Christian Texts - Part 1
IntroductionVarious Biblical and non-canonical Christian texts are examined below. This section reflects a general exploration of my (previous?) Christian faith. I have endeavoured to examine some of the more debated issues about Christianity and theological and canonical issues and problems, and to look at them from both sides, for the benefit of Christians and non-Christians alike. The purpose of all the questions raised in the text of this section is really to probe the reader into asking questions about what one actually believes in and considering the meaning of what one believes, and to explore Christianity from all possible angles. It is not necessarily intended to direct the reader to certain specific beliefs, to 'attack' Christianity, but to adopt an open mind and consider various alternative interpretations. The reader does not necessarily have to accept any or all of these premises. I have adopted the philosophy that by being honest about the history of one's religion and also by examining its origins and inconsistencies, one can try to explore what constitutes spiritual truth and what a faith is/was really about; and be certain about those areas one can be certain about, and keep an open mind (relatively speaking) about those areas that one cannot. I do not view inconsistencies within the theology or religious texts of a Religion or known historical wrongdoings as a reason to necessarily dismiss the faith behind a religion. One's approach does not have to be all or nothing.
JudaismJudaism is described on Wikipedia at the link below. It was formed in roughly 2000 BC by the covenant between Abraham and God. It is one of three Abrahamic religions that regard Abraham as one of their prophets, the other two being Christianity and Islam. Discussion on the New Testament and Old Testament and how they related can be found in the section on Christianity below.
http://whatjewsbelieve.org There are various texts in Judaism including the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible or Old Testament), Talmud and Mishna, Haggada, Kabbalah, Midrash and other works from the Middle Ages and also modern works. These texts can be read on line at the link below.
The Hebrew Kabbalah is defined below. It is a series of books claimed to represent Jewish mysticism and esoteric knowledge about God not mentioned in the Tanakh or Old Testament. It is labelled dualistic by many critics because of its split between a good power and an evil power.
The earliest documents which are generally acknowledged as being Kabbalistic come from the 1st Century AD, but it is suspected that the Biblical phenomenon of prophecy may have been grounded in a much older oral tradition which was a precursor to the earliest recognisable forms of Kabbalah. Some believe the tradition goes back as far as Melchizedek. There are moderately plausible arguments that Pythagoras received his learning from Hebrew sources. There is a substantial literature of Jewish mysticism dating from the period 100AD - 1000AD which is not strictly Kabbalistic in the modern sense, but which was available as source material to medieval Kabbalists. On the basis of a detailed examination of texts, and a study of the development of a specialist vocabulary and a distinct body of ideas, Scholem has concluded that the origins of Kabbalah can be traced to 12th. century Provence. The origin of the word "Kabbalah" as a label for a tradition which is definitely recognisable as Kabbalah is attributed to Isaac the Blind (c. 1160-1236 C.E.), who is also credited with being the originator of the idea of sephirothic emanation. Prior to this (and after) a wide variety of terms were used for those who studied the tradition: "masters of mystery", "men of belief", "masters of knowledge", "those who know", "those who know grace", "children of faith", "children of the king's palace", "those who know wisdom", "those who reap the field", "those who have entered and left". Jews often state the Kabbalah is the secret knowledge given by God to Adam and to Moses, which was 'secretly' encoded in the Old Testament (Tanakh) - hints at mysticism - but which was explicitly recorded in Kabbalistic texts much later.
Many Christians regard the Kabbalah as a series of occult and spiritualist texts, the knowledge received in visions whilst in a 'trance'. It has been linked to Hermeticism and the Hermetic Qabalah (a Western European Hermetic 'religion' largely based on the Jewish Kabbalah), the magical/occult tradition, and in particular made up a major part of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn theology and practice. Some may argue that this is not the fault of the Kabbalah if it is adopted by occultists, however one could argue that for it to be used in this manner there must be some underlying Hermetic magical quality to it. The Kabbalah was adopted in certain Christian circles starting from the 13th Century onwards, there known as Christian Kabbalah or Cabbalah, and was as stated was later adopted by the Rosicrucians, Freemasons and Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (as the Hermetic Qabalah).
The Kabbalah is explained and defended by a Jew at the link below.
A look at Kashrut or Jewish law regarding dietary practices, and Kosher food, can be found at the links below.
Old TestamentThe Old Testament or Hebrew Bible (aka Tanakh) was written and compiled between the 12th and 2nd Century BC.
The Masoretic Text (MT) is the Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible (Tanakh). It defines not just the books of the Jewish canon, but also the precise letter-text of the biblical books in Judaism, as well as their vocalization and accentuation for both public reading and private study. The MT is also widely used as the basis for translations of the Old Testament in Protestant Bibles, and in recent decades also for Catholic Bibles. The MT was primarily copied, edited and distributed by a group of Jews known as the Masoretes between the seventh and tenth centuries CE.
The Septuagint (aka LXX) is the Koine Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, translated in stages between the 3rd and 1st centuries BC in Alexandria. The Septuagint also includes some books not found in the Hebrew Bible.
Many people believe that the first 5 books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), known as the Pentateuch, were actually written by Moses in Sinai desert around 1000 BC. The Pentateuch are sacred books to Jews, Christians and Muslims. However, it would appear according to archaelogical evidence and from early manuscripts, that the first 5 books were most likely written in 800 BC. If so, then they were probably written by intellectuals and theologians of the time. There were 4 different versions of each of the 5 books, each with slightly different interpretations. The theory goes that the four versions of each book were combined, even though they didn't fully agree, into one single version.
The Pentateuch was influenced by the King Hezekiah of Judah, who ruled a country containing different branches of monotheism. He no doubt wished to unite the people, to worship only at the temple, and to create a single Jewish religion. The victory of Jerusalem over the Assyrians was apparently due to the Jews paying off the Assyrians who were on the verge of conquering Judah. The Bible records it as a great victory. Perhaps the Biblical account contains a little 'spin'. Politics has always played a major part in religion. According to Dr Robert Beckford, King Hezekiel was murdered by another King who he met with, rather than dying of disease.
The exodus of the Jews from Egypt is not supported by historical and archaelogical facts. This is however not to say that it did not occur in some form.
Other books were added to the Tanakh (Old Testament) and perhaps written to give the Jews hope and pride in difficult times. It was really only when the book of Isaiah was written that the Old Testament became not just a 'Jewish' book but a book for all nations, and prophesied for the first time the coming of a new King of Israel, who would be a King for all nations. There was perhaps some spin here too, but that is not to say that any of these books weren't written with people inspired by God and with revelations from God.
Prior to the religion of Abraham, Jewish religion had arguably been about being dependent on external forces or deities for own's survival, whereas Judaism brought with it a sense of personal responsibility, in the sense that one was responsible for one's own destiny, guided by whether one sinned or not. Archeological evidence suggests that Judaism was not as widely practiced amongst the Jewish people as we once believed. It does not appear to have been widely taken up until around 500 B.C., pagan religions instead being practised by the majority of Jews up until this point. It is not until the exile in Babylon, many Jews converted to Babylonian paganisn. However the idea of the Jewish people being God's chosen people started to became popular, as it gave them hope, and their situation confirmed the concept of sin, that they had not embraced God's message and were being punished for their sins. Thus, rather than give up Judaism in adversity, it took hold stronger than before. It is in exile that the Jewish unifying and arguably Nationalist monotheistic religion was born and was to influence the majority of the people on the planet in one form or other.
Dea Sea Scrolls (aka Qumran Library)The Dea Sea Scrolls were discovered in 11 different caves in the area of the ruins of Qumran at the northern part of the Dea Sea (in Israel), between 1947 and 1956. The documents have been dated to between the 2nd Century BC and the 1st Century AD. The Scrolls so far discovered represent a library of 900+ documents, making up as many as 350 separate works in multiple copies, many of which are represented only by fragments. Cave 4 alone contained 520 texts in 15,000 fragments. When they were first discovered and studied, many fragments were incorrectly matched up, and modern imaging technology will no doubt help the correct matching of fragments in the present and future. The Dea Sea Scrolls were hidden by the Essenes probably in the 4th Century before they were defeated by the Romans. The Essenes were an ascetic, mystical Jewish Sect that predated Christ. Contrary to popular opinion, Judaism was not as homogeneous as some imagine, with a number of different Sects. The Dea Sea Scrolls consisted of a number of copies of books from the Old Testament and alternative versions. It is likely that the books found in the Old Testament are based on combining a number of older historical versions written by different authors. The Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) also contain a number of other non-canonical writings. Translations of parts of the DSS can be found at the Gnosis web site below.
QJesus life and teachings were communicated verbally in the 20 years or so after his death. Christianity at that time was very much an oral tradition. It was only as the Apostles began to die that gradually religious books began to appear. The first Christian text is reputed to be called 'Q' which the NT synoptic gospel writers (of the first three gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke) allegedly based their writings upon. John's Gospel was written slightly later and is considered to be 'slightly Gnostic' by some in that it contains certain Gnostic elements, although clearly not the Gnostic cosmology.
DidacheThe earliest non-canonical Christian texts which still exists today is viewed to be the Didache. The Didache was discovered first in 1056, and again in 1873. It is believed to have been written either in the 2nd or 3rd Century AD. A translation can be found at the first of the two links below.
The Codex Sinaiticus is a 4th century uncial manuscript of the Greek Bible which was written between 330 and 350 AD. It originally contained both the OT and NTs but only parts of the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) survive, along with a complete NT, the Epistle of Barnabas, and parts of The Shepherd of Hermas - the implication being that the latter two books may have been considered Biblical canon by the editors of the codex. It is the only uncial manuscript with the complete NT text.
Hoskier counted 3036 differences between the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus and Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus, but apart from these differences, they are in general agreement with one another:
- Matthew: 656
- Mark: 567
- Luke: 791
- John: 1022
The following books of the Old Testament have some verses missing:
- Genesis: 23:19 - 24:46
- Numbers: 5:26 - 7:20
- 1 Chronicles 9:27 - 19:17
- Ezra-Nehemiah (from Esdras 9, 9).
Text New Testament omitted several passages:
- Matthew: 12:47, 16:2-3
- Mark 16:8-20
- Luke 22:43-44 marked by the first corrector as doubtful, but a third corrector removed that mark.
- John 5:4, John 7:53-8:11 (Pericope adulterae), and John 21:25
- Romans doxology followed after 16:23, v. 24 omitted.
As can be read from Mark, the omission of verses 8 to 20 from chapter 16, removes all of the post-resurrection narrative, after Jesus meets the disciples in the garden outside the tomb.
The Codex Sinaiticus Project - an international collaboration between the British Library, National Library of Russia, St Catherine's Monastery and Leipsig University Library - with the goal of reuniting the entire manuscript in digital format. The current books united within the scope of the project to date are listed at the link below. Translations are being made and may not be available at the time of writing this. It is however possible to view the actual Greek scrolls.