Fundamental problems with the Bible’s History

The Hebrew Bible (Torah) and Christian Scripture (both Old and New Testaments) are works considered to be sacred and authoritative writings by the respective faith groups that revere their specific collections of biblical writings. The Old Testament collection, or Hebrew Bible, was originally composed in Hebrew, except for parts of Daniel and Ezra that are written in Aramaic. These writings depict Israelite religion from its beginnings to about the 2nd Century BC. The New Testament writings were in Koine (common) Greek.

The formation of the canon of Scripture was the process of determining exactly which writings were to be accepted in the Jewish or Christian Scriptures. It was not until about AD 100 that the final selection of authorized Jewish Scriptures was complete. Until the 18th century, the general belief in Christendom was that the earth was created some 4,000 years before the birth of Christ, and that the Garden of Eden, the Flood and the Tower of Babel, Abraham and the Exodus, and all subsequent narrative, were real history. Then the growth of the sciences in the 18th and 19th centuries — notably geology and the Theory of Evolution — threw the first few chapters of Genesis into doubt, and by the end of the 19th century the view that the first eleven chapters of Genesis represented actual historical events was being widely questioned. The general opinion among non-creationist bible scholars today is that Genesis 1–11, taking in the cycle of stories from the Creation to the “generations of Terah”, is a highly schematic literary work representing theology rather than history.

At the same time traditional ideas about the composition of the books were being undermined. At the end of the 17th century few Bible scholars would have questioned that the Pentateuch was the work of Moses, Joshua was by Joshua, and so on. But in the late 18th century scholars began to question these traditional authorships, and by the end of the 19th century the consensus view among biblical scholars was that the Pentateuch as a whole was the work of many more authors over many centuries from 1000 BC (the time of David) to 500 BC (the time of Ezra), and that the history it contained was often more polemical rather than strictly factual. By the first half of the 20th century Hermann Gunkel had drawn attention to the mythic aspects of the Pentateuch, and Albrecht Alt, Martin Noth and the tradition history school argued that although its core traditions had genuinely ancient roots, the narratives were fictional framing devices and were not intended as history in the modern sense.

In AD 367 the present 27 books of the New Testament alongside the present 39 book canon of the Christian Old Testament became solidified.

While the limits of the canon were effectively set in these early centuries, the status of Scripture has been a topic of scholarly discussion in the later church. Increasingly, the Biblical works have been subjected to literary and historical criticism in efforts to interpret the texts independent of Church and dogmatic influences. Different views of the authority and inspiration of the Bible also continue to be expressed in liberal and fundamentalist churches today. What cannot be denied, however, is the enormous influence which the stories, poetry, and reflections found in the Biblical writings have had, not only on the doctrines and practices of two major faiths, but also on Western culture, its literature, art, and music.

In the 2nd century, the gnostics often asserted that their form of Christianity was the first, in which Jesus was sometimes regarded as merely a teaching device, or as a docetic teacher, or allegory. Elaine Pagels has proposed that there are several examples of gnostic attitudes in the Pauline Epistles, Elaine Pagels.[citation needed] Bart D. Ehrman and Raymond E. Brown note that some of the Pauline epistles are widely regarded by scholars as pseudonymous, and it is the view of Timothy Freke, and others, that this involved a forgery in an attempt by the Church to bring in Paul’s Gnostic supporters and turn the arguments in the other Epistles on their head.

Some critics have maintained that Christianity is not founded on an historical figure, but rather on a mythical creation. This view proposes that the idea of Jesus was the Jewish manifestation of a pan-Hellenic cult, known as Osiris-Dionysus, which acknowledged the non-historic nature of the figure, using it instead as a teaching device.


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