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Did Early Bible Copying

Remain Accurate?


The collection of manuscripts (known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered at Qumran in 1947) was found to date back to between 150 BC and AD 68.  Some of these manuscripts were copies of the Scriptures, and were about a thousand years older than the earliest known surviving copies.  Meticulous comparison between the two revealed an almost ‘word for word’ accuracy.


How was such accurate copying possible?  The answer is found in understanding the supremely high regard the Jewish people had for their Sacred Scriptures, and the extreme devotion they gave to the accuracy of their copying.


There were two grades of copying:  (1) Sacred copies for use in Synagogues and for use as future master copies, and (2) common copies for individual use. All Synagogue scrolls had to be written on specially cured skins from ritually clean, pure animals.


Strict religious rules were put in place to safeguard the ongoing accuracy of their precious, sacred, Synagogue copies.  When undertaking the work of sacred copying, the scribe first had to take a full ritual bath then dress, and remain dressed, in full Jewish attire for the duration of his time spent copying.


Strict rules also extended to their conduct while copying.  Scribes were not allowed to look up or acknowledge anyone coming or going around them.  They were not allowed to copy from memory.  They were not allowed to copy ‘sentence for sentence’, or even ‘word for word’.  Copying had to be done ‘letter for letter’ with a thread-breadth or hair-breadth between consonants.


The strict rules regarding the actual copying were known as ‘Fencing the Scriptures’ because all letters, characters, words and sentences were to be ‘locked in’.  The lines and columns had to be of a particular length and height, and letters and words were counted and checked for accuracy by a second person and then a third. 


As a further check for accuracy, rows, columns, words and letters were counted to ascertain the middle letter of a page, and this was scrupulously compared with the original.  When a book was completed another check was made that counted up the phrases.  A single error meant the destruction of the complete manuscript to ensure that it could never accidentally be used as a master copy.





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