See my previous Ancestry of the KJV #1 and Ancestry of the KJV #2
The Beginnings ...
When the Lord God called Moses to lead a band of slaves out of the horrors of Egyptian slavery he, an 80 yr old man, would change human history. Up until Moses there had been no Bible of any kind. Moses would become the first great prophet of Yahweh's good news. Tradition has it that Moses was the first great author of the Pentateuch but whether or not he wrote it all need not detain us. He did write and that is the beginning of "enscripturation." Moses did not go one night to Kinko's to have Genesis or Deuteronomy copied on a xerox machine. He likely did not have the opportunity to visit Wal-Mart to buy spiral bound college ruled notebooks either. The making of a book in the Ancient Near East was a far different process than today.
The most likely surface for Moses to have written on was clay tablets or possibly stone. The Ten Words (commandments) were so written (Ex 32.19; 34.4). Paper as we know it did not exist. Papyrus was used to make a paper "like" sheet but was very fragile. Most important documents were inscribed on clay tablets. Like this example of one of the Amarna Letters uncovered from Akhenaton's capital city dating to about 1400 B.C.
Thus a "book" in Moses' day did not have pages rather it had tablets with writing on both sides. A good example of this would be the Enuma Elish, a Babylonian story with affinities to the story in Genesis, is recorded on 6 or 7 tablets.
Much later in history scrolls became common. Though not as durable as clay tablets they were used throughout the Mediterranean basin. Scrolls were, and still are, made mostly of leather. Hide would be dried and smoothed out to make Vellum. Writing would be done on the inside so the writing would be protected. Scrolls could become bulky. For example a the Gospel of Luke would be about 34 feet long. The Isaiah scroll among the Dead Sea Scrolls is over 30 feet long. Knowing this helps us have greater appreciation for the story in Luke 4 where the scroll was handed to Jesus and he turned "to the place where it was written" (referring to Isa 61 cited in Lk 4.17). The Temple Scroll, another treasure from Qumran, is 28 feet long. Here is the famous Isaiah scroll ...
The epistles in the New Testament were most likely written on papyrus instead of leather. Here is a picture of p75
But "how" did the biblical writers go about writing their books? What can we know about their craft? Did they just one day sit down and write, say, 1 Kings, or Psalms or the Gospel of Luke? Did they collect data (do research?) Or were they simply a supernatural word processor that God downloaded a PDF file? The Bible does not answer all these questions directly, however it does provide some remarkable insight into some of these matters.
Here is an exercise for you: Compare Isaiah 36. 1, 4, 11f with 2 Kings 18.13,19ff, 26ff. Note how 2 Kings 18.13-20 is reproduced in Isaiah 36-39.
Jeremiah as our Laboratory
The Book of Jeremiah is one biblical book that makes it clear that it was no written down all at the same time. Indeed this book was written over a period of no less than 18 years and perhaps much longer. The text of the Book tells us that our present book is actually made up of three books that have probably been brought together by Baruch. We are told about the writing down of Jeremiah's oracles in the following manner:
"In the fourth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the LORD: Take a scroll and write on it all the words I have spoken to you concerning Israel, Judah, and all the nations" (36.1-2)
This command came to Jeremiah in the fourth year of Jehoiakim's reign or in 605 B.C. By this time Jeremiah had been preaching for 22 years. If we take this command seriously, and I see no reason to doubt its veracity, then prior to this time Jeremiah had not published his oracles in his Jeremiah sermon book! This scroll that Jeremiah had copied out was destroyed by that Judean king and was burned a sliver at a time in the fire (Jer 36.22-23). Thus the "first edition" of Jeremiah suffered a fate that William Tyndale's early efforts would suffer ... pyromaniacs got a hold of it. Jeremiah was instructed to make a second edition (36.27-29). So the prophet called upon the services of his scribe Baruch. The Bible says that Jeremiah called "Baruch son of Neriah, and Baruch wrote upon a scroll at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the LORD which he had spoken to him" (36.4).
This rewritten scroll was the beginning of our present canonical Jeremiah. This scroll did not contain all our present book of Jeremiah for the prophet ministered for another 18 years after this scroll was written ... The ministry of Jeremiah lasted at least till 586 BC. This scroll probably consisted of chapters 1-25 of our Book. In 25.13 we read, "I will bring upon that land all the words which I have uttered against it, everything written in THIS book, which Jeremiah prophesied against the nations." What makes this statement significant is the reference to "this book" and "this book" is given the same date of the fourth year of Jehoiakim's reign (25.1). So the first stage of making our Book of Jeremiah took place around 605 B.C. when Baruch wrote down Jeremiah's early sermons.
The Second Book begins with 46.1 which also referred to a "book" in the Hebrew text. This is a collection of oracles against the nations from chapters 46-51. This second book ends with the words "The words of Jeremiah end here" (51.64b).
The Third component in our canonical Book is called the "Book of Conssolation." It is called such because in it God assures Judah of his grace and the promise of restoration following the Exile. We read in the text "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Write in a book all the words I have spoken to you" (30.2). Jeremiah's Book of Consolation is written near the END of the prophet's ministry because it is written AFTER the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. (which is presupposed in the text, 30.18-21; 31.23-28).
What can we conclude from these seams in the Book of Jeremiah? There were three books: 1) chapters 1-25; 2) chapters 30-31; 3) chapters 46-51. The remaining material in our present Book of Jeremiah consists of chapters 26-29; 32-45; and 52. What is significant about this material in chapters 26-29, 32-45 and 52 is in narrative prose and written almost exclusively in the third person. The material in the other chapters is poetry and oracle in nature. Chapter 52 is almost verbatim 2 Kings 24-25. It is not hard to imagine that Baruch, Jeremiah's loyal scribe, took these three works and put them together and adding the narrative portions about Jeremiah (not just what Jeremiah said). This is how, it appears to me, that at least one book of our Bible was made.
Biblical Writers Use of Research in Composing their Works
Earlier we asked if biblical authors used resources or did "research" in their writing. We have learned from the Book of Jeremiah that our present book clearly went through stages or editions before it came to be what we have today. Other writers went through a process as well. The books in the Hebrew Bible we call Chronicles, Ezra & Nehemiah and Joshuah-2 Kings (one longer work) make frequent use of an ancient version of MLA. I will focus on Chronicles briefly however. The Chronicler is deeply interested in the Temple and seeks an answer to the question (answered throughout his writing): "Will God take us back? Will God dwell with us again?" As he writes his history in search of an answer to that question he peppers his material with "footnotes." The following is probably an incomplete list of works he used in his research ...
1) The annals of King David (1 C 27.24)
2) The Book of the Kings of Israel and Judah (2 C 27.7; 35.27; 36.8)
3) The Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel (2 C 16.11; 25.26; 28.26; 32.32)
4) The Book of the Kings (2 C 9.1; 2 C 24.27)
5) The Decree of David the King of Israel and the Decree of Solomon his Son (2 C 35.4)
6) The Annotations of the Book of the Kings (2 C 24.27)
7) The Records of Nathan the prophet, the Records of Gad the Seer (1 C29.29; 2 C 9.29)
8) The prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite (2 C 9.29)
9) The Visions of Iddo the Seer (2 C 9.29)
10) The history of Uzziah which Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz has written down (2 C 26.22)
It seems fairly obvious that the Chronicler did quite a bit of research in his effort to communicate a message sorely needed in 400 B.C. Yes, Yahweh WILL take us back in his infinite grace! Research was not limited to the Hebrew Scriptures alone. Luke makes it quite clear that he was a diligent student claiming
"Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first to write an orderly account ..." (1.1-3).
Luke indicates he conducted interviews and collected and evaluated written sources much like the Chronicler had done long before him.
In this post we have looked at the process, as best we can, of how some of the books of the Bible were made. Inspiration included this phenomena. Over a period of time all these books that were made were gathered together to form our present Book of Books ... the Bible.
The "editions" of Jeremiah continued after what became our canonical book in the Hebrew text. The Septuagint (LXX) edition of Jeremiah (the Greek translation) is nearly 3000 words shorter than the Hebrew version. And in the LXX the "Epistle of Jeremiah" was often appended to the Book itself. For a nontechnical, and fascinating, introduction to these matters I recommend Steve Delamarter's "But Who Gets the Last Word: Thus Far the Words of Jeremiah" in Bible Review (October 1999): 34-45