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The Holy Scriptures have both a divine origin for their content and a human history for their creation and preservation. The book of the Bible was not originally one unified book but rather a collection of various books written over time. Moses was the first to compile these books under divine inspiration in 1500 BCE, while the final book was written by the apostle John over 1600 years later. After the Babylonian exile, many Jews settled elsewhere, and synagogues were established throughout the Jewish diaspora. As a result, copies of the Scriptures were needed for these synagogues, where the Jews would gather to hear the reading of God’s word.
In later times, among Christ’s followers, copyists worked tirelessly to reproduce the inspired writings for the benefit of growing Christian congregations, allowing for a circulation of these sacred texts. These conscientious copyists were driven by their desire to ensure that the written word of God was widely available and accessible to all. Today, the Holy Scriptures continue to play an important role in the lives of millions of people, providing guidance, comfort, and hope to those who study and follow its teachings.
Before the invention of movable type printing in the 15th century, all copies of the Bible were handwritten and known as manuscripts. This term comes from the Latin words “manu scriptus,” meaning “written by hand.” These manuscripts were written copies of the Bible, either in its entirety or just parts of it, as opposed to printed copies. The primary forms of these manuscripts were rolls and codices. It’s important to note that these handwritten copies were the only form of the Bible available before the advent of printing and therefore hold great historical and cultural significance.
Writing Before the Flood of Noah
The exact origins of writing in the time before the Flood mentioned in the Book of Genesis is uncertain. There are no references in the Bible to pre-Flood writing, and it is difficult to determine with certainty if any of the histories in Genesis were committed to writing prior to the Flood. However, it is known that other forms of civilization, such as the building of cities, the creation of musical instruments, and the forging of iron and copper tools, had already developed prior to the Flood. This suggests that writing, which was likely an alphabet based on the original language of Hebrew, may have also existed prior to the Flood.
Assyrian King Ashurbanipal claimed to have read inscriptions on stone from before the Flood, but these could have simply been records from a local flood of significant proportions or simply accounts claiming to relate events prior to the Flood. The Sumerian King List, for example, mentions eight kings ruling for 241,000 years before the Flood swept over the earth, but this record is not considered to be authentic.
The global Flood of Noah’s day is believed to have occurred in 2348 BCE according to Bible chronology, but archaeological findings have assigned dates earlier than this to numerous clay tablets that have been excavated. However, these dates are purely speculative and not based on any solid evidence. In addition, none of the artifacts that have been discovered can be definitively linked to pre-Flood times, and any such assignments made by archaeologists are based on findings that can only provide evidence of a great local flood at best.
Writing After the Flood of Noah
After the confusion of man’s languages at Babel, different writing systems emerged across the world. The Babylonians and Assyrians used cuneiform script, which is believed to have originated from the Sumerians and their pictographic writing. There is evidence that multiple writing systems were in use at the same time. For instance, an ancient Assyrian wall painting depicts two scribes, with one making cuneiform impressions on a tablet with a stylus, likely writing in Akkadian, while the other writes with a brush on a piece of skin or papyrus, possibly in Aramaic. The Egyptian writing system was comprised of pictorial representations and geometric forms known as hieroglyphics. Although hieroglyphic writing was still used for monumental inscriptions and wall paintings, two other forms of writing, known as hieratic and demotic, also came into use.
In non-alphabetic systems, a pictorial representation could symbolize the object depicted, an idea, or another word or syllable that had the same pronunciation. For example, a simple drawing of an eye could represent an “eye,” the personal pronoun “I,” the verb “see,” the noun “sea,” or the first syllable of “season.” The alphabetic system used by the Israelites was phonetic, with each written consonant symbol representing a particular consonant sound. However, the reader was required to supply the vowel sounds. This was not a significant issue as even contemporary Hebrew publications omit vowel points almost entirely, with the context determining the intended word in case of terms with the same spelling but different combinations of vowel sounds.
Literacy Among the Israelites
The priests of Israel and influential figures such as Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, and Jehu, were literate and able to read and write. It was also common for the general population to be literate, although there were some exceptions. The command for the Israelites to write on the doorposts of their houses implies that they were literate. Additionally, the law required the king to write a copy of the law and read it daily after taking the throne. Despite the widespread literacy among the Israelites, few inscriptions have been found. This is likely because they did not build many monuments to commemorate their achievements. Most of their writing, including the books of the Bible, was done with ink on papyrus or parchment and were not able to survive the damp climate of Palestine. Nevertheless, the message of the Scriptures was carefully preserved through the centuries through repeated copying. The Bible’s history reaches from the beginning of human history and beyond, making it unique among ancient writings. Unlike other records that have been engraved on stone or inscribed on clay tablets, prisms, and cylinders, the Bible contains a meaningful message that has continued to impact people’s lives.
Writing Before the Time of Moses
There is direct evidence to suggest that writing was widely practiced before the time of Moses. The presence of writing systems in ancient civilizations such as the Sumerians and the Babylonians suggests that writing was an established practice before Moses’ time. Inscriptions and artifacts from these civilizations indicate the use of wedge-shaped cuneiform script, pictorial writing, and linear or cursive forms. The fact that Moses was able to write the books of the Bible, as well as the command for the Israelites to write on the doorposts of their houses, also suggests that writing was a widely practiced skill in the ancient Near East. Additionally, the abundance of written material in the form of inscriptions, clay tablets, prisms, and cylinders from the ancient civilizations indicates that writing was a prevalent form of communication and record-keeping.
Authorship of the First Five Books of the Bible
The authorship of the first five books of the Bible, also known as the Torah or the Pentateuch, is significant because it informs the understanding of the origin, history, and teachings of Judaism and is also a matter of religious belief for many people. The authorship of the Pentateuch is attributed to Moses. Understanding the authorship and composition of the Pentateuch provides a context for interpreting its messages and themes.
We believe that Moses was the author of the first five books of the Bible, also known as the Pentateuch or Torah. We base this belief on several factors:
- Tradition: The Jewish and Christian traditions have consistently held Moses as the author of the Pentateuch for thousands of years.
- Biblical passages: There are numerous passages in the Pentateuch itself that attribute the authorship to Moses, such as Exodus 17:14, 24:4, 34:27, and Deuteronomy 31:9.
- Historical evidence: The early church fathers, such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian, all believed in Moses as the author of the Pentateuch. Additionally, there is evidence of the Jewish tradition of Moses as the author in early Jewish literature such as the Talmud and Midrash.
- Theological implications: For us, accepting Moses as the author of the Pentateuch is important because it provides a direct link between the law given to the Israelites and God himself. If Moses was the author, it reinforces the authority and divine nature of the law and the belief in the supernatural origins of the Bible.
- Internal consistency: We argue that the internal consistency of the Pentateuch supports the idea of Moses as the author. The books have a consistent style, language, and themes, which we believe indicates that the same person wrote them.
We believe that Moses was the author of the first five books of the Bible based on tradition, biblical passages, historical evidence, theological implications, and internal consistency.
Archaeology does provide some support for the traditional belief that Moses was the author.
- Evidence from Ancient Near Eastern Texts: We argue that the laws and customs recorded in the Pentateuch are consistent with those found in ancient Near Eastern texts from the same time period, supporting the idea that they were written by someone familiar with the cultural context.
- Lack of Evidence Against Moses: While there is no explicitly direct archaeological evidence supporting Moses as the author at this time, there is also no evidence contradicting this belief. This lack of evidence against Moses as the author is seen as support for his authorship.
In conclusion, while archaeology does not provide direct conclusive evidence for the authorship of the Pentateuch, we would argue that it supports the traditional belief that Moses was the author and provides some consistency with the cultural context of the time period.
Material for Writing in the Old Testament Period
In ancient times, various materials were used for writing, including:
- Papyrus: Papyrus was a writing material made from the stem of the papyrus plant, which was abundant in Egypt. It was cut into thin strips, laid side by side, and then glued together to form a sheet. The resulting material was strong, flexible, and cheap, making it a popular writing material in ancient times.
- Clay tablets: Clay tablets were used for writing in Mesopotamia and other parts of the ancient Near East. They were made from clay that was molded into a tablet shape and then dried in the sun. Once dry, the tablets were smoothed and written on with a stylus.
- Stone tablets: Stone tablets were also used for writing, especially for monumental inscriptions and legal documents. They were carved with writing and then polished for preservation.
- Leather: Leather was used for writing in some cultures, especially for scrolls. The leather was treated and then written on with ink or a stylus.
- Metal plates: Metal plates, such as bronze or lead, were used for writing in some cultures. They were engraved with writing and then stored for preservation.
In conclusion, various materials were used for writing in ancient times, including papyrus, clay tablets, stone tablets, leather, and metal plates, each with its own strengths and limitations. The choice of material often depended on the purpose of the writing and the availability of resources in the local area.
The Old Testament, also known as the Hebrew Bible, was primarily written on parchment made from animal skin, specifically sheep and goat skin. This material was known as “vellum” and was highly valued for its durability and ability to withstand the rigors of repeated use and storage.
The use of parchment for the Old Testament would have made it possible for copies of the text to be made and circulated, ensuring the preservation and transmission of the text over time. It is likely that the use of parchment for the Old Testament was influenced by the availability of the material and the importance placed on the preservation and transmission of the text by the ancient Israelites.
Parchment is a type of writing material made from animal skin, typically sheep or goat skin, that has been treated, scraped, and dried to create a thin, durable, and smooth surface for writing. The process of making parchment was developed in the ancient world and became widely used for the production of books and other written documents.
The story of parchment’s development can be traced back to the ancient civilizations of the Mediterranean region, where animal hides were first treated and prepared for use as writing material. The exact details of the development of parchment are unclear, but it is thought to have been first used in Pergamon, a city in Ancient Greece, around the 2nd century BCE. From there, the use of parchment spread throughout the ancient world, becoming a popular material for writing and the production of books.
Vellum is a type of parchment made from the skin of a calf. It is generally considered to be a finer quality parchment and is often used for high-end manuscripts, such as illuminated manuscripts and legal documents. Vellum is distinguishable from parchment in that it is made from the skin of a calf rather than sheep or goat and is considered to be a finer, more expensive material.