Some in the collection of texts that comprise the Bible are sacred to over 54% of the world’s population who believe in Abrahamic religions. These include Christianity, Islam, Judaism and smaller religions like Rastafari. Of course, there are big differences between the religions in which particular stories they believe in and how they believe in them, but the oldest Biblical stories are at the core of all the major Abrahamic traditions.
Suffice it to say, this kind of writing success is without parallel in its popularity, influencing generations of humans for millennia. While there can be plenty of arguments about the origins of various Biblical texts, what does science have to say about how old they are?
The first thing to point out is that, of course, there is no one Bible. There have been different versions in history and different religions interpret the texts in their own way, adding or taking away. The commonly-used English-language version is the King James Bible, which was printed in 1611. But the oldest text would have to be the Hebrew Bible or the Tanakh.
New high-tech research used ground-breaking technology of “virtual unwrapping” to read a highly-damaged ancient scroll, finding it to contain the Old Testament Book of Leviticus and dating it to 300 A.D. The so-called “En-Gedi” scroll thus became one of the oldest Biblical texts in existence. But not the oldest.
That honor would belong to the Silver Scrolls, found at Ketef Hinnom in Israel, which contain texts from the Hebrew Bible that date to about 700-650 BCE.
The famous Dead Sea Scrolls, which contain most of the books of the Hebrew Bible, date to 408 BC to 300 A.D.
So the oldest Biblical text we found is about 2700 years old. Of course, this is just what we’ve been able to locate and date. The first Biblical stories were passed down orally and only written down later by various authors. Most Biblical scholars believe the Book of Genesis or the Book of Job were the first books to be written down. This would have happened around 1450 BC to 1400 BC. So perhaps about 3400 years or so ago.
COVER PHOTO: A part of the Isaiah Scroll, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, is seen inside the vault of the Shrine of the Book building at the Israel Museum on September, 26, 2011. in Jerusalem, Israel. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)