Dating the Bible

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The Bible is a compilation of various texts or "books" of different ages.

While it is common for people to claim that the dates of many of the texts of the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament) are difficult to establish, the bible is the most translated, copied, transmitted, and quoted text of any ancient document. Textual criticism places all of them within the 1st millennium BC, although some critics claim there is considerable uncertainty as to the century in some cases. The oldest surviving Hebrew Bible manuscripts date to about the 4th - 2nd century BC (fragmentary), the oldest record of the complete text survives in Greek translation, dating to the 4th century (Codex Sinaiticus) which is of dubious authenticity, and the oldest extant manuscripts of the vocalized Masoretic text upon which modern editions are based date to the 9th century.

The individual books of the New Testament may be dated with some confidence to the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. The earliest fragment of the New Testament is the Rylands Library Papyrus P52, a piece of the Gospel of John dated to the first half of the 2nd century. For this reason, dating the composition of the texts relies on textual criticism, philological and linguistic evidence, as well as direct references to historical events in the texts instead of dating the physical manuscripts.

Contents

The Hebrew Bible

The authorship of the various texts in Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) is an open topic of research. Therefore, assigning solid dates to any of the texts is difficult.

The range of dates assigned to the Torah (Pentateuch) is rather broad. It is certain to predate the 2nd century BC, and estimates of its oldest elements range from the 10th to the 6th centuries BC. The bulk of the Tanakh was likely complete by the end of the Babylonian captivity (537 BC).

Torah

Some groups, e.g. the Orthodox Jewish community, adhere to the chronology given in the Hebrew Bible, which states the Children of Israel came out Egypt 480 years before King Solomon began construction of the Temple in Jerusalem, placing the date of the Exodus in 1446 BC. Meaning the Torah was written between 1446 BC and 1406 BC.

Some critical scholars (the 'Biblical Minimalists"), however, insist that the whole of the Torah shows evidence of its construction composed after 538 BC, perhaps with material from an earlier oral tradition, as it were, a "prequel" to the prophetic books.

Others, such as archeologist Israel Finkelstein, tend to suggest that a substantial portion of the Pentateuch is a 7th century BC construction, designed to promote the dynastic ambitions of King Josiah of Judah. The 6th century BC Books of Kings tells of the rediscovery of an old book by King Josiah, which would be the oldest part of the Torah, around which Josiah's scribes would have fabricated the remaining text:

And Hilkiah the high priest said unto Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the LORD. And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. (2 Kings 22:8 KJV)

Under Josiah's rule there would then for the first time have been a unified and state of Judah, centralized around the worship of Yahweh based at the Temple in Jerusalem, with texts portraying King Josiah as the legitimate successor to the legendary David and thus the rightful ruler of Judah. According to this interpretation, neighboring countries that kept many written records, such as Egypt, Persia, etc., have no writings about the stories of the Bible or its main characters before 650 BC, and the archaeological record of pre-Josiac Israel does not support the existence of a unified state in the time of David.[1] However, this view is challenged by references to the "House of David" and Davidic Kings of Israel in 9th century BC inscriptions. [2]

A traditional strain of scholarship would assign portions of the Pentateuch (generally, the J author) to the period of the United Monarchy in the 10th century BC, would date Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic history to the time of King Josiah, and that the final form of the Torah was due to a redactor in exilic or postexilic times (6th century BC). This view is based on the account of the finding of the "book of law" in 2 Kings 22:8, which would correspond to the core of Deuteronomy, and the remaining parts of the Torah would have been composed to supply a background from traditional accounts to the rediscovered text.

Views on Torah
View Proposed Date
Traditional View Torah composed between 1446 BC and 1406 BC, with the remaining books composed between 1400 BC to 400 BC. This is the traditional view of Orthodox Judaism and historic Christianity, though there may be evidence of editing of the books between 1000 and 400 BC.
Documentary hypothesis Four independent documents (the Jahwist, Elohist, Deuteronomist and the Priestly source), composed between 900-550 BC, redacted c 450 BC, possibly by Ezra
Supplementary models (e.g. John Van Seters) Torah composed as a series of authorial expansions of an original source document, usually identified as J or P, largely during the 7th and 6th centuries BC, final form achieved c. 450 BC.
Fragmentary models (e.g. Rolf Rendtorff, Erhard Blum) Torah the product of the slow accretion of fragmentary traditions, (no documents), over period 850-550 BC, final form c. 450 BC.
Biblical minimalism Torah composed in Hellenistic-Hasmonean period, c. 300-140 BC.

Nevi'im

The major Nevi'im ("Prophets").

The Books of Kings mentions the following sources:

  1. The "book of the acts of Solomon" (1 Kings 11:41)
  2. The "book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah" (14:29; 15:7, 23, etc.)
  3. The "book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel" (14:19; 15:31; 16:14, 20, 27, etc.).

The date of its composition was perhaps some time between 561 BC, the date of the last chapter (2 Kings 25), when Jehoiachin was released from captivity by Evil-merodach, and 538 BC, the date of the decree of deliverance by Cyrus the Great.

The Book of Isaiah, in its present form, is by most scholars considered the result of an extensive editing process, in which the promises of God's salvation are reinterpreted and claimed for the Judean people through the history of their exile and return to the land of Judah. Very few scholars dispute these conclusions and argue for multiple authors. When the Septuagint version was made (assumed by many to be 250 BC but maost probably 300 AD), the entire contents of the book were ascribed to Isaiah, the son of Amoz. In the time of Jesus, the book existed in its present form, with many prophecies in the disputed portions quoted in the New Testament as the words of Isaiah.

Book
of Nevi'im
Scholarly dating
Book of Joshua ca. 625 BC by the Deuteronomist (called D) working with traditional materials
Book of Judges ca. 625 BC by the Deuteronomist (called D) working with traditional materials
Book of Samuel ca. 625 BC by the Deuteronomist (called D) working with traditional materials
Book of Kings ca. 625 BC by the Deuteronomist (called D) working with traditional materials
Book of Isaiah Three main authors and an extensive editing process:

Isaiah 1-39 "Historical Isaiah" with multiple layers of editing, 8th cent. BC
Isaiah 40-55 Exilic(Deutero-Isaiah), 6th century BC
Isaiah 56-66 post-exilic(Trito-Isaiah), 6th-5th century BC

Book of Jeremiah late 6th century BC or later
Book of Ezekiel 6th century BC or later
Book of Hosea 8th century BC or later
Book of Joel unknown
Book of Amos After the 6th century BC
Book of Obadiah 6th century BC or later
Book of Jonah 6th century BC or later
Book of Micah mid 6th century BC or later
Book of Nahum 8th century BC or later
Book of Habakkuk 6th century BC or later
Book of Zephaniah 7th century BC or later
Book of Haggai 5th century BC or later
Book of Zechariah 5th century BC or later
Book of Malachi Early 5th century BC or later

Ketuvim (Hagiographia)

Scholarship on the dating of the Book of Daniel largely falls into two camps: one dates the book in its entirety to a single author during the desecration of the Jerusalem Temple (167–164 BC) under the Syrian-Greek ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes (ruled 175–164 BC); the other sees it as a collection of stories dating from different times throughout the Hellenistic period (with some of the material possibly going back to very late Persian period), with the visions in chapters 7–12 having been added during the desecration of Antiochus. For example, Hartman and Di Lella, 1978 suggest multiple authorship, with some material dating to the 3rd century, culminating with a 2nd-century editor and redactor.

The reasons for these dates include a use of Greek and Persian words in the Hebrew of the text unlikely to happen in the 6th century, that the style of the Hebrew and Aramaic was more like that of a later date, that the use of the word "Chaldean" occurs in a fashion unknown to the 6th century, and that repeated historical gaffes betray an ignorance of the facts of the 6th century that a high official in Babylon would not have, while the 2nd-century history was found to be far more accurate (see Ferrell Till's analysis).

John Collins, on the other hand, finds it impossible for the "court tales" portion of Daniel to have been written in 2nd century BC because of textual analysis. In his 1992 Anchor Bible Dictionary entry for the Book of Daniel, he states, "it is clear that the court-tales in chapters 1–6 were 'not written in Maccabean times'. It is not even possible to isolate a single verse which betrays an editorial insertion from that period."

Book
of Ketuvim
Scholarly dating
Psalms The bulk of the Psalms appear to have been written for use in the Temple, which existed from around 950-586 BC and, after rebuilding, from the 5th century BC until AD 70.
Book of Proverbs Some old material from the ancient sages, some later material from the 6th century BC or later, some material borrowed from the ancient Egyptian text called the Instructions of Amenemopet
Book of Job 5th century BC
Song of Songs or Song of Solomon scholarly estimates vary between 950 BC to 200 BC
Book of Ruth 6th century BC or later
Lamentations 6th century BC or later
Ecclesiastes 4th century BC or later
Book of Esther 4th century BC or later
Book of Daniel mid 2nd century BC
Book of Ezra-Book of Nehemiah 4th century BC or slightly later
Chronicles 4th century BC or slightly later

Deuterocanonical books

Deuterocanonical books are books considered by the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy to be canonical parts of the Christian Old Testament but are not present in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and Protestant Bible.

Book
of Deuterocanon
Scholarly dating
Tobit 2nd century BC
Judith
1 Maccabees ca. 100 BC
2 Maccabees ca. 124 BC
3 Maccabees 1st century BC or 1st century AD
4 Maccabees 1st century BC or 1st century AD
Wisdom during the Jewish Hellenistic period
Sirach 2nd century BC
Letter of Jeremiah unknown
Additions to Daniel 2nd century BC
Baruch during or shortly after the period of the Maccabees

Oldest manuscripts

The oldest known preserved fragment of a Torah text resembles a good luck charm inscribed with a text close to, although not identical with, the Priestly Blessing found in Numbers 6:24-27, dated to approximately 600 BC [3] The oldest complete or nearly complete texts are found in the Dead Sea Scrolls from the middle of the 3rd century BC to the 1st century AD. The collections contain all the books of the Tanakh except for the Book of Esther, although not all are complete.

According to tradition the Torah was translated into Greek (the Septuagint, or LXX, from the traditional number of translators) in the 3rd century BC - but this is debated and was most probably written the the 3rd century AD. [4] The oldest Greek manuscripts include 2nd century BC fragments of Leviticus and Deuteronomy[5] and 1st century BC fragments of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and the Minor Prophets.[6] Relatively complete manuscripts of the Septuagint include the Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1209 and the Codex Sinaiticus (now suspected to be a fake) of the 4th century and the Codex Alexandrinus of the 5th century—these are the oldest surviving nearly-complete manuscripts of the Old Testament in any language.

See Also Septuagint

The Hebrew or Masoretic text of the Torah is held by tradition to have been assembled in the 4th century AD, but the oldest extant complete or near-complete manuscripts are the Aleppo Codex, ca. 920 AD, and the Westminster Leningrad Codex, dated to 1008 AD.

Additional manuscripts include the Samaritan Torah and the Peshitta, the latter a translation of the Christian Bible into Syriac, the earliest known copy of which dates to the 2nd century AD.

The New Testament

The most popular historical understanding of how the Synoptic gospels developed amoung textual critics today is known as the two-source hypothesis. This theory holds that Mark is the oldest gospel. Matthew and Luke are believed to come later, and draw on Mark and also on a source that is now believed to be lost, called the Q document, or just "Q". This concept is mostly pushed by those who favor the critical text because Mark has been corrupted in in chapter 16 in texts like Sinaiticus, and thus the Markan priority concept seems to solidify the false claims that the reading is spurious.

Traditional views assume that the bulk of New Testament texts date to the period between AD 45 and AD 96, with the Pauline epistles among the earliest texts. Other views may pre- or post-date the individual books by several decades. The earliest preserved fragment for each text is included as well.

Book Scholarly Opinions Earliest preserved fragment
Gospel of Matthew AD 70-100 𝔓104 (150 – 200 AD)
Gospel of Mark AD 63-85 𝔓88 (AD 350)
Gospel of Luke AD 70-100 𝔓4, 𝔓75 (AD 175 – 250)
Gospel of John AD 90-110 𝔓52 (AD 125 – 160)
Acts AD 80-100 𝔓29, 𝔓45, 𝔓48, 𝔓53, 𝔓91 (AD 250)
Romans AD 57–58 𝔓46 (late 2nd century or 3rd century AD)
Corinthians AD 57 𝔓46 (late 2nd century or 3rd century AD)
Galatians AD 45-55 𝔓46 (late 2nd century or 3rd century AD)
Ephesians AD 65 𝔓46 (late 2nd century or 3rd century AD)
Philippians AD 57–62 𝔓46 (late 2nd century or 3rd century AD)
Colossians AD 60+ 𝔓46 (late 2nd century or 3rd century AD)
1 Thessalonians AD 50 𝔓46 (late 2nd century or 3rd century AD)
2 Thessalonians AD 50 𝔓92 (AD 300)
Timothy AD 60-100 Codex Sinaiticus (AD 350)
Titus AD 60-100 𝔓32 (AD 200)
Philemon AD 56 𝔓87 (3rd century AD)
Hebrews AD 80-90 𝔓46 (late 2nd century or 3rd century AD)
James AD 50-200 𝔓20, 𝔓23 (early 3rd century AD)
First Peter AD 60-96 𝔓72 (3rd / 4th century AD)
Second Peter AD 60-130 𝔓72 (3rd / 4th century AD)
Epistles of John AD 90-100 𝔓9, Uncial 0232, Codex Sinaiticus (3rd / 4th century AD)
Jude AD 66-90 𝔓72 (3rd / 4th century AD)
Revelation AD 68-100 𝔓98 (150 – 200 AD)

The Gnostic Scriptures

The Nag Hammadi library, a collection of books found in 1945, some refer to as Gnostic Scriptures (which include the Gospel of Thomas), were not accepted as canonical by the orthodox early Christian communities. They were written in Coptic and are generally dated to the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, though the Gospel of Thomas has ignited some debate. The majority of New Testament scholars and historians place composition no earlier than the 2nd century[7] whereas a minority argue dates as early as the 60's.

See also

Notes

  • 1. Such claims are detailed in Who Were the Early Israelites? by William G. Dever (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 2003). Another such book is The Bible Unearthed by Neil A. Silberman and Israel Finkelstein (Simon and Schuster, New York, 2001).
  • 2. "'David' Found at Dan," Biblical Archaeology Review, March-April 1994
  • 3. James H. Charlesworth, Archaeology, Jesus and Christian Faith. p.14
  • 4. Josephus, Flavius, Antiquities of the Jews, 12.2.11-15; Whiston, William; The Complete Works of Josephus; Hendrickson Publishers, (Nashville, Tennessee, 1987); ISBN 0-913573-86-8
  • 5. Rahlfs nos. 801, 819, and 957
  • 6. Rahlfs nos. 802, 803, 805, 848, 942, and 943
  • 7. Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities p. xii

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