According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Historical Timelines of Bible Translations & Biblical Texts

Section 1 - KJV Timeline

Section 2 - Functional Correspondence of Bible Translations

Section 3 - Historical Timelines of OT & NT Texts

Section 1
KJV Timeline
Adapted from the blog of "Parchment and Pen"

Many of you know this is the 400 year celebration of the King James Bible. Here’s a timeline of the people, places and events that led up to and include the publication of this great English Bible.

130 B.C.The Hebrew language stops being used by the masses. Only the highly educated can read the Old Testament in Hebrew. The first major Bible translation is done. The Old Testament is translated into the language of the day, Greek. This translation is called, “The Septuagint.” This is the Bible most in the first century probably read, including Jesus.

90’s A.D. – The last book of the New Testament, Revelation, is completed by John on the island of Patmos. The Old and New Testament are now complete.

100-382 A.D. – The Gospel spreads like wild fire throughout the known world. These people all need the Bible. Hand-written copies of the New Testament in Greek are produced all over the world to try to keep up with all the new followers of Christ. Over 20,000 of these copies exist to this day.

382-1500 A.D.The known world eventually stops using the Greek language in favor of Latin. Jerome translates the entire Bible into Latin, it is known as the Vulgate. The Vulgate is the all-time most used Bible translation in human history. Used more than the original Greek and the King James Version.

700 A.D. – The Psalms and some of the Gospels are the first to be translated in a new language called English.

735 A.D. – On the day he died a man named Venerable Bede finishes the first complete translation of a New Testament book into English (the book of John).

1384 A.D.John Wycliffe, a theology professor at Oxford, is fired for believing the Bible rather than the Pope is our ultimate authority. Because of this conviction Wycliffe and his followers produced the first complete Bible in English. Wycliffe died of a stroke the same year his Bible was completed. The Wycliffe Bible is a translation from the Latin Vulgate [and is thus, a translation of a translation.]

Associates of Wycliffe, after his death, finish his translation. The Church at the time said only the priests can rightly interpret the Bible so it was illegal to have the Bible in a language other than Latin. Many of Wycliffe’s associates were burned at the stake with their English translations tied around their necks.

1408 A.D. – A law is passed in England banning the translation of the Bible into English.

1428 A.D. – 44 years after Wycliffe died his bones were exhumed and burned for having translated the Bible into English (they were really, really mad).

1440 A.D.Johannes Gutenberg invents the Printing Press. It is no longer necessary to make hand-written copies of the Bible.

October 31st, 1517 – A young Roman Catholic monk named Martin Luther challenges the church hierarchy of his day, like Wycliffe, by nailing his 95 theses to the church doors in Wittenberg, Germany. This act sparks the Protestant Reformation.

Part of the reformation passion is allowing every person to read the Bible in their own language. Martin Luther translates the Bible into German for his country.

1525 William Tyndale, educated at Oxford and Cambridge and fluent in at least 6 languages including ancient Hebrew and Greek, completes a translation of the New Testament into English. He flees England to complete his translation in the more friendly protestant land of Germany. This is the first English translation of the New Testament produced from the original Greek.

1536 – Tyndale famously says he wishes a plowboy to know as much about God as the Pope. Tyndale is burned at the stake for translating the Bible into English. His dying words are, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!” Tyndale’s translation was so good 90% of it would reappear in the King James Version (the King of England’s Version).

1539 – An English translation called The Great Bible appears to try to give churches at least one English Bible in their possession. It is named Great because of its very large size.

1560 – The Geneva Bible becomes the first English Bible where the entire Bible (not just the New Testament) is translated from the original Greek AND Hebrew. It is also the first translation done by a committee of people.

At the end of the 1500’s England was torn between two Bible translations. Most people used the Geneva Bible but the clergy felt it was below them to use the commoners Geneva Bible. A solution was needed.

1603 - Queen Elizabeth dies and King James VI, who had ruled Scotland for 37 years, becomes King James I of England.

1604 - King James summons the religious leaders of England together to settle on a common English translation that can be used by both clergy and the masses. 47 men stationed at Oxford, Cambridge and Westminster Abbey worked on the translation from original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. The translators, additionally, relied heavily on the Tyndale and Geneva Bibles. Nearly 90% of Tyndale’s New Testament translation was used in the King James Version.

1611 - The King James Version, known in England as the Authorized Version, is published for the first time. The purpose of the translators was not to make an entirely new translation of the Bible but, “to make a good one better, or out of many good ones, one principal good one.”

1660’s: The King James Bible is not immediately a success. It takes 50 years for the King James to surpass the Geneva Bible as the English Bible used by most people [mostly because of the many syntax errors found; once removed the public became more accepting].

The King James Version has endured the test of time. It has been referred to as, “the single greatest monument to the English language.” What makes the King James so good? In one word, elegance. It is not the most accurate, but it is the most beautiful. [The literal versions of NASB and ESV are the more accurate; then there is the popular dynamic equivalency versions like the NIV; and lastly, the very liberal translations of paraphrased bibles like the Living Bible].

Since 1611 the KJV has been “fixed” about 100,000 times to give us the translation of the KJV we have today. Almost all of these “fixes” are minor spelling and punctuation changes.

It is impossible to gauge how many King James Bibles have been sold; estimates are simply in the hundreds of millions [and thus surpassing the once popular medival edition of the Latin Vulgate bible]. The King James will be the leading English Bible translation for more than 300 years until being surpassed in the late 1900’s by the New International Version (NIV).

*additional comments made by RE Slater

Section 2


(Click on Picture to Expand to a Series of Gallery Views)

A Comment Concerning the Preference for Using Literal Translations of the Bible
by Kyle Roberts
September 21, 2011
Difficulties in Translating the Bible: ESV Video Session -

"Wayne Grudem’s rationale [for a literal bible] stood out for me, because he has said things like:
I cannot teach theology or ethics from a dynamic equivalent Bible. I tried the NIV for one semester, and I gave it up after a few weeks. Time and again I would try to use a verse to make a point and find that the specific detail I was looking for, a detail of wording that I knew was there in the original Hebrew or Greek, was missing from the verse in the NIV.

Nor can I preach from a dynamic equivalent translation. I would end up explaining in verse after verse that the words on the page are not really what the Bible says, and the whole experience would be confusing and would lead people to distrust the Bible in English.

Nor would I want to memorize passages from a dynamic equivalent translation. I would be fixing in my brain verses that were partly God’s words and partly some added ideas, and I would be leaving out of my brain some words that belonged to those verses as God inspired them but were simply missing from the dynamic equivalent translation.

“But I could readily use any essentially literal translation to teach, study, preach from, and memorize.”

The Process of Interpreting the Bible for Contemporary
Teaching, Worship, and Ministry

by R.E. Slater
September 28, 2011

examination -->
                         textual redaction -->
                                                          translation -->
                                                                                 exposition -->
                                                                                                       relevancy (personal / societal)

"...It is a difficult task to interpret the Bible requiring knowledge in hermeneutics, epistemology  (languages, symbolism), theology (both biblical and systematic), philosophy, ancient textual sources and archaelogy, church history (the early Church Fathers, relevant Contemporary Theologians, etc), and a reasonable awareness of the practical concerns of life. While discerning various ecclesiastical interpretations favored by denominational traditions and preferences as well as redacting and elucidating corporate and individual regional-understandings.
And then, over and above all this, to be able to speak street-wise to those around you in a personally directive, challenging, encouraging and motivating fashion offering hope, love, counsel, compassion and assistance. There's a lot more to speaking the gospel than simply speaking one's mind and biases, prejudices and judgments in cliche-like wisdoms bundled in cultural fluff and folklored-proverbs based upon popular hearsay and loudly acclaimed rhetoric."

Section 3
(Click on Picture to Expand to a Series of Gallery Views )




The Continuing Balance Between Holism and Accuracy
[Extracted from an earlier submission]
R.E. Slater
December 1, 2011

The following JEDP discussion (below) must be broached if only to show that God's revelation through Abraham and Moses, and Israel's later tribes and monarchies, was as complex a process as can be imagined. A process that endured the split of the monarchy into two separate kingdoms with their own separate traditions and beliefs. And later, two separate exiles (one for each kingdom) into foreign pagan countries which only added to the complexity of the textual/source transmission problem of Israel and Judah's epistemologies and culture.
During that time much of Israel's 1st Temple period traditions were lost due as much to their own negligence and nonobservance as to the massive exiles suffered by both the Northern and Southern tribes on separate occasions. Later, under Ezra (and others) the ancient institutions of Abraham and Moses were reconstructed and re-instated during the 2nd Temple restoration period. Many schismatic groups arose during this time, each perceiving some element, or other, of significance necessary to the preservation of their perceived traditions. (As example, John the Baptist's own Essene movement in the NT would be an instance of one of those of groups).
This early "redactionary" effort lasted from the 2nd Temple period into the InterTestamental period, and then through the time of the New Testament, until AD 200. It felt incomplete (as witnessed to by the many sectarian groups that arose in disagreement with one another) and was not standardized by any officiating priestly bodies as observed during Jesus' day of the early 1st century. Here we have the start of incipient (very early) "Rabbinicized" thought occurring in its incomplete construction of a Jewish "orthodoxy" as they debated each other - as demonstrated with Jesus and His disciples - over lost Mosaic traditions. Including their ancient Jewish culture which has already been said to have been lost due to the Israelite and Judaistic tribes nonobservance of their traditions, and because of the displacement of each disobedient tribe from beyond the "Holy Land of their birth."
[Please permit me an aside: ...Interestingly, "Holy Land of birth..." is a problem that continues to this day. One that falls under the Semitic idea of "birthright and inheritance." Rather than learning to live together as blended cultures (regardless of one's location on this planet) we as humans must discriminate and empower our un-loving actions towards other groups different from ourselves, as rights of fiat and control over "competing groups" to our own sociological group. In this case, the Jews have elevated their rights over-and-above their Palestinian, and later, Muslim neighbors. Each struggling with the other for land rights, political recognition, and safety - though the same could be said of any country around the world that has competing groups within, or outside, their borders (America not excluded). Each struggling for ascendancy over the other rather than cooperating with each other and using their cultural differences as added strengths to their continuing blended corporate identities rather than as detracting causes for separation and disharmony.]
Much later, in the late 2nd century, around AD 200, the Rabbinic tradition was codified having established the Torah with its separately perceived Jewish traditions that is observed by conservative Jewish worshippers of today some 2000 years later (again having morphed and endured millenia's of exile and cultural assimilations throughout Europe and the Middle East from the early centuries to the middle ages to today). This codification / ratification process was probably necessary due to the very popular reaction of regional Jews to the Jewish-Christian spread of the Gospel. As well as to its early influences within the early Jewish-Messianic church itself that had arisen in popular acceptance of Jesus radical teachings to the perceived notions of early Rabbinicism's Mosaic understanding of God, the Mosaic law and grace, mission, ministry and life. Meaning that, even in Rabbinicism's early days Jesus had told the Pharisees and Scribes that their perceptions of God, God's law, their faith and worship - even how they went about reducing their dogmatic perceptions into their culture - was misguided. Focusing on the rules of religion rather than the God of their religion. Jesus rebuked the religious bodies time-and-again for guiding their flocks into religious legalism and austerities rather than into the grace and life of His Father's Gospel.
And lest we Christians think we're "off the hook" here it is Emergent Christianity's observation that whether Emergent, Denominationally Progressive, Evangelic - or whatever Christian group that we prefer to be affiliated with - these attitudes still persist today. We have taken the Gospel of Jesus and have usurped God's love and grace into rules, rules, and more rules. Rules that appeal to our self-righteousness. Rules that appeal to our pride. Our legalisms. The old man of our flesh. The deceits of our hearts. The lies of our tongues. And the blindness of our eyes. We have missed the simplicity of God's Gospel in Christ by making a "religion" out of it rather than a "life" out of it. God did not intend His grace and love to be hard. Its as clear as personal sacrifice. Personal service. And personal sharing. To follow Jesus' example is to follow a life that is selfless, giving and transparent. Its no harder than that. Our faith should be living. And it should be living-out God's love and grace to one another. Not systematized. Not legalised. Not legitimized. Not worship'ized. Not dogmatized. Not.... anything! Jesus is the ground zero of the Christian example. His atoning life, death and resurrection gives our faith its reality and energy. We are His disciples and follow Him in obedience as His disciples. It is no harder than that. And it is as simple as that despite all that we would do to confuse and muck-up the purity of God's love and grace by our more human interpretations and demonstrations of "service, worship, love and duty."
And so then, I'm sharing below the JEDP effort of source criticism more to show how difficult it was to preserve both the oral and written traditions over millenias of religious tradition, personal interpretive preference, understanding and constitution when it was especially misunderstood and neglected even in its earliest years before tribal feuding began in political earnest. Through the books of Joshua, Judges and Samuel alone we see disruptions of faith occurring through simple inobservance and education of their faith, let alone the local and regional wars that dissembled their collective knowledge and process of learning. Prophets came and they went decrying Israel's lack of attention to Torah and worship of YHWH. They were ignored or killed. Making us ask, just what are we attempting to "collect" in our eternal pursuit for the original autographs of the Word of God - even amongst Israel's earliest histories of political formation?! For it seems that what we can collect is only what's left to collect. Which is Israel's own history of understanding her ancient God through the millenniums of her struggle to apprehend the divine. A collective knowledge that perhaps presented together can lead today's postmodern church to hearing Jesus' words more clearly than through our own creeds and confessions and church traditions built up over similar millenias of inobservance and misapprehension.
So that when we speak of God's "Word" our only credible evaluation of it now must be through Jesus and His disciples as they understood and interpreted the much older Abrahamic and Mosaic faith which had been lost and gathered-in as much as it was possible after Israel's return from their Babylonian exile. Verily, traditions and cultures by their nature can (and will) be lost due to time's ravages and the human psyche's perchance for selective memory. But the salvific truths of God's love and grace endures however they are passed on to the next generations for all time. And this is the nub of our observations here. It's not in the lost details that we wish to re-discover and interpret, but in the plain evidences that we still know - and have preserved right before us - that actually are the remaining legacies of Israel's ancient faith. That God is actively involved in His people's lives to preserve and protect their living faith so that it may be shared with their friends and enemies alike. A faith important enough to be shared of God's love and forgiveness to all men and women everywhere. What has been lost has been lost. And in a sense is not necessary to recover because of the larger thematic themes left before us. But in another sense if recovered will show the durability of those salient themes in ages past of God's patient love, willing forgiveness, austere holiness requiring atonement, the necessity of redemption, of belief, of faithfulness, of mercy, wisdom and good judgment shown to ourselves and to our neighbors around us.
And it is these elements that are the rockbeds of faith's persistence. Not how long a priestly skirt should be. Or where a temple vessel should be properly placed. Or how many times one bows to the East or to the West to praise God. Those are man's weak cultic attempts to appease his legalistic spirit and sin's blinded prevarications of religious division and pride. God has given to us the freedom to worship Him within the infinite totalitarity of our enterprising human spirit and boundlessly creative imaginations. He is neither less pleased, nor more pleased, with our efforts to grasp and live His love and grace, truth and Spirit. It is for us to follow, obey, worship, and behold the splendor of His creation. From its many forms of suffering to its many forms of delight. We do not need to muck-it up with the overburden of our guilts and ignorance.
So that regardless of cultural proscriptions and approbations - including those ancient Jewish customs of yesteryear, or today's more recent heritage of Gentile/church traditions - all men everywhere may enter into the Kingdom of God without cultic formality except by the blood of the Lamb and the holy breath of the Spirit of God! It is not important whether we worship God as a Jew or as a Gentile, with bells on our dress and headpieces on our bearded heads - or shaved heads for that matter! What God is looking for is our heart's devotion - whether it has been circumcised in Christ and betrothed to the Cross of Christ. For it is in the heart that our worship ultimately lies. Not the color of our skin. Nor the traditions we observe. Nor how worn our knees are from following the religious traditions of our church's prescripts and liturgies. For the Kingdom of God is trans-national, trans-cultural, trans-temporal in all of its behaviors and inclinations. God is our birthright. He is our inheritance. And it is all made possible through Christ Jesus His Son until He comes again in the renewal of all things at some future day of final resurrection and infinite grace. 

The JEDP Old Testament
Documentary Hypothesis

The documentary hypothesis (DH) (sometimes called the Wellhausen hypothesis), holds that the Pentateuch (the Torah, or the Five Books of Moses) was derived from originally independent, parallel and complete narratives, which were subsequently combined into the current form by a series of redactors (editors). The number of these is usually set at four, but this is not an essential part of the hypothesis.
Diagram of the Documentary Hypothesis.
         *includes most of Leviticus
            †includes most of Deuteronomy
            ‡"Deuteronomic history": Joshua,
Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings

The documentary hypothesis assumes that the text of the Torah as preserved can be divided into identifiable sources that predate its compilations by centuries, the Jahwist (J) source being the oldest, dating to as early as the 10th century BC, along with the Elohist (E), the Deuteronomist (D), and the Priestly source (P), dating to the 8th to 6th centuries. The final compilation of the extant text is dated to either the 6th or 5th century BC.

In an attempt to reconcile inconsistencies in the biblical text, and refusing to accept traditional explanations to harmonize them, 18th and 19th century biblical scholars using source criticism eventually arrived at the theory that the Torah was composed of selections woven together from several, at times inconsistent, sources, each originally a complete and independent document. The hypothesis developed slowly over the course of the 19th century, by the end of which it was generally agreed that there were four main sources, combined into their final form by a series of redactors, R. These four sources came to be known as the Yahwist, or Jahwist, J (J being the German equivalent of the English letter Y); the Elohist, E; the Deuteronomist, D, (the name comes from the Book of Deuteronomy, D's contribution to the Torah); and the Priestly Writer, P.

Julius Wellhausen's contribution was to order these sources chronologically as JEDP, giving them a coherent setting in the evolving religious history of Israel, which he saw as one of ever-increasing priestly power. Wellhausen's formulation was:

While the hypothesis dominated biblical scholarship for much of the 20th century, it has been increasingly challenged by other models in the last part of the 20th century. Its terminology and insights continue to provide the framework for some modern theories on the origins of the Torah. 

History of the Canonization of the OT

Theorized Transmission of OT Text based upon ancient JEDP Sources:
From the Judahistic (Yahwehistic), Israelite (Elohim/Elohist), Deuteronomic, and Priestly traditions.
Then proceeding from Redactors JE, to JED, to JEDP, and finally canonized into the today Torah.

[continuing from Wikipedia]

After Wellhausen

Distribution of materials of Jahwist, Elohist and Priestly sources,
 as well as Redactor's contribution in the first four books,
following Richard Friedman.
For much of the 20th century Wellhausen's hypothesis formed the framework within which the origins of the Pentateuch were discussed, and even the Vatican came to urge that the "light derived from recent research" not be neglected by Catholic scholars, urging them especially to pay attention to "the sources written or oral" and "the forms of expression" used by the "sacred writer". Some important modifications were introduced, notably by Albrecht Alt and Martin Noth, who argued for the oral transmission of ancient core beliefs—guidance out of Egypt, conquest of the Promised Land, covenants, revelation at Sinai/Horeb, etc. Simultaneously, the work of the American Biblical archaeology school under William F. Albright seemed to confirm that even if Genesis and Exodus were only given their final form in the first millennium BC, they were still firmly grounded in the material reality of the second millennium. The overall effect of such refinements was to aid the wider acceptance of the basic hypothesis by reassuring believers that even if the final form of the Pentateuch was late and not due to Moses himself, it was nevertheless possible to recover a credible picture of the period of Moses and of the patriarchal age. Hence, although challenged by scholars such as Umberto Cassuto, opposition to the documentary hypothesis gradually waned, and until the 1970s it was almost universally accepted.

This changed when R. N. Whybray in 1987 restated almost identical arguments with far greater consequences. By that time three separate models for the composition of the Pentateuch had been proposed: the documentary (the Torah as a compilation of originally separate but complete books), the supplementary (a single original book, supplemented with later additions/deletions), and the fragmentary (many fragmentary works and editions). Whybray pointed out that of the three possible models the documentary was the most difficult to demonstrate, for while the supplemental and fragmentary models propose relatively simple, logical processes and can account for the unevenness of the final text, the process envisaged by the DH is both complex and extremely specific in its assumptions about ancient Israel and the development of its religion. Whybray went on to assert that these assumptions were illogical and contradictory, and did not offer real explanatory power: why, for example, should the authors of the separate sources avoid duplication, while the final redactor accepted it? "Thus the hypothesis can only be maintained on the assumption that, while consistency was the hallmark of the various [source] documents, inconsistency was the hallmark of the redactors."

Since Whybray there has been a proliferation of theories and models regarding the origins of the Torah, many of them radically different from Wellhausen's model. Thus, to mention some of the major figures from the last decades of the 20th century, H. H. Schmid almost completely eliminated J, allowing only a late Deuteronomical redactor. With the idea of identifiable sources disappearing, the question of dating also changes its terms. Additionally, some scholars have abandoned the Documentary hypothesis entirely in favour of alternative models which see the Pentateuch as the product of a single author, or as the end-point of a process of creation by the entire community. Rolf Rendtorff and Erhard Blum saw the Pentateuch developing from the gradual accretion of small units into larger and larger works, a process which removes both J and E, and, significantly, implied a fragmentary rather than a documentary model for Old Testament origins; and John Van Seters, using a different model, envisaged an ongoing process of supplementation in which later authors modified earlier compositions and changed the focus of the narratives. The most radical contemporary proposal has come from Thomas L. Thompson, who suggests that the final redaction of the Torah occurred as late as the early Hasmonean monarchy.[citation needed]

The documentary hypothesis still has many supporters, especially in the United States, where William H. Propp has completed a two-volume translation and commentary on Exodus for the Anchor Bible Series from within a DH framework, and Antony F. Campbell and Mark A. O’Brien have published a "Sources of the Pentateuch" presenting the Torah sorted into continuous sources following the divisions of Martin Noth. Richard Elliott Friedman's Who Wrote the Bible? (1987) and The Bible with Sources Revealed (2003) were in essence an extended response to Whybray, explaining, in terms based on the history of ancient Israel, how the redactors could have tolerated inconsistency, contradiction and repetition, indeed had it forced upon them by the historical setting in which they worked. Friedman's classic four-source division differed from Wellhausen in accepting Yehezkel Kaufmann's dating of P to the reign of Hezekiah; this in itself is no small modification of Wellhausen, for whom a late dating of P was essential to his model of the historical development of Israelite religion. Friedman argued that J appeared a little before 722 BC, followed by E, and a combined JE soon after that. P was written as a rebuttal of JE (c. 715–687 BC), and D was the last to appear, at the time of Josiah (c. 622 BC), before the Redactor, whom Friedman identifies as Ezra, collated the final Torah.

While the terminology and insights of the documentary hypothesis—notably its claim that the Pentateuch is the work of many hands and many centuries, and that its final form belongs to the middle of the 1st millennium BC—continue to inform scholarly debate about the origins of the Pentateuch, it no longer dominates that debate as it did for the first two thirds of the 20th century. "The verities enshrined in older introductions [to the subject of the origins of the Pentateuch] have disappeared, and in their place scholars are confronted by competing theories which are discouragingly numerous, exceedingly complex, and often couched in an expository style that is (to quote John van Seter's description of one seminal work) 'not for the faint-hearted.'"

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Human Fossil Record

The Human Fossil Record. Part 1.
The Nature of Transitional Fossils

November 25, 2011

The Human Fossil Record. Part 1. The Nature of Transitional Fossils
Today's entry was written by James Kidder. James Kidder holds a Ph.D. in Biological Anthropology from the University of Tennessee (UT). He currently employed as an instructor at UT, and as a science research librarian at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. He has been involved in the Veritas Forum at UT and runs the blog "Science and Religion: A View from an Evolutionary Creationist/Theistic Evolutionist."                                        


Transitional Fossils

This is a re-posting of a blog from December 10, 2010. We think it was an important one. Note though that it was posted shortly before the discovery of Denisovans. So now one more red bar needs be added to the figure above.

Some time ago, the Discovery Institute’s Casey Luskin commented on the human origins exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution, suggesting that palaeoanthropologists use evolutionary theory to describe the progression of the human lineage even when they don’t have transitional fossils with which to work. He writes:

What's ironic, however, is that if you ask the question How Do We Know Humans Evolved? the answer you’re given is, “Fossils like the ones shown in our Human Fossils Gallery provide evidence that modern humans evolved from earlier humans.” So whether you find fossils or you don’t, that’s evidence for evolution.

Indeed, it has become an article of faith for those espousing both the young earth creation model (hereafter YEC) and many who hold to the intelligent design model that transitional fossils do not exist and therefore evolution has not taken place. Support for this position usually entails attacking the weak areas of the fossil record, where burial processes have left us little with which to work, or the creation of straw men arguments in which transitional fossils are defined in such a way that none could ever be found. Often this centers on the concept of “missing link,” a term that is habitually used in the popular press and young earth creation and intelligent design literature when referring to fossil remains but which has little to no meaning for biologists or palaeontologists. As Ahlberg and Clack (Ahlberg and Clack 2006) write:

But the concept has become freighted with unfounded notions of evolutionary ‘progress’ and with a mistaken emphasis on the single intermediate fossil as the key to understanding evolutionary transitions. Much of the importance of transitional fossils actually lies in how they resemble and differ from their nearest neighbours in the "phylogenetic" tree ("the study of evolutionary relatedness"), and in the picture of change that emerges from this pattern.

Contrary to common misconceptions, the fossil record does not record one single lineage for any family of organisms but rather a series of branches, with many related species coexisting synchronously. Darwin hypothesized that the evolutionary record reflected this bushiness and drew such a diagram in his journal. At the time, though, he had little in the way of fossil evidence to back up this position. Much has changed since his day.

An analogy for understanding this “bushiness” was best described by Prothero and Buell (Prothero and Buell 2007). They suggest that the reader consider his or her own genealogy. You and your siblings are the direct descendents of your parents and, while you are similar to them, each of you has different characteristics not shared with them as well as characteristics that you do share. Your parents have siblings as well (your aunts and uncles), and your grandparents are their last common ancestors. These siblings have their own children (your cousins), who have different and similar traits relative to their parents. They are broadly recognizable as being related to you (“oh, I see you have Aunt Edna’s nose”) but three or four generations out, they will become less and less so. These are the “nearest neighbours” that Ahlberg and Clack describe. In this analogy, each of these cousins represents a transitional form from what was (your grandparents) to what will be down the road.

For example, no one would confuse a frog with a salamander but if you trace the fossil record of each back in time, eventually you encounter a fossil, Gerobatrachus hottoni which was recently discovered (Anderson et al. 2008) that is best described as a “frogamander,” having the basal characteristics of both frogs and salamanders. Had we seen such an animal at the time, it is likely we would not have found it remarkable because it would have resembled the species around it. One lineage eventually diverged into frogs, salamanders and other amphibians. Most (just like Darwin proposed in his tree diagram with the little hatch marks at the tip of many branches) went extinct.


Taxonomy and the Beginnings of Human Origins

All life is classified based on a system devised by Carolus Linneaus in 1735 in his remarkable work Systema Naturae. This system gives all recognized species an individual place based on a system of hierarchy. The study of classification is known as taxonomy. A taxonomic ranking for humans would be this:

When a fossil is excavated, the first thing that the palaeontologist does is make a taxonomic assessment of where it fits in a sequence of known fossils. Traits that are shared with other like species or genera are referred to as primitive traits. Examples of this in humans are five fingers and the presence of three arm bones. We share this with all mammals. Traits that are new or are not shared with other like species are referred to as derived traits. Examples of this in humans are the skeletal changes in the pelvis and the foot to allow for walking upright. We do not share these with any other primates.

Transitional fossils in the human fossil record are distinguished at both the genus and species level. This group includes the extinct genera Ardipithecus and Australopithecus and the current genus Homo. All species except Homo sapiens are extinct. Much of the recent study of early humans focuses on the transition from Ardipithecus (‘Ardi’) to Australopithecus (‘Lucy’ and similar fossils) and from Australopithecus to Homo, the genus that led eventually to us. While each of the australopithecine species identified in the fossil record has derived characteristics that separate them from their ancestors and from each other, only one led to the genus Homo.

In future posts, I will describe the evidence for human evolution and why this evidence is compelling. It suggests that we have had a long, varied history filled with great leaps of change, crushing defeat, and eventual expansion into all areas of the globe.


Ahlberg, P. & J. Clack (2006) A firm step from water to land. Nature, 440.
Anderson, J. S., R. R. Reisz, D. Scott, N. B. Frobisch & S. S. Sumida (2008) A stem batrachian from the Early Permian of Texas and the origin of frogs and salamanders. Nature, 453, 515-518.
Prothero, D. & C. Buell. 2007. Evolution: What the fossils say and why it matters. Columbia Univ Pr.


The Human Fossil Record. Part 2. Bipedality

 The Human Fossil Record, Part 3: The Discovery of Australopithecus

The Human Fossil Record, Part 4: Australopithecus Conquers the Landscape

The Human Fossil Record, Part 5: The Dispersal of the Australopithecines

The Human Fossil Record, Part 6: The Dispersal of the Australopithecines, Cont’d

The Human Fossil Record, Part 7: The Rise of Early Homo

The Human Fossil Record, Part 8: Evolution in Early Homo

The Human Fossil Record, Part 9: Out of Africa (The First Time)

The Human Fossil Record, Part 10: Homo erectus in Asia

The Human Fossil Record, Part 11: Homo erectus in Asia, Cont’d

The Human Fossil Record, Part 12: The Rise of Archaic Homo sapiens

The Human Fossil Record, Part 13: East Asian Archaic Homo sapiens
uncompleted as yet (2.20.2013)


Misconceptions about Evolutionary Theory and Process

Misconceptions About Evolution, Part 1
Part 1

November 21, 2011

The website Understanding Evolution, hosted by The University of California Museum of Paleontology, Berkeley, offers its readers numerous helpful resources regarding the science and history of evolutionary biology. The site’s stated goal is to “help you understand what evolution is, how it works, how it factors into your life, how research in evolutionary biology is performed, and how ideas in this area have changed over time.” Among its resources is a list of popular misconceptions about evolutionary theory. In this two part series, we’d like to highlight some of the site’s most helpful responses to these misconceptions. The full list, and many other wonderful resources, can be found at Understanding Evolution.

Misconceptions about Evolutionary Theory and Process

"Evolution is a theory about the origin of life."

Evolutionary theory does encompass ideas and evidence regarding life's origins (e.g., whether or not it happened near a deep-sea vent, which organic molecules came first, etc.), but this is not the central focus of evolutionary theory. Most of evolutionary biology deals with how life changed after its origin. Regardless of how life started, afterwards it branched and diversified, and most studies of evolution are focused on those processes.

"Evolution is like a climb up a ladder of progress; organisms are always getting better."

One important mechanism of evolution, natural selection, does result in the evolution of improved abilities to survive and reproduce; however, this does not mean that evolution is progressive — for several reasons. First, natural selection does not produce organisms perfectly suited to their environments. It often allows the survival of individuals with a range of traits — individuals that are "good enough" to survive. Hence, evolutionary change is not always necessary for species to persist. Many taxa (like some mosses, fungi, sharks, opossums, and crayfish) have changed little physically over great expanses of time.

Second, there are other mechanisms of evolution that don't cause adaptive change. Mutation, migration and genetic drift may cause populations to evolve in ways that are actually harmful overall or make them less suitable for their environments. For example, the Afrikaner population of South Africa has an unusually high frequency of the gene responsible for Huntington's disease because the gene version drifted to high frequency as the population grew from a small starting population.

Finally, the whole idea of "progress" doesn't make sense when it comes to evolution. Climates change, rivers shift course, new competitors invade — and an organism with traits that are beneficial in one situation may be poorly equipped for survival when the environment changes. And even if we focus on a single environment and habitat, the idea of how to measure "progress" is skewed by the perspective of the observer. From a plant's perspective, the best measure of progress might be photosynthetic ability; from a spider's it might be the efficiency of a venom delivery system; from a human's, [his] cognitive ability. It is tempting to see evolution as a grand progressive ladder with Homo sapiens emerging at the top. But evolution produces a tree, not a ladder — and we are just one of many twigs on the tree.

"Evolution means that life changed 'by chance.'"

Chance and randomness do factor into evolution and the history of life in many different ways; however, some important mechanisms of evolution are non-random and these make the overall process non-random. For example, consider the process of natural selection, which results in adaptations — features of organisms that appear to suit the environment in which the organisms live (e.g., the fit between a flower and its pollinator, the coordinated response of the immune system to pathogens, and the ability of bats to echolocate). Such amazing adaptations clearly did not come about "by chance." They evolved via a combination of random and non-random processes. The process of mutation, which generates genetic variation, is random, but selection is non-random. Selection favored variants that were better able to survive and reproduce (e.g., to be pollinated, to fend off pathogens, or to navigate in the dark). Over many generations of random mutation and non-random selection, complex adaptations evolved. To say that evolution happens "by chance" ignores half of the picture.

For more see our questions on "What is Evolution?" and "How do randomness and chance align with belief in God’s sovereignty and purpose?".

“Humans are not currently evolving”

Humans are now able to modify our environments with technology. We have invented medical treatments, agricultural practices, and economic structures that significantly alter the challenges to reproduction and survival faced by modern humans. So, for example, because we can now treat diabetes with insulin, the gene versions that contribute to juvenile diabetes are no longer strongly selected against in developed countries.

Some have argued that such technological advances mean that we've opted out of the evolutionary game and set ourselves beyond the reach of natural selection — essentially, that we've stopped evolving. However, this is not the case. Humans still face challenges to survival and reproduction, just not the same ones that we did 20,000 years ago. The direction, but not the fact of our evolution has changed. For example, modern humans living in densely populated areas face greater risks of epidemic diseases than did our hunter-gatherer ancestors (who did not come into close contact with so many people on a daily basis) — and this situation favors the spread of gene versions that protect against these diseases.

For more see our question "Did evolution have to result in human beings?".

"Species are distinct natural entities, with a clear definition, that can be easily recognized by anyone."

Many of us are familiar with the biological species concept, which defines a species as a group of individuals that actually or potentially interbreed in nature. That definition of a species might seem cut and dried — and for many organisms (e.g., mammals), it works well — but in many other cases, this definition is difficult to apply. For example, many bacteria reproduce mainly asexually. How can the biological species concept be applied to them? Many plants and some animals form hybrids in nature, even if they largely mate within their own groups. Should groups that occasionally hybridize in selected areas be considered the same species or separate species? The concept of a species is a fuzzy one because humans invented the concept to help get a grasp on the diversity of the natural world. It is difficult to apply because the term species reflects our attempts to give discrete names to different parts of the tree of life — which is not discrete at all, but a continuous web of life, connected from its roots to its leaves.

Misconceptions about Natural Selection and Adaptation

“Natural selection involves organisms trying to adapt”.

Natural selection leads to the adaptation of species over time, but the process does not involve effort, trying, or wanting. Natural selection naturally results from genetic variation in a population and the fact that some of those variants may be able to leave more offspring in the next generation than other variants. That genetic variation is generated by random mutation — a process that is unaffected by what organisms in the population want or what they are "trying" to do. Either an individual has genes that are good enough to survive and reproduce, or it does not; it can't get the right genes by "trying." For example bacteria do not evolve resistance to our antibiotics because they "try" so hard. Instead, resistance evolves because random mutation happens to generate some individuals that are better able to survive the antibiotic, and these individuals can reproduce more than other, leaving behind more resistant bacteria.

“The fittest organisms in a population are those that are strongest, healthiest, fastest, and/or largest.”

In evolutionary terms, fitness has a very different meaning than the everyday meaning of the word. An organism's evolutionary fitness does not indicate its health, but rather its ability to get its genes into the next generation. The more fertile offspring an organism leaves in the next generation, the fitter it is. This doesn't always correlate with strength, speed, or size. For example, a puny male bird with bright tail feathers might leave behind more offspring than a stronger, duller male, and a spindly plant with big seed pods may leave behind more offspring than a larger specimen — meaning that the puny bird and the spindly plant have higher evolutionary fitness than their stronger, larger counterparts.

“Natural selection produces organisms perfectly suited to their environments.”

Natural selection is not all-powerful. There are many reasons that natural selection cannot produce "perfectly-engineered" traits. For example, living things are made up of traits resulting from a complicated set of trade-offs — changing one feature for the better may mean changing another for the worse (e.g., a bird with the "perfect" tail plumage to attract mates maybe be particularly vulnerable to predators because of its long tail). And of course, because organisms have arisen through complex evolutionary histories (not a design process), their future evolution is often constrained by traits they have already evolved. For example, even if it were advantageous for an insect to grow in some way other than molting, this switch simply could not happen because molting is embedded in the genetic makeup of insects at many levels.

Part 2

November 22, 2011

The website Understanding Evolution, hosted by The University of California Museum of Paleontology, Berkeley, offers its readers numerous helpful resources regarding the science and history of evolutionary biology. The site’s stated goal is to “help you understand what evolution is, how it works, how it factors into your life, how research in evolutionary biology is performed, and how ideas in this area have changed over time.” Among its resources is a list of popular misconceptions about evolutionary theory. In this two part series, we’d like to highlight some of the site’s most helpful responses to these misconceptions. The full list, and many other wonderful resources, can be found at Understanding Evolution.

Misconceptions about Evolution and the Nature of Science

“Evolution is not science because it is not observable or testable.”

This misconception encompasses two incorrect ideas: (1) that all science depends on controlled laboratory experiments, and (2) that evolution cannot be studied with such experiments. First, many scientific investigations do not involve experiments or direct observation. Astronomers cannot hold stars in their hands and geologists cannot go back in time, but both scientists can learn a great deal about the universe through observation and comparison. In the same way, evolutionary biologists can test their ideas about the history of life on Earth by making observations in the real world. Second, though we can't run an experiment that will tell us how the dinosaur lineage radiated, we can study many aspects of evolution with controlled experiments in a laboratory setting. In organisms with short generation times (e.g., bacteria or fruit flies), we can actually observe evolution in action over the course of an experiment. And in some cases, biologists have observed evolution occurring in the wild.

"Evolution is 'just' a theory."

This misconception stems from a mix-up between casual and scientific use of the word theory. In everyday language, theory is often used to mean a hunch with little evidential support. Scientific theories, on the other hand, are broad explanations for a wide range of phenomena. In order to be accepted by the scientific community, a theory must be strongly supported by many different lines of evidence. Evolution is a well-supported and broadly accepted scientific theory; it is not ‘just' a hunch.

For more, see the question "What is evolution?"

"Evolutionary theory is invalid because it is incomplete and cannot give a total explanation for the biodiversity we see around us."

This misconception stems from a misunderstanding of the nature of scientific theories. All scientific theories (from evolutionary theory to atomic theory) are works in progress. As new evidence is discovered and new ideas are developed, our understanding of how the world works changes and so too do scientific theories. While we don't know everything there is to know about evolution (or any other scientific discipline, for that matter), we do know a great deal about the history of life, the pattern of lineage-splitting through time, and the mechanisms that have caused these changes. And more will be learned in the future. Evolutionary theory, like any scientific theory, does not yet explain everything we observe in the natural world. However, evolutionary theory does help us understand a wide range of observations (from the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria to the physical match between pollinators and their preferred flowers), does make accurate predictions in new situations (e.g., that treating AIDS patients with a cocktail of medications should slow the evolution of the virus), and has proven itself time and time again in thousands of experiments and observational studies.

"Gaps in the fossil record disprove evolution."

While it's true that there are gaps in the fossil record, this does not constitute evidence against evolutionary theory. Scientists evaluate hypotheses and theories by figuring out what we would expect to observe if a particular idea were true and then seeing if those expectations are borne out. If evolutionary theory were true, then we'd expect there to have been transitional forms connecting ancient species with their ancestors and descendents. This expectation has been borne out. Paleontologists have found many fossils with transitional features, and new fossils are discovered all the time. However, if evolutionary theory were true, we would not expect all of these forms to be preserved in the fossil record. Many organisms don't have any body parts that fossilize well, the environmental conditions for forming good fossils are rare, and of course, we've only discovered a small percentage of the fossils that might be preserved somewhere on Earth. So scientists expect that for many evolutionary transitions, there will be gaps in the fossil record.

For more see out question "What does the fossil record show?"

Misconceptions about the Acceptance and Implications of Evolution

“Evolution is a theory in crisis and is collapsing as scientists lose confidence in it.”

Evolutionary theory is not in crisis; scientists accept evolution as the best explanation for life's diversity because of the multiple lines of evidence supporting it, its broad power to explain biological phenomena, and its ability to make accurate predictions in a wide variety of situations. The vast majority of scientists do not debate whether evolution took place, but they do debate many details of how evolution occurred and occurs in different circumstances. Antievolutionists may hear the debates about how evolution occurs and misinterpret them as debates about whether evolution occurs. Evolution is sound science and is treated accordingly by scientists and scholars worldwide.

"Evolution supports the idea that 'might makes right' and rationalizes the oppression of some people by others."

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a philosophy called Social Darwinism arose from a misguided effort to apply lessons from biological evolution to society. Social Darwinism suggests that society should allow the weak and less fit to fail and die and that this is good policy and morally right. Supposedly, evolution by natural selection provided support for these ideas. Pre-existing prejudices were rationalized by the notion that colonized nations, poor people, or disadvantaged minorities must have deserved their situations because they were "less fit" than those who were better off. In this case, science was misapplied to promote a social and political agenda. While Social Darwinism as a political and social orientation has been broadly rejected, the scientific idea of biological evolution has stood the test of time.

"Evolution and religion are incompatible."

Because of some individuals and groups stridently declaring their beliefs, it's easy to get the impression that science (which includes evolution) and religion are at war; however, the idea that one always has to choose between science and religion is incorrect. People of many different faiths and levels of scientific expertise see no contradiction at all between science and religion.

In fact, science and religion can have a constructive relationship. The majority of scientists during the emergence of modern science in medieval Europe, for example, were devout or conventionally religious. Religious belief, then, can function as a framework within which scientific progress flourishes. Religious belief can also be influenced by science. In the Galileo Affair, scientific evidence of a heliocentric universe caused the church to revisit its interpretation of a part of Scripture.

Oddly enough, some people argue that God’s existence is actually a scientific claim and should be tested like any other. However, God’s existence is not something that can be tested by the scientific method in the same way the existence of postulated new elementary particles are tested in supercolliders. Because science provides knowledge about the natural world, no amount of testing or theorizing could prove or disprove the existence of a supernatural creator. Rather than an empirical claim about nature or its laws, the claim that God exists is a metaphysical one, a statement about what there is, whether it be natural or supernatural.