Why has the Bible survived centuries and crossed all the borders?
What makes this Book so powerful?
The word “Bible” says it already. Derived form the Greek word biblia which means “books,” the word Bible suggests its essence and its role. This is the book for it contains all the books. It is the witness par excellence.
After all the sophisticated and elegant doubts cast on the accuracy of the Bible in the nineteenth century, increasing historical and archaeological discoveries have continually verified the accuracy of the Bible in an extraordinary and unexpected way.
For example, the idea that Moses was able to write 1500 years before Christ used to cause people to smile, simply because it had been believed that writing was still unknown at that time. The discoveries of the Proto-Sinaitic alphabet, the ancestor of all other alphabets (sixteenth century B.C.E.), and of the Ras Shamra texts (fifteenth century B.C.E.) have confirmed, however, the claims of the Bible against the attacks of critics and rationalists who said no one wrote back then.
The story of the Flood was also given a cold shoulder, until similar stories started to crop up from various traditions, from South America to India, from the American Indians to the Eskimos.
Archaeological digs have brought to light ancient biblical sites: Ai, Megiddo, Jericho, Hazor, Shiloh, Beth-shemesh, Lachish, and from these sites some of the most incredible stories of the Bible have been confirmed.
Also, the way the history is reported in the Bible increases one’s faith. Contrary to the historiographers of long ago, the Hebrew does not care to exalt the exploits of the hero. The unrighteous as well as the righteous are depicted. And even the righteous are presented with their worst characteristics. The first man, Adam, falls into sin; Abraham, the patriarch, lies; Jacob deceives his brother and hurls doubts at God; the great King David murders and commits adultery. The Bible has not tried to revise history; therefore, its testimony of history is untainted.
The Greek word biblia, the origin of the word “Bible,” is in the plural. The word translates the ancient Hebrew designation hasefarim (“the books”), as seen in the book of Daniel (Daniel 9:25) and especially in the tannaitic literature (Meg 1:8; Git 4:6; Kelim 15:6). Yet “the books” are, in fact, one book. The Bible has many authors, from different periods, backgrounds, cultures, yet it is still one book, a remarkable phenomenon. The variety of the writings (poetry, prose, genealogy, oracles, laws, etc.) and the authors, over a period of 2,000 years, is traversed by their deep unity.
In almost all the books of the Bible, the prophets stand untiringly in the way of the kings, to remind them of love and justice, but at the same time always echoing the same hope. The reason behind this literary unity is found in the faithfulness of its heralds. Progress in the Bible is sung in terms of a return to the past, a “Teshuva.” But beyond the stubbornness to root down in the sacred text only, the unity of the biblical text explains itself by the fact that it is inspired by the same Spirit. Only an author able to travel through time and space would be successful in achieving this unity. Thus, the unity of these writings gives testimony of that supernatural inspiration. It testifies to the existence of Someone who survives the ages, who was present with Moses, with David, and with Ezra, who was in Jerusalem as well as in Nineveh, on the mountain as well as in the belly of a fish.
No wonder that the truths of the Bible are held in so high an esteem, both by the moral that governs the relations among people, and by the ideal and hope that press them forward far beyond themselves. The ethics of Israel are so different from the cultures around it that it cannot help causing astonishment. The rationalists were so stricken by the ethics that they opted for a later date (people back then weren’t supposed to have such exalted ethics). But it has been recently observed that the language and the structure of the biblical legal texts were of the same type as the alliance treaties of the second millennium before Christ. The superiority of these laws should be explained differently. Their universal application and even their actuality suggest that they have an origin that transcends human societies. Even atheists claim these laws when they preach nonviolence, honesty, or the respect of human rights.
On the other hand, the values of dietetic and health laws, which the Bible promotes, are the same ones promoted today. It is now acknowledged that pork is not healthy, and doctors are increasingly recommending a vegetarian diet, similar to the one in the Bible (see Genesis 1:29), as the ideal. Research in psychosomatic medicine has confirmed many assertions of the Bible underlining the relationship between the spirit and the body, biblical truth, moral or scientific.
Biblical truth transcends time and circumstances. It even makes predictions. Today, at the end of the twentieth century, we are able to look back and confirm the accuracy of Bible prophecy. There was the fall of powerful cities like Babylon ( Jeremiah 51:8), Nineveh (Nahum 3:1-7), and Tyre (Isaiah 23), which nothing at that time could foresee. At the same time, the Bible predicted the successive rise of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome (Daniel 2 and 7). All these events had been predicted centuries in advance of their occurrence. Prophecy even assumed the risk of appearing in numbers to date upcoming events with accuracy. Already in the Bible, the ancient Hebrew is familiar with this prophetic word that always rings true at the turns of history. The patriarchs hear it as a promise that would be fulfilled during the Exodus. The exiled from Babylon take comfort in the prediction of Jeremiah about the return from exile. Saul, the king, cries out while envisioning his downfall. King Hezekiah learns of his death and its postponement by healing. Births are announced well before time. So the biblical word not only is witness to past events; it also shows itself as unexpected and sudden witness to the present as well as the future.
Old and New Testaments
For these reasons the Bible will always remain relevant, always a novelty for all. To qualify its nature as “old” or “new” is nonsense. The Bible, if it is inspired from the Almighty, cannot be “Old Testament” or “New Testament,” because God, the Eternal remains always the same. During the fourth century C.E., when Eusebius of Caesarea utilized the expression “Old Testament” for the first time to designate the Hebrew Bible, it was with a clear anti-Semitic attitude to diminish what had been until then commonly called the Scriptures and exalt the “New Testament.” In fact, nothing in the New Testament foresaw such an opposition. The authors are Jews as are the ones in the Old Testament; the events are situated in the extension of the history of Israel and are interpreted in reference to ancient prophets. In addition, the Law is always observed. A pious Jew could also consider these writings as those of the prophets of old and equally venerate them. What has been called the New Testament bears all the qualities met in the Hebrew Bible: the ethical ideal that pierces a tortuous heart, the victories over disease and death, the fulfilled prophecies, and also the extraordinary preservation of the documents All these characteristics are as many arguments in favor of inspiration from above.
But whether it means the Hebrew Bible, or Tanakh, or the Gospels, the proof would never be found in the arguments alone: its confirmation by archaeology and history, the miracle of its unity, its high ethical and spiritual ideal, its fulfilled prophecies, its actuality. Indeed, the proof is found essentially at the level of each one of us, Jew or Christian, believer or nonbeliever, in the measure that one would accept to bet on that Word and accept it. For if we open this old Book and we venture our eyes and our soul into the course of its pages, we will then be able to discover right here within ourselves in the throbbing warmth of our daily life, more convincing than ever, its power and its truth.
Image: Joshua 1:1 as recorded in the Aleppo Codex. Public Domain