The Liberal Christian™ is an ecumenical blog authored by Dr. Tom Rodriguez. To participate, click on the blue link titled “COMMENTS” immediately below the appropriate posting and fill in a screen name and your email address.
ABOUT THE BIBLE (PART 2)
For this writing, in addition to essays in the “New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha,” I used the textbook “Introducing the New Testament: A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey” by Mark A. Powell copyright 2009, and published by Baker Academic. At the end of the Old Testament, the Jewish nation was a vassal state of the Persian Empire. The Temple was rebuilt, and Judah was under the control of high priests with little interference from the Persians. However, the Persian Empire was eventually conquered by Alexander the Great of Macedon. Alexander died suddenly and did not leave an heir, so his generals divided up his Empire. First Judah was governed by the Ptolemies of Egypt from 320 to 198 BCE and then by the Seleucids of Syria from 198 to 167 BCE. Under the Seleucids, Hellenism was forced on Judah; and Judaism was outlawed. This led to a Jewish revolt by the Maccabees in 167 BCE. Much of this history is found in the books of the Apocrypha. Despite this, many Protestants today are not aware of this history. I believe this is largely due to the fact that the Apocrypha are not recognized by Protestants as inspired scripture and thus not included in their Bibles. Not withstanding, the Roman Catholic, and the Russian and Eastern Orthodox churches consider these works to be deuterocanonical (i.e., secondarily canonical). The Anglican Communion’s churches and the Episcopal Church in the USA also utilize the Apocrypha. In 63 BCE, Judah came under the control of the Roman Empire. About 60 years later, Jesus was born (i.e., 6 to 4 BCE). Jesus’s ministry lasted almost 30 years until He was crucified by the Romans between 30 and 33 CE. This is the basic history that spans from the end of the Old Testament through the end of the New Testament.
Likewise, some important history also occurred after the New Testament ends. The apostle Paul converted from Judaism to Christianity sometime between 32 and 36 CE. He travelled through much of the Roman Empire between 46 and 65 CE setting up churches until he was imprisoned. It was during this time that he wrote his letters (or epistles) to nine churches and four individuals. These were the earliest Christian writings but are not the first writings presented in the New Testament. The first writings are the Gospels. I suppose this arrangement is due to the need to present a comprehensive biography of Jesus’s birth, life, death, and resurrection first; and this is exactly what the Gospels do. The apostles Peter and Paul were martyred sometime around 62 to 65 CE in Rome. Jewish Zealots practically forced the Jews into a revolt against Roman rule in 66 CE. In 70 CE, the Romans squashed the rebellion; and in the process, the second Temple was destroyed. However, a group of rebels were holdup at the fortress of Masada at the top of a mountain. The Jewish-Roman War continued until 73 CE when Masada was finally infiltrated. Most of the rebels committed mass suicide instead of surrendering to the Romans. Over the next several decades (i.e., 80 to 100 CE), the Gospels and the remaining New Testament writings were composed. The Gospel of Mark was the first gospel to be written.
Again we can see that if the Bible is the only work one studies, it is next to impossible to understand the Bible and Biblical events thoroughly. Unlike, the Old Testament, there were many copies of the New Testament ‘s books. In this situation it became necessary to find the most reliable text. This is what one type of Biblical scholarship, text criticism, accomplishes. Text criticism is only one type of historical criticism. Other types are source criticism, form criticism, and redaction criticism. In source criticism, scholars attempt to identify hypothetical sources that the Biblical authors utilized in their writing. Form criticism attempts to determine what genre of literature a writing best represents. For example as we discussed in Part 1 of this essay, is Genesis a history or is it myth? It is also important to understand that a writing can also be set in a historical period and yet be a work of fiction! Redaction criticism attempts to determine how a book’s author edits different source documents in order to put forth his particular point of view. In addition to historical methods of critiquing a written work, there are various types of literary criticism. These methods analyze the Bible much like any other work of literature. There is also ideological criticism which seeks to determine how writings are interpreted by people with different ideologies. Two common types of ideological critical methods are feminist and queer criticism. Finally, there are deconstruction methods based on postmodern philosophies that seek to discover what is privileged in a written work and why. Deconstruction methods argue that just because one point of view is privileged over another doesn’t mean that the second point of view is less valid.
In this essay, I reviewed the history leading up to and following the life of Jesus. My aim was to describe the circumstances in which the New Testament was written and how the New Testament is studied. Jesus lived in a Roman-Hellenistic period. Greek was the predominant language and the language in which the New Testament books were composed. Commoners could be taxed into poverty; and if a man couldn’t pay his debts, he and his family could be sold into slavery. We learned that Paul’s letters were the earliest of the New Testament writings. They were written a few decades after the crucifixion of Jesus. Thirty to forty years after Paul wrote his Epistles, the remaining works of the New Testament were written. The Gospel of Mark was the earliest of the Gospel writings. The Gospels represent a type of ancient biography. By all accounts, Jesus was a real person who existed in history. Although the religion that He gave rise to is Christianity, Jesus himself, was a Jew. He represented one out of several sects of Judaism that were common at the time. Jesus was from the town of Nazareth in the region of Galilee. He roamed throughout Galilee, Samaria, and Judah teaching, healing, exorcizing evil spirits, and proclaiming the Kingdom of God.