Have you ever wondered how we know the Old Testament we read today is the same as that of Jesus’ day? Or how biblical events fit into the history of other nations in the Ancient Near East?
Tyndale House, a research institute in Cambridge, exists to study questions like these. In June, it invited Christians from all walks of life to join its linguists and historians for a conference called ‘Exploring the Old Testament and its World – an insider’s view on how these issues are tackled’.
The day was introduced by Dr Caleb Howard. He looked at the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem through the eyes of Judah’s enemies. He read the Bible’s account side by side with evidence of the event from Assyria (whose records detail King Sennacherib’s campaign of subjugation across the region in c.700 BC). The talk provided a fascinating insight into the wider political context of this part of 2 Kings.
Dr Elizabeth Robar focused our attention on the development of language in the Ancient Near East. She spoke of pictorial languages (such as hieroglyphics) and alphabetic systems similar to modern languages. She explained how biblical Hebrew represented a linguistic breakthrough and opened up the possibility for mass literacy, becoming an important cultural marker for the Jewish nation.
In a talk on Bible transmission, Dr Kim Phillips explained the techniques used by Jewish scholars to preserve the Hebrew Bible with letter-by-letter accuracy. Comparing some of the most ancient known Bible fragments with the earliest existing complete copies of the Hebrew Bible, he demonstrated the meticulous scribal work that transmitted the text of Scripture so faithfully down the centuries.
Finally, Dr Peter J Williams spoke about the moral fabric of the Old Testament narratives. Dr Williams examined instances of shocking and immoral behaviour described in the Bible and outlined principles for reading these texts so that their ethical lessons can be properly understood.
The conference provided ample opportunity for delegates to get to know one another and chat with the speakers. One commented, ‘I thoroughly enjoyed listening to experts in their field talking confidently, with external evidence and examples to use in everyday conversations around us’.
The day finished with a lively question and answer session and a guided walk around Cambridge to hear about the Christian history of the university at the Round Church Visitor Centre. To find out more about Tyndale House events, visit www.tyndalehouse.com.