Bible Canon - Which books are biblical?
In addition to the diverse traditions concerning which books belong in the Canon of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible, modern scholarship proposes alternative views concerning the authenticity of books, and of texts within books. See the entries on the Biblical canon, Higher criticism and Textual criticism.
Biblical versions and translations
In scholarly writing, ancient translations are frequently referred to as 'versions', with the term 'translation' being reserved for medieval or modern translations. Information about Bible versions is given below, while Bible translations can be found on a separate page.
The oldest books of the Bible are the Pentateuch, also known as the Torah. They are written in Hebrew and are also titled the 'Books of Moses'. Traditionally Judaism and Christianity held that these books were actually written by the prophet Moses; but many today believe that the current form of the Torah came about by a redactor bringing together several earlier, distinct sources. This idea is called the documentary hypothesis.
In addition to the Torah, as noted above, the Jewish scriptures include the Nevi'im ("prophets") and the Ketuvim ("writings"), the combined collection being designated by the Hebrew acronym "Tanakh".
The original text of the Tanakh was in Hebrew, with some portions in Aramaic. From the 800s to the 1400s rabbinic Jewish scholars known as the Massoretes compared the text of all known Biblical manuscripts, in an effort to create a unified and standardized text; a series of highly similar texts eventually emerged, and any of these texts are known as Masoretic Texts (MT). The Masoretes also added vowel points (called nikud) to the text, since the original text only contained consonants. This sometimes required the selection of an interpretation, since words can differ only in their vowels, and thus the text can vary depending upon the choice of vowels to be inserted. In antiquity there were other variant readings which were popular, some of which have survived in the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Dead Sea scrolls, and other ancient fragments, as well as being attested in ancient translations to other languages.
By the beginning of the common era, most Jews no longer spoke Hebrew, but spoke Greek or Aramaic instead. Thus they made translations or paraphrases into these languages. The most important of the translations into the Greek was the Septuagint, though other translations were made as well. The Septuagint contains several additional passages, and whole additional books, compared to what was eventually compiled as the masoretic texts. In some cases these additions were originally composed in Greek, while in other cases they are translations of Hebrew books or variants that the Masoretes did not accept. Recent discoveries have shown that more of the Septuagint additions have a Hebrew origin than was once thought. While there are no surviving manuscripts of the Hebrew text on which the Septuagint was based, many scholars believe that it was a different textual tradition than the one that eventually became the basis for the Masoretic texts.
The Jews also produced non-literal translations known as targums, primarily in Aramaic. Targums were not literal translations but paraphrases. They frequently expanded on the text with additional details taken from Jewish oral tradition.
Early Christians produced translations of the Hebrew Bible into several languages; their biblical text was the Septuagint, which had been translated by the Jews into Greek in about the second century B.C. Translations were made into Syriac, Coptic and Latin, among other languages. The Latin translations were historically the most important to the Church in the West, while in the Greek-speaking East, they continued to use the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament and had no need to translate the New Testament.
The earliest Latin translation was the Old Latin text, or Vetus Latina. Exactly who translated it is unknown, but internal evidence suggests it is the product of several authors over a period of time. It was based on the Septuagint, and thus included the Septuagint additions.
As a translation the Old Latin was far from ideal, and so Jerome was commissioned to produce the Vulgate translation as a replacement. Jerome based his translation on the Hebrew rather than the Septuagint. He was of the opinion that the Septuagint additions were of doubtful value, but he included them due to the demands of the church. He did not, however, translate the additional books anew; the Vulgate for these books is identical to the Old Latin. The Vulgate became the official translation of the Roman Catholic church.
The New Testament was originally composed in Greek. There are a number of different textual traditions of the New Testament. The three main traditions are sometimes called the Western text-type, the Alexandrian text-type, and Byzantine text-type, and together they comprise the majority of New Testament manuscripts. There are also several ancient translations into other languages, most important of which are the Syriac (including the Peshitta and the Diatessaron gospel harmony) and the Latin (both the Vetus Latina and the Vulgate).
The earliest critical edition of the Greek New Testament is the 'Textus Receptus' (Latin for 'received text') compiled by the humanist Desiderius Erasmus. It is largely Byzantine in character. The Textus Receptus was for many centuries the standard critical edition of the New Testament, only losing that position after the discovery of manuscripts such as the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus. There are some who believe that many or all of the changes introduced by later critical editions are incorrect, and that the Textus Receptus is still the best critical edition available. A similar but distinct argument is sometimes made for the Majority Text.
For a more detailed account of the New Testament's development, see the relevant section of Biblical canon.
Chapters and verses
The masoretic Hebrew text contains verse endings as an important feature. According to the Jewish talmudic tradition, the verse endings are of ancient origin. The masoretic textual tradition also contains section endings called parashiyot, which are indicated by a space within a line (a "closed" section") or a new line beginning (an "open" section). The division of the text reflected in the parashiyot is usually thematic. The parashiyot are not numbered.
In early manuscripts (most importantly in Tiberian masoretic manuscripts such as the Aleppo codex) an "open" section may also be represented by a blank line, and a "closed" section by a new line that is slightly indented (the preceding line may also not be full). These latter conventions are no longer used in Torah scrolls and printed Hebrew Bibles. In this system, the one rule differentiating "open" and "closed" sections is that "open" sections must always begin at the beginning of a new line, while "closed" sections never start at the beginning of a new line.
Another related feature of the masoretic text is the division of the sedarim. This division is not thematic, but is rather almost entirely based upon the quantity of text.
The Byzantines also introduced a chapter division of sorts, called Kephalaia. It is not identical to the present chapters.
The current division of the Bible into chapters, however, and the verse numbers within the chapters, have no basis in any ancient textual tradition. Rather, they are medieval Christian inventions. They were later adopted by the Jews too as technical references within the Hebrew text. Such technical references became crucial to medieval rabbis in the historical context of forced debates with Christian clergy (who used the chapter and verse numbers), especially in late medieval Spain. Chapter divisions were first used by Jews in a 1330 manuscript, and for a printed edition in 1516. However, for the past generation most Jewish editions of the complete Hebrew Bible have made a systematic effort to relegate chapter and verse numbers to the margins of the text.
The division of the Bible into chapters and verses has often elicited severe criticism (from both traditionalists and modern scholars alike). Critics charge that the text is often divided into chapters in an incoherent way, or at inappropriate points within the narrative, and that it encourages citing passages out of context, in effect turning the Bible into a kind of textual quarry for clerical citations. Nevertheless, even the critics admit that the chapter divisions and verse numbers have become indispensable as technical references for Bible study.
Stephen Langton is reputed to have been the first person to put the chapter divisions into a Vulgate edition of the Bible in 1205. They came into the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament in the 1400s. Robert Estienne (Robert Stephanus) was the first to number the verses within each chaper; his verse numbers entered printed editions in 1565 (New Testament) and 1571 (Hebrew Bible).class="external">[1