The Origin of the Bible, Part III: The Prophets and Writings
by Ed Vasicek
In previous installments, we noted how that the Scriptures form a unity. Believing in one portion of the Scriptures leads you to the rest. We also demonstrated that writing existed well before the time of Moses and that events recorded in the Torah (first five books of the Bible) have significant archaeological backing, including the recent discoveries of Mt. Sinai, the shelf in the Red Sea where the Israelites crossed, and now quite possibly Noah's Ark. (See note below.)
But what about the historical books and the prophets? What's the lowdown? We have to do a bit of wading through some scholastic muck and mire and concentrate to answer this question. We recognize the historical and prophetic books as Scripture based upon the facts that 1) they were accepted by the Jewish people centuries before the time of Christ, 2) Christ Himself unashamedly accepted them (Luke 24:44: "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms"), and 3) the apostles accepted these books and used them as Scripture. For some of us, that settles it. But some of us want to go further. What external evidence can we offer?
Mention of a number of the prophets and their times are recorded within the historical books (Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, etc.). The prophecies themselves seemed to have been registered shortly after they were given, based on a statement found in Ezekiel 13:9, "My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. They will not belong to the council of my people or be listed in the records of the house of Israel, nor will they enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Sovereign LORD." The evidence that the prophets registered their writings and that copies were sent to the reigning kings and officials is both 1) implied by the Bible and 2) part of the Middle Eastern culture of the time.
K.A. Kitchen, Professor Emeritus at the University of Liverpool is considered perhaps the world's leading authority on Egyptology, Archaeology, and Oriental Studies. In comparing Old Testament prophets with the religions and "prophets" of neighboring countries, Kitchen concludes: "Thus throughout the centuries, across the biblical [Middle Eastern] world, the firsthand external evidence shows clearly and conclusively that the record of prophecies among contemporaries [of the Biblical prophets] and their transmission down through time was not left to the memories of bystanders or to the memory-conditioned oral transmission…" (p. 392). Kitchen explains, "…officials invariably relayed them [the prophetic pronouncements] promptly back to the royal palace—not orally, but in writing and sent on with the least possible delay" (p. 390, On The Reliability of the Old Testament, 2003, Eerdmans). If you are really interested in this subject, this is the book to get.
The prophets themselves recognized the writing of their fellow prophets to be Scripture: ".... in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years" (Daniel 9:2). Note that Daniel had a written copy of Jeremiah's prophecy (and may have even met him) and that Daniel recognized Jeremiah's prophecy as Scripture!
We know that the threefold division of "the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings" predated the time of Christ as a description of the Old Testament canon. Modern Jewish Bibles still use this tri-fold divisional scheme. Additionally, these books were translated into Greek in 250 B.C. This translation, done by Jewish rabbis, was completed by 70 scholars, and thusly named the "Septuagint," abbreviated by the Roman numeral for 70, "LXX". The majority of Jews who had become Greek speakers rather than Hebrew speakers used the Septuagint. The early church used the LXX until Jerome translated the Bible into Latin in the 4th century.
Although we have already addressed the controversy over the Apocrypha, we need to understand that the canon was settled before the time of Christ. It is true that in 90 A.D. in the town of Jamnia/Yabneh, the Rabbis gathered to debate whether Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon should remain in the canon. They agreed that these books should be included, but note this:
"The witnesses to the OT canon are constant throughout the 1st century and early Christian history. The understanding of the 39 books of the OT as canonical is seen in Josephus, Philo, Ben Sira, Qumran (150 BC), Melito (170 AD), Baba Batra (before AD 200), Origen (before AD 231)" (source: The Old Testament in Early Christianity by E. Earle Ellis. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991, pp. 6-33).
Shortly after the time of Christ (about 100A.D), the Jewish historian Josephus wrote: "From Artexerxes to our own time the complete history has been written but has not been deemed worthy of equal credit with the earlier records because of the failure of the exact succession of the prophets." ... "We have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another, but only twenty-two books, which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine..." (Flavius Josephus, Against Apion 1:8). Please note that the Jewish Bible is the same as our Old Testament, but they arrange the books differently (the 12 minor prophets as included as one book "The Twelve," Ezra and Nehemiah are in one book, and Lamentations is included as part of Jeremiah, Ruth is part of Judges, etc.).
According to Easton's Bible Dictionary, speaking of Ezra, we read: "… there is no reason to reject the constant tradition of the Jews which connects his name with the collecting and editing of the Old Testament canon. The final completion of the canon may have been, and probably was, the work of a later generation; but Ezra seems to have put it much into the shape in which it is still found in the Hebrew Bible."
In the Babylonian Talmud, Baba Batra indicates that the leaders of the Great Synagogue (in about 400 B.C.) were responsible to collect and copy the Scriptures in the tradition of Ezra. It is very possible that Ezra had the job of settling any controversies as to which books were to be included in what is now our Old Testament.
Many Jews believed that the era of the prophets ended during the time of Ezra with Zechariah and Habakkuk. The rabbis said that God no longer spoke audibly through the prophets, but only through dove-like cooing heard by men of God.
The historical books of the Old Testament refer to historical events that have been verified by the archeologist's spade. I will mention some of these in my Exodus/Numbers series coming up, but we have independent witness of the Egyptian King, Shishak, invading Israel 900 B.C., King Omri, King Ahab, and King Jehu are mentioned in Assyrian texts, as are many later kings and historical events within Israel.
The historical books have proven themselves accurate time after time. True, there are a few problems here and there, and reconciling differences often leads back to my oft-repeated axiom, "truth is not whole truth." But they are remarkable books indeed.
The prophets are remarkable not only for their historical accuracy, but also for the tremendous nature of the prophecies themselves! A study in Isaiah 53 or Daniel 9 can blow your mind. Although many religious writings have prophecy, there is nothing comparable to the detailed prophecies of the Old Testament.
In summary, the Jewish prophets—like the "prophets" in Assyria or Egypt, did not merely prophesy and depend upon oral tradition to preserve their words. They were considered too important; they were written down and a copy sent to the palace. The likelihood is strong that Ezra, the author of a Biblical book, settled any major controversies as to what did or did not belong in the first testament. The writings, including the historical books, bear the marks of authenticity; they record incidents, names of cities, and histories of kings, information that had been lost for centuries but have been, are, or will be discovered by the archeologist's spade. Jesus and the apostles appeal to the prophets as God's spokesman, and refer to their writings as Scripture and the Word of God.
It is reasonable to believe that the Old Testament writings and prophets can be traced back to ancient times in Israel, and it is reasonable to believe that their writings are accurate. Additionally, the nature of prophecy is such that it is reasonable to believe that the Old Testament is supernatural.
Note about Noah's Ark: You can see photos of what could be Noah's Ark on this website: Christian Worldview Network: Noah's Ark? For Real or from the July 5, 2006 edition of National Geographic an article entitled Noah's Ark Discovered in Iran? This is a recent discovery first publicized in June of 2006. Bob Cornuke, who was responsible for finding the real Mt. Sinai, headed up this expedition. Bob was involved with astronaut James Irwin's previous expedition and a personal friend of the deceased Irwin. Also from the BASE Institute, see In Search of Noah's Ark.
Reprinted from the September 2006 Body Builder, a publication of Highland Park Church.
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