- Dating the Bible
Part of a series on The Bible Biblical canon
Old Testament (OT)
New Testament (NT)
Chapters and verses
Old Testament canon
New Testament canon
Dead Sea scrolls
Targums · Peshitta
Septuagint · Vulgate
Gothic Bible · Vetus Latina
Luther Bible · English Bibles
Biblical studies Dating the Bible
Novum Testamentum Graece
NT textual categories
Archeology · Artifacts
Science and the Bible
Pesher · Midrash · Pardes
Perspectives Gnostic · Islamic · Qur'anic
Christianity and Judaism
Inerrancy · Infallibility
Criticism of the Bible
The oldest surviving Hebrew Bible manuscripts date to about the 2nd century BCE (fragmentary), the oldest record of the complete text survives in a Greek translation called the Septuagint, dating to the 4th century CE (Codex Sinaiticus) and the oldest extant manuscripts of the vocalized Masoretic text upon which modern editions are based date to the 9th century CE.
From the internal testimony of the texts, the individual books of the 27-book New Testament canon are likely dated to the 1st century AD. The first book written was probably 1 Thessalonians, written at around 50 CE. The last book of the canon is the Book of Revelation said to be written by John of Patmos during the reign of Domitian (81-96). Since the original writing of the Scriptures, huge volumes of copies have been made of the originals, which are no longer extant, and copies have been made of those copies, resulting in several text types. Archaeologists have recovered about 5500 New Testament manuscripts, being fragments or complete books. The earliest extant fragment of the New Testament is the Rylands Library Papyrus P52, a piece of the Gospel of John dated to the first half of the 2nd century. Dating the composition of the texts relies primarily on internal evidence, including direct references to historical events, as resorting to textual criticism, philological and linguistic evidence is very subjective.
There are numerous ways in which the various copies of the books of the Bible are dated:
Manuscripts can be dated from their archaeological context (i.e., pottery and other datable objects found with them), their script (handwriting changes over time and styles can be dated fairly accurately), and other means. The oldest manuscripts of the Hebrew bible/Old Testament, the Dead Sea Scrolls, have been dated to the two centuries before the time of Christ, although a fragment from the Book of Numbers has been found which dates from the early 6th century BCE.
Scholars believe that they can date the Hebrew of the bible fairly accurately by comparing it with the grammar and vocabulary from inscriptions found in archaeological sites. For example, the Documentary hypothesis dating is largely based on internal linguistic differences within the text which date different sections to different eras, while P.J. Wiseman hypothesizes that books may date to the 2nd millennium BCE based partly on similarity to other ancient narrative structures.
- External references
Much of the Hebrew bible has a historical setting which can be compared with non-biblical sources and with the archaeological record (for example, references to the kingdoms of Moab, which existed in the 13th century BCE, is consistent with traditional dating of the Book of Numbers).
The Hebrew Bible
The traditional religious view on the origin of the Torah is that it was written by Moses between 1446 BCE and 1406 BCE. While this view is still held by conservative Christians and Jews, modern scholars argue that the whole of the Torah was composed in the mid-1st millennium BCE as a "prequel" to the prophetic books (books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings).
There are currently three broad approaches to the question of the date and method of its composition. The documentary hypothesis holds that the Torah was composed by interweaving four originally separate and complete narratives, each dealing with the same material. This, it is claimed, accounts for many of the puzzling features of the five books, notably the appearance of multiple names for God and doubled incidents. The documentary hypothesis held a near-monopoly on scholarly approaches to the date and composition of the Torah until the last quarter of the 20th century, when scholars have advanced alternative theories which can be grouped into two broad models.
The first is the "fragmentary model", which holds that the Torah grew gradually from a host of fragments of various lengths. The alternative view is the "supplementary model", which holds that it is largely the work of an editor, or group of editors, working on ("supplementing") a mass of existing material.
View Proposed Date Traditional religious view Torah composed between 1446 BCE and 1406 BCE, with the remaining books composed between 1400 BCE to 400 BCE. Documentary hypothesis Four independent documents (the Jahwist, Elohist, Deuteronomist and the Priestly source), composed between 900-550 BCE, redacted c 450 BCE, possibly by Ezra. Supplementary models (e.g. John Van Seters) Torah composed as a series of authorial expansions of an original source document, usually identified as J or P, largely during the 7th and 6th centuries BCE, final form achieved c. 450 BCE. Fragmentary models (e.g. Rolf Rendtorff, Erhard Blum) Torah the product of the slow accretion of fragmentary traditions, (no documents), over period 850-550 BCE, final form c. 450 BCE. Biblical minimalism Torah composed in Hellenistic-Hasmonean period, c. 300-140 BCE.
Scholarly dating Book of Joshua ca. 625 BCE by the Deuteronomist (called D) working with traditional materials Book of Judges ca. 625 BCE by the Deuteronomist (called D) working with traditional materials Book of Samuel ca. 625 BCE by the Deuteronomist (called D) working with traditional materials Book of Kings ca. 625 BCE by the Deuteronomist (called D) working with traditional materials Book of Isaiah Three main authors and an extensive editing process:
Isaiah 1-39 "Historical Isaiah" with multiple layers of editing, 8th century BCE
Isaiah 40-55 Exilic(Deutero-Isaiah), 6th century BCE
Isaiah 56-66 post-exilic(Trito-Isaiah), 6th-5th century BCE
Book of Jeremiah late 6th century BCE or later Book of Ezekiel 6th century BCE or later Book of Hosea 8th century BCE or later Book of Joel unknown Book of Amos 8th century BCE or later Book of Obadiah 6th century BCE or later Book of Jonah 6th century BCE or later Book of Micah mid 6th century BCE or later Book of Nahum 8th century BCE or later Book of Habakkuk 6th century BCE or later Book of Zephaniah 7th century BCE or later Book of Haggai 5th century BCE or later Book of Zechariah 5th century BCE or later Book of Malachi Early 5th century BCE or later
Scholarship on the dating of the Book of Daniel largely falls into two camps: one dates the book in its entirety to a single author during the desecration of the Jerusalem Temple (167–164 BCE) under the Syrian-Greek ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes (ruled 175–164 BCE); the other sees it as a collection of stories dating from different times throughout the Hellenistic period (with some of the material possibly going back to very late Persian period), with the visions in chapters 7–12 having been added during the desecration of Antiochus. For example, Hartman and Di Lella, 1978 suggest multiple authorship, with some material dating to the 3rd century, culminating with a 2nd-century editor and redactor.
The reasons for these dates include a use of Greek and Persian words in the Hebrew of the text unlikely to happen in the 6th century, that the style of the Hebrew and Aramaic was more like that of a later date, that the use of the word "Chaldean" occurs in a fashion unknown to the 6th century, and that repeated historical gaffes betray an ignorance of the facts of the 6th century that a high official in Babylon would not have, while the 2nd-century history was found to be far more accurate (see Farrell Till's analysis).
John Collins, on the other hand, finds it impossible for the "court tales" portion of Daniel to have been written in 2nd century BCE because of textual analysis. In his 1992 Anchor Bible Dictionary entry for the Book of Daniel, he states, "it is clear that the court-tales in chapters 1–6 were 'not written in Maccabean times'. It is not even possible to isolate a single verse which betrays an editorial insertion from that period."
Scholarly dating Psalms The bulk of the Psalms appear to have been written for use in the Temple, which existed from around 950-586 BCE and, after rebuilding, from the 5th century BCE until 70 CE. Book of Proverbs Some old material from the ancient sages, some later material from the 6th century BCE or later, some material borrowed from the ancient Egyptian text called the Instructions of Amenemopet Book of Job 5th century BCE Song of Songs or Song of Solomon scholarly estimates vary between 950 BCE to 200 BCE Book of Ruth 6th century BCE or later Lamentations 6th century BCE or later Ecclesiastes 4th century BCE or later Book of Esther 4th century BCE or later Book of Daniel ca. 165 BCE Book of Ezra-Book of Nehemiah 4th century BCE or slightly later Chronicles 4th century BCE or slightly later
Deuterocanonical books are books considered by the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy to be canonical parts of the Christian Old Testament but are not present in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and Protestant Bible.
Scholarly dating Tobit 2nd century BCE Judith 1 Maccabees ca. 100 BCE 2 Maccabees ca. 124 BCE 3 Maccabees 1st century BCE or 1st century CE 4 Maccabees 1st century BCE or 1st century CE Wisdom during the Jewish Hellenistic period Sirach 2nd century BCE Letter of Jeremiah unknown Additions to Daniel 2nd century BCE Baruch during or shortly after the period of the Maccabees
The oldest known preserved fragment of a Torah text is a good luck charm inscribed with a text close to, although not identical with, the Priestly Blessing found in Num 6:24–27, dated to approximately 600 BCE. The oldest complete or nearly complete texts are found in the Dead Sea Scrolls from the middle of the 2nd century BCE to the 1st century CE. The collections contain all the books of the Tanakh except for the Book of Esther, although not all are complete.
The Tanakh, including the Deuterocanonical books, was translated into Greek (the Septuagint) between the 3rd and 1st century BCE. The oldest Greek manuscripts include 2nd century BCE fragments of Leviticus and Deuteronomy and 1st century BC fragments of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and the Minor Prophets. Relatively complete manuscripts of the Septuagint include the Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1209 and the Codex Sinaiticus of the 4th century and the Codex Alexandrinus of the 5th century—these are the oldest surviving nearly complete manuscripts of the Old Testament in any language.
The Hebrew or Masoretic text of the Torah is held by tradition to have been assembled in the 4th century CE, but the oldest extant complete or near-complete manuscripts are the Aleppo Codex, ca. 920 CE, and the Westminster Leningrad Codex, dated to 1008 CE.
Additional manuscripts include the Samaritan Torah and the Peshitta, the latter a translation of the Christian Bible into Syriac, the earliest known copy of which dates to the 2nd century CE.
The New Testament
The most accepted historical understanding of how the Synoptic gospels developed is known as the two-source hypothesis. This theory holds that Mark is the oldest gospel. Matthew and Luke are believed to come later, and draw on Mark and also on a source that is now believed to be lost, called the Q document, or just "Q".
Traditional views assume that the bulk of New Testament texts date to the period between 45 CE and AD 100 CE, with the Pauline epistles among the earliest texts. Other views may pre- or post-date the individual books by several decades. The earliest preserved fragment for each text is included as well.