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    When and why the autographs of the Scriptures were lost we do not know. We are grateful that before then men had made copies of the holy writings in order to preserve what was written there by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In the years before Jesus’ birth it had long been the custom that the Law and the Prophets and the Writings were copied carefully onto the cured skins of ceremonially clean animals. It is said that a master copy of all the scrolls was kept in the temple at Jerusalem until 70 A.D. Presumably these master scrolls perished in the destruction of city and temple.
    One of the survivors of God’s judgment on Jerusalem was the scholar and textual expert Johannan ben Zakkai. Before the final destruction he was carried out of the city on a bier, as a dead man. When the burial party had walked well into the Roman lines, ben Zakkai got off his bier and went to General Vespasian. He asked permission to establish a school for rabbis in an area that was already pacified, and permission was granted. Thus was founded the school at Jamnia, the Vineyard of Jabneh, and its greatest resource was a man who was reputed to be most conversant of all men with the scriptural texts, ben Zakkai. He gathered other scholars about him, and for sixty years the Jamnia academy near Lydda (modern Lod) worked to insure the integrity of the inspired text. This was the group that ratified the Palestinian canon sometime between 90 and 100 A.D., under the leadership of Rabbi ben Akiba. It was the theory of the late 19th century scholar Paul Anton de Lagarde that all extant Hebrew manuscripts derive from the text established at Jamnia.
    Another Jewish war (132-135) brought an end to the academy of Jamnia and new schools grew up in Galilee at Tiberias, Sepphoreth and Safad. Here the rabbis collected, collated, edited and transcribed the Talmud, the body of traditional commentary on the Old Testament and Jewish law. Here they also continued to work at the job of preserving inviolate the text of the Scriptures. The text they worked with was consonantal, pronunciation was part of the tradition to be preserved, and the lector in any synagogue had to be carefully trained. There were no vowel markings, no accents, no verse and chapter divisions. In a scroll, one cannot even refer to a page number when searching out a reference. The scholar had to know the scroll in order to find a particular passage for study or citation. The lector had to know the lection in order to read it correctly and intelligibly in the service.
    In Galilee, the scholars worked to preserve hamasorah, the tradition. The word derives from mahsar, “to hand down.” The text which the scholars of Galilee and elsewhere handed down came to be known as the Masoretic Text. We say “elsewhere” because Galilee was not the only center of this activity at this time. There were several such schools in various parts of the diaspora. Most notable besides the western or Palestinian school was the Babylonian school. The west prevailed and what we call the Masoretic Text is the text of the west. It should be stated, too, that this Masoretic Text comes from manuscripts dated in the tenth century or later.
    However, lest we doubt that the tenth century text can be a faithful reproduction of second or sixth century texts, let us consider the prescribed procedure for making a copy of the Hebrew Scriptures. “A synagogue roll must be written on the skins of clean animals, prepared for the particular use of the synagogue by a Jew. These must be fastened together with strings taken from clean animals. Every skin must contain a certain number of columns, equal throughout the entire codex. The length of each column must not extend over less than 48 or more than 60 lines; and the breadth must consist of 30 letters. The whole copy must be first lined; and if three words be written in it without a line, it is worthless. The ink should be black, neither red, green nor any other color, and be prepared according to a definite recipe. 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 word the breadth of a narrow consonant; between every 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. Beside this, the copyist (sopher) 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 not take 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.”1
    Just this care to destroy anything defective and thus to prevent the corruption of the text has also worked to deprive text critics and historians of any manuscript material copied between 70 and 1000. Even an accurate ceremonial scroll was either burned or buried after being soiled or torn. The scribes of Judaism were not motivated by a concern for history but by a zeal to keep God’s revelation uncorrupted by scribal error and unsullied by careless treatment.
    But if, as La Garde believed, all extant complete manuscripts derive from the single text at Jamnia, from what did that text derive? That is, were there various textual traditions upon which the Jamnia text (or the master text in Jerusalem) could have drawn and from which they selected readings? Were there other text traditions which had been passed by and rejected in the time before Christ? In 1616 Pietro della Valla discovered the Samaritan Hebrew Pentateuch. It was published as a part of the Paris Polyglot in 1632. Scholars soon observed that in the Five Books there were about 6000 variations from the Masoretic Text. They also discovered that about one-third of these variants could also be found in the Septuagint. This alignment of the Samaritan text with the Septuagint seemed to enhance the reliability of the Septuagint and to call into question the authenticity of the Masoretic Text. Kenyon says: “...In the Samaritan Pentateuch we have preserved a form of the Hebrew text of greater antiquity than that of any Hebrew manuscript..., when allowance has been made for deliberate alteration and the accidents of transmission, its readings must be reckoned with.”2
    A more recent find has added further considerations to this question. Among the scrolls found at Qumran are some which are more closely related to the Samaritan Text than to the Masoretic Text. Now, this does not prove that the Masoretic Text is wrong or that the Septuagint is more reliable than our Hebrew text. It does prove, however, that there was more than one text tradition in Palestine even while there was a master text in the temple of Jerusalem. It proves that there was more than one text tradition in existence at the time when the scholars of Jamnia began their work. It does not settle any question as to the reliability of any of the respective texts. And, let it be emphasized, no doctrine of Scripture is undercut or affected by any of those 6000 variants.
    A discovery similar to that of the Samaritan Pentateuch in its significance is the fragment called the Nash Papyrus. Published by S.A. Cook in 1903, it has since been dated about 100 B.C. Some scholars have regarded it as part of a liturgy or lectionary rather than as a biblical fragment. Like the Samaritan text, it varies from the Masoretic, and where it varies it frequently agrees with the Septuagint.
    Now, one thing to remember in the matter of agreement with the Septuagint is that there was probably not just a single Greek translation of the Old Testament. We shall discuss this matter further in the essay on translations of the Bible, but there is a body of evidence which suggests that Septuagint was a name applied to several translations and editions in order to give them the aura of authority which attached to the fabled 72 translators. Another way of saying it is, “Not every Greek translation of the Old Testament was the Septuagint.” It is noteworthy in this connection that Jerome, working before 400, found little to question in the Hebrew text with which he was working. He never suggested that it might be one of several competing texts. While he found frequent and wide divergences in the manuscripts of the Latin and Greek translations with which he worked, the Hebrew text with which he worked was substantially the same as our Masoretic Text.
    The work of the Masoretes was capped by the 10th century European rabbi, Aaron ben Moshe ben Asher. Ben Asher manuscripts provided the standard of excellence for accuracy and usefulness. In 1008 a copy of his text was made which now resides in Leningrad. It is the Codex Leningradensis, and the third edition of Kittel’s Biblia Hebraica was based on it. Subsequent editions of Kittel-Kahle are substantially based on the third edition.
    Another text which Ben Asher worked on and improved where it needed improving is the Aleppo Codex, copied between 900 and 950 A.D. The travels of this codex make a fascinating story in themselves. It was taken as plunder by the crusading Baldwin of Flanders in 1099, admired by Moses Maimonides at Cairo in the 12th century, moved to the Sephardic synagogue at Aleppo in northwest Syria in the 15th century, and reported destroyed in the fighting for Israel’s independence in 1948. But the codex was not destroyed. It was rescued from a burning building and eventually found its way from Jordan to Israel. There it was consulted in the preparation of the Jerusalem Hebrew edition.
    A source of readings for comparison when there are variants lies in the scriptural quotations which appear in the Talmud (the running and cumulative interpretation of the Law) and the targums (Aramaic commentaries on the Scriptures). Readings which appear in these, readings which are suggested by the Septuagint, readings which appear in the Samaritan Pentateuch, as well as readings found in the Masoretic Text are all represented in the scrolls and fragments found at Qumran in 1947 and in the years since.
    We will not recount here the familiar story of the shepherd boy and his stone and the tinkling of broken pottery in a cave at the northwest end of the Dead Sea in 1947. What was found in that cave and in other caves at Qumran reduced the time between the oldest complete manuscripts and the writing of the Scriptures by one thousand years. Codex Leningradensis and the Aleppo Codex belong to the 10th century A.D. The older pieces found at Qumran date from the 1st century B.C. The style of writing, the composition of the ink, the manner in which the pages were lined, the containers in which the scrolls had been placed, coins found with the scrolls-these and other evidences show that the biblical materials found at Qumran are 1000 years older than the oldest codices which represent the Masoretic Text.
    In 1895 Sir Fredrick Kenyon had written in the first edition of Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts: “There is, indeed, no probability that we shall ever find manuscripts of the Hebrew text going back to a period before the formation of the text which we know as Masoretic.”3 In the very year of the Qumran discovery a scholar despaired of doing further work in textual criticism with the materials at hand. He expressed the hope that the discovery of a few more manuscripts might shed light on a few more textual problems. By the time the archeologists had finished with Cave 4 at Qumran, every book except Esther was represented by at least fragments. The sifting and evaluating of this mass of material will surely occupy several generations of scholars and text critics.
    Before Qumran it was assumed by many critics than any ancient textual find would prove the Masoretic text to be a confusion of errors. The Qumran Isaiah scroll was scrutinized and found to be in close agreement with the Masoretic Text. The translators of the Revised Standard Version (1952) adopted thirteen readings in all in which Qumran’s Isaiah A deviates from the traditional text. One of the scholars involved, Dr. Millar Burrows, later expressed the view that in some cases the traditional text against which he voted ought to have been retained.
    It might be well to say at this point that there are no textual variants in the Old Testament Scriptures that affect any doctrine. It is true that there are difficult passages and obscure expressions which could be readily understood if there were no difficulties with the text. But this does not shake the doctrines of the Word or the doctrine that the Word is reliable. Unreliable scribes and presumptuous “editors” may have made it more difficult for us to understand all the details of God’s Word. But the fault does not lie with God’s Word.
    In 1516 and 1517 a Christian printer, Daniel Bomberg, cooperated with an editor who was a convert from Judaism, Felix Pratensis, to publish a rabbinical Bible. That is, they produced a work in which the Hebrew text was accompanied by targums and rabbinical commentary. This was the first printed Bible to have the official qere in the margins. The margins contained variants in addition to the qere readings. The second edition of this rabbinical Bible in 1524-25 was a great step toward obtaining the best possible text of the Hebrew Bible, because it took into account the work of the Tunisian refugee Jacob Ben Chayim. Paul Kahle, who carried forward the work of Rudolph Kittel, used Pratensis’ 1524-25 edition along with fragments found in the Cairo Genizah as a resource for the third edition of the Kittel Biblia Hebraica. Incidentally, Luther used a Hebrew text which had been published in Brescia, Italy in 1494 for his translating work in the Old Testament.

  • #2

    There are really over 5300+ Greek manuscripts and more complete. The artical is a little "dated"

    There are about 4000 New Testament Greek manuscripts. Only about thirty of these are complete. Those thirty complete manuscripts and the thousands of incomplete manuscripts might be disappointing to us if we did not know that only Vergil of all ancient classical writers can begin to compare with the New Testament in regard to the availability of ancient manuscripts. In a sense, Vergil’s works, especially the Aeneid, were religious writings. Part of his object was to breathe new life into dying paganism by recounting the divine origins of the Roman people. For some of Aeschylus’ work there is only one ancient manuscript. A late manuscript of the poet Catullus was copied in the 15th century and then disappeared. In the 19th century, Westcott and Hort could say: “In the variety and fullness of the evidence on which it rests, the text of the New Testament stands absolutely and unapproachably alone among ancient prose writings.”4
    The oldest manuscript material for the New Testament reaches back into the 2nd century. The great find in New Testament texts as far as antiquity is concerned is the Chester Beatty collection of papyri, found in 1931. It consists of parts of biblical books copied in the 2nd to 4th centuries and discovered in Egypt. With a single exception these papyrus portions are in codex form. That is, they are not scrolls, which Jews and pagans alike used for literary works. Rather, they are in what we think of as book form, page on page, gathered into clusters of pages and bound. Long before that form was used for literature in the pagan world, it was used for copies of the Scriptures in Egypt. Who taught the Christians in Alexandria that this was a good way to publish the apostolic Word? The theory is that first the Gospel of Mark—the shortest Gospel—circulated as a codex. The codex was easier to carry than a scroll, easier to refer to and, if necessary, to hide. The theory continues that a factual basis for the tradition that Mark founded the church at Alexandria is that his Gospel was the first Christian writing to arrive there. There, it is further theorized, copies were made and not only was the writing copied; the codex form was also imitated. This then became the accepted form for all copies of all biblical writings, at least in Egypt. One more fascinating item here is that no manuscript found in Egypt or anywhere else, which can be dated in the 2nd or 3rd centuries, had writing on the recto side (the face) of the papyrus. The beginning of the book was not to be carelessly exposed to hostile eyes.
    There were hostile eyes, of course, and this may account in part for the fact that there are no complete manuscripts from earlier than the 4th century. Before 250 there was no empire-wide policy of persecution against the Christian church; there were simply many local riots and suppressions directed against the believers. But in 303 an imperial edict of Diocletian and Calerius required that all Christian writings be turned over to the authorities for destruction. The losses to text history and to the history of doctrine during that period must have been considerable.
    From the 4th to the 10th centuries come about 200 manuscripts, most of them fragmentary. They are of the type called uncials, so called because they were written with capital letters. Not only was there no punctuation but the words were not separated, there were nor chapter and verse divisions, no breathing, no accents. Most familiar to us of these uncials is Codex Sinaiticus, discovered by Tischendorff in the monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai in 1844-56.5 This is a 4th century manuscript, containing the entire Bible, with the Old Testament in Greek. This has been designated Codex Aleph. It got that Hebrew letter under the system of sigla devised by Professor Caspar Rene Gregory. Tischendorff’s find occurred after the other major codices had already been assigned their letters and, because it is older than Alexandrinus (A), it received a letter which would signal its greater antiquity.
    Codex Vaticanus is also 4th century and is designated by the letter B. It includes the Septuagint and the New Testament as far as Hebrews 9. The Pastoral Letters, Philemon and Revelation are missing. Erasmus became aware of this codex in the Vatican Library in 1533, but papal officials denied him access to it. In 1809 Napoleon took it as a prize of war and it was inspected by scholars in Paris. After its return, it was again forbidden to even the most eminent scholars. Tregelles was introduced to officials of the Vatican Library by a cardinal friend. He was permitted to examine the codex, but forbidden to carry any writing materials with him. However, the text has been printed several times, and so it is available for scholars to read and make comparisons.
    As mentioned above, Codex A is Alexandrinus, 5th century. It includes the Septuagint and the Epistle of Clement, but there are several considerable gaps in the New Testament. In 1628 it was sent to Charles I of England by the Patriarch Cyrillus Lucaris of Constantinople. Of all the uncial codices, it is the first to have been used by modern Bible scholars. It arrived seventeen years too late for the King James Version to benefit by its use.
    Codex C is Ephraemi. It dates from the 5th century, and what first meets the eyes is not a New Testament manuscript at all. It is a copy of a theological work by Ephraem the Syrian (d.372). In the 12th century someone wanted that work of Ephraem more than he wanted a copy of the New Testament. So, he scraped off the New Testament text and reused the parchment. The New Testament text of this palimpsest (reinscribed parchment) was recovered by eyestrain and chemical means in 1835. 145 leaves of an original 238 remain; so this, too, is an incomplete codex.
    The fifth of the great codices is D, Bezae, named for the Reformed theologian, Beza, who sent it to Canterbury in the 16th century. It contains only the Gospels and Acts, in Greek and Latin. It was probably produced in Southern Gaul, for it was found in a monastery at Lyons. It dates from the 6th century, which was the time when theological leadership in the West passed from North Africa to Southern Gaul. Beza did not use his precious possession in his critical work because it differed so much from the other texts in his possession.
    None of these uncials are in complete and perfect agreement with one another in every detail of the text. The same is true of the minuscules, so called because they were written in lower case letters.
    Where do variants come from? Anyone who has copied any material over a longer period of time has probably introduced variant readings into the material. If your eye passed over a word or phrase to another like it, you may have committed haplography, writing only once what should have been written twice. If a copyist writes twice what only appears once in the master copy, he has committed dittography. A hazard of the scribe as his eyes moved from the original to the copy and back was homoioteleuton. Where two phrases end in a similar way it is too easy to omit one of them. Scribes working in a group in a scriptorium were involved in an early form of mass production. They did not have many copies to work from. They were supposed to produce many copies. So, a capable reader read from a single copy while a number of scribes took dictation. That could result in errors of hearing, where diphthongs such as ai and ei were confused; or when hemeis and humeis were interchanged.
    Some variants resulted from the copyist’s attempts at “correction.” They might attempt to harmonize the Gospels or the accounts of Paul’s conversion. They might try to “improve” on a New Testament use of the Old by replacing the apostolic quotation with a Septuagint rendering or (less frequently) their own translation from the Hebrew. A combining of gospel accounts, called conflation, was often caused by the scribe’s reference to Tatian’s Diatessaron, the second century harmony of the Four Gospels.
    In Erasmus’ first edition he shocked his contemporaries by omitting 1 John 5:7, the famous proof text for the doctrine of the Trinity. He knew it was in the Vulgate but he could not find it in any Greek text of the eight which he was using. Objections were raised to his omission and he rashly promised to restore the verse in his next edition if it could be found in any Greek manuscript. Such a manuscript was found in Dublin, late and worthless, but Erasmus inserted the reading into his second edition in 1519. Luther did not include the verse in his translation but others did, including the translators of the King James Version. As recently as 1897 the Vatican declared the passage authentic, but reversed itself in 1937.
    One of the great literary events of the 16th century was the publication of the Complutensian Polyglot, printed during the years 1514 to 1517. Sponsored by Francisco Jimenez de Cisneros, confessor to Queen Isabella, it appeared in six volumes. all of the Bible appeared in Greek and Hebrew, along with a number of other ancient and modern languages. Its publication was delayed because the pope withheld his sanction until Jimenez should return certain books to the Vatican Library. And that is how it came to pass that Erasmus’ Greek New Testament gained great popularity just when the Complutensian Polyglot could have provided the reformers with a more critically sound Greek text.
    Dr. Martin Luther used the second edition of Erasmus’ New Testament for his translation, as did Tyndale. Erasmus did not always use the earliest and the best manuscripts available to him, and he occasionally adjusted his readings to agree with the Vulgate (which he published with the Greek). Nevertheless, his text caught on and became known as the Textus Receptus, which simply meant the commonly accepted text. This acceptance was more firmly established in the 17th century when Bonaventura and Abraham Elzivir, brothers at Leyden, published a neat and handy edition of Erasmus’ text. The Textus Receptus type of text is called Byzantine or Imperial. It is represented by a rather late group of manuscripts and is dependent on cursives of the 10th century onward. It is signified by a Gothic K (for Koine) in the Nestle text and with Byz in the UBS text.
    Some people have understood the term Textus Receptus to mean “the text as received from God.” A 19th century clergymen of Chichester, England, probably knew what the term meant. Nevertheless, Dean Burgon (1831-1888) remained convinced of the inerrancy of the Textus Receptus to the exclusion of all other texts. In 1871 he published a defense of the genuineness of Mark 16:9-20. He bitterly opposed the work of Westcott and Hort. In about 1940 a group of Christians in South India resisted a new translation of the Bible into Tamil, on the ground that it was not based on the Textus Receptus. Like some more recent objectors to other modern translations, they believed that the new translation was an attempt to corrupt the pure Word of God.
    In the late 17th century John Mill of Oxford University reprinted a Stephanus text of 1550 and added variant readings from nearly 100 manuscripts, along with readings of various translations and the fathers. His work provided scholars, for the first time, with a broad base of textual evidence for comparison and critical analysis of New Testament texts. Because of this publication and because of the principles which he laid down in his prolegomena, Mill is regarded as the father of scientific textual criticism.
    If Mill was the father, then his heirs who improved their heritage were the nineteenth century text-critical scholars Westcott and Hort. Their edition of the New Testament, along with those of Tischendorf and Weymouth, underlie our Nestle text. In 1898 Eberhard Nestle published what he called a “resultant” text. He relied on the three aforementioned editions and, where they differed with one another, he went with the choice of the two who agreed. Incidentally, Weymouth had followed the same method.
    Now, which texts are to be accorded the most respect? How do critical editors come to choose one reading over another? What should we think when we consider the sources of the variants which appear in the apparatus of our New Testament editions? Let us at least sketch the approach of Westcott and Hort to this question, while mentioning at the same time that there theories and methods have not found universal acceptance.
    Westcott and Hort classified their sources into four general groupings: Syrian, Western, Alexandrian and Neutral. They regarded the Syrian grouping as least authoritative. None of the major codices represent this group and most of the readings appear as quotations in Chrysostom and a number of Antiochene fathers. In the fathers before 250 these particular readings do not appear. To abbreviate, Syrian readings are late in origin and therefore less reliable.
    The Western group is represented in Latin versions and Codex D (Bezae). It is characterized by frequent additions and omissions. According to Westcott and Hort, manuscripts in this family contain whole verses or even longer passages which are not to be found in any other copies. Variants which show traces of this tendency of adding material must be rejected unless they are supported by readings in other groups.
    The Alexandrian group is not represented by any one codex, but appears in parts of Alexandrinus (A), Ephraemi (C) and occasionally Sinaiticus (Aleph). These readings appear most frequently in the Alexandrine fathers. They are readings imposed by grammarians seeking to “improve” the Greek style, not the content of the text. They are not accorded much significance by Westcott and Hort and those who follow their methods.
    Westcott and Hort believed that the Neutral Text best represents the original text of the New Testament. It is not characterized by the uniqueness of the Syrian, the tendency toward amplification of the Western or the grammatical concerns of the Alexandrian. Its main center was Alexandria but it was not limited to that city, appearing in areas quite remote from the center of Egyptian Christianity. The principal authority for the Neutral Text at this time is B (Vaticanus). It is frequently supported by Aleph (Sinaiticus). Where Vaticanus, Sinaiticus and others of the Neutral family concur they are to be trusted even when a majority of other texts disagree. This theory of text selection was of considerable influence in the text-critical decisions of the men who produced the RSV and the NEB. The approach of the men who translated the New Testament for NIV has been characterized as “eclectic” with respect to following these canons of Westcott and Hort.
    It has been said that in 95% of the variants, the correct reading is easily established. Of the remaining 5%, 95% do not materially affect the sense. Professor John Schaller wrote in 1924 that there were about 150,000 variants and that of these about 400 affect the meaning of the text, and that of these about 50 in all were important. Then he wrote: “Not one article of faith and not one exhortation to godliness of life is changed or eliminated.”6 There have been additional manuscript finds and the number of variants has increased, but the judgment expressed by Professor Schaller in 1924 is still valid.

    1. from Ackroyd, P.R. and Evans, C.F., eds - The Cambridge History of the Bible, Vol 1: from the beginnings to Jerome - Cambridge: The University Press 1970
    2. Kenyon, Sir Frederick - Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, rev. A.W. Adams - London: Eyre and Spottiswoode 1958
    3. op. cit.
    4. source uncertain
    5. See “Tischendorf and the Greek New Testament Text,” by Armin J. Panning in Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly 68:1, January 1971
    6. Schaller, John - The Book of Books: a brief introduction to the Bible for Christian teachers and readers - St.Louis: Concordia 1924