Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Bible is Reliable (part 2)

In the previous post you may have seen the words "Septuagint" and "Masoretic."  The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Old Testament writings.  Jewish scholars finished it more than 100 years before Jesus was born.  There are existing fragments of Septuagint manuscripts dating back to that time.

The Masoretic text is the Old Testament in Hebrew.  Its oldest manuscripts still around today date to the 800s and 900s AD.  There aren't earlier ones because worn-out copies were destroyed.

Then there's the Dead Sea Scrolls, which date to around 100BC, around a thousand years before the extant copies of the Masoretic text. Interestingly, there are few variations between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Masoretic and most are differences in spelling or word order.  This fact defeated my fear that Bible books were transmitted like the old party game of telephone.

Okay, just looking at Old Testament manuscripts, let's see what's available and then compare that to other ancient literature:

Version Examples Language Date of Composition Oldest Copy
Dead Sea Scrolls Tanakh at Qumran Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek(Septuagint) c. 150 BCE – 70 CE c. 150 BCE – 70 CE

Septuagint Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus and other earlier papyri Greek 300–100 BCE 2nd century BCE (fragments)
4th century CE (complete)

early 5th century CE

Vulgate Codex Amiatinus Latin
early 5th century CE
early 8th century CE (complete)

Masoretic Aleppo Codex, Leningrad Codex and other incomplete MSS Hebrew ca. 100 CE 10th century CE

Samaritan Pentateuch
Samaritan alphabet 200–100 BCE Oldest extant MSS, c. 11th century CE; oldest MSS available to scholars, 16th century CE

Aramaic 500–1000 CE 5th century CE

Coptic Crosby-Schøyen Codex, British Library MS. Oriental 7594 Coptic
3rd or 4th century CE

and let's compare to other ancient literature

DATE written
EARLIEST manuscript available
TIME SPAN since original events/writing
NUMBER of copies available
ACCURACY between copies
ca. 850 B.C.
ca. 380 B.C.
ca. A.D. 900
About 1,300 years
ca. 350 B.C.
ca. A.D. 1100
About 1,400 years
ca. 60 B.C.
ca. A.D. 900
About 950 years

So far you may be noticing that there is a considerable variety and number of Old Testament manuscripts that date back in time fairly close to Old Testament events compared to some of the ancient literature we take for granted.

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