Where did the Bible come from? The Hebrew Bible, or Christian Old Testament, did not exist in the canonical form we know prior to the early second century C.E. Before that, certain books had become authoritative in the Jewish community, but the status of other books, which eventually did become part of the Hebrew Bible, was questionable. All Jews everywhere, since at least the fourth century B.C.E., accepted the authority of the Torah of Moses, the first five books of the Bible (also called the Pentateuch): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
Most Jews also accepted the books of the Prophets, including the Former Prophets or historical books (Joshua through Kings), as authoritative. The Samaritan community only accepted the Pentateuch as authoritative, and the Pentateuch remains their Bible today. Some parts of the Jewish community accepted the books found in the Writings as authoritative, but not all Jews accepted all of those books. The Jewish community that lived at Qumran and stored their manuscripts in the nearby caves, for example, do not seem to have accepted Esther as authoritative. We know this because no trace of Esther has been found in the Qumran caves, and the Qumran community did not celebrate the festival of Purim.
However, the Qumran community did accept other Jewish religious texts as authoritative scripture. The books of Enoch, Aramaic documents that date from around 300 B.C.E. to 70 C.E., were found in multiple copies in the Qumran caves, although the Parables of Enoch have not been found there. These books, which give more detail about the story of the patriarch Enoch mentioned in Gen 5:21-24, advocate a calendar based on the 365-day rotation of the sun, a calendar the Qumranites may also have embraced (as opposed to the lunar calendar used in the Jerusalem temple). Other works found at Qumran, such as the Genesis Apocryphon, also mention Enoch or the story of the Watchers found in his books, so it is likely that the Qumran community thought of the books of Enoch as authoritative scripture. Interestingly, Enoch is quoted as scripture in the New Testament, in Jude 1:14-15.
The book of Jubilees, a second-century B.C.E. work, was also found in multiple copies in the Qumran caves. Jubilees is an example of rewritten Scripture retelling the story found in Genesis 1-Exodus 15. It claims Mosaic authority, since it presents itself as a revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai by an angel of the Presence. Jubilees, like Enoch, advocates a solar calendar. Jubilees is quoted by name in the Qumran sectarian Damascus Document, indicating the same degree of authority as the Torah. It too was probably part of the “Bible” of the Qumran community.
Other Jewish books may have obtained scriptural status in different Jewish communities. The Wisdom of Jesus ben Sira (Hebrew; second century B.C.E.) was translated into Greek and became part of the Septuagint, the scripture of the Jewish community in Alexandria. It was found in Hebrew at Qumran and Masada, and also in the Cairo Genizah, which belonged to the Karaites, a medieval Jewish sect. Although ben Sira was eventually rejected from the Jewish (rabbinic) canon because of its late date, it probably was part of the “Bible” of certain Jewish groups.
Sidnie White Crawford is Willa Cather Professor of Classics and Religious Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. A member of the international team that published the Cave 4 manuscripts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, she has written extensively on the Dead Sea Scrolls, questions of canon and text, and the origins and identity of the Qumran community. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation and is the chair of the Board of Trustees of the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem.
An archaeological site on the western shore of the Dead Sea, in modern Israel, where a small group of Jews lived in the last centuries B.C.E. The site was destroyed by the Romans around 70 C.E. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in caves near the site and are believed by most scholars to have belonged to the people living at Qumran.
The Hebrew designation for the book of Sirach, also known as Ecclesiasticus, a book of instruction and proverbs.
The capital of Egypt since 1168 CE, located near the ancient city of Memphis.
An authoritative collection of texts generally accepted as scripture.
Belonging to the canon of a particular group; texts accepted as a source of authority.
migration of the ancient Israelites from Egypt into Canaan
The books Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, which form the first half of the Prophets, the second of three sections of the Hebrew Bible.
A storage site for old retired Hebrew texts, in Jewish tradition; often a good source of old textual traditions.
A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.
The set of Biblical books shared by Jews and Christians. A more neutral alternative to "Old Testament."
Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, and sometimes also includes Ezra-Neh and Chronicles.
An ancient Jewish book that retells the stories of Genesis with added references to angels, fallen angels, and prophecy. It was highly regarded by early Christians and the Jews from Qumran, and is still considered canonical to Ethiopian Jews and Christians.
Jews who accept the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) as their only source of authority, thus excluding rabbinic traditions. The movement was most widespread in the medieval Middle East.
A calendar that follows months based on the 29.5-day moon cycle rather than the solar cycle. A lunar year of 12 months is shorter than the 365-day solar year, requiring the insertion of leap-months periodically. The Israelite, and later Jewish, calendars are based on the lunar cycle.
Textual documents, usually handwritten.
A fortified settlement on a hill in the Judean Desert, which was the last Jewish holdout during the First Jewish Revolt. The Jews of Masada killed themselves rather than surrender to the Romans.
Of or relating to the Middle Ages, generally from the fifth century to the fifteenth century C.E. and overlapping somewhat with late antiquity.
Artwork composed of small pieces of material—glass, stone, pottery—arranged in patterns or depicting persons and scenes.
A collection of first-century Jewish and early Christian writings that, along with the Old Testament, makes up the Christian Bible.
Also called the Hebrew Bible, those parts of the canon that are common to both Jews and Christians. The designation "Old Testament" places this part of the canon in relation to the New Testament, the part of the Bible canonical only to Christians. Because the term "Old Testament" assumes a distinctly Christian perspective, many scholars prefer to use the more neutral "Hebrew Bible," which derives from the fact that the texts of this part of the canon are written almost entirely in Hebrew.
A Jewish holiday celebrating the saving of the Jews of Persia from annihilation, as recounted in the biblical book of Esther.
Related to a particular religious subgroup, or sect; often used in reference to the variety of Jewish sects in existence in the Roman period in Judea and Samaria.
The third division of the Jewish canon, also called by the Hebrew name Ketuvim. The other two divisions are the Torah (Pentateuch) and Nevi'im (Prophets); together the three divisions create the acronym Tanakh, the Jewish term for the Hebrew Bible.
21When Enoch had lived sixty-five years, he became the father of Methuselah.22Enoch walked with God after the birth of Methuselah three hundred years, and had o ... View more
14It was also about these that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “See, the Lord is coming with ten thousands of his holy ones,15to ... View more