The Orthodox Pages
TALK ON THE HOLY BIBLE
3rd October 2013
Last season we spent many weeks looking at the last book of the Holy Bible. This season we will begin from the very first book, the book of Genesis, and work ourselves through the books of both the Old and New Testaments. Today's talk will be a form of introduction and we will basically see the credibility of Genesis, which is the foundation of the Old and New Testaments. The word Testament in Greek is "διαθήκη" which is a translation of the Hebrew word "Berith" meaning an agreement, a covenant, a promise or pledge. The Holy Bible is characterized as a covenant or promise, an agreement between God and man, which is mentioned in very many places in both the Old and New Testaments. From Genesis we have verses like: "In that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram..."(Gen. 15:18), "Behold, My covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of a multitude of nations..."(Gen. 17:4)
This understanding of the promise and covenant to the Jewish people is also found in Leviticus. "If ye walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments... and do them, ye shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely; and war shall not go through the land... And I will give peace in your land... and none shall make you afraid... and I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be My people. But if ye will not hearken unto Me, nor obey these Mine ordinances... (if you) break My covenant... I will set My face against you, and ye shall fail before your enemies; and they that hate you." (Lev. 36: 3-46)
In Jeremiah reference is made to a new covenant, a New Testament:
"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took hold of their hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; for they abode not in My covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord." (Jer. 38:31-32)
Also in the New Testament itself we have the Lord himself telling us of the new covenant. "Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." (Matth. 26: 27-28)
We will understand the meaning of the word testament if we take into account that God is portrayed as though he is making an agreement with man. He gives his law and takes upon himself the protection of man, promising heavenly things, but asks in return that man observes the commandments he has laid down. This agreement appears and is repeated every so often in the books of the Old Testament on behalf of God through the holy men he sent.
The New Testament is a new agreement which our Lord Jesus Christ signs with his own precious blood. What is this new agreement? The Lord comes to earth and becomes man, he teaches, performs miracles and is sacrificed on the Cross; he offers himself for our salvation. What does he ask of man in return? He asks that we deeply belief in his saving work, to come to know him and to love him as our saviour, to live a life enlightened by the Spirit of the Gospel, a life with the continuous desire and endeavour to become worthy of the Saviour and worthy of salvation which comes with a promise from the Lord of a blessed life in the heavenly kingdom. This is what the Christian person is called to offer, according to this two-sided agreement, this covenant which is drawn up between God and man. It should be noted that man is not left alone and helpless in his endeavour to appear worthy and observe his part of the promise. God has given man the Church, which through the divine and sacred Mysteries, through prayer, through the reading of Holy Scripture, confers upon him the Grace of God and makes him able and competent to offer whatever is dependant upon himself for his salvation.
The Holy Bible, the word bible being a transliteration of the Greek word "Βίβλος" meaning book, was written by various authors from about 1500BC to approximately 100AD. In spite of the various times and places of the authors, the central content is Christ the Messiah, anticipated in the first section known as the Old Testament and having come in the second section known as the New Testament. The first book of the Holy Bible is called Genesis meaning birth or creation, and begins with the creation of the world and the last book Revelation finishes with a new heaven and new earth and the re-creation of the world. From the very first pages of Genesis to the last in Revelation the only person who predominates throughout all the ages is Christ the Messiah; his expectation and his coming have always existed upon the earth. The Bible has every form of the written word; history and storytelling, wonder and poetry, prophecy and the fulfilling of prophecies, proverbs and parables, lyrics and lamentations, romance, drama and tragedy.
The Books of the Old Testament are 49 according to the Septuagint Bible which is the official text used by the Orthodox Church. These 49 books can be divided into three categories; historical, prophetic and poetic. The historical books are 23, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Jesus of Nun known in the KJV as Joshua, Judges, Ruth, the four books of Kings which in the KJV are divided into two books of Samuel and two books of Kings, the two books of Chronicles, the first and second of Esdras, Nehemiah, Esther, Tobit, Judith, and the three books of the Maccabees. The prophetic books are 19, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Baruch, Lamentations of Jeremiah, the Epistle of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and the 12 lesser Prophets, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonas, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zachariah, and Malachi. The poetic books are 7 in number and are Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom of Solomon and Wisdom of Sirach.
The Old Testament contains the pre-history and history of the Israelite people, the chosen people of God from which would come forth the Messiah, the Christ and Saviour of the world. The pre-history of this people begins with the first-created humans Adam and Eve and ends with the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob revealing the line of the forefathers of Israel, which received the divine providence in the plan of redemption selected as the chosen people bypassing the other nations. In the history of the Israelite people is revealed first its greatness and then its wretchedness, both before the coming of the Messiah and Saviour. Its greatness because this nation made known to the then peoples of the East the glorious preaching of the coming of the Messiah, and its wretchedness and downfall in yielding its place as the chosen people to these other nations.
Thus the Old Testament is the key and the precondition of the New Testament, because without the Old Testament it is impossible to understand the New Testament, but also it is impossible to understand the Old Testament without the light of the New Testament.
As already said, the pre-history of the chosen people begins with Adam until the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The accounts of these figures are contained in Genesis, the first book of the Holy Bible. Genesis can be divided into two great periods. The first period pertains to the pre-history of mankind and the second period to the patriarchs of the Israelite people, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The first period is accounted for fairly briefly whereas the second period is accounted for in much more detail. Both periods have their sub-divisions. The first period dealing with the pre-history of mankind can be divided in the following way: The creation of the world, the story of the first created people, the genealogy of the first-created, Noah, the descendants of Noah and the descendants of Shem. The second period can be sub-divided from the generation of Tharah the father of Abraham, then Isaac, which contains a great part of the lives of his sons Jacob and Esau, and ends with the descendants of Esau and Jacob.
Genesis thus, begins with the ancestors of the Israelite nation, from the beginning of the world and ends with the death of Joseph in Egypt. The main purpose of the book is to show how God from among all the other nations who were more in number and more civilized than the Israelite people, chose Israel from the creation of the world as his chosen people. The selection of Israel is done gradually being separated from the other nations which were not in the line of redemption. To be more precise, Cain the firstborn son of Adam is separated together with his descendants from the line of redemption and instead of him is chosen Seth and his descendants. But when the descendants of Seth become corrupted they are destroyed through the flood and Noah is elected as the chosen line. Of Noah's three sons, Shem and his descendants are chosen as the line of redemption. From this line many fall away until Abraham is chosen. Of Abraham's descendants Ishmael his firstborn and father of the Arab nations born from Agar the concubine, and the sons he had with his second wife Hetourah were separated from the line, and Isaac born of Sarah is chosen. Of Isaac's two sons, Esau who was officially the firstborn is separated and the chosen line is given to Jacob. Of the twelve sons of Jacob from whom descend the 12 tribes of Israel, Judah his fourth son is chosen from whose descendants will come forth Christ the Messiah and expectation of the nations.
The contents of Genesis does not only point the finger of divine providence in engraving the line of redemption in the pre-history of Israel, but the line begins from the curse of the first-created and finishes with the blessing which Jacob gives to the tribe of Judah. The first part of the pre-history from chapters 1-11 speaks of the curse and the second part from chapters 12-50 all the stories lead to the blessing.
Before we begin our study of Genesis we must be convinced of the historical credibility of Genesis, which refers to an age very distant from us. How can we be sure, especially of what is written in the first eleven chapters, which describe events belonging to the pre-history of mankind, that these events are true? Also the second part from chapters 12-50, which refers to life 2000 years before Christ when the Patriarchs lived, how can we be sure that the details are trustworthy? These are questions we must answer because all the other books of the Old and New testaments hang on whether Genesis is a genuine account. If is isn't then the Jewish expectation of a Messiah is in vain and also the Christian belief in Christ as the Messiah come into the world is also in vain.
Let's then see the historical credibility of each period.
The opponents of our faith, looking from a scientific point of view, see the historical facts mentioned in the pre-history of mankind as events impossible, thus the pre-history of Genesis must be a myth. Of course, from a scientific point of view, direct proof of the events mentioned in Genesis is impossible, because science, having at her disposal two ways to gain knowledge, experiment and observation has nothing to show concerning the first man. On the other hand we can claim that Moses, the author of Genesis, was revealed all this information by God himself who told him to write it down for later generations, but again this cannot be proven because it relies solely on faith.
But where no direct proof is available, indirect proof and indications based on logic and science must be shown to defend what is possible or impossible concerning a very ancient divine revelation and tradition. We say that this very ancient tradition was possibly given by God, because that is logical. This revelation of the beginning of mankind was absolutely necessary. If the Bible didn't give any information on the creation of heaven and earth, of the first man and his progress up to Abraham, about the original source of evil and the promise of a Saviour, the whole history of salvation and the basic lines of revelation would be without any weight. Thus God had to reveal at the beginning the history of mankind, because it was impossible for man to know all this from personal experience and because it was necessary for man's success and purpose. It is logical that all this information concerning the pre-history of mankind had to be given to the first man and for him to pass on this information to the next generations under the guidance of divine providence through tradition. This tradition, at a much later date, is then written down by God-inspired writers in the form we have now in the book of Genesis written by Moses.
According to the Church, the creation of the world is said to have happened about 5500BC. Moses lived about 1400BC, so with a difference of about 4000years is it possible for a verbal tradition to have faithfully reached Moses without being adulterated with mythical stories?
One Biblical story we can verify with historical facts is the Great flood, which took place in 3250BC. We have many historical facts and folklore traditions from many nations that thousands of years ago there was a flood that covered the face of the earth. These sources are not always Judaic of Christian in origin. In Cyprus for example we celebrate together with the Feast of Pentecost the Festival of the Cataclysm (Cataclysmos) which means a disastrous flood. It was a pagan festival celebrated in Cyprus before Christian times to ward off another flood. When Cyprus became Christian the pagan feast was replaced with the Christian feast of Pentecost, but it left behind traces of its origin.
In 1850 archaeological digs in Old Nineveh, the Capital of Assyria, brought to light many tablets of Assyrian sphenoidal writing which were taken to London. In 1872 George Smith presented at the Archaeological Museum translations of these writings which referred to the Great Flood. The Daily Telegraph paid him then 100 guineas for the exclusive. Within eight days he produced more writings which also referred to the Flood. After this, there followed Babylonian writings which mention the building of the Ark and a Sumerian version of the Flood.
There is no question that Archaeology has unravelled a historical fact and confirms that the Biblical account of the flood is true. From after Noah until Moses certain facts are more easily accepted as true because some of the great personages like Abraham who lived between this time span can be verified historically. Thus we only need prove that the verbal tradition could reach Noah without it becoming tainted. From Adam until the birth of Noah we have a total of 1642years. Adam we are told lived nine hundred and thirty years. His son Seth lived nine hundred and twelve years. His son Enos lived nine hundred and five years. In fact everyone lived almost to a thousand years. This was man’s lifespan up to Noah’s time. According to the Septuagint Bible, Adam was 230 years old when he had Seth, Seth was 205 when he had Enos, Enos was 190 when he had Cainan, Cainan was 170 when he had Mahaleleel, Mahaleleel was 165 when he had Jared. Adam then had almost reached his great, great, great grandson Jared. If God had revealed to Adam the creation story and the prehistory of mankind, the truth of this information could be verified by Adam himself up to that time. Jared who then lived 962 years was still alive when Noah was born and lived on another 280 years. It is not therefore impossible or incredible to accept that the creation story was handed down through tradition intact as it was given to Adam. It needed only two people to reach Noah: Adam and Jared.
Let's now see another indirect proof of the creation story.
If Adam and Eve are the first man and woman, it follows that all the different races have the same roots. We see that many ancient religions speak of the creation of man and a paradise with sacred trees that they worship. One Babylonian creation myth has man being created from the earth, the rivers of paradise and the cherubim as guardians to paradise’s entrance. These are the only similarities with the Genesis story because when it comes to why man was created and his relationship with God, the Babylonian story has absolutely nothing in common with Genesis. A Babylonian cylinder dated 2200 BC contains all the elements of the Adam and Eve story, Male, Female, Serpent and Sacred Tree, yet it may be Babylonian divinities that are represented on the Seal and not a Babylonian version of Adam and Eve. Still, we see that there are some similarities at the very nucleus of the stories.
The only logical reason is that there was originally one common source, one common tradition of the creation story which was distorted and re-shaped by the various nations in a multitude of ways. How can we be sure that the Genesis account is the original source and not the Babylonian or some other myth? The creation myths of the other religions have a national and local character and centre on their own Gods and nation. On the other hand the Bible account has a universal character, for example, Paradise is not placed in the Promised Land of the Israelites, but far away in Mesopotamia or Ancient Armenia. Thus the Genesis account is not the pre-history of the Israelite nation, but the pre-history of all the world and therefore compared to the stories of other nations, we can say that it is the original and untainted source. Also its exceptional simplicity compared with the other creation myths which are exaggerated with countless mythical representations is an example of its credibility and divine protection.
Let's now see if the Biblical account of the creation agrees with what we are told by science.
The “Big bang” theory will has us believing that a great explosion caused particles to form which then came together and formed the galaxies and Planets. On earth the sea was a cocktail of chemicals and together with the energies from the sun these developed into organic molecules. Then from these all living creatures evolved –the fish, the birds, land animals and eventually the species which Darwin and many others after him have identified as modern man’s ancestors – Homo erectus, Homo habilis, Neanderthal, Homo sapiens, etc with modern man at the top of the chain. But without touching the subject of the evolution of man, which is a chapter all on its own; let's see if there is common ground between the two events.
The scientific view of creation is only a theory yet to be proved and begins with a big bang. It doesn't tell us who or what caused the big bang: there must have been something there before the big bang to cause it to happen, because something out of nothing equals nothing. For the Bible this something is God who in the beginning created heaven and earth. This could have happened with a big bang, a little bang or a balloon pop, but for matters of faith this is of little importance. But even without the element of God to cause the very beginning of creation, Genesis has a striking agreement with science and gives us at least 11 great events enumerated in the same order as claimed by modern science: 1. The earth was "waste without form and void"; 2. "Darkness was upon the face of the deep"; 3. Light appears; 4. A clearing expanse, or firmament; 5. The elevation of the land and the formation of the seas; 6. the appearance of Grass, herbs and fruit trees; 7. The sun, moon and stars appear; 8. Marine animals were created; 9. "Winged fowls" were created; 10. Land animals were created; 11. Man was created. The chance of guessing the exact order of these 11 great events is ascertained by the law of permutations--the product of the numbers from 1 to 11, which is apparently 39,916,800. Therefore, Moses, who is the author of Genesis, had one chance out of 39,916,800 to guess the correct order of these 11 great events, as revealed both by science and revelation. If Moses did not have the order revealed to him, he never could have guessed it. It is therefore logical to say that he was inspired by God and was told the order.
Let's now see the credibility of the life of the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who lived from around 2000BC onwards. Apart from the fact that in the New Testament where Christ, John the Baptist and St. Paul testify that Abraham was a historical person, the name of Abraham has been discovered 2000BC in Babylon and the name Jacob in the 18th century BC in Northern Mesopotamia. From these it is clear that these are not names of races, but contemporary persons of those times in agreement with the times mentioned in the Bible. The famous Babylonian code known as Hammurabi and dated 2000BC gives us a lot of information and verifies that these three Patriarchs lived around the same time. Hammurabi was the sixth king of Babylon and lived from 2123-2081 although some date him a little later, while the standard Middle Chronology puts his dates at 1792-1750. The Code consists of 282 laws and is the first set of laws known to man before the Mosaic Law.
Sarah, Abraham's wife was sterile and because she couldn't have children she gave her servant Agar to Abraham to have a child by her. In the Hammurabi code it says that a sterile wife was allowed to give her servant to her husband to bear a child. He was not to take her on his own but was to be given him by the wife. Later Sarah has Agar exiled from the family home, again the Hammurabi code allowed her to do this. Jacob took two sisters as his wives, Lear and Rachael. The Mosaic Law which came after 1500BC forbade such a marriage, but the Hammurabi code allowed this. We see then that before the Mosaic Law was given, the Patriarchs lived according to the laws of Hammurabi. Let's not forget that before Abraham came to Palestine he was from the Babylonian city of Ur so naturally he lived according to the laws of his homeland. What is significant is that Genesis is in agreement with the historical facts of the time and place as discovered by archaeological finds and thus its credibility cannot be questioned.
Another indirect proof of the credibility of Genesis is that the writer mentions events that dishonour the character of the Patriarchs. The great father Abraham, to save his own skin, lies to Pharaoh saying that his wife Sarah was actually his sister and had her delivered to Pharaoh's harem.
Jacob appears cruel and covetous towards his brother Esau, because when Esau came home hungry Jacob would not give him a plate of lentils to eat until Esau first sells him the birthright. Jacob then lies to his blind father Isaac presenting himself as Esau to receive the patriarchal blessing due to the firstborn. Jacob's wife Rachel steals the idols from her father's home and lies to him. The sons of Jacob appear as inhuman towards the Hivites and are for a time idol worshippers. Reuben, Jacob's first son, commits incest by sleeping with Jacob's concubine who was the mother of his half brothers. Judah's son Er was considered very wicked in the sight of the Lord who slew him and the behaviour of his second son Onan was considered dishonourable so the Lord slew him also. Er's widow Thamar dressed as a prostitute and slept with her father in law to get pregnant. Her son Phares, from this union is after Judah, the line of redemption leading to Christ. It is impossible for all these facts to have been written, unless they were true. If Genesis was fictional, then the lives of the forefathers would have been impeccable, with stories idealizing them as the heroes of the Israelite nation.
The last chapters of Genesis deal with the story of Jacob's son Joseph, how he was sold as a slave into Egypt and how he rose and became the second most important person after Pharaoh. Egyptology does not reveal Joseph's name, and scholars are divided when it comes to dating which Pharaoh was in power during the time of Joseph. In fact most scholars reject the Biblical evidence because the events, like the Exodus, do not coincide with the dates they have accepted as correct concerning the various Egyptian Dynasties. Many new scholars like Dr Immanual Velikovsky claim that the fault lies, not with the Biblical information, but with the generally accepted chronology of Egypt, and that the Egyptian dates need to be reduced by some 600 years at the time of the Exodus. This would mean that the ruling dynasty of Egypt at the time of the Exodus would be the 13th dynasty, rather than the 18th or 19 dynasty as is generally believed, and the pharaohs at the time of Joseph and Moses were the rulers of the 12th dynasty. When this system is adopted there is found to be remarkable agreement between the histories of Egypt and Israel.
Joseph, the son of Jacob, was sold into Egyptian slavery by his jealous brothers. In Egypt he was able to interpret Pharaoh's dream to mean that there would be 7 years of plenty and then 7 years of famine. Pharaoh appointed Joseph as vizier of Egypt, and entrusted him with the task of collecting the grain in preparation for the famine. (Genesis 41) This was an astounding event, and there should be some record of it in Egypt. In the time of Sesostris I, second king of the 12th dynasty, there is such a record.
Ameni was an officer under Sesostris I. In his tomb he left an inscription which is very relevant. It reads:
"No one was unhappy in my days, not even in the years of famine, for I had tilled all the fields in the nome of Mah, up to its southern and northern frontiers. Thus I prolonged the life of its inhabitants and preserved the food which it produces. No hungry man was in it. I distributed equally to the widow as to the married woman. I did not prefer the great to the humble in all that I gave away."
Ameni could well be one of Joseph's deputies who "gathered up all the food of the seven years ... and laid up the food in the cities." (Genesis 41:48)
The Faiyyum is a vast oasis in the desert west of Meidum. It today supports a population of two million people. This great oasis was developed during the period of the twelfth dynasty. The whole area is watered by a canal dug during this dynasty. This canal is today known as Bar Yusef or Joseph's Canal. No one seems to know how it got this name. It may have carried this name ever since it was dug in the twelfth dynasty. It could have been the work of Joseph in preparation for the seven years of famine.
As for Joseph himself, there was a vizier under Sesostris I who had extraordinary powers. His name was Mentuhotep. Mentuhotep, was invested with several priestly dignities and was Pharaoh's treasurer, and appeared as the alter ego of the king. When he arrived the great personage bowed down before him at the outer door of the royal palace.
The Bible record states, "Pharaoh took his signet ring off his hand and put it on Joseph's hand ... and he had him ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried out before him 'Bow the knee.'" (Genesis 41:42, 43) This Mentuhotep could very well be Joseph. The fact that he is not named as Joseph is of little consequence. The Egyptians as well as Bible characters frequently had more than one name.
Recently, a group of Egyptian researchers and archaeologists have discovered a collection of coins from the time of the Pharaohs. The researchers discovered the coins when they sifted through thousands of small archaeological artefacts stored in the vaults of the Museum of Egypt. Initially they took them for charms, but a thorough examination revealed that the coins bore the year in which they were minted and their value, or effigies of the pharaohs who ruled at the time of their minting. Some of the coins are from the time when Joseph lived in Egypt, and one bears his name and portrait.
Moses, the author of Genesis, grew up as a prince in the Egyptian palace and was more than aware of the many Egyptian customs and practices. He writes that when Joseph was to be presented before Pharaoh for the first time, he shaved himself and changed his garments and came in unto Pharaoh. Anyone who appeared before pharaoh had to be clean and shaven, because the Egyptians were offended with facial hair. If the author of Genesis was not a contemporary of Joseph and had not lived in Egypt, he would have overlooked this detail. Only a witness of these customs would have written about them.
What has been said so far cannot be discarded as coincidental or circumstantial. Most of the events or persons mentioned in Genesis can be verified historically, which is enough proof to say that not only is the Genesis account genuine and trustworthy, but also the other Books of the Holy Bible. The Bible has proven to be more historically and archaeologically accurate than any other ancient book. It has been subjected to the minutest scientific textual analysis possible to humanity and has been proven to be authentic in every way.
of the greatest 20th-century archaeologists, William F. Albright and
Nelson Glueck, both lauded the Bible (even though they were
non-Christian and secular in their training and personal beliefs) as
being the single most accurate source document from history. Over and
over again, the Bible has been found to be accurate in its places,
dates, and records of events. No other “religious” document comes even
close. Archaeology continually refutes the views of many modern critics
who still insist that the Bible is fictional.