Who Invented the Alphabet?


Moses and The Phoenicians

Who Invented the First Alphabet?

Have you ever wondered who invented the alphabet? Where did the idea of having symbols to represent sounds come from? In yesterday’s blog about Moses, when I was trying to determine whether he ever actually existed, I mentioned the book: Who Were The Phoenicians? by Ganor. This examines the origins of the phonetic alphabet, and where it began.

About half way through the book, Ganor has thoroughly proved that the ‘Phoenicians’ were the Israelites/Hebrews, and Phoenicia was what the Greeks called Canaan (in the same way that the English call Deutschland ‘Germany.’ He believes that the name came from the Greek word: Phone which meant ‘language’ because they had an alphabet.

In 1905, an archaeologist called Petrie found several inscriptions written in alphabetic script. These were dated around 1500 BC, which is much earlier than it was thought people had an alphabet.

The early Greek alphabet has been linked by scholars to both ancient Hebrew and Egyptian hieroglyphics (not such a surprise if it originated with Hebrew slaves who escaped from Egypt). There are two theories for the names of the letter in the Greek alphabet.

Theory One: The names (Alpha, Beta, Delta, etc) were based on Hebrew words, and the symbols that represent them are icons for the things represented. See chart below, and please excuse errors in the script as I have no idea how they are meant to be written, and was copying them from a book.

(Personally, I don’t think the letters look very like the objects they are meant to represent, and nor does Ganor. I can see that Gamma looks a little like a camel’s hump, but how is Beta a symbol for a house?)

Theory Two: The alphabet letter names came from Hebrew words that sounded like them, and they were copied by the Greeks (who didn’t understand the Hebrew) because they were often chanted, as a mnemonic. It would have to be a mnemonic said often, taught through the generations, and therefore heard by the Greeks. This is the same idea as the mnemonics we use today, to learn things like the order of notes on a music stave: Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge.

The ancient Hebrew words would have to sound almost exactly like the Greek letter words, because we know they haven’t evolved with time—though it’s possible the endings have changed, with the Greeks adding a final ‘a’ sound because that’s how they speak (like Italians today tend to add ‘a’ to the end of words). Ganor did a thorough search of possible ancient Hebrew words, and came up with only one possibility. He claims that if the mnemonic is to remain close to the names of the Greek alphabet, then there are very few possibilities for Hebrew words. The words he thinks fit, are the words of a saying, which was first used by the Israelites after they left Egypt, and is still used today by Jews who have them written on small scrolls and fastened to their doorposts (called the Mezuzah).

The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day, shall be in your heart: and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk in the field, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be between your eyes. And you shall write them on the posts of your house, and on your gates.

And also: Be careful not to forget the Lord, you shall not go after other gods.

(Rough translation into English.)

The words are lifted from Deuteronomy, and made into an easy-to-remember saying, which perhaps the trading Phoenicians used to chant, and the Greeks gradually learnt the words though not the meaning. I don’t know any ancient Hebrew, so I can’t comment on whether Ganor is manipulating the language to make a point, or whether he has found an incredible link. But it’s interesting, isn’t it? It also sounds plausible. After many years teaching the alphabet to young children, I know that using rhymes and songs are often the best way to teach them even today.

The initial sound of each word was matched to a symbol, these symbols were used to make words. And hey presto! We have writing. Much easier than chipping pictures into rock.

Ganor asks the question, if writing came from the Israelites, who devised it? It either came from uneducated Hebrew slaves, or from a man who had been educated by intellectual Egyptian royalty (Moses). He therefore thinks it was Moses himself who devised the alphabet. He makes the point that splitting the sounds of words, especially consonants, is not something that occurs in normal speech unless you have a stutter. Moses is known (from the Bible and subsequent Jewish writings) to have suffered with a stammer. Breaking words into sounds would therefore be natural for him.  (I have no view on this, I am simply telling you what Ganor has written in his book!)

My own thoughts are that this might be stretching things too far, and there are a lot of assumptions. Firstly, there is no reason (I think) to assume that the Hebrew slaves were illiterate; certainly slaves in other eras have been able to read and write. Secondly, from reading the Bible account of the Exodus, Moses seems to have been completely at full-stretch simply keeping order of the Israelites—would he have had time to invent a new writing system? Though I suppose he might have devised it while he was living in exile before the Exodus. My understanding is the Jews teach that the alphabet originated with Moses, so maybe it did.

Thanks for reading. Use those letters carefully next time you write something, they have an ancient heritage wherever they originated.

Take care.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson

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Is the Old Testament Myth and Legend, Or Could It Be Historically Accurate?


Was Moses an Historical Person?

Or was he invented to prove a point?

Sometimes, things seem to make a ‘perfect storm’ don’t they? Lots of unrelated things all come together and provoke an unexpected reaction. This happened recently with the story of the Exodus. I was reading a book by Peter Hessler, an author I enjoyed when I started to learn Mandarin, as he lived in China for a while. He has now written a book about living in Egypt, learning to speak Arabic, and discovering the Egyptian culture. I ordered a copy and started to read. At the same time, I just happened to be reading the book of Exodus in my daily Bible study time, and of course, this is all linked to Egypt. At the same time, the sermons we were watching from Cornerstone Christian Church in NJ (where we used to live) were all about…the Exodus from Egypt! My head was full of all things Egyptian.

I decided I wanted to write a story, through the eyes of Moses’ wife, about Moses the man. Who was he, this misfit who led a rebellion, the go-between for God and his people, the Egyptian-Hebrew hybrid? What kind of person can watch his adopted family suffer plagues—even the death of his nephew—and remain unmoved? Who is able to stand up to rejection from his blood-relatives, and not fear the might of his adopted-family, and can remain true to his God throughout it all? And what would it be like to be married to this man, this single-minded leader of the people?

But before I could write a story, I needed to do some research. What were the customs and life-style of people 3,000 years ago? What did they wear, eat, believe in? I asked people to recommend books, and I started to read. I have now spent several weeks reading, I am still not ready to write my story, but have learned a lot of ‘facts’ and theories about Moses and the time he lived in. I thought I would share my most interesting discoveries with you, because some of them were surprising.

One of the first things I discovered was that there is very little historical evidence from this time—almost no secular data to back-up the Bible account. Something (no one knows what) happened at the end of the Bronze Age, something that destroyed all the complex major cities, and most of the evidence about the lives of the people, so there is almost no evidence to support the account of the Old Testament. For this reason, many scholars believe the account is not factual—they think there never was a nation of slaves, freed through plagues, led away by a man called Moses, to a promised land that was unified under Kings David and Solomon—they say it is all legend and myth, written to explain relationships and understand God, but not historical fact. Could this be true? I watched a very convincing YouTube video, which was based on the book: The Bible Unearthed by Finkelstein and Silberman, and it was absolutely certain that the Old Testament is unverifiable myth and legend.

Undeterred, I kept looking. I wanted to read what the scholars who don’t believe in the authenticity of the Bible had to say (“the wise man learns more from the fool than the fool does from the wise man” and all that!) so I read a whole plethora of books (including The Bible Unearthed by Finkelstein and Silberman). Here’s what I learnt:

Sigmund Freud said that after various studies, he thought Moses was an historical figure, living about thirteenth century BC. However, he took task with his name, saying that although the Jews name him “Mosche” it’s more likely that an Egyptian princess would give him an Egyptian name. Freud refutes that “Mosche” (the Hebrew version of Moses) means “He was drawn out of the water” as per the Biblical account, saying at best it means: the drawer out. (I felt he was splitting hairs here!) He concludes that Moses was probably named Mose, which is an Egyptian word meaning ‘child.’ It was common to use this at the end of Egyptian names, and we know of the Pharaohs Ahmose and Ptahmose and Thutmose, for example. Apparently, the final ‘s’ of ‘Moses’ was added when the Old testament was translated from Hebrew to Greek (so I presume that the Jewish Torah has the original Mosche or Mose). Freud then went on to compare the basket the baby Moses was placed in with the womb, and the River Nile with the mother’s birthing waters, so he lost me at that point.

Akhenaten
c1346 BC

Freud is certain that Moses was Egyptian, and this is how he ‘got the idea’ for a new, monotheistic religion (a religion that says there is only one god). Freud says this idea came from Amenhotop IV, who enforced the worship of a single god: Aten. Freud’s argument is that IF Moses was Egyptian, then his mother would be Queen Hatsepsut (sometimes spelt Hatshepsut), and Thutmose I would be his grandfather. This would make him a rival to the throne of Amenhotep II, as the Pharaoh would be Moses’ nephew. This, says Freud, explains why Moses spoke with such authority, and why the Pharaoh didn’t simply kill him when he started to be annoying. (I hope you’re keeping up with all these names. Very annoying when parents name their children after their relatives!) Hatsepsut was a powerful woman, married to her brother Thutmose II, she is thought to have reigned jointly with Thutmose III for a while, though he is known to have later tried to destroy everything with her name on, erasing her from history.

However, if Moses ‘copied’ the idea of one god from Amenhotep IV (who changed his name to Akhenaton) then the Exodus would have to be after this. The Akhenaton period is 1353 – 1336 BC. I had never heard of Akhenaton, though I had heard of his beautiful wife Nefertiti, and his son (by a different wife) Tutankhamum.

Going back to the name of Mose, this also ties in with the lecture I attended last year at the British Museum. They suggested that Thutmose III was the pharaoh of the plagues. ( Blog link here. ) Like Freud, they also thought Thutmose I, with his powerful powerful daughter, was the Pharaoh during the time Moses was born and it would make sense for her to be the princess who found Moses, and then gave him a name linked to her father (Thut-mose). This would date the Exodus to around 1446 BC.

We know that Thutmose III disappeared mid-reign, and that the next Pharaoh was not his first son (which fits in with all the first-born being killed in the final plague).

Thutmose III
Who was probably the Pharaoh during the Exodus, when all the Israelites left Egypt.

In Exodus (the book) it appears to name a Pharaoh—Raamses—but this is apparently more likely to be referring to a place. The Old Testament often ‘muddles’ people and place names, and one ‘proof’ that it was written much later than the history it is meant to be describing, is that some of the places named did not exist until centuries later.

However, if the books were edited centuries later (but written when they said they were) then it would not be beyond belief that those later scribes added the names of places they knew, to tell their readers where the events took place. For example, if I was editing a book about a journey in 200BC from my house to where London now is, I might add that they walked from here “to London” even though London, as a place, did not exist until 43AD (this would then be ‘audited’ by my family who would insist I changed such an illogical statement, but there is lots in the Bible that tells me those early writers did not suffer living with auditors like I do, and many of their ‘facts’ are a little imprecise!)

Another piece of evidence in the British Museum is the city of Jericho, which the Bible says was destroyed when the Israelite army marched around it. When archaeologists examined the ‘dead zone’ (the layer showing when the walls were destroyed) they found that not the entire wall was destroyed. This supports the Biblical story of a prostitute, Rahab, surviving the destruction—her house was in the wall of the city.  The ‘dead zone’ has the remains of pots, which still had grain in because the people didn’t eat the grain and the invading army did not take the grain as plunder (which was unusual). Archaeologists have also found ancient tombs, which were Egyptian-style in design, but this changed about the time the Israelites would have arrived. The archaeological evidence shows a gradual decrease in Egyptian influence in the whole area, which again ties in with when the Israelites would have arrived back in Canaan.

I read Who Were the Phoenicians? by Nissim R. Ganor. The book was originally written in Hebrew, and I was reading an English translation, so it was quite heavy-going in places (actually, scrap that, it was very heavy-going! It took 195 pages before he had finished ‘proving’ who the Phoenicians were not). Ganor was exploring the Phoenicians, the people who first devised an alphabet (before this, people wrote either Egyptian hieroglyphics, or Chinese script or Mesopotamian cuneiform). It is from the Phoenicians we get our word ‘phonics,’ the idea that symbols can represent sounds.

Tell el-Amarna letters.
They describe the ‘Habiru’ (Hebrews?) attacking cities, and the letters ask Egypt for help.

Ganor refers often to the Tell el-Amarna, which are clay tablets found in Upper Egypt. They were engraved about 1360BC, and were diplomatic correspondence between Egypt and Canaan, written in Akkadian cuneiform (cuneiform just means wedge-shaped carvings). Some of this correspondence talks about invasions of cities by an unstoppable tribe that is taking over the area. They describe kings being killed and buried at the city gate—all of which ties in with the stories of Joshua leading the Israelites into battle. The Tell el-Amarna is perhaps a tiny piece of related evidence, but it is still evidence that supports the Bible view. I don’t think ‘lack of evidence’ necessarily disproves something, and if the only evidence available supports an accepted view, then why try to ‘disprove’ it? The Amarna letters refer to invaders named Habiru, which was very likely to be the Hebrews.

Ganor also states that until recently, people believed that history was only recorded orally until 10BC (which makes it less reliable). However, new engravings have been found that show people had phonetic writing in 1500BC, and therefore it is entirely possible that Moses did write an historical account of the Exodus, as claimed by the Bible. (If you look online, you can read the diaries of Petrie, who was an archaeologist who found evidence of alphabetical writing—in a very unrefined form—from 1500BC, during his 1905 excavations.)

Knowing when the Exodus took place is another problem, even for scholars who believe it happened. The Old Testament says the Israelite slaves lived in Goshen. If this was in the Nile Delta, then the Exodus cannot have been before 1200BC (the period of Raamses II) because there was no substantial building around that time in that area (and they can’t have commuted very far to work!) However, much of the evidence for this is flimsy, an attempt to fit the facts to the Bible account. Some scholars have therefore said the Exodus never took place, others say that actually there were TWO exodus, one during the reign of Raamses, when half the Hebrews left, and another one later—this is because the evidence on the Tell el-Amarna doesn’t fit with the timing of the slaves leaving during the reign of Ramses.

It seems more likely that Goshen was situated in the area of Heliopolis (the ancient city of On) which is now modern-day Cairo. From there, it is three days journey to Yam Suph (Red Sea) and according to Hutchinson (The Exode, 1887) this route from Egypt across the Arabian Desert was probably the route of the Exodus (he bases this on Bedouin tradition, not the Bible—but it fits!) The ancient city of On (modern day Cairo) has several remains from Thutmose III and also Raamses II, though the remains credited to Raamses are always suspect as he would remove other Pharaoh’s symbols and add his own, to gain credit for things others had made.

In Who Were The Phoenicians? Ganor explains in great detail about how the timing of the Exodus with Ramses is erroneous (trust me, a LOT of detail!) Ganor says that it simply cannot have happened then, and shows all the reasons why it must have happened earlier, and all the evidence that supports this. I was convinced. He ‘proves’ the Exodus was about 1446 BC. This then discounts Freud’s clever theory about monotheism starting with Akhenaton (who came later).

In fact, it seems to me more likely to be the other way round. Akhenaton would have heard the stories of the plagues, and known that all the Hebrew slaves had escaped from Egypt, and he probably decided that worshipping the same God as the Hebrews was a good idea. This would also explain why in the el-Amarna it states that he refused to help the Canaanite kings in their wars with the Hebrews. However, as the Hebrews worshipped several gods during their time in Egypt, Akhenaton wouldn’t have known which deity to worship, hence the decision to worship Aten.

I then read The Bible Unearthed* by Finkelstein and Silberman, which is the book that the very convincing YouTube video was based on (the one which says none of the Old Testament is historically factual, and it is all myth and legend). The authors spend a long time discounting the story of the Exodus because it cannot have happened during the time of Raamses. I felt so frustrated with them, and wanted to tell them to read Who Were The Phoenicians? and then start again! All their arguments were based on the Hebrews leaving Egypt during the time of Raamses, and they went into great detail as to how this was impossible archaeologically, and therefore impossible per say. They even talk about the cities mentioned in the Biblical account—the ones conquered by the Israelites when they reached Canaan, saying that although they existed centuries before Ramses, and were rebuilt and powerful again centuries after Ramses, they did not exist at that time, therefore the Exodus never happened because etc etc etc. I wanted to shout at them, and tell them to rethink their basic premise, and that yes, the cities existed before the time of Ramses because that is when the Hebrews left Egypt.

They also discuss a document, written by an Egyptian historian Manetho in the third century BC. He tells the story of the Hyksos, who invaded Egypt and founded a dynasty and who were driven out by a strong Pharaoh. Later archaeologists have found that the Hyksos were from Canaan, and there is a gradual spread of Canaan influence in Egypt, which stopped around the time of Pharaoh Ahmose. Again, if you take the view of both the British Museum, and Ganor, then this ties in with the timing for Ahmose being the Pharaoh who began to oppress the Hebrews. So the evidence used to disprove the Exodus as an historical event yet again supports it.

My understanding of how archaeology works is that someone discovers something, and based on previously known evidence, they make conclusions about it. These conclusions then effect further findings. If those conclusions are proven to be wrong, then they should be adjusted, or the way they effect future findings will continue to be wrong. A simple illustration of this point would be:

Someone unearthed all the possessions of Henry, and they included a stamp collection. Based on previous knowledge, they said that eldest sons are usually named after their father, and as Henry is the eldest son, his father must also be named Henry. They also concluded that Henry had decided to collect stamps. Later, the possessions of another son, Charlie, are also unearthed. Charlie also collected stamps, so they conclude that Charlie copied his elder brother and decided to collect stamps. Perfectly reasonable assumption. But then, they unearth Charlie’s birth certificate. Charlie is an adopted son, and he was older than Henry. The conclusion must now be adjusted: It was Henry who copied Charlie when deciding to collect stamps, because Charlie came first.

The conclusions drawn in The Bible Unearthed are based on misinformation. They have placed the Exodus too late in history, and then concluded that the Israelites never formed a large empire, the Kings David and Solomon are mythical figures, their religion was a copied mish-mash from another race—the Phoenicians. Someone has used these wrong conclusions to make a convincing YouTube video, and people are listening to the well-presented information and assuming it is correct. But it is not. Beware listening to the clever voice that shouts loudest. It might be wrong.

There is more evidence for the Israelites reaching Canaan and conquering cities. The Greek historian, Diodorus Siculus (about 30BC) wrote a history of the area. He describes the Exodus from Egypt in detail, and how the Israelites defeated other nations and destroyed their cities. He doesn’t ever use the term ‘Hebrew’ or ‘Israelite’ but rather calls them ‘Phoenicians.’ You will recognise this name from Ganor’s book: Who Were The Phoenicians?

Ganor also believes the Hebrew slaves became the Israelite nation, and the Greek name for them was the Phoenicians. (He took 195 pages of proof to reach this conclusion! It was not an easy read but we got there eventually.) He also quotes Herodotus, another Greek scholar, who wrote about the three nations from Persia to Egypt: The Syrian Palestinians (who Ganor believes were the Philistines in the Bible) the Phoenicians and the Arabians. Herodotus himself links the Phoenicians with the Israelites; he also says they originally came from the ‘Red Sea’ which from his other writings can be deduced to mean ‘from Egypt.’

Greek writers also describe there later being two types of Phoenicians, those who circumcise and those who don’t—which ties in with the Bible account of the Israelite nation splitting, and the southern kingdom (Judah) remaining true to God and the laws given during the Exodus, and the northern kingdom, which pretty much ignored God, and had lots of different gods and were eventually taken away by the Babylonians.

The book goes on to talk about how the alphabet was formed—which Ganor also thinks started with Moses, but although this was hugely interesting, it doesn’t form part of the argument that Moses existed as an historical figure, so I will leave that for a later blog.

Now, although Ganor has pretty much ‘proved’ that the Hebrew slaves left Egypt in a mass exodus, and crossed the wilderness, and then conquered cities in Canaan and occupied them, all as per the Old Testament, he does not believe in the God part. Ganor believes that Moses wanted to establish a new religion, and therefore came up with the idea of one God. Some of his evidence makes sense. For example, we know from reading the Bible that people worshipped more than one god, because they are frequently told to stop! When Moses kills half the Israelites because they are worshipping the golden calf, he accuses them of ‘returning to the gods of Egypt’ and indeed, until Moses emerges from the mountain with the ten commandments, the people have not been told they should only worship one God.

Ganor, who is a linguistic historian, uses the names of God in the Old Testament as evidence. He says that the frequent mention of planting trees by Abraham and Jacob show that they worshipped trees. Jacob is thought to have worshipped the Asher tree, and the Hebrew word for ‘God’ is ‘El’ hence his name was changed to ‘Asher-El’ which became ‘Isra-El’ or Israel. Later, the Hebrews are known as “sons of Asher El” or “sons of Israel.” Ganor also says that the name ‘Adon’ is from an Egyptian god, and gradually became the basis for the Hebrew word ‘Adonai’. When, after settling in Canaan, the Israelites began to worship a myriad of gods, the god Adon became henotheistic (which means he was sort of the ‘king of gods’—all the other gods worshipped him). The prophets kept trying to re-establish a monotheistic (one God) religion.

There is an interesting link with the Greek god Eshmun sar Kadesh, which was a snake god used in medicine. Artefacts show that the Greeks acquired this god from the Phoenicians. The symbol is still used today in some places, of a snake wrapped around a pole (you see them outside pharmacists). Now, what has a snake got to do with medicine? Well, in the Bible account of the Exodus, when the people were leaving Kadesh (Numbers chapter 33) they were being bitten by snakes, and Moses made a bronze snake on a pole and held it up. When the people looked at it, they were saved from the snake bites and lived. After the Exodus, some of them were continuing to worship this bronze snake, saying it was a god of medicine (it’s like these people were continually looking for new gods to worship!) The Bible doesn’t hide that this was happening, and in 2 Kings chapter 18, there’s the story of a king finally destroying the bronze snake so people would stop worshipping it.

Looking at the Bible, it too makes it clear that the Israelites worshipped lots of gods (though to be honest, I had missed that when I read it—it’s not something that Sunday School teachers tended to point out!) I don’t know what I think about the idea that Abraham and Jacob worshipped tree gods, but there are references to Jacob being told to destroy idols, and he does bury them under a tree, so it might be significant. But the Bible also makes it clear that there is also one true God, and he is God.

My thoughts are that by denying the existence of God, Ganor rather misses the point. He can explain when the Exodus took place, and has provided evidence to support the Old Testament books, but he never addresses how they escaped. Why would Pharaoh let them go? If there is no God, there can not have been the plagues, and so the very fact of how they escaped is never solved. Ganor seems to go to an awful lot of bother to prove that God is created by Moses and perpetuated by the leaders who followed him—it would be more logical to simply acknowledge that God exists.

One fact that interested me was the name God gives when he meets Moses at the burning bush. Moses asks: ‘Who shall I say you are if they ask?’ (which is another proof that the Hebrews had several gods) and God says: “Ehye Asher Ehye” which apparently is ancient Hebrew for: “I will be whoever I will be.” Most Bibles translate this into the English: “I am who I am,” but I think the original translation says something slightly different, and I find that intriguing.

The name of the book of Exodus is also a Greek addition. It was originally called: “These are the names,” in Hebrew, according to David Pawson. I had never heard of David Pawson, he seems to be a Royal Air Force chaplain, who wrote a very fat (and very interesting!) book. It’s worth reading if you are interested in a few factoids around the books of the Bible. I was lent a copy, and liked it so much I ordered one for myself, even though I completely disagree with some of what he writes, mostly it is hugely interesting. One observation he makes is that according to the Bible, the Hebrew slaves were told to make bricks without straw, which would make them very heavy. He says, Archaeologists have found buildings built with bricks made with straw at the bottom, then a layer of bricks made with rubbish (while people scrabbled around trying to find a substitute) and then bricks made with just clay.

Going back to the Phoenicians, there is evidence that they were a trading nation, travelling to Crete and Greece and beyond. Different historians remark on the Hebrew influence in some Greek names and words. It is thought that the Phoenicians reached the peak of their trading empire about 1000BC—which is when the Bible says King Solomon reigned over a strong trading nation.

I don’t know what you believe, and there seems to be no way to prove anything, but personally I choose to believe the Bible account is historically accurate. It is true, the evidence is flimsy, and often circumstantial, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore it. I think it takes a sort of ‘faith’ to say the books in the Old Testament are not at all historically factual, written by authors centuries afterwards to justify invading the northern kingdoms of Israel. I prefer personally to have ‘faith’ that the Biblical records which claim to be history (some of them are poems or stories, and don’t claim to be otherwise) are factual. We lose some understanding because we don’t read them in ancient Hebrew, but I choose to believe the events actually happened.

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The whole idea of language and translation and lost meanings is something that worries me. The Bible was not written in English! When archaeologists found the Dead Sea Scrolls, they found a copy of the Old Testament scriptures that predated other copies by about a thousand years. They found four differences, which I believe were the way some names were spelt (so nothing, really). The early scribes were incredibly careful when they copied scripture, they even counted letters, to ensure the correct letter of the entire manuscript was in the centre. For centuries, the Old Testament books were passed from generation to generation, unchanged. But then the New Testament was written, and the scriptures were translated into Greek. Instantly, there would be changes, but both the Greek and Latin versions of the Bible were pretty well standardised. The Bible continued unchanged—until now. Now we seem to have a new version every week! We have the Hip-Hop Bible, and the Youth Bible, the Good News Bible and the English Standard Version Bible. Each one is slightly different, even the ones which are translations from the original Hebrew and Greek.

When I read books like Who Were The Phoenicians it makes me realise how much emphasis we place on certain words and phrases, and how these are changing as new translations appear. In evangelical churches, it sometimes seems that the Bible and God are held in equal authority, and yet the Bible, as we read it, is based on the decisions and understanding of the person who translated it. Should we therefore be taking snippets and deciding whole doctrines? Should individual words and phrases be given great weight when we make our rules and set our beliefs? I believe that God is bigger than the Bible, and that we should take great care when we quote the Bible as ‘evidence’ for what God wants.

The Bible is given so that we can understand God better, it shows us something of his nature, but we will never completely understand God. We are not meant to. Should translations of the Bible be given the importance that they currently are? I wonder whether they should be viewed as a resource, but we should constantly remember that they are only translations. My understanding is that the Jewish religion insists that all children learn some Hebrew, and they read the Torah in Hebrew at their ‘coming of age’ service. I think that the Quran can only be read in the original Arabic because the phrases fit together like a pattern. It seems only Christians are comfortable with most of their teachers only ever reading the Bible in translation. I wonder if they are right.

Books:
The Bible Unearthed by Finkelstein and Silberman

Who Were The Phoenicians? by Nissim R. Ganor

Moses and Monotheism by Sigmund Freud

Unlocking the Bible by David Pawson

The Buried by Peter Hessler

 

You can listen to Fred’s lectures here: https://subsplash.com/cornerstonechristianchur/media/mi/+ft3y8mb

(I usually skip through all the news and songs and just listen to the talk! You want the early August 2020 talks)

Tomorrow, I’ll look at whether it’s likely that Moses invented phonetic writing and the alphabet. (It will be a shorter blog, I promise!)

Anne E. Thompson

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Psalm 23


I was recently asked to preach on this Psalm. It’s one of my favourites, and I thought I would share my notes with you. I hope you find them interesting. Usually when reading the Bible, it would be a mistake to focus too much on individual words unless you’re reading it in the original Hebrew. However, this Psalm is so well known, and the truths are repeated in the rest of scripture, so I think we are safe to dissect the passage and still understand what the author was trying to say:

Psalm 23: 1-6

God’s Shepherding

This Psalm was written by David, who had been a shepherd. The themes would be very relevant for him, because our relationships with God are a personal thing (isn’t that amazing!) One thing I love about this Psalm, is that the author started to write in in the third person, referring to God as ‘The LORD’ and ‘He’. About half way through, this changes, and he starts to talk to God, using ‘You.’ This happens to us, doesn’t it? We start to read the Bible, or think about God, or what he might want, and gradually, hardly noticing, we start to actually talk to him directly.

Verse 1

When I was little I was very confused by this Psalm, as it begins: ‘The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.‘ I understood that God was the shepherd, but not why I wouldn’t want him! Later of course I realised it meant ‘I shall not want for anything else.’

The LORD is my shepherd: LORD denotes Yaweh, “I am” the eternal God (written in capitals). We can never know God  so he kindly gives us analogies we can relate to.

No uncertainty—the LORD is my shepherd (not ‘I hope so’)

Personal, God cares about individuals—the LORD is my shepherd.

Cows know owner (I learnt a lot about cows before writing my farm books). They know owner because listen to his voice. We are like sheep to their shepherd.

Present tense—whatever has gone before doesn’t change what is now. We all have things we regret, but God is interested in the ‘now’ of our lives. WE tend to worry about our past, and be anxious about our future. But the Bible tells us that God will cancel out our past because of Jesus’ sacrifice, and none of us can know what the future holds. It is the ‘now’ that matters. Are you being kind today, being humble, being fair?

Because the LORD is my shepherd, I therefore will not need anything else. I don’t think this can mean physical things, because some Christians are starving, or living in war zones. I think it means that if we have the spiritual side of our lives sorted out, then we can trust that everything else is part of God’s will—if we suffer, or go through pain, then it won’t be for nothing, it will be part of the bigger picture, part of God’s eternal plan. God is enough. Sometimes we need to remember that, to focus on God more, to try and see today in the light of eternity.

My animals expect me to feed them. Do we expect to receive from God? Do we come to church expecting to hear God’s voice?

Verse 2

Spurgeon said the ‘green pastures’ represent Scripture. They are where we rest, they show God’s abundant love for his people—always fresh, abundant, never exhausted. We can read the Bible over and over, and so many times we find something new, it speaks to us in a new way, we understand a little more of God.

He maketh me lie down—God doesn’t want us to be always struggling, striving away at life. He wants us to come to him, give up our worries, rest in his promises. It will be alright, because God is our shepherd.

Still waters are like the Holy Spirit, who sometimes works quietly: a dove, not an eagle. Sometimes/often we don’t notice what God is doing, we don’t see his Spirit working in us or in others. But those waters are there, still waters run deep, afterwards we sometimes look back, and realise that God was at work, things did work out right.

God leads us. We aren’t driven along, we are given someone to follow. (Chickens cannot be ‘driven’ but they will follow if I have food!) Jesus leads us by his example, we can see how to live by looking at how he lived. We see God in other people, and that is an example for us to follow too. It’s much easier to copy than to decide for ourselves (like the chickens wandering all over the garden) so we need to choose carefully who we will copy. WE have to allow ourselves to be led.

Sometimes we want to know the whole route, all at once. But usually God leads us step by step. I need to be asking each day, ‘What does God want of me today?’ Sometimes Christians get in a muddle about this, they agonise over ‘being led’. A little like the joke of the man who needed saving and prayed to God, then ignored the police/firemen/lifeboat that came to rescue him! We ask God to lead us, but he has given us a brain, surrounded us with wise people—following God does not have to be via a thunderbolt!

Verse 3

God ‘restores’ our soul because it needs restoring! We get it wrong, we do/think/believe the wrong thing, over and over. God restores us, again and again. ‘Restores’ is an active verb, God keeps on restoring us.

He restores my soul. Not me, not yoga, not a holiday! God does it, because he is our shepherd—he wants to take care of us. We need to remember to pray, to ask him to restore us, to let him guide us, to accept his forgiveness.

He leads me in paths of righteousness (or ‘right paths’). We should be obedient, follow what we know is right. WE don’t pick and choose which commandments we will follow, we obey all of them. We belong to God, we need to behave accordingly. We MUST be kind, be humble, be just.

Verse 4

We don’t run, or slip or struggle our way through the valley of death, we walk. It is a calm thing. We don’t walk alone, God is with me. We don’t wander aimlessly though the valley of death, we walk through it, death is simply on the way to where we are going.

Corrie Ten Boom told a lovely story about when she was young, and was frightened of dying. Her father reminded her, that when they caught the train, he would give the young Corrie her ticket right at the end of the journey, just before she needed it—the rest of the journey he kept it safe for her. He said that God is the same with death, he doesn’t make us ready until we need to be ready. . . If we’re scared, we’re probably not going to die today! God gives us what we need when we need it. This Psalm reminds us that when the time comes, God will be there.

When I had brain surgery, my walk to the operating room was terrifying, but I felt ‘wrapped in warm cotton-wool’—God was with me in a whole new way, because that’s what I needed at that time.

It is only the shadow of death we walk through, God removed the actual permanent death when Jesus rose. The valley is often a peaceful place—when my Dad died, it was a peaceful, Godly thing, a becoming more soul and less physical.

I will fear no evil, not because evil doesn’t exist, but because God is stronger, and he is there, protecting me. Most of our fears are in our head: the interview, the being alone, the being ill, the missing the bus—these things are rarely as bad in real life as we fear they will be! When we walk with God, we don’t need to fear evil, he has it sorted, we can trust him. God is with me. All the time.

The rod and staff which are used to keep the flock in order: for discipline, they are the things that comfort when things are tough. Knowing that God is in charge, is mightier than anything we will ever face, is to have true comfort when we need it.

Verse 5

‘You prepare a table for me’: one translation has ‘furnish and decorate’ a table—God doesn’t skimp when he does something for us. He treats us as special. We prepare a special table for Christmas, or a party—it shows that something is special. The Psalmist is saying that God treats us as something precious, something worth celebrating.

‘You prepare a table’ implies something normal, not rushed—a meal is eaten slowly, in a calm way. God is preparing something we can enjoy, we don’t need to feel tense about it.

In the presence of my enemies’ for David, his enemies were very real—they wanted to kill him! This verse was literal for him. I don’t really have physical enemies, but I do have fears, anxieties, temptations, and they are very real to me. I think this verse shows that even though those things exist, God still treats me as something precious, and the way God treats me is what I should be focussing on, not the negative things.

‘You anoint my head with oil’ signifies that we are made special. A king was anointed with oil, a priest was anointed with oil, it signified something special, a change. We need to allow God to anoint us, to change us, to make us something special.

‘My cup overflows’ shows that God gives us more than we can even hold! God gives generously. Look at how many acorns an oak produces, how many eggs a chicken lays, how many pips are in an apple: way more than are needed! God gives to us extravagantly.

Verse 6

“Surely goodness” when I was a child I thought ‘surely goodness’ was a special type of goodness! But it means that ‘because of all this, then for sure goodness and mercy will follow me. Certainly these things will be in my life.

We can almost imagine them as two angels, watching our back, all the time. All the days of my life—so, the bad days as well as the good days, those two angels will be there.

and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. We live there, not a visit, but living as children who have every right to be there. Forever.

 

I hope you feel encouraged today, whatever your day might hold.

Thanks for reading. Take care.

Love, Anne x

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A Christian is Someone Who Leaves a Washroom Cleaner Than When They Entered


I always struggle a bit in January—do you? I’m not sure if it’s the lack of sunlight, or the residual tiredness after Christmas, or just something weird that happens in my brain; January for me is full of scowls and negative feelings and wanting to cry. It has been even worse this year, partly because I have been hurt by my church and because it’s January, I have been focussing on it more than is healthy. It was something small, not even worth mentioning here (because you will think me silly) but for me, it mattered.

Now, this happens a lot in churches—has it happened to you? The trouble is, churches are just people, and everyone is busy, and trying to prioritise their time, and frankly, we only tend to notice the person playing the music, or operating the sound system, or unlocking the fire door each week, when they mess up. We don’t remember to thank them, but we’re quite quick to give input if we feel they could improve! We also tend to announce what we want to happen, and are sometimes insensitive to what others might want or need.

But I was still hurt. My brain told me not be stupid, it was tiny thing, not important. But the child in me raged and felt bitter, and wanted to leave. I need to be noticed, and I often feel invisible.

The solution to this, for me, is found in a little book tucked away at the back of the Bible: 1 Peter. In chapter 2, Peter talks about how kind God is and it calls us to be like living stones. It says that in God’s eyes we are ‘chosen and precious’. We might not be noticed by our peers, but God sees us. God thinks we’re precious.

The writing goes on to tell us to allow ourselves to be ‘used in building a spiritual temple’. A stone on its own is of little use, but as part of a building it becomes magnificent. I have to let hurts dissipate, I can’t be useful on my own, I need to be part of the larger Christian body. (That’s me told then!)

It talks about offering a sacrifice that’s acceptable to God. But what is that? In the olden days, people offered animal sacrifices, but God doesn’t want that today. In other parts of the Bible, it makes it clear what God does want. He wants us to do what is just, to love kindness, to walk humbly with God. Justice is about being fair and wise. Walking humbly isn’t about banging people over the head with what I believe. And being kind? Well, that’s sort of obvious. We all need people to be kind to us.

Which is why the title is what it is. I think perhaps Christians (me) need to think a little more carefully about how they’re being kind to others. A Christian is the person who holds open a door, who helps with the washing up, who leaves a public toilet cleaner than when they entered. Probably no one will notice, but God will—and he thinks you’re precious.

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Driving from Atlanta to Edisto Beach


We left Atlanta and drove all day. We had decided to book an Airbnb, and were feeling a little nervous, as although our children (and most of the world) have used Airbnb, we never have ourselves, and we were a little unsure as to what, exactly, we had booked. We had found a location, Edisto Beach, which was a nice distance from Charleston, and had vacant properties. However, we discovered that the website we were using had generic photos, a selection of shots from several properties, and not specific photos of the actual condo we would be renting. So actually, we had no idea whether we were heading for a shack or somewhere nice! Husband assured me that if was terrible, we could sleep in the car and head for a hotel the following day. I wasn’t sure a night in the car would be quite as much fun as he was suggesting.

We drove along major roads, where there were many signs for places to eat. When you check on Google maps, some of these are a fair distance from the actual road. One eatery that was often advertised, and was near to the main road, was Waffle House, so we decided to stop and try it. I like pancakes, and waffles are similar, and we had eaten several times at IHOP (International House of Pancakes) and liked it. We thought Waffle House might be similar. It wasn’t—or at least, the one we stopped at wasn’t.

The local area and car park seemed distinctly dodgy, so we parked within sight of the restaurant. I popped to the washroom while Husband asked for a table. The washroom had rusty appliances, dirty floors, and broken locks on the doors. I decided to use my ‘in dirty place’ rules, and only eat hot food that was freshly cooked.

Joined Husband, and warned him not to order anything too fancy. The table was in the restaurant, right next to the open kitchen, so we could watch them while they worked, which was interesting, but not reassuring. The kitchen had possibly been cleaned. . . maybe some time in the mid-nineties. We ordered coffee and plain waffles. Neither could really be messed up, though I wasn’t sure how the batter was prepared. The waitress was very friendly, and gave us the check (bill) with the food. The amounts didn’t quite add up to the total. The waitress saw Husband checking the bill against the prices on the menu and told us, with a smile, that oops! she seemed to have given us the wrong check. She rewrote another one, which tallied with the prices on the menu. We paid and left, neither of us was ill. It was a learning experience. To be fair, other waffle houses might be clean and efficient—if you’ve ever eaten in one, do add a comment at the end. But we weren’t enticed back.

Leaving Atlanta seemed to take ages, but eventually the roads began to run through countryside. At one point we followed a long road, mile after mile, through a forest. There were ‘no stopping’ signs at regular intervals, and when I looked on Google maps—to see what was beyond the trees on either side—it was all fuzzed out. It was clearly some kind of military or government installation.

We bought petrol in tiny places which were in the middle of nowhere (with very dirty washrooms!) and passed seemingly random mailboxes at the edge of roads that had no obvious inhabitants.

We stopped in Allendale for a burger at Hardees. Most people (everyone other than us) was black. Allendale looked like an interesting small town, with remnants of previous affluence, though looked like it was struggling a bit today.

We drove past fields of cotton, fluffy white puffs bursting from crunchy pods on dead-looking plants. Some had already been harvested, and was waiting in round bales, like giant swiss-rolls, waiting to be collected. The weather was hot (at last) and the air was full of tiny flies.

Gradually, the places we drove through became poorer. We passed burnt out cars, and people living in trailers, and uncollected rubbish. We began to worry about what kind of ‘condo’ the Airbnb would be—would it be a dirty shack? On a main road? In a swamp? We had the address of an office, and we had to collect the key before 5pm, so we were feeling tense as we drove along increasingly slow roads (the last 100 miles was on 2-lane roads, through towns with stop lights and railway crossings).

We arrived at the Airbnb office at 4pm. The outside looked fairly basic (like a shed) but inside seemed organised, and the people working there were friendly and efficient, which inspired confidence. They gave us a bag of clean linen (we had agreed that we could make up the beds ourselves) and the keys and directions. I asked if there was anything we should be wary of, and they said no. ‘Oh good,’ I said. ‘I thought there might be alligators!’ ‘Ah, well yes, you might see a gator,’ they said. ‘But no poisonous snakes, or anything like that?’ I asked, hoping for reassurance. ‘Well, it is snake season,’ they said. I didn’t ask any more questions—they were not giving the right answers.

We followed the directions to the condo, which is on Edisto Island. It is amazing! It is in a swamp, but it has been drained, and a golf-course and holiday homes have been built. The essence of the swamp remains, so there are trees dripping with Spanish moss, and pools of water (with ‘beware of the gators’ signs) and the houses are all on stilts. Our condo is up in the trees, and we look down on pools of turtles sunning themselves, and deer wandering around the golf course, and great white birds swooping overhead. I love it, it’s so much nicer than a hotel in a city.

I will tell you more in my next post.

Thank you for sharing our adventures. Take care.

Love, Anne x

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Is Steve Chalke a Heretic?


Steve Chalke

When I was a teenager, a young trainee pastor at Bible college came to lead a youth weekend at our church. The main thing that I remember is that he talked about sex, and it was one of the few youth weekends I attended that was not boring. His name was Steve Chalke.

Several years later, I heard of Steve Chalke again when he set up a charity, aimed at helping homeless people, which morphed (the charity, not the homeless people) into Oasis Trust. I was therefore interested when recently, during dinner with a friend, they mentioned that Steve Chalke had been ‘thrown out’ of the Evangelical Alliance. Was such a thing even possible? I had (wrongly) assumed that the Evangelical Alliance was a union for anyone who called themselves a Christian, a place to share ideas and resources, and which organised events which might prove helpful to said Christians. I had not realised it was possible to either ‘belong’ or be ‘thrown out’. What, I wondered, had SC done which merited being thrown out of this esteemed organisation? Had he murdered someone, eaten babies, kicked a dog? No! He had, apparently, become a heretic.

I heard a few whispers about the apparent downfall of SC. I heard that he had turned his back on evangelical Christianity, that he questioned the crucifixion, and even went as far as to call the death of Jesus “child abuse”. I wondered if I was hearing things properly. Searches online were varied, and it was hard to find the truth. I decided to buy his book, The Lost Message of Paul, and decide for myself.

The book is, to be honest, challenging. It begins with an introduction, when SC explains that he is rethinking his faith, and says he is hoping for an informed debate. It seems somewhat ironic to me that the reaction of established Christianity is simply to rebrand Chalke as a heretic and to exclude him from the Evangelical Alliance—but perhaps the debate happened before I was aware of this, and there were other reasons for his exclusion. I again checked online, but he is still the pastor of a church, still working amongst some of the neediest people in our society. I listened to an online interview, and he was still saying that he believes in one God, still believes in the death and resurrection of Jesus, so what is the reason for his exclusion? Maybe he really did eat a baby.

The book gave some insight as to why people find his ideas difficult—I find them difficult myself. The book basically gives good insight into the culture in which the Bible books were first written, and then questions whether we have properly interpreted what the words are saying. My understanding is that SC now questions whether the idea of ‘original sin’ is correct (the idea that when man sinned in the story of Genesis, that sin was then passed down to every person in every generation that followed, hence separating them from God). He makes the point that Genesis is a Jewish book, written in Hebrew, and yet Christians never ask Jews today what their understanding is, we never think about what the words would have meant in Hebrew.

Much of his explanations are very interesting—did you know that in Hebrew, you cannot have a word for an emotion? So, when it talks about God’s anger, it actually talks about God’s nose, because when you’re angry you snort through your nose? But that word could also be translated as passion, or fury, or great sadness?

I felt that SC’s views here (if I was understanding them correctly) were flawed. I never taught any of my children to do wrong, and yet they all did, so my experience suggests that people are born ‘sinful’ and the rest of the Bible seems to support this. If we are all ‘sinful’ then how can we approach God, who has no sin? Surely before we can approach, we need to be washed, there needs to be some kind of repentance? But his argument is persuasive, it cannot easily be dismissed, and gives pause for thought. (Or, of course, you could just chuck him out of your club.)

SC also builds a case for refuting Hell, or that people will be eternally damned. He says that this idea was first introduced by the Renaissance poets and artists (like Dante) and were not based on the Bible at all. SC does think that there will be judgement, but that it will not be an eternal suffering, more of a refining fire that will prepare us for our eternity with God. One example is when Jesus talks about Hell, and the gnashing of teeth, which SC says should never have been translated at all, as the word Jesus used (translated as ‘Hell’) was an actual place, used as a rubbish tip, where wild dogs lived (and gnashed their teeth) and that Jesus is asking, would you rather live with God, or in that place?

There is too much in the book for me to cover everything here, and I found many of the ideas troubling, though also that many fitted with my understanding of God. One of the main points made by SC was that God does not create people for eternal suffering, in other words: Hell, as usually defined, is a human invention and does not exist in the form we imagine. SC says he cannot accept that God, who is defined as Love, could create people knowing that they will eventually be destined for eternal suffering.

SC makes the point that if you asked Paul, or any of the early apostles, how they knew that they were saved, they would look at you blankly, and reply: “Because I am a Jew.” The Jews believed that, simply because they were Jewish, they were chosen, they were ‘saved’. SC argues that when Jesus died and rose again, this grace of God, was automatically extended to non-Jews, in short, that all people were now ‘chosen’ and therefore ‘saved’. He points out that when Paul writes that ‘through one man, all have sinned,’ we have no problem accepting that this means that due to the actions of Adam, who represents the first human, all people now sin. However, when, in the same passage, Paul then says that through the actions of Jesus, all are now saved, we start to add caveats. We say things like, ‘but it only applies if people have faith’ or ‘but people have to believe in the New Testament, and ask God into their lives, otherwise it doesn’t count.’ But that is not what is written. It is written as an equation—Adam sinned, so all sin: Jesus rose, so all are saved. It is, I feel, a compelling argument.

I find that I am left with a lot of questions after reading this book. SC has written a second book, and I will read that and see if it offers some clarity. There are things I disagree with, but some I find it difficult to define quite why I disagree. There are other points which I would like, very much, to be correct, but have not yet decided if it is wishful thinking or true. SC is undoubtedly a talented speaker/persuader, but that does not necessarily mean that he is correct.

Would I recommend this book? Well, that rather depends on who you are. If you don’t feel that you know everything about God, and that there is more to faith than perhaps you have discovered, then you might find this interesting. However, if you think you have faith and God pretty much ‘sorted’, and really you want to read things that backup rather than challenge your views, then perhaps you should avoid this book. SC writes that he hopes his book will start a discussion. My feeling is that it probably will (I for one am bursting to discuss his views with other people!) but unfortunately for SC, I suspect that he will not be part of those discussions. He has stated his views, people will now either agree or disagree with them, but as with most leaders, I expect the only feedback he receives will be negative. It is also quite likely to be voiced by people who have not read his book and have simply heard vague quotes. I do not know whether what SC wrote is correct, but I’m glad he wrote it because I think it’s good to sometimes question what we believe and explore other ideas. None of us knows all there is to know about God, he is beyond our understanding; but we can strive to understand a little more. What do you think?

Thank you for reading.
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How We Use the Bible…


Hello, thanks for popping back to read this post, which continues from yesterday’s post about how the Bible was compiled. As we saw, the Bible was assembled gradually, and it was relatively recently that the Bible we have today came into existence (even though the books were written thousands of years previously).

Firstly, I find it interesting that our holy book was assembled using logical criteria. This is the way that God chose for people to learn about him, and it was put together logically. I think that sometimes today, churches rely too much on ‘supernatural’ inspiration —we want God to show us things miraculously. Yet the Bible was put together by a group of people making sensible decisions. When we read the Bible, we find this is consistent with how God often led his people, in both the Old and New Testaments. People tended to win wars/save nations, mainly by logical strategy, and less by miracles. We want God to “zap the answer to us” and yet, it seems, God has given us brains and he expects us to use them. Should we move house/rebuild the church/go and preach in darkest Peru? Perhaps, after prayer, we should think about all the pros and cons, and then make a sensible decision. You might see writing in the sky telling you the way, but that would be rare.

When we are disputing something, we need to be careful about saying: “It’s clearly written in the Bible that…” In my experience, people only say this when someone else has obviously NOT seen something as “clearly written” and has formed a different belief. If it was CLEARLY written, then there would be no differing of views amongst people who claim to believe the Bible. We should remember that the Bible was written originally in Hebrew and Greek, we are probably reading a translation, we will certainly be reading it in a different age and culture. Meanings can get lost, we can misunderstand things. A little humility when discussing the Bible would be good.

The Bible does not claim to be infallible. Some religions, such as Islam, believe that their holy book was dictated by God, so it cannot reliably be translated into other languages (because you always change the meaning slightly when translating things). However, the Bible was not dictated word-for-word by God. There are seeming anomalies between some of the books. This in my mind makes the Bible more authentic, because if people were going to sit down and write a ‘holy book’ they would make sure it had no mistakes! The Bible, however, was written by people who had witnessed God working, and they wrote their accounts, and they remembered some details differently—which doesn’t make the account untrue, it simply shows they were real people, writing what they honestly remembered.

What about the books which were rejected? Is only the Protestant Bible correct? This is tricky. I recently listened to a sermon about the book of Jude (which is included in the Bible). Jude refers to ancient Hebrew books, which we have since lost, but which Jude himself obviously regarded as ‘scripture’. Jude was a brother of Jesus—you would think he might know what was ‘holy’ and what wasn’t. Personally, I have no idea.

And that’s the thing really, the point of why I am writing this. We want everything to be sorted, we want God to be nicely tied up, to be sure we see the whole picture, know everything there is to know. But we don’t. God has not chosen to tell us everything. The Bible is, I believe, inspired by God—but we should be careful how we use it. Those early Christians were, absolutely, followers of God—they died for their beliefs. But they had a slightly different Bible to us. They relied on God, not texts, and God used their belief to explain the texts they had, so they could come to him.

Can we believe the Bible? It is the book which I believe God has given to people, to help us to know him. It is not an absolute, definitive, set of rules; we should be careful when we are applying it to others —people have used the Bible in the past to justify slavery and wars and all sorts of injustices. Be careful when you quote bits of it. Almost anything can be justified using selective editing of key verses:
Do I believe in reincarnation? No! (Can I find Bible verses which seem to support reincarnation? Yes.)
Do I believe some people were created to be slaves? No! (Can I find verses which seem to support slavery? Yes.)
Do I think we should be dishonest and scheming? No! (Can I find verses which seem to support gaining things through cheating? Yes.)

But if we read the Bible, honestly searching for God, then we will find him. I did, and I know other people who have…why not read it and decide for yourself?

Thanks for reading. Take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson has written several novels. They are available from bookshops and Amazon.
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Who Compiled the Bible?


I was challenged recently when I quoted a bit of the Bible, and someone asked me when it was written, and when it was included in the Bible. I had absolutely no idea, so did a little research. If you know more than me, and can correct any of the following, then please do—otherwise, this is where the Bible came from:

The first 5 books of the Bible were thought to have been written by Moses, and are called The Pentateuch. They were probably established as ‘scripture’ by Ezra and Nehemiah, and they are what the Jews today still mean when they refer to the Torah. (These books were in existence way before Ezra and Nehemiah, but the early Jews pretty much ignored them until the prophets reminded them they were important.)

Then, about 200BC, the writings of the prophets were added. Later, the book of Psalms was also included as ‘scripture’.

Now we come to the time of Jesus’ birth (about 5BC —historians have discovered things since we set our calendar dates!) It was very important at this time for the Jews to have a clear understanding of what their holy books were. Jews were beginning to move away from Palestine, and they wanted to know exactly what defined them as a race, what their core beliefs were. So, in Palestine, when Jesus was alive and referred to ‘Scripture’ he would mean the 39 books we now have in our Old Testament. (Though the Jews combine some of the books, so I think they have 24–but they’re the same content.)

However, further afield, other Jews included other books as part of their scripture. The further away from Palestine they lived, the more books they seemed to include (some had as many as 15 extra books in their ‘scripture’). Books translated in Egypt make up the Septuagint, and this contains hidden books (known as Apocrypha which means ‘hidden’). Some of these books have since disappeared, and we don’t know what was in them.

So, what about the New Testament? Well, after Jesus left, the people who believed in him, began to separate from the Jews into a new religion. They still regarded the 39 books to be scripture, their holy books, and when in the New Testament letters they refer to ‘scripture’, this is what they meant. However, gradually, people began to write other things. People who had seen and listened to Jesus began to write accounts of his life and teaching. Later, other people interviewed them, and wrote their own accounts. The early church began to decide what it believed (such as whether non-Jews could be Christians) and the leaders of the early church wrote letters, teaching the church. Letters were called ‘epistles’. People within the church basically chose which of these letters and writings they regarded as sacred. So, there were the letters written by Paul, as well as letters written by Thomas…and the ‘Shepherd of Hermas’ …and the ‘Apocalpse of Peter’ …and the ‘Epistle of Barnabus’…and so on. Some of these writings contradicted what Jesus had taught, and some had a definite bias. Gradually, over several years, the early church began to accept some writing as being from God, and disregard other writing.

Then, in AD325 (so rather a long time later!) the church decided to state, once and for all, which books should be included as ‘scripture’. They formed a committee (because churches, it seems, have always liked committees) called the Council of Nicea. As far as I can tell from my research, they didn’t actually decide very much.

In 381, the church had another try. They formed the First Council of Constantinople and set out clear criteria for which books to accept, and which to reject. The criteria for inclusion was:

*The book was written by a first-hand witness of Jesus, or someone who had interviewed witnesses (such as Luke).
*The book was written within 100 years of Jesus (which meant, if it had been wrong, people alive at the time would have said so).
*The book should be consistent with the other books of the Bible.

This Council decided which books should be part of the Bible. They chose the books we have today, including the books of the Apocrypha.

In AD 400, St. Jerome assembled the books of the Bible, in Latin. It was called ‘The Vulgate’.

In the 16th century, a man called Martin Luther was studying the Bible, and trying to discern what it meant. He decided that actually, the Apocrypha should not be included as Scripture. The church formed another committee (the Council of Trent) who decided that Luther was wrong. This is why today, the Catholic Bible contains different books to the Protestant Bible.

Okay, that’s the end of the history lesson (interesting, huh?) So, what are the implications? This is getting too long, and I want to talk about it properly, so I will write another post tomorrow.

Bye for now. Take care.
Love, Anne x

 

Anne E. Thompson has written several novels and non-fiction books. You can find her work in bookshops and Amazon.
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Being Loved


I was reading Matthew 22 today, and there is a parable in the first 14 verses which seemed a bit odd. Jesus is talking to the leaders of the day, the Pharisees, and he tells them a story about a king throwing a party, and all the invited guests refusing to come. I understood that analogy – the invited guests were the Jews, and many of them were messing up their gift of a relationship with God.

So, in the story, the king sends his servants out into the streets, and they invite everyone who they meet to come to the party. I understand that bit too – after the Jews (well, some of them) messed up the whole ‘people having a relationship with God’ gift, Jesus made the gift available to other people (the ‘dirty gentiles’ – that’s most of us!)

But then there’s something which seemed very odd. In the story, the king arrives at the banquet, where all those people who have accepted the invitation are sitting, enjoying the party, and he sees someone who is inappropriately dressed. The king is so angry, he throws out (in effect, banishes him to hell). Now, what does that mean? Surely, if you invite people who live on the streets to a party, you have to expect them to be inappropriately dressed? This seems a little unfair.

I did some research, and this is what I think it means: God invites everyone to come to him. Like in the parable of the prodigal son, he is a loving father, he will do everything possible to meet us where we are, he wants to save us. (Remember, in an earlier blog, I explained how when the son says: “I have sinned before man and before God,” he is actually quoting what Pharaoh said when he wanted the plagues to stop – he wasn’t sorry, he just wanted things to get better. But the father met him anyway, and that love, that willingness of the father to save the son even when he was continuing to behave badly, was enough for the son to realise that he couldn’t earn his way back, he simply had to accept what the father/God was offering.) So what does the bit about the clothes mean?

Well, I think, that yes, God wants everyone to come to him, and he has done everything necessary for us to know him. However, we also have to accept that. Now, apparently, in the days of Jesus, a king would have provided appropriate clothing for a guest (a bit like when you turn up at a posh restaurant, and they have ties for you to borrow because you didn’t realise there was a dress-code). I guess the clothes would signify the willingness to change, to become what God wants us to be, to let him alter us. Therefore, although we can all come, unless we let God change us through his love, then that is not enough. If we truly are responding to God’s love, rather than using it as a sort of ‘get out of jail free’ card, then we will let that love change us. We will be pleased to wear the garments appropriate for a party. If we don’t, we have missed the point. Which would be worse than never acknowledging that great love in the first place.

I think that’s what it means anyway. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Thank you for reading.
Take care this week.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson has written several novels, which are available in bookshops and Amazon.
Anne writes a weekly blog – why not sign up to follow?
anneethompson.com

Psalms – Next book in my Bible Blog


In my read through the Bible I have reached Psalms. I didn’t find it a very easy book to read through, as each Psalm is like a poem, and if I wasn’t in the right mood, it was hard to connect with what the psalmist was writing. Lots were written by David, when he was fighting for his life, so he was in a different situation to most of us. It’s quite difficult to hope all your enemies will die horrible deaths, if you don’t feel you actually have any enemies. However, there is still lots to glean from reading them.

This book is made up of songs, which we tend to read as poems (and is actually divided into five separate books). I used the books by Michael Wilcock to help me understand them, and if you want to study individual psalms in detail, I would recommend it. (It’s part of The Bible Speaks Today series, ISBN 9780851115061) He describes the Psalms as being like “a photograph album, full of pictures that show us a variety of places in a land of spiritual experience.” I rather like that description.

As I read through, there were three main themes which struck me: The absolute power and sovereignty of God, the importance of remembering what God has done in the past, and the realisation that we are very temporary. These themes are repeated and intermingled throughout the Psalms, and I think they’re important. (There is also a lot of poetry, but I’m not a great appreciator of poetry, so that side was a bit lost on me.)

If you have ever faced a potentially terminal illness, you will have faced the fact that you might die soon. This is probably not a bad thing to realise, especially in our culture, which tends to hide away from death. We need to acknowledge that we have a ‘use-by’ date, and that our life is relatively fleeting. I guess for the psalmists, who lived in an age when dying in battle was likely, when diseases were mostly incurable, and when life expectancy was short, knowing that you would die one day was much more relevant. But it’s something we all need to consider. Not because we want to be gloomy, but because then we will have some urgency to how we choose to live our lives. What exactly is important? What really matters? (Probably not the designer handbag, nor being a best-selling novelist, or the CEO of a major company!) In Clara – A Good Psychopath? Clara makes the observation that all the writers of the Bible were pretty weak people, who made lots of mistakes, and they’re all dead now anyway. And yet, their lives had meaning and significance, simply because they followed God and HE gave their lives significance. Their lives were worth something, because HE was worth something. I think this is what the Psalms remind us. Unless we look to God, it’s all pretty meaningless in the long term.

Which leads on to the importance of remembering. I don’t know about you, but I am fairly fickle when it comes to praise and worship. I remember, right after I had brain surgery, when I was so grateful to God for his support, that I wanted to tell everyone I met about it. Talking about how great God was, happened naturally, it was sort of bubbling up inside of me. But I’m not like that now. Most days I’m a grumpy middle aged woman who has a crisis when the cat brings in a mouse. Therefore, remembering is important. We need to stop, regularly, and remember what God has done. The Israelites were told to remember being rescued from Egypt, long, long afterwards – in fact, generations afterwards. Remembering what God has done for us is important, especially when life is tough. If life is like a series of mountain peaks and valleys, then remembering how we felt on the mountain will help us to get through the valley.

Finally, the Psalms deal with the absolute power and sovereignty of God. The God who created the heavens, who formed the mountains, the power of the waves – there is no other. When we’re in the doldrums, it’s good to lift our thoughts upwards, to think about who God is, to remember to worship him. Which challenges us to think about how we do that. Do we make time to pray regularly? Do we bother to kneel down when we pray? Do we make space for the God we claim to worship in the busyness of life?

So, Psalms was not a favourite book of mine, and is one I would rather dip into when I’m in the mood, than to read from beginning to end. But reading it has, I think, helped to change me, just a little.

*****
anneethompson.com

Thank you for reading. The UK Amazon links for the books mentioned are below.

Psalms by Michael Wilcock:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Message-Psalms-1-72-People-Speaks/dp/0851115063/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1523950840&sr=8-1&keywords=the+bible+speaks+today+psalms

Clara by Anne E. Thompson: