How Effectively Did the Copyists of the Hebrew Scriptures Preserve God’s Word?

israel against all odds ISRAEL AGAINST ALL ODDS - Vol. II AN ENCOURAGING THOUGHT_01

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Edward D. Andrews
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored ninety-two books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

God is the Author and Originator of the Bible, as well as its Preserver. He is the One who inspired the prophet Isaiah to write:

Isaiah 40:8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.

That statement is absolutely true, even though we have no original Bible manuscript of the Hebrew, Aramaic Old Testament Scriptures or of the Christian Greek New Testament Scriptures that we know of is extant (still in existence) today. Therefore, how can we be so certain that what the original 40+ authors penned under inspiration, being moved along by Holy Spirit we have today?

HOW THE BIBLE SURVIVED Careless and Even Deceitful Bible Copyists?

The Reading Culture of Early Christianity From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts 400,000 Textual Variants 02

Just looking at the Hebrew Scriptures herein, part of the answer is found the Hebrew text itself. God said that the books that he had human authors pen should be copied. For example, God commanded right in the Mosaic Law itself that future kings of Israel were to make their own copies of the Law. “And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests.” (Deut. 17:18) Moreover, God placed the Levitical Priesthood in charge of making copies and teaching it to the people. Moses was inspired to write, “Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against you.” (Deuteronomy 31:26) Nehemiah wrote under inspiration, “Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places.” (Nehemiah 8:7) After the seventy years of exile in Babylon, there was a school of copyists or scribes (Sopherim) that were developed. Ezra wrote, “this Ezra went up from Babylon. And he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which Jehovah, the God of Israel, had given; and the king granted him all his request, according to the hand of Jehovah his God upon him.” (Ezra 7:6) Ezra was a skilled copyist.

It is true that the later Sopherim (scribe-copyists) would take some liberties with the Hebrew text they were supposed to be copying. However, the 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 was 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.

The Masoretes were very much concerned with the accurate transmission of each word, even each letter, of the text they were copying. Accuracy was of supreme importance; therefore the Masoretes use the side margins of each page to inform others of deliberate or inadvertent changes in the text by past copyists. The Masoretes also use these marginal notes for other reasons as well, such as unusual word forms and combinations. They even marked how frequent they occurred within a book or even the whole Hebrew Old Testament. Of course, marginal spaces was very limited, so they used an abbreviated code. They formed a cross-checking tool as well, where they would mark the middle word and letter of certain books. Their push for accuracy moved them to go so far as to count every letter of the Hebrew Old Testament.

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The Leningrad Codex is the oldest complete Masoretic manuscript, which is the basis for both the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia and Biblia Hebraica Quinta, dating to about 1008 C.E. It is a representative of the Ben Asher tradition. In 1947, there began a discovery of some 220 manuscripts or fragments that were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Those manuscripts gave us evidence of just how accurate our Hebrew Old Testament is because the Dead Sea manuscripts were from one thousand to one thousand three hundred years older than the Leningrad Codex. When we compare the Leningrad Codex with the Dead Sea Scrolls, we discover a very interesting detail. Yes, there is some variation in wording of the Dead Sea Scrolls, it is not to the point of affecting the message, and the Masorah notes in our Masoretic texts and the versions give us what we need for textual scholars need to determine what the original reading was in the handful of differences.

None of the Hebrew Old Testament manuscripts contains identical wording. How, then, is it possible for us to know what the original text contained? Can the Hebrew text be trusted?

Chapter 40 of Isaiah’s book in the Dead Sea Scrolls (dated from 125 to 100 B.C.E.)Chapter 40 of Isaiah’s book in the Dead Sea Scrolls (dated from 125 to 100 B.C.E.) Hebrew Manuscript

When we compare it with Hebrew manuscripts from about a thousand years later, we discover that there are only minor differences found, which are mostly in spelling.

Chapter 40 of Isaiah’s book in the Aleppo Codex, an important Hebrew Masoretic manuscript from about 930 C.E. - Hebrew Manuscript

Chapter 40 of Isaiah’s book in the Aleppo Codex, an important Hebrew Masoretic manuscript from about 930 C.E.

See Also

HEBREW TEXT: Preservation of the Text

HEBREW TEXT: Who Were the Masoretes?

How Did We Get the Old Testament Text?

Hebrew Text: The forthcoming Updated American Standard Version (UASV) (2007-2020) is based on the updated editions of the Hebrew text, namely, Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia and Biblia Hebraica Quinta, which included recent research based on the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient manuscripts. These reproduce the Leningrad Codex in the main text along with footnotes that contain comparative wording from other sources of the Old Testament: such as the Greek Septuagintthe Samaritan Pentateuch, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Aramaic Targums, the Latin Vulgateand the Syriac Peshitta. Both Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia and Biblia Hebraica Quinta are being considered as we prepare the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

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