Where did the Bible come from? The Hebrew Bible, or Christian Old Testament, did not exist in the canonical form we know prior to the early second century C.E. Before that, certain books had become authoritative in the Jewish community, but the status of other books, which eventually did become part of the Hebrew Bible, was questionable. All Jews everywhere, since at least the fourth century B.C.E., accepted the authority of the Torah of Moses, the first five books of the Bible (also called the Pentateuch): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
Most Jews also accepted the books of the Prophets, including the Former Prophets or historical books (Joshua through Kings), as authoritative. The Samaritan community only accepted the Pentateuch as authoritative, and the Pentateuch remains their Bible today. Some parts of the Jewish community accepted the books found in the Writings as authoritative, but not all Jews accepted all of those books. The Jewish community that lived at Qumran and stored their manuscripts in the nearby caves, for example, do not seem to have accepted Esther as authoritative. We know this because no trace of Esther has been found in the Qumran caves, and the Qumran community did not celebrate the festival of Purim.
However, the Qumran community did accept other Jewish religious texts as authoritative scripture. The books of Enoch, Aramaic documents that date from around 300 B.C.E. to 70 C.E., were found in multiple copies in the Qumran caves, although the Parables of Enoch have not been found there. These books, which give more detail about the story of the patriarch Enoch mentioned in
The book of Jubilees, a second-century B.C.E. work, was also found in multiple copies in the Qumran caves. Jubilees is an example of rewritten Scripture retelling the story found in Genesis 1-Exodus 15. It claims Mosaic authority, since it presents itself as a revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai by an angel of the Presence. Jubilees, like Enoch, advocates a solar calendar. Jubilees is quoted by name in the Qumran sectarian Damascus Document, indicating the same degree of authority as the Torah. It too was probably part of the “Bible” of the Qumran community.
Other Jewish books may have obtained scriptural status in different Jewish communities. The Wisdom of Jesus ben Sira (Hebrew; second century B.C.E.) was translated into Greek and became part of the Septuagint, the scripture of the Jewish community in Alexandria. It was found in Hebrew at Qumran and Masada, and also in the Cairo Genizah, which belonged to the Karaites, a medieval Jewish sect. Although ben Sira was eventually rejected from the Jewish (rabbinic) canon because of its late date, it probably was part of the “Bible” of certain Jewish groups.
- McDonald, Lee Martin. The Biblical Canon, Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2007.
- McDonald, Lee Martin, and James A. Sanders, eds. The Canon Debate. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2002.
- VanderKam, James C. The Dead Sea Scrolls Today. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2010.
- Schiffman, Lawrence H., and James C. VanderKam, eds. The Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls. 2 vols. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
- Crawford, Sidnie White. Rewriting Scripture in Second Temple Times. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2008.