Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Biblical Scholarship... continued

I am very nearly complete reading my way through the entire Oxford study Bible, wrapping up in the next few days with the complete Apocrypha. 

Quick review: The Apocrypha contain texts which are canonical in at least one major Christian faith (Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, etc.), but not universally recognized in all of them, nor recognized as canonical in any Protestant faith. 

Interestingly, the various Apocrypha were written in the early centuries before Christ, written by Jews and for Jews, though none of the books are recognized as canonical by Jews today. 

Generally, the Apocrypha provide useful background, support, and context for the Old Testament.  Some of the texts are fictional stories of the triumph of good over evil (e.g. The Book of Judith), some are proverbs (e.g. Wisdom of Solomon), and some are war chronologies (e.g. 1 & 2 Maccabees), interestingly the latter of which are widely recognized as historically accurate and verifiable, unlike most of the rest of the Old Testament.

Having nearly completed the task of this biblical scholarship, I am eager to learn more about the historical sources of the Bible, the history of the Jews, and the history of the early Christian church.  That said, I have no interest in modern interpretive texts--texts which will have a varnished slant towards a particular faith tradition or ideology (evangelical Christianity, for example), nor even a non-faith position (atheism and agnosticism).  I don't want an easy to digest "summary" of someone else's modern ideology.

What I am interested in is the original source material, so that I may analyze for myself using my own God-given intellect.

Time and again, then, the footnotes and references in my own ecumenical study Bible point to four original sources, which I am eager to explore:

Antiquities of the Jews by Flavius Josephus (37 BCE - 100 CE).  The earliest known historical scholar, Josephus' work is ubiquitously cross-referenced by translators of the Old Testament and Apocrypha texts.  Josephus was a Greek-speaking Jew of priestly descent from Galilee.  His work serves to record the history of the Jews from creation to the Jewish revolt and the ultimate destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.  Supposedly, Josephus notes the earliest historical references to Jesus Christ, who was a contemporary (though I doubt they ever met).

Dead Sea Scrolls (150 BCE and 70 CE).  Perhaps the most important biblical and historical find of our time, beginning in 1947 the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in caves at the ruins of the Essene sect at Qumran in the hills alongside the Dead Sea.  They provide the oldest direct source for much of the Old Testament, and most importantly, validate much of the translated material already well known today.  Before the scrolls, the current bible sources were from copies of copies of copies. The Dead Sea Scrolls provided a source material that is 1,000 years earlier than any other known source today.

The Nag Hammadi Scriptures (circa 300 CE).  Similar to the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Nag Hammadi scriptures are a series of codices found on the Nile in Egypt in 1945.  They provide corroborative and additional information, including the Gospels of Thomas, Mary, and Philip.  Considered major gnostic sources, they are widely viewed in the Catholic and Protestant faiths as noncanonical and even heretical in some cases.  Yet, they provide insight into one of the earliest forms of the Christian church.

Quelle (circa 65 CE - 95 CE).  When you study the modern Gospels, particularly Matthew and Luke, you'll note that these two Gospels are very similar in their narratives.  They clearly draw from the spare Gospel of Mark and elaborate more fully this story of Jesus' life.  But they both add material not found in Mark.  In particular, both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke quote Jesus multiple times, including well known quotations like The Beatitudes, The Golden Rule, The Parable of the Talents, and many more.  Today, these direct quotations of Jesus Christ are attributed to a lost common source from which both the writers of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke drew--material which often matches word-for-word in both texts.  The Quelle, therefore, is a hypothetical reconstruction of this original source material for the Gospels, post-Mark, but pre-Matthew and Luke.

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