History and Story Behind the Old Testament of the Bible Part 1

About the religious books that make up the Old Testament of the Bible, history of the Jewish and Christian holy works.



Religions: Judaism and Christianity.

Publication Date: Although the Jewish calendar dates back 58 centuries and the writings in Genesis cover prehistory, the oldest written part of the Old Testament appears to be the war song of Deborah in Judges 5, dating from the 12th century before Christ (12th century B.C.E., or "Before Common Era"; A.D. dates are indicated as C.E., or "Common Era," by Jewish historians, rather than Anno Domini, "Year of Our Lord").

The Old Testament is a compilation of laws, history, and literary writings originally found on scrolls which, though written at different times, were gradually added together, beginning around the 8th and 9th centuries B.C.E.

How Written: Since the Old Testament grew over the years into scripture, starting first with the laws, then the historical and literary prophets, and finally the other poetic writings, two important questions arise: How were the individual scrolls written and how was the Bible made into a collection?

The scrolls must have first been records of rituals and customs secretly preserved during times of oppression. A book of laws, probably Deuteronomy, was discovered in scroll form among the ruins during the restoration of the Temple in 622 B.C.E. It was written by an unknown prophet and apparently grew out of older books of law--the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20:22-23:33), dating back to 900 B.C.E., which in turn drew its source from the Little Book of the Covenant (Exodus 34). This is the kernel around which the five books of the Torah, or Pentateuch, were written. They were probably canonized into scripture during the Babylonian Exile of the 6th and 5th centuries B.C.E.

The writings of the Prophets were added to the Old Testament around 250-175 B.C.E., although the actual writings were much earlier. The Dead Sea Scrolls, found in the caves of Qumran in the 1940s, predate the destruction of the Second Temple and were written by one who referred to himself as the "Teacher of Righteousness," a head of an ancient Jewish sect, possibly the Essenes.

The literary writings took a more fluid course as to their inclusion as scripture. Psalms was the hymnbook and prayerbook of the Second Temple (after the Exile) and is itself a collection of collections with occasional repetitions. For instance, Psalms 14 and 53 are the same, as are 70 and 40:13-17.

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