The Old Testament makes up a large section of our Bibles, but though many people are familiar with the first part of it with the stories of Creation and the early characters in Biblical history, many people stop there.
Unfortunately also is the idea many people have of the Old Testament is that it is a collection of ancient stories and fables and not something based on true history that can be objectively verified. This idea is unfortunate because nothing could be further from the truth!
The Old Testament can be proven to be historically valid and an essential foundation for the Christian faith. This lesson will demonstrate how it was put together and the sources for it including both oral history (including such interesting facts including that Adam was still alive when Noah’s grandfather was alive—and you think your grandpa has great stories to tell!) and written texts, plus the archeological basis for it that includes a fascinating overview of Ur of the Chaldees, the birthplace of Abraham. You’ll have a very different view of what Abraham was called out of and how that influenced his life after this lesson.
This lesson is part of a series on How We Got Our Bibles. It is not only a fascinating study, filled with images, archeological discoveries and ancient stories, but included are extensive charts, maps, and notes that will give you confidence in your Bibles—that you can trust them to contain the Words of God essential for our eternal salvation and instruction on how to live lives that are pleasing to God today.
Below are the notes, charts, podcast, and video on this lesson:
Long lives of Old Testament characters Incorrect Dating of OT Prophets, et al
How we got the Old Testament
And why we can trust it as the Word of God
Teacher, Yvon Prehn
What is the Old Testament?
• The first 39 books of the total 66 books that make up our Bible.
• And though we use the term “books,” and they are separate compositions written at various times, they are part of ONE book, with ONE Author (see lesson on Why the Bible is like a Novel).
• Our plan for it today, is we will look at how we got it, the history of when it was written and how it was saved.
• We’ll also look at why we can trust it with lessons from archeology and history.
Though inspired, Biblical writers used primary sources, not legends and made-up stories
• Just as any historian would—the Biblical writers used other sources in the composition of their works. The Bible itself talks about this in many places. Here are a few examples:
• 1 Chronicles 29:29-30: As for the events of King David’s reign, from beginning to end, they are written in the records of Samuel the seer, the records of Nathan the prophet and the records of Gad the seer, together with the details of his reign and power, and the circumstances that surrounded him and Israel and the kingdoms of all the other lands.
• Statements similar to the one above are repeated frequently in the historical books.
• For Moses, the accepted writer of the first five books of the Bible, there were most likely some written records (the Amara tablets from this time show the extensive writing and correspondence—they wrote about EVERYTHING) but there was another thing that made his information much closer to primary sources. . . that is oral history.
The Power of Oral History
• When historians evaluate the validity of written documents, one of the important criteria in determining if we can trust them is were there eye-witnesses, did they preserve a record about what they SAW?
• It makes a big difference when we hear (or even later read) the accounts from people who were THERE when things happened.
• My own experience with this—my adopted grandfather and D-Day. We’ve all seen the pictures, read the accounts, but he told me….
• How before boarding the boats the soldiers gave their pocket change to the dock urchins because though they didn’t know exactly where they were going, most realized they wouldn’t return, and then when they hit the beach, how fortunate the men in this picture, because with the boats that dropped too soon, men drowned.
• His words made D-Day real to me.
Long Life spans &
• Long life allowed sharing of the record of God’s actions in human history
• Adam still alive when Noah’s father was born
• Methuselah (who could have spoken to Adam) was alive as Noah was growing up; Noah could talk to a man (who was this grandfather) who KNEW the first man created (and you think your grandpa has great stories…..)
• Shem (Noah’s son) was still alive when Abram was born, Terah, his father, would have been able to talk to him.
• Oral history always passed on, as well as documents.
• Both contributed to the validity of the history later written.
• Chart available on www.Bible805.com
The oral history allowed for reliable written history…
• Here is how CCEL puts it:
• A careful examination of the Biblical genealogies (Gen. 5 and 11) reveals that Adam lived till the time of Lamech [Noah’s father]; Lamech to the time of Shem [Noah’s son]; Shem[who lived through the Flood] to the time of Jacob; Jacob would, without a doubt, transmit what he knew to Joseph. Since even Abraham already lived in a literary age, and Judah carried a seal (Gen. 38:18), and Joseph was learned in the wisdom of the Egyptians, it seems utterly impossible that these men should have refrained from committing this valuable and reliable tradition to writing. . . . .[similar to how] Kings and Chronicles, testify to the abundant use of source materials.
Exposition of Genesis, H.C. Leupold
This pattern was repeated
• Pattern given in Exodus, how God spoke to Moses and told him to not only verbally share the messages but to write them down.
• Exodus 24: 3 When Moses went and told the people all the Lord’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.” 4 Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said.
• This pattern is repeated throughout the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Bible) aka the Torah (the Law), where God speaks to Moses, he then communicates the message to the people verbally AND writes it down.
• We assume this took place during their 40 years of wandering where Moses where is says, “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” Exodus 33:11
This pattern continues through all the writings of the Old Testament
• 2 Peter 1:21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
• We will go through each author when we go through the Bible as a whole, but briefly here is an overview of who wrote what when.
• Pattern—an individual was identified as a prophet from God, that person spoke and what they said was recorded and carefully kept.
How do we know that what we have is the same as what they wrote?
• At the end of the Old Testament period, around 400 BC the writings were collected by Ezra as part of the Great Assembly, the Great Synagogue, who decided which books would be included.
• Jewish tradition and history verifies the great care the books were copied and preserved from each of the sections presented.
• One of the best summaries comes from Josephus (who wrote after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD) in Contra Apion,
His verification of the care with which the Jews preserved the Old Testament
• For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another, [as the Greeks have,] but only twenty-two books, (same as ours, numbered differently) which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine. . . . . .during so many ages as have already passed, no one has been so bold as either to add any thing to them, to take any thing from them, or to make any change in them; but it is become natural to all Jews immediately, and from their very birth, to esteem these books to contain Divine doctrines, and to persist in them, and, if occasion be willingly to die for them.
Also, because of the Dead Sea Scrolls
• Answer the question of haven’t the Biblical documents changed over the years.
• We had the tradition of very careful copying of manuscripts
• But concrete proof came with the Dead Sea Scrolls, hidden in the caves of Qumran prior to 70 AD, discovered in 1949,
• And when compared with what we have today, the texts are virtually identical –showing the care and consistency of the Old Testament Scriptures.
But there’s more! Why the Christian Bible is unique among all other scriptures in how we can trust it…..
• In past lessons, we looked at: Hinduism, Buddhism, the Mormon Church, and Islam.
• From our study we learned that, despite the push today for religious tolerance, we must respectfully point out that all religions and their scriptures are not the same.
• They cannot all be true because they contradict each other.
• In addition, their scriptures do not have historical anchors. All are based all or in part on fanciful stories or outright falsehood when compared with true and tangible historical events and geographical locations.
Here is one example that shows
• How the Bible was written within identifiable historical geographical settings.
• Historical setting is important:
• As a proof of the validity of the text and….
• To understand the context of a particular message or book.
• Here we are going to look at an early passage in the Old Testament that talks about how Abram was called out of Ur of the Chaldees.
About the archeology of Ur
• Many people have seen pictures of Abraham’s birthplace, though they mostly likely didn’t know what they were looking at.
• These are the pictures of U.S. soldiers standing on the steps of a reconstructed an ancient temple that was literally standing in Abraham’s time. The steps and the form of the temple is built over the original temple itself.
• Though the pictures have been shown across the world in the last few years, the early discoveries and excavations of Ur are one of the great archeological stories of our time, which I’ll get to in a minutes.
• That aside, what it fascinating to me is the totally different view I got, and I trust you will also, of what Abraham left behind when God called him from Ur to go to Canaan.
• My idea and that of many others is that Abraham left a middle eastern area and lifestyle that was very similar to the one he was going to—sort of a pastoral wide-open, living in tents area to a similar one we see in all the Bible stories.
But reality is…..
• VERY DIFFERENT!
• A modern-day equivalent, would be like leaving the big-city excitement of Los Angeles to pitch a tent in the Mojave Desert.
• And the archeology shows us this reality.
• To understand what this means, let me tell you about the fascinating discovery of Ur, which is the story of a very dashing, Indiana Jones type character….
Leonard Woolley, the English archeologist, who excavated UR from 1922-1934
• He was a fascinating character who had been doing archeological work prior to WW1 in the Middle East, some with his assistant T.E. Lawrence, AKA Lawrence of Arabia.
• The two of them worked for British intelligence during WW1, but a ship Woolley was on was blown up and he spent the remainder of the war in a POW camp.
• After the war, he returned to the Middle East and in 1922 started work on Ur.
• This was about the same time the King Tut excavations were going on in Egypt. (which is one reason we don’t know as much about it).
• Here is an overview description of his discovery by National Geographic:
“In the 1920s and 1930s, British archaeologist Leonard Woolley dug up some 35,000 artifacts from Ur
• ….including the spectacular remains of a royal cemetery that included more than 2,000 burials and a stunning array of gold helmets, crowns, and jewelry that date to about 2600 B.C. . . .
• Although now situated on a flat and dry plain, Ur once was a bustling port on the Euphrates River laced with canals and filled with merchant ships, warehouses, and weaving factories. A massive stepped pyramid, or ziggurat, rose above the city and still dominates the landscape today.
• Ur emerged as a settlement more than 6,000 years . . . . .But the real heyday came around 2000 B.C., when Ur dominated southern Mesopotamia after the fall of the Akkadian Empire. The sprawling city was home to more than 60,000 people, and included quarters for foreigners as well as large factories producing wool clothes and carpets exported abroad. Traders from India and the Persian Gulf crowded the busy wharves, and caravans arrived regularly from what is now northern Iraq and Turkey.
• One of the 60,000 people of that time of the “real heyday” of the city was Abraham.
• Now for more about it….
A large city, dominated by the temple
• As you can see from an aerial view of the site, the city was dominated by the large temple structure, the same one reconstructed and that many soldiers and tourists pose on.
In addition to the area of the homes
From another view
A harp with bullhead and gold and stone statues
Artifacts of life including everyday pottery, household items and games
One of the most famous, headdress of Queen Puabi
• Gold headdress, a diadem, huge gold earrings styled exactly like they are made today
But not everything was beautiful
• Woolley’s journals describe the royal tombs.
• In the tombs, along with the king and queen many were buried—warriors, attendants, male and female all richly dressed with gold and weapons presumably to serve their royalty in the afterlife.
• Animals hitched to carts were also found.
• What struck Wooley as unusual and he documented it in detailed drawings, was the orderly arrangement of bodies.
• It suggested they walked into caves voluntarily and died where they stood possibly poisoned (each held a little cup in their hands).
• Though some were found with their heads bashed in (perhaps those not willing to drink the poison).
A later artist’s recreation of the last royal cemetery caves
A summary of the society of Ur
• A rich, sophisticated, urban society.
• A poly-theistic religion, where the huge temple dominated the skyline and life of the city.
• It was a religion one based on servitude and fear, where one had duties and obligations, but little record of a personal relationship with the deities.
• They believed in an afterlife, but one of dust and darkness—little hope or joy.
• This is what Abraham was called out of.
Not only to a new place, but a new relationship
• As I was reading about the religion of Ur and the overwhelming sense of fear and dread in it, I remembered that in James 2:23 it tells us Abraham was called “the friend of God.”
• He is referred to in this way in other places that talk about him.
• And remember Jesus, when he was about to leave his disciples in John 15:15 says, I no longer call you servants, . . . . .. Instead, I have called you friends.
• What an extraordinary privilege—how different than any other images of a relationship with God in the ancient world, and with many religions today where religion is defined primarily by fear.
Historical markers in another book, Isaiah important for understanding prophecy
• Isa. 1:1 The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. (approx. 740 BC)
• Isa. 6:1: In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.
• Isa. 7:1 When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it.
It’s important to date when Isaiah preached because he said, regarding God’s judgment and eventual captivity of Judah….
• Isaiah 44:28 who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt, “and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.” ‘
• Isaiah 45:13 I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward, says the LORD Almighty.“
• Prophesied in approx. 740 BC by name BEFORE the Babylonian Captivity, by about 150 years.
• Jerusalem finally destroyed in 587BC (several deportations prior to it).
• Mercy prophesied even before judgment came—
• Return took place in 538 BC (one year after Cyrus cylinder created) and we know the exactness of this because of …..
The Cyrus Cylinder
• The Cyrus cylinder, a contemporary cuneiform script proclaiming Cyrus as legitimate king of Babylon, created in 539 BC
• Describes the conquest of Babylon by the Persian king Cyrus the Great and his treatment of the nations conquered—an important one being allowing captive people to return to their homelands
But what if it had nothing to do with prophecy? Question of 2nd Isaiah
• 18th century liberal critics questioned this because could not believe in prophecy….[however] so they said the book of Isaiah was really two books, one written early and the other after the return. The only reason being a rejection of supernatural prophecy.
• Most reputable Bible scholars reject the “Deutero-Isaiah”(Or 2nd Isaiah) theory because….
• There is a similarity of writing styles throughout, the consistent use of the same words throughout, and the familiarity of the author with Palestine, but not Babylon.
• Furthermore, Jewish tradition uniformly ascribes the entire book to Isaiah.
• The Dead Sea Scrolls contain a complete scroll of Isaiah dated from the second century BC. The book is one unit with the end of chapter 39 and the beginning of chapter 40 in one continuous column of text. This demonstrates that the scribes who copied this scroll never doubted the singular unity of the book. Neither did the New Testament authors, nor the early church, as quotations from both sections are attributed only to Isaiah.
Statements abound in some circles that assert this or that was written “in the second Temple period” and because of that prophecy isn’t real—upon close analysis, that view is simply goofy
A brief overview of the Old Testament
• We looked at briefly at the history of when it was written and by who
• Along with brief examples of how archeology and other historical markers show why we can trust it
• And though these objective lessons can give us great confidence in the trustworthiness of the Bible the best reason we have is that…..
We can trust it because Jesus did
• “Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’ And he said, ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’” (Matthew 19:4-5 NLT)
• Remember Lot’s wife. (Luke 17:32 KJV)
• “For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be.” (Matthew 24:37-3 NASB)
• “Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” (John 6:31 NKJV)
• But Jesus replied, “Only an evil, faithless generation would ask for a miraculous sign; but the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so I, the Son of Man, will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. The people of Nineveh will rise up against this generation on judgment day and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah. And now someone greater than Jonah is here—and you refuse to repent.” (Matthew 12:39-41 NLT)
• He took some of the most controversial passages in the Old Testament and used them as examples of truth in His life.
• We would do well to do the same!