This is the first of a three-part series about the making of the Bible. This first lecture is about the making of the books of the Old Testament and how much we know from the Bible itself about how it came into existence.
In this series we explore how the Bible was written and the long process of its composition and manuscript history. The bible is a book with a very traceable history, it was not written in secret. The authors of these texts were of course humans, but they also claimed that through these human words God speaks to his people. It's important to keep the divine and human nature of the Bible in balance. Many people think that believing the Bible is God's word necessitates believing it came into existence with little or no human agency. This idea is foreign to the biblical authors and we should cherish the beautiful and complex ways the Bible was composed and collected over the centuries.
Speaker in the audio file:
Tim: Hey everybody! I’m Tim Mackie, and this is my podcast, Exploring My Strange
Bible. I am a card-carrying, Bible, history, and language nerd who thinks that
Jesus of Nazareth is utterly amazing and worth following with everything that you
On this Podcast, I’m putting together the last ten years’ worth of lectures,
and sermons where I’ve been exploring this strange, and wonderful story of the
Bible and how it invites us into the mission of Jesus and the journey of faith. And
I hope this can be helpful for you too.
I also helped start this thing called, The Bible Project. We make animated
videos, and podcasts about all kinds of topics on Bible, and Theology. You can
find those resources at thebibleproject.com.
With all that said, let’s dive into the episode for this week.
Alright. Well this is a first of a three-part series about the Making of the Bible. It’s
trying to condense more than 3,000 years’ worth of biblical history and
manuscript, text, history, and formation in just a series of three lectures. So no
I became convinced that this was really, really important for Christians to start
talking and knowing more about, through my own personal journey. I became
fascinated with the Bible in my early 20s in college and just fell in love with the
storyline and the literary beauty and artistry and the overall story it’s telling. And I
really wanted to learn Greek and then Hebrew and be able to read the Biblical
text in their original languages for myself.
But as I started to do that, I started to learn about the text and manuscript history
of the Bible which is so fascinating, and it’s extremely complicated. And so this
became kind of my first mini crisis of faith. I’ve been a Christian for a few years
and I’d never thought deeply about the fact that the Bible is a human book with a
very traceable history of human origins in ancient Israel and second temple of
Judaism and then the early Christian movement.
Of course the biblical authors believe and claim about these text that they’re not
merely human text. That through these human text, God speaks to His people, a
divine word. And so that, those two issues that these human text speak God’s
word to His people, those go hand in hand right throughout the history of
Judaism and Christianity. But what I found is that the tradition of Christianity that
my family was a part of and then that I was exposed to as a new Christian in my
20s didn’t really prepare me for the complicated human history of the Bible.
The Bible was treated more or less as a book that fell out of heaven that just
speaks directly to me. But of course, it didn’t fall out of heaven. Nothing in the
Bible actually even claims that. Just the opposite. The Bible tells within itself its
own complicated history of origins. And so I met so many people through the
years for whom the complicated history of the Bible became a scandal to them. It
became a crisis of faith for them that they couldn’t accept anything about the
Bible as being a word from God because they were discovering its complicated
You guys, I went for it. I ended up doing my masters, and then PhD work in the
manuscript history of the Bible, and worked with ancient translations of the Bible
and the Dead Sea Scrolls and just nerded out for a really many, many years. And
I’m still a big nerd on this topic today. But pastorally I think it’s really important
for us to form new categories about what the Bible is and where it came from.
And so what this lecture is, it’s essentially I’m trying to orient people who have
been brought up with a view of the Bible that basically it fell out of heaven, and
trying to orient them to the basic history of the making of the Bible and then how
that ought to deepen and give us a more robust sense of what it means. That the
Bible is inspired, that through these human text, God speaks to His people.
What does that actually mean? That’s a very profound concept that’s much
deeper than most of us realize and it opens up for us many ways of thinking
about the beauty of what the Bible is and where it came from that are not
scandalous but are actually invitation to learning and discovery.
So this first lecture is about The Making of the Books of the Old Testament and
specifically we’re going to focus in one the clues within the Old Testament itself
about how these books were composed, and written, and collected and that will
set the foundation then talking about the manuscript and text history of the
books to follow. So there we go, let’s dive in.
Let me first start with a drawing and illustration that I think kind of gets to the
heart of why I think cutting to this topic in this way is important. When I was little
my parents had an MC Escher large coffee table book in our living room. And
so… and you know some of those drawings are pretty tricky, you now. Optical
illusions and mind games and so on. I got lost in Escher drawings when I was a
little kid. So this one is simply called drawing hands.
I think this is a great illustration of a core truth that’s at the center of both Jewish
and Christian convictions about this book that we hold in our hands, namely that
it is the product of a divine initiative so this isn’t simply, you know, an ancient
history book collecting poetry and stories of some random ancient people. It is a
collection of stories and poems from an ancient people. But it’s not merely that.
So one of our core convictions is that these books speak God’s word to His
people and that what these books communicate is what God wants His people to
hear and not just any god, specifically the God whose story is told in this book.
So it’s the result of a divine initiative.
I find that at least what happened to me and what happens to many people I find
who are raised in some form of a church tradition is they’re mostly grounded in
their—they’re supposed to believe in that fact, but what people are often not
exposed to is the other part of classic Orthodox Jewish Christian conviction about
scriptures namely that this is also a human book produced by humans that lived
in historical circumstances, that lived in certain cultures that we can trace a lot of
that history, that’s what we’re going to do tonight. We can trace a lot of the
history of the making of this book. And that doesn’t in any way compromise its
They make sort of like a good analogy to a core Christian doctrine of the
incarnation of Jesus. He’s completely human but He’s also completely divine. He
didn’t come down speaking alien or like floating around in white robes even
though that’s how He’s often depicted in children’s stories or something, but no.
He was the first century Jew, He spoke Greek and Aramaic. He spoke about issues
that mattered very much to His own time. He didn’t come down speaking God or
something. He came down speaking the language of time that He was born into.
And so I’ve had this experience numerous times and especially when I was down
on campus, you know the how many cups of coffee I’ve had with college students
who are Christians and for one reason or another they would call me up for a cup
of coffee because they’re taking Biblical Literature class at the University of
Wisconsin, and they’re being exposed to all this information that they never
heard in church about the human story behind the making of the Bible. And for
many people that’s scandalous or that’s challenging because what they’ve been
raised with is what I call the Golden Tablet falling from heaven view of the Bible
which is namely just that there you go, it’s like golden tablet falling from heaven
and ta-da! You know, and there’s the Bible and you go buy it at Barnes and
Nobles or whatever, one volume, here it is and cheap plastic leather, fake leather,
whatever, and there you go. And so then you learn about what the Dead Sea
Scrolls and implications for the Bible and then you read people saying that the
Bible actually has a complicated history of copying translations on and whoa, I
guess it’s not divine after all, is it. And that’s a completely wrong conclusion to
draw from learning about the human history behind the making of the Bible.
And so in many ways what I’m trying to do, what our evening tonight, we’re
mostly going to be focusing—I could get a laser pointer when I get to do these
here. So there you go. We’re mostly going to be focusing on this piece here. At
the end of the evening, when we talk about the collection of the books of the
Bible into the canon, we’ll revisit this issue and how it works itself out. But mostly
I’m trying to do damage control or pre-emptive damage control for those of us
who have been or will be exposed to the human history of the making behind the
Bible people. In my mind, there’s so conflict. There’s no tension. These two go
completely together and God working through history, through people, through
historical circumstances, this is totally compatible with historic Christian view that
the Bible is God’s word to us. So that’s my goal for the evening and I hope to at
least help you firm up some things in your own thinking about the Bible.
So what we’re going to do, we’re going to go on three steps.
We’re going to talk about the making, the writing, the making and passing down
of the Hebrew Bible, what we call the Old Testament. That’s what we’re going to
do in our first session and then the second main part we’ll do the same thing but
for the New Testament. The writing, the collection, the passing down of the New
Testament, and then we’re going to camp out on the collecting of all these
different books that were written and passed down into the canon or the
collection, and why these specific books and so on then we’ll talk about Old
Testament, New Testament, and what it means then for a book like this to be
authoritative. So that’s the order of events for the evening. So we’re going to
start in the beginning so we are going to start with the Hebrew Bible.
Just first kind of backup and make a large scale observation here. The Hebrew
Bible is a collection, right? Again. We pick it up, it seems like it’s one volume, but
actually it’s—we’re, we have as small library in our hands when we’re holding he
Bible and when we’re holding a Hebrew Bible. And the Hebrew Bible or the Old
Testament was formed in terms of the first traces of writing to the last traces of
writing, and passing down, and collecting. The Hebrew Bible was a collection of
books that was over a thousand years in the making.
Let’s stop and think about that. That’s an extremely long time, is it not? A
thousand years. So whatever was going on with the making of the Bible, it was a
long complex process, right? It wasn’t like somebody wrote that down, it was just
like, “Oh, here we go. Golden tablets from heaven,” you know? It was not like
that. The Bible was produced in and out of the story that the Bible is telling. It’s
sort of like a—there’s been a few movies made in the last few years. One was
made by the Coen brothers. What was it called? Adaptation. The movie is about
two people who write movies and then you get into the story, and you realize the
movie that is being written about the story is the movie that you’re watching.
And then at some point you catch up to the story and then what they’re writing
at and then things happen, so and so. Did you watch Adaptation? So it’s actually
kind of bizarre movie. But the Bible is kind of like that. And you’re reading the
story and right through--periodically throughout the story, you’re realizing,
you’re hearing comments about the story being written, about the story that
you’re reading. So this is very much a long, historical process.
Contrast the New Testament which was all of the books that we have in our New
Testament were written in a very short period of time in comparison at least.
Written within about 50 years. The process of collecting them took a little longer.
We’ll talk about that. But just in terms of the writing of the books, that’s very
different. We need to treat these differently. You can’t treat the Old Testament in
the making and the New Testament in the making the same. They’re very
different. They have different histories which is why we’re going to treat them
So we’re going to start with the Old Testament and we need to begin what I call
two facts that everybody’s got to deal with here. And here’s our first fact is that
we do not know who produced the final edition of any of the books of the
Hebrew Bible and we do not know when. So how’s that? So in other words, we
have people who are named in the process of the making of the Bible, but in
terms of the final edition of all of the books of the Hebrew Bible, nowhere does it
say, Dear Reader, Here I am the author of this book. What we get is, this is a
collection of the prophet’s Isaiah’s words. This is a collection of Jeremiah’s words
and so we’re thinking, well who’s talking to me right now telling me that this is a
collection of Isaiah’s words to Jeremiah’s words? Someone else has collected
them. So we get little clues here. So here’s one classic passage here,
Deuteronomy, Chapter 31. This is near the ending of the Torah.
It says: It came about when Moses finished writing the words of this law. And you
see the word law there, some of you know by now the Hebrew word underneath
that word law, Torah, there you go. So Torah is the name for the first five books
of the Bible. It’s the Hebrew word that just means actually teaching or instruction.
Law is kind of like unfortunate translation. Moses finished writing the words of
this Torah in a book until they were complete. When Moses at all, that when
Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord
saying, “Take this book of the Torah and place it beside the ark of the covenant
of the Lord your God that it may remain there as a witness against you.” And so
the million-dollar question is, what did Moses write, you know? What was it that
he wrote and put in safekeeping in the ark? So it’s obviously some form of the
materials that we have in the Torah today but it’s definitely not the Torah as we
know it today.
Turn to the Book of Deuteronomy with me. Literally the last sentences of the
Book of Deuteronomy chapter 34, last chapter of Deuteronomy.
So this is right before the Israelites are going to go into the promise land and
does Moses get to into the promise land? No, he doesn’t and he’s actually pretty
bummed about that. He has to take that up with God on a couple of occasions.
Chapter 34. Then Moses he climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the
top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the LORD showed him the whole land
that the Israelites are going to go into.
Go down to verse 5. And Moses the servant of the LORD died there in Moab, just
as the LORD said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but
no one to this day knows where his grave is.
Did Moses write this chapter at least of the Torah? No. Clearly not. So that’s just
the point here. Someone else has compiled and collected materials, certainly a lot
of which came from Moses but Moses wouldn’t be responsible for any of the
materials that pre-dated him so all of the stories about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and
so on, Joseph, all of that came from pre-Moses. So someone else has been at
work collecting, compiling, stuff that Moses wrote, things from before Moses and
so on. And so, who is this person talking to us right now? We have no idea. It’s
anonymous. So that’s the Torah and most of the books in the Bible are just like
this. They’re anonymous works.
Another clue in the Book of Jeremiah chapter 36, context here. So the prophet
Jeremiah, he lived in the period leading right up to Israel’s exile into Babylon and
he was warning Israel, “You know this is coming, Babylon’s coming, you know. If
you don’t turn back to Yahweh and repent, He’s going to have Babylon come and
sweep you away.” And how did the Israelites respond to his message? Negatively.
So the king actually seizes the scroll that Jeremiah’s preaching, and he burns it,
right? He cuts it up and he burns it in the fire. And so we’re told Jeremiah goes
back and he makes another scroll collection of his prophecies, of his poems and
words. And so this is what we hear, a little detail in Jeremiah chapter 36. Then
Jeremiah took another scroll and he gave it to Baruch, the son of Neriah the
scribe and he wrote on it at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the book
which Jehoiakim, King of Judah had burned in the fire. And many similar words
were added to them. Now let’s just stop and look at that statement there. So
okay, that’s great, your book gets burned up and so you go write another scroll
and that’s clearly some form of the Book of Jeremiah as we have it that was being
dictated right there. That last phrase there. What on earth does that mean, right?
What does that mean? So who’s writing the book of Jeremiah? Not Jeremiah.
Look clearly, what does it say? So Baruch son of Neriah, he’s writing what
Jeremiah’s telling him to. He’s retelling. But then many similar words were added
to the words that Baruch son of Neriah wrote down at the dictation of Jeremiah.
Whose words were those? Okay. Well we assume Jeremiah’s but, so again, it just
opens up here.
Baruch was active beyond just this scene right here. He was adding many similar
words. Maybe he collected other prophecies of words of Jeremiah. And when you
read Jeremiah, you’re doing the Eat This Book Challenge, it’s like walking through
a museum, right? Because it’s kind of a hodgepodge at some point. Now we’re
talking about Babylon, and now we’re talking about this guy, and it’s kind of
random. So we get a little insight here into the composition history of the Book
This is what’s really interesting and exciting. So part of what pairing with the
human story of the Bible is the field of archaeology in Israel, Palestine and so on.
And so you know, there’s fresh digging going on all of the time. Discovering all
kinds of things in connection with the history of the making of the Bible. And so
in the early 2000s, there discovered fossilized form of a piece of wax. It’s a seal.
It’s a fossilized form of seal. You guys know a ring seal? You guys know what I’m
talking about here? So this is some sort of either a ring or something people
would wear on a necklace, and it has inscribed their official name and insignia
and so on. And so you would write a scroll, wrap it up, seal it with wax and then
press their seal into the wax and then it would say right there in front of you who
wrote this or whose authority it’s on, right? So you’ve all seen movies about kings
and queens pressing the wax and so on. So that’s exactly what this is. And what
you’re looking at here is ancient Hebrew and it’s actually a form of Hebrew
alphabet that predates the modern Hebrew alphabet.
And the handwriting dates it right exactly to the time that Jeremiah lived. And lo
and behold, what does this seal say? Who does this belong to? And it says
literally what it says on it is Baruch son of Neriah, the scribe. So this is the guy
right here is exactly his title from the Book of Jeremiah. And what’s totally
awesome is that you see these little… these things are tiny. This thing is really
small. It’s like that big. And you see these little lines right here? Those are thumb
prints. So when the seal’s tiny and when you press it down into the wax, you
know, and it went up like this, the lines of Baurch’s thumbprint were left right
there. So there you go man, what do you want? This is literally the fingerprint of a
biblical author. This is about as good as it gets, you know, or someone who’s
involved in the authorship of one of the books of the Bible. This is the only thing
like this that has ever been found. This is totally cool when stuff like this appears,
you know. Can you see the Holy Spirit in there anywhere? I don’t know. It’s a rock.
There you go. So there you have it. Let’s take one more example just because I
think it’s interesting.
Go to the book of Proverbs with me. Proverbs 25, The book of Proverbs open by
saying: The proverbs of Solomon, King of Israel and so on. But there’s a number
of smaller collections within the Book of Proverbs. So Proverbs 25 verse 1. And
what does it say here?
It says: These are more proverbs of Solomon. Okay, that makes sense. They were
copied by the men of Hezekiah, the King of Judah. Now this is good Bible trivia to
know at a party or something like that. But how many years separate King
Hezekiah from King Solomon? A solid 250 years. So somehow, actually the final
making of the Book of Proverbs post-dates Solomon by a couple of centuries.
And apparently there were proverbs of Solomon in circulation that were written
and copied and added to the accumulating collection for 250 years or so.
Go up within chapter 24 to verse 23. And it just says, these also are the sayings of
the wise. Well who are they, you know? When did they write? We have absolutely
no idea. The Book of Proverbs is great. It’s kind of like an old house that just
keeps getting added on to.
So go to the end book with me, go to chapter 30 on the things that Agur the son
of Jakeh, an oracle. Who knows who this guys is? Nobody knows. He’s not named
anywhere else in the Bible. No. I mean, just nowhere.
Go to chapter 31. The sayings of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught
him. What? Okay. Who is King Lemuel? He is not a king of Israel; we know that
much. There’s no King Lemuel anywhere in the history of Israel. So here’s the king
from some other probably neighboring ancient nation. And whoever is compiling
the Book of Proverbs said, “You know what, he has collected all kinds of ancient
wisdom writings and said, ‘this is totally worth writing down and putting into the
collection of Proverbs connected to Solomon.’” This is the human process at work
here. And in God’s providence, these text then speaks a word to God’s people
that He wants His people to hear. The wisdom writings of a pagan king, you know
what I’m saying? It’s outstanding. That’s the making of the Bible.
So we get more clues like this, we begin to pay attention as you read through the
Bible, it’s little clues about writing, and collecting, and so on, we start to notice
little things like this, but not everywhere but there periodically throughout the
Bible. So we don’t know who these people are who are making the final
composition of these books. We don’t know their names. That’s essentially what’s
going on with the originals, right? We know that it was someone. And it was
someone probably connected to the temple or connected to the groups of the
prophets and so on. But because they wanted to highlight God’s words spoken
through the people named in the book or whatever, they didn’t give their own
names because the book isn’t about them. It’s about the words of Isaiah, it’s
about the story of Moses and Israelites and so on. So this raises a big question
then. We don’t know who made that final edition of the Hebrew Bible and we
also don’t have—we have a fingerprint but we don’t have fresh copy of any of the
originals of the Hebrew Bible. And so this becomes the $10,000 question or
maybe for you this like the million-dollar question, I don’t know. You’re going to
need to win a game show to come up with that kind of money, but that’s right.
So I—if we don’t have any of the originals, what do we have? That’s the big
So here’s what we’re going to do: we’re going to proceed with three steps, but
what we’re going to do, we’re going to start kind of where we are, but actually
we’re going to start back to our most important witnesses which start around
here and we’re going to work our way backwards to the original. So we’re going
to start with the most recent main descriptions so on, and work our way
There’s three main groups of manuscripts that we have today that take us closer
and closer back to these originals here. Three groups of manuscript evidence, and
so, we’re just going to power through these and let me make sure I have—has
anybody hear of the Masoretic text? The Masoretes before? Alright. Real Bible
geeks. Alright. We like you guys fine. So this is a collection of Hebrew
manuscripts that was generated by a group of Jewish scholars over. They
inherited the work of rabbis and scholars before them. But their work was
consolidated and a tradition that lasted about 500 years solid. They were mostly
living in what we call Israel Palestine today and they were the traditional
guardians of the biblical text throughout a huge portion of Jewish history. So
they are a group of scholars who lived around this time and what they were
renowned for is their hyper meticulous care for the text of the Bible. And their
work is kind of culminated in what’s like the crown jewel of the Masoretic text
family which is in a codex here, a big fat book called Leningrad Codex, and
Jessica let me splurge on this when I was in grad school. So what is this, this is
literally facts simile of every page of the Leningrad Codex.
This manuscript dates to 1008AD and this is the most complete collection of the
Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible from 1008AD. There you go. Every page. This
is totally geeky. And all of these tables about different Masoretic scribes in their
stories, and there’s a collection of poems about what an awesome vocation it is
to be a scribe of the biblical text. But then what’s really great is the initial pages
of the manuscript. So here’s the page from the Leningrad Codex. This is a page
from the Book of Exodus Chapter 15. They’ve lineated the text here differently
than what follows him before.
Exodus 15. It is the Song of the Sea. It’s the worship song that the Israelites sing
after they’re rescued from the Egyptians coming through the Red Sea. And so
they’ve actually given the poem a different form of lineation here. But then what
they also did in different pages of the manuscript called like an illuminated text
so this is part of Deuteronomy chapter 28 here. But they’ve totally just displayed
it in artistic form. So this an amazing piece of work that represents centuries of
tradition and meticulous handy work of these Jewish scribes. So these guys are
renowned for as a meticulous care of the text.
Why don’t you go the Book of Leviticus look up that passage right there, Leviticus
11:42. I didn’t say this, but tonight you’re going to feel kind of like you’ve tried to
sip from a blasting firehose. So I hope that’s okay, worthy. So it’s just a lot, a lot
of information, but there you go. It’s what we’re here to do. Look at 11 verse 42.
If you’re doing this Eat the Book Challenge, you read this chapter not long ago,
yeah? We’re totally weirded out by it too. So this is the list of pure and impure
animals Israelites were and were not to eat.
11:42. You are not to eat any creature that moves about on the ground. Whether
it moves on its belly or walks on all fours or on many feet it is detestable. Now do
you see the word, belly or stomach there? So in Hebrew that’s four letter word,
not a cuss word, but it’s just spelled with four letters, gachon, and the third letter
of that word is written larger than any of the letters on that line or anywhere on
the page. And that’s because that letter is the middle letter of the Torah.
They keep tallies of the number of letters as they copy and so per page, per
book, per chapter and so on. You think they’re introverts or extroverts? Most of
these guys, right? You see how they spent their time? Famous quote from
Talmud which is a later collection of Jewish writings, famous line from a father
who is a scribe, who is teaching his son to be a scribe and he says, “My son, be
careful because your work is the work of heaven. Should you omit even one letter
or add one letter, the whole world would be destroyed.” Now, no pressure.
Exactly right. I hope he didn’t say this to his kid when this kid was like five, you
know because a five-year-old might actually believe that. So they passed on this
text and every generation of scribes was like this. So another thing to notice
about this page then, this is very typical. Do you see these little markings on the
sides here on the margins? So what’s happening is as you’re reading through the
text, they would put, essentially little footnotes, little circles above a word, and
that circle means, Dear Reader or Dear Scribe of the next generation, go look in
the margin for this note.
And this note is an abbreviated code in Aramaic, not Hebrew, but Aramaic, and
there are little notes about the word that the circle is over. So these little notes
are an abbreviated way of saying, Dear Reader, this word is spelled funny. It’s
spelled like this in other places, but in this, it’s spelled uniquely, in fact, this is the
only time it’s spelled this way in the Bible or sometimes there will be little
footnotes or little marking here and then this little thing says, go look down here.
More footnotes in discussion. And essentially what all this is, this is spelling and
textual commentary on the words that are on the page itself. And every page is
filled with these marginal notes and commentary. Everything is helping the next
generation of scribes when the manuscript wears out and it has to be copied
again. Little notes so that people won’t make mistakes as they pass it on. So they
counted letters, they counted words, they counted verses, they divided the text in
the groups and the bits and so on. These guys were out of control with their care
of the biblical text. And so we are thankful for the Masoretes because of their
work that we have such an amazing wealth of manuscripts and good
manuscripts. Well preserved manuscripts from this time period. So this is the
Masoretic text group from 500 to 1000 and the Leningrad Codex kind of a
pinnacle, the crown jewel of Masoretic manuscript. So we’re happy about the
Masoretes and that they preserve the text from this time period. But it does beg
the question, right? It gets us back 1500 years from where we stand right now.
But we still got a pretty decent gap here to the making of the books of the
Hebrew Bible. At least about a 700-year gap here or more. So can we get any
closer? And the answer is, yes, yes, of course we can.
So the next group of manuscripts or text witnesses is a group of manuscripts
connected to what’s called the Septuagint. The Septuagint is a complicated set of
evidence for the history of the Bible but it’s extremely, extremely important. So
just kind of track here. So Septuagint was a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible
made 200-100BC roughly. So in terms of timeline, this is pre-Jesus. This is a pre-
Christian translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. Why would that happen?
Well there was this guy named Alexander the great who is fairly significant for
world history, yeah. So when Alexander the Great was doing his thing, like in the
300s and he’s slowly storming the known world that time and setting up literally
the Greek Empire over all these ancient kingdoms that spoke all kinds of different
languages, and he imposed on all of these cultures, Greek culture and Greek
language. And so Greek became the day to day language spoken throughout all
of what we call today the Middle East. And so you have communities of Jewish
people who are living in the diaspora and who are scattered all around
throughout the ancient world, and generations are growing up, and they’re not
speaking Hebrew or maybe they are but what are they speaking day to day in
their neighborhood as they interact with people? They’re speaking Greek. And so
there came a need, let’s produce a Bible in Greek which just makes sense so that
people will actually keep reading the Bible because not as many people are
learning Hebrew anymore.
So a translation of the Hebrew Bible was made into Greek around this time
period. Why is this important. Think about it in terms of our timeline here, think
about the timing of the Septuagint. How far does this jump us back? Quite away.
A solid 6, 700 years. Now the Greek translation is not a Hebrew manuscript but it
was made form Hebrew manuscripts. How does this set of evidence help us here?
It helps us because you read it, you can try and figure out what Hebrew text was
underneath the Greek translation. We’ll talk about that more in a second. But
what’s interesting is that the Greek translation of the Bible then became the Old
testament of early Christianity. Once the Jesus movement spread outside of the
Jewish boundary lines to mostly the Greek speaking world, how are all of these
people going to read the Bible? They’re going to read the Septuagint so they
actually became the Christian Bible through time. So lots of differences between
the Septuagint and the Masoretic text. Let’s think about the timeline here. The
Masoretic text is later and the Septuagint as we’re going to see is copied from
the Hebrew text that comes in this period, right around here. And we compare
the two, there are differences. Some of them are really insignificant, in fact, most
are. But some are actually pretty profound. But this is essentially what happens, is
that when we’re looking at manuscripts of the Septuagint and what you have to
do, you have to know Greek really well to be able to infer what Hebrew was
underneath the Greek.
So for example you have a… Genesis chapter 4. In Genesis chapter 4 is the story
of Cain and Abel. So this is after Cain was already jealous of Abel, you know God,
for an unknown reason, not stated in the story, God accepts Abel’s offerings, but
not Cain’s. And so we’re told in Genesis 4:8 in the Masoretic text, the Masoretic
says: Cain told his brother Abel, and it came about when they were in the field,
Cane rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. Okay, now here’s what we
use for an actual exercise. Why don’t you turn in your Bibles, whatever Bible you
have in your hand and go to Genesis 4:8. Does anyone have a footnote after
somewhere in Genesis 4:8? Anybody? In your translations? Okay. So an updated
translation late 1980s forward will likely have footnote. And your footnote will tell
you: Dear Reader, there’s a whole bunch of ancient manuscripts that have an
additional phrase here, and that phrase is: Let’s go into the field. And that phrase
is found in the Greek translation of the Septuagint. Look at the translation of the
Masoretic text here. Cain told his brother Abel and they came about in the field,
what field? When did they go into a field? What field are we talking about here?
So, for one reason or another, commentaries that are telling you about text
history kinds of things, they’ll tell you, most likely that this phrase got skipped
when the scribe’s eye was copying down, copying a section, and that this little
phrase right here, and he said, “Let’s go into the field.” That phrase was
overlooked in the copying somewhere back in the history of the Masoretic text or
before the Masoretic text. This phrase is present in the Septuagint but then lo
and behold it’s also our footnote tells us; it’s also present in some other ancient
manuscripts in Hebrew. So do you see why this is significant now? What it tells us
is that the Septuagint was copied from a Hebrew text that had this phrase, and lo
and behold, we have some other ancient Hebrew text that also has this phrase.
So Septuagint isn’t just making this up here. It’s a reliable indicator of the Hebrew
text that pre-dates the Masoretic text. Does that make sense? We realize this is
kind of complex, but I want to spell this out in detail because this is really, this is
really significant, this is really helpful. So this is why the Septuagint is so
important is because it literally transports us hundreds of years back to a Hebrew
text before the Masoretic text.
This question was so fascinating to me and I was still trying to figure out the
whole divine human thing. I really got into this history of the making the Bible
because I wanted to get to the bottom of this for myself and sort all these issues
out. So I did my dissertation here at UW, this is so obscure, this is the only time it
will actually make sense to anybody. A group of people here. So I did not my
dissertation on the Greek translation of the Book of Ezekiel. But what my real
interest was, was not the Greek translation. What my real interest was, was the
Hebrew text underneath the Greek translation. And so what I did was I read the
Book of Ezekiel in the Masoretic text line by line and then compared with it the
Septuagint line by line. And I made a compilation of all of the differences. It took
me two years to do that. And then I put it all together, and lo and behold, there
were lots of differences, some of which were real significant. In my mind, the
Greek translation gets us to a version of the Book of Ezekiel that’s right around
the time that Ezekiel was being included into the collection of books in the
Hebrew Bible. So there’s lots of things like this, except usually the case is the
extra added phrase is in the Masoretic text but it’s not present in the Septuagint.
It’s exactly the reverse of this.
So think about the timeline then. What this means is that the Septuagint did not
have a phrase and the Masoretic text does have a phrase, and this happens time
and time and time again in the Book of Ezekiel. And so what it shows us is a layer
of small, little teeny tiny additions to the Book of Ezekiel. And so what I really
want to do is study these additions and what it’s all about. And lo and behold,
most of them are quotations from other books of the Hebrew Bible or they’re
little common—Ezekiel is really difficult to understand if you’re trying to read it.
and a lot of them are just really little explanatory phrases that make clear or that
further explain or Ezekiel uses really dense metaphor sometimes and so a scribe
will come along and add a little phrase that makes, “Oh, that makes more sense
and so on.” And eventually those words got put into the text, put into the text
This isn’t like tampering with the Bible. This is scribes trying t to help the next
generation of readers understand the Book of Ezekiel better because it’s included
in the Hebrew Bible.
There you go. I am a total geek for doing this. So these are some of the oldest
fragments of this old Greek translation here of the Book of Deuteronomy. These
were found in and around the vicinity of the Dead Sea Scrolls, not on the side, a
little bit down from the Dead Sea. So these are little fragments. Most biblical
manuscripts that are found from this ancient period or in this kind of shape
unfortunately nothing quite like the Leningrad Codex here. Sometimes we get
bigger fragments here, this is a piece of Exodus. And then what we got here is a
large Codex form of the Old Greek translation or the Septuagint collected in a
codex here called Sinaiticus it was discovered in the 1800s by a guy named
Constantin von Tischendorf in an old monastery on the Sinai Peninsula. And he
discovered it in a libra—there’s kind of a legend story about who it was, you
know, but anyhow, he discovered this thing and lo and behold, it has within it the
tradition of the Septuagint that goes back thousands of years. It’s totally
awesome, that kind of thing. That’s the Septuagint and it brings us back, it takes
us back quite a ways, right into the final phases of the making of the Hebrew
Bible. And so it’s a whole exploding field of study that’s really in the last 200
years, it's just exploded, and it’s still going, ongoing, going, going today. So
there’s nobody done what I had done yet with the Book of Ezekiel. You know
that’s just a good dissertation idea. No one has done it and there’s not too many
like that in the biblical studies. So you need to have a lot of patience to do this
kind of thing. So anyhow, oh the memories, holy cow, and a lot of listening to
Radiohead. I don’t know if you’re a fan, but a lot of Radiohead got me through
that. So Dead Sea Scrolls. This is now 60 plus years now that these were
These were a number of caves near, and I’ll show you a map here in a second
near the Dead Sea and essentially these caves were discovered. A fascinating
story but thousands of Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible that pre-date the
Masoretic text that are actually from the same time period as the Septuagint
they’re not a Greek translation, they’re Hebrew manuscripts form the time of the
Septuagint. It’s awesome. It’s awesome. And not just Biblical manuscripts, also
other writings of the group that we’ll show you here. The virtual tour. I’ll take you
to a virtual tour of the caves, yes? Of course, why not.
Alright. Here’s the basic map. So the Sea of Galilee appear where Jesus grew up.
Here’s Jerusalem and Bethlehem down here. So Sea of Galilee, Jordan River,
Jordan Valley here, and then the Dead Sea which is truly dead. We went
swimming in it, the first time we went swimming in it, you don’t have to swim,
you float. You just float. Like it’s very strange. You don’t have to do anything to
float. You just float on top of it because the salt water is so dense you just float
right on top of the water, really bizarre. Right at the northern end of the Dead
Sea is an archaeological site called Qumran and then Jericho, the remains of
Ancient Jericho just a few miles north of that. And just to give you perspective, so
this is the Mediterranean Sea, this is all wonderful, sunny palm beach front here.
And then when just about 60 miles you go from sea level right here to upwards
like 8, 9,000 feet into the hills and then in the shorter distance, about 15-20 miles
you descend to below sea level from Jerusalem into the Jordan Rift Valley. Did
you get that? Slow rise of Jerusalem, and then whoop. Just right off Jerusalem,
down into the Jordan Rift Valley. You dive thousands and thousands of feet to
below sea level. So this whole place down here is one of the most desolate, hot,
dry places on the planet. It’s a fascinating place. Essentially what happened here
is this is about 200 years before Jesus, there is a group of Jewish rulers, they
started a revolution movement against Egypt at the time, and they are able to
establish independence for the Jewish people for the first time. So if you heard of
the Maccabees before or you’ve heard of Hanukkah, the Holiday of Hanukkah
comes from when the Maccabees took over the temple in the mid 100BS.
And so there were many Jewish people, this is all politics and so on, religion,
politics. Many people didn’t like the Maccabees, they didn’t like the priest that
they setup in the temple, you know, when they got independence again. And so
the people of Qumran are essentially a group that defected from mainstream
Judaism because they believe that the Maccabees and the priests they appointed
were totally corrupt. They left Jerusalem and they went to go live in the desert,
literally on the edge of the Dead Sea and they setup a small, almost like
monastery type community in the desert in the Dead Sea. And lucky for us, they
took whole bunch of scrolls of the Bible with them to their little desert getaway.
These are the remains of the community here. And so you see right here we’re
looking north. You can see the hills, real steep, right? Start going up the left to
Jerusalem. These are river valleys, when it rains up in Jerusalem, this is one of the
driest places in Israel. When it rains here about 3 days out of here. But when it
rains up in Jerusalem, a day later they get flash floods in all of these ravines right
here. And so that’s what carves out these bodies or these ravines. They made
their site right by a watery ravine where they could catch water when it rained up
in Jerusalem and they had their community up here. So now we’re looking south
down rift valley here. So here’s the remains of the Qumran site. It’s hard to know
it seems about a couple of hundred people lived here and scholars have
reconstructed what their little building community, it’s a walled community, it’s a
large tower and in some of these rooms here they were found stables and little
pots with ancient styluses, writing utensils and little ink pots. And so it was
certainly the room in which manuscripts, biblical manuscripts otherwise, it’s a
group copied here.
So here’s essentially how the story goes. This group at some point, this whole
place destroyed when the Romans came in 70AD to put down the Jewish revolt.
And so lucky for us when—before the Romans came to destroy all of this, they
essentially crawled down into these caves. Do you remember these caves? Let me
go back here. They crawled down into these caves and hid jars with all of their
manuscripts. So here’s how the story goes, and it’s hard to separate legend from
history because of how it all went down.
There were two shepherds guarding their flocks by night. It’s a different story. So
two shepherds who apparently were herding their sheep around here and some
of the sheep wandered out unto these cliffs and they were throwing the—again,
there is no way to verify this story. This is the story that was told. They were
throwing rocks at the sheep beyond them to get them to crawl back up. And
some of the rocks created more rocks that fell down into these caves and they
heard the cracking of pottery when the rocks fell in the caves. In theory,
somebody crawled down into these caves and found that there were ancient jars
full of Hebrew manuscripts.
These manuscripts first appeared to the public on the black market in a New York
Times ad that you can see right there. Literally, this is in 1946. Biblical manuscripts
dating to at least 200BC are for sale. This would be an ideal gift for an
educational or religious institution by an individual or group right here if he
wants to see them. So this is the first time they appeared to the public. As you
can see why all of the origin was surrounded in conspiracy and so on, because
who found them and how are there more and so on, it took decades to sort all of
this out before all of the manuscripts were found. By the end of the day or
literally decades, the last kind of official scholarly publication of the scrolls was
put out to the public like five years ago. It took that long and you’ll see why in a
second here. And manuscripts, bits and pieces of every book in the Old
Testament were found, except the Book of Esther which doesn’t necessarily mean
anything. Many book are, you know, the Book of Lamentation is a scrap this big,
you know. So it’s entirely possible that Esther was there but due to accidental
history, those pieces got destroyed. But all of these dates from this time period
which is the time period of what other manuscript body that we have? From the
Septuagint. This is money right here. This is great. We have a Hebrew text from
the time of the Septuagint to compare this contemporary.
So this is the Book of Psalms, you know, these things they look big, they’re
actually about this tall here. You see them? Teeny tiny handwriting. This is what
most of the manuscripts look like. This is the page of Exodus. Now here, this is
where it gets tricky. You know this piece and that piece and these pieces were
just all scattered about on the cave floor. So who sat down with thousands of
pieces and figured out that that piece belongs to this right here? There’s a team
of Catholic scholars who were first commissioned to the work in the early 1950s
and this is the days’ work and biblical scholar who’s sorting out the pieces. So
they’re reading them, they’re deciphering the handwriting, reading them and it’s
like, “Oh wait, then they look at them in concordance, they didn’t have computers
then. They look them up in concordance with these words, all those words are
found in Deuteronomy. Oh those words are also in Deuteronomy, maybe these
pieces go together.” Piece by piece by piece. So this is your worst nightmare.
This is like a 2000-piece jigsaw puzzle and no box cover to sort it out. You have
no idea what the picture looks like. It’s unbelievable. So you can see why it took
50 years to publish all this now. They didn’t want to publish random data. They
wanted to compile it all as best as they could and it took 50 years.
And there are all these politics about who gets to be on the initial research team
and then it was by invitation only to work on them, that’s more conspiracy about
why are they, these guys being so slow and this is why they’re being so slow. So
anyhow, we’re glad that all of that is sorted out now. There was no conspiracy, it
was just really, really complicated. Here’s the Dead Sea Scroll that’s essentially
here. When it’s all said and done, they date from around the mid 200BC to about
70AD. And so this is the main body of evidence we have here and when we
compare these manuscripts, here’s what’s interesting, some of them match the
Hebrew manuscripts that became the Masoretic text perfectly. Some of them
match the Hebrew text underneath the Septuagint which is different from
Masoretic text. Does that make sense? Essentially what this means is that the
shape of the biblical text in this time period was complicated. It was extremely
complicated. So the Masoretes preserved a form of the biblical text with
meticulous care. And we’re really glad they did. But before the Masoretes were
one the scene, there was a period of time where things were more complicated.
So it’s sort of like there was a period of the originals, there was a period of textual
complication, and then out of the complication is one main form of the text that
got preserved by the Masoretes. Today we have all of this to draw on as we put
together the history of the composition of the Bible. So when we begin to
compare all of these put together what do we get?
Alright that was episode 1. Exploring the composition in history of the Books of
the Old Testament and transitioning now into their manuscript history. If you’ve
learned thus far, you can genuinely call yourself a Bible nerd or at least a person
interested in Bible nerdom. Part 2 is going to pick up the manuscript history.
We’re going to get way more into differences in the manuscript and also into the
making of the books of the New Testament. So that’s to come. Thanks for
listening to Strange Bible podcast.
[End of transcription 52:49]