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How long did it take to collect all of the writings that eventually formed the first version of the Bible? In other words, starting with when the first writing was created (I'll say when it was completed rather than started) to when it was first printed/published/etc., how long did it take?

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This question has an open bounty worth +300 reputation from Peter Turner ending in 2 hours.

The question is widely applicable to a large audience. A detailed canonical answer is required to address all the concerns.

Someone better mention the Catholic Church, Eusebius, St. Jerome, Ecumenical Councils, jamnia (at least offhandedly) Constantine, his mom and the word Codex at least twice to get this bounty

    
Just to clarify, you're asking how long it took from the time the writings were written to when they were first collected as they are now? –  curiousdannii Dec 12 at 4:17
    
@cur I'm more interested in the first 300 or so years of Christianity, but not in a Marcion of Sinope way. It would be good to know what the criteria were for admitting scripture into the Canon for the Hebrews too. –  Peter Turner Dec 15 at 5:53
    
@PeterTurner I wonder why no one's even tried on your bounty! I wish I noticed it sooner. I don't have time over the next two days. –  fredsbend the Grinch yesterday
    
I'm working on something, but I couldn't find my notes from years ago so I've been putting everything together from memory. I plan on posting something later today. –  ShemSeger 8 hours ago

3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Much of when the Old Testament was written is purely conjecture, but many modern scholars believe that it was written some time in the period when the Persians captured Babylon in 538 BC. Others believe Moses authored the Pentateuch, which is Genesis - Deuteronomy, which would mean that these books were authored some time around 1300 - 1500 BC.

There is also some conjecture that Job is the earliest written account in the Bible, and would predate Moses' writings, although those who hold this theory do not believe that the actual writing of the Book of Job predates the writing of the Pentateuch by much, even though they believe that the actual account of Job happened long before, and many believe Job lived before the flood.

The last book of the New Testament is believed to have been Revelations, written in approximately 68 AD, but yet others believe that this book was written around 95 AD.

We don't know exactly when the books of the Bible were written, but we can, through cross-referencing external sources, determine when the historical figures in the Bible lived. Either way, the common consensus is that the writing of the books of the Bible began some time after 1500 BC, and concluded prior to 100 AD. This would be a period of about 1600 years.

The first known "canonization" of the Scripture was proposed by Marcion of Sinope around 140 AD. Since then there have been multiple canons of Scripture proposed, with different ones accepted by various groups, containing anywhere from 66-81 books. Currently, the typical Protestant Bible is a 66 book canon, from the 4th century synod which listed 39 books of the Old Testament. The typical Catholic Bible has 73 or 74 books, from the 4th century synod which listed 46 books of the Old Testament (5 books were merged into other books in this list, making a total of 51 books), and some Catholic Bibles also contain 2 Esdras. Both the Protestant and the Catholic New Testaments are the same 27 books.

This information is compiled from a huge variety of sources, including many different pages from Wikipedia, BibleResources.org, ichthys.com, etc.

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Nathan, do you know when the gospels were recorded? –  Ray K Oct 5 '11 at 4:15
    
As an interesting side note: a Bible professor of mine said that many scholars consider the song of Deborah in the Book of Jobs to be the earliest "written" part of the canon, based on its archaisms. –  brianpck Dec 11 at 20:22

The earliest Hebrew scripts (which were the written form of a long, long oral tradition) that eventually became the torah (the first five books of the bible) were written around 900BC, and the Tenakh (the earliest Hebrew bible) was compiled around 400BC.

The New Testament was fully written by 150 AD and after much discussion was fully compiled between 500 - 600 AD.

The old testament and the new testament together were probably written and compiled over a span of 1600 years.

Sources: Torah, Tenakh, New Testament

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Is that the earliest Hebrew scripts known to us currently? Is it likely there was a long verbal tradition before that? –  a_hardin Aug 30 '11 at 18:52
    
Yeah that's true, the Hebrew scripts were probably the written form the of the verbal tradition. –  Andrew Aug 30 '11 at 18:54

The Bible I read (King James Version) Took about 3000 years from start to finish. But you asked about:

"...the first version of the Bible"

The first version of which Bible? The Roman Catholic Bible? The Greek Orthodox Bible? The Protestant Bible? The word "Bible" is loosely translated "The Books." There have been many Bible translations and revisions to canon. Some books—like the Apocrypha—have been added and removed from canon multiple times over the ages. The first Christian Bible was the Catholic Vulgate, translated by St. Jerome from the best Hebrew Greek and Aramaic codices available at the end of the fourth century including the Vetus Latina Codex and the Codex Gigas. The Vulgate was "The Bible" for about 1000 years until the Protestant movement, when several English versions of the Vulgate were translated like the Douay-Rheims Bible, while others re-opened the original codex to make an English translation.

I think a proper answer would take too long, so I'm instead going to leave you with a list of significant events that contributed to the evolution of the Bible Canon. Hopefully this will give you a starting point to learn how the Bible canon changed and evolved over the centuries.

  • ~1600-1300BC: Moses — Pentateuch
  • ~600BC: Babylonian Captivity
  • ~450BC: Ezra — The Great Assembly — Tanakh
  • ~200BC: Ptolemy II Philadelphus — Septuagint
  • ~33AD: The Ministry of Jesus Christ
  • ~50-90AD: Pauline Epistles, General Epistles, The Gospels, Revelations
  • ~320AD: Constantine the Great — State Christianity
  • 325AD: First ecumenical council — The Council of Nicaea
  • 381AD: Second ecumenical council — First Council of Constantinople
  • 382AD: Saint Jerome — Vulgate
  • 431AD-1431AD: Third-Seventeenth Ecumenical Councils
  • 1439AD: Johannes Gutenberg — Mazarin Bible
  • ~1522AD: William Tyndale — Tyndale Bible
  • 1535AD: King Henry VIII — The Great Bible
  • ~1545AD: Reformation — Council of Trent
  • 1568AD: Bishop's Bible
  • 1582AD: Douay-Rheims Bible
  • 1611AD: King James Bible
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