I. General Information About the Text
A. Old Testament
The Old Testament is written mostly in Hebrew, except for the following sections which are written in Aramaic (constituting about one percent of the Old Testament): Genesis 31:47 (two words), Jeremiah 10:11, Ezra 4:8-6:18; 7:12-26, and Daniel 2:4b-7:28.
1. The languages of the Old Testament
The Semitic family of languages do not include the oldest known
languages -- that honor goes to Sumerian, a unique language which
is part of no known language family and bears no resemblance to
any other known language; it was written with cuneiform characters.
The earliest evidence for Semitic tongues are Akkadian texts dating
back into the third millennium B.C. Semitic is distantly related
to the Hamitic family of languages, which includes Egyptian, and
so in its earliest roots, the two are combined into what is called
Hamito-semitic. At a point in prehistory, they split into what
is called proto- Semitic and proto-Hamitic. From these, arise
Egyptian in the Hamitic branch, and on the Semitic side, the northwest
Semitic languages of Ugaritic, Moabite, Aramaic and Hebrew and
the Southeast Semitic languages such as Akkadian (divisible into
two dialects, Babylonian and Assyrian). The earlier Semitic languages,
such as Akkadian and Ugaritic have a case system which identifies
what role a noun is playing in a sentence. That is, a "U"
tacked on to the end of the word, as in Shar, the Babylonian
word for prince, gives the form Sharu, telling the reader
that the word is the subject of the sentence, as in "The
Prince hears the Princess". An "A" tacked on to
the end -- Shara -- makes the word the object, as in "the
Princess hears the Prince." And an "I" tacked on
at the end as in Shari makes the word possessive, as in
"the Prince of the Princess".
In later Semitic languages such as Hebrew, the case system has disappeared, so that word order now indicates the job assignments that were previously provided by the case endings. Hebrew is one of the latest of the known Semitic languages. Even Arabic, another Semitic language, appears more ancient in its forms, since it preserves the old Semitic case structure.
The different Semitic languages bear a general similarity with each other, as for instance with the word for "sun". In Akkadian it is shamash, in Arabic it is shamps and in Hebrew it is shemesh.
Hebrew was the language of the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel and Judah respectively. It was used by the Jews until the time of the Babylonian captivity, when the language of the court, Aramaic, came more and more to replace it. When the Jewish people returned from the Babylonian captivity around 536 B.C. the Hebrew language had undergone some significant changes. Aramaic words had been added to the vocabulary, and the alphabet was changed from the Old Hebrew characters to the newer square Aramaic script -- which is the form still in use today. After the fall of Jerusalem AD 70 and the subsequent dispersion, Hebrew, already barely more than a liturgical language (used in the Synagogue for reading scripture), ceased to be spoken altogether. Hebrew remained a dead language, known only to scholars until the end of the nineteenth century. With the rise of the Zionist movement in Europe, some Jews started to revive Hebrew as a spoken tongue, so those Jews who moved back into Palestine began speaking to one another in the old Biblical language. Today, the official language of the modern nation of Israel is Hebrew and except for the addition of a few new words to account for technological change -- like airplane and automobile and the like -- the Modern Hebrew language is virtually identical to that of the Bible.
Aramaic, not to be confused with the language spoken by the Arabs
today -- which is called Arabic -- is a Semitic language used
by the neo- Babylonians of the time of Nebuchadnezzar II (cf.
Book of Daniel). It became the major language of the ancient Near
East and was spoken and written by most nations of the area until
the rise of Islam subjugated it and replaced it with Arabic.
The language most commonly spoken in Israel in Jesus' day was Aramaic and in fact it is the language that Jesus himself spoke. A few snatches are recorded in the New Testament, but most of what remains are translations of his words into Greek, the language used by the New Testament writers. They used Greek because it was the language of the Roman Empire and the writers of the New Testament were concerned that the message of the gospel should get as wide a readership as possible. The translational nature of Christ's words can be seen, for example, in the wording of the beatitudes; Luke writes simply "blessed are the poor", while Matthew writes "blessed are the poor in spirit". The reason for the slight difference in the wording results from the underlying Aramaic word for "poor", which has both ideas contained within it; Matthew, therefore, was a bit more precise in his translation, since the Greek word for poor generally -- like the English term -- refers only to those who lack material benefits.
B. New Testament
The New Testament is written entirely in Greek, except, as has already been indicated, for a few Aramaic words or phrases: Matthew 27:33, Matthew 27:46, Mark 5:41, Mark 15:22, Mark 15:34, and John 19:17.
Though the native language of the Romans was Latin, the language of the Empire, and especially the eastern half of the empire where the Jews lived, was Greek; the Greeks, though militarily weak, had been culturally powerful, leaving their mark on Roman thinking in everything from their language and theology, to their laws and philosophy. If a person knew Greek, he could get along well in the Roman Empire, just as today, if a person knows English, he'll do better than a person who doesn't.
2. The Manuscripts of the Bible
For the Old Testament, the traditional text is what is known as
the Masoretic. The Masoretes were Jewish scholars who worked diligently
between the 6th and 10th centuries A.D. in Babylonia and Palestine
to reproduce, as far as possible, the original text of the Old
Testament. Their intention was not to interpret the Bible, but
to transmit to future generations what they regarded as the authentic
text. Therefore, to this end, they gathered manuscripts and whatever
oral traditions were available to them.
They were careful to draw attention to any peculiarities they found in the spellings of words or the grammar of sentences in the Old Testament, and since Hebrew in their day was a dying language, they introduced a series of vowel signs to insure the correct pronunciation of the text, since traditionally, the text was written with consonants only. Among the various systems developed to represent the vowel sounds, the system developed in the city of Tiberias, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, gained the ascendancy.
The earliest complete copy of the Masoretic text of the Old Testament is located in the St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad) Public Library; it was written about 1008 A.D.
The Masoretic text is not a single, unbroken thread, but rather a river of manuscripts, with both a western and eastern branch; within the texts labeled "Masoretic" there is a certain amount of variation and the Masoretes carefully noted the differences in the texts that they used as their sources. Therefore, it must be stressed that the so-called "Textus Receptus" that one may hear of occasionally (especially from those who believe that the King James Version is the only acceptable translation) is mostly a pious fiction; it is a concept that has little basis in reality beyond wishful thinking.
Remember, too, that English is not the only language that the Bible has been translated into. It has been translated into over two thousand languages by scholars using the original Greek and Hebrew texts.
The earliest copies of Old Testament books are called the Dead Sea Scrolls, a body of biblical manuscripts discovered since 1947 inside caves near a place called Qumran, right next to the Dead Sea in Israel. The texts all date prior to 70 A.D., the period when the community at Qumran was destroyed by the Romans following the Jewish revolt. Some texts date as far back as 150- 200 B.C., based on epigraphic dating and Carbon 14 dating.
Other manuscripts useful for establishing the text of the Old Testament are as follows:
II. The Nature of Translation
A. How translation occurs
It is important to realize -- and most people who have not learned
a second language wouldn't know -- that there is no such thing
as a one-to-one correspondence between languages. You cannot have
a word for word translation that is at all readable, because the
word order is different, the nature of the grammar is different
and even the sense of a word may cover a wider or smaller range
than the corresponding English word.
For instance, the word "house" in Hebrew can mean "immediate family" or "a royal dynasty" besides the equivalent English idea of a building where a person dwells. Therefore to have an accurate English translation you cannot simply translate the Hebrew word with "house"; you need to translate it according to which of the possible meanings is intended.
Idioms, likewise, do not translate across directly: for instance the English phrase "I'm sick and tired of apple pie" if translated literally could give a reader in another language the false impression that the individual in question is sleepy and ready to throw up.
Consider the following "literal translation" of the first verse of the Bible, which maintains the Hebrew word order and phrasing and ask yourself if it is easily comprehensible:
In-beginning he-created God (definite direct object) the-heavens and-(definite direct object) the-earth.
But even this is not entirely accurate in a word for word sense,
because Hebrew does not have a true past tense; however, there
is no other way to indicate perfect aspect (completed action).
However, when one of the prophets makes use of the perfect aspect
to show the certainty of the prophesy, to translate it as a past
tense can create the false impression that the prophet is speaking
of things that have already happened when that is not the case
at all! And in front of the single words (they are only one word
in Hebrew) "the-heavens" and "the-earth" is
the Hebrew word that indicates that what follows is a definite
direct object, as you can see, hardly translatable into English
Having said all this, one would imagine that this first verse is a complicated sentence. Not at all. It is remarkably simple. It only becomes difficult if we expect translation to be "literal". It isn't. All translation, by its very nature, is paraphrastic and interpretive.
The way translation happens is as follows. The translator learns a foreign language and learns it well. Learning Hebrew or Greek is just like learning French or Spanish in high school. There is nothing mysterious or special about the ancient languages. Then the translator reads the foreign text and understands it. Having understood it, he or she then puts it into the best English possible.
There is no mystery associated with the translation of the Bible, nor are there any significant disagreements between translations. However, by the nature of what translation is -- the work of individuals with their own separate styles -- the wording of say, Today's English Version is not going to be identical to the King James Version or the New International Version. Not because anyone is trying to twist something or make it say what it doesn't, but only because each translator is going to word it as he thinks best. But the MEANING will be the same. And of course between the King James and the more modern translations there is also the gap caused by the change in the English language -- we don't speak like the people in Shakespeare's time did, but their way of speaking is no "grander" or any more "eloquent" than ours. King James English was the way any farmer or fisherman of 1611 would have talked, just as Today's English Version or the New International Version is the way an average person speaks today. For all the snobbishness of attitude on the part of some regarding Shakespeare today, in his own day he was considered somewhat vulgar and not a little risque. Shakespeare was like an ordinary television drama or sitcom is for us today.
B. Textual criticism
One other change since the time of the King James translation,
of course, is the improvement in the texts that are available
to today's translators. They are older and that much closer to
the original; moreover, the methods of textual criticism -- the
science of comparing the different and sometimes inconsistent
manuscripts and determining which one is the closest to the original
reading -- have advanced considerably since the 1600's.
The history of the biblical texts shows clearly that all of them stand far removed from the originals both by time and by the process of transmission. They contain not only scribal errors, but even some actual transformations of the text, both deliberate and accidental. By means of textual criticism we attempt to find all the alterations that have occurred and then recover the earliest possible form of the text.
Textual criticism proceeds in three steps:
a. All the variant readings of the text are collected and arranged. Of course, this is the very reason textual criticism is necessary at all. If we had only a single copy, there would be no questions, but since we have several, which all say different things, we have a problem. Which text accurately records the original statements?
b. The variants must then be examined.
c. The most likely reading is then determined. For the Old Testament, in order to carry out these steps, it is necessary to use the Masoretic Text, which ordinarily serves as the basis from which the textual critic will work. Combined with the Masoretic Text the critic will consult all the ancient Hebrew manuscripts and versions that might be available.
2. The most important Hebrew manuscripts for Old Testament textual criticism are:
a. The St. Petersburg (or Leningrad) Codex, 1008 A.D. It is the largest and only complete manuscript of the entire Old Testament.
b. The Aleppo Codex, 930 A.D. It used to be a complete copy of the Old Testament, but was partially destroyed in a synagogue fire in 1948.
c. The British Museum Codex, 950 A.D. It is an incomplete copy of the Pentateuch.
d. The Cairo Codex, 895 A.D. A copy of the Former and Latter Prophets (Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets).
e. The Leningrad (St. Petersburg) Codex of the Prophets, 916 A.D. containing only the Latter Prophets.
f. The Reuchlin Codex of the Prophets, 1105 A.D.
g. Cairo Geniza fragments, 6th to 9th century, A.D. h. Qumran Manuscripts (the Dead Sea Scrolls), 200 B.C - 70 A.D.
3. The most important ancient translations of the Old Testament into languages other than Hebrew are:
a. The Septuagint (several versions)
b. The Aramaic Targums (several versions)
c. The Syriac Peshitta
d. The Samaritan Pentateuch
e. The Latin Vulgate
4. Ideally, the work of textual criticism should proceed with all of these ancient versions and copies readily available. There are then some basic rules that help place the textual criticism of the Bible, whether Old or New Testament, on a firm basis that generally avoids arbitrariness and subjectivity.
a. For the Old Testament, where the Hebrew manuscripts and the ancient versions agree, we may assume that the original reading has been preserved. Likewise, with the New Testament, where the various manuscripts agree, we may assume the original text has been preserved. To our great relief, this covers 95 per cent of the Bible.
b. Where the manuscripts differ among themselves, one should chose either the more difficult reading from the point of view of language and subject matter or the reading that most readily makes the development of the other readings intelligible. In order to make this choice, it is necessary that the critic have a thorough knowledge of the history and character of the various manuscripts. It needs also to be realized that these criteria work together and complement one another. A "more difficult reading" does not mean a "meaningless reading."
c. However, the critic must not assume that just because a reading appears meaningless that it necessarily is. Scribes are not likely to turn a meaningful passage into gibberish. Therefore, if a passage is not understandable, that is often as far as we can go. We must, as scholars, acknowledge our own ignorance.
d. With the Old Testament, where the Hebrew manuscripts and the translations differ, and a superior reading cannot be demonstrated on the basis of the above rules, then one should, as a matter of first principle, allow the Hebrew text to stand. With the New Testament, one will generally choose the shorter reading because of the tendency of scribes to try to "explain" passages.
e. Where the different manuscripts differ and none of them seem to make any sense, one may attempt a conjecture concerning the true reading -- a conjecture that must be validated by demonstrating the process of the textual corruption that would have lead to the existing text forms. Such a conjecture, however, must not be used to validate the interpretation of a whole passage in that it might have been made on the basis of an expectation derived from the whole.
5. The Causes of Textual Corruption
The goal of textual criticism is to remove the textual errors
and restore the original readings. To aid in this goal, it is
helpful if the textual critic has an idea of what sorts of errors
he or she is likely to find.
When copying out a text, errors occur in every conceivable way, as we no doubt know from our own experiences. Sometimes it is difficult to explain, even to ourselves, how we might have come to make a particular error. Therefore it is unlikely that we will be able to correct or explain everything that has eluded the scribes over the centuries. A reading that appears doubtful or corrupt to us today may have been caused by a hole or some other damage to the copyist's manuscript. Or maybe the letters or words in a given section of his text were faded and nearly illegible, forcing the copyist to make his best guess. Moreover, a single error can give rise to many others, leaving us with no clue as to how it might have happened.
And of course, as always, the assumption of a textual error may really be only a cover for our failure to understand the language or the idiom.
Beyond these unrecoverable sorts of errors, there are two categories of errors that may be distinguished and often corrected: errors due to an unintentional, mechanical lapse on the part of the copyist (often called Errors of Reading and Writing), and two, errors that are the result of deliberate alteration (called Intentional Alterations).
a. Errors of Reading and Writing
1. Confusion of similar letters In Hebrew, there are several letters which look very similar to one another: the B and K, R and D, H and T, W and Y.
2. Transposition of Letters
3. Haplography -- a fancy word that means when there were two or more identical or similar letters, groups of letters, or words all in sequence, one of them gets omitted by error. Of course, there is some evidence that some of these supposed "errors" are actually equivalent to English contractions like "don't" instead of "do not" and therefore are not errors at all.
4. Dittography -- another fancy word that refers to an error caused by repeating a letter, group of letters , a word or a group of words. The opposite, really, of Haplography.
5. Homoioteleuton -- an even fancier word which refers to the error that occurs when two words are identical, or similar in form, or have similar endings and are close to each other. It is easy in this sort of situation for the eye of the copyist to skip from one word to the other, leaving out everything in between. A good example of this occurs in 1 Samuel 14:41:Therefore Saul said unto the Lord God of Israel, give a perfect lot. (KJV)
Therefore Saul said, "O Lord God of Israel, why hast thou not answered thy servant this day? If this guilt is in me or in Jonathan my son, O Lord, God of Israel, give Urim: but if this guilt is in thy people Israel, give Thummim. (RSV)
The copyist's eye jumped from the first instance of the word "Israel" to the last instance, leaving out everything in between for the reading that the KJV translators had at their disposal. The word translated "perfect" is spelled with the same consonants in Hebrew (TH-M-M) as the word Thummim.
6. Errors of Joining and Dividing Words.
This is more a problem in the New Testament than it is in the Old Testament, for while the Greek manuscripts were written well into the Medieval period without spacing or dividing signs between words, there is no evidence that this was EVER the case with the Old Testament Hebrew texts. In fact, the evidence is very strong to the contrary; inscriptions on walls from the time of Hezekiah actually had dots between each word to separate them from each other.
b. Deliberate Alterations
The Samaritan Pentateuch, as an example, is notorious for its
purposeful changes designed to help legitimize some of their sectarian
biases. They were sort of like the Jehovah's witnesses of their
A more substantive change in the Hebrew text came after the Babylonian captivity in the time of Ezra (fifth century BC) when the alphabet changed from the Old Hebrew Script to the Aramaic Square Script -- in which all copies of the Old Testament except for the Samaritan Pentateuch are written.
It should not surprise us that there have been a certain amount of alteration in the text over time, since the Bible was not intended to be the object of scholarly study but rather was to be read by the whole believing community as God's word to them. Thus, the text would undergo adaptations to fit the linguistic needs of the community. For instance in Isaiah 39:1 the Masoretic Text preserves a rare word, hazaq, which has the sense of "to get well, recuperate." The community that produced the Dead Sea scrolls altered this word to the more common Hebrew word for get well, zayah. Other examples of adaptation to colloquial usage are likely. The lack of early material for the Old Testament makes it impossible to demonstrate these sorts of alterations on a larger scale. But a few small alterations are easily demonstrable.
The treatment of the divine name Baal is an example of deliberate change for theological reasons. In personal names which included the word "Baal", which simply means "master" or "lord", the scribes deliberately replaced "Baal" with "Bosheth," which means "shame". Hence, Jonathan's son was actually named "Meribbaal" rather than "Mephibosheth" (cf. 1 Chron. 8:34, 9:30 and 2 Sam 9:6, 19:24, 21:7)
Another example of deliberate alteration is found in Job 1:5, 11 and 2:5, 9 where we now read the word berek, to bless (with God as the object) even though we should expect to find the word qalal, to curse. The scribes replaced the offensive expression "to curse God" with a euphemism -- motivated no doubt by their fear of taking God's name in vain.
III. A History of English Bible Translation
The first English translation of the Bible was undertaken by John Wycliffe (1320-1384). By 1380 he had finished the translation of the New Testament, however his translation of the Old Testament was incomplete at the time of his death. Friends and students completed the task after his death. His translation was not from the original Greek and Hebrew texts; instead he made use of the Latin Vulgate. Many translations followed:
IV. The Apocrypha
The term "Apocrypha" comes from Greek and means "hidden
things". It is used in three different ways: one, for writings
that were regarded as so important and precious that they must
be hidden from the general public and preserved for initiates,
the inner circle of believers. Two, it was applied to writings
which were hidden not because they were too good, but because
they were not good enough: because they were secondary, questionable,
or heretical. And finally third, apocrypha was applied to those
books which existed outside the Hebrew canon -- that is, books
of religious materials that the Jewish people did not accept as
scripture but which appeared in the Greek and Latin translations
of the Old Testament.
It is for this reason, that the books of the apocrypha have not been accepted as scripture outside of Roman Catholic circles. Within Roman Catholicism, with the exception of the First and Second Books of Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh, the Roman Church accepts these writings as part of the Old Testament and designates them as deuterocanonical, that is, added later to the canon.
Below is a list and summary of each of the books and parts of books included in the apocrypha (it is interesting to note that these books appeared in the original edition of the King James Version of the Bible):
1 Esdras. It gives a parallel account of the events recorded in Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah, with one large addition called "The Debate of the Three Youths". It is an adaptation of a Persian story. In the story, Zerubbabel, the guardsman of Darius wins a debate with two other young men over who the strongest power might be: wine, the king, or, as Zerubbabel said "women are strongest, but truth conquers all." By winning this debate, Zerubbabel is able to remind Darius of his obligation to allow the rebuilding of the temple.
2 Esdras. It is an expansion by Christian writers of an original Jewish apocalyptic work. It consists of seven visions:
1. The seer demands an explanation for the suffering of Zion, whose sin is not greater than that of her oppressor. The angel Uriel answers that it cannot be understood, but that the era soon to come will bring salvation.
2. The seer wants to know why Israel, God's chosen, has been delivered up to other nations. The answer again is that it is incomprehensible to men, but good times are coming.
3. The seer asks why the Jews do not possess the earth. The answer given is that they will inherit it in an age to come. There is also some discussion about the after life.
4. A mourning woman recounts her woes and is thereupon transformed into a glorious city, a symbol of Jerusalem.
5. A twelve-winged and three-headed eagle, the symbol of Rome which the interpreting angel identifies as the fourth beast of Daniel chapter seven will be supplanted by the Messiah.
6. A man arises from the sea, annihilating an antagonistic multitude; it is an adaptation based on the Son of man vision in Daniel 7.
7. The topic is Ezra's supposed restoration of the sacred books of the Hebrew Bible by means of a vision and the help of supernaturally guided scribes.
Tobit. It is a pious short story about a righteous Hebrew of the northern kingdom of Israel taken into captivity. Tobit suffers persecution because he helps his fellow Israelites under the tyranny of Esarhaddon. He is blinded accidentally and to his shame, his wife must support him. He prays that he may die. At the same time, a prayer is offered in Ecbatana by a young Jewish woman named Sarah who is being haunted by a demon named Asmodaeus, who has slain seven of her husbands on their wedding night. The angel Raphael is sent "to heal them both". Tobit sends his son Tobias to collect ten silver talents left in Media. Raphael takes the form of Azariah, who is hired as his traveling companion. In the Tigris a fish is caught, and its heart, liver, and gall are preserved by Tobias on Azariah's recommendation. Tobias arrives in Ecbatana and becomes engaged to Sarah, who he comes to find out is his cousin. On their wedding night, he burns the heart and liver of the fish and the stench drives the demon away to Egypt. Preceded by his dog, Tobias returns home (where his father had given up on him as lost). Tobias takes the fish gall and anoints his father's eyes, thereby restoring his sight.
Judith. This tells the story of a young Jewish woman who was a widow. She is a native of Bethulia which is being besieged by the general Holofernes. She visits him in his camp, under the ruse of revealing military secrets. Once with him, she begins to entice him with her charms, until, while banqueting alone with him, she is able to cut off his head. She then returns to Bethulia with his head and is greeted by great rejoicing. The Assyrians then retreat from the city after discovering that their general had been killed. Judith and the other women of the city then rejoice with a psalm of praise before God.
Additions to Daniel. Several stories appear in the Greek translation of the book of Daniel that are not present in the original text. These stories are as follows:The Prayer of Azariah -- this is uttered while he is in the fiery furnace in chapter three of Daniel. (Remember, Azariah is the original Hebrew name of the man whom Nebuchadnezzar called Abednego.)
The Song of the Three Holy Children -- this is sung to God's praise as the three walk around in the fire.
Susanna -- Susanna is the beautiful and virtuous wife of a wealthy Jew in Babylon. Two elders of the people who lust after her come upon her while she is taking a bath and offer her the alternative of either letting them have sex with her or facing an accusation of being an adulteress.. She chooses the latter. The two men who have accused her are believed by everyone and she is condemned to death, though she protests her innocence. Daniel cries out against the injustice of this and in a second trial before him, the lie is uncovered and the woman is justified.
Bel and the Dragon -- Daniel shows that the priests of Bel, and not the image of the god, devours the nightly offerings of food by scattering flour on the floor. In the morning, the footprints of the priests are plainly visible, taking the food away. The king of Babylon thereupon destroys the image.
Then, Daniel destroys a mighty dragon that is worshipped by the Babylonians. He is tossed into the lions den and is preserved alive for six days. On the sixth day, the prophet Habakkuk is miraculously transported to Babylon to provide Daniel with food. On the seventh day he is released by the king.
Additions to Esther. There are six additional passages in the Greek version of the book.
The first deals with Mordecai's dream and his prevention of a conspiracy against the king.
The second is the king's edict for the destruction of all the Jews in his realm.
The third are the prayers of Esther and Mordecai.
The fourth describes Esther's audience with the king.
The fifth is the king's edict permitting Jewish self-defense.
And the sixth includes the interpretation of Mordecai's dream.
The Prayer of Manasseh. Claims to be the prayer which Manasseh is recorded as praying in 2 Chronicles 33:11-19, a prayer of repentance.
The Epistle of Jeremiah. Purports to be a letter written by Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylon; the letter attacks idolatry.
The Book of Baruch. It claims to be the work of the friend and scribe of Jeremiah. In the setting of the Babylonian Exile of 597 BC, Baruch is depicted as addressing the exiles, setting out a confession of sins, a prayer for forgiveness and a prayer for salvation. Next, the book praises the Wisdom that may be found in the law of Moses and without which the heathen have come to nothing, but with which Israel can be saved. Finally, the book ends with a lament of Jerusalem over the exiles, followed by an exhortation to Jerusalem that she should be comforted, because her children will some day come home.
Ecclesiasticus. Also called the Wisdom of Joshua (or Jesus) ben-Sira (not to be confused with the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible). He was a Palestinian Jew living in Jerusalem; parts of the original Hebrew text have been uncovered, though it is best known in the Greek translation made by his grandson who furnishes chronological details in a preface. The most likely date for Ben-Sira himself is around 180 BC, since his grandson apparently migrated to Egypt in the reign of Ptolemy VII Euergetes (170-117 BC).
The book falls into two parts and fits the Ancient Near Eastern literary classification called Wisdom Literature. The first half of the book gives advice for a successful life conceived in the widest sense: fear of the Lord and the observance of the Law are allied in the author's experience and teaching with practical wisdom drawn from observation and his own life. He argues that personal piety will express itself in the observance of the law in which Wisdom is revealed. In daily living, moderation will be the keynote of all aspects of life.
The second half of the book concludes with a list praising the famous men from Israel's history, ending with Simon II, the high priest (c. 200 BC).
The Wisdom of Solomon. The book is an exhortation to seek wisdom, and claims to have been composed by Solomon (it wasn't -- it dates back to only about 200 BC). Chapters 1-5 declare the blessings that will come to those who seek after Wisdom. Chapters 6-9 personify Wisdom as a feminine celestial being, foremost of the creatures and servants of God. Chapters 10-19 then conclude by reviewing Old Testament history in the light of Wisdom: Wisdom has aided the Jewish people throughout their history, and destroyed their enemies.
1 Maccabees. This book covers the events between 175 and 134 BC, that is, the struggle of the Jews against Antiochus Epiphanes, the wars of the Hasmonaeans, and the rule of John Hyrcanus. The book ends with elaborate praise of John Hyrcanus, written just after his death in 103 BC. The book describes the origin of the Jewish Festival of Lights or the Feast of Dedication (see John 10:22 which records that Jesus celebrated this holiday) -- or as it is more commonly known, Hanukkah.
2 Maccabees. This book covers much of the same material as 1 Maccabees, but it does not continue the history beyond the campaigns and defeat of Nicanor. There are a number of discrepancies in chronological and numerical matters between the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees.
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