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Ezra was an inspired scribe/copyist/Bible author about 467-537 B.C.E But how were the inspired writings preserved down to Ezra’s day?
There is no way of knowing with absolute certainty just how they were preserved, What we do know is that the 39 books that we accepted as inspired and authoritative in the Hebrew and Aramaic languages were penned by God’s human authors and maintained by scribes, from Moses at the end of the 16th-century B.C.E. down to shortly after 440 B.C.E. As far as we know today, none of the originals exist, nor do any of the copies prior to the fourth century B.C.E. However, we do know from the Scriptures themselves that God placed great emphasis and great concern for the Scriptures being read and maintained. The Israelites fell away into false worship many times but there was always a remnant of true worships at every stage in their history.
The Old Testament Text Prior to 400 B.C.
Since there is so little evidence concerning this early period, we are left with several significant questions. First, in what language(s) were the earliest biblical manuscripts written? Bruce Waltke and Michael O’Connor believe that Moses wrote in some form of Hebrew, but they also point out that several languages of the period were fairly similar:
A variety of related languages and dialects, more or less closely related to Hebrew, were recorded at the time Hebrew scriptures were being written. The Iron Age (1200–500 B.C.) forms a convenient watershed in the history of Syro-Palestinian languages, though the significance of the year 1200 should not be exaggerated: the earliest Biblical Hebrew had a great deal in common with Ugaritic and Amarna Canaanite.
Figure 3.1. (1) Drawing of a potsherd from Gezer, (2) a plaque from Shechem and (3) a photo of a dagger from Lachish with inset of inscription [Israel Antiquities Authority]
Some of these early Semitic alphabetic inscriptions go back to the early second millennium (e.g., graffiti from the turquoise mining area of Serbit el-Khadim in the Sinai Peninsula [c. 1475 B.C.], inscription from Byblos [c. 2000 B.C.], a potsherd from Gezer [c.1800–1650 B.C.]) and have striking similarities to paleo (early)-Hebrew (e.g., they are an alphabetic language, have similar vocabulary, and a similar script, see fig. 3.1).
Thus the earliest biblical texts were probably written in paleo-Hebrew script, though there are no actual extant Hebrew texts that predate about 800 B.C. (e.g., seal of Jeroboam II, c. 786–746 B.C., see fig. 3.2; Hezekiah’s tunnel inscription, c. 701 B.C.; silver amulets, c. mid-seventh century B.C.)—the earliest extant texts are written in this script.
Figure 3.2. Seal found at Megiddo carved in jasper: “Belonging to Shema, servant of Jeroboam” (c. 786–746 B.C.) [Israel Antiquities Authority]
The changeover from paleo-Hebrew to square (or Aramaic) script took place between the fifth and third centuries B.C. and would probably have been hastened by the Jewish exile in Babylon, where Aramaic was the common language. Knowing about the similarities between specific letters in both paleo-Hebrew and square script can help identify and date certain copying mistakes. For example, the wāw and the yôd were very similar in the Hebrew square script written at Qumran, but they are not as similar in paleo-Hebrew script (see figure 3.3).
Figure 3.3. Differences between paleo-Hebrew script and square script
Around 640 B.C.E., in the days of King Josiah, “the scroll of the law” of Moses, possibly the original copy, was found stored away in the house of Jehovah. It had been preserved for nearly 900 years. It made such an impact on the people that God inspired the prophet, Jeremiah, to make a written record of it at what we now know as 2 Kings 22:8-10.
2 Kings 22:8-10 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
8 And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the scribe, “I have found the scroll of the law in the house of Jehovah.” And Hilkiah gave the scroll to Shaphan, and he read it. 9 And Shaphan the scribe came to the king and returned the king a word, and he said, “Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house and have delivered it into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of Jehovah.” 10 Then Shaphan the scribe told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a scroll.” And Shaphan read it before the king.
And about the year 460 B.C.E., Ezra too was inspired by God, moved along by Holy Spirit, wherein he referred to the same event. (2 Chron. 34:14-18) Ezra was deeply interested in these things, for “he was a scribe skilled in the law of Moses, which Jehovah, the God of Israel, had given.” (Ezra 7:6) It is very likely that Ezra had access to all of the scrolls of the Hebrew Scriptures that had been copied up unto his day. It seems that Ezra the inspired author, skilled copyist, and scribe was a caretaker of the inspired Word of God in his day. – Neh. 8:1-2.
As we know, the Jewish people have always been a people of the book in (1), reading it daily, (2), memorizing it, (3) valuing it, and (4) preserving it. This is because of what the Hebrew Scriptures say about reading, memorizing, valuing, and preserving it. Being that God is the author, this is what He, God Himself says about reading, memorizing, valuing, and preserving it. This is not to say that the scribes and copyists of the Hebrew Old Testament were inspired and moved along by the Holy Spirit; thus, preserving perfect copies and more than that was the case with the copyist and scribes of the New Testament, What we can say with some certainty is this, the Hebrew Scriptures were preserved with greater care and within the texts themselves, the copyists retained the copyist errors. “It is to all intents and purposes a manuscript and displays all the forms of error found in all manuscripts.” – Thomas Hunter Weir. These Masoretes were early Jewish scholars, who were the successors to the Sopherim, in the centuries following Christ, who produced what came to be known as the Masoretic text. The Masoretes were well aware of the alterations made by the earlier Sopherim. Rather than simply remove the alterations, they chose to note them in the margins or at the end of the text. These marginal notes came to be known as the Masora.
 Bruce K. Waltke and Michael O’Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1990), pp. 3, 8.
 See Paul D. Wegner, The Journey from Texts to Translations (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), pp. 79–81.
 See Ernst Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament: An Introduction to the Biblia Hebraica, trans. Erroll F. Rhodes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), p. 4; Emanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001), pp. 218–20; David Diringer, “The Biblical Scripts,” in CHB 1:12.
 William F. Albright, The Archaeology of Palestine, rev. ed. (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1960), pp. 149–50; Frank M. Cross, “The Oldest Manuscripts from Qumran,” JBL 74 (1955): 147–72 (repr. in QHBT, pp. 147–76); Frank M. Cross, “The Development of the Jewish Scripts” in BANE, pp. 133–202.
 Franz Rosenthal, A Grammar of Biblical Aramaic, Porta Linguarum Orientalium (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1974), pp. 5–6.
 Paul D. Wegner, A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible: Its History, Methods & Results (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 59–60.
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