1. The bible may have first been written in a form of Egyptian hieroglyph – exodus occurred around 1225 BC;
2. Paleo-Hebrew Semitic language derived from the Phoenician alphabet (1500 -400
B.C-first confirmed language of the Bible);
3. Aramaic alphabet – language of Jews upon return from captivity in Babylon- 538 BC;
4. Greek language – Septuagint 300 BC;
5. Hexapla, Origen of Alexandria -185-232 A.D.;
6. Latin – St Jerome - 400 AD;
7. Hebrew –Masoretic text 500 – 950 AD.
It has been stated that Moses wrote down the first draft of the Bible. Moses was born in Egypt and the twelve tribes of Israel lived in Egypt for 400 years. We can be fairly certain that the Israelites spoke and wrote in the Egyptian language when the Exodus occurred. It was not until Joshua reoccupied the Promised Land, Canaan, did the Israelites begin to form their own language, a derivative of the Phoenician language. The Paleo-Hebrew alphabet is an offshoot of the ancient Semitic alphabet and closely related to the Phoenician alphabet from which it descended. The Phoenicians were sea-faring peoples and occupied northern Israel and Syria starting around 1500 BC. Their language was used as the main script for writing the paleo-Hebrew language by the Israelites, who would later split into Jews and Samaritans. We are certain that the Old Testament was written in the Paleo- Hebrew language. But the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet fell out of use by the Jews around 500 BC when they adopted the Aramaic alphabet as their writing system, probably as a result of their exposure to Aramaic during their captivity in Babylon. The Samaritans continued to use a derivative of the Paleo- Hebrew alphabet, known as the Samaritan alphabet. Many examples of the Paleo- Hebrew alphabet have been found by archaeologists on coins and other artifacts. It is quite similar to the ancient Phoenician writing. And of course we now have the Dead Sea scrolls written in Paleo-Hebrew script.
Beginning in the early 4th century B.C. onward, the Aramaic language and script became the lingua
franca of Canaan. The Old Testament was translated from Paleo-Hebrew to Aramaic for use in the synagogues. (the Targums). The Peshitta is an example of an Aramaic Bible. After the conquest of the world by Alexander the Great, including Canaan, the Greek language began the long process of becoming the lingua franca of Canaan, Syria and Egypt. The Paleo-Hebrew alphabet died out among the Jewish lay people and was preserved mainly by the scribes. After the First Jewish-Roman War
(66-70 A.D.) and Bar Kokhba's revolt, the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet fell completely out of use by 135 A.D. The historical Hebrew language only existed in ancient scrolls. Paleo Hebrew was never spoken again nor was it used for writing. The Jews spoke and wrote in Greek and Aramaic from the time of Jesus forward.
Alexander the great conquered Egypt in 332 B.C. and the Hellenization of the world began. He constructed the city of Alexandria in his honor in 331 B.C. Alexander died in 323 B.C. Ptolemy, one of the six bodyguards who served as Alexander the Great's generals, was appointed satrap of Egypt after Alexander's death. In 305 BC, he declared himself King Ptolemy I. The Egyptians soon accepted the Ptolemies as the successors to the pharaohs of Egypt. Ptolemy's family ruled Egypt until the Roman conquest of 30 BC.
The Jews in the last two centuries B.C. were so numerous in Egypt, especially at Alexandria, that at a certain time, they formed two-fifths of the entire population. Little by little most of them ceased to use and eventually forgot the Hebrew language. It became necessary to transcribe the Torah into Greek from Paleo-Hebrew which was read in the synagogues. The Greek Septuagint could not have begun its compilation until at least 300 B.C since the Greek language was just beginning to take root. We do not know the names of the translators of the Paleo-Hebrew Old Testament into a Greek
Old Testament edition. But the translators probably began with the first five books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch, and then eventually translated the whole of the Old Testament into
Greek. We do know that this process began in Egypt, not Canaan. The Jews in Jerusalem held onto their Paleo- Hebrew texts as evidenced by the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls. But use of the Paleo-Hebrew language was on its way out as Aramaic and Greek became the languages of common use.
The Aramaic translations existed also in Judaea and Syria as the Greek translations began to assume importance. The Septuagint was accepted first by the Alexandrian Jews, and afterwards spread to all of the Greek-speaking countries, including Judaea. The Jews made use of it long before the Christian
Era, and in the time of Christ, it was recognized as a legitimate text, and was used in Canaan even by the rabbis. The Apostles and Evangelists used the Septuagint and borrowed Old Testament
citations from it while drafting the New Testament. Most of the quotations of the Old Testament in the Gospels come from the Septuagint. The oldest existing copies of the Septuagint are the Codex Vaticanus from the 4th century A.D. and the Codex Alexandrinus of the 5th century. The Eastern Orthodox churches continue to use the Septuagint today. The version of the Bible in use at the time of Jesus was the Septuagint.
Until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a surviving copy of the Septuagint was the most ancient translation of the Old Testament dating to around the 400s A.D. The Dead Sea scrolls were written between 250 B.C. and 66 A.D. The majority of Dead Sea Scrolls were written in Paleo- Hebrew, but the collection also includes many Aramaic and Koine Greek texts. Some Paleo-Hebrew fragments of the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls: manuscripts 4Q12, 6Q1: Genesis; 4Q22: Exodus; 1Q3, 2Q5, 4Q11, 4Q45, 4Q46, 6Q2: Leviticus. The
Isaiah scroll is the largest and best preserved of all the Dead Sea scrolls, and the only one discovered in its entirety. This scroll is also one of the oldest manuscripts discovered in Qumran. It dates from about 125 BC. The Isaiah scroll was written in Paleo-Hebrew and on parchment. Only a few scrolls were found written on papyrus, indicating a very ancient copy. The Dead Sea Scrolls include fragments from every book of the Old Testament except for the Book of Esther. These scrolls were most likely copied from older scrolls by scribes and used mainly by the rabbinic scholars of the day.
With the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in the year 70 A.D. and because the Christians were seen as a threat to their religion, the Jewish leaders saw a need to get their house in order. One thing they did was to decide, officially, the list of books that were to compose their Scriptures. They did this at the Council of Jamnia (about 100 A.D.), at which time they rejected the seven deuterocanonical books because they believed that they were not written in Paleo-Hebrew. The list of seven books includes—Sirach, Tobit, Wisdom, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, and Baruch. (In
1947, however, fragments in Paleo-Hebrew of Tobit and Sirach were discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls. In addition, most Scripture scholars believe that 1 Maccabees, Judith, Baruch and parts of Wisdom were also originally written in Paleo- Hebrew.)
Around 235 A.D., Origen, a Christian scholar in Alexandria, completed the Hexapla, a comprehensive comparison of the ancient Greek versions and Hebrew text side-by-side in six columns. Much of this work was lost, but several compilations of the fragments are available. In the first column was the Paleo- Hebrew, in the second a Greek transliteration of it, then the newer Greek versions each in their own columns. Origen also kept a column of the combined readings from all the Greek versions. Origen's combined text was copied frequently and the older uncombined texts were neglected. This combined text became the first major Christian recension of the Septuagint, often called the Hexaplar recension. In the century following Origen, two other major recensions were identified by Jerome, who attributed these to Lucian and Hesychius.
The earliest translation in Greek adopted in the Latin Church, the Vetus Itala, was directly from the Septuagint. In the latter part of the fourth century, the text of the Itala was found to have variant readings in different parts of the Church. Pope Damasus therefore requested St. Jerome (b. 340 – d 420 A.D.) to undertake its revision. Originally the Vulgate translation of Jerome was merely the Vetus Itala corrected by St. Jerome according to the hexaplar text of the Septuagint. Then Jerome
undertook the translation of the Old Testament from the Paleo- Hebrew. He completed this work by 405 A.D. Prior to Jerome's Vulgate, all Latin translations of the Old Testament were based on the
Septuagint not the Paleo-Hebrew. Jerome's decision to use a Hebrew text instead of the previously translated Septuagint went against the advice of most other Christians, including Augustine, who thought the Septuagint inspired. But it gradually supplanted the Old Latin Version. Thus the Latin Vulagate originated directly from the Paleo-Hebrew and not from the Septuagint. Adopted by several writers in the fifth century, the Vulgate came into more general use in the sixth. By the ninth century it was found in practically the whole Roman Church. Its title "Vulgate", indicating its common use, was firmly established in the thirteenth century. After the first printing
of the Vulgate by Gutenberg in 1456, other editions came out rapidly. In the sixteenth century the Council of Trent declared it the authentic version of the Church. Modern scholarship, however, has cast doubts on the actual quality of Jerome's Hebrew knowledge. Many modern scholars believe that the Greek Hexapla of Origen of Alexandria, (185-232 A.D.) is the main source for Jerome's translation of the Old Testament into Latin and not the Paleo- Hebrew version. Eventually
however, Jerome's Vulgate did include the deuterocanonical books.
In the next post we will examine how Christ effected the Jewish compilation of the their Old testament.