State-of-the-Art Technology Proves the Purity of Biblical Text

State-of-the-Art Technology Proves the Purity of Biblical Text            

by | Oct 7, 2016 | Evidence |
Modern scanning technology has solved the mystery of a 2000-year-old charred scroll and authenticated the reliability of the biblical text in the process. There has been a longstanding debate in academic circles over how reliably the texts of the Bible have been transmitted over the centuries. Many claim that multiple generations of copying and recopying have radically changed the original versions of the Bible. However, this find of part of the book of Leviticus gives strong support to the view that the most ancient form of the Bible has been faithfully transmitted down to today.

And David went up from there and lived in the strongholds of Engedi. – 1 Samuel 23:29 (ESV)

In 1970 Israeli archaeologists digging at the ancient site of En-Gedi near the Dead Sea discovered a charred lump of what was a leather scroll in the remains of an ancient synagogue. They determined that the synagogue had been destroyed in the 6th century AD, but the scroll was so thoroughly burned and crushed that it had been reduced to chunks of delicate charcoal. Radiocarbon dating methods initially placed the age of the scroll at around AD 300 but nothing could be read and any attempts at unrolling one of the chunks would cause it to crumble into ashes. Hoping that future technology might someday provide more information, the scroll fragments were put into storage.

Charred Scroll fragments as they were stored for 35 years. Shai Halevi / Israel Antiquities Authority

Fast-forward 45 years when University of Kentucky computer scientists led by William Brent Seales had developed software capable of reading damaged texts, especially ancient texts that were written with ink containing metals such as lead or iron. Pnina Shor from the Israel Antiquities Authority gave initial scans of the carbonized scroll to Dr. Seales in Kentucky. He used the software to virtually “unroll” five layers of the folded scroll. For more on this process see the article in Science Advances. The scans revealed the first two chapters of the Bible’s book of Leviticus. To their amazement, not only was the writing revealed, it was completely readable.

And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. – Deuteronomy 17:19 (ESV)

The Integrity of the Text

An even more surprising find from The En-Gedi scroll was that when scholars in Israel interpreted the text, it exactly matched the Masoretic version, which is the foundational Hebrew text used in Bibles around the world today. Not a single variant was found but it conformed to every word and every letter.
The oldest complete Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) in the Masoretic form is the Leningrad Codex from AD 1008 and other copies with only portions of the text survive from a couple centuries earlier. Many scholars cite this reality to maintain that the Masoretic text came relatively late in the development of the Bible – about 1000 years after other versions such as the Greek translation of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint.

Leningrad Codex (AD 1008) cover page and sample of text from Exodus 15:21-16:3.

These versions all have differences that are reflected in the Dead Sea scrolls from Qumran. These differences are typically exaggerated by skeptics of the Bible and simultaneously downplayed be people of faith. But the En-Gedi Leviticus scroll demonstrates the Masoretic tradition nearly 1000 years before Leningrad Codex, yet perfectly matching it.
Dr. Emanuel Tov from Hebrew University in Jerusalem is a linguist, biblical scholar and leading authority on the Dead Sea scrolls that participated in the study. He stated that the charred En-Gedi scroll is “100 percent identical” to the version of the Book of Leviticus that has been in use for centuries. “This is quite amazing for us. In 2,000 years, this text has not changed.”
“The En-Gedi scroll even duplicates the exact paragraph breaks seen later in the medieval Hebrew. The only difference between the two is that ancient Hebrew had no vowels, so these were added in the Middle Ages.”

En-Gedi Scroll. Drawing by Ada Yardeni

The style of the writing on the scroll has also caused a revision of the date for its origin to between 50 and 100 AD. ”We may safely date this scroll to about the second half of the 1st century and at latest, the beginning of the 2nd century CE” wrote Ada Yardeni, an expert on Hebrew paleography, in an article in the journal Textus. Dr. Tov said he was “inclined toward a first-century date, based on paleography.” This would put the writing of this scroll at the end of the period when the Dead Sea scrolls were written.

Partial transcription and translation of recovered text. Science Advances Figure 9.

The En-Gedi scroll was found in the synagogue’s Holy Ark (or cabinet), which is a significant point. Previously, no biblical scroll had ever been found in the Ark of an ancient synagogue. The Jewish Talmud along with ancient writers such as Philo and Josephus held that a standard copy of the Hebrew Bible was kept in the court of the Temple in Jerusalem for the benefit of copyists. These copies were then distributed to the various synagogues. These versions that were connected to the Temple likely represented the official orthodox version of the text while the Essenes at Qumran were a rival fringe group that had separated itself from the Temple. This may help explain the wide textual variety in the biblical scrolls found at Qumran.
It is interesting to note that manuscripts discovered at sites other than Qumran (including Masada and Wadi Murabba‛at) are closer to the Masoretic Text and in some cases even match it. These were places where Jews from the Temple (and thus connected to its central orthodoxy) fled after its destruction in AD 70, so they took their official texts with them. According to Yardeni, after this point all Hebrew biblical manuscripts that we know of reflect the Masoretic text, and not the variety seen at Qumran.

You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you. – Deuteronomy 4:2 (ESV)

Jewish tradition holds that the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) has been copied by hand with meticulous care going back to Moses himself. The amazing En-Gedi scroll supports this claim and shows that an exact representation of the modern biblical text was in use and was probably the standard version nearly 2000 years ago.

Taken from: http://patternsofevidence


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