My brain is exploding….
This week I am presenting on a new book that came out recently which has caused quite the hub-bub in the world of Old Testament. The book is what we call an Eclectic Edition of the Book of Proverbs. As indicated above, it’s pretty tedious to work through, especially for a newbie like me. Nevertheless, what the heck does “Eclectic Edition” mean, and what does this have to do with having confidence in the scriptures?
It seems quite vogue these days to make this grossly over-simplistic statement, ahe-hem,
How can you trust a book that was transmitted over thousands of years and written by so many different authors? Clearly it’s corrupted beyond recovery.
Ok, so that might not have had the rhetorical “umph” that you may have been challenged with at some point, but I’m sure you’ve heard this sentiment expressed.
At the risk of being overly-simplistic myself, I won’t beat around the bush and just go ahead and say this: Rest assured, even after academic scrutiny, the pristine condition of our Scriptures is unparalleled by any kind of ancient literature, religious or secular.
Was that too forward? My apologies if it was. It would take many blog posts to demonstrate this scientifically, but I figured the church should be aware of the field in Biblical Studies that are devoted to this endeavor, a field which I am deeply interested in: Textual Criticism.
To be sure, any and all literary studies have textual criticism. So what is this? It’s actually quite simple in theory:
Just like books today have thousands and millions of copies, books in the ancient world also had copies, albeit they were handwritten. So, when you factor in human error within the copying process, you can be sure and get some mistakes. Textual criticism is simply the discipline of collating as many copies together that archaeologists can “dig up” (see what I did there?) and comparing the differences in order to arrive at the earliest recoverable copy of a given text.
Thats it! Not too complicated huh?
So lets get back to what I’ve been working on.
Up until now, our printed Hebrew Bibles that your typical seminarian would use is simply a straight copy of the oldest manuscript we posses that is the full Hebrew Bible. It is called the Leningrad Codex. If you like you could book a plane ticket to St. Petersburg, Russia, take a taxi to the National Library of Russia and go see it. Just be sure to take me along with you!
Anywho, like English Bibles, Hebrew Bibles also have footnotes that the editors add in there. These footnotes are text critical suggestions to be made to the text, but they never actually touch the body of the text.
Well, along comes this new project called the Hebrew Bible Critical Edition. It’s a new series where each book of the Old Testament will be published separately and a single scholar will try to arrive at what the earliest recoverable copy of that book would look like by actually editing the body of the text. It’s got the world of Old Testament in quite the uproar.
I am presenting on the first volume in the series on Wednesday: the book of Proverbs. So, that’s pretty much consumed my life lately trying to go over it in detail. But, what’s the good news for you?
Believe it or not, even after being subjected to quite the level of scrutiny, the book of Proverbs (a book that is very susceptible to having a betraying history) simply does not get changed that much.
This is even more amazing when you consider the amount of ancient copies of the book that we posses whether it be in Hebrew, Greek, Syriac, Latin, or even Arabic. All the sources are quite unanimous in witnessing to the books authenticity. When differences arise, they are either trivial or very obviously explained.
Consider this, people who study classic ancient literature (Greek and Latin) do text criticism on their works and, not only do the number of their copies pale in comparison with the Bible, but the differences are also substantial.
For something so diverse in content, genre, and authorship to have survived so long and have so many witnesses, it is extraordinary that the Bible is in quite impeccable condition . You could even call it…a miracle :). Thus, take heart brothers and sisters! The truth AND the evidence is on your side?
I plan to do a blog series in the future on the history of our scriptures. It’s a topic that fascinates me and one that I don’t think gets taught enough to Christians!
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