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Anyone know Biblical history? Other texts ?(5 posts)

Anyone know Biblical history? Other texts ?Jusme
Dec 19, 2003 7:26 AM
Thinking last night how much I don't know.

1- What was in the texts found at Nag Hamadi(sp)?

2- What exactly were contained in the dead sea scrolls?

3- How did the books we know as the Old & New Testaments come together? I mean physically. Were they all spread out or were they kept together by some group.

4- What was left out of the Bible by the Nicene council and where did these books go?

Any answers are appreciated.
I'll give it a go...Dwayne Barry
Dec 19, 2003 8:21 AM
but don't take my word on any of it! Go to: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/
for all kinds of links to scholarly works.

1. Amongst other documents, the Gospel of Thomas was found at Nag Hamadi. It's thought that in the 4th (5th?) century when the catholic church had declared gnosticism a heresay that the monks at a monestary in Egypt took their gnostic texts into the dessert and buried them to prevent their destruction. The Gospel of Thomas is a collection of sayings attributed to Jesus (much like the "lost" document called Q is thought to be), not a story like the gospels in the bible, many of which are obviously gnostic in origin and therefore probably never uttered by Jesus.

2. The dead sea scrolls are the documents from a community of Jewish religious extremists (Qumran) that existed around the same time as Jesus. Value is they give insight into Judaism around the time of Jesus. When they were first found I think there was some thought that the "enlightened one" (not the exact title but you get the idea) that the documents refer to was Jesus, but I think that has now been thoroughly discounted.

3 & 4. Not exactly sure, I have a book on the way that I hope will cover this issue. But from what I've read, I get the impression that the church fathers were fairly conservative in what got into the bible. I imagine the stuff that was selected from the Jewish Torah, etc. for the bible is stuff that was at the core of Judaism/Christian mythology/theology, especially stuff that was relevant to Jesus being the messiah.
2 answersAlexx
Dec 19, 2003 10:44 PM
3) The books of the new testament were not formalized until the first nicean council. This was shortly after a wave of religious fanaticism (led partly by a "mystic" who had castrated himself, btw...), during which time several popular 'gospels' were discarded. The reasons why certain books were chosen had more to do with politics than with faith-the book of revelations, for example, was only included because it was wildly popular with the fanatics that were strong in Rome at the time. The reason given for only chosing 4 gospels was likewise not based on faith-the reason was because "there are 4 winds, so there should be 4 gospels", to paraphrase what I learned. John became the 4th book partly because it was popular in the east, but mostly because the book of Thomas (arguably the most 'true' gospel) stated that clergy were not required for rituals-something that the 4th century church did not want....

4)Many books were declared heretical, and many of these were of dubious value. The book of Thomas, however, was likely the oldest and most accurate, but wasn't wanted by the politicos, so it was discarded, declared heretical. People who were found in possesion of these books could (and often were) condemned to death for the crime of heresy. The book of Thomas was only found in complete form about 50 years ago, in a coptic church library in Egypt.
While I don't doubt...Dwayne Barry
Dec 20, 2003 4:10 PM
that politics influenced the books of the bible, I think you're mistaken about the Gospel of Thomas as far as being the most accurate. For one, it's not a "gospel" like the 3 synoptic gospels and John, it is just a collection of 100+ sayings attributed to Jesus (you can go read them for yourself at the link I provided above), some of which are the same as those in the 3 synoptic gospels (lending credance to the existance of the supposed document Q, plus it's in the form, a list of sayings, that Q is thought to have taken) but many are clearly "gnostic". Thomas is gnostic in the sense that it expresses the gnostic idea that you could know God through your own revelations, etc. rather than through the church, but it's not gnostic in the sense of the major theological differences with catholicism on the nature of God that would develop over the next couple of centuries.

You're right that it's thought to be early because the author appears to have no knowledge of the synoptic gospels which were circulating in the christian communities by the early 2nd century. The problem is that it appears to express the more developed theologcial idea of John that the "Kingdom of God" is already here on earth and isn't an end of the world type of event (which is what the 3 synoptic gospels portray as the belief of Jesus, and I think is clearly what most of the earliest christian communities believed). But from what I gather most scholars believe it is early not late, and the earthly "Kingdom of God" developed independently in Thomas and John.

FWIW, for the scholarly works I've read, the people who are most informed on these kind of issues believe that the three synoptic gospels are the most accurate representations of the life of Jesus (not without their problems though), and that John and Thomas, etc. took more liberties.
Old Testament historykilimanjaro
Dec 23, 2003 11:34 AM
Most responses talked about the New Testament. I took an undergraudate course with a well known Hebrew biblical scholar that published a book undentifying seven distinct sources for the Hebrew bible (what Christians consider the Old Testement). I did not read his book but I believe he actually identified priestly families responsible for the different threads.

Essentially there are two main sources. When Israel broke into the the Northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kigdom of Judea after King Solomon, both royal houses and their attached priestly class used the biblical stories to justify their rule and denigrate the other. When the northern kingdom was destroyed and people flead south the two main streams were combined. I don't remember if the biblical stories where comitted to writing during the two kingdoms, after the fall of the northern kingdom, or during the disporsa.

This explains for example, the story of Moses condeming Isrealites for worshiping a Bull and Cheburim at the base of Mt. Sinai. There were no previous records of Isrealites worshiping these two animals, nor were they workshiped by the Egyptians they escaped from. However, the was a bull guarding the northern royal throne and Cheburims guarding the northern temple (or vise versa). In essense this story was meant to suggest that the northern kingdom practiced idolatry (which is not true) and are heretics from Judiasm.