Old Testament

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The Old Testament is the Christian term for the collection of Hebrew Scriptures (also called the Tanakh) that was followed by the Jewish people prior to the birth of the "New guy," Jesus, who ushers in the New Testament. The Old Testament is not (and should not be called) the "Hebrew Bible," as it is edited, translated, and redacted to align itself with the "proof" that Jesus is the Messiah. [1]

The Old Testament contains 39 books for Protestants, 46 for Catholics, and upwards of 52 if you are Eastern Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, or Georgian - all depending on how your Church dealt with the many Greek translations of the Hebrew which became part of the Hellenistic Jewish tradition, but not the more traditional and conservative Palestinian tradition.

Typically, the Old Testament is divided into four sections [2]: The Pentateuch (which is, in effect, the Torah), the Histories, the Prophets, and the Wisdom. In the Orthodox and Catholic Canons, there is also the deuterocanon, the books of which are apportioned among the non-Pentateuch sections, or isolated on their own (sometimes called the Apocrypha).

At the time the canon of the Christian Bible was addressed, in the 300 years following the Ministry of Paul of Tarsus, there were two versions of most of the books that would make up the Old Testament: a Greek translation (the Septuagint, which includes 18 extra books), and the original Hebrew. Today, scholars tend to think that most of the writers of the New Testament would have been using the Koine Greek translations found in the Septuagint. But, religion being what it is, theological, philosophical, ethnic and political war broke out until "the" Church became two: the Western Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. The "Old Testament" is typical of that division: The Catholic Church chose to use new Latin translation (the Vulgate), while the Orthodox chose to use the Septuagint or the ancient Syriac translation (the Peshitta).

Contents

[edit] History

When they were originally written, the Hebrew Scriptures were all individual documents or scrolls. Other than the Torah proper, they were not understood as a single collection of works, and any given priest may or may not choose to use them as part of his theology – if he even had access to them. The first attempt at a formal canon for the Hebrew Bible was after the Exile, in the 6th Century BCE. The oldest scrolls of the Hebrew Bible were songs/poetry and the myths of the Patriarchs. The oral traditions themselves probably date back even as far as 4,000 years ago, but scholars suggest that the earliest written documents would have been no earlier than 1,200 BCE.

The full Hebrew canon (Tanakh) was likely finalized between 200 and 100 BCE.

The Septuagint had the final translation completed in 132 BCE.

Despite New Testament (and later apologetic) claims to the contrary, Jesus would likely only have considered the Torah to be truly relevant to his teaching and may or may not have had access to any given set of the rest of the Tanakh or the Septuagint.

[edit] Modern Interpretation

The Old Testament is a problematic set of books for many modern Christians. Because the earliest of the oral traditions and laws were written nearly 4,000 years ago, the first books (Genesis in part, Leviticus in parts) completed 3,200 years ago, and the rest written over the next 1,200 years, the Old Testament contains some troubling aspects for those raised to think the Rights of Man[3] are important.

  • God is portrayed as mean, cranky, egotistical, and petty.
    • He destroys cute kittens, new-born babies, and kiwi birds (death by drowning is, by the way, apparently extremely traumatic) just because his humans started acting, well, human.
    • He sends a bear to maul 40 kids because they taunted his prophet.
    • He tells a dude that he must kill his own son, proving that He, God, is more loved by this dude than the kid.
    • He demands that only the pure and healthy can come worship him. Even those who were scarred in battle for God are not worthy of God's presence.
  • The morality of the people of the time is quite different from our own.
    • Women and children were seen as property to be disposed of as necessary – under proper religious guidance, of course.
    • Rape was a sexual crime committed by both people. Women could be stoned to death unless the rapist wanted to marry them.
    • Slavery was, if not common, quite accepted. Even God himself tells his people to go to war for him, and take the women as slaves.
  • The laws in place are troubling for modern Christians, beyond those mentioned above.
    • Divorce was unacceptable in most cases.
    • Eating shellfish was not allowed.
    • In fact there are a whole host of foods that cannot be eaten, clothing that must or must not be worn, prayers that must be said... Those "strange" rites (or at least this is how most Christians see the rites) of Jews like keeping Kosher and not working on the Sabbath are "Old Testament" laws, which really never were rewritten.
  • Violence in the name of God and Truth is not only possible, it's morally required. (Kill the infidels started not with Islam and the Qur'an, but the Hebrews, a thousand years earlier).

[edit] Coping skills

How to get around all that Leviticus stuff, and the "Mean old god" stuff, and the calls for war, and killing off those who do not agree with your views.

  • Just ignore it, and it will go away.
  • Jesus changed all that when he said "It does not matter what goes into your mouth but what comes out."
    • Of course, he also said "I come not to change the Law, but to fulfill it." But clearly that's just "details."
  • We do not read the Old Testament, because God gave us a New One.
    • Unless of course we want to bash gays, but that's covered later.
  • The "Law" was really three different sets of laws: Ceremonial, moral, and legal. Only the moral law still applies to Christians.
    • Of course, such a distinction is not mentioned anywhere in the Old Testament, nor is this explanation universally accepted. Some Christians believe no laws apply to them, because their insanity faith will guide them to the right actions.
  • That's not in my bible.
  • You are reading it wrong, you have to understand the context.
    • I thought I was addressing the context?
  • Look, over there, a shiny thing!

[edit] Oddities

See the main articles on this topic: Biblical contradictions and Biblical scientific errors

Whatever the specific reason for that might be, the Old Testament contains a great number of oddities.

The Garden of Eden
Simply put - why is that friggin' tree even in there!
Adam and someone
All of the other animals go boy, girl, boy, girl. Why does Adam get jerked around? And, all of the other animals were POOFed into existence by God, why does Adam have to go through an invasive body-cavity search?[4]
Cain and Abel
God shows a remarkable lack of omniscience when he asks Cain for directions. Notably the whereabouts of Cain's brother Abel. This is all the more odd considering that there are apparently only four humans on Earth to keep track of.[5]
Moses - The Lawgiver Stage Magician
God commands Moses to go see the Pharaoh and demand that he let His people go. Moses being a poor public speaker and a generally unpersuasive fellow, God decides to spice up Moses' act by teaching him some magic tricks. Such crowd-pleasers as the old "stick-to-snake-and-back-again", the "My hand has leprosy, and now it doesn't!", along with the family favorite "water-to-blood" trick. After hearing of the plan Moses said "Please send someone else." Exodus 4:13
Abraham and Isaac
Nevermind the whole rigmarole about Abraham being told to sacrifice one of his sons, only to (attempt to) do so with a shrug and a nod. It never once occurred to Isaac that something was amiss when he was led to the sacrifice (read: be sacrificed) by his own father? Wouldn't the first thing Isaac asked after being tapped to go with his father to perform the sacrifice be something along the lines of, "What shall we take for the sacrifice?" If Abraham had told him right then and there, Isaac wouldn't have agreed to it, not by a long shot (no matter how retrospectively honest Abraham was about it). Isaac comes off as absurdly naive and gullible to just allow himself to be prepared for the sacrifice--especially when many contemporary works depict Isaac bound on the altar. Given the ages and physiology of the two, Isaac would clearly be stronger than his father; how would he be overpowered by him in the first place? Or did he just have no willpower or critical thinking skills of his own and just allow himself to be tied down and nearly disembowled?
God having control issues with Israelites all the time in Judges and needs prophets to turn them back towards him
The Israelites are always turning away from God in Judges. You'd think that an omnipotent god could do a better job of making people stick to him. He, for some reason, punishes them violently when they stray away from him in other chapters, which could have been easily avoided by giving them the Judges treatment. Also, if he is omnipotent and can do pretty much anything, including performing miracles in front of non-believers, why does he need prophets in the first place?
Job
The whole thing seems like a pretty sick joke with God and Satan in cahoots for a few lulz, ending with god getting angry at Job for questioning why god was punishing him and admonishing him for not being God. Also, Job's old sons and servants are all killed and are replaced. This is pretty traumatic to anyone who's ever lost a child, because you can't just simply replace a person you've lost.
The plague of the firstborn
Another lack of omniscience. God needs a reminder as to which firstborn children are Hebrew and which are not. A slap of lamb's blood on the front door does the trick.[6]
Mt. Sinai
Moses turns his back for two seconds and the Hebrews devolve into crazy pagan idol-worshipers. These are people who have quite likely personally witnessed at least eleven miracles, some with significant SFX (Special effects). Particularly, the supposed descending of their god down upon the mountain and speaking to them so that they will "always trust in Moses" just prior to his ascent. Kind of surprising that their god's almighty power was unable to convince them to wait around a bit. And er, Moses sees this and slaughters nearly 3,000 of them, even though the commandments, which he had just brought down from the mountain, say, "Thou shalt not kill". Possibly, he hadn't gotten around to reading them yet.
An eye for an eye
Grammy Flash always used to say that "the trouble with an eye for an eye is that everyone ends up blind."[7] One would think that a sacred religious text would have more wisdom than the grandmother of a fictional comic book superhero. Go figure.
YHWH - the Chatty Cathy of the ancient middle-east
Long ago, God would seemingly talk to anyone who would listen. You couldn't shut the guy up. He doesn't seem to do that too much anymore, nor for a long time. Many would say that he does indeed speak to a great many people. It is fairly certain that those people did hear him. This is called mental illness or drug abuse now-a-days though. However, the Old Testament's implication is the very deep, very "James Earl Jones" bellowing associated with speaking out-loud.

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. The distinction is a subtle one. When talking about the "Old Testament" from a Christian perspective, it is important to emphasize that the OT is not the same as the writings of the Tanakh. When talking about the source works that are shared by both traditions, "Hebrew Bible" or "Hebrew Scripture" is often used in discussions.
  2. And it is here, in how the books are organized and what associations the authors are given, that one of the most significant edits from "Hebrew scripture" to "Old Testament" occurs
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Declaration_of_the_Rights_of_Man_and_of_the_Citizen
  4. This oddly inspired people to think that men have one less rib than women, even until the modern day. Despite over 400 years of medical evidence pointing to a wealth of dead-bodies showing otherwise. To be fair though, back then the laws of Biology could be modified to allow it to be grown back. Or, He could have just created Adam with one more rib than what we have today.
  5. Unless you count the ones which do not have names, like Cain's wife, then you may come up with a lot more, but then they can as well be made up on the way, since they don't have a name as the unique identifier.
  6. That, and the Egyptians are stupid enough not to learn something or notice the oddity when hundreds of thousands of doors are slapped with lamb's blood, not to mention the increased mortality rate of lambs.
  7. This is, more-or-less, a quote from an episode of the first season (series) of Justice League Unlimited.


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