Thursday, March 3, 2016

Book of Jasher and How the Canon Came About – Part I

We have received several questions along the line of what is the Book of Jasher, and how the canon of the Bible, the 66 Books of the Bible, and specifically the 27 Books of the New Testament came about. Following is our response:
The Book of Jasher (Jashar) also referred to as the Book of the Upright, or the Book of the Just Man—in Hebrew: סֵפֶר הַיׇּשׇׁר; transliteration: sēfer hayyāšār—is an unknown book mentioned in the King James Version of the Bible. In the traditional Greek and Latin translations, the title Book of the Just Man is used. It was evidently authored around the time of David, for 2 Samuel 1:18 states: “To teach the Sons of Judah the use of the bow [a lament or tune on a musical instrument]; behold it is written in the Book of the Upright (per haYYāšār; Hebrew: עַל־סֵפֶר הַיׇּשׇׁר; literally, "upon the Book of the Upright"). It might also be noted that the presence of this event in a book of poetry has been interpreted as a poetic description of the prolonged battle (Harry Whittaker, “The Sun Stood Still,” Bible Studies, Cannock, Biblia. pp. 72–73). Some think the reference to the Book of Jashar was inserted because Joshua wanted to show to those who disbelieved the event that others, besides himself, accepted it and recorded it, thus authenticating the event.
    It should further be noted that there are at least 23 unknown books referenced in the scriptural record: In the Old Testament: Book of the Covenant (Ex 24:7); Book of the Wars of the Lord (Num 21:14); Book of the Acts of Solomon (1 Kngs 11:41); Book of Nathan the Prophet (1 Chr 29:29; 2 Chr 9:29); Book of Schemaiah the Prophet (2 Chr 12:15); Story of the Prophet Iddo (2 Chr 13:22; 9:29; 12:15); Book of Jehu [son of Hanani] (2 Chr 20:34); Sayings of the Seers (2 Chr 33:19); Book of Samuel the Seer (1 Sam 10:25; 1 Chr 29:29); Prophecy of Ahijah [the Shilonite] (2 Chr 9:29); Book of Gad, the Seer (1 Chr 29:29); The Book of the Statues (1 Sam 10:25); and Acts of Uzziah (2 Chr 26:22). In the New Testament: Additional Epistle to Corinthians (1 Cor 5:9); Additioal Epistle to Ephesians (Eph 3:3-4); Epistle of Laddicea (Col 4:16). In the Book of Mormon: Words of Zenock (1 Nephi 19:10; Hel 8:20; Alm 34:7; 3 Nep 10:1); Words of Neum (1 Nephi 19:10); Words of Zenos (Jac 5:1; Hel 8:19; 15:11; Alm 33:3; 34:7; Jac 6:1; 3 Nep10:16); Ezias (Hel 8:20). Also, The Book of Enoch (D&C 107:57; Jude 1:14); and Book of Remembrance (Moses 6:5).
Nephi recorded this loss of scripture: “And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of a great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away… and after the Gentiles do stumble exceedingly, because of the most plain and precious parts of the gospel of the Lamb which have been kept back by that abominable church” (1 Nephi 13:26, 34).
    Comment #2: “I understand that the council of Nicene, called by Constantine, who was not even a member of the early Church, was where it was decided what books written by the early Apostles were accepted and which ones were rejected in becoming the Bible. To your knowledge is this correct?” Nan W.
    Response: This question takes me back to my early days of study. Thank you for the memories that brings to mind.
The First Council of Nicaea, the first ecumenical assembly of Christian bishops in the history of the Catholic Church, was convened by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in 325 A.D. at Nicaea in Bithynia (now Isnik, an ancient city in northwestern Anatolia in Asia Minor, now Turkey). Constantine was named Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus Agustus, and his official Imperial title was Imperator Caesar Flavivs Constantinvs Pivs Felix Invictvs Avgvstvs, Imperator Caesar Flavius Constantine Augustus, the pious, the fortunate, the undefeated. After 312, he added Maximvs ("the greatest"), and after 325 replaced ("undefeated") with “Victor,” as invictus reminded many of Sol Invictus, the Sun God.
    He was known in the Orthodox Church as Saint Constantine the Great, Aequalis Apostolis, i.e., “Equal to the Apostles,” a title also given to Mary Magdalene, Patrick of Ireland, Photine (the Samaritan Woman at the Well), and Thekla, from the Acts of Paul (an icon of woman independence in her age). He is venerated as a saint by Eastern Orthodox Christians, Byzantine Catholics and Anglicans; however, despite the fact that some claim him as the first Christian emperor, Constantine was not baptized until he lay on his deathbed—at no time during any of the councils at Nicaea or elsewhere that Constantine attended or controlled was he a baptized member of the Christian Church.
     As for the First Council at Nicaea, it was convened by Constantine for the express purpose of attaining a consensus in the church through an assembly representing all of Christendom, and particularly to deal with healing the schism in the church provoked by Arius (Arianism). As early as 320 or 321 St. Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria, had excommunicated Arius.
Left: Emporer Constantine I; Right: Geza Vermes, Catholic Priest, Oxford Center and “Dead Sea Scrolls” Scholar, writer of Jewish and Christian religious history, and author of several  books about Christ
    However, an episcopal council in Caesarea pronounced Arius blameless according to Geza Vermes (left) who spent most of his life studying the events of the early Christian Church (“Christian Beginnings from Nazareth to Nicea,” Allen Lane Penguin Press, 2012, p228).
    St. Alexander had convoked a council at Alexandria in which more than one hundred bishops from Egypt and Libya anathematized (condemned) Arius—a practice of fundamentalist preachers who anathematize any departure from a literal interpretation of the Bible, i.e., Arius, a priest in Alexandria of the church of the Baucalis, had sought to teach the Godhead, emphasizing the Father’s divinity over the Son. In this debate between Arius and Athanasius, the Nicene Creed evolved, in which the Godhead was determined by Constantine and the convened bishops.
    It is thought that, during this council, the Catholic Church also hand-picked the gospels that form the Bible as we know it today; omitting the Gospel of Barnabas and that of Thomas (among many others) in favor of the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. At first, that was all that Eusebius, the “Father of Church History” and author of the multi-volume Ecclesiastical History, According to the Text of Burton (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1881) wanted, but over time others were included. In fact, for the orthodox, the recognition of these writings as authoritative was formalized in the Second council of Trullan in 692 A.D., although it was nearly universally accepted in the mid 300s, according to Jaroslav Pelikan, Whose Bible Is It?, Penguin, New York 2005).
Writings attributed to the Apostles circulated among the earliest Christian communities. The Pauline epistles were circulating, perhaps in collected forms, by the end of the 1st century A.D., and Justin Martyr, in the mid 2nd century  mentions "memoirs of the apostles" as being read on "the day called that of the sun" (Sunday) alongside the "writings of the prophets." A defined set of four gospels (the Tetramorph) was asserted by Saint Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul (Roman Empire) around 180 A.D., whose writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology, and who refers to it directly.
    Many biblical texts have begun to surface over time, including those of the Dead Sea and Gnostic Gospels to suggest the many others that were rejected.
(See the next post, “Book of Jasher and How the Canon Came About – Part II, for more on how the canon of the Bible came about)

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