Created  Mar. 8, 2014                             

New Bible Textual Criticism

The Premise
What We Do Have!
The Announcement
The Bible Perfect?
A Grave Threat and Danger Approaching

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The Premise
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I recently came upon an article featuring recent news of new projects which sought to re-examine the oldest Bible Texts and compare them with each other. This means the Hebrew of returning exiles, post 539 BC, usually nearer to 100 AD and on, along with various Greek versions, Syriac Aramaic Peshitta version, a Samaritan version, and the Latin Vulgate, too. A variety of Masoretic versions are compared by some.

Several separate groups have formed to attempt their own versions of Bible text review and analysis. Why this sudden surge in new "Criticism," which is actually just analysis of the copying process over the centuries and how our modern translations hold up. This is a good thing, on the surface. But men have been critically analyzing Bible Texts for a good 1000 years or more.

While new analysis is no threat and could possible help in a few rare instances, it seems like a vast overkill, perhaps with mixed motives as well. If one wants to tamper with the Bible, how better to do that than study weak points in translation, or find a problem where there really isn't any, and try to cast some doubt and suggest a change not merited. Most modern translations made in latter 20th century onward, have been made, primarily, in my opinion, to justify copyright fees and charge more for their Bibles. So I remain skeptical.

So I though this new trend ought to be considered also from a "critical" perspective. We have many fine works on the last 500 years that have done plenty to allow anyone to question and check the original of any word or phrase in the original Hebrew and Greek. These resources, in my experience, are quite adequate, if not superb. All that is necessary is for someone, anyone, to question a scripture, or dig into word meanings and choices of previous translators. The Proverbs often suggested that "in a multitude of counselors" there is "wisdom, salvation," and the like.

So I invite you to reconsider how much of a need there really is or not, to yet further explore what we got as if we hardly had anything to begin with. We are every near to the climax of decision and judgment of God as prophesied long ago. It is a bit too late now to start on any major "Criticism" project, as if such had merit in the 1st place. What we have, nearly regardless of the many translations available, is very good and should enable us to discern the truth.

But the devil wants to cast doubt and I see this as his work. That prophecy is seeing such remarkable fulfillment since the new century began in 2001, is grounds enough to erase any doubt, if any had some. Most of the world will continue to doubt, only to die for it in the end. But for those without doubt in God or the Bible, we have what we need and what we further need as time still barely allows, is to apply ourselves diligently to the study of God's word and prophecies.

What We Do Have!

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I previously mentioned the various old Bible texts, which number 5 different languages with 4 or 5 variants of Greek. It is not that these vary in great degrees. Errors are usually in spelling, missing letters or left out words in copying. It gets trickier when translating from Hebrew to Greek or other languages, since one has to make judgment calls on what word of the new language best fits the origin Hebrew thought and intentions. There are at least 3 or 4 major variant version of Greek texts. But it is best to keep in mind that this is all a matter of small copy errors. What can not typically be found is a place where someone actually changes something quite different from the texts before it.

Bible Textual Criticism, which is simply carefully examining various Bible texts to see what has existed from the oldest to newest copies and judge what is most likely authentic and what is least likely. This is something that many have been doing for at least 400 or 500 years, and really, far longer than that by Masoretic Rabbbis copying the word of God through various times since their exile in 70 AD by Rome. The last 500 years had many Christian scholars applying themselves to Translation, study, commentaries, consulting many different sources and learned opinions.

I'll take the time here to recommend the following, available on Windows, Macintosh, and even Linux for a Bible Search and Bible Versions with many commentaries and other such tools.

Put out at this site:

Called The "Online Bible." It is well made with loads of resources and best of all, the most affordable by far, of all such programs. So anyone serious about Bible study, this is the best source there is for such study. Commentaries, Dictionaries, everything imaginable, including many available translations. And as if these were not enough, there are resources on the internet as well, with Bible Translations, and various commentaries and other aids to give you various opinions to consider as you ponder a scripture. The Net alone has a lot to offer, if you can not find all your answers with the Online Bible.

Most importantly, we have the spirit of God who generously gives light to those who sincerely ask and apply themselves to Bible study and obedience to God and His laws. He supplies vision and enlightenment to those who seek Him with diligence and passion. It really is not rocket science or brain surgery. Love of God and seeking His wisdom out will bring results to those with  faith. You can not fail.

With this being the situation, I am perplexed by the sudden burst of "Criticism" activity. We have so much, why are we in need of supposedly so much more? I don't believe we are in that need. What is lacking is not tools and resources, but effort on the part of people to apply themselves to study of God and devotion to Him.

The Announcement
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I came across the article (announcement) in Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR), Nov/Dec 2013, starting at page 60: "What's Critical About A Critical Edition of the Bible?," David Marcus and James A. Sanders.

Also recommended by BAR (and me):    *See "The Art and Science of Textual Criticism," James A. Sanders's review of Emanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, BAR, May/June 2012.

The Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia is a common popular critical text version of the Hebrew Old Testament, that was made in Stuttgart Germany. Its also abbreviated as (BHS), which is how Online Bible denotes that version.

Marcus and Sanders relate: "This edition is now being revised by an international and inter-confessional team of scholars under the auspices of the United Bible Societies. This new edition, called Biblia Hebraica Quinta (BHQ), is being produced in stages, and to date six volumes have appeared." The article also noted this:

Simply leaving a letter out, could also change a word, since in Hebrew, only consonants are written out so that 1 missing letter can end up being another word. So innocent errors are not all that hard to make. They are usually easy to spot by others as well. But it does demand that we never take fore granted what comes down to us and be willing to reconsider we we have for text handed down to us.

The Masoretes, Jewish Rabbis of the 700-1000 AD and later, took to copying and reviewing existing texts available to them and making diligent comparison. we owe them a great debt for their valiant efforts to preserve the words of God. Their texts and works compare very favorably to parts of Bible text found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, which I will date as between 100 BC to 100 AD, roughly. There is nearly 1000 years between those scrolls/text of the Bible with nary an error (did you like that one?). Not bad, given that some suggest so much could go wrong. No evidence for that, though.

Further, I have disputed the authenticity of Esther as a proper book of the Bible and no texts from it were ever found among the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), which is not proof that it is not authentic, but certainly leaves more room for what I and others have suggested. No other book of the Bible is without a presence in the DSS.

BAR also reports: "THE ALEPPO CODEX was considered the oldest (950 C.E.), most accurate and complete Masoretic manuscript until a third of it was burned and destroyed in a 1947 anti-Jewish uprising in Syria."  .  .  .   "The critical edition of the Hebrew University Bible Project is based on the Aleppo Codex."

"At the present time, three different critical Bible projects in various stages are trying to do this. One the Oxford University Bible, sponsored by Oxford University Press, is still in its formative stages. Another at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem is the Hebrew University Bible Project (HUBP), which has so far issued three volumes containing the Major Prophets. The third, with which the two authors of this article are associated, is the Biblia Hebraica Quinta (BHQ), which has issued six volumes."

So we have:
HUBP --  based on the oldest text of the complete Bible, the Aleppo Codex, dated to about 950 C.E.
BHQ is based on the Leningrad Codex, 1008 AD.

Among the Greek versions, are as follows:
Codex Alexandrius, 5th century AD
Codex Sinaiticus, 4th century AD, 
Codex Vaticanus, dated "palaeographically" to the 4th century.
[3][4] according to Wikipedia.

Alexandrius is considered the most complete and useful. The Latin Vulgate is dated to the 8th century AD, considered the most accurate copying of Jerome's original work of Latin translation. While we could wish for more, what we have is quite useful in that, for example, a text of the Vulgate from the 4th century AD is copied in the8th century AD. How many errors could be made in one copying? Probably not many of any consequence.

If Masoretes from say 700 AD, make a copy from the 1st century AD, how many errors might we have. Very few and of no consequence, in all likelihood. So these copies often bridge several hundred or 5 or 6 hundred years. And if those earlier versions were relatively error free, the possibility of meaningful errors is very low indeed! Indeed, the Dead Sea Scrolls, say all written at 100 AD, come to us in the year 2000 with no significant error, spanning 1900 years. The Exodus of 1500 BC surviving till 100 BC in fairly good shape, is 1400 year. If we can span 1900 years with no substantial errors, surely we can do so for 1400 years.

Its not quite that simple, but nearly so. There is little room for critical errors. The Jews (the Priesthood, really) were ordained by our Heavenly Father to record their/His history by means of parchment and an alphabetic lettered language, to secure its survival by creating a bureaucratic agency (the priesthood) whose main job was to preserve the rituals of the worship of God and the written text. While text carved into stone can last long, its not practical for long lengths of text or for copying numerous times.

God had great foresight in choosing the method He did. The Jews were allowed the privilege of preserving God's "interests," namely the preservation of His words. we have been blessed by the sons of Abraham for their service. God eventually chose to begin His following anew, by separating a small group of Jews from the main body and transferring to them the duties once the assignment of priests, as well as amazing signs and wonders of God.

But even after this, well intentioned Jews and perhaps some not so well meaning, have both continued to benefit the whole world, because of the legacy of some of serving God in good conscience and for the glory of God.

The Bible Perfect?
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Where did it ever say that? It did not. We are not perfect and God does not need perfection to carry out His will. The same could be said for the Bible text. It does not have to be perfect, error-free, and without attempts to corrupt it, either. All it needs is a good honest comparison by those of good will and diligence in order for the truth to be discovered in an adequate form so as to warn and prepare God's people for the great tribulation due to overtake all the earth and everyone in it.

So it remains our duty to not take the work of translators and church leaders of past and present times, for granted. We must always be willing to analyze and adequately understand for ourselves what the Bible is likely saying and obey that, rather than blindly taking the word of others to be true, without seeing it in the Bible for ourselves. The religion of God is not for lazy people. So do not hesitate to get some good Bible aids and see what you can discern for yourselves. You can do it. God will make sure of that!

A Grave Threat and Danger Approaching
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The Devil is already in the process of crafting the biggest deceptive fraud in the history of the world. And he is going to convince the world that right is wrong and wrong is right. He is going to pull off a tremendous deception, choosing a human being to pretend to be the Christ of God. But there is sufficient warning in the Bible about this deception. But I suspect that part of the Devil's strategy will be to change a few key words of scripture that will allow Jesus to return yet again in the flesh, which Jesus said he would not turn that way as he did the 1st time. He sacrificed his flesh, blood, body on the real heavenly altar of God and shall never receive that back again.

But the devil will try to convince all that Jesus is to return again in the flesh, to lead us back to God and salvation. How do you change the Bible after 3500 years of getting it fairly right? How about making some "new discoveries" due to textual criticism and review? That would do it, wouldn't it? Maybe? I think so. We have long had what we needed. As far as I am concerned, the amazing power that personal computers and the internet have given us, have allowed us the very best tools to get at the solid truth.

Yes, the internet (surveillance) has exposed us for what we are, but if we have obeyed God, that is nothing to fear. We have the opportunity to hear from bold thinkers and revisionists, as well as lots of liars and deceivers. With God's word, we can distinguish between the good and bad. We have God's help, always.

Maybe these new works will be good. But I have my doubts. Regardless, we have what we need to obtain truth and please God right now!

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