Ancient Accounts, Part 1

The evidence is abundantly clear concerning the authenticity of the Torah, but what of the rest of the Old Testament? Beyond those first five books, how do we today know that the rest of the Old Testament is historically accurate? Is it a trustworthy witness to the past?

Indeed it is! In support of that assertion we have reliable evidence that demonstrates that the Old Testament of today is essentially identical to that of antiquity.

“For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” – Romans 15:4 –

How well known is the Old Testament of antiquity?  Quite literally thousands of pieces of it have been discovered over the years, as time and effort continue even now to yield those treasures of the ancient days. It is an unfortunate fact however that those which endure are typically fragmentary, and none are yet known to date much older than 200 BC. Several factors played their part in this. Not only was there a natural degradation of the material over time, but also as ancient conflicts blazed there were periodic attempts – by rival factions, foreign invaders, and political aggressors – to eliminatie of the documents.

For instance, we read in the Book of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 36:21-32) how his own prophetic writings were cast into fire by King Jehoiakim, only to be rewritten once the Spirit of God moved upon him to do so. We find a similar effort to destroy the Scriptures recorded in the apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees 1:56-57, which speaks of the hateful persecution of the Jews under the tyrannical Antiochus Epiphanes. We thus read in that account that “When they found the Law scrolls, they tore them to pieces and burned them. If anyone was caught in possession of a copy of the covenant scroll or if anyone kept to the Law, that person was condemned to death by royal decree.”

Torah_scribe
A scribe, wearing a traditional Middle Eastern costume of robe and turban, sews together pieces of parchment of a Torah scroll.

Beyond those ancient attempts to utterly destroy the Scriptures of the Jews, we find history records another factor involved in their destruction. It may come as a shock, but the regular destruction – through burial – of imperfect and aged manuscripts by Jewish scribes was an exceedingly common occurrence in antiquity. Now, while the loss of these historic texts was certainly unfortunate when at the hands of oppressors, their burial by the scribes was a blessing!

The fact that the Jewish scribes did this demonstrates the fantastic authority and historicity of those manuscripts and translations that do survive. How? You see, not only were aged manuscripts buried, but when writing new copies of the Tanakh, scribes would use extreme care in ensuring that the numbers of words, letters, and lines were exact, destroying all in which were found even the slightest error. Due of this extreme – perhaps even obsessive – attention to detail, the quality of the remaining Hebrew manuscripts surpass all others from antiquity!

Concerning those Old Testament manuscripts known, a few notable examples yet exist. Among others, there are the:

  • Cairo Geniza Collection, from approximately 400 AD
  • Masoretic texts
    • Codex Cairensis, from 895 AD
    • Aleppo Codex, from 950 AD
    • Codex Leningradensis, from 1008 AD

Each of these documents contains important information about the historicity of the Old Testament. While some of those mentioned are fragmentary, others contain a partial sampling of the Old Testament, and others yet, including the Aleppo Codex and the Codex Leningradensis, are complete.¹ Even so, all of these examples of manuscripts are dated from after the time of Christ, making these Old Testament documents effectively younger than the New Testament! No matter the factors involved in leading to this, the situation that presents itself was one ripe for scholarly criticism, and that was certainly the case until 1947…

Notes:

  1. The Aleppo Codex was complete until 1947 when over a quarter of it was destroyed during riots

“Ancient Accounts” continues next time…


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