The oldest parts of the Old Testament go back to the time of Moses and the newest
parts were written in about 400BC. The original copies (autographs) were preserved
in the Temple in Jerusalem; copies were made from these and these primary copies
were used as exemplars for the production of other scrolls. The Temple was destroyed
in about 600BC when the Babylonians conquered Judah, However, when the Jews returned
from exile the text of the books already written was restored by the comparison of
primary copies and further books were added. The restored manuscripts were placed
in the new Temple and copies produced from Temple exemplars. This continued until
after the time of Jesus, when the Temple was again destroyed, this time by the Romans.
However, some of the manuscripts in the Temple had been hidden before the destruction
and a further reconstruction produced a Hebrew Text which has been copied continuously
to the present day. This is called the “Masoretic Text”.
The Masoretes (who copied the Masoretic Text) took tremendous care with their copying.
Stringent rules for copying were laid out and observed and the text was thoroughly
checked afterwards. Everything that could be counted or measured was and errors were
detected by this measurement. The result is that modern Masoretic manuscripts do
not differ at all in their text. The only differences are in marginal comments.
The accuracy of the Masoretic Text can be assessed and confirmed by comparison with
a number of important sources. These include:-
Translations: These were made into ancient languages such as Aramaic, Greek, Latin
and Coptic. These translations were copied by various Christian churches and so were
independent of the Hebrew text. Greek and Aramaic translations were made before the
destruction of the Temple in 70AD.
The Witness of the New Testament: The New Testament quotes extensively from the
Old Testament. Jesus and the Apostles provide a witness that the text of the Old
Testament was reliable in their day. The New Testament was copied independently from
the Old and so quotations in the New Testament are a witness to the text of the Hebrew
The Dead Sea Scrolls: These were buried in the Judean desert near the Dead Sea in
68AD. Among the scrolls are about 200 copies of books of the Old Testament. These
confirm that the text of the Old Testament at the time of Jesus is the same as the
These witnesses confirm an important point, that the modern text of the Old Testament
is the same as it was when Jesus endorsed it as the Word of God.
This is a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek made in early third century
BC in Alexandria. According to legend the translation was made by seventy translators.
By the time of Jesus the whole of the Old Testament had been translated and many
fragments have been found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The LXX was copied by Christian
scribes and so is independent of the Hebrew Text
These were free translations into Aramaic with explanatory notes and additional stories.
The official Targums were made soon after the time of Jesus.
The Dead Sea Scrolls
These were discovered in 1947 in the desert on the shores of the Dead Sea. About
200 manuscripts of the Old Testament are among them, dating from before 200BC to
the early part of the first century AD. They were buried in 68AD and prove an independent
witness to the text of the Old Testament.