At the end of the second century, there were (at least) four competing Greek versions of the OT. Origen, one of the most important theologians in the Eastern church, was born in Alexandria, Egypt, and was active in the middle of the third century CE. Aware of differences between the Greek and Hebrew texts, he set out to bring order and understanding to the confusing array of competing textual witnesses and to produce an edition that would account for those variations.
The earliest MS evidence available for the OT text is also the most recently discovered. Since 1947 thousands of fragments of MSS, both biblical and nonbiblical, have come to light in the Dead Sea region.
Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest manuscripts of the Hebrew Scriptures were from about the ninth and tenth centuries C.E. Could these manuscripts truly be relied upon as faithful transmissions of God’s Word, since the writing of the Hebrew Scriptures was completed well over one thousand years earlier?
BEFORE the discovery of the cache of Hebrew scrolls in the Dead Sea caves in 1947, aside from a few fragments, our Hebrew Old Testament manuscripts were from the late 9th to the 11th century C.E. That is but a mere thousand years ago when the original thirty-nine Hebrew Old Testament Bible books date from 2,500 to 3,500 years ago. Does this mean that prior to 1947, textual scholars and translators were uncertain about the Hebrew Bible that lies behind our English Old Testament? No, there was the most important Hebrew manuscript, which is called the Keter, the “Crown,” that originally contained all the Hebrew Scriptures, or the “Old Testament.”
The largest organized collection of Hebrew Old Testament manuscripts in the world is housed in the Russian National Library (“Second Firkovitch Collection”) in Saint Petersburg. Codex Leningradensis is the oldest complete manuscript of the Hebrew Bible in Hebrew. Manuscripts earlier than the 13th century are very rare.
The first list of the Old Testament manuscripts in Hebrew, made by Benjamin Kennicott (1776–1780) and published by Oxford, listed 615 manuscripts from libraries in