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The Bible refers to the primary sacred scriptures of either the Jewish or Christian religions. These scriptures are compilations of what were originally separate documents (called "books"); they were written over a long period, and later compiled to form first the Jewish Bible (Tanach) and with alter addition, the Christian Bible.

The Jewish Bible (called the Tanach, or the Old Testament) consists of the five books of Moses (the Torah), several books written by the Hebrew prophets, and a few books that do not fit in either of the previosu two categories; these are known as either the hagiographa or simply as "the writings". The Christian Bible contains the entirety of the Tanach, along with a set of later writings known as the New Testament. Many versions of Christian Bibles have texts of the Old Testament that differ in places from the Jewish versions; however, these variations are not later Christian additions. These textual variations existed before Christianity developed as a separate religion.

Within Christianity, there is not complete agreement on what the Christian Bible contains, i.e. on the Biblical canon. However, this only extends to a few books -- there is no dispute as to the majority of books of the Bible.

Contents: The Bible tells how the one God relates to the world and his creations, mankind and also details mankind's relationship and obligations to God. It also includes a great deal of the history of the Jews.

I. Definition of Biblical Terms

The word "Bible" simply means books (from the Greek word biblios). A book of the Bible is an established group of writings. For example, the book of Psalms consists of 150 songs (151 in the Septuagint and Deuterocanonica), while the book of Jude is a half-page letter. Canon refers to the accepted books of the Bible differentiated from other sacred writings not accepted as part of the canon, which are not accepted as part of the Bible. Catholics and Orthodox call writings that they do not accept Apocrypha; Protestants call those writings they do not accept but that Catholics and Orthodox do Apocrypha or Deuterocanonica?, and call other writings that neither accepts Psuedipigrapha?. The ''Protestant Bible' consists of 66 books. The Roman Catholic version, including the Deuterocanonica, counts altogether 76 books, while the Eastern Orthodox version includes 77 or 78. (4 Maccabees is sometimes included in an appendix, sometimes not.)

II. Description Of The Bible

The Hebrew Bible (Tanach) is divided into 3 sections, the Law (Torah), the Prophets, the Writings. The Hebrew Bible is called the Old Testament in the Christian Bible. The Christian Bible includes the Old Testament plus the New Testament, which chronicles the doings of Jesus and the reaction to them. The New Testament is divided into the four Gospels, History (Acts of the Apostles), the Letters to Christian churches by Paul and other apostles, and the Book of Revelation.

See Books of the Bible

III. Bible History

See Biblical canon

TODO: (modern reconstruction of composition of Hebrew Bible; of Christian Bible; don't try to explicate development of biblical criticism that underlies this here but cross-reference to article(s) to be written; try fairly to represent main strands of liberal vs conservative thought, and the influence of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment; outline history of transmission and translation after close of canons)

IV. Biblical Translations


The oldest books of the Bible are the Pentateuch, also known as the Torah. They are written in Hebrew and are also titled the 'Books of Moses'. Traditionally Judaism and Christianity held that these books were actually written by the prophet Moses; but many today believe that the current form of the Torah came about by a redactor bringing together several earlier, distinct sources. This idea is called the documentary hypothesis, see the entry on the JEDP theory).

The original text of the Hebrew Bible was Hebrew, with some portions in Aramaic. From the 800s to the 1400s rabbinic Jewish scholars known as the Massoretes compared the text of all known Biblical manuscripts, in an effort to create a unified and standardized text; a series of highly similar texts eventually emerged, and any of these texts are known as Masoretic Texts (MT). The Masoretes also added vowel points (called nikud) to the text, since the original text only contained consonants. This sometimes required the selection of an interpretation, since words can differ only in their vowels, and thus the text can vary depending upon the choice of vowels to be inserted. In antiquity there were other variant readings which were popular, some of which have survived in the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient fragments, as well as being attested in ancient translations to other languages.

By the beginning of the common era, most Jews no longer spoke Hebrew, but spoke Greek or Aramaic instead. Thus they made translations or paraphrases into these languages. The most important of the translations into the Greek was the Septuagint, though other translations were made as well. The Septuagint contains several additional passages, and whole additional books, compared to what was eventually compiled as the masoretic texts. In some cases these additions were originally composed in Greek, while in other cases they are translations of Hebrew books or variants that the Masoretes did not accept. Recent discoveries have shown that more of the Septuagint additions have a Hebrew origin than was once thought.

The Jews also produced non-literal translations known as targums, primarily in Aramaic. Targums were not literal translations but paraphrases. They frequently expanded on the text with additional details taken from Jewish oral tradition.

Early Christians produced translations of the Hebrew Bible into several languages; their biblical text was the Septuagint. Translations were made into Syriac, Coptic and Latin, among other languages. The Latin translations were historically the most important to the Church in the West, while in the Greek-speaking East, they continued to use the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament and had no need to translate the New Testament.

The earliest Latin translation was the Old Latin text, or Vetus Latina. Exactly who translated it is unknown, but internal evidence suggests it is the product of several authors over a period of time. It was based on the Septuagint, and thus included the Septuagint additions.

As a translation the Old Latin was far from ideal, and so Jerome was commissioned to produce the Vulgate translation as a replacement. Jerome based his translation on the Hebrew rather than the Septuagint. He was of the opinion that the Septuagint additions were of doubtful value, but he included them due to the demands of the church. He did not, however, translate the additional books anew; the Vulgate for these books is identical to the Old Latin. The Vulgate became the official translation of the Roman Catholic church.

New Testament

The New Testament was originally composed in Greek (though some argue that the Gospel of Matthew may have been originally composed in Aramaic). There are a number of different textual traditions of the New Testament. The two main traditions are sometimes called the 'Western' and the 'Alexandrian'. There are also several ancient translations into other languages, most important of which are the Syriac (including the Peshitta and the Diatessaron) and the Latin (both the Vetus Latina and the Vulgate).

The majority textual tradition is called the '[Textus Receptus]?' (Latin for 'received text'). This text was the main one known for centuries, until the discovery of manuscripts such as the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus.

Slavonic Translation

In 860, a pair of monks named Cyril and Methodius were commissioned by Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, to take the Gospel to Moravia. They translated the Bible and many liturgical service books into Slavonic, which was spoken in various dialects throughout much of Eastern Europe. Their translation was later used to evangelize Bulgaria and Russia in the tenth century. As there was no written form of Slavonic prior to their translation, they created what became known as the Cyrillic alphabet, which is still used by Russian and other East European languages.

English Christian Translations

The earliest English translations was by [John Wycliff]? in 1380. This was not an authorized publication and was supressed. [William Tyndale]? produced the next unauthorized version of the New Testament in 1526? based on Erasmus?' new Latin translation from the Greek. The Old Testament translation was finished by [Myles Coverdale]? in 1535 based on Latin and German sources. This was printed outside of England but also supressed. Coverdale? was latter allowed to print the Great Bible, the first authorized version. The [Geneva Bible]? was latter introduced based on Coverdale?'s work and was the version Shakespeare quoted.

The Catholic church printed the English language [Rheims bible]? for its followers in 1609. King James VI and I authorized a new less anti-Catholic version which was printed in 1611. This was the King James Version that became the standard for 250 years. In 1885 the Revised Version was printed, followed in 1901 by the American Standard Version. 1971 saw the publication of the New American Standard Version and 1973 the New International Version (NIV). Dozens of other versions now exist in English, many with translations rendered into contemporary english for modern readers, for example, "[The Way]?", "[The Good News Bible]?".

Much like early English Bibles which were based on Greek texts or Latin translations, modern English translations of the Bible are based on the best-available original texts of the time. The translators put much scholarly effort into cross-checking the various sources such as the Pentateuch, Septuagint, and [Masoretic text]?. Relatively recent discoveries such as the [Dead Sea Scrolls]? provide additional reference information. Versions of modern English translations such as the New International Version contain extensive text notes indicating where differences occur in original sources.

Earlier English translations, such as the King James Version, were based on the Massoretic Text and Textus Receptus, while modern versions include many readings taken from recently discovered manuscripts. There is some controversy over which texts should be used as a basis for translation, as some of the alternate sources do not include verses which are found in the [Textus Receptus]?. Some say the alternate sources were poorly representative of the texts used in their time, whereas others claim the [Textus Receptus]? include passages that were added to the alternate texts improperly. These disputed passages are not the basis for disputed issues of doctrine, but tend to be additional stories or snippets of phrases.

English Jewish Translations

The Jewish Publication Society has published two Jewish translation of the Tanach. The first was completed in 1917, and while based on the modern scholarship of their day, its literay form was consciously based on that of the King James version. By the 1950s this translation was felt to be outdated, and a new effort was created that involved cooperation between scholars of all the modern Jewish denominations. Their translation of the Torah was completed in 1962; it is sometimes called the New Jewish Version (NJV).

While the scholarship is the same for both Christians and Jews, there are distinctive features of Jewish translations. These include a somewhat greater preference for the Massoretic Text, a tendency to prefer transliterated instead of anglicised names, and translations that reflect differing interpretations of certain passages. For example, Jewish translations translate betulah in Isaiah 7:14 as young woman, while many Christian translations use virgin.

German Translations

The most important and influential of translations of the Bible into German is the translation of Luther. The influence that Luther's translation had on the development of the German language is often compared to influence the KJV had on English.

V. Biblical Interpretation

(Jewish, Christian, Islamic opinion of the text. Eastern. Western, influence of philosophy, fundamentalism, patristic interpretation, medieval interpretation, Reformation, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, inerrancy, biblical theology, inspiration, rationalism, translations , hermeneutics )

A wealth of additional stories and legends amplifying the accounts in the Tanach (Hebrew Bible) can be found in the Jewish genre of rabbinical exegesis known as Midrash.

External Links:

This page is in dire need of refactoring!

Yes indeed!

See also Ecumenical council


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Last edited December 17, 2001 1:12 pm by RK (diff)