Dr. Scott Carroll was the guest speaker at the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible which held in three cities: Lagos , Enugu and Portharcourt in the month of June 2011 in Nigeria. He is an archaeologist with deep interest in the ancient Bible materials. He speaks 13 ancient languages including Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Aramaic and a host of others. He presently sits atop a large collection of ancient materials in a museum in the US owned by the Green family. In this interview with Church Times’ Gbenga Osinaike, Caroll gave a graphic description of the conferences and his perspective of the artifacts that were on display in all the centres. Below are excerpts from the interview conducted in July 2011 reproduced here:
You have been to all the first three conferences to mark the 400th anniversary of the KJV Bible in Nigeria. What has been your experience?
It has been great. I must confess that I did not know that there will be such a language barrier. I was just consumed with a growing passion to communicate what I know about the ancient artifacts and also tell my listeners the importance of these artifacts. But in the whole I will say it was a rewarding experience for me. I have learnt how to communicate effectively with Nigerians. I have learnt to talk slowly while speaking to Nigerians and not using expressions that are not common in this clime.
On my general observation, I see a church that is very emotional but not very deep in its understanding. But this does not apply to everyone. Of course many people have this personal work with Jesus. I found out that there is a need for training of the average Nigerian Christian. Many are hungry to learn and they are eager to experience more of God in their lives. The Portharcourt Christians were more passionate in a way. That was where we had the largest crowd. Many of them want to know so they can imbibe some of the truth of the scripture and that warms my heart.
What does this experience tell you?
Christianity is not only about our emotion but also the working of the mind and understanding of the scriptures deeply so we are not deceived by errors of teaching. I think the experience has been a learning curve for me as I stated earlier because of the language factor. Many people lined up to see the artifacts. There were a lot of bishops in the conferences and that is quite instructive. The music is different from place to place. In Lagos it was a bit loud but the worship in all the centres was the same. People were quite emotional. I think the people in Enugu paid greater attention because I spoke slowly. They were more intense and willing to learn. This also repeated itself in Portharcourt. I must thank the Bible Society of Nigeria and West Africa Theological Seminary.
So where do you think the conferences should lead us?
From what I have observed I believe there will be the need for a training institution in Africa where people can come and learn about the Bible artifacts. I have already discussed with the organizers in Nigeria and will begin work on the possibility of having an African Study Centre for ancient artifacts. We can have students who will become knowledgeable in this field of human endeavour. There are young African minds that needed to be trained. What we are excited about is that God is giving us evidence to give us confidence. Christians need to know the fact so that they can stand with integrity and not just have a belief system that is not grounded on facts. That is exactly what I trust that I was able to emphasise throughout the conferences.
But in the real sense of the word, what has Africa got to do with these artifacts?
The truth is that many of these artifacts were taken from Africa . Many Africans don’t know they have a Christian heritage. Historical account has it that many Jews and Christians lived in Africa hundreds of years before the invasion of Islam. So it’s a lie to say that Christianity was imported to Nigeria by slave traders. Africans should hold their birthright. We also like to state that the Bible did not drop down from heaven but rather, it is a long process of struggle and matrydom. People worked to translate the Bible. I wanted Nigerians to understand the process that brought about the Bible.
So what then would you have to tell Christians in Nigeria in view of these artifacts?
I will want to warn them against syncretisticism, customs and practices that are not Christian. I will also like to warn against secularism, a situation where Christianity is not independent. Our faith must stand on scripture no matter what protection is offered to us as believers by government. Christian should see the Bible as their own book of deliverance and also their mirror. It is a history book and also Gods word for the world. Every word of scripture is given by inspiration of God.
But what are the evidences to show that Africa has a Christian heritage?
There are so many facts from history that show that Africa has a rich Christian heritage. Moses, the writer of the first five books of the Bible, was from Africa . He grew up in the palace in Egypt and he imbibed the African culture so to say. Abraham who is the father of faith visited Africa . He went to Egypt during famine. Jesus was taken to Egypt in his infancy. There are account of the Ethiopian Eunuch in the Bible. The Jews and Christians lived in Morocco many years before Islam ever came into being. Some of the earliest Gospel is Ethiopian Gospel. This gives us an early opportunity to see an early example of Ethiopian Christianity. We have a heritage in Africa . There are strong evidences to show that there is an ancient root of Christianity in Africa . So it is a lie to say Christianity was imported to Africa .
You brought artifacts dating back the time of Abraham. Can you give a chronological explanation of the artifacts right from the time of Abraham to the time of the KJV Bible in 1611?
I brought with me tablets in clay form dating back to the time of Abraham. I brought just a few of those tablets but there are over 500,000 of such tablets that survived from the time of Abraham. There were writings about customs and cultures of the people on those tablets. For you to have an understanding of the Bible there is the need to know the culture and tradition of the people and that is what the tablets offered. The tablets helped us to understand these traditions and also enable us to compare them with the scriptures.
Were there scriptural writings on those tablets?
They were not scriptures but customs and traditions of the people as I said. They are writings on the life of the people, their marriage, their customs. It also shows how the scribes were trained and also gives us an understanding that if pagan scribes had such training how much more scribes who wrote the scriptures.
But the clay tablets had writings on both sides of it?
There was a formal process of training. When Daniel was taken into captivity and they were asked to eat from the delicacies of the king which they refused, you will see that what was going on then was culture. Daniel was being trained by the scribes. What the scribes did was to write on one end of the tablets and ask their students to repeat the same thing they wrote on the other end of the tablet. The writings are still surviving because they were written on clay and they are in the desert. The ones I brought are very stable. They have gone through some preservation process.
You have been around the world showing these artifacts to people. What has been the general reaction compared to that of Nigeria?
Christians respond generally the same way. They are always inspired and they tend to love their Bible more. That is general. The difference in the case of Nigeria is that people are just seeing it for the first time. For me it is like having to midwife a new baby. It gives me great joy that Africans are seeing these artifacts.
Specifically which are the artifacts from Africa?
All the artifacts from Egypt. I brought a number of things which were discovered in North Africa . I brought with me one of the earliest texts of the New Testament, the book of First Corinthian, the original surviving form of it. Many of the papyrus writing, two scrolls which was found in Morroco. I must say that the original manuscripts did not survive. What we have are copies of the original copies that have survived. God has not allowed the original copies to survive so we don’t worship it. What we brought are artifacts not relics.
Tell us the Bible story. How did the Bible come about?
Before the invention of printing in Europe all the writings were done with the hand. They were handwritten and for it to circulate people still copied from the handwritten ones. So there were copies of the copies. The original languages of the Bible were Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. Various authors wrote the Bible using those languages. The Bible was then translated in different ancient languages. By 1000 AD there were about 10 ancient languages which the Bible was translated to. Of these, over 40,000 copies survived. The surviving ones are not the original copies but the copies of copies. The Bible was carefully copied and if there were differences may be about 21 percent and these are not fundamental things and usually scholars do a comparison of all the copies and settle on the ones have similar words.
In the west, the major Bible was written in Latin and increasingly people didn’t understand Latin. That was what necessitated the translation of the Bible to English as early as 1500 AD and this continued until we got the KJV in 1611.
God used John Wycliffe to copy the whole Bible. After he died the church condemned his action and all the translations were burnt but they could not burn all because there were several copies. But people who were caught with the translation were burnt alive. But more of the Wycliffe survived because people were recopying and recopying. Some copied certain portions of the Bible and were hiding it in other books so that people could read.
It was after this that William Tyndale came to the scene. He understood Greek, Latin and Hebrew and many other modern languages. He went to Oxford and Cambridge and was quite brilliant. He had this burning passion to get the Bible across to the common man and one of the ways to do that was to get the English Bible out. By that time the printing press was already in existence. He came to the then Bishop of London and shared the idea with him and the bishop told him he had no space for the Bible. On his own, he published the New Testament that he had translated into English. Because of the repression then, people hid the Bible in cloths that is why clergies were called men of the cloth. Several copies of the New Testament that he published were burnt. He was subsequently arrested and condemned to death but that did not stop him from continuing the work. He went ahead even in prison translating some portions of the Old Testament until he was brought to the stake and burnt to death. He prayed a prayer at the stake when he was about being burnt, he said, Lord open the eyes of the King of England and make him allow the Bible to be printed in English.
The point to note is that there were many translations before the King James Bible in 1611. There was the Coverdale Bible, the Geneva Bible and some others. But in answer to the prayers of Tyndale, another king ascended the throne of England , who was King James and he ordered that there should be findings on the best translations available which should be put side by side to the original languages of the Bible and get a new translation. Out of the all the translation, the Tyndale Bible found to be the most appropriate. That is why about 85 percent of Tyndale’s translation was used in the original version of the KJV. If there is any reason the KJV Bible is so powerful it is because it borrowed largely from the Tyndale’s translation. Even as I’m sharing with you, I could hear from the voice of my spirit William Tyndale crying and praying that God should also open the eyes of Nigerian Christians to raise scholars who will lead the church to a new generation.
What are the archaeological findings since the time of these Bible translations?
There have been several findings which have helped to corroborate the validity of the Bible. One of the most famous books on the Bible is titled: Evidence that demands a verdict. Interestingly the author has had to contact us because after the book was published there were other findings and he is trying to write a new book. For example in Africa , Cairo about 150 years ago, documents of the Old Testament were found in a burial place. About 24,000 of such documents came from one place.
But don’t you think that the Bible has been abused in recent times. There are several Bible translation now especially in America. The Homosexuals, Feminist and all kinds of groups are trying to have their own Bible. What do you think?
Bible translation is largely commentary. Unfortunately some translations are biased especially when we have a situation where the translation is done by committees unlike the days of John Wycclife. What I will urge the readers to understand is that many of the translations are good but they should check key passages of these Bibles and look at what they say on the deity of Jesus, the trinity, the resurrection to see how they are written. But I will not encourage anybody to touch the New World Translation because it is a corrupted form of the Bible. It takes quotation and corrupts it. It tries to twist the meaning of scriptures.
What then would you have to say about the structure of the Bible. We learnt that the comas and full stops in the Bible were introduced hundreds of years after the Bible had been written?
Yes. These things are very complicated and we don’t appreciate it. Originally the Hebrew language was written without the vowel. It was just consonant. There were no comas and full stops. They wrote continuously and the Bible was meant to be read out so that those who cannot read can also learn and be blessed. The Bible was to be read as if God was speaking to the people. The idea of reading to oneself came much more later. Later, the idea of punctuations came in. Many of the developments happened later. Imagine trying to quote from a scroll. The Bible has been a process. Even the invention of Book writing as opposed to scroll can be traced to the Bible. It was done to advance the Bible.
But why were the first five books of the Bible ascribed to Moses. Did he write about his death too?
There are two interpretations to that. There are those who believe what Moses wrote in those books were passed on to him by oral tradition while a great number of Bible scholar believed God gave him the inspiration to write. Interestingly there are pagan accounts of good and evil, the flood in the time of Noah, Tower of Babel , God of the Hebrew. My response is that Moses did not know those languages where these accounts were written so he couldn’t have copied from them but the beauty of it is that the account of the pagans supports what had been written by Moses. I don’t have any trouble believing that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible and others must have written about his death which was added to it.
Some say the book of Job is a fiction?
I don’t believe that because as at the time the book was written, Fiction had not been invented. If it is a fiction then those who are saying that got to argue that the book of Job was the first fictional writing. It doesn’t make sense to believe that. The language of job is the most modern Hebrew language in the original sense. It is one of the last books of the Old Testament and it contains one of the earliest stories of the Bible. We don’t know who wrote the book of Job. But there is also a pagan account of the story of a righteous sufferer. The point to note is that the books of the Bible were not arraigned the way they were written.
What about the apocrypha which some refer to as the seven books of Moses?
There are good books in it. Some are fictional and some are historical. Many of them are inspirational but none of them claimed to have been inspired and none of them were quoted by the New Testament. People have to have these understanding so that they don’t get messed up. The apocrypha was not made to be part of the Bible because the apostles did not refer to it.