Over my many years on this planet (I remember when Moses was bouncing a ball off of the walls of the pyramids) I have read many articles, papers, and dissertations on the subject, covering everything from the unquestionable Word of God to a children’s bedtime story. I have decided to tackle this subject myself, after years of reading, studying, and Theological training. I know I will probably ruffle a few feathers, but that is one of the jobs of a Theologian anyway (priests and ministers espouse doctrine, Theologians propose long-studied theories, some of which fly in the face of long held doctrines).
First, the easy part, what the Bible is not: it is not the Koran. The Koran is the literal transcription of what the Angel Gabriel said to Mohammed. True reading and study of the Koran must be done in the original Arabic, as any translation interjects the opinion of the translator. (To believers, please forgive me, and correct me, if I am mistaken. No offense is intended.)
Also, the Bible is not a book. Surprised? Many people think of the Bible as a book, which leads to the misconception that it is concerned with a single subject, that it is of one genre (history, theology, etc.), and to some, that it has one composer. Rather, the Bible is an anthology, a compilation of separate books bound into a single collection.
Finally, there is not one Bible. In fact, there are several Bibles, and always have been. This is because no single group could (or can) agree on what books belong in the Bible. It first existed as separate scrolls around 500BC, with varying numbers of scrolls due to the cost of creating a scroll, disagreements over what should and should not be included, and that Israel, as a people, kept forming and breaking apart over the centuries (leading to, for example, two creation narratives). About the only point of agreement was the Talmud (first five books, The Law).
Around the 3rd Century BC, Egypt’s King* called for the assembly and translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, because Greek was the predominant language and Hebrew was falling out of use. It was decided by the assembled Rabbi’s which of the many texts would be included, they gave us the 53 books of the Septuagint. Fourteen of these books have been removed by Jews post-Christ** (Masoretic Text, ~3rd C. AD), and Western Christians*** (who file most, if not all, of the 14 under Apocrypha). Christ, and his disciples, taught from the Septuagint.
So, is it fact or fiction? History or fantasy? Truth be told, it is all of them, and more. The Bible is a collection of the best of Jewish literature of the time, all telling the story of God’s relationship with his chosen people (apologies to Tevye), and their relationship to him – not always painting the Jewish people in a good light. It is a collection of history, law, fables, drama, songs, and erotica, all in a single collection.
Sometimes the delineation is easy to spot (the Song of Solomon is one of the most beautiful love poems ever written), the books of the kings have withstood the test of time, and archaeology, as historically accurate; then there are books that seem to be a combination of genres (such as Genesis), making the classification difficult. We know that the universe was not made in 7 days, but those 7 days to line up remarkably well with creation as we know it. And, then, the sections of Abraham and Moses still show remarkable historical accuracy.
So, there we have it, a brief explanation of just what the Bible is. What it continues to be is a source of inspiration to billions of people around the world, and a source of continued conflict and conjecture, just as it has been for millennia.
Glory to Jesus Christ,
The Modern Theologian
* Greek King of Egypt Ptolemy II Philadelphus, according to legend.
**The reasons for the exclusion/inclusion of these 14 books are numerous, and can be a subject of a later post, but not relevant here. Simply understand that there were disagreements about what is Canonical.
*** Western Christians is my term for the hundreds of denominations which are in schism from the Catholic Church.