Showing posts with label Bible history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bible history. Show all posts

January 16, 2019

Jesus' Bible: A Concise History of Hebrew Scriptures


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.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2019, poet-author and Bible reviewer

To order, click this link




July 14, 2016

Africa Study Bible

Reportedly, over 80% of the peoples in the U.S. say they’re Christians, whereas in Africa, one in four has accepted Jesus Christ as Savior. Almost 500 million Christians live in Africa, yet few have Bibles with footnotes or study aids relevant to their lives and cultures.

What’s ironic is that many key events in the Bible took place on that beautifully diverse continent. Also, its past and present peoples, places, and cultures can help us to understand more about our biblical roots and our ancestry as God’s people.

Such thoughts urged me to request a copy of the Africa Study Bible (ASB) from Oasis International, who kindly sent me their attractively published Book of Genesis to review. Its well-chosen text from the New Living Translation (NLT) was completed a few years ago, of course, by the Tyndale House Foundation, but Oasis International has not yet finalized the ASB study notes being prepared by over 300 individuals from 50 nations.

The first book, however, clearly shows how the ASB aims to bring us “God’s Word through African Eyes.” For example, “Proverbs and Stories,” applications of the text, and sidebars of “African Touch Points” give us fresh insight into Genesis, such as the note regarding “The Fall” in chapter 3:

Most parents would punish their disobedient children. The Bangolan people in Cameroon say a parent should punish a rebellious child with a rebuking left hand and draw him or her closer with a loving right hand. That is exactly what God did to humans in and after the Fall.

Below the text for the Cain and Abel story in chapter 4, “Proverbs and Stories” urge us to “Build Up, Not Tear Down” with this word:

A Sierra Leonean proverb says, ‘If a person is tallker than you, do not chop off his legs so that you will be equal. Rather, grow up’.”

Next to the biblical text for Genesis 10, an “African Touch Point” discusses the infamous “Sons of Ham” with this important clarification:

Because Ham was the father of the African people, some Christians, Jews, and Muslims have misued this passage to justify enslaving Africans. But the passage only says that Canaan is cursed. Even though the rest of Ham’s sons settled in Africa, Canaan did not. Much later, God told Israel (descendants of Noah’s son Shem) to conquer the land of Canaan, and Canaan’s descendants became servants, just as Noah had said.”

That sidebar goes on to explain:

As Africans, we are not descendants of Canaan, but of Ham’s other sons – Cush (Egypt and Sudan), Mizraim (Egypt) and Put (Libya or Somalia).”

In an “Application” for Genesis 44-50, footnotes briefly discuss Joseph's enslavement because of the harsh treatment of his jealous brothers, and yet he remained faithful to God, eventually rising to power at a crucial moment in the life of his people. By the time he saw his brothers again, he had come to recognize God's hand on his life. As the footnotes say:

Many people have assumed positions of power over those who have wronged them greatly. Some people desire to take revenge and continue the cycle of violence. Others, like Joseph forgive and say, ‘It was God who sent me here, not you’.

Forgiveness brings peace. Let us be like Joseph with people who have rejected us and caused us harm. We must not continue the cycle of violence by seeking revenge. We must see our lives as controlled by God. Only then can we be at peace.”

Yes! And may all of God's people say, "Amen."

Bible review by Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2016


Africa Study Bible, Book of John