So, who wrote the Bible anyway? You’d think somebody would know, right?. It turns out it’s not as easy to nail down as you might think.
The Old Testament alone covers thousands of years, hundreds of people and myriad locations.
It covers the creation of the world, the early history of humanity, how and why Abraham and his family are so important, a bunch of rules to live by, a boat-load of prophecies and finally, the rise and fall of the Jewish empire.
Then we have the New Testament which covers the life and times of Yeshua ben Yosef, better known as Jesus of Nazareth, more rules to live by, and a bunch of letters and prophecies concerning the early Christian church and the end of the world.
So who wrote all this stuff down and, more importantly, who collected it into the book we now know as ‘The Bible’?
When we look at the Old Testament, the fact is, nobody knows. The oldest known fragments we have date back to about 600-400 B.C.E.1 which isn’t very old when you figure Moses was around about 1,100 years before that and Abraham a whopping 1,700 years earlier. Not to mention Adam and Eve.2
Though we don’t know for sure who wrote it all down there’s this thing called the Documentary Hypothesis that says what we generally call the Old Testament is actually a compilation of various oral accounts that weren’t actually written down until somewhere around 600-400 years B.C.E.
According to this theory, all the books of the Old Testament were originally stories conveyed through word of mouth and date back hundreds, if not thousands, of years before being written down. Whether they are legends, mythology, parables, or factual accounts is anybody’s guess 3, but there’s no doubt they were each important nuggets of Hebrew lore.
Throughout history this story-telling tradition has been typical of nomadic tribes. The early Hebrews were nomads, constantly on the move, and so it’s only natural they would use stories to pass on their heritage from one generation to the next. They’d been conquerors and been conquered themselves. More than once they’d been led off as captives to a foreign land. As time went by, it became more important these stories be written down and a record kept for posterity.
But who did the writing? When did someone finally put pen to parchment, so to speak? We need look no further than the Bible itself to find some important clues.
Around 450 B.C.E. there was this priest named Ezra. The Babylonians had conquered Israel some 150 years before and carted off most of the people to Babylon. Apparently Ezra was born in Babylon where he became a scholar and preeminent authority of Jewish tradition and law.4
The Babylonian leaders liked Ezra and were intrigued with Jewish tradition. They ended up sending him back to Palestine and encouraged him to study the ways of his people and even rebuild the temple they’d previously destroyed.5
As luck would have it, Ezra found Moses’ “Book of the Law” buried in the ruins of the temple. Being a prodigious scholar and scribe and the leader of a team of over seventy scribes,6 Ezra was just the right man to happen upon this ancient sacred writing.
Many scholars believe Ezra didn’t ‘find’ anything. They believe he and his team documented the laws and statutes of Moses and other stories and then presented them to the people as having been there the whole time. He just ‘found’ them. Regardless of what really happened, the people bought it, and consequently Ezra is often referred to as the Father of Judaism.7
Many people take these stories literally and many others believe they are legends and metaphoric stories derived from Jewish lore. But the fact remains, Ezra and his team could have made a lot of this stuff up. Who would have known?
Apparently, when Ezra finally read his findings to the people, they had no clue about any of it. They didn’t know about Passover or Moses or any of God’s laws. They didn’t know about any of the feasts, rituals or sacrifices they were supposed to have been doing. None of it. They were clueless. It was all new to them.
Interestingly, there’s a story in Ezra’s findings of a king named Josiah who did essentially the same thing about 200 years previous. Josiah also ‘found’ the Book of the Law in the ruins of the temple 8 and read them to the people. And, just like with Ezra, the people had no idea of their history or what was expected of them. It was like it all came out of nowhere.
Was Ezra using the story of Josiah to cover his tracks? Was he the one actually doing the documentation but giving credit to a legendary king from 200 years ago? It’s easier to say you found some sacred writings than to say, “Oh yeah, we wrote all this stuff, but trust me, it’s all true.”
This Documentary Hypothesis is an interesting theory and it’s even more interesting that the earliest evidence of a written record of the Old Testament coincides with Ezra ‘finding’ the sacred books around 400 B.C.E.
If you care to look into this further I suggest you Google it. There are plenty of articles you can find about it. Happy hunting.
Now when it comes to the New Testament it’s a little easier to keep track of when things came together because, for the most part, the Greeks and Romans were heavily involved and they were meticulous record keepers.
Without getting into what is a true gospel or not, the fact is, there are plenty of copies of New Testament writings, some dating back as far as 60 C.E.9 while others weren’t written until as much as 300 years after Jesus’ death.
The Apostle Paul 10 and his followers were prodigious writers and loved to share their revelations about Jesus with the world 11. There were so many of these, often competing, accounts that when the Romans took control of the Christian church, they basically decided what writings were ‘official’ and which were not. This is where they ‘canonized’ certain books and condemned all the others. These canonized books were deemed ‘sacred’ and make up what we now know as the New Testament.12
You can still find some of the other ‘condemned’ books, stories and writings that didn’t make the cut 13. Some survived 14 but we’ll never know how many did not. The Roman church did a pretty ruthless purge of the books they didn’t approve of and the people who believed them.
It’s important to remember none of this stuff, let me repeat NONE of it, was written by anybody who actually knew Jesus, who hung out with him, or knew anybody who did. It’s all hearsay. ALL hearsay. These are all stories heard by someone who heard it from someone, who knew somebody, who heard it from somebody, who swore it was true. Then somebody finally wrote it down, decades and even hundreds of years after the fact.
Needless to say, there’s a lot of room for discussion about this but personally, I believe Ezra and his crew documented the Old Testament and the Roman Catholic Church authorized the New Testament. But since, for the purposes of this book, I’m going to approach it like a literalist.15 I’m going to act like God wrote it himself and see where it leads us.
1 They used to call this BC, ‘Before Christ’ but in an act of political correctness it’s now called BCE, ‘Before the Common Era’.
2 Traditional Biblical timeline puts Adam and Eve a little over 6,000 years ago. We fix this error in our discussion of Genesis.
3 …and a point of contention among many traditionalists.
4 How a Jew born in Babylon would become the preeminent authority on a Law he had no record of is a big question in itself.
5 A lot had changed in 150 years.
6 These 70 scribes were known as ‘The Great Assembly,’
7 Who knows, maybe he invented it
8 That temple got destroyed more than once
9 Common Era…used to be called A.D. (after death). See footnote about B.C.E. if you must.
10 Paul is the father of Christianity.
11 Much of the New Testament is letters written by Paul giving instruction on how to live your life.
12 Interestingly there are numerous versions of the ‘official’ New Testament; Catholic, King James, Coptic, etc.
13 ‘The Lost Books of the Bible’, ‘The Gospel of Thomas’, ‘The Gospel of Mary’, ‘The Gospel of Judas’ to name a few.
14 Notably as what we call the Dead Sea scrolls
15 Someone who interprets the Bible literally.