Monday, February 10, 2014

How We Got the Bible: The Text of the Old Testament

Up until Chapter 12 of the book the focus has mainly been on the text of the New Testament. Lightfoot turns his attention to the text of the Old Testament in this chapter. He begins by describing the main manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible which are heavily relied upon by recent Hebrew texts. The following do not include all of the Hebrew manuscripts:

  • The Aleppo Codex. This codex, named after the Syrian city it long resided in, was originally a manuscript of the entire Hebrew Bible. Large sections of it were destroyed due to Arab riots on December 2, 1947 when the United Nations divided Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state. It was completed in the tenth century. 
  • The Leningrad Codex. Written in Cairo about 1010, this codex is the oldest complete manuscript of the entire Hebrew Bible. It resides in the National Library of St. Petersburg, Russia, but has retained its name. This and the Aleppo Codex are model codices of “the Massoretic Text”. Most editions of the modern Hebrew Bible are founded upon this codex.
  • The Cairo Codex. This is a manuscript of the Former and Latter Prophets written by Moses Ben Asher in 895. It came into the possession of the Karaites (a Jewish sect), was carried off during the crusades, and then made its way back to the Karaite community in Cairo.
  • The Leningrad Codex of the Prophets. Written in 916 and contains Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Minor Prophets.
  • British Library Codex of the Pentateuch. Dates to the tenth century and contains most of the Pentateuch.
Why are these surviving manuscripts late when compared to the New Testament manuscripts? Lightfoot writes that Jewish scribes would ceremonially bury old manuscripts as they were confident that the newer copies had been carefully copied and checked with an authority and did not want the older copies to be used improperly as they contained the sacred name of God. He then goes on to discuss the scribal activity of the Massoretes beginning around A.D. 500 and before. The Massoretes developed a system of vowels and accents for the Hebrew text to ensure proper pronunciation without altering the text. They also instituted steps to prevent scribal errors. Some of these are as follows:

  • Numbered the verses, words, and letters of each book;
  • Counted the number of times each letter was used in each book;
  • Noted verses that contained all the letters of the alphabet or a certain number of them;
  • Calculated the middle letter, the middle word, and the middle verse of the Pentateuch;
  • Calculated the middle verse of Psalms, the middle verse of the entire Hebrew Bible, and so on.
The Massoretes contributed so much to the preservation of the text that our Hebrew text today is referred to as the Massoretic Text. Prior to the Massoretes, great care was taken by Jewish scribes. Lightfoot quotes from the Talmud:

An authentic copy must be the exemplar, from which the transcriber ought not in the least to deviate. No word or letter, not even a yod, must be written from memory, the scribe not having looked at the codex before him…Between every consonant the space of a hair or thread must intervene; between every new parashah, or section, the breadth of nine consonants; between every book, three lines. The fifth book of Moses must terminate exactly with a line; but the rest need not do so. Besides this, the copyist must sit in full Jewish dress, wash his whole body, not begin to write the name of God with a pen newly dipped in ink, and should a king address him while writing that name he must take no notice of him....The rolls in which these regulations are not observed are condemned to be buried in the ground or burned; or they are banished to the schools, to be used as reading books.

The meticulousness of the Massoretes and the scribes that came before them ensure that the text of the Old Testament has been transmitted accurately. The majority of the manuscripts found near the Dead Sea prove the work of the scribes. Lightfoot ends with a discussion of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The report of the discovery of some ancient manuscripts found near the Dead Sea came in March of 1948. The story is that an Arab boy was looking for a lost goat and came across a cave in the process. Within this cave a number of old leather rolls with writing on them were found. The boy and his friends took the scrolls with them and the scrolls eventually ended up in Bethlehem and were purchased in part by Mar Athanasius Yeshue Samuel and E.L. Sukenik. The manuscripts purchased by Mar Athanasius were:  the Book of Isaiah, with fifty-four columns of text written on a leather scroll about twenty-four feet long; a Manual of Discipline, a rule book which governed the Jewish sect responsible for producing the scrolls; a commentary on the Book of Habakkuk; and a work of unknown contents which came to be known as the “Genesis Apocryphon”.  The manuscripts purchased by Sukenik were:  a part of the Book of Isaiah; a work entitled “The War of the Sons of Light and Darkness”; and a collection of Thanksgiving Hymns. All of these scrolls are now in Jerusalem at The Shrine of the Book. All told, about two hundred scrolls many only fragments, representing nearly every book of the Old Testament were found in the Qumran region. Qumran was inhabited from the second century B.C. to the first century A.D. and the scrolls roughly date to this time period. Lightfoot names a few manuscripts that stand out:
  • 1QIsa (Q stands for Qumran. The number prior to the Q is the cave in which the scroll was found. The abbreviation after the Q is the contents of the scroll. The suspended letter denotes the number of the manuscript)  - This manuscript was found in the first discovery and, except for a few breaks in the text, is a complete copy of Isaiah. It reads the same as the Massoretic Text and is dated to about 100 B.C.
  • 1QIsb – Also found in the first discovery, this copy of Isaiah 41 – 59  dates back to the last half of the first century B.C. and also agrees with the Massoretic Text.
  • 4QpaleoExm – This is a copy of Exodus from the early part of the second century B.C. written in an old Hebrew script call “paleo-Hebrew.” At times this manuscript is in agreement with early forms of the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Septuagint. These ancient versions of the Old Testament will be discussed in the next chapter.
  • 4QSama and 4QSamb – The former manuscript dates to the first century B.C. and is about ten percent of 1 and 2 Samuel in fragments. The latter manuscript dates to possibly as early as the third century B.C. and has several chapters of 1 Samuel. Both of these manuscripts at times agree with the Septuagint.
Lightfoot ends the chapter by stating, “the Old Testament text was well preserved and accurately handed down to us.”

Stand firm in Christ,

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