In the case of the O.T. we do not have the abundance of close MS authority as in the N.T. Until the recent discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest complete extant Hebrew MS was around 900 A.D. This made a time gap of 1,300 years (Hebrew O.T. completed about 400 B.C.). At first sight it would appear that the O.T. is no more reliable than other ancient literature....
With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a number of O.T. manuscripts have been found which scholars date before the time of Christ.
When the facts are known and compared, there is an overwhelming abundance of reasons for believing that the MSS we possess are trustworthy. We shall see, as Sir Frederic Kenyon put it, that 'the Christian can take the whole Bible in his hand and say without fear or hesitation that he holds in it the true Word of God, handed down without essential loss from generation to generation throughout the centuries.'
First, in order to see the uniqueness of the Scripture in its reliability, one needs to examine the extreme care in which the copyists transcribed the O.T. MSS.
During this period a great deal of time was spent in cataloging Hebrew civil and canonical law. The Talmudists had quite an intricate system for transcribing synagogue scrolls.
Samuel Davidson describes some of the disciplines of the Talmudists in regard to the Scriptures. These minute regulations... are as follows:
' 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 thirty letters.
 The whole copy must be first-lined; and if three words be written without a line, it is worthless.
 The ink should be black, neither red, green, nor any other colour, and be prepared according to a definite recipe.
 An authentic copy must be the exemplar, from which the transcriber ought not in the least 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 new 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.
 Besides this, the copyist 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 take no notice of him.'
Davidson adds that '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.'
Why don't we have more old MSS? The very absence of ancient MSS, when the rules and accuracies of the copyists are considered, confirms the reliability of the copies we have today.
Gleason Archer, in comparing the manuscript variations of the Hebrew text with pre-Christian literature such as the Egyptian Book of the Dead, states that it is amazing that the Hebrew text does not have the phenomenon of discrepancy and MS change of other literature of the same age. He writes:
'Even though the two copies of Isaiah discovered in Qumran Cave 1 near the Dead Sea in 1947 were a thousand years earlier than the oldest dated manuscript previously known (A. D. 980), they proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text. The 5 percent of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling. Even those Dead Sea fragments of Deuteronomy and Samuel which point to a different manuscript family from that which underlies our received Hebrew text do not indicate any differences in doctrine or teaching. They do not affect the message of revelation in the slightest.'
The Talmudists were so convinced that when they finished transcribing a MS they had an exact duplicate, that they would give the new copy equal authority.
Frederic Kenyon in Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts expands on the above and the destruction of older copies:
'The same extreme care which was devoted to the transcription of manuscripts is also at the bottom of the disappearance of the earlier copies. When a manuscript had been copied with the exactitude prescribed by the Talmud, and had been duly verified, it was accepted as authentic and regarded as being of equal value with any other copy. If all were equally correct, age gave no advantage to a manuscript; on the contrary, age was a positive disadvantage, since a manuscript was liable to become defaced or damaged in the lapse of time. A damaged or imperfect copy was at once condemned as unfit for use.
'Attached to each synagogue was a '''Gheniza,''' or lumber cupboard, in which defective manuscripts were laid aside; and from these receptacles some of the oldest manuscripts now extant have in modern times been recovered. Thus, far from regarding an older copy of the Scriptures as more valuable, the Jewish habit has been to prefer the newer, as being the most perfect and free from damage. The older copies, once consigned to the '''Gheniza,''' naturally perished, either from neglect or from being deliberately burned when the '''Gheniza''' became overcrowded.
'The absence of very old copies of the Hebrew Bible need not, therefore, either surprise or disquiet us. If, to the causes already enumerated, we add the repeated persecutions (involving much destruction of property) to which the Jews have been subject, the disappearance of the ancient manuscripts is adequately accounted for, and those which remain may be accepted as preserving that which alone they profess to preserve - namely, the Massoretic text.'
'Reverence for the Scriptures and regard for the purity of the sacred text did not first originate after the fall of Jerusalem.'
One can go back as far as Ezra 7:6, 10 where Ezra is said to be 'a ready scribe' (KJV). He was a professional, skilled in the Scripture.
The massoretes (from massora, 'Tradition') accepted the laborious job of editing the text and standardizing it. Their headquarters was in Tiberias. The text which the massoretes concluded with is called the 'Massoretic' text. This resultant text had had vowel points added in order to insure proper pronunciation. This Massoretic text is the standard Hebrew text today.
The Massoretes were well disciplined and treated the text 'with the greatest imaginable reverence, and devised a complicated system of safeguards against scribal slips. They counted, for example, the number of times each letter of the alphabet occurs in each book; they pointed out the middle letter of the Pentateuch and the middle letter of the whole Hebrew Bible, and made even more detailed calculations than these. 'Everything countable seems to be counted,' says Wheeler Robinson, and they made up mnemonics by which the various totals might be readily remembered.'
Sir Frederic Kenyon says:
'Besides recording varieties of reading, tradition, or conjecture, the Massoretes undertook a number of calculations which do not enter into the ordinary sphere of textual criticism. They numbered the verses, words, and letters of every book. They calculated the middle word and the middle letter of each. The enumerated verses which contained all the letters of the alphabet, or a certain number of them; and so on. These trivialities, as we may rightly consider them, had yet the effect of securing minute attention to the precise transmission of the text; and they are but an excessive manifestation of a respect for the sacred Scriptures which in itself deserves nothing but praise. The Massoretes were indeed anxious that not one jot nor tittle, not one smallest letter nor one tiny part of a letter, of the Law should pass away or be lost.'
Flavious Josephus, the Jewish historian, writes:
'We have given practical proof of our reverence for our own Scriptures. For, although such long ages have now passed, no one has ventured either to add, or to remove, or to alter a syllable; and it is an instinct with every Jew, from the day of his birth, to regard them as the decrees of God, to abide by them and, if need be, cheerfully to die for them. Time and again ere now the sight has been witnessed of prisoners enduring tortures and death in every form in the theatres, rather than utter a single word against the laws and the allied documents.'
Josephus continues by making a comparison between the Hebrew respect for Scripture and the Greek regard for their literature:
'What Greek would endure as much for the same cause? Even to save the entire collection of his nation's writings from destruction he would not face the smallest personal injury. For the Greeks they are mere stories improvised according to the fancy of their authors; and in this estimate even of the older historians they are quite justified, when they see some of their own contemporaries venturing to describe events in which they bore no part, without taking the trouble to seek information from those who know the facts.'
Robert Dick Wilson's brilliant observations take the veracity and trustworthiness of Scriptures back to Old Testament times:
'In 144 cases of transliteration from Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian and Moabite into Hebrew and in 40 cases of the opposite, or 184 in all, the evidence shows that for 2300 to 3900 years the text of the proper names in the Hebrew Bible has been transmitted with the most minute accuracy. That the original scribes should have written them with such close conformity to correct philogical principles is a wonderful proof of their thorough care and scholarship; further, that the Hebrew text should have been transmitted by copyists through so many centuries is a phenomenon unequaled in the history of literature.'
'There are about forty of these kings living from 2000 B.C. to 400 B.C. Each appears in chronological order '''...with reference to the kings of the same country and with respect to the kings of other countries...no stronger evidence for the substantial accuracy of the Old Testament records could possibly be imagined, than this collection of kings.''' Mathematically, it is one chance in 750,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 that this accuracy is mere circumstance.'
Because of the evidence Wilson concludes:
'The proof that the copies of the original documents have been handed down with substantial correctness for more than 2,000 years cannot be denied. That the copies in existence 2,000 years ago had been in like manner handed down from the originals is not merely possible, but, as we have shown, is rendered probable by the analogies of Babylonian documents now existing of which we have both originals and copies, thousands of years apart, and of scores of papyri which show when compared with our modern editions of the classics that only minor changes of the text have taken place in more than 2,000 years and especially by the scientific and demonstrable accuracy with while the proper spelling of the names of kings and of the numerous foreign terms embedded in the Hebrew text has been transmitted to us.'
F.R. Bruce states that 'the consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible which the Massoretes edited had been handed down to their time with conspicuous fidelity over a period of nearly a thousand years.'
William Green concludes that 'it may safely be said that no other work of antiquity has been so accurately transmitted.'
Concerning the accuracy of the transmission of the Hebrew text, Atkinson, who was Under-Librarian of the library at Cambridge University, says it is 'little short of miraculous.'
Rabbi Aquiba, second century A.D., with a desire to produce an exact text, is credited with saying that 'the accurate transmission (Massoreth) of the text is a fence for the Torah.' "
Cairo Codex (A.D. 895) is located in the British Museum. It was produced by the Massoretic Moses ben Asher family. Contains both latter and former prophets.
Codex of the Prophets of Leningrad (A.D. 916) contains Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the twelve minor prophets.
The earliest complete MS of the Old Testament is the Codex Babylonicus Petropalitanus (A.D. 1008) located in Leningrad. It was prepared from a corrected text of Rabbi Aaron ben Moses ben Asher before 1000 A.D.
Aleppo Codex (A.D. 900+) is an exceptionally valuable MS. It once was thought lost, but in 1958 was rediscovered. It did not escape damage.
British Museum Codex (A.D. 950) contains part of Genesis through Deuteronomy
Reuchlin Codex of the Prophets (A.D. 1105). The preparation of this text was done by the Massorete ben Naphtali.
The big question was asked first by Sir Frederic Kenyon, 'Does this Hebrew text, which we call Massoretic, and which we have shown to descend from a text drawn up about A.D. 100, faithfully represent the Hebrew Text as originally written by the authors of the Old Testament books?'
The Dead Sea Scrolls give us the explicit and positive answer.
The problem before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls was, 'How accurate are the copies we have today compared to the text of the first century?' Because the text has been copied over many times, can we trust it?
The Scrolls are made up of some 40,000 inscribed fragments. From these fragments more than 500 books have been reconstructed.
Many extra-biblical books and fragments were discovered that shed light on the religious community of Qumran. Such writings as the 'Zadokite documents,' a 'Rule of the Community' and the 'Manual of Discipline' help us to understand the purpose of daily Qumran life. In the various caves are some very helpful commentaries on the Scriptures.
Here I would like to quote Ralph Earle, who gives a vivid and concise answer to how the Scrolls were found:
'The story of this discovery is one of the most fascinating tales of modern times. In February or March of 1947 a Bedouin shepherd boy named Muhammad was searching for a lost goat. He tossed a stone into a hole in a cliff on the west side of the Dead Sea, about eight miles south of Jericho. To his surprise he heard the sound of shattering pottery. Investigating, he discovered an amazing sight. On the floor of the cave were several large jars containing leather scrolls, wrapped in linen cloth. Because the jars were carefully sealed, the scrolls had been preserved in excellent condition for nearly 1,900 years. (They were evidently placed there in A.D. 68).
'Five of the scrolls found in Dead Sea Cave I, as it is now called, were bought by the archbishop of the Syrian Orthodox Monastery at Jerusalem. Meanwhile, three other scrolls were purchased by Professor Sukenik of the Hebrew University there.
'When the scrolls were first discovered, no publicity was given to them. In November of 1947, two days after Professor Sukenik purchased three scrolls and two jars from the cave, he wrote in his diary: 'It may be that this is one of the greatest finds ever made in Palestine, a find we never so much as hoped for.' But these significant words were not published at the time.
'Fortunately, in February of 1948, the archbishop, who could not read Hebrew, phoned the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem and told about the scrolls. By good providence, the acting director of the school at the moment was a young scholar named John Trever, who was also an excellent amateur photographer. With arduous, dedicated labor he photographed each column of the great Isaiah scroll, which is 24 feet long and 10 inches high. He developed the plates himself and sent a few prints by airmail to Dr. W. F. Albright of Johns Hopkins University, who was widely recognized as the dean of American biblical archaeologists. By return airmail Albright wrote: 'My heartiest congratulations on the greatest manuscript discovery of modern times!... What an absolutely incredible find! And there can happily not be the slightest doubt in the world about the genuineness of the manuscript.' He dates it about 100 B.C.'
Trever quotes more of Albright's opinions: 'There is no doubt in my mind that the script is more archaic than the Nash papyrus... I should prefer a date around 100 B.C... '
The oldest complete Hebrew MSS we possessed were from 900 A. D. on. How could we be sure of their accurate transmission since the time of Christ in 32 A. D.? Thanks to archaeology and the Dead Sea Scrolls, we now know. One of the scrolls found was a complete MS of the Hebrew text of Isaiah. It is dated by paleographers around 125 B.C. This MS is more than 1,000 years older than any MS we previously possessed.
The impact of this discovery is in the exactness of the Isaiah scroll (125 B.C.) with the Massoretic text of Isaiah (916 A.D.) 1,000 years later. This demonstrates the unusual accuracy of the copyists of the Scripture over a thousand-year period.
'Of the 166 words in Isaiah 53, there are only seventeen letters in question. Ten of these letters are simply a matter of spelling, which does not affect the sense. Four more letters are minor stylistic changes, such as conjunctions. The remaining three letters comprise the word 'light,' which is added in verse 11, and does not affect the meaning greatly. Furthermore, this word is supported by the LXX and IQ Is. Thus, in one chapter of 166 words, there is only one word and this word does not significantly change the meaning of the passage.'
F.F. Bruce says, 'An incomplete scroll of Isaiah, found along with the other in the first Qumran cave, and conveniently distinguished as '''Isaiah B,''' agrees even more closely with the Massoretic text.'
Gleason Archer states that the Isaiah copies of the Qumran community 'proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text. The 5 percent of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling.'
Millar Burrows, cited by Geisler and Nix, concludes: 'It is a matter of wonder that through something like a thousand years the text underwent so little alteration. As I said in my first article on the scroll, '''herein lies its chief importance, supporting the fidelity of the Massoretic tradition.''' '
The Jews were scattered from their homeland and there was a need of the Scriptures in the common language of that day. Septuagint (meaning 'seventy' and usually abbreviated by use of the Roman numerals LXX) was a name given to the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures in the reign of King Ptolemy Philadelphia of Egypt (285-246 B.C.).
F.F Bruce gives an interesting rendering of the of the name for this translation. Concerning a letter purporting to be written around 250 B.C. (more realistically a short time before 100 B.C.) by Aristeas, a court official of King Ptolemy, to his brother Philocrates, Bruce states:
'Ptolemy was renowned as a patron of literature and it was under him that the great library at Alexandria, one of the world's cultural wonders for 900 years, was inaugurated. The letter describes how Demetrius of Phalerum, said to have been Ptolemy's librarian, aroused the king's interest in the Jewish Law and advised him to send a delegation to the high priest, Eleazar, at Jerusalem. The high priest chose as translators six elders from each of the twelve tribes of Israel and sent them to Alexandria, along with a specially accurate and beautiful parchment of the Torah. The elders were royally dined and winded, and proved their wisdom in debate; then they took up their residence in a house on the island of Pharos (the island otherwise famed for its lighthouse), where in seventy-two days they completed their task of translating the Pentateuch into Greek, presenting an agreed version as the result of conference and comparison.'
The LXX, being very close to the Massoretic Text (A.D. 916) we have today, helps to establish the reliability of its transmission through 1,300 years. The greatest divergence of the LXX from the Massoretic text is Jeremiah.
The LXX and the scriptural citations found in the apocryphal books of Ecclesiasticus, the Book of Jubilees, etc., give evidence that the Hebrew text today is substantially the same as the text about 300 B.C.
Geisler and Nix, in their most helpful work, A General Introduction to the Bible, give four important contributions of the Septuagint.
' It bridged the religious gap between the Hebrew-and Greek-speaking peoples, as it met the needs of the Alexandrian Jews,
 it bridged the historical gap between the Hebrew Old Testament of the Jews and the Greek-speaking Christians who would use it with their New Testament,
 and it provided a precedent for missionaries to make translations of the Scriptures into various languages and dialects;
 it bridges the textual criticism gap by its substantial agreement with the Hebrew Old Testament text (Aleph, A, B, C, et al.).'
F.F. Bruce gives several reasons why the Jews lost interest in the Septuagint:
1. '..From the first century A.D. onwards the Christians adopted it as their version of the Old Testament and used it freely in their propagation and defense of the Christian faith.
2. 'Another reason for the Jews' loss of interest in the Septuagint lies in the fact that about A.D. 100 a revised standard text was established for the Hebrew Bible by Jewish scholars...'
This text contains the Pentateuch and is valuable to determine textual readings. Bruce says that 'the variations between the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Massoretic edition [A.D. 916] of these books are quite insignificant by comparison with the area of agreement.'
(appear in written form - copies, about A.D. 500)
Basic meaning is 'interpretation.' They are paraphrases of the Old Testament.
After the Jews were taken into captivity, the Chaldean language took over for Hebrew. Therefore the Jews needed the Scriptures in the spoken language.
The chief Targums are
(1) The Targum of Onkelas (60 B.C., some say by Onkelas, a disciple of the great Jewish scholar, Hillel). Contains Hebrew text of the Pentateuch.
(2) The Targum of Jonathon Ben Uzziel (30 B.C.?). Contains the historical books and the Prophets.
F. F. Bruce gives more interesting background on the Targums:
'...The practice of accompanying the public reading of the Scriptures in the synagogues by an oral paraphrase in the Aramaic vernacular grew up in the closing centuries B.C. Naturally, when Hebrew was becoming less and less familiar to the ordinary people as a spoken language, it was necessary that they should be provided with an interpretation of the text of Scripture in a language which they did know, if they were to understand what was read. The official charged with giving this oral paraphrase was called a methurgeman (translator or interpreter) and the paraphrase itself was called a targum.
'...Methurgeman... was not allowed to read his interpretation out of a roll, as the congregation might mistakenly think he was reading the original Scriptures. With a view to accuracy, no doubt, it was further laid down that no more than one verse of the Pentateuch and not more than three verses of the Prophets might be translated at one time.
'In due course these Targums were committed to writing.'
J. Anderson in The Bible, the Word of God states their value saying: 'The great utility of the earlier Targums consists in their vindicating the genuineness of the Hebrew text, by proving that it was the same at the period the Targums were made, as it exists among us at the present day.'
The meaning is 'explanation, teaching.' Contains a collection of Jewish traditions and exposition of the oral law. Written in Hebrew and often regarded as the Second Law.
The scriptural quotations are very similar to the Massoretic text and witness to its reliability.
(Palestinian A.D. 200; Babylonian A.D. 500)
These commentaries (written in Aramaic) that grew up around the Mishnah contribute to the textual reliability of the Massoretic text. The Mishnah plus the Babylonian Gemara make up the Babylonian Talmud.
Mishnah + Bab. Gemara = Babylonian Talmud
Mishnah + Palest. Genara = Palestinian Talmud
This was made up of doctrinal studies of the Old Testament Hebrew text. The Midrash quotations are substantially Massoretic.
Origin's (A.D. 185-254) production of a harmony of the Gospels in six columns: texts of the LXX, Aquila, Theodation, Symmachus, Hebrew in Hebrew letters and in Greek letters.
The Hexpla, plus writings of Josephus, Philo and the Zadokite Documents (Dead Sea Qumran community literature), 'bear witness to the existence of a text quite similar to the Massoretic [text] from A.D. 40 to 100.' "
[Josh McDowell, 'EVIDENCE THAT DEMANDS A VERDICT', Thomas Nelson, HERE'S LIFE PUBLISHERS, San Bernardino, Ca, 1972, pp. 52-60]