Archaeology

Micah

Adullam

MICAH 1 Located 16 miles (26 km) south-west of Jerusalem, Adullam was one of several strategic cities in the Shephelah ("Map 2") to be the object of grim prophecies from Micah. As Adullam had been a place of refuge during the time of David's distress, so now the city would host the strong and the wealthy who were fleeing before the Assyrian' army.

Adullam is mentioned early in Scripture in connection with Judah and Tamar (Ge 38), as well as with Joshua's conquest (Jos 12:15),2 but it is most prominent as the place where David sought safety—a "no man's land" between Israelite and Philistine territory (iSa 22).While he was there, David was joined by family members and other refugees, until he had become the leader of a 400-man force. The superscripts of Psalms 34, 57 and 142 may indicate that David wrote these psalms while residing at the cave of Adullam.

Numerous caves mark the prominent hill of Adullam today, but the site has not yet been excavated. David's grandson Rehoboam fortified Adullam as part of his strategy of protecting Judah's western flank (2Ch 11:7), but the site may have been destroyed in the invasion of Sennacherib that was anticipated by Micah.4 Following the Babylonian exile, however, Adullam was reinhabited (Ne 11:30).

Bethlehem

MICAH 5 Situated five miles (eight km) south of Jerusalem along the main ridge route ("Map 6"), Bethlehem ("house of bread") was an insignificant town during Old Testament times, except for being the birthplace of David, who was also anointed there by Samuel (1 Sa 16)) The book of Ruth, which deals with David's paternal ancestors, is for the most part set in this village.The Old Testament does record a few other minor historical details about Bethlehem, however., For a time a Philistine garrison con-trolled the town (25a 23:14-16). Also, Bethlehem was one of the villages that Rehoboam fortified in his effort to hold on to Judah after the defection of the northern tribes (2Ch 11:5-12).Micah prophesied that the Messiah would come from this otherwise insignificant community (5:2-5), but it was not unfitting that the Messianic "son of David"should be born in the birthplace of David.

Archaeologically, little is known of ancient Bethlehem.The site was occupied from prehistoric times (some prehistoric flints and split animal bones have been unearthed there). Bethlehem may be mentioned in one of the Amarna Letters, but this reference is disputed. Most archaeological research at Bethlehem, in fact, focuses on the Church of the Nativity and on the history of the site through the Byzantine, Islamic and Crusader periods.

Jesus' birth in Bethlehem is noted in the two Gospel infancy narratives (Mt 2:1; Lk 2:4),3 and the testimony is clear that the Jewish leaders knew of Micah's prophecy that the Messiah would be born there (Mt 2:4-6; in 7:42). Although the slaughter of the infant and toddler boys of the town by Herod the Great is not attested in other ancient sources, the account fits the character of this paranoid"king." The small size of the village at the time, clustered as it was on the hillside where the Church of the Nativity was later built, indicates that probably only a few dozen little boys were killed as the result of Herod's irrational fury. Heinous as this infanticide was, the incident would probably not have attracted the attention of ancient historians.

Very early church tradition locates Jesus' birth in a cave in Bethlehem, over which the emperor Hadrian constructed a shrine to a Roman deity. Later, the Christian emperor Constantine erected a church building over the cave., After its partial destruction by the Samaritans in the sixth century A.D., the Church of the Nativity was rebuilt by the emperor Justinian and still stands today as one of the most ancient church buildings in existence.

Texts of the Old Testament

MICAH 7 For anyone who regards the Old Testament as the Word of God, a critically important question is, How do I know that the text we now have accurately reflects what the ancient authors wrote and that scribal errors have not seriously distorted it? As a matter of fact, the ancient texts and versions of the Old Testament are themselves the tools scholars use to confirm that the Old Testament as it has been handed down to us does indeed reflect the original.

The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew (with a few chapters in Aramaic). As Jews spread out in the Diaspora they began to speak other languages, and, as Christianity spread among Gentiles, people who knew no Hebrew whatsoever wanted to read Scripture. Thus, translations of the Old Testament were produced in Greek, Aramaic, Egyptian, Latin and other languages. At the same time Jewish scribes continued to copy and preserve the Hebrew Old Testa-ment.Today there are thousands of Old Testament texts available on leather and papyrus scrolls and in fragments—some more than 2,000 years old.

The Hebrew Manuscripts

Not one original Biblical manuscript still exists, but the most significant witnesses to the original Hebrew text are the Masoretic Text and the Dead Sea Scrolls:

    • The Masoretic Text:This is the Hebrew Bible as it exists today. Its origin: Until the sixth century A.D. only the consonants of the Hebrew Old Testament were written down; the language contained no vowels. The tradition of correct pronunciation of ancient Hebrew words was passed down orally. But between A.D. 500 and 1000 a group of Jewish scholars known as the Masoretes (from maser—"to hand down; transmit") developed a system of adding vowels, accents and notes that guaranteed more accurate reading and copying of the ancient texts.

Its quality: No other text from the ancient world was as carefully safeguarded as the Masoretic Text. Its tradition came to be regarded as authoritative and can still be considered highly trustworthy.

Early manuscripts: The earliest complete Masoretic manuscript, the Leningrad Codex (A.D. 1009), is used for the standard edition of the Hebrew Bible. Another ancient copy, although partially lost, is the Aleppo Codex (A.D.925).

    • The Dead Sea Scrolls: With the discovery in 1947 of 800 scrolls in the Judean Desert, dating from approximately 250 B.C. to A.D. 135 and including every Old Testament book except Esther,' the age of the most ancient extant Old Testament manuscripts increased by a thousand years! The Dead Sea Scrolls contain Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic manuscripts and fragments, many of which are Biblical in nature. Significantly, a great number of the Hebrew Bible manuscripts found reflect essentially the same text as that inherited by the Masoretes, confirming the antiquity and authority of the Masoretic Text.

The Ancient Translations

MICAH 7 Since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the ancient versions or translations of the Bible have become less important for establishing the original Old Testament text., Nevertheless, readings that differ from the Masoretic Text are still evaluated in at least four early versions:the Greek Septuagint, the Aramaic Targums, the Syriac Peshitta and the Latin Vulgate.

    • Septuagint: The most important is the Septuagint, which contains the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, along with a number of noncanonical Greek works known by Protestant Christians as the Apocrypha.

Its origin: The title "Septuagint" (Latin for "seventy") derives from the tradition that 72 translators rendered the Pentateuch into Greek around 285 B.C. Originally designed for Greek-speaking Jews in Egypt,the Septuagint was completed by various translators in or around Alexandria between the third and first centuries B.C. The Bible of the early church, it is frequently quoted in the New Testament and by early church fathers.

Its structure: The Septuagint is organized in the following order:the Pentateuch, followed by the historical, poetic, wisdom and prophetic books. The Septuagint order is loosely followed by our English translations.

Its original text: We do not have a perfect copy of the original Septuagint, which was revised repeatedly. Still, scholars have largely been able to reconstruct the text, and the work is on-going.

Its quality: The Septuagint is varied in character—the work of numerous translators from different times and with varying capabilities and styles (ranging from rigidly literal to loosely paraphrastic).

Comparison to the Masoretic Text:The Septuagint is similar to the Hebrew Masoretic Text; when translated into English, many parts are almost identical. Yet the two are sometimes quite different.

Its value: The Septuagint is the most useful version for helping us establish the original Old Testament text because it: (1) is the earliest translation of the entire Old Testament, (2) is well attested in numerous manuscripts and (3) differs in a number of important places from the Masoretic Text, providing an alternative rendering to what appears there.

    • Aramaic Targums: This is not a single work but a series of interpretations of Old Testament books.

Their origin: Just as Greek became the common language among Jews in Egypt,Aramaic replaced Hebrew among the Jews of Palestine and Mesopotamia. Jewish tradition dates the Tar-gums to the time of Ezra (cf. Ne 8:8), but the oldest known Tar-gum fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls date to near the time of Christ. The Targum tradition climaxed between the third and fifth centuries A.D.with the production of the official rabbinic Tar-gums on the Torah (Targum Onqelos) and the Prophets (Targum Jonathan).

Their quality and value: The Targums provide a paraphrastic translation, often accompanied by commentary or explanation. They are often so interpretive, loosely translated and filled with comments that it is hard to use them to confirm the original text.

  • Peshitta: The authorized Bible of the Syrian Church is the Peshitta (meaning "simple" or "straightforward"). Whether the Old Testament Peshitta had a Christian or Jewish origin is difficult to discern.ln its earliest form, dating no later than the fourth century A.D., the Old Testament Peshitta was a relatively literal translation of a Hebrew text similar to the Masoretic Text. In time, however, the Syriac was updated and the text smoothed over, though we still have remnants of the original.

  • The Vulgate: By the mid-fourth century A.D.the Christian Bible of the Western church was the Latin translation of the Septuagint. But between A.D. 390 and 405 the Christian scholar Jerome set out to reclaim "the truth of the Hebrew text." Assisted by later Septuagint versions, Jerome translated the Hebrew Old Testament into Latin. His work now makes up the Old Testament portion of the Latin Bible called the Vulgate ("common" or "popular"). Because Jerome was largely dependent on the Septuagint and his own translation varies in literalness, the Old Testament Vulgate must be used cautiously as a witness to the Hebrew original.

When the Hebrew of the Masoretic Text is compared to that of the Dead Sea Scrolls and then to the various other versions, the Masoretic Text is in the vast majority of instances vindicated and regarded as accurately reflecting the original words of the Biblical authors.