Some interesting stuff about the oldest writing

Did you know that writing goes back to 3,500 BC at least and probably even further back.

  • The Earliest written records are written on clay tablets baked in the sun and are called 'cuniform' writing.
  • The British Museum alone has over 150,000 of these tablets some going right back to about 3,500 BC
  • At least two accounts of the flood are in those records (one in Babylonian circa 1,800BC and the other in the older Sumerian) there are multiple copies of both!
  • The oldest written word we can tell is the word for "Beer" (proof that they had their priorities right!)
  • The two oldest written languages are Sumerian (oldest and no known related language) and Akkadian (Babylonian and Assyrian are dialects of this) which is Semitic and related to Aramaic, Arabic, Hebrew and Amharic all of which are still spoken today.

Where did he get his information?



Even if we accept that Moses did pen the first five books of the Old testament we still have the problem that he lived around 1450 BC and the latter part of Genesis would have taken part about five hundred years before then. How did he know what went on?

Genesis deals with the time from the moment the universe came into existence to the the arrival of Joseph's brothers in Egypt, a period that even using the Bible's chronology is still 3,500 years (and if we use the evolutionary theory it's billions of years) so where did Moses get his information.

I think that one thing we have to remember is that no matter which one we accept we have to remember that Moses was writing to a people that had a very different way of looking at things and a very different way of putting ideas together.

One thing that scholars have argued is that the first five books seem to have four different sources. That whoever compiled the books used these four sources and 'stitched' them together.

The theory is called 'Documentary Hypothesis' and is used by the liberal scholars to claim that the Pentateuch was compiled sometime around the sixth century BC (because they couldn't write before then!) but we've seen that writing has been around a lot longer than they thought (three thousand years longer!)

Maybe they are partly right! Maybe the Pentateuch was compiled from earlier documents but maybe it was done a long time before they think it was. Maybe it was Moses who compiled it!

I've got absolutely no evidence for the claim that it was Moses but I think you can see that it's entirely possible.

Enjoyed the Hub?

If you enjoyed this hub then please feel free to share it with anyone you think might also enjoy it and benefit from it. Feel free to share the link with others

Blessings

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    • lawrence01 profile image
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      Lawrence Hebb 12 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Don

      Thank you so much. I enjoyed putting this hub together.

      Lawrence

    • Don Bobbitt profile image

      Don Bobbitt 12 months ago from Ruskin Florida

      laurence01 - Simply said, A very good Read!

      Being a person comfortable in his Faith and beliefs, and at the same time a person with an Engineer's thought process', I love finding these collections of facts that are woven together so well.

      Thanks for sharing your knowledge without weaving in confusing pontifications.

      I will definitely follow you and share this really well written article.

      Thanks again,

      DON

    • 10000001 profile image

      madugundu krishna 17 months ago from Yemmiganur

      God in faith. Great bible. Then and now most useful book to the people.

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Fatboythin

      So true. The hub is about saying there's no reason to doubt what the ancient records tell us.

      Glad you found it interesting.

      Lawrence

    • FatBoyThin profile image

      Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Yeah - it would all have been very different if Twitter and Facebook had been around, since we all know how accurate THEY are! Interesting Hub, though clearly no-one's ever going to get to the truth of it.

    • the rawspirit profile image

      Robert Morgan 2 years ago from Hutchinson Island, FL - Myrtle Beach, SC - Scottsdale AZ

      Will read now. Blessings

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Bobby

      Was just reading the email. I just replied, really pleased you liked the hub.

      Lawrence

    • the rawspirit profile image

      Robert Morgan 2 years ago from Hutchinson Island, FL - Myrtle Beach, SC - Scottsdale AZ

      Thank you, once again for sharing with us your vast knowledge of the Bible. I appreciate you and am continuing to learn more. Blessings, Bobby

      By the way, I sent you and email.

    • lawrence01 profile image
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      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Trish

      Thank you for the comment. I'd agree with you about the education of the person or persons who put the Bible together.

      Ancient civilizations were more advanced than we realize and scholars are amazed at how much "cross fertilization" of ideas went on.

      As for the Bible, one verse does say "Moses was well versed in all the ways of the Egyptians" Tradition has it he was actually a General in their Army (that's Ethiopian tradition not Egyptian).

      The hub was more about how the early parts of the could have been written as early as when the Bible says they were (around 1,400 BC) and are probably based on earlier accounts that trace right back into prehistory and were told around campfires long before writing came about.

      Glad you liked the hub

      Have a good weekend

      Lawrence

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 2 years ago from The English Midlands

      Very interesting. The history of the Bible is fascinating. One thing is certain; whoever actually wrote it, back in very ancient times, must have been very highly-educated and thus of very high high status.

      Personally, I think that the Old Testament of the Bible is a mixture of stories relating to this particular tribe; history, mythology, belief, rules, propaganda,wishful thinking - all sorts of things, and all mostly based on a belief in their deity.

    • lawrence01 profile image
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      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Raymoddoward

      I enjoyed putting this hub together. Glad it could answer some questions. You might alsi like the hubs on Noah'

    • Raymonddoward profile image

      Raymonddoward 2 years ago

      Love the way you present the facts and cause individuals to think! Thank you for the research that answers so many questions.

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Amen. I'll take that blessing!!! I think a lot of people just don't know the wealth of information and historical details that support the Bible's account. I'm a History buff who also loves the Bible as well so it kind of goes hand in hand. Another writer on HP said we should write what we're passionate about and those two are two of my passions. Thanks for the visit and encouragement.

      Blessings

      Lawrence

    • lawrence01 profile image
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      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Word 55

      Thank you for the encouragement. I've had a love for the Bible for many years. Part of the reason for writing the hub has been some of the things that I've picked up over the years that can help us understand the things of 'faith' and especially some of the historical facts that can back up the record in the Bible

    • word55 profile image

      Word 2 years ago from Chicago

      Hello lawrence01, very interesting info. The Bible has proven itself to be true thus far. I admire your hard work put in to the research, the faith and belief that it took for you to support the Bible truth. May God continue to bless you!

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 2 years ago

      Thank you.

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Robert

      Moses is interesting as his name itself isn't Hebrew but Egyptian. That was the name pharaohs daughter gave him but it probably wasn't the name he was known by at court, that name we don't need to know

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 2 years ago

      I found your Hub very interesting. Your point about the name Moses is a very good one.

    • lawrence01 profile image
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      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Madiha

      So sorry for not getting back to you before. You're right about the difference between the word 'inspired' and the phrase 'God breathed' (2 Timothy 3 verse 16) the phrase carries the meaning that God literally spoke those words (even in the secular Greek it carries that meaning) thus translating it 'inspired does weaken the meaning somewhat. The translators in those instances are trying to get as close to the meaning of phrases without a literal translation.

      It's sad really that you can never translate any document without at least a small loss of meaning.

      A few years ago I was instrumental in helping set up an interpreting service here in NZ for immigrants who have to deal with various government agencies and issues, the one big thing I learned and had to talk to people about a lot was that there is a difference between interpreting and translating.

      When you interpret something you look for the meaning behind the words and give the meaning.

      When you translate you literally do it word for word and can at times lose the real meaning because the way we use language in cultures around the world differs so much.

      I think the original books when written were a mixture of the two. Some of the things were literally what God said and some were interpretations of what he was meaning by describing what was going on.

    • lawrence01 profile image
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      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Catherine. Thanks for the visit. I think you're right in that the Bible's early stories originally started their lives as oral histories. Most scholars agree about that, the discussion comes at when were they written down with some claiming that it would have been around 600 BC. I take a different approach in that I believe that it was much earlier and it's quite possible that Moses compiled the records (along with running a nation and leading 1.5 million people in the wilderness etc).

      The purpose was to show that it's entirely feasible that Moses did write them (or delegated someone to compile them) from earlier written records that started their lives as oral histories and traditions thousands of years before and can be trusted as records of what really happened.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      You have done a lot of research. What it boils down to is that someone or some ones wrote the books of the Bible. I'm guessing they were based on oral histories. It happened far too long ago for anyone to have any way of knowing who did it or if any of it is true or not. Voted up.

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      Madiha 2 years ago

      (Cont)So, here's the point. Okay two points. First, I like tranalstions that stick with 'God Breathed' because we read back in our definition of "inspired" when we look at that verse. The word 'inspired' makes people think that the Bible authors were inspired the same way musicians are inspired. Conversely, it makes people think that when they "feel inspired" by God, or when "God speaks through me" that it has the same level authority of that of the Scripture, and it just doesn't. Second, when Paul uses that word he is acknowledging that God did something special and unique to bring about what we call the Old Testament. Not just the prophetic works, or the Theological works, or the poetic works but all of it. He is claiming that, knowing or not, what was written down was what the Holy Spirit intended to be written down. The prophets heard from God directly so it's easy to say "inspired." But the guy who recorded all the boring lineage stuff inspired too- or rather, God-breathed. So, back to the original question did Paul know that what he was writing was inspired? Based on the above, can I change the question to, "Did Paul know that what he was writing was God-Breathed?" I think saying it that way differentiates it from when we say things like, "I was prompted by the Holy Spirit", or "God was speaking through me." My opinion, is No, but I don't really have a problem with Yes either. In the same way the lineage guy was merely writing "so-and-so begat so-and-so" I think Paul was merely (!!) writing letters of encouragement and instruction and explanation to people who believe that Jesus is the Messiah. In both cases the words in those letters also happened to be the words that the Holy Spirit "super-intended" to be written down.

    • lawrence01 profile image
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      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Thanks for the comments Dip Mtra. You've come up with some really interesting stuff there. The civilizations of the Indus valley are among the most ancient and are known to have been trading with Ancient Egypt and China from around 3,500 BC.

      Personally I think there is definitely a connection. Recently I was reading a book about Noah's Ark and one of the things that the author made a point of is that they know of links between ancient Akkadian and Sanskrit (the scripts were interchangeable and you find Sanskrit words in the middle of the texts on clay tablets!).

      I think you've given me ideas for half a dozen hubs that have been buzzing around in my brain all day! Thank you for that, I just need the time to write them.

    • Dip Mtra profile image

      Dip Mtra 2 years ago from World Citizen

      Interesting debate on chronology of events. In India, we also had ancient civilizations at Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, ruins of which are still present dating back to 3500 BC. They wrote in a language that is still not deciphered, but writing was present in the Indus Valley Civilization as evidenced by tablets and inscriptions. They worshiped Gods that later on were incorporated into Hindu mythology and are still worshiped today. For instance they prayed to a female form of power and a male form of fertility, that later on became Goddess Durga and Lord Shiva during the Vedic age some 2000 years later. These Gods are still prayed today, and we have major festivals around their life events.

      Do you see a connection with the Bible here? Perhaps ancient forms of worship as prevalent in the Middle East were later incorporated into the Bible? Who knows?

    • lawrence01 profile image
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      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Hi Norma. Thanks for the comments and the observations. It's interesting that you say the New Testament is the 'main puzzle' and the bit about the three headed God of it's pages being taken straight from the Vedic Trinity. Personally I don't agree with that for a number of reasons all of which are historical.

      Did you know that the Old Testament uses a number of names for God! Each one describes a little about God and adds to our understanding of the Godhead! The Very first name for God that is used is Elohim (literally the fourth word of the Bible) and is both plural and feminine in form. In Hebrew and Arabic when learning the languages you discover that there are various forms used when addressing people not just I, you, we , he, she and they but also you plural masculine, you plural feminine and we (masculine and feminine) when there is a group of all males you can use the form for the plural masculine BUT it can't be used if there is the possibility part of the group might be female!

      Scholars have explained it as a 'plurality of majesty' but I'm not 100% sure that's what it's getting at but one thing is clear and that is the trinity is hinted at all the way through the OT.

      You have to remember that the NT writers didn't have the luxury of 40 years in the desert to write their beliefs, the New Testament was written by followers of Jesus who knew what they saw and so much wanted to communicate that yet were writing against a backdrop of persecution. 11 of the 12 Apostles (I'm not including Judas but am including Paul) were martyred for their faith. Only the Apostle John died of old age (after repeated attempts to execute him!) so they aren't writing systematically so much as in reaction to pressing concerns and problems that were happening. About the closest we come to a systematic view of early Christian Theology would be the book of Romans and possibly the book of Hebrews (written to a group of Messianic Jews who were tempted to go back to Judaism, he writes to show them how what they now have in Jesus is so much better than what was before!)

      To me the best way to sum it up is that in the Old testament the New is in there concealed but in the New Testament the old is revealed! Where the problems come is the exclusive claims that the new makes (but that's for other hubs)

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 2 years ago

      It 's interesting to find someone else who has views about the origin of the bible. It's the New Testament that is the main puzzle. The three headed God of its pages is taken straight from the Vedic Trinity as is the image of Jesus Christ. It has brought confusion and mayhem to the world and buried the real God (the Spirit of the Universe) behind a wall that has blocked anyone getting beyond it until now. The facts are that humans are too willing to accept everything as fact when a little logic will tell them differently.

      My reincarnation and experience of passing from life to life has given me insight and knowledge that argues against religious beliefs and what the organisations have done to push their agendas. There is no heaven or hell and that is what the NT is mostly involved with and what the OT disputes.

    • lawrence01 profile image
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      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Thanks for your visit. Personally I also believe the same, that there are very few Myths if any in the Bible. What I am seeking to do is address some of the common notions that you hear from the person in the street.

      Actually I found the hub really interesting to write because as I went about writing it seemed to take on a 'life of it's own' as to whether Moses could have written it.

      Good point about the Ten Commandments actually being written by God and given to Moses.

    • Angelladywriter profile image

      Claudette Coleman Carter 2 years ago from Media, Pennsylvania

      Hi Lawrence,

      Your hub was very intriguing. There are very few myths, if any in the Bible. We may not fully understand God's word and that's when it becomes a myth or mystery to us individually. The publication, "All Scripture Is inspired of God and Beneficial," explained The Bible's author, "Jehovah 'proceeded to give Moses two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone written on by God's finger.' " (Exodus 31:18) The Ten Commandments was given to Moses at that time. Instructions were also given to Moses to start a sacred record of events which created the inspired "writing of the Sacred Scriptures." (Exodus 17:14)

      During your compilation of information for this article, questions and doubts may develop. My faith in those inspired words written by our Heavenly Father, is what sustains me.

      Thanks again for the research.