One thing that happens in apologetics is that when you continue to research, you continue to learn. Yes, this is shocking, I know.
I post as I learn about many things. Right now I'm studying the Septuagint and the development of Scripture. This will probably end up filling many pages when I'm done, but I'll be posting as I go along in "quick bites" for people who are interested in such things. But this means that I won't have read everything or know everything (if such a thing is possible) when I write each blog post.
So, forgive the errors you run across in archived blog posts. If you run across an old blog post on here that doesn't seem quite right, please go check the site page it's copied onto. Or contact me. You might have found something I need to look into!
As always, God is the reason for doing this. God is the reason I spend my time studying the Bible and why (I hope) you spend your time reading things like this site. Things will be updated and corrected on this site. I'm sure even after this site is long gone, people will continue reading the Bible and all the commentary/apologetics about the Bible and correct each other over things said by men (or women) centuries ago.
And I hope we all- both as Christians and humans- spend our time not only reading God's word, but loving Him and each other.
The historical books of the Bible are a continuation of the history of the Pentateuch.
They include: Joshua; Judges; Ruth; 1 and 2 Samuel; 1 and 2 Kings; 1 and 2 Chronicles; Ezra; Nehemiah; Tobit; Judith; Esther; and 1 and 2 Maccabees. Protestant Bibles removed Tobit, Judith, and the Maccabees during the Reformation. Note that the "divisions" of the Bible into Pentateuch, Historical books, Prophets, etc. can be different according to different scholars/schools of thought.
Joshua, Judges, Samuel(s), & King(s) are often called "The Deuteronomistic History." In an earlier form, these books were published together with Deuteronomy as their introduction. The "final" edition of these books certainly dates from the post exilic period, but much of it may have been in written form before then. Sources mentioned throughout the books indicate that there was a body of historical writing that these authors drew upon. These books not only attempt to inform of historic events, but also inserts speeches/essays of theology. The Deuteronomistic History tells of Israel's history, but leaves its future a bit vague.
Ruth is, quite simply, a short story of ordinary people. The artistic telling of this story is meant to inform and provide models of living faithfully even during times of difficulty.
"The Chronicles and Later Histories" includes 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah. Chronicles start with a list of genealogies starting with Adam and going to Saul. In contrast with the Deuteronomistic History, the Chronicles try to visualize for us a clearer form of Israel's future. It shows continuity between Israel's past and their coming future. It makes a larger effort not just to relay events of the past, but to interpret them. Ezra and Nehemiah are narrative accounts of the post exilic period, showing the restoration of Judah following the exile of Babylon.
Tobit is often described as a "religious novel." The purpose of the story is to show that God controls events and circumstances in order for His own purposes.
Judith and Esther are, bluntly, hard to classify at all. Both have multiple historical errors, but are kept for their attempts to show how God will rescue Israel.
Finally, 1 2 Maccabees cover the period of the second century B.C. It provides details from the period after the histories but before the Gospels.
I'm adding these maps to the places sections for future reference. Sometimes when reading the Bible, it helps to look at a map and see the actual land that is being talked about. First is a map of the division of the land of Israel by the 12 tribes, second is a map of Israel during the time of Jesus.
The concept of living faith, as opposed to simple belief, is a fundamental principle of religion. This does not refer simply to Christianity. In reading "The Case for God" by Karen Armstrong, I was struck by how universal the concept of letting go of self and doing for others was. To demonstrate this, I collected a group of quotes that I found significant. All the quotes below are from her book, referenced at the bottom. I highly, highly recommend purchasing and reading the entire book; it is amazing.
The Upanishadic sages (Vedic spirituality, India) put forth that "the truths of religion are accessible only when you are prepared to get rid of the selfishness, greed, and self-preoccupation that, perhaps inevitably, are ingrained in our thoughts and before...Once you gave up the nervous craving to promote yourself, denigrate others, draw attention to your unique and special qualities, and ensure that you were first in the pecking order, you experienced an immense peace" (p.20).
"Nirvana was the natural result of a life lived according to the Buddha's doctrine of anatta ("no self"), which was not simply a metaphysical principle, but, like all his teachings, a program of action. Anatta required Buddhists to behave day by day, hour by hour, as though the self did not exist....by far the best way of achieving anatta was compassion, the ability to feel with the other...One of the first people to make it crystal clear that holiness was inseparable from altruism was the Chinese sage Confucius" (p.24-25).
"Plato's disciples had to live out this separation [of soul from body] on a daily, hourly basis, paying careful attention to their behavior, as if each moment were their last. They must constantly be on their guard against pettiness and triviality, thus transcending the individualized personality that they would one day leave behind" (p.66). It goes on to counsel separation from earthly affair, not loving money, accepting misfortune, and being moderation in food and drink.
"Anselm is saying something quite different: religious truth made no sense without practically expressed commitment" (p.132).
Al-Ghazzali (Muslim) put forth the concept that "those who did not have the time, talent, or inclination for this type of spirituality could make themselves conscious of God in the smallest detail of daily life" (p.137).
Confucius advocates constant altruism. When practiced "'all day and every day,' it elevated human life to the realm of holiness and gave practitioners intimations of transcendence" (p.308).
Armstrong, K. (2009). The Case for God. New York: Random House, Inc.
As Pope Francis is Time's Person of the Year and due to the fact that I highly respect him, I've decided to share some of his words with everyone.
"If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, well who am I to judge them?"
"Women are asking deep questions that must be addressed. The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role. The woman is essential for the church. Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops."
"How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?"
“To love God and neighbor is not something abstract, but profoundly concrete: it means seeing in every person and face of the Lord to be served, to serve him concretely. And you are, dear brothers and sisters, in the face of Jesus.”
I've also included a link to his Apostolic Exhortation. (I've left the URL unmasked in case the link doesn't work for you...then you can just cut and paste!). The PDF document is also available at /beyond-the-bible.html
Let us start with the fairly blunt fact- not accepted by some- that the literal interpretation of the Bible in all aspects in a fairly new trend. In the last two centuries, this trend has come to the point that people are believing myths that weren't believed by the most primitive people (judging society by its level of technological advancement). Two stories of particular contention are (of course) Genesis itself and the Flood.
Much better scholars than I have studied creation stories, their links to each other, and how earlier generations interpreted them. I strongly suggest starting with Karen Armstrong: "The Case for God," "The History of God," and "The Battle for God." The "Archaeological Study Bible," while not my favorite Bible for actual reading, has great supplemental material, among it small articles on ancient creation narratives and ancient flood narratives.
Briefly, all early civilizations- not surprisingly- have creation myths. It seems to be a universal human need to attempt to explain the world around us, including its beginnings. These stories were adjusted as needed and seem to have been used by people much like parables- a tool to teach a particular point. They were not studied as if they were history books.
Many early creation myths involve one superior God who appears after either a succession of earlier, less important, less majestic gods -or- one who shows his greatness by defeating some great enemy (such as Leviathan). Earth itself and humanity often arises from either a vast void of nothing or a great muck of mud/dirt/clay. The story in the Christian Bible resembles very closely the early Mesopotamian myths (Sumer being the first 'civilization' as defined by many historians, me among them). Early Mesopotamian accounts also include a flood narrative. (As do some accounts from the New World...who were NOT in contact with the Middle East).
Summary: it is everyone's prerogative to believe what they wish. God gives us free will. My thinking is that before one attempts to limit what someone else can study (such as banning the teaching of the theory of evolution from schools), one should make sure they are an expert on said topic. And then they should pray and ask if it is really God's will for them to control someone else's will and thoughts. Let His will be done.
As there were multiple cultures, countries, and cities in the early days, it also follows that there were multiple creation myths. While fascinating, it is also important to have an overview of these various stories. They were stories that the Hebrews would have been familiar with. People that lived around them would have subscribed to these stories just as much as the Hebrews subscribed to their beliefs. While a complete description of all creation myths could fill a book, I’m going to try to give a brief overview of some of the major beliefs that the Hebrews might have come in contact with. In today’s post, we’ll cover the basic Hebrew creation concept. Future posts will cover Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Babylonian, Greek, and Roman beliefs.
From St. Joseph: “God’s heavenly seat rests above the superior waters. Below these waters lies the firmament or sky which resembles an overturned bowl and is supported by columns. Through the openings (floodgates) in its vault the superior waters fall down upon the earth in the form of rain or snow. The earth is a platform resting on columns and surrounded by waters, the seas. Underneath the columns lie the inferior waters. In the depths of the earth is Sheol, the home of the dead (also called the nether world).
While studying the Hebrew conception of the world, we have not only do have the Biblical example of creation to read, but graphics developed by scholars. Genesis: Chapter 1 has a description of the formation of the world, giving an outstanding view of how the Hebrews would have viewed the world. I suggest reading various Bibles to see how the word descriptions vary (not to argue about various points, but to appreciate the adjectives, and expand ones’ view).
From the “Archaeological Study Bible, p. 5, ‘Ancient Creation Narratives’” (which I recommend to everyone to buy! This is an indispensable resource!) “The Genesis account implicitly challenges the claims of these ancient creation myths by affirming God’s unity and sovereignty, by portraying the heavenly bodies and great sea creatures as his creations and by presenting humans as God’s stewards—and indeed image bearers—rather than as an after-thought born of divine need or laziness.”
Catholic Book Publishing, “St. Joseph Edition, New American Bible.” New York, NY: Catholic Book Publishing.
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, “New International Version: Archaeological Study Bible.” Zondervan Corporation: Grand Rapids, MI, 2005.
In my opinion- which is by no means a universal opinion- studying the Bible only begins with the Bible. It goes far beyond the actual words of the Bible. Without understanding the literary styles used at the time the Bible was written, the lifestyle and daily habits of those living in those times, and the political and sociological circumstances (among many other things), one can easily misunderstand, misinterpret, or misapply the Bible. Another part of Bible study- again, in my opinion- is listening to the opinions of others. It doesn't matter if one agrees or not. One must just listen.
So, today, I invite you to visit the CNN Belief Blog & read the article "My Take: The 3 biggest biblical misconceptions" by John Shelby Spong. Link is: http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/12/29/my-take-the-3-biggest-biblical-misconceptions/.
The three misconceptions he expands upon are listed below:
1) The Bible accurately reflects history.
2) The Bible is the literal "word of God."
3) The Bible is static and unchanging.
As always, I love my reader's opinions! Do you believe the above statements are true? Or misconceptions?
(And, of course, I would love to hear WHY you think so.)
_ Once one starts serious Bible study, it isn’t long before they run across the terms “Masoretic Text” and “Septuagint.” So, what are these documents?
The Masoretic Text is the standard version of the Hebrew Old Testament as it exists today. Until the sixth century A.D. only the consonants of the Hebrew OT were written down; the language contained no vowels. The tradition of correct pronunciation of ancient Hebrew words was passed down orally. Between A.D. 500 and 1000, a group of Jewish scholars known as the Masoretes (from maser- to hand down, transmit) developed a system of adding vowels, accents, and notes that guaranteed more accurate reading and copying of the ancient text. No other text from the ancient world was as carefully safeguarded as the Masoretic Text. Its tradition came to be regarded as authoritative and can still be considered highly trustworthy. The Masoretes themselves date from the early Christian period until the Middle Ages
In existence today:
The earliest complete Masoretic manuscript, the Leningrad Codex (A.D. 1009) is used for the standard edition of the Hebrew Bible.
Another source states that the standard for Hebrew Bibles printed today is the Masoretic Text from A.D. 1088, currently housed in the Saint Petersburg Public Library.
Another ancient copy, although partially lost, is the Aleppo Codex (A.D. 925)
The founding of the Dead Sea Scrolls has shown amazing consistency between the Masoretic Text and the original scrolls, even though they are separated by 1,100 years. This gives much credence to the idea that the Masoretic Text is a reliable copy that is faithful to the original meaning intended by the writers of the OT.
The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Old Testament (both Hebrew and Aramaic), along with a number of noncanonical Greek works known by Protestant Christians as the Aprocrypha. The title “Septuagint” is Latin for “seventy.” Legend/tradition holds that 72 elders, working independently of one another, each produced an identical translation of the Hebrew Pentateuch into Greek around 285 B.C. Originally designed for Greek-speaking Jews in Egypt, the Septuagint was completed by various translators in or around Alexandria between the third and first centuries B.C.
It came to have great authority among the non-Palestinian Jews, and allowed the Greeks to read the divine revelation in their own tongue. The Bible of the early church, it is frequently quoted in the NT and by early church fathers. It is still the official text of the Greek Church. The Septuagint is organized in the following order: the Pentateuch, followed by the historical, poetic, wisdom, and prophetic books. The order is loosely followed by our English translations. Due to the fact that various translators at various times with varying capabilities and styles.
At times, when translated into English, the two versions are almost identical. Yet, in other places, they can be quite different. One example of this is in the book of Jeremiah. However, several partial Jeremiah manuscripts found in Hebrew among the Dead Sea Scrolls may help provide some answers to this complex issue. Two significant manuscripts agree with the Masoretic Text, but another text reflects the wording of the Septuagint. This evidence suggests not that one or the other of the MT or Sep. has errors, but rather that two distinct Hebrew editions of the book of Jeremiah were in circulation.
This can also cause confusion for some reading the NT. Quotations from the OT appear, and when the reader goes back to the OT to read the actual text, they might discover that it is quite different. This is due to the fact that the OT was translated from the Masoretic text, whereas the NT is citing the same passage as it appears in the Septuagint. The Septuagint was used by Hellenistic Jews and by the early church.
-Catholic Book Publishing, “St. Joseph Edition, New American Bible.” New York, NY: Catholic Book Publishing.
-Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, “New International Version: Archaeological Study Bible.” Zondervan Corporation: Grand Rapids, MI, 2005.
-Green, Kevin (compiler), “All-In-One Bible Reference Guide.” Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2008.
When we first contemplate Eden, the best place to start is with the exact Biblical verses that talk of Eden. After reading the Bible verses, we will look at possible word origins and translation notes as well as the various locations scholars have suggested for Eden. And finally, we will look at the various meanings and interpretations that can be drawn from the verses about the Garden of Eden.
In this case, I have taken these verses from the St. Joseph Edition, New American Bible.
Genesis, Chapter 2, Verses 8-15:
8 Then the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and he placed there the man whom he had formed.
9 Out of the ground the Lord God made various trees grow that were delightful to look at and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of knowledge of good and bad.
10 A river rises in Eden to water the garden; beyond there it divides and becomes four branches.
11 The name of the first is the Pishon; it is the one that winds through the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold.
12 The gold of that land is excellent; bdellium and lapis lazuli are also there.
13 The name of the second river is the Gihon; it is the one that winds all through the land of Cush.
14 The name of the third river is the Tigris; it is the one that flows east of Asshur. The fourth river is the Euphrates.
15 The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it.
Word Translation & Origins:
In the Saint Joseph Bible, the notes for this section note that in Sumerian the word Eden is derived from ‘eden’, meaning ‘fertile plain. In Hebrew, a similar-sounding word means ‘delight.’ Together: the garden in Eden could therefore be understood as the ‘garden of delight,’ so that, through the Greek version, it comes to us as ‘paradise,’ literally, a ‘pleasure park.’
The Archeological Study Bible has a slightly different meaning for the words. They state that the Sumerian word ‘eden’ means ‘steppe’ or ‘open field,’ and the identical Semitic word, denotes ‘luxury’ or ‘delight.’ The Garden of Eden is not only the name of the garden in which the first humans resided but also a metaphor for the Garden of God, or Yahweh’s dwelling place.
The Oxford Illustrated Companion to the Bible agrees with the general meanings stated above: that some scholars connect the word ‘eden’ with a Sumerian meaning of “wilderness” or “plain,” while others have proposed a derivation from the Hebrew word for “delight” or “pleasure.” Therefore, we identify Eden as an ideal garden of delight, or paradise.
*****St. Jerome’s commentary takes perhaps the most logical stand about the location: it states simply that the Garden of Eden is the locale of God. They take the following reasons as evidence:
“The river going forth from Eden to water the garden and thence dividing into four rivers of the world, may be the ‘flow’ referenced in verse 6.
In some Ugaritic and Akk texts the high god dwells at the ‘source of the double deep,’ i.e., the source of all life-giving waters of the earth.
The totality of the world is symbolized by ‘four,’ as in the Akk phrase ‘the four quarters of the earth.’
St. Jerome’s commentary goes on to state flatly that the location of Pishon and Havilah in this text is unknown. Later in the Bible, Havilah is a descendant of Shem and Gihon is the name of a spring in Jerusalem. However, here the river Gihon flows through Cush in southern Mesopotamia (as deduced by the known positions of the Tigris and Euphrates).
The Zondervan All-in-One Bible Reference Guide also admits the truth: we simply do not have sufficient evidence to determine where the Garden of Eden was actually located.
The Archeological Study Bible puts forth possible meanings for the Gihon River and Pishon River, with the Gihon possibly being Hebrew for ‘to gush’ and the Pishon being understood as a form of the Semitic verb ‘to spring up.’ Even with these meanings, the ASB admits that the two rivers are difficult to identify.
*****Some scholars believe that the Gihon refers to the Nile, as Cush is sometimes associated with Nubia, south of Egypt. This is a belief with many complications as by naming the Gihon as the Nile, it makes the rest of the geography impossible, as the other rivers are in a completely different region.
*****Other scholars identify Cush as the land of Kassites, east of the Tigris, which was also known as Kush during ancient times. This theory has the benefit of placing three of the rivers noted (Gihon, Tigris, & Euphrates) in the same region. Supported by the verse that God placed the Garden “in the east,” presumably, to the east of Canaan/Israel, where most of the later events of the Bible took place.
*****A final theory is that Gihon and Pishon were simply parts of the Tigris or Euphrates Rivers, in the form of canals or tributaries. This is also supported by the verse that God placed the Garden “in the east,” presumably, to the east of Canaan/Israel, where most of the later events of the Bible took place
These theories, while separate from each other, can be incorporated into another set of theories, these based around the words in Verse 10: “A river rises in Eden to water the garden; beyond there it divides and becomes four branches.” These theories debate whether Eden was upriver of the four branches, encompassed the four rivers, or was downstream of the location of the four branches.
*****The first theory is that the four rivers shared a common source in Eden, placing Eden in northern Mesopotamia or Armenia. However, the fact that the Tigris and Euphrates lack a common source makes this theory suspect.
*****The second theory is that Eden is upriver of the four branches. This makes some sense with the current geography as the Tigris and Euphrates do indeed converge in southern Mesopotamia before they empty into the Persian Gulf. In this scenario Eden may still, as above, have been located in northern Mesopotamia or in the mountains in Armenia, from which the Tigris and Euphrates spring.
*****A third is theory is that Eden was in southern Mesopotamia, where the Tigris and Euphrates converge. This would place Eden downriver of the four branches.
*****A fourth theory is that Eden refers to an extremely large area of land, and that the four rivers referred to did not actually “meet” at any point, and instead, that they simply flowed within the boundaries of Eden. In this theory, some believe that the Pishon and Gihon respresent the Indus and Nile, indicating that Eden includes the entire Fertile Crescent from India to Egypt.
Once we have dispensed with the many, many theories about where Eden was located, we must look beyond the literal words to the various meanings and interpretations included in these verses. Eden has at its center the tree of life and the tree of knowledge. Thus, the garden is not simply an earthly garden, but a place created especially by God for humans. It is a model of the perfect relationship that existed between God and humans before the disobedience.
According to the Oxford Illustrated Companion to the Bible, later prophets had an altered meaning of the term. I’ll quote directly from that source: “The image of the garden of Eden reappears in somewhat altered form in the later prophets. The expulsion from Eden functions as a metaphor for the coming judgment against the nations (Tyre: Ezek. 28:11-19; Egypt: Ezek 31:8,9,16,18), and for the coming judgment of the day of the Lord (Joel 2:3). The garden of Eden is also an image of promise; in parallel with ‘the garden of the Lord,’ Eden appears in Isaiah 51:3 as a metaphor for the renewal of the land of Israel after the Babylonian exile (see also Ezek. 26:25, Rev. 22:2-3).”
I found a wonderful site that goes much more deeply into the matter of the location that I do. If you want more- or more complete- information, please visit: http://www.israel-a-history-of.com/biblical-garden-of-eden.html.
Brown, Raymond E. (S.S.), Fitzmyer, Joseph A. (S.J.), & Murphy, Roland E. (O. Carm). (1990) Genesis. “The New Jerome Biblical Commentary.” Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
Catholic Book Publishing. (various) Genesis: Chapter 2 Notes. “St. Joseph Edition, New American Bible.” New York, NY: Catholic Book Publishing.
Geisler, Norman & Howe, Thomas. (1992). Genesis 2:8. “The Big Book of Bible Difficulties.” Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. (2005). The Location of Eden. “New International Version: Archaeological Study Bible”. Zondervan Corporation, Grand Rapids, MI.
Green, Kevin (compiler). (2008). Eden. “All-In-One Bible Reference Guide”. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan.
Lockyear Sr., H. (Ed.) (1986) Eden. “Illustrated Dictionary of the Bible”. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Metzger, Bruce M. & Coogan, Michael D. (2003). Eden. “The Oxford Illustrated Companion to the Bible”. New York, NY: Tess Press.
Jennifer Becker Landsberger
Who am I? Freelance writer (magazines, websites, & copywriting), Catholic, military wife, and Mensan. Double Bachelor's in History & Psychology.
Witnessing by charity and love are above all. Studying the Bible and beyond helps me on this quest. Feel free to join my walk into the Bible.
If you wish to donate in order to help support the cost of running this website, it would be greatly appreciated!
If you found the information helpful, even a small donation would be wonderful!
Thank you & God bless you.
~~~Prayer before Writing-
Oh creator of the universe, who has set the stars in the heavens and causes the sun to rise and set, shed the light of your wisdom into the darkness of my mind. Fill my thoughts with a loving knowledge of you, that I may bring you like to others. Just as you can make even babies speak your truth, instruct my tongue and guide my pen to convey the wonderful glory of the Gospel. Make my intellect sharp, my memory clear, and my words eloquent, so that I may faithfully interpret the mysteries what you have revealed.
To my readers & fellow writers,
1. I will pray that God's grace helps illuminate all of our interactions- both those of simple reading and more active conversations.
2. I will communicate with you respectfully and civilly. These are (rightly) issues which we feel passionate about. But even in disagreements, I will respect you fellow "seekers of truth."
3. I will not fall into negative behavior or words, such as insinuations, exaggerations, blames, or personal attacks. I respectfully ask you to do the same.
4. I will pray we will all find the truth and strive to fulfill the two greatest commandments: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:30-31)
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Sites I Recommend
Biblical Evidence for Catholicism by Dave Armstrong