the autographs of scripture: genesis 2019 july 25
the autographs of scripture: torah 2019 july 26
the autographs of scripture: prophets and writings 2019 july 29
the autographs of scripture: new testament 2019 july 31
Today not a single autograph of Scripture still exists, of which we are aware. But copies of them do. How was the Hebrew Testament copied, so that we can be assured of its accuracy?
From the death of Moses, the penman of the first five books of the Bible, the Torah remained as Moses had written it, aside from minimal copyist errors or differences in spelling, throughout the whole history of Israel as a nation. The procession of godly judges, from the death of Joshua to Samuel, and the unbroken succession of prophets, from Samuel to Malachi, and furthermore godly Levites from their institution in Moses’ lifetime until the captivity, even if some were corrupt, served as a deterrent to any alteration of the sacred text. For any such alteration could not have been done secretly, requiring the whole community of judges, priests, prophets, and kings to be party to the deception.
The impossibility of such an event is confirmed by YHVH at the height of Israel’s worst idolatry:
And Elijah came to a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of YHVH came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” And he said, “I have been very jealous for YHVH God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, thrown down Your altars, and slain Your prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” … And YHVH said to him … “Yet I have left to Me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth which has not kissed him.” 1 Kin 19:9-10, 15a, 18.
Any corruption of the text of Torah from the time of the Assyrian captivity would become evident upon comparison of the Jewish and Samaritan Pentateuchs. For now let me just say that they both show evidence of coming from the same uncorrupted original. Stay tuned, for more on the Samaritan Pentateuch is coming up.
From the year BC 720 to the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, copies of the Torah and other Scripture scrolls (for example, separate scrolls containing the Psalms) were dispersed with the Hebrews into Assyria, Media, Babylon, Egypt, Arabia, Alexandria, Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome. The existence of so many copies in such diverse places makes a deliberate corruption more difficult to accomplish as time went on. There would always be copies true to the original. And yet as the discovery of Scripture scrolls at Qumran at the Dead Sea shows, the text of the Hebrew Scriptures has remained in agreement not only in Judea, with all of the communities of the Dispersion at that time, but also from that time to this, essentially unchanged.
Copying Torah Scrolls.
Originally, it was easy to attend to the [accuracy] of the Torah text. A Torah scroll written in Moses’ own hand was kept in or near the Holy Ark in the Holy of Holies. This text, which apparently was accessible to the [priests], undoubtedly served as the proof text for all other texts. The scroll which each … king was required to write and bear at all times was likewise copied from this scroll. The kingly scrolls, in turn, served as proof texts after their owner’s death.
The destruction of the first Temple most likely brought with it the destruction of these proof texts. Ezra the Scribe, who led the people back to [Israel] and began to rebuild the [Temple], set to reestablishing a proof text. At this point, a defining event occurred. … Three ancient scrolls were found in the Temple confines which had slightly variant texts. The correct version of the Torah was determined by virtue of a majority of two against one.
Rabbi Dovid Lichtman, The Accuracy of our Written Torah.
Some say it was Ezra who found the scrolls and copied out a new proof text of the Torah.
Throughout the period of the Second Temple, a scroll referred to as [The Book of Ezra] served as the standard for all others. [The Book of Ezra] was either the very scroll that was written by Ezra the Scribe or one that was copied from it. Professional [scribes] were employed at the Temple to correct private scrolls based on this scroll.
Rabbi Dovid Lichtman, The Accuracy of our Written Torah.
Professional scribes from this period were known as Soferim. They received this name, which means, “counters,” because every letter in a copied Torah scroll was counted to ensure that none were missing or added. Charts were kept of the number of every letter of the Hebrew alephbet which was present in a correctly copied Torah. The Soferim handed down thousands of traditions specifying spelling and word order details. One of the more well-known is that the letter ‘vav’ of the word ‘gachon’ in Parashah Vayikra is the middle letter of the Torah, with an exact number of letters preceding and receding from it. A sofer, or scribe, would count the letters from the front to this vav, and from the back to this vav, to ensure that it was indeed central and that the counts agreed with the Torah standard. And this was just one test of thousands which ensured an accurately-copied Torah scroll.
These highly accurate scrolls and their copies remained the standard until well after the destruction of the second Temple into the 2nd century. By then, because of the dispersal of the Jews, variants in pronunciation, and thus spelling, began to be introduced. The Masoretes, a group of Torah scholars and scribes based in Israel and Babylon, worked to standardize the Torah text for the worldwide Jewish community. It must be noted that this standardization did not involve changing the text of Torah, but in providing authority for vowel marks and pronunciation.
Recent computerized tests comparing ancient and modern Torah scrolls have confirmed its enduring accuracy, with only 6 letters out of 304,805 at variance, such that every one of the six was either a vav or yud only affecting pronunciation but not meaning. And again, the Dead Sea Scrolls find has proved no essential textual changes exist from the Hebrew Scriptures of 2000 years ago to those of today.
What about the copied variants for the Hebrew text claiming supremacy?