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The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies Provides a comprehensive survey of Biblical scholarship in a variety of disciplines.

Summary

The literature that survived in the religious communities of both Judaism and early Christianity, and was recognized as sacred scripture, was that which was believed by those communities to have continuing validity for their faith, identity, conduct, and mission. Both Jews and Christians saw the value of the biblical writings in their worship, instruction, and mission, but they also believed that something more than the scriptures of the First Testament were necessary to meet their needs. The Jews saw the value of codifying the oral traditions into what they called the Mishnah and what eventually became known among the rabbinic sages as the ‘Oral Torah’. Almost immediately its value for faith and life in the Jewish community was recognized, and that document of sixty-three tractates began to be interpreted in the various Jewish communities. Those interpretations (gemara), with more scriptural support, became known as the two Talmuds (Talmudim) of the Jews, one from the land of Israel (Yerushalmi) and the other from Babylon (Bavli). The rabbinic sages also produced several commentaries that likewise were useful in their religious life.

Similarly, the Christians developed a New Testament collection of scriptures, but, unlike the Jews, they received their new literature as inspired and sacred ‘scripture’. Like the Jews, they also produced commentaries on, and translations of, their own scriptures because they saw in them the working of God through their adaptability to the ever-changing circumstances of the church. As noted above, some of the literature that was valued earlier by the Christians did not survive the adaptability test, and was removed from sacred collections. In time, those writings that survived became inviolable—that is, canon—but the Christians have never fully agreed on the literature that comprised their biblical canon, let alone which text or translation of scripture is authoritative for the Church.

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Oxford University Press

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