The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Sep 24, 2016

Ain't archaeology great? Bible-time coins and the earliest Masoretic text

With thanks  to my colleague Jesse Williams for pointing me to the story about the Masoretic manuscript, and thanks to my seminary student James Kotvas for telling me about the coins.

The role of archaeology for the Bible student is not about demonstrating the veracity of God's Word (though it quite often does that, from the existence of the Hittites to the fact that "King David" was an actual king), Christian belief in the validity of God's word should stem first and foremost from our faith in Jesus Christ as the crucified and resurrected Word of God, The role of archaeology for the confessional Bible student is rather to illuminate the Bible, i.e., to give us information that helps us understand it better.

So it is always a treat when archaeology brings to light material that helps us see the biblical world more clearly. First of all, coins bearing the image of the infamous Nero have been discovered in, of all things, a home in Jerusalem! (Click here and here for links to the story). Nero, of course, is the infamous Roman emperor who allegedly "fiddled while Rome burned"; that story may (or may not) be legend, but what is indisputable is that he initiated an intense persecution of Christians in Rome. The brutal details are recorded in the work of 1st century historian Tacitus, no friend of Christianity (click here to read Tacitus' account at Annals 15.44). Tradition has it that both Peter and Paul died at the hand of Nero (Paul with the "easier" death, being a Roman citizen through his city of birth).

Secondly, and somewhat more significant for scholarship, what may be the oldest copy of the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Old Testament has been finally read. The scroll had been badly burned, charred, and unable to be safely opened. Now, however, the brilliant minds at the University of Kentucky figured out a way to read it without opening it! Click here and here for the story. The scroll, found over 50 years ago near the Dead Sea, may be as late as 300 AD (which would still make it the earliest copy of the Masoretic Hebrew text, though the earlier great Isaiah scroll is close enough to be considered "proto-Masoretic), but the scroll may be as early as the first century. No less a scholar than Emanual Tov (who is to OT textual criticism what Lebron James is to the NBA) suggests a first century date.

Most significant, however, is the fact that this manuscript, containing Leviticus 1-2, perfectly matches Masoretic manuscripts many centuries later!! What a testament to both God's preservation  of his word and the meticulous skill of Hebrew scribes. The manuscript does not, of course, contain the vowel markings of later manuscripts (you can see for yourself), since those were not part of the Hebrew texts until later (and, interestingly, modern Hebrew usually does not use vowel markings either).

The realm of textual criticism should neither frighten nor be a stumbling block to believers. God preserves the Bible, despite the inconsistency of humans, in the multiplicity of manuscripts (with some manuscripts being better than others). We need to avoid the myth, argued by both liberals and the more extreme side of the KJV-only crowd, that unless we have a manuscript or edited book that matches 100%, all by itself, the original autographa, then we don't have God's Word. If somehow you were to make a copy of a letter from your spouse, and misspelled a word, does it then cease to be a letter from your spouse? Who's letter would it become, then?

The Christian should not be shocked by such statements as "the Bible contains 300,000+ textual variants!" The more copies you make of something the more textual variants there will be! Since we have thousands of pre-printing press manuscripts, then obviously the potential for variants is multiplied exponentially.

Furthermore, the vast majority of those variants don't even matter (spelling mistakes, writing "Jesus Christ" vs. "Christ Jesus," etc.) Of those that do matter, no point of theology is challenged when we look at the manuscript as a whole. (i.e., it's not like we have two New Testaments, one telling Jesus rose again and one telling us he didn't). As far as modern critical editions go, the Byzantine, Textus Receptus, and Eclectic (UBS/Nestle Aland), and even Westcott and Hort's original edited Alexandrian all have Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died on the cross for our sins and rose again the third day, who is Savior and Lord of the universe, and who can be our savior if we trust in him. The Gospel is unaltered no matter which text you choose.
Side note: OT textual criticism is actually more complicated, but the Torah is still the Torah, and both the Hebrew and the LXX Isaiah point to a "suffering servant."
Anyways, all this to say, "Textual criticism is your friend!" And it can be pretty exciting, as well.

1 comment:

  1. Papa Himes would be so interested in this article and so proud of you! Love you! Aunt Jo