Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Response to a Christian On the History of the Bible

The History of the Bible: Responding to a Christian’s Criticisms

In the article "The History of the Bible and the Quran", we discussed the respective histories of these two holy texts.  Based on the evidence presented,  it was concluded that the Bible has evolved over the course of hundreds of years.  This article was also posted on the IslamiCity Discussion Forum, where one of the Christian members offered a response to the assertions we raised.  In this follow-up article, we will respond to the arguments raised by this individual.[1]

           First, the Christian individual attempted to dismiss all historical evidence which clearly refutes his position:

“Another problem with the Muslims faith as per this blog is that they feel that the church counsel of the Roman Catholic (1st mistake ) or historians like Josephus and others (2nd mistake) validate the integrity or canonicity of the inspired word of God, they do not.  By the direction of God’s Holy Spirit the traditional Jews, Jesus and the first century Judo-Christians [sic] had already accepted them.”

We can see that this presumably well-intentioned person did nothing to refute the historical evidence of the Bible’s evolving canon.  Instead, he resorted to a religious argument by completely side-stepping the evidence.  Furthermore, his religious argument is completely refuted by the evidence that he has sought to quickly dismiss.[2]

            In addition, if the first century Judeo-Christians accepted the Hebrew canon as it is now, why does the New Testament refer to non-canonical books as “scripture”?  Here are some examples:

    1.  The Book of Jude (a canonical book) makes reference to the book of Enoch (an apocryphal book).  Jude 1:14-15 states:



      Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about them: “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all of them of all the ungodly acts they have committed in their ungodliness, and of all the defiant words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”



Scholars have recognized that this passage is taken from 1 Enoch 1:9.[3]    

    2.  John 7:38 quotes an unknown source and refers to it as “scripture”:


       Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 

    3.  Luke 11:49 quotes God from an unknown source: 

Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’

    4.  James 4:5 quotes an unknown source and refers to it as “scripture”:



Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us?

Where are these verses from?  Why are they referred to as “scripture”?  If the canon had been accepted hundreds of years before, why do the Christian authors of the above books quote non-canonical books?  

            Next, the Christian asked:

“Also, did the church counsel preserve the ‘Dead Sea Scrolls?  No. The complete canon of the Hebrew scriptures preceded the Christian church and the church was established on them. (How the church used them is a different story).”

The Dead Sea Scrolls contain some of the apocryphal books which eventually were accepted into the Catholic canon as well as other canons, or were mentioned in the New Testament.  Among the Dead Sea Scrolls were fragments of the books of Tobit, Jubilees and Enoch, all of which are not in the Jewish canon, but are in the different canons of Christianity.[4]  And as we noted above, the book of Enoch was quoted by the author of Jude.  

On the other hand, the Dead Sea Scrolls do not have any fragments or copies of the Book of Esther, which is a canonical book.[5]  As we stated in the original article, scholars note that the Dead Sea Scrolls show telltale evidence of an evolving canon.  To quote Vermes once again:

“…at Qumran the concept ‘Bible’ was still hazy, and the ‘canon’ open-ended, which would account for the remarkable freedom in the treatment of the text of Scripture by a community whose life was nevertheless wholly centered on the Bible.[6]

Based on this evidence, the claim that “the complete canon of the Hebrew scriptures preceded the Christian church” is simply not true.  There may have been agreement on most of the books, but within some of these books were non-canonical additions.  Examples are the non-canonical psalms which were interspersed with the canonical ones.

            In addition, the Babylonian Talmud states that some “canonical” books were questioned and regarded with suspicion by some Jewish sages, even though they were eventually accepted:

“Rab Judah son of R. Samuel b. Shilath said in Rab's name: The Sages wished to hide the Book of Ecclesiastes, because its words are self-contradictory; yet why did they not hide it? Because its beginning is religious teaching and its end is religious teaching. […]


The Book of Proverbs too they desired to hide, because its statements are self-contradictory. Yet why did they not hide it? They said, did we not examine the Book of Ecclesiastes and find a reconciliation? So here too let us make search.”[7]

The Talmud also states that many of the “canonical” books which were named after Biblical prophets like Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel were not actually written by these prophets but by other people:

“Jeremiah wrote the book which bears his name, the Book of Kings, and Lamentations. Hezekiah and his colleagues wrote (Mnemonic YMSHK) Isaiah, Proverbs, the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes. The Men of the Great Assembly wrote (Mnemonic KNDG) Ezekiel, the Twelve Minor Prophets, Daniel and the Scroll of Esther.”[8]

This is further evidence of a canon that was constantly being questioned and evaluated.  We even have testimony from the main source of Jewish oral traditions (the Talmud) stating that many of the books named after famous prophets were not actually written by them!

            Next, the Christian claims:

“The eight Jewish writers of the remaining books of the complete Holy Scriptures always referred to and quoted from those Hebrew Scriptures, never from the apocryphal books added to the Greek Septuagint. In short, the deciding of what was the canon or authoritative catalogue of the genuine inspired Hebrew Scriptures was not left to the Christian church as your blog suggests. The Great Synagogue of Jerusalem fixed this canon in the days of Jewish Governor Nehemiah in the fifth century B.C. or shortly afterward. Read it for yourselves here at Nehemiah 10:1-28.”

This is another inaccurate statement.  According to Nehemiah 8, the so-called “fixed canon” only had the “Book of the Law of Moses”.[9]  No mention is made of the other books.  According to 2 Kings 22:8, the “Book of the Law” was discovered by Hilkiah the high priest during the reign of Josiah.  Again, no mention was made of the other books.    

            The Christian critic then stated:

“The preservation of the Holy Bible is to be credited to no religious organization of the church of Rome. It was accepted by Christ Jesus and the early, early Christian congregation. Luke 24:44 He then said to them: “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was yet with you that all the things written about me in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets and Psalms must be fulfilled.””

This statement overlooks some other important facts.  First, we already mentioned above that the New Testament authors did refer to non-canonical books and called them “scripture”.  In some cases, Jesus himself quoted from non-canonical sources (John 7:38 and Luke 11:49).  

            Second, according to Luke 11:50-51, Jesus also stated:

Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary.[10]

According to the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary, the phrase “the blood of Zechariah” refers to the murder of Zechariah in 2 Chronicles 24, which is the last book of the Jewish canon.[11]  But when we read 2 Chronicles 24:20-21, we find that the Zechariah who was stoned in the temple was Zechariah son of Jehoiada, not “Zechariah son of Berekiah”:

Then the Spirit of God came on Zechariah son of Jehoiada the priest. He stood before the people and said, “This is what God says: ‘Why do you disobey the Lord’s commands? You will not prosper. Because you have forsaken the Lord, he has forsaken you.’”

But they plotted against him, and by order of the king they stoned him to death in the courtyard of the Lord’s temple.

Who was Jesus really referring to?  Since it was not “Zechariah son of Jehoiada”, then Jesus could not have been referring to 2 Chronicles.  Was he referring to some other book?  Or did the author of the Gospel of Matthew confuse Zechariah son of Jehoiada with someone else?  Perhaps the author of the Gospel of Luke realized the error, and for that reason, left out the phrase “son of Berekiah” from his gospel.  In any case, the fact remains that the New Testament misquoted the Hebrew canon.    

            The Christian next stated:

“As far as evidence of the Bible’s corruption, your blog presented none. The books that do not appear in the canon obviously were not produced under inspiration so who said they were ever lost? They were just historical writings available back in the period when the prophet Jeremiah and Ezra wrote the accounts that we have in the Bible.  One Bible encyclopedia suggests that the contents of those books may have been “the familiar oral repertoire of professional singers in ancient Israel who preserved Israel’s epic and lyric traditions.” Unfortunately you assume just because certain books were mentioned in the Bible as usable sources that they too were inspired. They were not, they were historical writings/sources that people back then were very much aware of. So to compare the preservation of the Bible/biblia which consists of 66 little books, written over a time period of 1,600 years and starching back nearly 6,000 years to the Koran written less than 1,400 years ago and written over a time period of 23 years and about one fourth as large as the Bible, there is no comparison, at ALL. The Dead Sea Scroll and other sources can attest to that.”

We have to wonder if this individual even read the article in full, since in it, we provided ample evidence of the corruption of the Biblical text.  We provided evidence of multiple authors in the Pentateuch (such as the linguistic similarities between Genesis and Isaiah despite the fact that they were written hundreds of years apart) as well as the historical anachronisms present in the Bible (such as referring to the ruler of Egypt in the times of Abraham and Joseph as “Pharaoh”).  We also provided examples from the New Testament of passages that have been altered by scribes.

            With regard to the books mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (such as the “Book of the Wars of the Lord” and others), there is clear evidence that at least some of these books were considered to be “scripture”.  For example, Joshua quoted from the Book of Jashar:

On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel: “Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.”  So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar.  The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel![12]

Furthermore, since many of the “canonical” books are also “historical writings” (such as 1 & 2 Chronicles), how can our Christian friend simply dismiss the books mentioned in the Bible as merely being “historical writings” that were not “produced under inspiration”?  Also, why would supposedly “inspired” books (the word of God) need to reference non-canonical books in the first place?    
           
            Moving on, the Christian then attempted to defend the integrity of the New Testament canon:


“Also, before the end of the second century, there is universal acceptance of the four Gospels, Acts, and 12 of the apostle Paul’s letters.  Only a few of the smaller writings were doubted in certain areas because such writings were limited in their initial circulation and took longer to become accepted as canonical. It was not until critics like Marcion came along in the middle of the second century C.E. that an issue arose as to which books Christians should accept.”

It seems that the irony of this statement does not seem to bother our critic.  If he thinks that the “universal acceptance” of the Gospels, Acts and Paul’s letters by the end of the second century lends any credence to the reliability of the Christian canon, he is sadly mistaken.  Why did it take so long for the canon to be “universally accepted”?    

            It may also help to point out that the earliest evidence of an official list of canonical books is found in the “Muratorian Fragment”, dated to around 170-200 CE.[13]  The fragment declares the following as canonical books[14]:



1.  The Four Gospels

2.  Acts

3.  Paul’s Epistles (but not Hebrews)

4.  Jude

5.  Two of John’s Epistles (not three)

6.  John’s Apocalypse

7.  Peter’s Apocalypse (though it states that some people would not read this book in the church).

From this list, we can see that the Muratorian Fragment excluded several canonical books.  These are one (or both) of Peter’s letters, James, one of John’s epistles and Hebrews.  At the same time, it also included some non-canonical books, such as Peter’s Apocalypse.  

            Meanwhile, Eusebius noted that the disputed books were James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 John and 3 John.[15]  Hence, even into the third and fourth centuries, there were disputes about what the canon should include!  It was not until the late 4th century, more than 300 years after Jesus, that the New Testament canon as we know it today finally took shape.  In the “39th Festal Letter”, dated to the year 367 CE, Athanasius listed the 27 books of the New Testament, making it the earliest reference to the complete New Testament canon.[16]  Why did it take so long?    


            Finally, the Christian finished his critique of our article by stating:



“Therefore, your thesis on the Tanakh and New Testament are totally inaccurate and needs to be recanted or retracted. And your archives and posts from what I’ve seen are seriously flowed with conjectural statements and allegations.”

Based on the evidence presented in this response, it seems pretty obvious that if anyone should be recanting or retracting anything, it should be our esteemed Christian detractor.  As we have seen, most of his claims are without any merit and are riddled with inaccuracies.  

And Allah knows best! 



[2] Hence, it is no surprise that the historical evidence has to be cast away.  The Christian cannot support his point of view until he disregards the evidence that contradicts his point of view.

[4] See Geza Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (New York: The Penguin Press, 1997), pp. 601-619 for a “Scroll Catalogue”.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., pp. 16-17.

[9] Nehemiah 8:1.

[10] In the version of Matthew 23:35, Jesus says: “And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.

[12] Joshua 10:12-14.

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