Sunday, 8 December 2013
God’s Secretaries & the Making of the Bible By Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo
I never had any conflict between faith and science. In fact, the man who told me about the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses was the one who taught me Physics and Chemistry.
Francis Osora Ezengige was the first genius I knew. He was two years ahead of me in high school. During long vacation when he visited Nnobi, he spent his time teaching science to my friends and me. He explained to me why a piece of yam changed color when cut and left in the open. Long before he made 2nd Class upper division in Engineering at UNN, he had explained to me why supersonic planes went far before we heard the sound. Francis knew the answers to all of life’s intriguing questions.
Then one day, we watched Michael Jackson’s Thriller on TV. After the performance, he said to me, “You see, white people indulge in voodoo, too,” I was stunned. His words devastated me. How could he believe in science and in voodoo, too?
For a couple of days, I suffered from the confusion of that knowledge. Then, a few weeks after, we watched “The Making of Thriller.” It explained how the music video was made. The making of Thriller took the thrill out of Thriller. The making of the Bible does the exact opposite. It humbles my assumptions.
While many Christians believe that the bible is the word of God, free of errors, the truth is a lot different.
With recent archeological, linguistic and literary discoveries, new insights are emerging on the making of the Bible. Africans typically do not want to invest in this kind of study because they fear that it threatens Christian religion itself. For a book on which basis you decide what is right and what is wrong; what you hate and what you love; and where you go after it is all over, one would have thought that everyone would be interested in knowing how the book came into existence. But that’s not the case.
In his book, “Who Wrote the Bible?” Richard Elliott Friedman outlines problems in the biblical texts. Several contradictions led to questions about the authorship of the Bible. In Books said to have been written by Moses, Moses tells the story of kings who lived after him. In one it says that Moses is going to a Tabernacle and later in the book it says that someone builds a Tabernacle. How do you go to a Tabernacle before you build one? In one of Moses’ books, it is said that Moses is the humblest man on earth. Moses will not say that Moses is the humblest man on earth. We also read the account of Moses’ death in a Book written by Moses. So how can Moses tell of his own death?
Friedman noted that investigations of the Bible have brought science, religion and secularity into conflict. In the past, books that challenged the authorship of the bible were banned and burned. Authors were excommunicated and some even killed. Adherers argue that the Bible is divinely dictated, revealed and inspired. Whether the Bible should be interpreted literally, figuratively or symbolically, have far-reaching implications for many. So are questions of whether it is fiction, history or non-fiction?
Whether one’s interest in the Bible is religious, literary or historical, Friedman stated, knowing who wrote it and when it was written is important. An author’s life and time reflects the world the author depicts. It is virtually impossible to understand the text of the books in the Bible without an understanding of who the author was. The story by a witness of an event differs from the one written by someone with a second hand source. The author’s experience and event of his life influence the story he tells and how he tells it.
The Hebrew Bible that forms the basis of the Christian Old Testament is a compilation of books on the Jewish laws, the prophets and the writings. The first five books were attributed to Moses, as the author. Biblical scholars have since determined that Moses could not have written the 5th book. More likely, they were written by several people. Irrespective of who wrote them, scholars believe that the books retold what had been transmitted for generations through oral tradition. To understand how diverse the books were, imagine putting together as a book, Things Fall Apart, The Man Died, Labyrinth with Path of Thunder, Eze Goes to School, Palmwine Drinkard, Efuru, There Was A Country and Heavensgate, amongst others.
Here is a summary of the history of the bible as recorded in various encyclopedias –Americana, Britannica, Catholic, New World etc, based on books by numerous scholars in the last four centuries.
The Hebrew Bible came about when a committee came together to select texts from writings that survived the destruction of Jerusalem. These were writings the Jewish committee best believed would guide them in the observation of their religion. The Hebrew Bible is arranged in such a way that it ends with the Israelites returning to Jerusalem. The Old Testament of the Christian Bible ends with Malachi. The poetry of Isaiah did not refer to Jesus. But Christians interpreted it to mean a reference to the coming of Jesus Christ. Jews on the other hand rejected that interpretation. In some bible editions, the book of Esther did not mention God at all. It is one of those books now considered a historical novella that was not written to represent actual events.
The Hebrew Bible does not have the New Testaments in it. The New Testament was written in a 70-year period by several authors. All the authors were Jewish except for Luke. Paul, Peter, John and James wrote most of the epistles to the new churches on how to live and worship God. As the early church grew, church leaders began the process of selecting from numerous epistles and accounts of what would be the canon of the new Christian religion. At the end of the 2nd century, only 20 books were accepted for inclusion in the New Testament. The Revelation was rejected. The full 27 books in the New Testament were adopted at the synods of Hippo Regius in 393 and Carthage in 397.
Books like the Acts of John, and the Acts of Peter written by John’s companion were called apocryphal acts. Early church leaders saw them as texts not divinely inspired. Some were rejected because their authenticity was regarded as questionable.
What is accepted as canon by each church depends on the translation from which the particular church picked their books. The early Christians depended on the Septuagint. This was the first translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. In AD 382, Pope Damasus called a Council of Rome that put together the first list of books of the Christian Bible. Saint Jerome put together the texts in Latin. In 1546, the Church declared this Bible the only authentic Bible.
During the Protestant Reformation led by Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin, a debate about what books to be included in the Protestant Bible ensued. The Protestants took out from the Septuagint, books that were not in the Hebrew Bible. While Catholics called these books deuterocannonical book, Protestants called them Apocrypha. So the Protestants have 39 books in their Old Testaments while the Catholics have 46. The Catholic Bible has several books that are not in the Protestant bible. Books like Tobit, Judith, Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, The Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Holy Children. The Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches recognize other books like Prayer of Manasseh, Esdras, 3 Maccabees and Psalm 151. In the New Testament, the Christian churches are in agreement on the final 27 books that made it. But Catholic churches accept doctrines from other books that did not make it into the canon.
Bible scholars generally regard most of the books as a work of literature and not historical documents. For instance, the Exodus from Egypt and emigration to the Promised Land is not considered historical. There are no archeological and historical evidence to support that.
Those who try to tell the story of the bible risk being seen as nonbelievers who intend to heap scorn on the believers. Bible does not mean God. The word, Bible, means little library. It indicates that it is a collection of books written by several people. In fact, a modern day analogy is the Wikipidia. Many of the books were written and rewritten by many people before it came to this final copy that we have today.
Because the bible was not written like most books of today, and because several books in the bible were written under different contexts and with different purposes in mind, there is a problem when we read the bible like a regular book. A lot of the things in the bible are not meant to be taken literally.
“The question all along was not who inspired the Bible?’ Or ‘Who revealed the Bible?” Friedman wrote, “The question was only which human being actually composed it? Whether they did so at divine direction, dictation or inspiration was always a matter of faith.”
If God had wanted, he could have dropped a definitive manual on how to live from heaven. But he didn’t. And because he didn’t, man did.