Friday, January 25, 2019

The Age of the Old Testament

Many varied opinions provide dates of composition for the Old Testament, but we have come to the conclusion that it is not nearly as old as tradition contends.

Traditional scholarship accepts at face value the patriarchal lifetime durations provided in the Old Testament canon, which led Archbishop Ussher (1581 – 1656) to calculate that human history and the age of the earth were approximately 6000 years old.

Many of the assumptions implicit in these chronologies were that the Biblical books were written contemporaneous with their events or perhaps not too distant from them. So clergy often preached that Moses wrote the Pentateuch with the last chapter or so of Deuteronomy written by Joshua or some close aide.

Under that framework, Moses and the Pentateuch would date from 1400-1200 BC give or take a century depending upon one's views about the timing of the Exodus.

Fast forward a century or two from Ussher and we find that the most liberal of scholars dated the books much later - perhaps to the time of the Babylonian captivity of Judah by Chaldea. Some would even place the dates of composition to the 3d or 2d centuries BC.

It turns out that even the latest of these dates is probably too generous. The main defect in the earlier dating schemes is that not a shred of Hebrew documentary - ie manuscripts - evidence exists prior to the 5th C. AD, and no complete manuscript exists before the 9th C. AD. Now it is true that the New Testament quotes in Greek the Old Testament, but that makes the 1st century the earliest possible date for the Old Testament. Yet there is still the nagging absence of a complete Hebrew manuscript until the 9th century.

One may protest that the Dead Sea Scrolls confirm the antiquity of the Old Testament. Such protests are troubling. On the one hand there is much debate about the time of writing of the DSS, with many scholars placing their writings within a century or so of the time of the Gospels. On the other hand, the safer argument is that the Dead Sea Scrolls are a Medieval forgery conveniently discovered in 1947 - the first year of the CIA. Their discovery is just so much Jewish fancy - typical Hollywood entertainment for the gullible.

If the DSS are a late fabrication, where does that leave dating of the Old Testament? More than likely, the New Testament quotations of the Old Testament are prototype verses for the Old Testament which the Roman Jewish caesars were busy writing. It took the Jews several centuries to pull together a complete set of manuscripts written in the Hebrew block script. There is practically nothing in the paleo script if it was indeed a precursor to modern Hebrew.

Although scholars contend that composition of the earliest Old Testament manuscripts occurred in BC times, the fact of the matter is that the actual documents themselves are much more recent - the very earliest being around the 5th C. AD written in either Latin or Aramaic. It thus requires a leap of faith to assert that though the documents themselves are recent, they really represent older work.

Now some will point to an ancient BC amulet here and there containing a Pentateuch verse or two, but these may simply have been isolated sayings. They hardly afford the conclusion that an entire corpus of 40+ books existed based upon a saying or two.

The best we can say about the age of the Old Testament, using physical evidence, is that it dates to the 1st C. AD, and more than likely dates considerably later. It is fundamentally a hoax.

Copyright 2019 Tony Bonn. All rights reserved.