Texts of the Old Testament (Micah 7)

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Illustration: The story of David and Goliath in Hebrew

For anyone who regards the Old Testament as the Word of God, a critically important question is, How do I know that the text we now have accurately reflects what the ancient authors wrote and that scribal errors have not seriously distorted it? As a matter of fact, the ancient texts and versions of the Old Testament are themselves the tools scholars use to confirm that the Old Testament as it has been handed down to us does indeed reflect the original.

The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew (with a few chapters in Aramaic). As Jews spread out in the Diaspora they began to speak other languages, and, as Christianity spread among Gentiles, people who knew no Hebrew whatsoever wanted to read Scripture. Thus, translations of the Old Testament were produced in Greek, Aramaic, Egyptian, Latin and other languages. At the same time Jewish scribes continued to copy and preserve the Hebrew Old Testament. Today there are thousands of Old Testament texts available on leather and papyrus scrolls and in fragments – some more than 2,000 years old.

The Hebrew Manuscripts

Not one original Biblical manuscript still exists, but the most significant witnesses to the original Hebrew text are the Masoretic ext and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Masoretic Text: This is the Hebrew Bible as it exists today.

Its origin: Until the sixth century A.D. only the consonants of the Hebrew Old Testament were written down; the language contained no vowels. The tradition of correct pronunciation of ancient Hebrew words was passed down orally. But between A.D. 500 and 1000 a group of Jewish scholars known as the Masoretes (from maser – “to hand down; transmit”) developed a system of adding vowels, accents and notes that guaranteed more accurate reading and copying of the ancient texts.

Its quality: No other text from the ancient world was as carefully safeguarded as the Masoretic Text. Its tradition came to be regarded as authoritative and can still be considered highly trustworthy.

Early manuscripts: The earliest complete Masoretic manuscript, the Leningrad Codex (A.D. 1009) is used for the standard edition of the Hebrew Bible. Another ancient copy, although partially lost, is the Aleppo Codex (A.D. 925).

The Dead Sea Scrolls: With the discovery in 1947 of 800 scrolls in the Judean Desert, dating from approximately 250 B.C. to A.D. 135 and including every Old Testament book except Esther, the age of the most ancient extant Old Testament manuscripts increased by a thousand years! The Dead Sea Scrolls contain Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic manuscripts and fragments, many of which are Biblical in nature. Significantly, a great number of the Hebrew Bible manuscripts found reflect essentially the same text as that inherited by the Masoretes, confirming the antiquity and authority of the Masoretic Text.


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