The most basic operation of biblical criticism as traditionally practiced by professional scholars is known, technically, as "Introduction" (Einleitung in German). This amounts to asking about the origins of the text one is studying: When was Genesis written? Who wrote the Gospels? Where did the book of Job originate? Even in dealing with works recent by comparison with the biblical books (such as the plays of Shakespeare) such questions can be very difficult to answer. When the material is as old as some of the Bible, it is not surprising that there is enough uncertainty to make "Introduction" a full-time occupation for some scholars. It is important to notice that books called Introduction to the Old/New Testament tend to be about these issues, rather than being "introductions" in the everyday sense of the word - though in the English-speaking world there is some confusion over this, and both types of book will be found with such titles.
Questions of "introduction" are one area where extra-biblical sources are particularly useful. In the course of the twentieth century huge numbers of texts from Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Syria-Palestine were found by archeologists, and these have contributed materially to filling in the background to the production of the texts that make up the Bible. Over the last fifty years the Dead Sea Scrolls have been a special focus of interest, throwing considerable light on Judaism at the time of Jesus, and so making the context of the New Testament far clearer than it has ever been before. The study of patristic and rabbinic texts has also been an important source of information about the making of the Bible; for although their authors often did not know any more than we do about how the biblical books were composed, they provide invaluable information about the early reception of these books, from which it is sometimes possible to reconstruct how they came into being in the first place.
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