The Bible and History
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
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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
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.
- 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
- 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.
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