In November of 1946, at a place called Qumran near the shores of the Dead Sea, a chance discovery by Bedouin shepherds would rock the religious, archaeological, and skeptical communities of the world.
The shepherds stumbled upon a number of jars containing ancient scrolls which eventually would lead to the discovery of the oldest known fragments of the Tanakh and other Jewish texts. The significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls – as they have come to be known – is without question. All told, the finds at Qumran summed a staggering 40,000 inscribed fragments, much of which was Old Testament remnants and manuscripts, containing two copies of the Book of Isaiah and thousands of identifiable fragments of every book of Old Testament, except for Esther. Not only did the discovery refine our understanding of the historical, religious, and linguistic characteristics of ancient Israel, but what’s more is that these manuscripts have been dated to from 200 BC to 68 AD.
Finally, an Old Testament manuscript that predates the New Testament! This amazing discovery did much to support the assertions that the Old Testament of today is essentially identical to that of antiquity. Author Gleason Archer affirmed this synchronicity in “A Study of the Old Testament Introduction,”¹ stating that, in comparing the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Standard Hebrew Old Testament, they “proved to be word for word identical…in more than 95% of the text. The 5% variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling.” The implications of the Dead Sea Scrolls are far from over, as scholars today pour over the fragments, gleaning knowledge long lost to the sands of Palestine…
Moving beyond fragmentary manuscripts, there is yet another source for the verification of the Old Testament’s integrity: ancient translations. Scholars know of a number of such translations from antiquity, and these are used to supplement what we have learned from the manuscripts.
Notable among the old translations is the Greek Septuagint. First came the Septuagint – written around 250 BC – which received its name from the Latin word septuaginta (seventy), a reference to the fact that it was believed to have been translated by 70-72 scribes from Hebrew to Greek. It was an abundantly popular translation even in the first century AD, and was often used by New Testament writers when quoting the Old Testament. Several important Septuagint manuscripts have been discovered over the years, including Codex Alexandrinus (400-440 AD), Codex Vaticanus (300-325 AD), and the Codex Sinaiticus (300-360 AD). None are in pristine condition, lacking various portions here and there, yet – especially in regard to the Codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus – there are some notable issues present which we will address another time.
Similar to ancient translations, like the Septuagint, history also presents us with several other historic writings that support the authenticity of the Old Testament. These include:
- The Samaritan Pentateuch (from perhaps as early as the fifth century BC)
- The Midrash (100 BC – 300 AD)
- The Mishnah (200 AD)
- The Gemara (200 AD – 500 AD)
- The Aramaic Targums (500 AD)
Not surprisingly, the New Testament itself presents a compelling argument for the Old Testament. Beyond the straightforward connection between the two, we find that the Tanakh is referenced many times within the New Testament, directly quoted in no less than 320 different passages. This leaves little doubt that the writers of the New Testament – and even Jesus Himself – believed in the veracity of the Old Testament, the events and peoples and cultures it describes, and the inspired authors that wrote it.
Historical research has, time and again – demonstrated that the Old Testament is a thorough and deeply specific guide of the ancient Middle East, listing and describing many nations, rulers, conflicts, political and sociological customs, and geological features. Hundreds of such details have been independently and externally confirmed by archeologists and scholars throughout the years. Even now artifacts come to light which continue to shine a light on the reliability of the Tanakh.
- Archer, Gleason Leonard, Jr., “A Survey of Old Testament Introduction,” Moody, Chicago, 1974, Updated and Revised ed., 1994
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