Formation of Sacred Writings Essay

Formation of Sacred Writings

Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727), an English who is considered as an intellectual giant in the world of science viewed the Bible as the most influential book of all times. This could be paraphrased in the context of sheer number of people around the globe who consult it for multifaceted reasons, majority of people revere this book for faith reasons; others regard it for its tenacity that it is able to be a source of inspiration and motivation for so long to all and sundry all over; while few consult it for critical purposes on religious grounds. These are not the only reasons why large numbers of people are drawn to the Bible; some even read and admire it for the sake of remarkable literature and prose it contains and the causes do not end here but vary depending upon the social, educational, economical, political, cultural, psychological, scientific, ethical and many other factors (Carmody, 2004). Anyone who is relatively new to the Bible many questions titillate the mind like what really is the Bible? What is the source of its contents? How was it compiled? As it is the collection of several different books what criterion was adopted to include the books that are part of the Bible now? Is it really the divine message? The Answers to many of these questions can be arrived at simply by reading the Bible with understanding and open mind. Yes an open mind is crucial denominator in search of bible-related queries because pre-made mind will often end up with distorted answers which only serve to reinforce the expected outcome and the essence of truth cannot be achieved this way thus an open frame of mind is very important while reading the Bible in the quest of any answers.

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Christians generally consider the text of the Bible as beyond skepticism and doubt in the literal sense of word and for them whatever the Bible contains is exactly same as hinted by the text but this also needs to  be mentioned that the Catholics the largest group among Christians are not officially that hard in their stance as declared by Dei Verbium 11 of Vatican Council “ We must acknowledge that books of scripture firmly, faithfully and without error teach that truth which God for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred scriptures” ( Gabel et al, 2006)

The Bible is divided into two portions the first is called the Old Testament and the second the New Testament. The old testament of the Bible is a common heredity of both Christians and Jews and can be regarded as the most important factor in preserving the identity of Jews and sustaining Judaism through out history. The New Testament provided a bulwark to Christians to revitalize themselves to minister the world. The Bible is intrinsically respected by both Judaism and Christianity. The Bible is made up of sixty-six books that range from wide variety of topics and styles like anecdotes, parables, history, poetry, prophecy, law, management and many other fields that cannot even be classified in the broader sense of the word. The process of induction of books in to the Bible is called the canonization; the word itself is derived from the Greco-Hebrew word ‘cane’ that means a stick thus implying a yardstick for measuring to ascertain whether certain book deserves to be included in the list of the Bible.

The Old Testament or the Hebrew Bible is commonly referred as TaNaKh by Jews and gives a convenient name for remembering the basic format of the Old Testament that is Torah which consists of first five books and deal with Law; the group five books is also called Pentateuch, the second division called Nevi’im that is about prophets and the last portion is called Ketuvim consisting of wisdom and poetic text. The five books of Pentateuch are: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Nevi’im is made up of: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. The Ketuvim contains Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles.

As much of distinction in the Old Testament was made in accordance with the scrolls on which the books were written thus Hebrew Bible basically contains 24 books but the modern Bible consists of 39 books on the account of further dividing Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles into halves and treating individual accounts of prophets as separate books ( Hill, Walton, 2000).

Interestingly we see that even though there were formal systems of localized religions present at time of Abraham and other prophets we don’t seem find any written documents associated with the patriarch Abraham that can be used as the religious or reference text. It was not until Moses who is accredited with writing the text that served as the primary source of sacred text. As far as the canonization of the Old Testament is concerned no formal documents are present that could relate to us the people or factors that became basis for the induction of books in the OT present in it, hence nothing can be said with definitive authority. Nevertheless we could take a guess of situation and events under which canonization occurred. Once it was thought that it started quite late in the Israel’s history but the research shows that this might no longer be the case because by the second millennium BCE emergence of Mesopotamian organized work of literature had already been witnessed by human civilization that serve as a sign of canonization  on the secular front and since this pattern was viewed as a standard by most so it is not hard to imagine Hebrews considering themselves to be a distinct lot and segregating themselves in effort to preserve and retain their specific identity doing same sort of thing to their religious text and perhaps keeping them in temples and houses to share with rest of the community. The most convincing proofs come from the incidents of keeping Decalogue inside the Ark of the Covenant and the book of the Torah beside it and plus the chance discovery of a book of the Torah in the Temple around 622 BCE give ample proof that canonization existed earlier than generally believed in Israel.

The history of the Torah could be assessed from the fact that the Chronicles developed around 400 BCE has many passages containing references of the “Torah of Moses” and bears quite resemblance with the Pentateuch. The earliest mention of the Torah dates back to 622 BCE when King Josiah of Judah upon serendipity of coming across the book from temple construction site held the ceremony with its subsequent recitation formally laid the foundation for the canonization process. The final acceptance of canonized book of the Torah probably did not take place till the Babylonian Exile (6th–5th centuries BCE).

By the time Jews went into captivity in Babylon around 586 BCE the Jews already had some semblance of ordered religious text in the form of the Torah and now they had the precedence for compiling further work on the same line and especially given the plight of the people in captivity it was needed boost in them the sense of pride and conviction and what better way of achieving that but including the accounts of prophets that continued to evoke the passion and hope alive in them and  kept them in touch with God of Israel. Thus the Nevi’im was canonized with books of prophets. The canonization of the Ketuvim is understood to be governed by a synod at Jabneh (100 CE) but even then this was accorded universal acceptance until some time and finally the matter of the Ketuvim was considered closed for good since it was becoming important to have unanimity of scriptures as the Jewish state disintegrated by 70 CE and vanishing of central authority and even the Jewish nation could stay together due to emerging geopolitical scenarios and the uneven spread of Jewish Diaspora demanded that the scriptures be common factor for them even if nothing else could be.

The Pentateuch is generally considered as the most significant part of the Old Testament that narrates briefly the creation of universe, gives genealogy of Adam, the epic journey of Israel from the house of bondage; Egypt to the promised land, draws major frame work of Jewish Law and ends with the death of Moses. The most prevalent view regarding the authorship of the Torah is that it is written by Moses. The arguments that are presented in favor of Mosaic authorship are: Exodus 34:27 says, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.'” And other references that are found through out the Old Testament (Joshua, 1 & 2 Kings, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, and Malachi) that seem to refer to Moses as the author of the Pentateuch. He is highly respected figure in both Christianity and Judaism to such an extent that one can still find the conservatives in the world who strictly adhere to Mosaic Law to the core even today. The ambiguity one finds in this general perception is that most of the text related to Moses in the Torah is written from the viewpoint of the third person and demands serious reconsideration for establishing the exact authorship of the text, for example in Deuteronomy, chapter 31 verse 9 states “And Moses wrote this law, and gave it to the priests . . . and to all the elders of Israel.” And similarly the last eight versus of the Pentateuch that tell about the death of Moses also cast shadow of doubt over this general view point.  Hence now the people who have done research have made more educated opinion accept that the Pentateuch cannot solely be attributed to Moses as there are many clear cut variations in the writing style of these five books and now it is assumed that these books in fact could be written by number of writers from different time spans. This could now be proved as:

In 18th century three researchers (Witter, Astruc and Eichhorn) working independently reached the conclusion that stories repeated twice in the Pentateuch are most often conflicting to each other like: The two stories of creation in Genesis, Narratives of the covenant between God and Abraham, Christening of Isaac, Renaming of Jacob as Israel, Versions of the Ten Commandments in exodus and Deuteronomy are different, Water incident at Meribah. The striking difference between the two descriptions is one version uses Yahweh for God and another Elohim for the same (Friedman, 1997).

By 19th century the researchers noticed a third version of some events that pointed out the presence of third writer in addition to earlier two and around the same time it was also figured out that the book of Deuteronomy had a different writing style than the other four books and further analysis also disclosed intriguing results and by the end of 19th century it was concluded that four different authors and at least one redactor who did the editing were actively involved in the compilation of the Pentateuch. These findings together with various linguistic analytical methods brought the results to more sophistication and reliability and efforts were also made to associate verses and parts of verses that were found in the passage to their original writers and modern technology is proving useful in achieving this end.


Timothy R. Carmody. Reading the Bible: A Study Guide. New York: Paulist Press, 2004
John b. Gabel, Charles B. Wheeler, Anthony D. York, David Citino. The Bible As Literature, An Introduction Fifth edition. New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006
R.E. Friedman, “Who Wrote the Bible?” Harper Collins, San Francisco, CA, 1997.
P.C. Craigie, “The Old Testament: Its Background, Growth & Content,” Welch Publ. Co, Burlington ON Canada, Page 121
Andrew E. Hill, John H. Walton. A Survey of the Old Testament  Zondervan, 2000
John Glynn.Commentary and Reference Survey: A Comprehensive Guide to Biblical and Theological Resources Kregel Publications, 2003
Michael A. Grisanti, David Morris Howard, Giving the Sense: Understanding and Using Old Testament Historical Texts  2003.