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Did David Exist? And When Did I Know I Lost My Faith? Mailbag April 15, 2017

I will be dealing with two questions in this weekly Readers’ Mailbag.  The first has to do with the historical evidence, if any, for the Israelite kings Saul, David, and Solomon – did they exist, or are the stories about them entirely legendary?   The second, coming to us from a different universe, is about me personally, and my faith, whether there was a proverbial straw that broke my faith-camel’s back.   QUESTION: According to Finkelstein and Silberman’s book, The Bible Unearthed, which I know you admire, there is zero evidence for the existence of Solomon and not much more for David and Saul (Shlomo Sands takes a similar view). Your position seems to be that all three existed: can you please tell me why you think this?   RESPONSE: First let me say that I think Finkelstein and Silberman’s book is absolutely terrific.  I often get asked what book I would recommend to people who are interested in the critical study of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) comparable to the kind of thing I do [...]

What About the Apocrypha?

What about the Apocrypha?  I have been talking about how we got the books of the Bible – both Old Testament and New Testament – and how other books came to be left out.  But what are the books of the Apocrypha, where did they come from, and why do some communities of faith (but not others) accept them as authoritative? When someone refers to “The” Apocrypha they are speaking of the “Old Testament Apocrypha,” a set collection of books written by Jewish authors (not Christian).  There are also Christian apocryphal books (e.g., other Gospels – such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Mary – and other epistles, Acts, and apocalypsese that did not make it into the NT).  But these are not called “The” Apocrypha.  That term instead refers to the books written, as a rule, between the end of the OT and the beginning of the NT that are included in some Christian Bibles as canonical or semi-canonical. Here is some basic information about the Apocrypha, lifted [...]

2020-04-03T02:41:42-04:00January 9th, 2017|Early Judaism, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

What is the Hebrew Bible?

In response to my previous two posts about how the Hebrew Bible came to be copied over the years, several readers have asked me a related (though also very different) question about how the books of the Hebrew Bible were chosen – why do we have these books and not some others?  Who decided what the canon of the Hebrew Bible would be?  When did they decide?  And what were their criteria? These are important questions, and even though not quite as directly related to the thread I’m making my way through, I think they are worth a couple of posts.   Before giving the standard scholarly view of such things, I will need to explain in the simplest terms I can what the layout, structure, and divisions of the Hebrew Bible are, and define and explain a number of terms.  That will occupy us in the present post.   I have once more taken this information from the discussion in my book The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction.   ************************************************************** BOX 1.1 THE [...]

2020-04-03T02:42:30-04:00January 1st, 2017|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

Manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible

Just now I started to write a post dealing with what it is exactly that translators (such as those of the New Revised Standard Version) translated when they translated their texts.  I realized that to explain that I have to say something about the surviving Hebrew manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible – something I have not talked a *great* deal about on the blog in the past, and about the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament – about which I have said a good deal more.  My comments on the Hebrew Bible will require a couple of posts.  As you’ll see, I start at the most basic level and go from there, never getting at all complicated or technical. This has been taken from my textbook The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction ********************************************************** The Text of the Hebrew Bible We have seen that the earliest writings of the Hebrew Bible were probably produced during the eighth century BCE.  This is the date of the oldest prophets such as Amos and Isaiah of Jerusalem.  When [...]

My Work for the New Revised Standard Version Committee

QUESTION: If my memory serves me, you (as a graduate student?) were involved in the development of the NRSV Bible version in 1989. Could you describe your work please? RESPONSE: Yes, that’s right.  The New Revised Standard Version Committee was appointed by the U.S. National Council of Churches to produce a revision of the famous Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible, which had come out in 1952.  Since the time when the RSV had been produced (mainly in the 1940s), many important developments had happened in the scholarship of the Bible. New discoveries had been made and partially published, especially: the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Scrolls contained a number of different kinds of writings, produced by Jews living at the turn of the Christian era, including a large number of copies of the Hebrew Bible, in Hebrew, as it was known in that day.  These are very important for determining the oldest form of the Hebrew text of the Bible for some of its books. The English language had changed in important ways. That [...]

Are the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Manuscripts Reliable? A Blast From the Past

A reader has perspicaciously pointed out to me that a particularly relevant post from three years ago (June 7, 2013) makes an important contribution to the topic I've been discussing about the Pentateuch.  This post is not about whether the events described in the Hebrew Bible are accurate, but whether we have accurate manuscripts of these accounts.  I talk a lot on the blog about manuscripts of the New Testament.  What about manuscripts of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible?  My post back then was in response to a question.  Here it is in full: **************************************************************************************************** QUESTION: Bart, these issues you've found in the New Testament, have you studied and found similar issues in the Old Testament?" RESPONSE: Yes indeed!   Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) was my secondary field in my PhD program, and I taught Introduction to Hebrew Bible at both Rutgers and UNC.   A few years ago when I decided to write my Introduction to the Bible I decided that to do it right I had to re-tool in Hebrew Bible.  I’m by no [...]

What Is Repentance in the Bible? Is there Repentance in the Bible?

Many of you responded to my colleague David Lambert’s provocative post a couple of days ago on whether the idea of “repentance” could be found in the Bible. He has replied to your comments, but has wanted to provide a follow up post. It keeps getting more interesting. This is an intriguing reflection on “repentance” in the Bible, one that totally turns on its head what many of us have always thought. See what you think. - David Lambert is the author of How Repentance Became Biblical.    ********************************************************************* “The Meaning(s) of Repentance in the Bible” A lot of the comments that I received on my first post ( had to do with the definition of “repentance” that I’m using in my new study, How Repentance Became Biblical: Judaism, Christianity, and the Interpretation of Scripture. Just to review my main claim, I contend, after careful examination, that there are a lot of biblical passages and practices that we’ve understood in connection with repentance that don’t really have much to do with the concept. I claim [...]

2021-02-06T01:00:40-05:00January 22nd, 2016|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Historical Problems with the Hebrew Bible: The Conquest of Canaan

This will be my final post, for now, on the problems with the Hebrew Bible.  I couldn’t resist one last set of comments on the historicity of the accounts narrated there, this time with respect to the stories in the book of Joshua about the Conquest of the Promised Land (Jericho and so on).   Here too I am citing what I lay out in my forthcoming textbook on the Bible ***************************************************************************** When considering the historicity of the narratives of Joshua, the first thing to re-emphasize is that these are not accounts written by eyewitnesses or by anyone who knew an eyewitness.  They were written some 600 years later, and were based on oral traditions that had been in circulation among people in Israel during all those intervening centuries.  Moreover, they are clearly molded according to theological assumptions and perspectives.  Biblical scholars have long noted that there is almost nothing in the accounts that suggest that the author is trying to be purely descriptive of things that really happened.  He is writing an account that appears [...]

2017-12-31T21:53:46-05:00June 10th, 2013|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

Historical Problems with the Hebrew Bible: The Exodus Narrative

In response to a question about the problems posed to critical scholars by the Hebrew Bible I have so far provided two posts, one involving the surviving manuscripts (do we know what the authors originally said?) and the other with apparent discrepancies (where accounts appear to be at odds with one another).   I will now provide a couple of posts dealing with the equally big problem that the Hebrew Bible narrates events that probably did not take place, at least as described.   Today I will provide a chunk from my forthcoming book on the Bible about the exodus event under Moses, in which Moses led the children of Israel out from their slavery in Egypt and a great miracle transpired at the parting of the Sea of Reeds (traditionally called the Red Sea), where the children of Israel were allowed to cross on dry land before the waters rushed back destroying Pharaoh's entire army (as narrated in Exodus 14).  It's an absolutely amazing, terrific story.  But it does not appear to be historical. [...]

2020-04-03T18:28:10-04:00June 9th, 2013|Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Reader’s Questions|

Problems with the Hebrew Bible Manuscripts

QUESTION: Bart, these issues you've found in the New Testament, have you studied and found similar issues in the Old Testament?" RESPONSE: Yes indeed!   Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) was my secondary field in my PhD program, and I taught Introduction to Hebrew Bible at both Rutgers and UNC.   A few years ago when I decided to write my Introduction to the Bible I decided that to do it right I had to re-tool in Hebrew Bible.  I’m by no means an expert, but I have caught up on a good deal of scholarship and re-learned Hebrew (I hadn’t read it in years).  I try to read some Hebrew Bible every morning; I’m not great at it, but I can slog through with a dictionary….. So, I think it’s fair to say that the problems that I have talked about in my publications about the New Testament are even more pronounced for the Hebrew Bible.   I think I will take three of the big issues (I’m happy to address others if there are any [...]

Exciting Discovery of a Hebrew Bible Scroll

An exciting discovery has been made of the oldest scroll containing the Pentateuch (it is not as old as the Leningrad *codex* from around the year 1000; but it is the oldest *scroll* with the entire text – 12th century or 13th).   My thanks to my colleage Evyatar Marienburg, knowledgeable about all scholarship Jewish, for informing me about this.  For the fuller account, see PRESS RELEASE THE MOST ANCIENT EXISTING SCROLL OF THE HEBREW PENTATEUCH, DISCOVERED AT THE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY OF BOLOGNA The document, located and identified by a professor of the University of Bologna contains the entire text of the Torah, dates back to a period between the second half of the 12th century and the beginning of 13th (1155-1225) and is kept at the Biblioteca Universitaria di Bologna (BUB). Bologna, 28 May 2013. The University Library of Bologna has kept from times immemorial, and without knowing, the world’s oldest scroll of the Hebrew Pentateuch. The document, labeled as "Roll 2", is of soft sheep leather (36 meters long and 64 cm high), [...]

More on Jews, Christians, and the Battle for Scripture

In yesterday’s post I indicated that my next trade book, to be written in a couple of years, would deal with the question of Jews and Christians, centered on the question of why Christians kept the Old Testament and how doing so led to controversies with Jews. The following is how I set up the issue that I will be addressing. The second-century Christian theologian Marcion maintained that the Old Testament was the Scripture of the Jews. Christians, however, were not Jews; they were followers of Jesus. Moreover, the loving God of Jesus was not the wrathful God of the Jews. For Marcion, Jews and Christians had nothing in common except in a negative sense: the Jews represented everything the Christians rejected, including the inferior, legalistic God who chose the Jewish people and gave them their Scriptures. Christians have their own beneficent and salvation-bringing God, and their own Scriptures. For Marcion, the Old Testament is not part of the Christian Bible. FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. Click here for [...]

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