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What If the Bible Was Never Written? | Unveiled

VOICE OVER: Noah Baum WRITTEN BY: Caitlin Johnson
The Bible is comfortably the best-selling and most widely read book of all time, with more than five billion copies distributed worldwide. That's about two Bibles for every Christian on Earth! But what would it be like today if this particular book had never come into being? How would history have been different? Join Unveiled, as we explore an alternate world where this iconic text was never written...
Transcript

What If the Bible Was Never Written?


The Bible is comfortably the best-selling and most widely read book of all time, with more than five billion copies distributed worldwide. Statistically speaking, that’s about two Bibles for every Christian on Earth. But what would the world be like today if this particular book had never come into being?

This is Unveiled, and today we’re answering the extraordinary question; what if the Bible was never written?

In this video, we're taking a look at some of the events in history that might've been different (or might not have happened at all) had the Bible never existed. With so much of the modern world influenced by this one text, we'll be looking specifically at certain aspects of our past, including the birth of Christianity, the Crusades and Holy Wars, and the effect the Bible has had on other, smaller religions. But first, some context.

The text we now know as the Bible is really a collection of many texts written at different times. It’s thought that parts of the Old and New Testaments were written centuries apart… while the Old Testament is also referred to as the Hebrew Bible, the major holy text of Judaism. The New Testament then records the life of Jesus, and is a key text for Christianity. So, we can already see how this question can be answered in a number of ways. Without the New Testament, for example, Christianity might never have been founded, and Judaism might’ve become the world’s most prominent religion. Meanwhile, without the Old Testament, perhaps Islam would be now have been the most followed, and the Qur’an might’ve become the most widely distributed book ever, instead. There are so many variables at play here. Especially when we further ask; who actually wrote the Bible in the first place?

It’s a famously difficult question to answer. Traditionally, it was held that Moses wrote the Bible (or the first five books of it were, at least). But, in more recent centuries, it’s become generally accepted that it had multiple authors, very few of which are in any way traceable. Christians might say that since the Bible is the word of God passed down to man, we’ll probably never know who wrote it, and it doesn’t matter anyway. But, also, that if the Bible was never written, that God would have always found a way to deliver His Will to the people, regardless. So, that’s one answer to today’s question.

No matter how you view the Bible’s authorship, though, it’s clear that without it figures like Moses, and Jesus Christ, probably wouldn’t have become as instantly recognisable as they are today. Christianity may never have been born and, as so much of the Western world in particular is shaped by it, modern society might’ve wound up being built in a totally different way. Churches and cathedrals wouldn’t have stood as central points for towns and cities. The Divine Right of Kings and Queens across Europe might’ve been much harder to justify without the Bible to reference. The history of art and literature would look notably different had the Bible never been a source of inspiration. The development of language, as well. And, while our laws and justice systems may well have been structured in a similar way without something like the Ten Commandments before them, we certainly wouldn’t be swearing on a Bible in court.

On a wider-reaching scale, the history of war may have played out differently, too. It’s no secret that some past wars have been fought over and guided by differences of Faith and religious opinion. And among the longest conflicts in history were the Crusades, in the Middle East throughout the medieval period. This series of wars began with the First Crusade when, at the end of the Eleventh Century, European Christians invaded the Holy Land in a bid to take control from Muslim rule. There followed more Crusades in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and they’re typically remembered as gruesome and horrific wars. Drawn out battles where towns were sacked, cities sieged, armies were starved, and innocents were killed. According to a poem written shortly afterwards, “Richard Coeur de Lyon”, the European army led by Richard I of England even resorted to cannibalism at one point. That’s how brutal the Crusades were. But, without the Bible, and without the crusading Christian nations that adopted it, the Crusades, if they still went ahead, would have at least been framed totally differently.

History shows conflict within Christianity itself, too. The Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, for example, was a challenge to the established Catholic view of the Bible and of Christianity, led by Martin Luther. Inspired by Luther’s alternative stance, Protestant denominations of Christianity formed - like the Lutherans and Calvinists. And then one of the most infamous challenges to Catholic rule was laid down just two decades later, when Henry VIII broke from Rome and the Catholic Church and founded the Church of England - installing himself at its head. None of this can have happened without the Bible to inspire Catholicism (and then other interpretations of Christianity) to begin with.

The split between Catholics and Protestants has proven to be tense (and often deadly) ever since. Six years after Henry VIII’s death, for example, Mary I (who came to be known as Bloody Mary) took to the throne and burnt hundreds of Protestants at the stake. Then, after her, Elizabeth I did the opposite, and executed Catholic rebels instead. Mary, Elizabeth and Henry all have a lasting reputation for executions. But were their orders simply guided by how they interpreted Christian teachings? Without the Bible, would their legacies have been the same?

Again, it’s just not as simple as all that. The Bible had a role to play, but there were many other influences and motivations guiding these Kings and Queens, too. Henry VIII’s break from Rome, for instance, was actually largely motivated by his desire to divorce Catherine of Aragon; something which Catholicism wouldn’t allow. Henry also wanted to stop paying money to the Catholic Church, so he went ahead and set up his own Church to rival it. It’s not thought that his decision had much (if anything) to do with what’s actually written in the Bible.

A world without the Bible isn’t automatically a world without greed, then. Or prejudice. Or invasion and conquest, as with the Crusades. History shows that while religious differences are a factor in war, they’re often not the only (or even the most prominent) factor. In fact, it’s been estimated that just six percent of wars have actually been primarily about religion. So, the non-existence of the Bible wouldn’t at all remove horrific events from human history. It would only remove Christianity as justification for some of them. Erase the Bible from all records, then, and perhaps nothing much would change. And arguably, without the word of God to adhere to, some wars may have even been worse than they were already.

But let’s now move into happier territory, for a while. Although many of the rules set out in the Bible are now completely outdated, it still offers plenty of key lessons about morality. It also provides its readers with one way to make sense of the strange and complicated world we all live in. Had it never been written, then these lessons would never have been had. So how much of a difference would that make?

Perhaps human society would have found something else, some other doctrine, to live their lives by. Not atheism necessarily, because without the Bible the Christian God might never have been prominent enough to deny. But humanism. People may have found other ways to lead moral lives through humanist beliefs. To paraphrase it, it’s the idea that you should be good to other people not because it will determine whether or not you get into Heaven, but simply because it’s the right thing to do. It emerged during the Renaissance, so in a world without the Bible maybe it would have just emerged earlier. And we wouldn’t necessarily be living in a lawless land, just a different one.

But, of course, it’s not as though Europe was without religion until Christianity came along in the first century. So, it’s not as though humanism is the only direction that society might’ve taken. Paganism and polytheism were widespread before, ranging from the Norse to the Ancient Greeks. As history actually happened, Christians were originally themselves marginalized in Ancient Rome, before Christianity eventually became powerful enough - thanks in large part to the Bible - to usurp Roman mythology. People stopped following the old Gods and devoted themselves to this new religious outlook, and to this day Rome is still the centre of Catholicism. Without the Bible and the ensuing rise of Christianity, however, would we still have large numbers of people who worship the Roman gods, or the Greek gods? Would we still have countless smaller religions dotted across the world map, without the Biblical stories to bring them all together? It’s impossible to know.

Ultimately, the Bible provides one way for people to find meaning in life and the universe. It has its followers, it has its critics… but it’s a crucial text in that it, arguably more than anything else ever written down, has helped to shape human society and the contemporary world. There are wars that may have been avoided had it never existed, and alternative belief systems that may never have disappeared. There are events and whole periods in history, like the Protestant Reformation and the Renaissance, that might’ve unfolded differently. But there’s also a whole worldview that might’ve never taken hold, had its story never been committed to the page. And that’s what would happen if the Bible was never written.
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