Sunday, July 19, 2015

The search for the most accurate ancient manuscripts of the biblical text.

An important component of the search for the original manuscripts of the books of the Bible – or later copies that are the most accurate – is called “Textual Criticism.”

(1) Textual criticism deals with the origin and nature of all forms of a text, in our case the biblical text.

(2) This involves a discussion of its supposed original form(s) and an analysis of the various representatives of the changing biblical text.

(3) The analysis includes a discussion of the relation between these texts, and attempts are made to describe the external conditions of the copying and the procedure of textual transmission.

Scholars involved in textual criticism not only collect data on differences between the textual witnesses (manuscripts) -- they also try to evaluate them. Textual criticism deals only with data deriving from the textual transmission (copying and recopying) — in other words, readings included in textual witnesses which have been created at an earlier stage.

The biblical text has been transmitted in many ancient and medieval sources which are known to us from modern editions in different         languages. The primary texts of the Jewish Scriptures we now have include are manuscripts (MSS) in Hebrew and other languages from the Middle Ages and ancient times as well as fragments of leather and papyrus scrolls two thousand years old or more.

These sources shed light on and witness to the biblical text, hence their name: “textual witnesses.” All of these textual witnesses differ from each other to a greater or lesser extent. Since no textual source contains what could be called “the” biblical text, a serious involvement in biblical studies clearly necessitates the study of all sources, including the differences between them. The comparison and analysis of these textual differences hold a central place within textual criticism.  


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