HOW WE GOT The Old Testament


Please Support the Bible Translation Work of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV)


The Reading Culture of Early Christianity From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts 400,000 Textual Variants 02
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 over 140 books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

The Old Testament, the inspired Word of God, how was it copied, maintained as to the textual reliability, and handed down throughout the past three thousand five hundred years?

It should be appreciated that what we possess today is nothing short of the Word of God that the Old Testament writers penned throughout a 1,600-year period, from the time of Moses to Malachi. While it certainly is not provable that God personally preserved these documents by the same way that he miraculously inspired the Scriptures to be error free; there is little doubt that he blessed the work of those who worked on the copies and has blessed our attempts at restoring the text. Skeptics would consider it as mere coincidence that, we have a storehouse of manuscript treasure for both the Old Testament and New Testament documents while secular writings are nowhere near so fortunate. The secular writings of antiquity are reflected in but a handful of manuscripts for any given author. Moreover, they are hundreds of years removed from the date of the original copy, making them less trustworthy; while the Old Testament and New Testament are preserved in tens of thousands of manuscripts, with a number being within a century or two from the original copy[1] (especially the NT).

4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS The Complete Guide to Bible Translation-2

Hebrew Bible

11th-century manuscript of the Hebrew Bible with Targum
11th-century manuscript of the Hebrew Bible with Targum
A page from the Aleppo Codex, Deuteronomy.
A page from the Aleppo Codex, Deuteronomy.

Textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible compares manuscript versions of the following sources (dates refer to the oldest extant manuscripts in each family):

Manuscript Examples Language Date of Composition Oldest Copy
Dead Sea Scrolls Tanakh at Qumran Hebrew, Paleo Hebrew, and Greek(Septuagint) c. 150 BCE – 70 CE c. 150 BCE – 70 CE
Septuagint Codex VaticanusCodex Sinaiticus and other earlier papyri Greek 300–100 BCE 2nd century BCE(fragments)
4th century CE (complete)
Peshitta   Syriac   early 5th century CE
Vulgate   Latin   early 5th century CE



Aleppo CodexLeningrad Codex and other incomplete mss Hebrew ca. 100 CE 10th century CE
Samaritan Pentateuch Abisha Scroll of Nablus Hebrew in Samaritan alphabet 200–100 BCE Oldest extant MSS c.11th century CE, the oldest MSS available to scholars 16th century CE, only Torah contained
Targum   Aramaic 500–1000 CE 5th century CE

As in the New Testament, changes, corruptions, and erasures have been found, particularly in the Masoretic texts. This is ascribed to the fact that early soferim (scribes) did not treat copy errors in the same manner later on.

There are three separate new editions of the Hebrew Bible currently in development: Biblia Hebraica Quinta, the Hebrew University Bible, and the Oxford Hebrew BibleBiblia Hebraica Quinta is a diplomatic edition based on the Leningrad Codex. The Hebrew University Bible is also diplomatic but based on the Aleppo Codex. The Oxford Hebrew Bible is an eclectic edition.


Isaiah 40:8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

8 The grass withers, the flower fades,

    but the word of our God will stand forever. 

The Bible reader has every right to ask if the book that he carries has been tainted throughout the centuries of copying and recopying. What we possess today, is it a complete reflection of what was penned so many centuries ago? Does the evidence suggest that the manuscripts have been transmitted faithfully from the original-language texts so that the reader of God’s Word can feel safe that the Bible is trustworthy? We know that scribal errors have crept into the text, after centuries of copying by hand, but have the textual scholars been able to ascertain what the original text was?  There are many excellent books that cover the trustworthiness of the text of the Old and New Testaments; we will not be able to go into in great detail herein, because of limited space, but we can lay an excellent foundation, and suggest further reading.  However, what is covered will be very informative and beneficial to examine.[2]

Men that were chosen by God penned the original manuscripts in Hebrew and a very small portion in Aramaic languages. Moses was the first in the late 16th-century B.C.E.,[3] who wrote the first five books of the Bible, down to about 443 B.C.E., with Malachi penning the book that bears his name, and Nehemiah writing the book that bears his name, totaling 39 canonical books for the Hebrew Old Testament. There are no original manuscripts in existence today. Around 642 B.C.E., in the time of King Josiah, Hilkiah, the high priest “found the Book of the Law” of Moses, very likely the original copy, which had been stored away in the house of God. At this point, it had survived for some 871 years. Jeremiah was so moved by the particular discovery that he wrote about the occasion at 2 Kings 22:8-10. About 180 years later, in 460 B.C.E., Ezra wrote about the same incident as well. (2 Chron. 34:14-18) Ezra was very interested in this, not only because of the importance of the event itself but he “was a skilled scribe in the Law of Moses, which Jehovah, the God of Israel, had given.” (Ezra 7:6, UASV) Considering Ezra’s position, the fact he was a historian, a scribe, he would have had access to all of the scrolls of the Old Testament that had been copied and handed down up to his time. In some cases, some were likely the inspired originals from the authors themselves. It would seem that Ezra was well qualified to be the custodian of the manuscripts in his day.–Nehemiah 8:1-2


Period of Manuscript Copying

In the days of Ezra and beyond, there would have been an increasing need of copying the Old Testament manuscripts. As you may recall from your personal Bible study, the Babylonians took the Jews into captivity for seventy years. Most of the Jews did not return upon their release in 537 B.C.E., and after that. Tens of thousands stayed in Babylon while others migrated throughout the ancient world, settling in the commercial centers. However, the Jews would pilgrimage back to Jerusalem several times each year, for religious festivals. Once there, they would be reading from the Hebrew Old Testament and sharing in the worship of God. Over a century later in Ezra’s day, the need to travel back to Jerusalem was no longer a concern, as they carried on their studies in places of worship known as synagogues, where they read aloud from the Hebrew Scriptures and discussed their meaning. As one might imagine, the scattered Jewish populations throughout the ancient world would have been in need of their own personal copies of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Within the synagogues, there was a storage room, known as the Genizah.[4] Over time, manuscripts would wear out to the point of tearing. Thus, it would have been placed in the Genizah and replaced with new copies. Before long, after the old manuscripts were built up in the Genizah, they would eventually need to be buried in the earth. They performed this duty, as opposed to just burning them, so the holy name of God, Jehovah (or Yahweh), would not be desecrated. Throughout many centuries, many thousands of Hebrew manuscripts were disposed of in this way. Gratefully, the well-stocked Genizah of the synagogue in Old Cairo was saved from this handling of their manuscripts, perhaps because it was enclosed and overlooked until the middle of the 19th century. In 1890, as soon as the synagogue was being restored, the contents of the Genizah were checked, and its materials were gradually either sold or donated. From this source, manuscripts that were almost complete and thousands of fragments have found their way to Cambridge University Library and other libraries in Europe and America.

Throughout the world, scholars have counted and cataloged about 6,300 manuscripts of all or portions of the Hebrew Old Testament. Textual scholars of the Hebrew Scriptures, for the longest time, had to be content with Hebrew manuscripts that only went back to the tenth century C.E. This, of course, meant that the Hebrew Old Testament was about 1,400 hundred years removed from the last book that had been penned. This, then, always left the question of the trustworthiness of those copies. However, all of that changed in 1947, in the area of the Dead Sea, there was discovered a scroll of the book of Isaiah. In following years more of these precious scrolls of the Hebrew Scriptures were found as caves in the Dead Sea area yielded an enormous amount of manuscripts that had been concealed for almost 1,900 years. Specialists in the area of paleography[5] have now dated some of these as far back as the third and second century B.C.E. The Dead Sea Scrolls as they have become known, vindicated the trust that had been placed in the Masoretic texts[6] that we have possessed all along. A comparative study of the approximately 6,000 manuscripts of the Hebrew Scriptures give a sound basis for establishing the Hebrew text and reveals faithfulness in the transmission of the text.

English Bible Versions King James Bible KING JAMES BIBLE II

The Hebrew Language

Hebrew is the language in which the thirty-nine inspired books of the Old Testament were penned, apart from the Aramaic sections in Ezra 4:8–6:18; 7:12–26; Dan. 2:4b–7:28; Jer. 10:11, as well as a few other words and phrases from Aramaic and other languages. The language is not called “Hebrew” in the Old Testament. At Isaiah 19:18 it is spoken of as “the language [Literally “lip”] of Canaan.” The language that became known as “Hebrew” is first shown in the introduction to Ecclesiasticus, an Apocrypha[7] book. Moses, being raised in the household of Pharaoh, would have been given the wisdom of Egypt, as well as the Hebrew language of his ancestors. This would have made him the perfect person to look through any ancient Hebrew documents that may have been handed down to him, giving him the foundation for the book of Genesis.

Later, in the days of the Jewish kings, Hebrew came to be known as “Judean” (UASV) that is to say, the language of Judah (Neh. 13:24; Isa. 36:11; 2 Ki. 18:26, 28). As we enter the period of Jesus, the Jewish people spoke an expanded form of Hebrew, which would become Rabbinic Hebrew. Nevertheless, in the Greek New Testament, the language is referred to as the “Hebrew” language, not the Aramaic. (John 5:2; 19:13, 17; Acts 22:2; Rev. 9:11) Therefore, for more than 2,000 years, Biblical Hebrew served God’s chosen people, as a means of communication.

However, once God chose to use a new spiritual Israel, made up of Jew and Gentile, there would be a difficulty within the line of communication as not all would be able to understand the Hebrew language. It became evident, 300 years before the rise of Christianity; there was a need for the Hebrew Scriptures to be a translation into the Greek language of the day, because of the Jewish diaspora who lived in Egypt. Down to our day, all or portions of the Bible have been translated into about 2,287 languages.

Even the Bible itself expresses the need of translating it into all languages. Paul, quoting Deuteronomy 32:43, says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles [“people of the nations”], with his people.” And again, ‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.’” (Rom 15:10) Moreover, all Christians are given what is known as the Great Commission, to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” (Matt 28:19-20) In addition, Jesus stated, “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations.” (Matt 24:14) All of the above could never take place without translating the original language into the languages of the nations. What is more, ancient translations of the Bible that are extant (still in existence) in manuscript form have likewise aided in confirming the high degree of textual faithfulness of the Hebrew manuscripts.


Earliest Translated Versions

Versions are translations of the Bible from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek into other languages (or Hebrew into Greek). Translation work has made the Word of God accessible to billions of persons, who are incapable of understanding the original Biblical languages. The early versions of the Scriptures were handwritten and were, therefore, in the form of manuscripts. However, since the beginning of the printing press in 1455 C.E., many additional versions, or translations, have appeared, and these have been published in great quantities. Some versions have been prepared directly from Hebrew and Greek Bible texts, whereas others are based on earlier translations.

The Septuagint

The Septuagint is the common term for the Old Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. The word means “seventy” and is frequently shortened by using the Roman numeral LXX, which is a reference to the tradition 72 Jewish translators (rounded off), who are alleged to have produced a version in the time of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-246 B.C.E.). The first five books of Moses being done around 280 B.C.E., with the rest being completed by 150 B.C.E.  As a result, the name Septuagint came to denote the complete Hebrew Scriptures translated into Greek.

Acts 8:26-38 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

26 But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.) 27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; who had come to worship in Jerusalem, 28 and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:

“He was led as a sheep to slaughter
    and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
    so he opens not his mouth.
33 In his humiliation was taken away.
    Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”[8]

34 And the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I beg you, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he declared to him the good news about Jesus. 36 And as they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?[9] 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.

The Eunuch court official was an influential man, who was in charge of the treasury of the queen of Ethiopia and to whom Philip preached. He was a proselyte [convert] to the Jewish religion who had come to Jerusalem to worship God. He had been reading aloud from the scroll of Isaiah (53:7-8 as our English Bible has it sectioned), and was puzzled as to who it was referring to; however, Philip explained the text, and the Eunuch was moved to the point of being baptized. The Eunuch was not reading from the Hebrew Old Testament; rather he was reading from the Greek translation, known as the Greek Septuagint. This work was very instrumental to both Jews and Christians in the Greek-speaking world in which they lived.

What contributed to the Hebrew Old Testament being translated into Greek and when and how did it occur? What was the need that brought the Septuagint about? How has it affected the Bible throughout these last 2,200 years? What impact does the Septuagint still have for the translator today?

Fragment of a SeptuagintThe Greek-Speaking Jews and the Septuagint

In 332 B.C.E., Alexander the Great had just finished destroying the Phoenician city of Tyre, and was now entering Egypt, but was received as a great deliverer, not as a conqueror. It was here that he would found the city of Alexandria, bringing mankind one of the great learning centers of all time in the ancient world. The result of Alexander’s conquering much of the then known world was the spread of Greek culture and the Greek language. Alexander himself spoke Attic Greek, which was the dialect that spread throughout the territories that he conquered. As the Attic dialect spread, it interacted with other Greek dialects, as well as the local languages, resulting in what we call Koine Greek or common Greek spreading throughout this vast realm.

Fragment of a Septuagint

By the time of the third century B.C.E., Alexandria had a large population of Jews. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and exiled its people to Babylon centuries before. Many Jews had fled to Egypt at the time of the destruction. The returning Jews in 537, were scattered throughout southern Palestine, migrating to Alexandria after it was founded. The need of a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures arose out of the necessity for the Jews in their worship services and education within the Jewish community of Alexandria.

Many of the Jews in Alexandria could no longer understand the Hebrew language, with others simply letting it grow out of practice. Most could only speak the common Greek of the Mediterranean world. However, they remained Jews in custom and culture and wanted to be able to understand the Scriptures that affected their everyday lives and worship. Therefore, the time was right for the production of the first translation of the Hebrew Scriptures.  

Aristobulus of Paneas (c. 160 B.C.E.) wrote that the Hebrew law was translated into Greek, being completed during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-246 B.C.E.). We cannot be certain as to what Aristobulus meant by the term “Hebrew law.” Some have suggested that it encompassed only the Mosaic Law, the first five books of the Bible while others suggested that it was the entire Hebrew Scriptures.


Beginning of the Letter of Aristeas to Philocrates. Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 11th century.

Letter of Aristeas

This Greek writing is allegedly a letter written by Aristeas, who was a high official in the court of Ptolemy II in Alexandria. It was sent to Jerusalem in order to secure a copy of the Jewish Law together with a group of seventy-two scholars who would translate the Law from Hebrew to Greek. The recipient is Philocrates, about whom nothing is said except that he was a brother of Aristeas. The alleged purpose of the book is to tell the story of the translation of the Septuagint.

The book contains a delightful story. Demetrius of Phalerum, head of the great library in Alexandria, suggests to the king that a translation be made of the Hebrew Law. The king writes to the high priest Eleazar in Jerusalem requesting him to send seventy-two scribes to perform the work of translation. He sends rich gifts for the temple in Jerusalem. The story includes a description of the Holy City. Eleazar delivers an apologetic for the Law. When the translators come to Alexandria, they are feted in a series of royal banquets. The king plies the scribes with philosophical questions, and they answer with amazing wisdom. Then they are taken to the island of Pharos in the harbor of Alexandria where they set to work. Demetrius compares their work every day and writes down a consensus. They complete the work in seventy-two days. It is then read to the Jews, who laud it. When it is read to the king, he is greatly impressed and expresses wonder as to why it has not been mentioned in earlier Greek literature. Demetrius says that earlier authors were divinely restrained from mentioning it. Finally, the translators are sent home bearing rich gifts.

It is obvious that this beautiful story is fictional, although it has a core of reliable information. Aristeas and Philocrates are not known in other historical literature. Furthermore, the Letter of Aristeas itself reflects a knowledge and usage of the LXX. The work also bears obvious unhistorical traits. For example, an Egyptian king would not attribute his throne to the Jewish God (37). The author, however, seems to be thoroughly familiar with the technical and official language of the court and of Alexandrian life and customs.

The purpose of the book is fairly obvious. It is a piece of Hellenistic Jewish apologetic writing designed to commend the Jewish religion and law to the Gentile world. The book emphasizes the honors showered on the seventy by the Greek king. High praise is accorded to Jewish wisdom by heathen philosophers. It explains the failure of Greek historians and poets to mention the Jewish law. The apology of Eleazar on the inner meaning of the law tries to interpret in meaningful categories the Jewish distinction between clean and unclean things. The Jews are said to worship the same god as the Greeks but under a different name. Zeus is really the same as God (16).

The book is really not a true letter but belongs to the genre that may be called belles lettres. It falls in the Greek literary and artistic traditions rather than in the Semitic pattern. This governs its purpose, which is not to impart sound historical information but to produce a general ethical effect. The book is therefore far more important as a reflection of Jewish life and culture in the 2nd cent B.C. than as an account of the formation of the LXX. Thus very little attention is actually given to the work done on the LXX. We know that in the 2nd cent. B.C., before anti-Semitism had raised its head, a large colony of Jews lived in Alexandria, and the work reflects the fact that they were enthusiastically embracing Hellenistic culture, social usages, literary forms, and philosophical beliefs so far as they did not directly oppose their central religious tenets.

The date of the book is an almost insoluble problem. Scholars date it variously from 200 b.c. to 63 b.c. Perhaps an estimate of about 100 b.c. will suffice. While some scholars think that the LXX involved a protracted development, this letter may reflect the fact that at some time an official translation was made.[10]

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

Useful in the First Century

The Septuagint was put to use at great length by Greek-speaking Jews both prior to and throughout first-century Christianity. Just after Jesus ascension, at Pentecost 33 C.E., almost a million Jews customarily gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover and Festival of Weeks, coming from such places as the districts of Asia, Egypt, Libya, Rome, and Crete, places that spoke Greek. There is little doubt that these were using the Septuagint in their services. (Acts 2:9-11) As a result, the Septuagint played a major role in spreading the Gospel message in the Jewish and proselyte communities. For example, we can look to Stephen.[11]

Acts 6:8-10 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, both Cyrenians and Alexandrians and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. 10 But they were not able to withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.

In his defense, Stephen gave a long history of the Israelite people, and at one point he said,

Acts 7:12-14 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

12 But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our fathers the first time. 13 On the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and the family of Joseph became known to Pharaoh. 14 And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all.

This account comes from Genesis chapter 46, verse 27, which reads, “All the persons of the house of Jacob who came into Egypt were seventy.” The Hebrew Old Testament reads seventy, but it is the Septuagint that reads seventy-five. Therefore, Stephen was referencing the Septuagint in his defense before the synagogue of the Freedmen.

The Apostle Paul traveled about 10,282 miles on his missionary tours,[12] which brought him into contact with Gentiles, who feared the God of the Bible and the devout Greeks who worshiped God. (Acts 13:16, 26; 17:4) These became worshipers or fearers of God because they had access to the Septuagint. The Apostle Paul used the Septuagint quite often in his ministry, and his letters.–Genesis 22:18; Galatians 3:8

The Greek New Testament contains about 320 direct quotations, as well as a combined 890 quotations and paraphrases from the Hebrew Old Testament. Most of these are from the Septuagint. Therefore, those Septuagint quotes and paraphrases became a part of the inspired Greek New Testament. Jesus had said, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) He had also foretold, “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world.” (Matt 24:14) For this to take place, it had to be translated into other languages, to reach the people earth wide.

Still Beneficial Today

The Septuagint’s great purpose today is the light that it sheds on textual variants that crept into the Hebrew Old Testament text, as it was being copied throughout the centuries. An example of this can be found at Genesis 4:8, which reads,

Genesis 4:8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

 8 Cain said to Abel his brother. “Let us go out into the field.”[13] And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.

The portion “let us go out to the field” is not in the tenth century C.E. Hebrew manuscripts. However, it is found in the earlier Septuagint manuscripts, as well as the Samaritan Pentateuch,[14] the Peshitta,[15] and the Vulgate.[16] First, the Hebrew that is used to introduce speech [yomer, “to say something”] is in the Hebrew text, “Cain Spoke.” However, no speech follows in the Hebrew text. Many scholars argue that these words were in the original Hebrew text, but were omitted accidently very early. Second, a few others, on the other hand, claim that the Hebrew that is used to introduce speech [yomer, “to say something”] is used in three other passages, with nothing being said. Therefore, they maintain that the more difficult and shorter reading is original, which would mean that the Greek translators added the words to complete the meaning. This book supports the first textual argument, along with the majority of scholars. Herein, we see how the Septuagint can help in identifying textual errors that may have crept into the Hebrew text over centuries of copying.

The text of the LXX is largely close to that of the Masoretes and Vulgate. For instance, Genesis 4:1-6 is identical in both the LXX, Vulgate and the Masoretic Text. Similarly, Genesis 4:8 to the end of the chapter is the same. There is only one visible difference in that chapter, at 4:7

Genesis 4:7, LXX and English Translation (NETS)

Genesis 4:7, Masoretic and English Translation from MT (Judaica Press)

Genesis 4:7, Latin Vulgate and English Translation (Douay-Rheims)

οὐκ ἐὰν ὀρθῶς προσενέγκῃς, ὀρθῶς δὲ μὴ διέλῃς, ἥμαρτες; ἡσύχασον· πρὸς σὲ ἡ ἀποστροφὴ αὐτοῦ, καὶ σὺ ἄρξεις αὐτοῦ.

הֲלוֹא אִם תֵּיטִיב שְׂאֵת וְאִם לֹא תֵיטִיב לַפֶּתַח חַטָּאת רֹבֵץ וְאֵלֶיךָ תְּשׁוּקָתוֹ וְאַתָּה תִּמְשָׁל בּוֹ:

nonne si bene egeris recipes sin autem male statim in foribus peccatum aderit sed sub te erit appetitus eius et tu dominaberis illius

If you offer correctly but do not divide correctly, have you not sinned? Be still; his recourse is to you, and you will rule over him.

Is it not so that if you improve, it will be forgiven you? If you do not improve, however, at the entrance, sin is lying, and to you is its longing, but you can rule over it.

If thou do well, shalt thou not receive? but if ill, shall not sin forthwith be present at the door? but the lust thereof shall be under thee, and thou shalt have dominion over it.

However, the Hebrew text is the foundation and most trustworthy text. Thus, it is used to correct the Septuagint text as well. It is by the comparison of the Hebrew manuscripts, and the many early versions that we discover any textual errors, and establish the original reading. This can give us confidence that we are reading the Word of God. Old Testament textual scholar, Paul D. Wegner writes,

The job of the textual critic is very similar to that of a detective searching for clues as to the original reading of the text. It is reminiscent of the master detective Sherlock Holmes who could determine a number of characteristics of the suspect from the slightest of clues left at the crime scene. In our case the “crime scene” is the biblical text, and often we have far fewer clues to work from than we would like. Yet the job of the textual critic is extremely important, for we are trying to determine the exact reading of a text in order to know what God has said and expects from us.[17]

We have complete copies of the Septuagint that go back to the fourth century C.E., and many other fragments that date much earlier. Some of these do contain the divine name, Jehovah (JHVH/YHWH). This is represented in the Hebrew text with what is known as the Tetragrammaton.[18]  What these copyists have done is to substitute the divine name or Tetragrammaton with the Greek words for “God” and “Lord.” However, with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, were the discovery of a leather fragment scroll that contained the minor prophets (Hosea through Malachi), written in Greek. These have been dated to the time between 50 B.C.E. and 50 C.E. In these Greek Old Testament texts were the Tetragrammaton. Thus, in the earlier Septuagint version, they retained the divine name.

JHVH_01(1) LXXP. Fouad Inv. 266 renders the divine name by the Tetragrammaton written in square Hebrew characters in the following places: De 18:5, 5, 7, 15, 16;  19:8, 14;  20:4, 13, 18;  21:1, 8;  23:5;  24:4, 9;  25:15, 16;  26:2, 7, 8, 14;  27:2, 3, 7, 10, 15;  28:1, 1, 7, 8, 9, 13, 61, 62, 64, 65;  29:4, 10, 20, 29;  30:9, 20;  31:3, 26, 27, 29;  32:3, 6, 19. (first century B.C.E.)

JHVH_02(2) LXXVTS 10a renders the divine name by the Tetragrammaton written in ancient Hebrew characters in the following places: Jon 4:2; Mic 1:1, 3;  4:4, 5, 7;  5:4, 4; Hab 2:14, 16, 20;  3:9; Zep 1:3, 14;  2:10; Zec 1:3, 3, 4;  3:5, 6, 7. (end of the first century C.E.)

(3) LXXIEJ 12 renders the divine name by the Tetragrammaton written in ancient Hebrew characters in Jon 3:3. (end of the first century C.E.)

JHVH_04(4) LXXVTS 10b renders the divine name by the Tetragrammaton written in ancient Hebrew characters in the following places: Zec 8:20; 9:1, 1, 4. (middle of the first century C.E.)

JHVH_05(5) 4Q LXX Levb renders the divine name in Greek letters ? (IAO) in Le 3:12; 4:27. (first century B.C.E.)

JHVH_06(6) LXXP. Oxy. VII.1007 renders the divine name by abbreviating the Tetragrammaton in the form of a double Yohdh in Ge 2:8, 18. (third century C.E.)

JHVH_07(7) AqBurkitt renders the divine name by the Tetragrammaton written in ancient Hebrew characters in the following places: 1Ki 20:13, 13, 14; 2Ki 23:12, 16, 21, 23, 25, 26, 27. (end of the fifth century or the beginning of the sixth century C.E.)

JHVH_08(8) AqTaylor renders the divine name by the Tetragrammaton written in ancient Hebrew characters (??) in the following places: Ps 91:2, 9;  92:1, 4, 5, 8, 9;  96:7, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13;  97:1, 5, 9, 10, 12;  102:15, 16, 19, 21;  103:1, 2, 6, 8. (after the middle of the fifth century C.E., but not later than the beginning of the sixth century C.E.)

JHVH_09(9) SymP. Vindob. G. 39777 renders the divine name by the Tetragrammaton written in archaic Hebrew characters in the following places: Ps 69:13, 30, 31. (fourth century C.E.)

JHVH_10(10) Ambrosian O 39 sup. renders the divine name by the Tetragrammaton written in square Hebrew characters (??) in all five columns in the following places: Ps 18:30, 31, 41, 46;  28:6, 7, 8;  29:1, 1, 2, 2, 3, 3;  30:1, 2, 4, 7, 8, 10, 10, 12;  31:1, 5, 6, 9, 21, 23, 23, 24;  32:10, 11;  35:1, 22, 24, 27;  36:Sup, 5;  46:7, 8, 11;  89:49 (in columns 1, 2 and 4),  51, 52. (end of the ninth century C.E.)

The year 1971 brought us the release for publication of Papyrus Fouad 266, which is a copy of the Pentateuch in the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, also a Septuagint version. It is a papyrus manuscript in scroll form. The manuscript has been assigned palaeographically to the second or first century B.C.E. The manuscript has survived in a fragmentary condition. The divine name is preserved here as well.

The Aramaic Targums 

The Aramaic word for “interpretation” or “paraphrase” is targum. (Brand, Draper and Archie 2003, p. 1558) After the exile from Babylon in 539 B.C.E., the Jews living in the territory of the Persian Empire came to use the common language of Aramaic. Therefore, it became necessary to have a translation of the Hebrew Old Testament in the Aramaic language. They probably assumed their current form by about the fifth century C.E. Although they are simply free paraphrases of the Hebrew text and not an accurate translation, they are a source of rich background to the text and give assistance in determining some problematic passages. In addition, “the material is of interest to NT scholars who attempt to understand the Judaism of which Jesus was a part.” (IBID,. 1558) Paul D. Wegner writes,

Following the return from exile in 538 b.c., the Jewish people primarily spoke Aramaic (Neh 8:7–8; 13:24) and grew increasingly less familiar with Hebrew. As a result, the Scripture lessons needed to be translated into Aramaic and became known as Targums. Some Targums contain a literal translation of the Hebrew text (e.g., Targum Onkelos), whereas others are paraphrastic (adding interpretive and explanatory material; e.g., Targum Neofiti).[19] Philip S. Alexander explains how these more paraphrastic translations arose: “It came to be recognized, however, that the Targum could do more than provide a simple rendering of Scripture into everyday speech: it could be a commentary as well as a translation, and impose a comprehensive interpretation on the original Hebrew.”[20] At first these explanations were given extemporaneously by the scribes and teachers, it being strictly forbidden to put them into writing; thus various oral versions existed simultaneously.[21] It later became obvious that to standardize these translations, they would have to be written. There are targums for every book of the Hebrew Bible except Ezra-Nehemiah and Daniel; two targums were even found at Qumran (11QtgJob; 4QtgLev).[22]

The interpretive element in the targums is clear; scribes tended to paraphrase, use explanatory phrases and reinterpret the text in order to better convey its meaning. There were two primary schools of textual study: a western school centered in Palestine at Tiberias, which existed until the end of the third century a.d. and then again from the eighth to tenth centuries a.d.; and an eastern school centered in Babylonia at Sura, Nehardea (destroyed in a.d. 259), and later at Pumbeditha.[23] Unlike the Palestinian school, the Babylonian school finally produced an official version of the targum about the fifth century A.D., but it gradually lost its influence and by the tenth or eleventh century A,D. had disappeared. Fragments of seven manuscripts of the Palestinian Targum, dating from the seventh to the ninth centuries A.D., have been found in the Cairo Genizah and greatly add to our knowledge of this targum.[24] Today only a fraction of these written Aramaic targums have survived; the major ones are listed below according to the biblical books. Pentateuch. There are more known targums for the Pentateuch than for any other part of the Old Testament, probably because of its importance the Jewish people. Since at least the Middle Ages, Targum Onkelos has been the official Babylonian targum of the Pentateuch and has been widely accepted by the Jews as the most authoritative targum for the Pentateuch.[25]

  • Neofiti I (Biblioteka Apostolica Vaticana, Codex Neofiti I). This targum has been in the Vatican Library since 1956 when it was given to the library as part of a collection from the Pia Domus Neophytorum in Rome. A colophon dates this manuscript to a.d. 1504, but the text that is copied may be as old as the third to fourth centuries A.D. Neofiti I is a nearly complete Palestinian targum (missing only thirty verses for various reasons); the main text appears to have been written by three different scribes. It contains numerous glosses added in the margins or between the lines. Its translation is midway between the literalness of Targum Onkelos and the paraphrastic nature of Targum Jerusalem I.
  • Targum Jerusalem I (sometimes erroneously called Pseudo-Jonathan). This targum is represented by two manuscripts: editio princeps prepared by Asher Forins, from Venice, in 1591 and the British Museum Ms. Add. 27031. Its present form dates to seventh to eighth centuries A.D. Targum Jerusalem I combines the official Targum Onkelos with much more material so that it is almost twice as long as the MT. This other material appears to come from a variety of sources, including the Palestinian Targum and other later rabbinic sources.
  • Targum Onkelos. This targum is represented by several manuscripts housed at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (Mss. 131, 133a, 152, 153) and Ms. Heb. 448 at the Vatican Library. It is generally dated between the second to the fifth centuries a.d. and is also the most literal of the targums.
  • Fragment Targum (Targum Jerusalem II). This targum is represented by Heb. 440, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana; MS Hébr. 110, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris; etc. It is dated to the seventh to the fifteenth centuries A.D. (somewhere between Neofiti and Jerusalem Targum I). Little of this work remains, but it appears to contain midrashic material from the Palestinian Targum.
  • Cairo Genizah Mss. These include at least nine fragmentary manuscripts of Targums for the Pentateuch. They are dated anywhere from the eighth to fourteenth centuries A.D. Some of these fragments contain the full Hebrew verse, while others include only lemmata (i.e., the opening words of a verse). For the most part they represent the Palestinian targum, though they are not always in agreement in places where they overlap.
  • Toseftot. Some manuscripts that contain Toseftot (or additions) are Ms. Parva 3218; Ms. Sasson 282; Ms. Heb. e. 74 (Oxford); and Ms. T-S NS 184.81 (Cambridge). The date of these additions is uncertain. Some of the manuscripts of Targum Onkelos have additional haggadic materials (rabbinic statements that illustrate the Torah) that are labeled “Tosefta Yerushalmi.” Prophets. Targum Jonathan was the official Babylonian targum of the Prophets and was probably translated by Rabbi Joseph ben Ḥayya (c. A.D. 270–333), head of the academy of Pumbeditha (b. B. Bat. 3b; Yoma 32b). Writings. There is no official targum for the Writings, but the medieval writers usually quote from Targum Yerushalmi (= Jerusalem) for these books.

  • Targum Yerushalmi (= Jerusalem). The date is uncertain. This targum for each of the books is very different and often appears in more than one recension.

Technically, the targums are not translations or paraphrases but commentaries on the biblical books; most can be dated no earlier than the fifth century A.D. Nevertheless they are important to textual criticism for several reasons: (1) they may contain early traditions concerning the reading of the text; (2) they include early Jewish traditions as to the interpretation of the biblical texts; and (3) they are written in Aramaic, which is closely related to biblical Hebrew. The quality of the translation varies greatly among the targums, but on the whole they reflect the proto-MT (except a Targum of Job found at Qumran). The Palestinian targums are generally more paraphrastic in nature than the Babylonian targums, with the exception of the two Palestinian targums found at Qumran, which are quite literal.[26]

The Latin Vulgate

This version has been the primary text used by many of the Catholic translators in turning out other versions in the many languages of Western Christianity. How did the Vulgate come about? The Latin word vulgatus means “common, that which is popular.” Latin was once the official language of the Roman Empire. Even though Greek was the common language that most people spoke up until the fourth century C.E., there was still a need for Latin translations of the New Testament, which were produced in the second century, and are known as the Old Latin texts. However, as times passed, especially after Constantine the Great legalized Christianity in 313 C.E., the differences in the Old Latin texts eventually became unbearable.

When the Latin Vulgate was first produced, it was in the common, or popular, Latin of the day, which would have been understood without difficulty by the average people of the Western Roman Empire. In 382 C.E., Pope Damasus commissioned the leading Bible scholar of the time, Jerome, his advisor, to revise the Old Latin text. Jerome made two revisions of the Old Latin Psalms, in comparison with the Greek Septuagint. His translation of the Vulgate Bible was made directly from the original Hebrew language of the Old Testament and Greek language of the New Testament and was, therefore, not a version of a version. This approach created great controversy at the time. Jerome worked on his Latin translation from the Hebrew from about 390 to 405 C.E. The completed work included apocryphal books, which were also in copies of the Septuagint by this time. However, Jerome plainly distinguished between the books that were canonical and those that were not. There are no less than 10,000 Latin manuscripts today, as well as 9,300 other early versions. Paul D. Wegner writes,

The Latin Vulgate is very important to the study of the history of the Bible on two counts: (1) it held a dominant role in Western Europe for about one thousand years, and (2) during the Reformation, when people needed the Bible in their mother tongue, the Latin Vulgate was translated into many other languages. The Latin Vulgate was translated by Jerome during the years a.d. 383 to about 405. Pope Damasus I, bishop of Rome from about a.d. 366 to 384, commissioned Jerome (Sophronius Eusebius Hieronymus, c. a.d. 345–420), his secretary, to revise and standardize the Old Latin version. There were so many differences among Old Latin texts in circulation within the Latin church that people could not be certain which text to follow. Jerome himself commented on the great diversity of manuscripts, saying that there were “almost as many forms of text as there are manuscripts.”[27] Jerome, a brilliant scholar with a firm grasp of Latin, Greek and later at least some knowledge of Hebrew, was called on to rectify this problem. He considered refusing the task, knowing that people would castigate him for changing the beloved wording of the Old Latin texts, and wrote to Pope Damasus the following:

Is there anyone learned or unlearned, who, when he takes the volume in his hands and perceives that what he reads does not suit his settled tastes, will not break out immediately into violent language and call me a forger and profane person for having the audacity to add anything to the ancient books, or to make any changes or corrections in them?[28]

However, he later accepted the commission by the pope to undertake this important task.

His work, later known as the Latin Vulgate (vulgate means “common” or “plain” tongue), became the standard edition of the Bible for over one thousand years. His most important contribution was probably the Latin version of the Old Testament (390–405), which he translated from the original Hebrew text, being the only one in the Western church qualified to make such a translation.[29] He worked hard to learn Hebrew; even though his proficiency was limited, it was better than any other church father at the time. By the eighth or ninth century a.d., the Latin Vulgate had finally superseded the Old Latin version. The climax of its victory was on April 8, 1546, when the Council of Trent declared the Vulgate to be the authentic Bible of the Roman Catholic Church:

But if anyone receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn [condemn] the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema (fourth session).[30]

In general, Jerome chose to translate his new work in a sense-for-sense rather than literal method.[31] He explained his procedure in a letter to the pope and claimed that he only changed the Old Latin text when it seemed absolutely necessary, and retained phrases in other cases that had become familiar to the people.[32] The text of the Vulgate is not uniform—either Jerome initially relied too heavily on the Old Latin manuscripts or perhaps he became a better translator with practice. This lack of uniformity may also indicate that Jerome was not able to translate the entire Bible; some have gone so far as to question whether he actually translated a good part of the New Testament (e.g., Pauline and Catholic Epistles, Acts and Revelation).[33] Nonetheless, Jerome used the Hebrew text as the basis for his translation of the Old Testament, which was a vast improvement. But he was severely criticized for this by the church, which claimed that the LXX was inspired and therefore authoritative.[34] Some of Jerome’s severest challenges came from those who wanted to include the Apocrypha; even Augustine disagreed with Jerome’s Hebrew canon. The Apocrypha was finally included in the Vulgate, though Jerome did not spend much time on it. (Jerome left some apocryphal books untranslated from the Old Latin.)[35]

Because the Old Testament of the Latin Vulgate was translated directly from a Hebrew text, it may provide insight into the text at that time. Jerome’s commentaries on the Minor Prophets, Isaiah and Jeremiah (A.D. 406–420) are important to the history of Old Testament exegesis, showing how he interpreted the texts later. These commentaries demonstrate that Jerome used a variety of texts according to the reading that best fit his exegesis of the passage. In the New Testament, it is more difficult to determine the value of the Latin Vulgate to textual criticism, since the Old Latin texts significantly influenced parts of the translation, especially in the Gospels. In some passages, however, the Greek text underlying the translation may precede the Byzantine text type and thus provide some very early readings of the text.[36]


The Syriac Version

Syriac is the language of ancient Syria and one of the dialects of Aramaic, which was an official language of the Persian Empire. It was spoken in northern Mesopotamia and around ancient Antioch. In the second or third century C.E., as a written language, Syriac came into wide use. Within this Western dialect of Aramaic, many important early Christian texts are preserved, and which is still used by Syrian Christians as a liturgical language. “And in Antioch [Syria], the disciples were first called Christians.” – Acts 11:26.

The Hebrew Texts

The Sopherim

The Sopherim (scribes) were copyist from the days of Ezra down to the time of Jesus. While they were very serious about their task as a copyist, they did take liberties in making textual changes at times. Whether this was what Jesus had in mind cannot be know for certain, but Jesus condemned these scribes, for assuming powers that did not belong to them.–Matthew 23:2, 13.

“A note in the Massorah against several passages in the manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible states: ‘This is one of the Eighteen Emendations of the Sopherim,’ or words of that effect.” The intentions of these scribes were good, as they felt the passages were showing irreverence for God or one of his representatives here on earth. “These emendations were made at a period long before Christ before the Hebrew text had obtained its present settled form, and these emendations affect the Figure called Anthropopatheia.”

“The following is a list of the eighteen ‘Emendations,’ together with eight others not included in the official lists. Particulars will be found on consulting the notes on the respective passages.

Genesis 18:22. Numbers 11:15. 12:12. 1 Samuel 3:13. 2 Samuel 12:14. 16:12. 1 Kings 12:16. 21:10. 21:13. 2 Chronicles 10:16. Job 1:5. 1:11. 2:5. 2:9. 7:20. Psalm 10:3. 106:20. Ecclesiastes 3:21. Jeremiah 2:11. Lamentations 3:20. Ezekiel 8:17. Hosea 4:7. Habakkuk 1:12. Zechariah 2:8 (12). Malachi 1:13. 3:9[37]

The Masora

The Masoretes are early Jewish scholars, 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 Masora listed the 15 extraordinary points of the Sopherim, namely, 15 words or phrases in the Hebrew text that had been marked by dots or strokes. A number of these extraordinary points have no effect on the English translation or the interpretation. However, others do and are of importance. The Sopherim had a superstitious fear of pronouncing the divine name of God, Jehovah (Yahweh). Therefore, they altered it to read Adonai (Lord) at 134 places and to read Elohim (God) in some cases. The Masora lists these changes. The Sopherim or early scribes are also guilty of making 18 emendations, what they thought were helpful corrections, according to a note in the Masora. It appears that there were even more. It seems that these emendations were not done with bad intentions, as the Sopherim simply felt the text at these places were showing irreverence or disrespect for God or his human representatives.

Genesis 18:3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

3 and said, “Jehovah,[a] if I have found favor in your eyes do not pass by your servant.

[a] This is the first of 134 places where the Jewish Sopherim changed JHVH to Adonai. This replacement was made out of misplaced veneration of God’s name.

Genesis 16:5 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

5 And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done me be upon you. I gave my maid into your bosom, but when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes. May Jehovah judge between you and me.” [a]

[a] “And you!” in the Masoretic text, is marked with extraordinary points by the Sopherim (scribes) to show that the reading “and you” is uncertain and should read, “and her.”

Genesis 18:22 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

 22 And the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom: but Abraham stood before Jehovah.[a]

[a] This is the first of the Eighteen Emendations of the Sopherim, the only one in Genesis. An ancient Hebrew scribal tradition reads “but Jehovah remained standing before Abraham.” Masoretic text, “but as for Abraham, he was still standing before Jehovah.” The Sopherim might see have perceived this as Jehovah standing before Abraham, as showing irreverence or disrespect for God because it would appear to put Jehovah in a subservient position. Our Creator, sovereign of the universe, does not need to deliver a message to humans here on earth. In the Old Testament, we find many occasions where He has sent an angelic messenger in his stead.


The Consonantal Text

The Hebrew alphabet consists of 23 consonants, with no vowels. Unlike English though, Hebrew was not written from left to right but right to left. In the beginning, the reader had to supply the vowel sounds from his knowledge of the language. This would be like our abbreviations within the English language, such as “ltd” for limited. The Hebrew originally consisted of words made up only of consonants. Hence, “consonantal text” means the Hebrew text without any vowel markings. The consonantal text of the Hebrew manuscripts come to be fixed in form between the first and second centuries C.E., even though manuscripts with variants within the text continued to be produced for some time. Changes were no longer made, unlike the previous period of the Sopherim. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia writes,

Text and Canon Prior to the discovery of the DSS [dead Sea Scrolls], witnesses to the OT text and canon were principally the following: (1) the so-called Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible, which could more accurately be designated the received consonantal text and the text with vocalization and other pointing by the Masorites (MT)—they should not be confused, for the consonantal text is several centuries older than the MT; and (2) translations, such as the Septuagint (LXX) and Jerome’s Vulgate. Other witnesses of significance included the Old Latin, the Syriac, the Samaritan, and other versions. The oldest extant Hebrew text was no earlier than the 10th cent[ury] A.D., but the versions give evidence that goes back to the 5th cent[ury] A.D. (the time of Jerome’s work) and to the 2nd or 3rd cent[ury] B.C. (the time of the LXX). With the discovery of the DSS there is primary evidence, not merely that of translations, that goes back to 1stthe and 2nd (and possibly even the 3rd) cent[uries], B.C.

The text of the biblical MSS from Qumrân may be divided into two main categories. In one group are those portions that agree within reasonable limits with the consonantal text. (Since the DSS texts are not vocalized, they cannot be compared with the MT.) By “reasonable limits” is intended the inclusion of orthographic differences (such as hw’h for hw’lw’ for l’, etc.) that do not present any significant difference in the text. The second category includes those readings that clearly are not in agreement with the consonantal text. This second group could be further subdivided into readings that agree with LXX but differ from the consonantal text, and those that differ from both. Published studies indicate that certain OT books, such as Genesis, Deuteronomy, and Isaiah, are textually much closer to the consonantal text that others, such as Exodus and Samuel. The evidence leads to the conclusion that there were in existence in the first cents B.C. and A.D. at least three Hebrew text-types: the received text that formed the basis of the consonantal, the text that was used for the Greek translation, and a text that differs from both of these.

This conclusion should cause no surprise, for it was already indicated by at least two lines of evidence. The witness of NT quotations of OT passages indicates that some quotations can be traced to the Hebrew Bible (received text), some to the Greek version, and some to neither of these (the third text). It has sometimes been the practice to consider this third group of NT quotations as “loose dealing” with the OT text, but it is open to question whether a writer seeking scriptural authority for his statement would be allowed to handle the biblical passages with such abandon. The second line of evidence comes from Jewish tradition, where the formation of the “received text,” often but questionably traced to the Council of Jamnia (sometime after A.D. 90), is described as taking the reading of two witnesses against one (Taanith iv. 2; Sopherim vi. 4; Siphre 356), in other words, working from three texts or text recensions that were in existence at the time.[38]

The Masoretic Text

Between the 6th and 10th centuries C.E., the Masoretes setup vowel point, and accent mark system. This would help the reader to pronounce the vowel sounds properly, meaning that there would be a standard, and no need to have the pronunciation handed down by oral tradition. Because the Masoretes saw the text as sacred, they made no changes to the text itself but chose to record notes within the margins of the text. Unlike the Sopherim before them, they did not take any textual liberties. Moreover, they drew attention to any textual issues, correcting them within the margins.

The devotement of the vocalizing and accent marking of the Masoretic text throughout this period was done by three different schools, that is, the Babylonian, Palestinian, and Tiberian. The Hebrew text that we now possess in the printed Hebrew Bibles is known as the Masoretic Text, which came from the Tiberian school. The Masoretes of Tiberias, a city on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, established this method.

Unlike the Tiberian school, which placed their vowel signs below the consonants, the Palestinian school positioned the vowel signs above the consonants. Only an insignificant number of such manuscripts came down to us from the Palestinian school, showing that this system of vocalization was flawed. The Babylonian method of vowel pointing was likewise placed above the consonants. A manuscript possessing the Babylonian pointing is the Petersburg Codex of the Prophets, of 916 C.E., preserved in the Leningrad Public Library, U.S.S.R. This codex contains the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, as well as the “minor” prophets, with marginal notes. Textual scholars have readily studied this manuscript and compared it with the Tiberian text. While it uses the system of vocalization that places the vowels above the text, it follows the Tiberian text as regards the consonantal text and its vowels and Masora. The British Museum has a copy of the Babylonian text of the Pentateuch, which is substantially in agreement with the Tiberian text.

The Dead Sea Scrolls

In the spring of 1947, a Bedouin shepherd threw a stone into a cave, marking an event that would be heard around the world, making the name “Dead Sea Scrolls” more known than any other associated with archaeology. As he released one of his rocks into the cave, the sound of a breaking earthenware jar came back at him. Upon further examination, he discovered the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The discovery of the scrolls rise to fame has been partly fueled by the controversy among scholars and the media. Sadly, this has left a public scandal, where those, not in the know, are thrown back and forth by confusion and misinformation. Stories have spread about an enormous conspiracy, driven by anxiety that the scrolls disclose details that would damage the faith of Christians and Jews as well. Nevertheless, what is the real importance of these scrolls? More than 63 years have now gone by; is it possible that the facts can be known?

The Dead Sea Scrolls: What are They?

The Dead Sea Scrolls are manuscripts of the Old Testament. Many of them are in Hebrew, with some being in Aramaic and a small number in Greek. Many of these scrolls and fragments date to the third and second Century B.C.E., almost 300 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. There were seven lengthy manuscripts in various stages of deterioration that had been acquired from the Bedouin. Soon other caves were being searched, with new discoveries of scrolls and fragments in the thousands. A total of eleven caves near Qumran, by the Dead Sea, were discovered between 1947 and 1956.

Since, it has been determined that there are 800 manuscripts, once all the scrolls and fragment are considered. About 200 manuscripts, or about twenty-five percent, are copies of portions of the Old Testament. The other seventy-five percent, or 600 manuscripts, belong to ancient non-Biblical Jewish writings, divided between Apocrypha[39] and Pseudepigrapha.[40]

Various scrolls that produced the greatest interest for the scholars were formerly unknown texts. Among these were the interpretations on matters of the Jewish law, detailed instructions for the community of the Qumran sect, eschatological works that disclose interpretations about the outcome of Bible prophecy and the end times, as well as liturgical poems and prayers. Among them too were unique Bible commentaries, the oldest examples of verse-by-verse[41] commentary on Biblical passages.

The Dead Sea Scrolls: Who Wrote Them?

After carefully dating these fragile documents, it has been determined that they were copied or composed sometime between the third century B.C.E and the first century C.E. A handful of scholars have suggested that these scrolls were hidden in the caves by Jews that fled just before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. However, the vast majority of scholars find this to be mere speculation, because the content of the scrolls tells something quite different. For example, many scrolls reveal an outlook and customs that were in conflict with the religious leaders in Jerusalem. The Dead Sea Scrolls disclose a community that held the belief that God did not approve of the priests and temple service in Jerusalem. On the other hand, they believed that God saw their form of worship in the desert as a substitute temple service until the return of the Messiah. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that the authorities at Jerusalem’s temple would be in possession of such scrolls.


The Qumran community likely had a scriptorium (a room in a monastery for storing, copying, illustrating, or reading manuscripts); it is probable that people who became a part of the community brought scrolls in with them when they joined. Therefore, the Dead Sea Scrolls are a broad library collection.  As applies to any extensive collection of books, the subject matter will be a wide range of thought, which will not reflect the thinking or religious worldview of any given reader within the community. Nevertheless, those texts, which encompass numerous copies, are more likely to take into account the general beliefs of the Qumran community as a whole.

The Qumran Residents: Were they Essenes?

Now that we have determined that, the Dead Sea Scrolls were the library of Qumran community, who were its people? Early on, in 1947 Professor Eleazar Sukenik obtained three scrolls from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; after that, suggesting that these scrolls had belonged to The Essene Community.

First-century writers Josephus, Philo of Alexandria, and Pliny, the elder, are our primary source of information for this Jewish sect, the Essenes. There is no real consensus on their origin, but most scholars agree that they seem to have arisen following the Jewish Maccabean revolt in the second century B.C.E. The first-century Jewish historian Josephus described their existence during that period as he sketched their religious views as opposed to the Pharisees and Sadducees. On the other hand, Pliny talks about the whereabouts of a community of Essenes by the Dead Sea between Jericho and En-gedi.

Professor James VanderKam, a Dead Sea Scroll scholar, suggests, “The Essenes who lived at Qumran were just a small part of the larger Essene movement,”[42] which Josephus numbered to about four thousand. While this certainly does not perfectly fit the picture, what comes from the Qumran texts appears to match the Essenes better than any other known Jewish group in that period.

While dismissed by most scholars, a few have suggested that Christianity grew up out of the Qumran community. However, the differences between these two communities are far too great, even to take serious such suggestions. For example, the Qumran writing contains an ultra-strict Sabbath regulations and an almost fanatical obsession with ceremonial purity. (Matthew 15:1-20; Luke 6:1-11) This would hold true as well with the Essenes’ isolation from society, their position on the immortality of the soul, the stress they place on celibacy and spiritual concepts about sharing with angels in their worship. All of this puts them at odds with Jesus and the early Christian congregation.–Matthew 5:14-16; John 11:23, 24; Colossians 2:18; 1 Timothy 4:1-3.

No Conspiracy, No Secret Scrolls

Contrary to the cover-up theorists, after the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, numerous publications were released over the years that made those first finds accessible to scholars around the world. Nevertheless, the thousands of fragments from Cave 4 were proving far more awkward. These were not getting beyond the hands of a small international group of scholars operating in East Jerusalem (then part of Jordan) at the Palestine Archaeological Museum. The Jewish and Israeli scholars were strangely missing from this team.

Fueling this cover-up theory, the team established a rule of not permitting access to the scrolls up until they published the official results of their research. The number of scholars on the group was reserved to a fixed maximum. At the time of a group member’s death, only one scholar would be added in his place. The volume of work required a considerably larger team, and in some cases, more expertise was badly needed in ancient Hebrew and Aramaic. James VanderKam worded it this way: “Tens of thousands of fragments were more than eight experts, however skilled, could handle.”[43]

East Jerusalem and its scrolls came under Israeli jurisdiction after the Six-Day war in 1967. However, this did not result in a different policy change. This delay in publishing the scrolls of cave 4 went from years to decades; scholars around the world were in an uproar. Professor Geza Vermes of Oxford University, in 1977, called it the academic scandal par excellence of the 20th century. Stories were now spreading that the Catholic Church was deliberately concealing information that would shatter the long held beliefs of Christianity.


The team of scholars was expanded to twenty in the 1980’s. Then, in the 1990’s, Emmanuel Tov, the newly appointed chief of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was able to get the number of scholars to fifty. At this point, they set a strict schedule for publishing the remaining scrolls.

However, in 1991, the development everyone had been waiting for arrived suddenly. First, A Preliminary Edition of the Unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls was published. This was put together with the assistance of a computer program, which reconstructed Cave 4 texts from a decades-old concordance. After that, the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, announced that they would make available to any scholars their whole set of photographs of the scrolls. After a short time, with the publication of A Facsimile Edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls, photographs of the formerly unpublished scrolls became available with no trouble.

Therefore, for the last two decades, all the Dead Sea Scrolls have been accessible for investigation. The examination discloses that there was no conspiracy; no secret scrolls that would have affected Christianity. Nevertheless, what significance does this investigation have for the average Bible student?

Why Should the Dead Sea Scrolls be of Interest Us?

Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest manuscripts of the Old Testament were dated to about the ninth and tenth centuries C.E., known as the Masoretic texts (MT).[44] The Hebrew Old Testament was complete in the middle of the fifth century B.C.E., over 1,400 years earlier than these MT. Therefore, the question begs to be asked, ‘can we trust this MT as really being the Word of God?’ A member of the international team of editors of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Professor Julio Trebolle Barrera, states: “The Isaiah Scroll [from Qumran] provides irrefutable proof that the transmission of the biblical text through a period of more than one thousand years by the hands of Jewish copyists has been extremely faithful and careful.” (F. Garcia Martinez, Martinez and Barrera 1995, p. 99)

The Isaiah scrolls identified as “IQisaa” and “IQIsab” are complete copies of the book of Isaiah, but the latter is the earliest known copy of a complete Bible book. Both are from cave 1. Gleason Archer had this to say about the two Isaiah scrolls that “proved to be word for word identical with the standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95% of the text. The 5% of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling.” (Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction 1994, p. 19) Up to now, over 200 Biblical manuscripts have come out of the Qumran caves; representing portions of every Old Testament book except Esther. The Isaiah scrolls of Cave 1 are an exception to the rule, as most of the others are mere fragments, containing less than 10% of any given book. The books that are the most often quoted in the New Testament are, in fact, the most popular among the Qumran community: Psalms (36 copies), Deuteronomy (29 copies), and Isaiah (21 copies).


Aside from establishing that the Hebrew Old Testament has not undergone some radical changes over the last 1,400 years, the Dead Sea Scrolls also reveal two other important pieces to some long-standing questions. They provide evidence that there were different versions of the Hebrew Bible texts used by the Jews in the Second Temple period (537 B.C.E to 70 C.E.), each one of them containing its own variations. Of the scrolls, not all are identical in spelling and wording to the MT. Some of them are more in line with the Greek Septuagint,[45] also known by the Roman numerals for seventy, LXX.[46] It had been thought by scholars prior to 1947 that the differences in the LXX were the result of errors on the part of the scribes, even possibly intentional alterations by the translators. When the Dead Sea Scrolls became known, it was revealed that these differences were due to the variations of the different Hebrew versions. Further, this could possibly explain why writers from the New Testament quote from the Hebrew Bible texts using wording different than the MT.–Exodus 1:5; Acts 7:14.


Hence, the storehouse of thousands of fragments and Biblical scrolls affords the textual scholar an excellent basis in their studying the transmission of the Hebrew Bible text. Additionally, the Dead Sea Scrolls have established the worth of both the Septuagint and the Samaritan Pentateuch for textual comparison. As all modern Bible are based on the Masoretic Text, they also provide added bases for these translation committees to consider emending (correcting) their translations and the MT.

It has long been held that there was not just one form of Judaism in the first century C.E. The portion of the Dead Sea Scrolls that describe the rules and beliefs of the Qumran community further validate that position. The Pharisees and Sadducees were far different from the Qumran sect.[47] Some extreme differences are likely, what led the sect to withdrawal into the wilderness. They saw themselves as the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3,

Isaiah 40:3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

 3 A voice of one calling out,
In the wilderness, “prepare the way of Jehovah;
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Numerous scroll fragments state that the Messiah’s coming was imminent. Bible student should find this interesting as Luke commented that “the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ [Messiah].”–Luke 3:15, ESV.

The Dead Sea Scrolls also help us better understand the historical setting in the life and times of Jesus Christ. They are also beneficial in the comparative study of Bible texts and ancient Hebrew. Nevertheless, not all of the Dead Sea Scrolls have been analyzed. Therefore, more light may come out of the wilderness. Absolutely, these scrolls were one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the 20th century, which remains to motivate both scholars and Bible students as we have now entered into the 21st century.



4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS The Complete Guide to Bible Translation-2
The Reading Culture of Early Christianity From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts 400,000 Textual Variants 02
English Bible Versions King James Bible KING JAMES BIBLE II


How to Interpret the Bible-1 INTERPRETING THE BIBLE how-to-study-your-bible1
israel against all odds ISRAEL AGAINST ALL ODDS - Vol. II


THE LIFE OF JESUS CHRIST by Stalker-1 The TRIAL and Death of Jesus_02 THE LIFE OF Paul by Stalker-1


The Epistle to the Hebrews PAUL AND LUKE ON TRIAL
Young Christians


9798623463753 Machinehead KILLER COMPUTERS


Why Me_ Explaining the Doctrine of the Last Things Understaning Creation Account
Homosexuality and the Christian second coming Cover Where Are the Dead
Human Imperfection HUMILITY




Powerful Weapon of Prayer Power Through Prayer How to Pray_Torrey_Half Cover-1


THERE IS A REBEL IN THE HOUSE thirteen-reasons-to-keep-living_021 Waging War - Heather Freeman
Young Christians DEVOTIONAL FOR YOUTHS 40 day devotional (1)
Homosexuality and the Christian THE OUTSIDER RENEW YOUR MIND


APPLYING GODS WORD-1 For As I Think In My Heart_2nd Edition Put Off the Old Person
Abortion Booklet Dying to Kill The Pilgrim’s Progress
ARTS, MEDIA, AND CULTURE Christians and Government Christians and Economics


Book of Philippians Book of James Book of Proverbs Book of Esther
40 day devotional (1) Daily Devotional_NT_TM Daily_OT
DEVOTIONAL FOR YOUTHS 40 day devotional (1)


The Church Community_02 THE CHURCH CURE Developing Healthy Churches

Apocalyptic-Eschatology [End Times]

Explaining the Doctrine of the Last Things Identifying the AntiChrist second coming Cover
ANGELS AMERICA IN BIBLE PROPHECY_ ezekiel, daniel, & revelation


Oren Natas_JPEG Sentient-Front Seekers and Deceivers
Judas Diary 02 Journey PNG The Rapture

[1] When we use the term “original” reading or “original” text in this publication, it is a reference to the exemplar manuscript by the New Testament author (e.g., Paul) and his secretary (e.g., Tertius) from which other copies was made for publication and distribution into the Christian communities. It should be noted that the author likely penned some books without the use of a secretary, such as the apostle John in First and Second John.

[2] FROM SPOKEN WORDS TO SACRED TEXTS: Introduction-Intermediate New Testament Textual Studies by Edward D. Andrews, ISBN-13: 978-1949586985

[3] B.C.E. means “before the Common Era,” which is more accurate than B.C. (“before Christ”). C.E. denotes “Common Era,” often called A.D., for anno Domini, meaning “in the year of our Lord.”

[4] The Genizah was storehouse for Hebrew books: a repository for Hebrew documents and sacred books that were no longer in use, e.g. because they are old and worn, but must not be destroyed.

[5] Paleography is the study of ancient writings: the study of ancient handwriting and manuscripts

[6] Hebrew Bible: the traditional text of the Hebrew Bible revised and annotated by Jewish scholars between the 6th and 10th centuries C.E.

[7] The Old Testament Apocrypha are unauthentic writings: writings or reports that are not regarded as authentic.

[8] A quotation from Isaiah 53:7–8

[9] P45, 74 א AB C 33 81 614 vg syrp, h copsa, bo eth omit vs 37; E, many minuscules, itgig, h vgmss syrh with * copG67 arm, And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

[10] G. E. Ladd, “Pseudepigrapha,” ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 1041.

[11] “The first Christian martyr; foremost of those chosen to bring peace to the quarreling church (Acts 6:1–7) and so mighty in the Scriptures that his Jewish opponents in debate could not refute him (Acts 6:10) as he argued that Jesus was the Messiah. Saul of Tarsus heard Stephen’s speech to the Jewish Sanhedrin accusing the Jewish leaders of rejecting God’s way as their forefathers had (Acts 6:12–7:53). Saul held the clothes of those who stoned Stephen to death; he saw him die a victorious death.” (Brand, Draper and Archie 2003, p. 1534)

[12] Stanford University recently unveiled ORBIS, a site that lets you calculate the time and cost required to travel by road or ship around the Roman world in A.D. 200. (University 2012)

[13] Genesis 4:8: SP LXX It Syr inserts these bracketed words; Vg, “Let us go outdoors”; MT omits; some MSS and editions have an interval here.

[14] This version only encompasses the first five books, and is really a transliteration of the Hebrew text into Samaritan script, developed from the ancient Hebrew script.

[15] The Syriac version of the Bible, written around the 4th century.

[16] A Latin version of the Bible, produced by Saint Jerome in the 4th century.

[17] Paul D. Wegner, A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible: Its History, Methods & Results (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 22-23.

[18] Hebrew name for God: a four-letter Hebrew name for God revealed to Moses, usually written JHVH or YHWH (Exodus 3:13-14). Judaism of Jesus’ day, in their traditions, regarded this name as too sacred to be pronounced. Jesus said of such traditions, “thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.” (Mark 7:13)

[19] For a good example of this see Brad H. Young, “Targum,” ISBE 4:727–28.

[20] Philip S. Alexander, “Targum, Targumim,” ABD 6:321.

[21] Johannes C. de Moor, “Systems of Writing and Nonbiblical Languages,” in Bible Handbook, vol. 1, The World of the Bible, ed. Adam S. van der Woude, trans. Sierd Woudstra (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), p. 116. Würthwein suggests that the Aramaic translation was to be given orally in the worship service to separate it from the sacred text (Text of the Old Testament, p. 75). See also Gamaliel I (mid-first century a.d.) who was not willing to recognize a targum of Job (Shabbat 115a; cf. Tosefta Shabbat 13, 2).

[22] On 11QtgJob see Johannes P. M. van der Ploeg and Adam S. van der Woude, Le targum de Job de la grotte XI de Qumran (Leiden: Brill, 1971); Michael Sokoloff, The Targum to Job from Qumran Cave XI, Bar-Ilan Studies in Near Eastern Languages and Culture (Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University, 1974). On 4QtgLev see Józef T. Milik, in Roland de Vaux and Józef T. Milik, Qumrân Grotte 4. II, DJD 6 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1977), pp. 86–89.

[23] Würthwein, Text of the Old Testament, p. 14.

[24] Kahle, Masoreten des Westens, 2:1–65.

[25] Alexander, “Targum, Targumim,” 6:321.

Hébr Hebrew

Mss. manuscripts

Or. Oriental (Eastern)

  1. Babylonian Talmud
  2. Bat. Baba Batra

[26] Paul D. Wegner, A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible: Its History, Methods & Results (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 172–175.

[27] Metzger, Bible in Translation, p. 32. Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 6:487–88.

[28] Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 6:487–88.

[29] Würthwein, Text of the Old Testament, p. 92. See also James Barr, “St. Jerome’s Appreciation of Hebrew,” BJRL 49 (1966/1967): 281–302.

[30] Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom with a History and Critical Notes (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1882), 2:82.

[31] Hendly D. F. Sparks, “Jerome as Biblical Translator,” in CHB 1:523.

[32] Metzger, Bible in Translation, p. 33.

[33] Pierre-Maurice Bogaert, “Versions, Ancient (Latin),” ABD 6:801.

[34] Augustine, who represented a majority of people at the time, claimed that the lxx was inspired (De Civitate Dei 18.43), but Jerome questioned its inspiration (Praefatio in Pentateuchum, in Biblia Sacra Iuxta Latinam Vulgatam Versionem, ed. Francis Aidan Gasquet [Rome: Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, 1926], 1:67; see also Werner Schwarz, Principles and Problems of Biblical Translation [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1955], pp. 26–30).

[35] Metzger, Bible in Translation, p. 34.

[36] Paul D. Wegner, A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible: Its History, Methods & Results (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 289–291.

[37] Appendix 33 from the Companion Bible:

[38] W. S. LaSor, “Dead Sea Scrolls,” ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 893.

[39] “The Protestant designation for the fourteen or fifteen books of doubtful authenticity and authority that are not found in the Hebrew Old Testament but are in manuscripts of the LXX; most of these books were declared canonical by the Roman Catholic church at the Council of Trent in 1546, and they call these books deuterocanonical (second canon).”―Geisler 1986, 637.

[40] “A word meaning “false writings” and used to designate those spurious and unauthentic books of the late centuries b.c. and early centuries a.d. These books contain religious folklore and have never been considered canonical by the Christian church.”―Geisler 1986, 642.

[41] Of course, there were no verses in the ancient texts, as they were simply running text. It was Rabbi Isaac Nathan, while working on a concordance, numbered the Bible into verses in 1440 C.E. Robert Estienne (Stephanus) introduced his system for dividing the Bible’s text into numbered verses in 1550 C.E., which we still use today.

[42] James VanderKam, The Dead Sea Scrolls Today. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2010), 127.

[43] Ibid., 232

[44] Hebrew Bible: the traditional text of the Hebrew Bible, revised and annotated by Jewish scholars between the 6th and 10th centuries C.E.

[45] Greek version of Hebrew Bible: a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible made between 280 and 150 B.C.E. to meet the needs of Greek-speaking Jews outside Palestine.

[46] Because of the tradition about 72 translators, this Greek Bible translation came to be known as the Septuagint, based on a Latin word meaning “Seventy.”

[47] Actually, there were more forms of Judaism. There were the Herodians, who were Jewish partisans or party followers of the Herodian dynasty. In addition, there were the Zealots, who advocated a Jewish kingdom completely independent of Roman control.


Leave a Reply

Powered by

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: