Sunday, 5 August 2007

Concerning the Old Testament sources

I have not read a lot on this topic but have some preliminary thoughts. I think the search for the original text is warranted and helpful. If the text is inerrant, there can be subtle things to learn from analysing the minutia of Scripture—so long one doesn't lose sight of the major themes. I doubt any significant doctrine of Christianity is affected by the current text we have. And there is always the issue over whether we appreciate what the text meant at the time even if we know exactly what it said.

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and a small amount in Aramaic. Major sources include the Masoretic text, the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls. There is a Samaritan Pentateuch which is a further source.

The Masoretic text in square Hebrew charcters post-dates the destruction of the temple. The text was hand copied down through the centuries. Many have written on the care that the Masoretes took with the text such that we can be very confident that the text we now have is similar to the text they started with. The oldest extant Masoretic texts come from the 9th century. The discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls in 1947 showed similarities in some manuscripts that suggest the Masoretic type text dates from at least the same time and demonstrated the accuracy of the Masoretes. Modern English Bibles place much weight on the Masoretic text.

The Septuagint is the Greek translation that post dates the completion of the Old Testament and predates Christ. It is thought to have been written approximately 250BC. It is possible that the Pentateuch was translated first with other books in the following years. Though some Septuagint fragments date to the 2nd century BC, more complete copies post-date the birth of Jesus by > 300 years.

The Dead Sea scrolls date over several centuries up until about the time of Jesus and the destruction of the Temple. While some manuscripts bear testimony to the Masoretic text, some of the Dead Sea scrolls seem to follow at text type similar to the Septuagint.

For reasons I will post on later, I think more credence should be given to parts of the Septuagint. The variations are not solely due to translation but existed in the source text. That this vorlage existed is confirmed by the Dead Sea scrolls. The question is whether it is more accurate at times.

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