This concise history of the Hebrew Bible by Christopher Dost shows the development of the Old Testament in the biblical texts Jesus and the Apostles would have known.
As the Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible at Alliance Theological Seminary in New York and author of related books, Dr. Dost documented a wide range of resources to give us this slim paperback, chocked with information.
For some, the Jesus’Bible might challenge thinking or even offer more information than wanted! Despite the scholarly nature of the book, however, the author writes in an accessible style that keeps the text from being as dry as an old scroll.
As Dr. Dost quickly points out in the introduction, “There was no Bible in Jesus’ day. The Torah and the Prophets – the first two sections of what would become the Hebrew Bible – were essentially canonized (i.e., accepted as authoritative), but they were still textually fluid. The third section, however, the Writings, was not fixed.”
Another aspect of fluidity arose because of the Hebrew manner of writing words in consonants only with no vowels included. Dr. Dost gives examples of this, but if we look at the same situation in English, that might help to clarify problems that arise in translation.
For instance, take the English words “mite,” mate,” “mote,” or “moot” and remove the vowels, as Hebrew scribes would do, and you’d have “mt.” As you can see, each of those words has an entirely different meaning to be determined only by the context in which the word is found.
In addition, the connotations and denotations of a word can change over time. For example, a “mite” in Jesus’ day brings to mind the widow with a single coin left to her name, while in our era, the word might mean we need to put protective covers on our pillows and mattresses to keep out dust mites!
Besides the fact that a living language does not remain static, there’s the regional dialect to consider. In Virginia, for instance, “a run” doesn’t mean a 5K race but a brook, a creek, or, as some parts of the country say, a crick, which, for me, means an achy neck.
Similarly, “The Hebrew Bible was penned over the course of the first millennium BCE in what is known today as the Middle East. Many of the biblical tests were written in Israel and Judah (roughly modern-day Israel and Palestine), while others were written in Babylonia (southeastern Iraq) and in Egypt.” The author also goes on to say, “…we cannot overstate how significantly foreign domination impacted the growth, development, and interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures.”
Along those lines, we learn “…that the oldest extant (i.e., still in existence) Christian Bible was not limited to the modern Protestant Canon. In fact, when we examine a list of the New Testament’s quotations and allusions to sacred Jewish texts, we see that the writers of the New Testament have a much bigger ‘Bible’ than do twenty-first century Protestant Christians….”
We’re talking now about the “apocryphal” books (a misnomer, as they’ve never been hidden), which are part of the Greek scriptures (aka Septuagint.) As Dr. Dost explains:
“Because the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic, one might expect early Christianity to have revered the ‘original’ much as the Reformers did, but such was not the case. The Septuagint was for all intents and purposes the Bible for many Jews in antiquity. And since early Christianity was really no more than a movement within first-century Palestinian Judaism, it should be no surprise that the Septuagint was immensely important for the writers of the New Testament. In fact, those who regard Paul as the author of 2 Timothy must conclude that ‘all scripture,’ which the letter’s author regards as ‘inspired and profitable,’ includes both the Hebrew and the Greek, since Paul quotes extensively from the Septuagint in his writings.”
If these well-researched thoughts seem at all upsetting, lovers of the Protestant version of the Bible might be glad to know that the beloved King James Version originally contained more books than it does now. In addition, publishers of the accurate and evangelically oriented English Standard Version of the Bible typically omit the apocryphal books in both reader and study editions, but the ESV translation of the Apocrypha is available as a separate volume, well worth reading – not only for the wisdom to be found but for the historical accounts of events that occurred between the Old and New Testaments.