Thursday, February 02, 2006

Origins of the Bible

Origins of the Bible
Kathleen Campbell

The following material provides background on the development of the Christian Bible. From this page, which deals with the creation of the Old Testament, you can link to further pages on the medieval Bible, on translation of the Bible into English, on More's role in suppressing English translations, and to the Bible Gateway, where you will find various modern English translations.

The Creation of the Old Testament
The books of the Bible that make up the Old Testament were created and assembled over a long period of time. The oldest sections existed in oral form long before they were recorded; in some cases, multiple versions of stories were blended together to create the books we know today. The first five books of the Old Testament contain the oldest material, but the ancient stories were blended with more recent material as they moved from oral tradition to written document. The various threads were drawn together to form the Hebrew Bible in the ninth and tenth centuries AD. Translations into Greek began as early as the third century BC although a complete Greek Bible did not exist until much later.
Biblical scholars trace four different sources for the first five books of the Old Testament in the Hebrew Bible. The earliest of the four sources, known as the Yahwist or J, was first recorded about 950 BC. This material was blended with other material from a source known as the Elohist or E, first recorded a century or two later. Later editions came from a source known as Deuteronomy or D and a Priestly document, known as P. This last source dates from about 538-450 BC. The D source is found only in Deuteronomy and Joshua; the E source begins with the story of Abraham.

The Sources in Genesis
Thus the material that we are reading in Genesis is a combination of material from two sources, J (the oldest source) and P (the most recent source). The two sources are fairly easy to identify by how each refers to God and how these references are translated and printed. The Yahwist uses the Hebrew word Yahweh, generally thought of as the proper name of God; it is usually translated as Lord God or Lord and is traditionally printed in all capital letters (i.e. LORD GOD). The P source, uses the Hebrew Elohim, a more generic term for God, which is translated as God and printed with only the first letter capitalized. Thus, the P source is responsible for the first chapter of Genesis, while Genesis 2 comes from J. The two sources are more blended in the Noah story, but can still be traced by paying attention to the references to God.

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