[CF Devotionals] 2009-07-26 - OT Background

Study on the Bible, Part 2

  1. The History of the Bible (cont'd)
    1. The Old Testament
      1. Background

        “Early period. We are scantily informed on the transmission of the preexilic parts of the Old Testament (OT). The direction in Deuteronomy 31:9ff., 26, that “the book of the law” was to be put by the side of the ark of the covenant and read publicly every seventh year at the Feast of Tabernacles, indicates one form of preservation and transmission; the discovery of “the book of the law in the house of the Lord” in 621 b.c. (2 Kings 22:8) is relevant here. The oracles of at least some of the prophets were preserved by their disciples. Isaiah’s earlier oracles, for example, were committed to writing, and entrusted to his disciples for safekeeping until they should be fulfilled and the prophet vindicated (Isa 8:16). We are given exceptionally full details of the first two editions of the oracles of Jeremiah: when in 605 B.C. Baruch wrote down at the prophet’s dictation the oracles delivered during the first twenty-two years of his ministry, and read them aloud next year at a public gathering, King Jehoiakim cut up the scroll and burned it Jer 36:1-26). But a second and enlarged edition, similarly written by Baruch at Jeremiah’s dictation, quickly followed Jer 36:27-32). Even that was not the last edition of the oracles of Jeremiah, for he continued to prophesy for some seventeen years more, and the edition reproduced in our common versions of the OT includes many of his later oracles, with further biographical data supplied by Baruch. This is not the only edition, including his later oracles that has come down to our day; we also have a rather shorter one in a Hebrew MS. from Qumran Cave 4 and in the LXX.

        It is something of a miracle that so much earlier material survived the Babylonian exile. Those psalms, for example, that had figured in pre-exilic worship remained unsung for two generations, while the temple lay in ruins. Yet, even if the exiles could not “sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land” (Ps 137:4), they did not forget the familiar words, and in due course they were reincorporated into the postexilic psalter, and sung in the second temple.

        Critical moments in the transmission of the sacred writings in the postexilic period are Ezra’s mission to Jerusalem with the law of his God in his hand (Ezra 7:14), and the public reading of “the book of the law of Moses” in Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles in (apparently) the first year of Nehemiah’s governorship (Neh 8:1-18). References to “the former prophets” (Zech 1:4 et al.) may imply a written body of pre-exilic prophetic oracles, soon after the return from exile.

        A later threat to the transmission of the sacred writings came with the persecution under Antiochus IV (c. 167 B.C.), when his officials tore up and burned “the books of the law” that they found, and executed those Jews who were caught with such books in their possession (1 Macc 1:56f.). Fortunately, the persecution lasted only three years, and when it was over, copies of the Scriptures could be procured from Jewish communities outside Judea.

        “Evidence from Qumran . The earliest biblical MSS now available to us are those from the Qumran caves, which came to light in 1947 and the following years. They belong for the most part to the period between the end of the persecution under Antiochus IV and circa A.D. 70.

        “Masoretic Text. The reason for biblical uniformity was the establishment of one standard form of Hebrew text by Rabbi Aqiba and his colleagues, c. A.D. 100. Henceforth (apart from the Samaritan Pentateuch) no other text of the Hebrew Bible is attested. This is the text quoted in the Mishnah, the Talmud, and other rabbinical compilations; …

        Samples of the work of the earliest Masoretes were preserved in the genizah or store-room of the ancient “Ezra Synagogue” in Fustat (Old Cairo), the contents of which came to light late in the nineteenth century. There were schools of Masoretes at work in both Babylonia and Palestine; the school whose method was ultimately adopted was that of Tiberias in Palestine. 1

  1. Bruce, F.F., Transmission and Translation of the Bible, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Zondervan Interactive Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1990, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Electronic text hypertexted and prepared by OakTree Software, Inc.

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