Those who believe that the Bible is the Word of God and as such is the infallible source of the history of humanity and God’s will need to be more clear. Which Bible? Do they refer to the ancient scrolls containing the scriptures which would have been read by Jesus and his followers? Do they refer to the Bible as it was decided by the early Christian Church, which became the Roman Catholic Church? Do they refer to the version ordered by King James, which differs somewhat from other versions? One thing is sure, they believe whichever version of the Bible which suits their other beliefs, usually with very little knowledge of how whichever translation they prefer came into being.
There are few if any books, or rather compendiums of books, which have as complicated a history as the Bible, whichever version is considered. The reasons for the inclusion of some texts and the exclusion of others are varied, based on scriptural, political, and ethnic considerations. There are some texts included in all versions of the Bible, others in but a few. The true author of many of the texts included is frequently the result of speculation yet often cited as the cause of exclusion for others. Some look at the Bible and its contents with open minds, others view it with minds closed to anything but verbatim acceptance.
Here are ten ancient texts which were omitted or removed from the book we know of today as the Bible.
1. The Book of Jubilees
The Book of Jubilees tells the history of humanity, dividing it in 49 year divisions which are called jubilees, as dictated to Moses on Mount Sinai. It provides greater detail than Genesis, filling in the gaps as it were, and as such answers many questions often asked today. For example, it details incestuous relationships among the descendants of Adam and Eve, such as Cain marrying his sister. It describes the fallen angels mating with women, producing a race of giants which were destroyed by the Great Flood. It also postulates Hebrew as the language spoken by those dwelling in heaven, and that the beasts of the earth also spoke Hebrew, only losing the ability after Adam and Eve were evicted from Paradise.
The Book of Jubilees was probably written about 100 – 150 years BCE, as evidenced by the Dead Sea Scrolls and its references to other ancient literature. It was clearly a widely read piece of ancient scripture, also evidenced by the sheer number of copies found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Fifteen complete copies were found, an indication that the book was in wide use among the scholars at Qumran. Only five Old Testament books were found to be in a greater number of copies.
It was widely used by early Christians as well, as indicated by quotations found in their writings, and references to the text. It also describes the tablets upon which God’s words are inscribed, revealed to a prophet by an angel, a revelation that parallels the beginning of Islam. The description of the life and activities of Abraham in Jubilees is similar to that of Abraham in the Quran. The Sanhedrin did not include Jubilees in the canon it established near the end of the first century, but the fact that it was widely read and studied prior to that clearly indicates that it influenced the Jews with which Jesus interacted.
The term pseudepigrapha refers to works which are considered to be falsely attributed in that the claimed author is not the real writer of the work, or that it is falsely attributed by its author to another real figure of the past. Judaism, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism all consider the Book of Jubilees to fall into this category. Some branches of Judaism and Christianity do however accept the book as biblical canon, such as Beta Israel for example. Because it was left out of the Jewish canon by the Sanhedrin it was similarly omitted from the Christian Old Testament. It is accepted in the Canon of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
Its authorship is uncertain, as is a precise dating of its origin, but its popularity as a scriptural and historical text in its day and for several centuries is not. It is possible that its recording of dates, based on a seven day week, a 364 day year, and Jubilees of 49 years, may have had as much to do with its demise as any of its spiritual recounting. It is not the only ancient work which describes animals once possessing the power of speech, and if the account of all humanity descending from a single marriage is true than incestuous relationships are of course a requirement for the survival of the race.
2. The Shepherd of Hermas
The Shepherd of Hermas was written around the turn of the first century, perhaps as late as the middle of the second century. It is attributed to a former slave of the name Hermas, and was a widely read text among Christians through at least the end of the third century. In his epistle to the Romans Paul sent greetings to a Hermas, identified as a Christian in Rome, however it is possible the reference was to another of that name (Romans 16:14). The Shepherd of Hermas first appeared in Rome and thus was likely written there. Others have suggested the work was written by a brother of Pope Pius I, who reigned as Pope beginning in the mid second century.
In the first two centuries following the death of Jesus debate among the early Christians on the subject of his divinity was common. Some believed that Jesus was the Incarnate Word, divine before taking human form, while others believed that he was a mortal man adopted by God, a philosophy referred to as adoptionism. In one of the book’s parables Hermas appears to support the theory of adoptionism which was ultimately rejected by Church authorities. The book contains references to the Gospel of John, and some scholars believe its writer to have been familiar with all four of the Gospels, as well as several of Paul’s epistles.
The book contains five visions which were experienced by its author, and presents twelve commandments and ten parables, which demonstrate the commandments. In the fifth vision the “Angel of Repentance” appears to the author in the form of a shepherd, from which the text received its name. The book stresses the Christian values of repentance, penance, and forgiveness, and the necessity of humility. While it stresses the necessity of repentance it also clearly states that forgiveness of sin is not possible without penance.
The book was cited as an authoritative text for many years, including by some early popes prior to it being determined to be, in the words of Tertullian, “…judged by every Council of the Churches…among the apocryphal and false.” Despite the books exclusion from the Biblical Canon it remained popular among early Christians and was still being copied in Western Europe as late as the Middle Ages, though its use in the eastern Church seems to have fallen out of favor.
As with many other early Christian texts it was formally excluded because of the book’s evident conflicts with the results of the Council of Nicaea, which settled the issue of the divinity of Jesus and produced the early canon law, as well as the beginning of the Nicene Creed, then the definitive statement of Christian faith. The issue of its true authorship was also a disputed aspect of the book. Prior to its falling in disfavor it had been listed in the New Testament between the Acts of the Apostles and the Acts of Paul, another book no longer contained in the Christian Bible.