History and the
certainly manifest a genius for historical construction,
and the Old Testament embodies the oldest history writing extant."
The Cambridge Ancient History
Old Testament books were written down as the Word of God and
recognized as such from the moment of their writing. Beginning
with the words etched into stone by the finger of God himself,
God's people recognized the Lord's writing as it came to them
through their leaders and prophets. The books of Moses were recognized
as scripture by Israel's earliest judges and kings, who referred
to them in their writings as Scripture. From the time of Samuel,
the words and writings of the prophets were kept in libraries,
along with the histories. The Hebrew Bible, which Christians
refer to as the Old Testament, was widely accepted and agreed
upon by Jews well before Jesus' time. Thus the various councils
that supposedly determined what would be Scripture actually only
confirmed what was already widely accepted as the Word of God.
Old Testament was begun by Moses circa 1446 BC and was completed
by 400 BC. (About 400 years before Christ, according to other
Jewish writings, the voice of God "ceased to speak to them
directly" and the prophets "had fallen asleep," thus
the 400 years of scriptural silence prior to the birth of the
Messiah.) The Old Testament is written almost entirely in Hebrew,
with small portions of Daniel and Ezra in Aramaic.
Old Testament covers the history of the nation of Israel and the nations who dealt with Israel. It begins with creation and follows the
Jewish people through the flood, the Exodus, the period of the
judges, the reign of the kings, and finally into exile under
the Babylonian Empire. They include all the laws God's people
are to observe and the nation's history, as well as prophesy.
Old Testament Documentation
Old and New Testament documents were copied with excruciating
attention to detail. When an entire scroll had been copied by
hand, one letter at a time, if one mistake was made, the scroll
was destroyed. In addition, the Jewish copyists of the Hebrew
Scriptures adhered to detailed requirements in copying. We looked
at this list in studying New Testament documentation, but it
bears a second look. (Taken from Don't Check Your Brains at the Door, Josh McDowell
and Bob Hostetler, and The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict,
1) Each copy had to be made on a brand new writing
surface and had to be prepared in a specific way;
2) Each copy had to be written in a certain number
of columns of thirty-letters width, with a certain number of
lines to each column;
3) Each copy had to be written in a certain
color and quality of ink;
4) Not even the tiniest letter could be written
from memory, as one would glance at the word "to" and
write the letters "t" and "o" before glancing
back at the original, but every letter was copied singly from
5) No letter could connect with or overlap another
letter. The distance between each letter was measured by a single
hair or thread;
6) Every letter of every page and book was counted
and compared against the original. The number of times each letter
of the alphabet occurred in a book was counted and compared against
the original. The middle letter of the Pentateuch (the first
five books of the Old Testament) and the middle letter of the
entire Hebrew Bible were computed and indicated in the text.
If one of these calculations was incorrect, the copy was discarded.
7) The Masoretes,
who were responsible for copying Biblical text from AD 500 to
950, calculated everything that could be calculated. They numbered
the verses, words, and letters of every book. They calculated
the middle word and middle letter of each.
as we may rightly consider them, had yet the effect of securing
minute attention to the precise transmission of the text.; and
they are but an excessive manifestation of a respect for the
sacred Scriptures which in itself deserves nothing but praise.
The Masoretes were indeed anxious that
not one jot nor tittle, not one smallest
letter nor one tiny part of a letter, of the Law should pass
away or be lost."
Frederic Kenyon, Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts
it as no other manuscript has ever been preserved ... They kept
tabs on every letter, syllable, word, and paragraph. They had
special classes of men within their culture whose sole duty was
to preserve and transmit these documents with practically perfect
fidelity-scribes, lawyers, masoretes. Who ever counted the letters and syllables
and words of Plato or Aristotle? Cicero or
Protestant Christian Evidences
Old Testament has been shown to be reliable in at least three
1) textual transmission
(the accuracy of the copying process down through history),
2) the confirmation
of the Old Testament by hard evidence uncovered through archaeology,
3) documentary evidence
also uncovered through archaeology.
on documentary evidence and textual transmission follow:
earliest Old Testament manuscript before the discovery of the
Dead Sea Scrolls dated about AD 916, called the Masoretic Text,
after the Masoretes, who from about
AD 500 to 950 were responsible for preserving and editing Biblical
text, as well as other Jewish writings. It was been the primary
Hebrew text used for translations and transcriptions until the
discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The Masoretes are
not the only Jewish group to have had charge of the scriptures
and other Jewish writings, as the following list shows. Each
represented a group of scholars whose entire lives were dedicated
to preserving accurately the Hebrew Bible and sacred Jewish writings.
! Masoretes (AD 500-950)
! Talmudists (circa AD 100 to 500)
! Tannaim ("teachers" or "repeaters")
(100 BC to AD 200)
! Zugoth ("pairs" of textual scholars)(first and second centuries BC)
! Sopherim (from the Hebrew for "scribes")
were the Jewish scholars and custodians of the text between the
fifth and third centuries BC.
comparatively late date of the Masoretic Text
and the lack of other preserved manuscripts is not
startling, considering that earlier copies that were defective
or damaged were destroyed after they were painstakingly copied.
Also, repeated persecutions of the Jews resulted in the disappearance
of many of their ancient manuscripts. Copyists were so accurate,
and there were so many safeguards built into the copying process,
that the newer document was considered as authentic as the one
it was copied from. In fact, due to the fact that it was on new,
undamaged materials, it was given the advantage, as the old manuscript
might have become damaged or defaced. These were at once condemned.
"Thus, far from
regarding an older copy of the Scriptures as more valuable, the
Jewish habit has been to prefer the newer, as being the most
perfect and free from damage."
Sir Frederic Kenyon, The Story
of the Bible
Septuagint, or LXX
Septuagint is the earliest complete Greek translation of the
Hebrew Bible and was completed by a group of Jewish scholars
around 250 BC. The group is said to have been made up of six
elders from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, numbering 72, and is supposed to have been
completed in the same number of days. (Hence
the title, meaning "seventy," and its abbreviation,
LXX, the Roman numeral for seventy.)
translation was necessary as the Jews, dispersed from their homeland,
adopted the languages of their new lands. The Septuagint was
intended for use in public services rather than for scholarly
or scribal purposes, and so, though generally loyal to the original
Hebrew, was somewhat liberally translated and interpreted (something
like our "Good News Bible" and "Living Bible" paraphrases
of today). Still, it was translated from Hebrew texts far older
than our oldest manuscripts and bears witness to the accuracy
of the newer translations. Also, New Testament writers at times
quoted from the Septuagint. The LXX, being very close to the Masoretic text
(AD 916) we have today, helps to establish the reliability of
its transmission through 1,300 years.
Septuagint bridged the religious gap between the Hebrew- and
Greek-speaking people, met the needs of the Alexandrian Jews,
bridged the historical gap between the Hebrew Old Testament of
the Jews and the Greek-speaking Christians who would use it with
their New Testament, provided a precedent for missionaries to
make translations of the Scriptures, and bridged the textual
criticism gap by its substantial agreement with the Hebrew Old
Testament text (Geisler, General Introduction
to the Bible).
separated from the Jews during the fifth or fourth century BC
after a long, bitter religious and cultural struggle. The Samaritans
took with them the Scriptures as they then existed, and their
manuscript of the five books of Moses is a manuscript of the
Hebrew text. The earliest copy dates to about AD 1200. Again,
its primary value lies in its confirmation of the historical accuracy of the Biblical text.
were paraphrases of the Hebrew Old Testament in the Aramaic language,
compiled around AD 500.
"The great utility
of the earlier Targums consists in
their vindicating the genuineness of the Hebrew text, by proving
that it was the same at the period the Targums were
made, as it exists among us at the present day."
J. Anderson, The Bible,
the Word of God
AD 200, was a digest of all the oral laws from the time of Moses.
It was written in Hebrew and covered traditions as well as explanations
of the oral law. Scriptural quotations witness to the reliability
of the Masoretic Text.
are other important manuscripts, but these are the most important
documents relating to the historical and transcriptural accuracy
of the Old Testament.
Dead Sea Scrolls
1946 to 1947, a shepherd looking for a lost goat threw a stone
into a cave and heard the unlikely sound of shattering pottery.
Upon further investigation, he discovered what became known as
the Dead Sea Scrolls - some forty thousand scrolls and fragments.
It was the library of the Jewish community at Qumran, and included fragments of all the Old Testament
books except Esther. These copies were 1,000 years older than
any yet discovered, dating at about 100 B.C. They demonstrated
the amazing accuracy with which the Bible had been copied for
centuries, the later copies having remarkably few changes.
these fragments more than 500 books have been reconstructed,
many of which tell us about life in the community of Qumran. Others
give helpful commentaries on the Scriptures. The most important
documents, however, are copies of the Old Testament text dating
more than a century before the birth of Christ.
earliest Old Testament manuscript before the
discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls were from A.D. 900 and
later. How could we be sure they were accurately transmitted
from before the time of Christ? The Dead Sea Scrolls confirmed
the accuracy of that transmission.
the fragments is a complete manuscript of the Hebrew text of
Isaiah, dating to about 125 B.C.
The Isaiah copies of
the Qumran community "proved to be word for word
identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent
of the text. The 5 percent of variation consisted chiefly of
obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling."
Gleason Archer, Survey
of the Old Testament
Dead Sea Scrolls manuscripts are highly significant because they
confirm the accuracy of other manuscripts dated much later. The
major conclusion from the Dead Sea Scrolls was that there was
no significant difference between the scrolls found at Qumran and the Masoretic Hebrew
text dated 1,000 years later. This confirms the reliability of
our present Hebrew text.
"Critics of the Masoretic Text charged that the manuscripts were few and
late. Through the Dead Sea Scrolls, early manuscript fragments
provide a check on nearly the whole Old Testament. Those checks
date about a thousand years before the Great Masoretic manuscripts
of the tenth century. Before the discoveries of the ... Dead
Sea caves, the Nash Papyrus (a fragment of the Ten Commandments
and Deuteronomy 6:4-9), dated between 150 and 100 BC, was the
only known scrap of the Hebrew text dating from before the Christian
Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict
"We have given practical
proof of our reverence for our own Scriptures. For, although
such long ages have now passed, no one has ventured either to
add, or to remove, or to alter a syllable; and it is an instinct
with every Jew, from the day of his birth, to regard them as
the decrees of God, to abide by them, and, if need be, cheerfully
to die for the,. Time and again ere now the sight has been witnessed
of prisoners enduring tortures and death in every form in the
theatres, rather than utter a single word against the laws and
the allied documents. ... What Greek would endure as much for
the same cause? Even to save the entire collection of his nation's
writings from destruction he would not face the smallest personal
injury. For to the Greeks they are mere stories improvised according
to the fancy of their authors ..."
First Century Jewish Historian
"After trying to
shatter the historicity and validity of the Scripture, I came
to the conclusion that it is historically trustworthy.
If one discards the Bible as being unreliable, then one must
discard almost all literature of antiquity."
Josh McDowell, New
Evidence that Demands a Verdict
"The Christian can
take the whole Bible in his hand and say without fear or hesitation
that he holds in it the true word of God, handed down without
essential loss from generation to generation throughout the centuries."
Frederic Kenyon, Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts