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The Joseph Theory

History of the Scriptures

OT = Old Testament       NT = New Testament

There are various versions and names for what we call "the scriptures."

The word "Bible" comes from the Greek word "biblia" or "books." The use of this word for the collective accepted scriptures eventually became the name of the collection itself. There are now... many translations of the scriptures. Some are written in common modern language.

The Hebrew Bible is called the Tanak, which is an acronym for the three parts of the older scriptures:
----- The Torah (the five books of Law or the Pentateuch),
----- The Neviim (the books of prophets), and
----- The Kethuvim (the writings, such as Psalms).

The Talmud meaning "study" or "learning" is an extensive collection of rabbinical discussions about the Torah for the purpose of putting the Torah to use in daily life. There are several versions of these collected pieces, all of them dating to approximately 400 AD.

The Christian Bible contains basically the same "Old Testament" scriptures as the Tanak, but adds a "New Testament" collection of writings...
---- gospels (stories which relate the life and ministry of Jesus)...
---- letters (written by Paul of Tarsus and followers of Jesus)...
---- and "Revelations" or "The Apocalypse" which offers a proposed end-point of all prophecy and scripture... the end of the world. Its author is unknown.

The "Canon" are books deemed to be "inspired" and worthy to be included in a bible. Some minor books differ in various Bibles, but the main body of scriptures are accepted among all the faiths.

The "Vulgate" meaning "common use" is a Latin translation of the Bible requested by Pope Damasus in 366 AD of a man named Jerome. For 1000 years it was the standard Bible of the Catholic Church, and accessible only to priests.

The "Apocrypha" meaning "hidden" or "concealed" are a group of both Old and New Testament scripts that were considered in the 2nd century to be either secondary or inferior. Some bibles include various of these, but most do not. Among these are some inferior tales of Jesus that were commonly circulated in the early days of the church.

It has been suggested that Mohammed gained his understanding of Jesus from these questionable scripts.

It is believed that... originally... OT scriptures were passed down orally... in songs, sayings, and stories by tradition bearers, loremasters, clan leaders, or religious leaders. Gradually these were written down, and then later collected to form the manuscripts that became the basis of the Bible.

These original ancient manuscripts were written in an ancient Hebrew language that was lost in history. Thus... the history of these scriptures becomes as important as the scriptures themselves.

In the preface of many printed Bibles, one can discover the sources used for the particular translation presented, and the names of the scholars who did the translating. You will at least know what translation you are reading, and know from there who had done the translating.

There are a variety of ancient accepted manuscripts from which a translation might be written. These are themselves translations... even translations of translations.

The original manuscripts used for the translation of the Tanak and the gospels are not known to exist. The oldest surviving manuscripts are:

---- a scroll of Isaiah, dated at 200 BC among the Dead Sea Scrolls
---- the scrolls and fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls (not all biblical), dated to the time of the Essene community... approximately 150 BC to 70 AD
---- the Nash papyrus, 1st or 2nd century BC, containing 24 lines of text including a list of the Ten Commandments
---- two nearly complete Greek Bibles dating to 300 AD
---- Codex Sinaiticus; entire NT from fourth century AD
---- Codex Alexandrinus; NT from Greek fifth century AD
---- Codex Vaticanus; entire Greek Bible fourth century AD
---- Codex Ephraemi rescriptus; a palimpsests (written over to reuse)
---- fragments of OT texts found in Cairo, dated at 500-700 AD
---- manuscripts belonging to the Masoretic schools... ben Ashur & ben Naphtali... the most important of which are:
---- the Cairo Codex of the Prophets, 895 AD; with the Masoretes
---- the Aleppo Codex, 930 AD; the Masoretic school of ben Ashur
---- the Leningrad Codex, from the Masoretic schools, dated 1008 AD
---- the Erfurt Codices, of the Masoretes

The lack of older manuscripts has been attributed to several factors:
---- upheavals within the Hebrew communities
---- hiding of manuscripts or the disposing of them into wells or tombs
---- deterioration of the materials used
---- and... during the time of the Diocletian persecution 303 AD. copies of the Christian scriptures were singled out for destruction.

We have nothing of the NT from the first three centuries.

Whenever anything is translated from one language to another... it is dependent upon the new language to provide accurate and closely comparable words to describe that which is written in the original text. If this sort of translation occurs several times... by those not absolutely lingual in both languages, it becomes a more difficult undertaking to retrace the original.

It can happen that a word that refers to some object... that has a name... has lost a clear meaning. For instance, whenever a jewel is mentioned in the scriptures, it is only guessed at by translators... using clues as to which jewel it actually refers to. Some animal names... are only guessed at. One will often see a footnote in a Bible that says... "it is believed that this is referring to..."

It should be a matter of consideration that this same dilemma existed whenever a translation occurred.

The doctrine of Bible inerrancy did not come from traditional practice. It wasn't until 90 AD that Jews... who had been concerned about preserving an accurate text... set upon the task actively. The Masoretes or Masora (meaning "tradition") began the work of creating an authoritative text. In the end, they resolved to leave the scripts that they had intact as much as possible rather than to impose another layer of editing on them.

Thus... as early as 90 AD... it was known that there may well be problems with the copied manuscripts of the ancient scriptures. This had something to do with... how the new groups of Christians were quoting these scriptures.

After authorizing a better translation and creating an authoritative text, the Masoretes established a strict set of guidelines for the copying of texts, especially synagogue scrolls. They went so far as to count words... or to leave codes... in copied texts to monitor the preservation of the contents.

Until this time, the texts of the Tanak had taken on various forms of corruption.

In ancient times, more and more people wanted personal copies of these texts. The expensive task of copying was sometimes given to scribes who had not been trained properly in accurate copying techniques.

Sometimes notations in the margins of scrolls were merged into the body of the text. These notations were such things as clarifying comments, substitutions of old words for new, and abbreviations which had vague meaning.

Also... texts from which scribes made their copies... had been written on animal skins or papyrus that often was old or worn... causing the writing on them to be partially unreadable. And... written with crude instruments... the Hebrew letters themselves presented problems for translators. For instance, the "b" and "d" are letters that are very similar in Hebrew.

The Old Hebrew was a Semitic language similar to... or a dialect of... the Canaanite language, and developed during the 2nd Millinium BC. (2000 BC)
Old Hebrew script was similar to the Phoenician and Moabite script. There are some examples of it in inscriptions and documents of that time.
There were no spaces between words, nor were there vowels.

Around 700 BC, attempts were made to separate the words of texts with markers such as dots or small strokes, but this was not common. There are examples of this language development in other writings of the times. By 500 BC, spaces commonly were inserted in the strings of text. Although words began to be separated, the sentences were not... and even then, not always correctly. Vowels were not added.
It wasn't until the 6th century A.D. that vowels were added to the manuscripts by the Masoretes.

After the return from the Babylonian exile, Aramaic became the common language of the Israelite nations. As with the Old Hebrew, the Aramaic used no vowels and there were no breaks between the words or sentences. At times, the translations will reflect this difficult dividing of the texts, as what well might have been meant to be the end of a sentence, was translated to be the beginning of the next.

After the exile to Babylon (587-515 BC), the Hebrews no longer spoke the old vernacular Hebrew. They had adopted the Aramaic language. The work of Ezra and other scribes translated the Old... nearly forgotten Hebrew... into Aramaic. Hebrew was used only in literary form, in a form that was developed likely during the monarchy (of King David), and which only scholars knew.

Ezra was a scribe and copyist, but moreso... he interpreted the law. Gaining permission from the king of Babylon to return to Jerusalem, he returned with free will offerings of silver and gold. He then sought a reformation to establish strict adherence to Jewish law in Palestine... and to reunite the nations of Israel.

Before the exile to Babylon, the Levites were the priests of the law. After the exile, a class of laymen scribes sprang up. Ezra is the most influential layman scribe after the exile. He began the tradition of having these laymen scribes be the "oral" law, and the authority of law among the Jews. He read the Torah out loud to them, which eventually evolved into the building of synagogues for the reading of the law.Nehemiah 8:1

Some scholars consider this first reading of the Torah as marking the completion of Ezra's work translating the Torah... into its present form. But, the written law did not cover all the details of daily life, and so... it became the duty of these scribes to teach the law and make decisions... as judges under the law. Their opinion eventually became the law.

By 300 BC, special forms were given to consonants that appeared at the end of words (k, m, n, p, s) but these were not always a familiar editing tool. Although the Hebrew script was written only in consonants, it developed that h, ', y, and w denoted the presence of long-sounding vowels to guide the recitation of the Old Hebrew.

As long as Hebrew was a familiar language, the texts posed no problem in recitation. It was in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD... after the revolts against Rome... and the destruction of the central temple... that the Old Hebrew language fell into complete disuse.

Between 283-246 BC, the Greek king, Ptolemy II of Egypt, commissioned 72 Alexandrian Hebrew scholars to create a Greek translation of the Pentateuch for the library in Alexandria. It was called the "Septuagint" or "Seventy"... often merely named "LXX."

The Septuagint provides insights into the Hebrew theology in the prominent, flourishing, and multi-cultural Greek city of Alexandria. It has both a literal and a free translating style, and was likely shaped from a variety of Hebrew texts. The translations of the Hebrew words into Greek were not completely consistent from one scholar... or text... to another. Translations of the same words or terms varied.

But the impact on the Jewish religion was great. The Septuagint became popular throughout the Greek Empire... throughout western Asia... and many Gentiles converted to a form of Judaism.

It is the Septuagint that is quoted in the New Testament... not the Hebrew of the temple. When this Greek translation began to be used by Christians in their dissention against the Jewish priesthood... the leaders of the Jewish community came to believe that it was not based on the authoritative texts.

In 130 AD, Aquila offered a more literal translation... followed by translations from Theodotion and Symmachus. The LXX itself was revised in the 3rd and 4th Centuries.

"Targums" are sometimes used to assemble a more precise translation. Targums are paraphrased versions or interpretations of manuscripts. Some thought targums were a practice of the much later medieval era, but fragments of targums were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Other sources of historical Hebrew scriptures:

The Samaritan Pentateuch is the Hebrew text as preserved by the Samaritan community. It appears to have evolved independently of the consonantal texts that are used for vowel vocalizations. Most all of these surviving texts are from the 13th Century AD.

New Testament scriptures

To begin with... there is no "Gospel According to Jesus"... anywhere.

Although Jesus was quite capable of documenting his insights for posterity... (something one might think to be of high importance to him)... we have nothing from his own hand. When other pieces of Christian literature are discovered by archaeologists, there are no writings by him...
nor even references to such a thing.

There are few historical records referring to any Christian literature that may have been available at the time.
... In 150 AD, a man named Justin Martyr referred to "memoirs that were called gospels."
... There is a letter discussing a "document of Matthew" on which all the sayings or oracles of Jesus were written.

The references to such documents survived... but not the documents.

Authors of the books of the New Testament

Scholars who have studied the gospels of "Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John"... have studied their similarities and have formed various theories about the origins of the gospels.

John's gospel seems to be independent... with different miracles and different stories. The three others are all clearly related. Some believe that there was likely a master document as their source. They call it "Q." Some believe that the Mark text is the original and the others evolved from it.

Mark, or "John Mark", for he was called both... traveled with Paul and Barnabas... as their helper. See: Acts 12:25; 13:5; 13:13

Luke appears to be the author of the gospel that he is identified with, as well as the author of Acts. These books were originally a two-volume edition that was passed around Christian circles. Luke was a Gentile physician and a "dear friend" of Paul... traveling and working with him from the outset of Paul's mission. Acts mostly concerns Paul's missions.

John: This gospel does not mention who the author is, but church tradition attributes it to the disciple of Jesus. Although it is believed that John also wrote the letters with his name, the letters were not accepted into the Canon at the same time.

These gospels were considered to be genuine at the time that the Bible came to be formed in the fourth century.

The author of Revelations is unknown. This book was a popular read among the Christians... especially during their persecution. It not only served as a hope for justice, but it offered an end-point or a goal of all prophecy.


1. There are no original manuscripts earlier than 300 AD... other than pieces.

2. The ancient Hebrew language was lost at the time of the Babylonian exile. It was a literary language used only in manuscripts, and only understood by priests. After the exile, Aramaic was the adopted language of the Hebrews.

3. Ezra was working under the patronage of Titus to rebuild the Hebrew nation. It took Ezra a very long time to translate the ancient Hebrew manuscripts. He began including interpretations of those scriptures to aid the sermons of his new lay priests.

4. As more people wanted personal copies, untrained scribes included notes they found on manuscripts in their copies.

5. Copies were made from damaged, partially unreadable manuscripts.

6. The ancient texts had no vowels. Vowels were added by Masoretes in the 6th century AD.

7. There were no spaces between words until 500 BC... and spaces between sentences were not always inserted at the correct place.

8. Any translation is dependent upon the new language to provide accurate words... and dependent upon the translator... to KNOW those words.

9. Manuscripts were not checked for accuracy of transcription until 90 AD when the Masoretes set about establishing a correct text.

10. The Masoretes authorized a translation and then strictly enforced their version.

11. Targums (paraphrased or abbreviated versions of texts) were used in early Masorete authorized translations of the manuscripts.

12. There are few references to even the existence of ancient Christian literature.

13. Manuscripts were either accepted or rejected for inclusion in the bible.

14. The Bible was kept out of the hands of common people for 1000 years.

Joseph Theory Addendum Index
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