Old Testament Manuscripts

 The Old Testament was written mainly in Hebrew between about 1450 BC and 400 BC. It has been copied by scribes, many times (there were no printing presses), then later translated into English, It was the job of scribes to copy out the Hebrew onto scrolls of parchment or animal hides, and later into books. The process of copying was carried out with extraordinary care.


For example, several copies of the Old Testament have been found dating from about AD 900. These were produced by a group of Jews, known as Masoretes, who followed a number of precise rules when copying. As long as such rules were kept, it was highly unlikely that errors would creep in.


Rules for scribes copying the Old Testament:

  1. the whole scroll must be carefully ruled before a word is written
  2. the ink must be black, made from soot, charcoal and honey
  3. each line is to contain 30 letters exactly
  4. each column is to contain an even number of lines, the same number throughout the scroll
  5. no letter or word is to be written from memory
  6. each word must be studied in the original manuscript and spoken aloud before being copied
  7. the document is to be carefully checked using word and letter counts
  8. the entire scroll is to be checked by a supervisor


The Masoretes edited and standardised the text “with the greatest imaginable reverence, and devised a complicated system of safeguards against scribal slips. They counted, for example, the number of times each letter of the alphabet occurs in each book; they pointed out the middle letter of the Pentateuch and the middle letter of the whole Hebrew Bible, and made even more detailed calculations than these.”  (Professor F F Bruce, The Books and the Parchments, p 117)


“The Masoretes were indeed anxious that not one jot or tittle, not one smallest letter nor one tiny part of a letter, of the Law should pass away or be lost,” wrote Sir Frederic Kenyon, in Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, p 38.


(From Getting to know the Bible better and Evidence that demands a verdict)