The Holy Bible is the greatest Book ever written. It is a collection of 66 Books that were inspired and written by the Holy Spirit through the hands of devout men from thousands of years ago. The Bible tells the story of God's love for mankind and the story mankind's redemption by means of God coming in the flesh to make the ultimate sacrifice. The thing is, back when the Bible was originally written, there were no printers. Printing was not invented until sometime between 1041-1048 AD by Chinese printer Bi Shing. In 1450, Johannes Gutenberg invented an extremely efficient movable-type printing press. The first book printed by Gutenberg was the Bible from the Latin Vulgate text. Before the age of the printing press, copying was done by hand. These copies were made by devout scribes who did the best they could, but mistakes were inevitably made. The goal of Textual Criticism is to compare these ancient, handwritten texts of the Bible and figure out what the Word of God originally said. None of these manuscripts that we have are the inspired autographs (the manuscripts written by the hands of the authors), but they are still very close to the originals. In order to find out what the original Bible said, we must consult the many ancient versions of the Bible.
The Dead Sea Scrolls- A collection of 972 texts written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. They were discovered at Qumran on the coast of the Dead Sea during the time period of 1946 and 1956. Among these 972 texts were many ancient copies of the Hebrew Bible, as well as copies of Apocryphal books (like the Book of Enoch and Jubilees). Many cultural books were found (like the War Scroll, the Community Rule, and the Pesher on Habakkuk). Some Aramaic Targums (loose translations of the Hebrew Bible into Aramaic, the common tongue among the Jews of this time period) were found among these scrolls. Ancient Jewish commentaries on the Bible were also discovered. These manuscripts make up the oldest known Old Testament. Every Book of the Tanakh was found except for Esther. The most well-known of the scrolls that were discovered was the Great Isaiah Scroll, which was an almost entirely intact manuscript of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. This and other manuscripts that were discovered attested to the accuracy of the traditional Old Testament Hebrew texts, but differences were found. An example of the important differences between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the traditional texts is that the Book of Jeremiah discovered at Qumran was 15% shorter than the Masoretic Text's version of Jeremiah. Many contradictions in the Masoretic text were also discovered to be mere scribal errors. The most controversial discovery was that Psalm 22:16, which reads in the Masoretic text as, "like a lion, they are at my hands and my feet." The Dead Sea Scrolls attested to the traditional reading found in Christian Bibles: "they pierced my hands and my feet". This supports the Christian belief in Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. Geza Vermes translated the Dead Sea Scrolls in The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls. A useful translation of the Bible manuscripts found at Qumran is The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible.
Septuagint- Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint was the oldest version that we had of the Tanakh. This ancient version is a translation of the Old Testament and Apocrypha from the original Hebrew into Greek that was done in Alexandria by 70 Jewish scholars (the word "Septuagint" comes from the Greek, word for "seventy"). This was the version of the Old Testament used by Greek Christians, proselytes, and Hellenist Jews. The Septuagint is sometimes quoted in the Greek New Testament, therefore some people who believed in the originality of the Greek New Testament (including the Greek Orthodox Church) have held the belief that the Septuagint is inspired by God and is inerrant. The Israeli Jews however, were aware of the defects of the Septuagint and it was not widely used among the Hebrew and Aramaic speaking Jews. The Septuagint is a very literal translation, as its grammar is more Aramaic or Hebraic than Greek (very much like the Greek New Testament's grammar). The most well-known translation of the Septuagint is Lancelot Charles Lee Brenton's Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English. The most recent translation is A New English Translation of the Septuagint.
Vulgate- This is the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church, written wholly in Latin. It was translated by Jerome in 382 AD at the orders of Pope Damasus I, who wanted the Old Latin translations to be revised. Both the Old and New Testaments are included in this version. The New Testament, however, includes some insertions that were not in the original text (I John 5:7, for example). The first translation of the Bible into English (The Wycliffe Bible) was translated from the text of the Latin Vulgate. The first printed Bible in the West (The Gutenberg Bible) was the Latin Vulgate. The most widely used translation of the Latin Vulgate is The Douay-Rheims Bible.
Masoretic Text- This is the standard Hebrew text of the Old Testament that is used and adored by both Jews and Christians. This text however, is very late (the oldest extant manuscripts are from the 9th century). The Masoretic text has still shown itself to be quite reliable, as attested to by the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some scribal changes were made by Rabbinical scribes (such as the controversial reading in Psalms 22:16) for theological reasons. The Tetragrammaton (the Hebrew name of God: YHWH, or Yahweh) was also removed in some places in the Book of Psalms and replaced with Adonai ("Lord") or Elohim ("God"). The traditional pronunciation of the name of God (Jehovah) also arose from a misunderstanding of the vowel pointings under the Tetragrammaton (the "E" and "A" sounds), which was used to direct the reader to use a circumlocution (a stand-in for the name, like Adonai or Elohim) instead of pronouncing the "ineffable" name of God. The Jewish Publication Society's Tanakh, the beloved King James Version, as well as almost every mainstream translation of the Old Testament, was translated from this text.
Targumim- Ancient Aramaic translations of the Tanakh that were used for the benefit of the common people in Israel that could not speak Hebrew. These translations were done orally in the synagogues while the Hebrew Scriptures were being read and were later written down. These translations are very free translations, more appropriately referred to as paraphrases. They also substitute the Tetragrammaton with the Aramaic word memra ("Word"), which might be the root of the Apostle John's referring to Jesus as "the Word". The Targumim are important because they show the beliefs of 1st century Jews, as well as their interpretations of the Scriptures. "Targuming" was a very popular method of quoting Scripture. This is shown in the New Testament by the fact that a lot of the Old Testament quotations are paraphrases of the original texts. The most well known Targum is the Targum Onkelos, which is an Aramaic translation of the Torah. It is the official Targum used by the Jewish people. The Targumim have not been translated very much, but John Wesley Etheridge translated the Targum Jonathan and Onkelos in the 1800s.
Peshitta- The Peshitta is an ancient version of the Old Testament and New Testament written in an Aramaic dialect referred to as Syriac. The Old Testament was translated from Hebrew by (most likely) Jewish people. It was the Old Testament used by many 1st century Christians. Unlike the Targumim, the Peshitta Tanakh is a literal translation of the original Hebrew. The Peshitta New Testament is believed by some (including myself) to represent either the original New Testament, or the best New Testament text. The Peshitta's New Testament shows many signs of being an original document (including wordplay, poetry, and other things), but this is heavily disputed by the majority of modern scholars. The Peshitta was, for a time, accepted as being as old as the Greek. This changed over time when scholars decided that it wasn't quoted until the 5th century, but this has been disproven by Aramaic scholar Paul Younan, who shows that the Peshitta was quoted by Assyrian Christian Apaphrat and Tatian in his Diatessaron (ancient harmony of the Gospels written in Aramaic from the 2nd century). The Peshitta Old Testament is very similar to the Masoretic and Septuagint texts, and the New Testament has a mixture of both Alexandrian and Byzantine text readings (but mostly Byzantine). Most scholars believe the Peshitta to be a revision of the Old Syriac Gospels (includes the Sinaitic Palimpsest and the Curetonian manuscript), but Aramaic scholars have produced convincing arguments to the contrary. The Peshitta's canon is very similar to our own, but they include the Apocrypha in their Old Testament, and five Books of the New Testament are missing from their canon (II Peter, II John, III John, Jude, Revelation). The five missing Books are included in the Harklean version, as well as the important Crawford manuscript. The Peshitta is the official Bible of the Assyrian Church of the East, the Syriac Orthodox Church, and the Syriac Maronite Church. The Peshitta has been translated several times. James Murdock, John Wesley Etheridge, and William Norton did translations from the Peshitta New Testament in the 1800s. The most well known translation is the Holy Bible From the Ancient Eastern Text (or the Lamsa Bible), by native Aramaic speaker George M. Lamsa.
Greek New Testament- The Greek New Testament is believed by most scholars to be the original New Testament. The Greek New Testament is very similar to the Septuagint and has a very Aramaic or Hebrew like grammar (hinting that it was translated from a Semitic language text). Most copies of the New Testament are written in Greek, but they have many variations between them (but very few are of theological significance). The two most widely used Greek New Testament textual families are the Byzantine text and the Alexandrian text. The Byzantine text represents the majority of Greek manuscripts and dates back to the 5th century. The oldest manuscripts are usually fragmentary, and are part of the Alexandrian textual family. The Alexandrian text is followed by most modern translations of the Greek New Testament. The oldest Greek fragment of the Greek New Testament is from 125 AD, while the oldest complete manuscripts of the Greek New Testament are the Codex Sinaiticus (circa 330-360 AD) and the Codex Vaticanus (circa 325-350 AD). The Greek Byzantine text is represented in English by translations like the King James Version, New King James Version, and Young's Literal Translation. The Alexandrian text is represented in English by modern translations, like the New American Standard Bible, New International Version, and English Standard Version.
Samaritan Pentateuch- The Samaritan version of the Torah. The Samaritan Bible canon only consists of the Books of Moses and is mainly different in that it changes the "place where the LORD will choose to place His name" to Mount Gerizim, rather than Jerusalem. The Ten Commandments in this version are also quite different (also influenced by their belief in Mount Gerizim's importance). The Samaritan Torah is written in Hebrew, but includes over 6,000 differences from the Jewish Torah (most of them minor). The date that is usually assumed for its completion is 432 BC, but most scholars now believe it was made in 122 BC. The only translation of the Samaritan Pentateuch is The Israelite Samaritan Version of the Torah: First English Translation Compared with the Masoretic Version.
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