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Ken Tposted Tue, 08 May, 2018

Why is the Bible different from other ancient literature?


Three new ancient Israelite psalms have been deciphered in Egypt. It's a fascinating discovery. Though they were originally written in Hebrew, they were inscribed on papyrus in Aramaic, using an Egyptian script, which foxed scholars for decades.

The papyri themselves date from the mid-fourth century BC, but they originated much earlier, in the Kingdom of Israel before the fall of Samaria in 722 BC. They've been known for a few years now, but they are now widely available to scholars.

So does the church now have new psalms to sing? Categorically not, partly because they are not, in translation, all that singable. These psalms come from the same thought-world as the 150 in our Book of Psalms and one of them is like Psalm 20, but they show the influence of other religions too.

The northern kingdom was plagued by synchretism, with elements of other religions contaminating the worship of the God of Israel, and there's plenty of that here.

But there are two things to learn from this. One is that the Bible didn't descend from heaven fully-formed. It had to be contested for, by scholars and teachers who devoted their lives to guarding the truth. We take it for granted that it's made up of particular books.

But it has not always been obvious which books these would be. A long process of discernment settled the canon of the Old Testament and then the New, as God's people declared, 'These are the books we use and through which we believe God speaks.'

Reading around the text of the Bible – in the Old Testament, 'psalms' like these, and in the New Testament books like the Gospel of Thomas or the Shepherd of Hermas, can help us understand why some books were left out and others included.

Another lesson, though, is about the value of the books we actually have. This is why Christians venerate the Bible as the written word of God: that it uniquely reveals him. It has been used by Christians for centuries as the foundation of our understanding of him. It is the most-studied book of all time, and every generation finds more in it to wonder at.

And the more we study it, the more we think there is something miraculous about the selection of these particular texts, in this particular order, preserved over such a long period of time and still speaking powerfully today.

There are plenty of good things in the 'apocryphal' books of the Old and New Testaments, and they can be read with profit. But the Bible is different: it has a 'given' quality that raises it to a different level.

It's fascinating that these Egyptian psalms have been deciphered. But we have our 150 for a reason; they're part of God's revelation of himself.

SOURCE: Christian Today


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