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Thread: The Bible, in Order: but on whose orders? Some significant reorganizations of Scripture

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    Super Moderator Atheos's Avatar
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    I wonder why everyone assumes JC was a carpenter. It only ever says he was a carpenter's son. If he practiced what he preached he didn't have a job at all. He would be like the lilies of the field, not toiling nor spinning.

    If he even existed at all. He could have just been another Paul Bunyan for all we can tell.

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    Veteran Member Sarpedon's Avatar
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    Because, traditionally, trades were inherited.

    You are correct in saying that the phrasing implies he wasn't a carpenter himself. Though it would be extremely likely he would have helped his father growing up and learned the skills regardless of whether he made his living from the trade himself.

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    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
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    Stage 3: The New Testament

    The Hebrew Scriptures underwent a series of further revisions as history rolled on, most significantly at the hands of Christians, whose view of them came to be so dominant as to replace Hebrew perspectives on the global stage.

    Christianity began as a Jewish sect, and the Hebrew Scriptures remained "the Scriptures" for its first few generations. There are a number of reasons why this might be so, ranging from the ethnic background of its membership in the first generation to the importance of antiquity in establishing a religion as legitimate. From a classical perspective, "new" was not generally considered "better", and if the early Christians wanted to evade persecution under new Roman Empire, it was critically important that they demonstrate some connection that would make them the legitimate inheritors of Jewish tradition, not a new cult or offshoot that would run up against state laws against unsponsored voluntary associations. Judaism was on tense footing with their Greek and later Roman rulers due to their exclusive monotheism, but they at least had the antiquity of their rituals to fall back on, and this resulted in tenuous (if not eternal) acceptance. The Hebrew Scriptures themselves were Exhibit A for this argument for acceptability and tolerance. The Christians were obliged on an existential level to not just respect but actually claim the Hebrew Scriptures as their own, a project which has come to be called supercessionism.

    This had two practical results:
    1. The Hebrew Scriptures had to stay
    2. But they also had to be interpreted in such a way as to make Christianity look like the natural inheritor of Jewish tradition.

    Most Christian congregations had at a copy of at least the Torah and likely some of the other Scriptures during the persecution years, but our windows onto their textual practice are few and far between. We know that a theological education in Hebrew Scriptures was integral to Christian training at least for the wealthy, because we see quotations from the LXX playing a critical role in the writings of authors from this period, such as Origen, Irenaus, and the pseudo-Clement.

    Meanwhile, the books which have come to be known as the New Testament were also entering circulation. These fell into four basic classes:

    1. Gospels
    A literary genre seemingly unique to Christianity itself, falling somewhere in between the "lives" (biographies) of antiquity and reflective theological works. They are quite diverse in form and argument, but united by the common topic of representing the life and teachings of Jesus.
    2. Acts
    Usually copied the general format of the Gospels, but usually concerned the lives of the earliest Christian missionaries and martyrs.
    3. Epistles
    Letters written by the early apostles to one another and to distant congregations to whom they had a connection, conforming more or less to the normal standard of letter-writing in that era.
    4. Apocalypse
    tr: "That which is revealed"; a literary borrowing from the Persian world, in which an author recounts a "trip" or vision of the otherworld/afterlife, from which he is allowed to return bearing a message about the end of times.

    I have listed these in the order in which they usually appear in Christian canons, despite the many variations of organization that exist. By far the most influential Christian reorganization was that of St. Jerome, which became the "Latin Vulgate" and the mainstay of Roman style Christianity up to the present. It popularized (though did not invent) the use of "Old Testament" and "New Testament" as the basic textual division, and its basic ordering of the texts has often been echoed even in subsequent and even opposed canonical creations. Some observations about the most common variations of the Christian canon:

    1. It is based on the LXX, and therefore contained several books that were present in the Greek Jewish canon, but not in Hebrew language versions. These include the books of Tobit, Judith, 1st and 2nd Maccabees, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, and Baruch. This creates a noticeable difference between modern Jewish Bibles and Catholic-influenced Christian ones.

    2. The categorical arrangement of the HS was broken, with all books placed into something approximating (ie. as well as contemporary scholarship knew enough to tell them) chronological ordering of the events they describe. So for instance, the book of Ruth, which is placed among the Ketuvim in the HS, is moved by Christians to a much earlier spot, between Judges and 1st Samuel. Rather than being seen as a parable of sorts and part of the cycle of holiday-only readings, therefore, the reader is instead given the impression that Ruth is a book of history bridging the gap between the end of the tribal era and the beginning stages of monarchic rule. This helps to characterize the entirety of the HS as having a linear trajectory of historical presentation that points, not so coincidentally, toward the start of the NT, as though the one were only picking up where the previous had left off. The Christian HS isn't a topically organized collection of Jewish stories; it's an argument about the inevitable trajectory of time and prophecy.

    3. The books are used differently liturgically. Christian worship services always include a reading from the "old testament", but this is chosen without preference to type, one is likely to hear a reading from the Ketuvim at any time of year, rather than in connection with the Jewish holidays, or with the books of the prophets being given as much if not more weight than the Tanakh. Christian readings from Deuteronomy, Leviticus, and Numbers are pointedly rare, in stark contrast to the Jewish reading cycle which includes the entirety of the Tanakh during a standard year. Christian readings were also in Latin (and later, other vernacular languages) rather than in Hebrew as in a synagogue community.

    4. Because of the re-ordering, the last line of the OT differs from that of the HS. In the HS, it is 11 Chronicles 36:23, which can be translated "Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath the LORD God of heaven given me; and he hath charged me to build him an house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? The LORD his God be with him, and let him go up." In the Old Testament, it is Malachi 4:6 "He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse." Both are Messianic verses, but the one seems to imply that Cyrus of Persia was said Messiah, whereas the Malchi verse is referring to Elijah's second coming (a prophet, and the "he" referenced in the verse. If you're reading the Christian Bible in order, this is followed directly by the genealogy which connects Jesus to Elijah's tribe at the head of Matthew, a book which features a miraculous visit from Elijah himself to endorse Jesus during an event Christians called the Transfiguration (Mt 17). Malachi is also, as a whole book, openly critical of the Hebrew priestly hierarchy centered in Jerusalem and its perceived failings. So the rhetorical effect of the re-ordering is almost certainly not accidental.

    5. The New Testament canon shrunk considerably over time, and by Jerome's era was tiny compared to either the HS or to its own earlier drafts. Two of the genres mentioned above have only two entries. Acts were once abundant, and treasured by individual communities since they usually described the founding of their congregation. The Orthodox canon was serving the empire, not tiny communities, and includes just one master work, the "Acts of the Apostles" which in practice concerns mostly the careers of St. Peter and St. Paul respectively. Even some very popular works, such as the "Acts of Paul and Thekla", did not make this cut. Also noticeable, no careers of female apostles or deacons are described in detail, despite having been quite popular during the pre-legalization years. Similarly, the Apocalypse genre is left with only one entry in most Christian canons, the Apocalypse or Revelation of John. It nearly got cut as well, but it had the prestige of having one of the twelve disciples (as was claimed) as its author, and many passages already had a well established place in the liturgy. Some Christian communities include an additional apocalyptic work, most importantly Shepherd of Hermas, which seems to have been considered canonical by most of the earliest Church Fathers. The Epistles are greatly reduced in number as well, and edited to heavily favor (again) Paul and Peter who were both strongly connected to the establishment of the Roman church and from whom the Holy See is said to derive its lineage and authority. The Gospels narrowly escaped being reduced to one abridged work, the most popular version of this was the 2nd century work called the Diatesseron, which harmonized the gospels around a mostly Lukan framework. Though extremely popular in its time and considered canon by the Syriac church for more than a century, the Diatesseron was eventually rejected by the orthodoxy in part due to the declining reputation of Tatian, it's author, who came to be labeled as a heretic by later generations. By that time, the popularity of the four-gospel canon was so enshrined in both theological circles and popular liturgy, there was no unseating them.

    6. The Protestant Canon resulted in further variations. Martin Luther rejected the works present in LXX but not the Hebrew Bible, and initiated the practice of referring to those seven books as the "Apocrypha'; they were still reprinted in many Protestant Bibles over the ensuing centuries, but usually as an appendix clearly delineated from the rest. American Bibles and translations, which have the longest global reach in the world today, seldom include them at all, even in commentary.

    So there you go! "The Bible" can seem like it is "a book" when you refer to it that way, and compared to some other religious works in history, it could be truly observed that its actual content has changed surprisingly little over the years. Of the books that made the cut, the textual differences between one version of their text and the next are seldom extreme (unless you are enough of a literalist to be deeply alramed by a missing preposition!). But which books were included, and in what order, changed considerably over time and the order in which they were presented meant that the transition of the Bible first from an oral tradition to a scriptorium, and then again to a block-printed codex, was always a dynamic and highly charged political act.

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