The History of the Bible - Part 1

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The History of the Bible – Part 1

Written by: Prophecy in the News

 Deuteronomy 6:4-7 (KJV)

  1. Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:
  2. And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
  3. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
  4. And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.

Where did the Bible come from?

Although none of the original documents survive (such as the actual hand-written form of the first five books of the Bible written by Moses 3,400 years ago) we do have some very old copies of portions of the Bible. Some of these are actually very close in date to the originals.

Most of the ancient copies of the Bible were written on papyrus or vellum.

Papyrus was a reed that grew in the Nile river of Egypt that could be dried and fashioned into a type of paper.


Vellum was a specially prepared skin from an animal, such as a cow or a goat. This was a durable material and was sometimes erased and reused.

This is an example of an ancient stylus and inkwell used in writing on papyrus.






The oldest form of the Bible that has ever been discovered is known as the “Ketef Hinnom Amulets.” These silver rolls were found at an archaeological site southwest of the Old City of Jerusalem in 1979-1980 by Gabriel Barkay. They were discovered adjacent to St. Andrew’s Church, now on the ground of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, which overlooks the Hinnom Valley (Gehenna) just opposite Mt. Zion. These silver rolls contain the priestly blessings from Numbers 6:24-26. They date to the seventh century BC, the time of the prophet Jeremiah. The two scrolls are on display at the Israel Museum.

Each amulet contained a rolled-up sheet of silver which, when unrolled, revealed the Priestly Benediction inscribed on them. The exact Hebrew words (translated into English) are:
May Yahweh bless you and keep you;
May Yahweh cause his face to
Shine upon you and grant you

Commented the late archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon:

This is now the earliest occurrence of a biblical text in an extra-biblical document, significantly predating the earliest of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is also the oldest extra-Biblical reference to YHWH, the God of Israel (1987: 124; cf. King and Stager 2001: 306).

Michael D. Coogan, professor of religious studies at Stonehill College in Massachusetts, similarly remarked that the two amulets are evidence of the antiquity of traditions preserved in the Bible; it also provides indirect evidence, as do the Dead Sea Scrolls and other manuscripts from the Second Temple period, of the accuracy of scribes who for centuries copied sacred texts.

Especially interesting to note is the fact that the words of the blessing, including the sacred personal name of God, were written on silver. This sheds light on Psalm 12:6: “The words of the LORD

[= YHWH] are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace…” Barkay’s discovery thus shows this verse to be literally true as well as spiritually.

The oldest portion of the New Testament, discovered in the sands of Egypt in the 1920’s, is a papyrus fragment of John’s gospel. It was copied roughly thirty years after John wrote the original draft of his gospel. It is thought to have come from the famous site of Oxyrhynchus (Behnesa), the ruined city in Upper Egypt where Grenfell and Hunt carried out some of the most startling and successful excavations in the history of archaeology. This small fragment of St. John’s Gospel, less than nine centimeters high (a metric unit of length, equal to one hundredth of a meter) and containing on the one side part of verses 31-33, on the other side, verses 37-38 of chapter 18, is one of the collection of Greek papyri in the John Rylands Library, Manchester. It dates to about AD 125 and is often referred to as the “Rylands Fragment.”

The importance of this fragment is quite out of proportion to its size and thus ranks as the earliest known fragment of the New Testament in any language. It provides us with invaluable evidence of the spread of Christianity in areas distant from the land of its origin; it is particularly interesting to know that among the books read by the early Christians in Upper Egypt was St. John’s Gospel, commonly regarded as one of the latest of the books of the New Testament. Like other early Christian works which have been found in Egypt, this Gospel was written in the form of a codex, i.e. book, not of a roll, the common vehicle for the pagan literature of that time.

Discoveries of ancient texts continue to be made. Caves near the Dead Sea in Israel, storerooms in monasteries, and excavations in Egypt have all turned up manuscripts in recent years.

One of the Dead Sea Scrolls, found in cave 11 at Qumran, yielded the oldest manuscripts of the Old Testament ever to be discovered. This is a scroll of the Psalms that measures thirteen feet when unrolled. It was discovered in February, 1956 by Bedouin, ten years after the initial discovery of the scrolls. Six different Psalms’ manuscripts emerged from the dusty cave next to the Dead Sea. It was purchased by The Palestine Archaeological Museum located in Jerusalem and first unrolled in November 1961. Four fragments of this scroll were later purchased by the same museum. The scroll’s physical make-up is that of dark yellow animal hide and is a little less than 1mm thick. The primary body of the manuscript consists of ‘5 sheets of leather, still sewn together”, and is 4.253 meters in length.

It contains forty-one Psalms from the last third of the book. It was written in Hebrew and dates from about AD 30-50. It is known as “Elizabeth Bechtel Psalms Scroll” after the American philanthropist and is designated 11Q5.

The text is known as the “Nash Papyrus” dates to the first or second century BC. This was known as the oldest fragment of the Hebrew Bible until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947. It was discovered in Egypt in 1902. The scroll contains the Ten Commandments and the shema (Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 6:4-9). It was purchased in 1902 by W.L. Nash from an Egyptian Antique dealer.


The “Codex Cairensis” (also: Codex Prophetarum Cairensis, Cairo Codex of the Prophets) is a Hebrew manuscript containing the complete text of the Hebrew Bible Nevi’im (prophets). It has been described a “the oldest dated Hebrew Codex of the Bible which has come down to us”. Also, know as the oldest manuscript of the prophets until the discoveries at Qumran. It contains the books of the Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings) and Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the book of the Twelve Minor Prophets). It comprises 575 pages including 13 carpet pages. According to its colophon, it was written complete with punctuation by Moses ben Asher in Tiberias at the end of the year 827 after the destruction of the second temple (this corresponds to the year AD 895. It was given as a present to the Karaite community in Jerusalem, and taken as booty by the Crusaders in 1099. Later it was redeemed and came into the possession of the Karaite community in Cairo. When the Karaite Jews left Egypt they deposited the codex in 1983, in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, with document to prove it, where it is kept in a secure room on the floor below the Hebrew Manuscript collection. The Codex was brought back to Jerusalem by a committee of six persons.

Virtually every Bible read today is deeply indebted to a very important manuscript of the Hebrew Bible dated AD 1008. This is the oldest manuscript of the complete Hebrew Bible, called the Codex Leningradensis, also known as the Leningrad Codex. It is housed in the Russian Public Library in Leningrad. A beautiful volume of 491 folios, or leaves, with three columns per page. It was completed in AD 1010 in Cairo, Egypt. According to a scribal note in the volume, it was copied from exemplars produced by a famous Masoretic scholar named Aharon ben Asher who was part of a long line of scribes. The Masoretes (from the Hebrew word masorah, meaning “transmission of traditions”) were Hebrew scholars devoted to a meticulous preservation of the Bible and its proper pronunciation.

After Alexandros III Philippou Makedonon (July 356 B.C.E. – June 10, 323 B.C.E.), commonly known in the West as Alexander the Great followed his imperialistic notions and extended his kingdom far in the East, Greek became a world language. He was the most successful military commander of ancient history, conquering most of the known world before his death.

To succeed in business and commerce, people in Syria, Egypt, Israel, Asia Minor, North Africa, and Italy all needed to speak and write in Greek. During this period many Jews took up residence in all of these lands, but Egypt, in particular, became home to many thousands of Jews. As they lost facility in their native tongues (Hebrew and Aramaic), there was a growing desire and need for accessibility to the Scriptures in the language with which they were now most at home –  Greek. To facilitate this need, Jewish scholars in Egypt undertook the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, roughly two to three centuries before the time of Christ.

According to a Jewish tradition, the translation was actually commissioned and subsidized by an Egyptian ruler, Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-247 BC). This story, told in the Letter of Aristeas, claims that seventy scribes worked on this translation.

This translation was called the Septuagint.  The Septuagint derives its name from the Latin versio septuaginta interpretum, “translation of the seventy interpreters.”     after the Greek word for “seventy.” This text of the Septuagint is preserved in nearly 2,000 ancient Greek manuscripts. Greek: ἡ μετάφρασις τῶν ἑβδομήκοντα, hē metáphrasis tōn hebdomḗkonta, “translation of the seventy.”

However, it was not until the time of Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE) that the Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures came to be called by the Latin term Septuaginta.

As we read in Genesis 11, the Tower of Babel resulted in the division of humanity into a wide variety of language groups. As stated in the King James Version of the Bible, this was “The Judgment of the confusion of tongues. Life continues under the Adamic and Noahic Covenants.”

Genesis 11:1-9 (KJV)

  1. And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
  2. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.
  3. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar.
  4. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
  5. And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.
  6. And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
  7. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.
  8. So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
  9. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

To be continued…

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Prophecy in the News

Prophecy in the News