Why is the Bible so well written?


#1

Written such a long time ago, I would expect that some of the writers of the books should have different levels of prose, especially in the Old Testament?.


#2

I read the five-volume Jewish Publication Society commentary on the Torah (5 books) a couple years ago.

The Jewish scholars spent up to ten years or even more researching these books. They spend a good amount of time on the literary aspects of the books.

They pointed out in detail (sometimes ad nauseam) what the literary structures of each book was (to varying degrees depending on the background of the author). The thing is,
there is a lot more structure to the Torah than meets the eye.

The literary structures which emerge in these studies not only show the lengths the writers went to in writing the books. but, the integrity of these structures, which are sometimes shown to be corrupted, emphasize the preservation of the texts as they have been handed down.

In particular, the commentary on Numbers is the most developed of the five books and it presents how there is an overaching unity of the Torah – which is what adherents of Judaism are certainly pleased to hear.

One of the features of literary structure has to do with Genesis. There are some words which repeat at intervals which divide the original text into 12 sections – a meaningful number in the Old Testament, for sure. This structure, thin as it is, nevertheless is something that is lost 1) in the various translations of the text, which lose the sense of repetition of those significant Hebrew words and 2) in the much-later assignment of chapter numbers and verse numbers, which also obscures the artfulness of the original.

Another example, Gen chp 1. Not only are there seven days of creation, but the verses in Hebrew are composed of seven Hebrew words or a multiple of seven words – certainly not an expected result, by chance. So, the number seven is emphasized in an obvious way and in a not-so-obvious way. Opinions vary within Judaism (Talmud is filled with opposing views), but the traditional Jewish scholar is looking to prove that everything was created in the first seven day (actually six days) – so, the Sabbath was established or created by God within the first seven days. They go so far as to assert that the ten commandments on the stone tablets were created during this seven day – this is in inductive leap of logic, of course, which tries to anticipate criticism of the six-day creation account.

The Pontifical Biblical Commission documents rate Jewish commentaries as first rate, but must nevertheless be used with caution.


#3

The JPS Commentary on the book of Esther has suprises in it. The biggest is that, based on the literary and historical record, the book is a comedy, filled with pages of plot changes that rival a roadrunner cartoon.

The very idea that an ancient king would send out an edict that could not be reversed is unknown in the ancient Middle East. That just heightens the tension of the plot -- there's only one way out, or so we think.

The scenes of drinking and debauchery have raised eyebrows over the centuries, for sure. They think this book made it into the Bible because ... and for one reason, to show the establishment of the feast of Purim, which is the first feast established outside of the Torah -- apparently the first of at least several.

It's a handy place to mention that the wisdom books provide an analogous expansion of the rules of living given in the Torah. There's a lot of questions the Torah doesn't answer, and these books fill the gap. These book establish the permission to expand rules beyond the Torah.

There's an award winning book from JPS called Subversive Sequels which show how earlier things are upended or closed off or resolved later in the Bible.

Subversive Sequels is what it says: something later comes along to subvert (or overturn) something that came earlier. An easy example, in Genesis, Adam was condemned to make his living by scratching the earth for crops. But, Abel comes along who is an animal herder. Just that fast, an idea is reversed.


#4

[quote="Robert_Sock, post:1, topic:320997"]
Written such a long time ago, I would expect that some of the writers of the books should have different levels of prose, especially in the Old Testament?.

[/quote]

To the extent that the Bible reads uniformly in English, it is arguably an error in translation. In the original Greek and Hebrew, the Bible is enormously uneven . This is, in fact, a famous criticism of translations such as the King James Version -- they tend to elevate all of the Bible's prose.

In particular, the New Testament is written in parts in an almost conversational style distinct from elevated literary Greek.


#5

Could be it has something to do with the Author ;)


#6

[quote="Robert_Sock, post:1, topic:320997"]
Written such a long time ago, I would expect that some of the writers of the books should have different levels of prose, especially in the Old Testament?.

[/quote]

Depends on what you mean by "well written"...?
There are indeed different levels of prose in different styles...I find some parts try to be very poetic, while some parts are lacking and unclear...the structure is interesting, but some parts could have used a good edit.
(If i was the editor, I would have filled in some obvious gaps--"why don't we have more words in there from Mary? Go get some quotes from her, and the other Mary, too! They are a key characters! And what happened to Jesus during those first thirty years?! And what happened to everyone afterward?!"...etc)

I hear King James hired top writers to translate for that version (no, not Shakespeare)...

These writers of the New Testament gospels, who are trying to "spread the good news", are going to be writing as dramatically and powerfully as they possibly can to try and grip people with the stories within.
And don't forget, many of these stories were passed on for 20-70 years verbally first, before being written down...so the stories were well honed and shaped along the way for decades so that by the time they were actually written down, they'd been well- polished.
That's a good, long deadline! You wouldn't get that for a book in today's market!

/


#7

Makes it important to do some study of the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin ... some phrases in English are difficult to comprehend, until you look up the Hebrew original text.

When I was studying the writing of St. John of the Cross who wrote in Spanish, I was able to lay four or five English translations along side the Spanish ... and the differences in the various English translations were startling. And he lived only 500 years ago versus as long ago as 4000 years for the early Old Testament "authors", who may not have actually written things down. Oral tradition was the way all sorts of records were kept in centuries past: property records, birth records, marriage information ... all were memorized and handed down that way ... that is how some families earned their living ... by reliably memorizing information.

When you refer back to phrases such as "Son of Man" ... and find the Hebrew is really "Son of Adam" ... or "Thou Shalt Not Kill" is really, in the Hebrew, "Thou Shalt Not Murder" ... then the importance of reading the texts in the original languages become important.

In complex Latin sentences, the structure of the text is complex to say the least.

Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote in Latin ... well, mostly he probably dictated ... he was both famous and prolific ... and when you do the comparative English translations, it becomes obvious that some translators "updated" some words and phrases.

Then there is the physical durability of the "paper" that the writing was put down on ... papyrus which rotted easily and quickly versus some form of parchment [sheepskin or goatskin, for example].

No idea how accurate this essay is, but is worth reading for one perspective:

pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/origins-written-bible.html


#8

Hi Robert,

I'm assuming your knowledge of the Bible is from translation. This is no guide for literary value. I have La bible de Jérusalem, which has been acclaimed for its high literary value, but this says nothing about the original texts in Hebrew and Greek. For example, the epistle to the Hebrews, attributed to Paul, is much better wriltten than Paul's other epistles.Sirach's post is instructive in this regard. One thing that stands out is that there is throughout the Old Testament a literary preoccupation, notably as to structure.

Verbum


#9

=Robert Sock;10559450]Written such a long time ago, I would expect that some of the writers of the books should have different levels of prose, especially in the Old Testament?.

2nd. Tim. 3:16-17
"All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, That the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work."

NOT "dictated" but sharing all and only what God wants us to have.:thumbsup:

We must not overlook the Powers of God to accomplish His Will. Amen


#10

[quote="Bible_Reader, post:4, topic:320997"]
To the extent that the Bible reads uniformly in English, it is arguably an error in translation. In the original Greek and Hebrew, the Bible is enormously uneven . This is, in fact, a famous criticism of translations such as the King James Version -- they tend to elevate all of the Bible's prose.

In particular, the New Testament is written in parts in an almost conversational style distinct from elevated literary Greek.

[/quote]

Yes, the 'well written" English versions are due to the "well phrased" translations into English.


#11

I think it is safe to say that the Old Testament came from oral tradition that became so ingrained that it was set down.
Oral tradition means that it was retold around campfires or during festivals for centuries.
So it might have been embellished, or packaged in such a way that was the most dramatic and colorful.
Like a stand-up comic honing his act.
Or the old pro preacher tweaking a popular sermon.
So the Old Testament should be a good read.


#12

[quote="Bible_Reader, post:4, topic:320997"]
To the extent that the Bible reads uniformly in English, it is arguably an error in translation. In the original Greek and Hebrew, the Bible is enormously uneven . This is, in fact, a famous criticism of translations such as the King James Version -- they tend to elevate all of the Bible's prose.

In particular, the New Testament is written in parts in an almost conversational style distinct from elevated literary Greek.

[/quote]

Yes--the prologues to the Gospel according to Luke in 1:1-4 and the Letter to the Hebrews (1:1-4) are very literary, with balanced sentences and good vocabulary. On the other hand, the grammar of the Gospel according to John is so simple that it is the standard text for beginner learners to study the Koine Greek, and the Gospel according to Mark is notable for its overuse of kai ("and") to join sentences. Paul is "hard to understand" (as Peter noted--2 Pet 3:16) in part because his style is very elliptical, often leaving out essential words or jumping from idea to idea. The original Bible is not written in a single style, but shows the characteristics of the many human authors involved.

You can even see this in the first two chapters of the Old Testament: Genesis 1:1-2:4 is carefully ordered and balanced in its story of creation, while Gen 2:10-14, in the "Garden of Eden" version of creation, has a description of the four rivers that water Eden, but pretty soon we are hearing of the land of "Havilah, where there is gold. The gold of that land is good; bdellium and lapis lazuli . . ." This is not a disciplined, balanced style. In the first chapter, God uses a word to create and adorn the cosmos; in the second chapter, God makes mud and shapes it into a human creature (with hands?) and blows breath into his nostrils--a far more intimate process, and a far more anthropromorphic picture of God.

In the Septuagint, we also note differences in the quality of translation. The Torah is quite accurate, while parts of the other books are less precise, which is where we get Isaiah's "young woman" becoming a "virgin" in the Greek.


#13

[quote="Verbum, post:8, topic:320997"]
Hi Robert,

I'm assuming your knowledge of the Bible is from translation. This is no guide for literary value. I have La bible de Jérusalem, which has been acclaimed for its high literary value, but this says nothing about the original texts in Hebrew and Greek. For example, the epistle to the Hebrews, attributed to Paul, is much better wriltten than Paul's other epistles.Sirach's post is instructive in this regard. One thing that stands out is that there is throughout the Old Testament a literary preoccupation, notably as to structure.

Verbum

[/quote]

Scholarly consensus on Hebrews is that it is probably not by Paul; even in ancient times the stylistic differences were obvious, and it does not name Paul as an author.

Paul is also interesting in that he apparently used scribes for his letters--likely dictating them as the scribe tried to keep up in shorthand, later writing them in full text and then getting Paul to OK them. In this process, the scribe's skill and literary ability would also have a bearing on the final result. In 2 Thess 3:17 Paul writes his own signature (as in various other letters), while in Rom 16:22 Tertius, the scribe for the letter, adds a greeting of his own.


#14

[quote="bmonk, post:12, topic:320997"]
On the other hand, the grammar of the Gospel according to John is so simple that it is the standard text for beginner learners to study the Koine Greek,

[/quote]

John is temptingly simple yet at the same time, difficult. That's a peculiar quality of his gospel: every key word and theme is pregnant with double meanings and different layers of interpretation.

and the Gospel according to Mark is notable for its overuse of kai ("and") to join sentences.

Mark also uses the word euthys "immediately" a lot in conjunction in kai, and he also often favors the historic present (something like "he says" or "they go" instead of "he said" or "they went"), something which unfortunately doesn't come across well in some translations, which often remove the "ands" and 'fixes' Mark's historic present into simple past tense.


#15

What do You think of the New English Translation of the Septuagint Dt 4:1-28:8, 30:1-34:12? What text and apparatus do You have?:

[quote="bmonk, post:12, topic:320997"]
In the Septuagint, we also note differences in the quality of translation. The Torah is quite accurate,

[/quote]

The conclusions I've made from recent scholars is that Ro 16:1-23 was not in the original (Frank J. Matera (2010). Paideia):

[quote="bmonk, post:13, topic:320997"]
in Rom 16:22 Tertius, the scribe for the letter, adds a greeting of his own.

[/quote]


#16

Surely you do know that the Old Greek was translated from a textual version different from the one which became the Masoretic Hebrew text?


#17

Yes, I know that:

[quote="patrick457, post:16, topic:320997"]
Surely you do know that the Old Greek was translated from a textual version different from the one which became the Masoretic Hebrew text?

[/quote]


#18

[quote="Cyklist, post:15, topic:320997"]
What do You think of the New English Translation of the Septuagint Dt 4:1-28:8, 30:1-34:12? What text and apparatus do You have?:

[/quote]

Actually, I have little on the Septuagint itself, apart from some scholarly comments and what teachers have said in class.

[quote="Cyklist, post:15, topic:320997"]
The conclusions I've made from recent scholars is that Ro 16:1-23 was not in the original (Frank J. Matera (2010). Paideia):

[/quote]

That does not invalidate my argument, since this was only one bit of evidence that Paul used a scribe. On the other hand, it is still part of the inspired text, and likely was added early enough so that it would have to be plausible that Tertius wrote the letter.


#19

You have to qualify that a bit further. There is indeed an opinion that Romans 16 as a whole may not have existed in the original version of the letter sent by Paul to the Christians at Rome. In an essay published in 1948, T.W. Manson suggested that the epistle to the Romans actually existed in two versions: the first (comprising of 1:1-15:33) was the one sent to Roman Christians, and an expanded second version (containing chapter 16) which was sent to Christians in Ephesus. The grounds for Manson’s view were partly text-critical; he claimed on the basis of the various surviving endings of Romans that there were three versions of the letter circulating in antiquity (the two we have mentioned plus Marcion’s redaction of it). He had also invoked the fact that (1) the chapter contains a large number of greetings for a church Paul never visited; (2) it names persons associated with Ephesus (such as Prisca and Aquila); and (3) the exhortations of 16:17-29 is odd when addressed to a church Paul had not visited, but natural for a church in which he had worked several years.

The argument is persuasive, but it is not conclusive. For one, while there are named persons who are associated with Ephesus (such as Epaenetus, “the first convert of Asia,” and Prisca and Aquila), there is no good reason why Prisca and Aquila could not have returned to Rome - from which they had come when Paul first met them in Corinth - after Claudius’ death, accompanied by Epaenetus. Also, if the inclusion of the chapter is a problem for a letter to Rome, it is even more difficult to imagine that Paul would end a letter without any greetings at all to Roman Christians. After all, if at all possible, he needs to acquire support and recommendations from persons who know him before his arrival at a place he had never been to before.

Now speaking of other than verses 1-23, there indeed two disputed places in the chapter. The first is the benediction at 16:24, which appears only in some texts. The other one is the doxology at 16:25-27, which is probably the most difficult textual problem there is in the whole NT, since it appears at different places among various manuscripts or not at all.


closed #20

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