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The mistakes and contradictions in the Bible were known to rabbis and priests in antiquity. But during the Middle Ages a sense of literalism colored the ways Jews and Christians looked at their Bibles. So, when the same contradictions were pointed out again in the 17th century, they were met with cries of “Heresy!” from rabbis and priests. But slowly men began examining the Bible the way they examined other ancient literature and a new discipline, Biblical Studies, was born.
The belief in the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch was fairly well debunked by the end of the 19th century. But scholars then began to realize just how complex the authorship of the Old Testament was. They revived an ancient idea that Ezra had woven together all the divergent accounts that came to be the Pentateuch, and on to his work other books were later added to produce our Old Testament.
By the time of Christ the Jews had so many different versions of the various books of their Bible that something had to be done to decide which version was “The Word of God.” The rabbis did this at Jamnia in the early 1st century. But then came the harder question: How does one interpret the “Word of God?” Literally, figuratively, allegorically?
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By the 2nd century BC most Jews no longer understood Hebrew and their Bible was unintelligible to them. So, a translation was made into Greek, the Septuagint. Other works, the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, were written in Greek and Aramaic and attributed to ancient Biblical heroes. Rabbis and later priests then had to confront the issue of whether the Greek translation was inspired, and were the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha “The Word of God?”
Christianity came into being with a sacred literature already in existence, their Old Testament. To it the followers of Jesus added their own writings, which became their New Testament. But there were many more gospels and epistles in antiquity than there are now in the Christian Bible. Christians had to decide which were inspired works and which were not.
Not until the early 5th century did the Christians decide which books were to be included in their New Testament. But even then, not all Christian churches had the same list of inspired works. Furthermore, the Christians had to face the same problem the rabbis did: How does one interpret the “Word of God?” Literally, figuratively, allegorically?
As Christianity spread across the Roman Empire and then beyond its borders, the Bible had to be made intelligible to non-Greek and to non-Latin speakers. Christian missionaries invented new alphabets and made new translations into new languages. The Bible appeared in tongues that the rabbis and priests of antiquity never could have imagined.
The tradition of translating the Bible into new languages came to an abrupt end in the Middle Ages. As the Church strove to fight heresy, it sought to do so by limiting the faithful’s access to the Bible. That policy would change with the Reformation, Counter-Reformation and the invention of printing.