How do you feel about this comment on the Old Testament by an OT Textual Critic named Emmanual Tov?  He claims that about 35% of the DSS biblical manuscripts belong to the Masoretic tradition (MT), 5% to the Septuagint family, and 5% to the Samaritan, with the remainder unaligned. The non-aligned fall into two categories, those inconsistent in agreeing with other known types, and those that diverge significantly from all other known readings. According to him, the DSS thus form a significant witness to the mutability of biblical texts at this period ( And here’s an article about a lecture that Tov just gave last year on the reliability of the Masoretic text, the Old Testament, and the DSS. ( I’m stumped about the statistics on the MT and the article that I read, I was wondering if you can possibly shed some light on this topic. On a side note I have read your reasons to belief chapter on the Old Testament and it has helped me out, however Tov’s comments have become a stumbling block in trusting the reliability of the Old Testament text.


I looked at the notes from the lecture. This person Tov does not list the specifics. He seems to have a stake in creating doubt in the reliability of the Old Testament. His ally Bart Ehrman is a good scholar, but he is extremely biased toward exaggerating the amount of variation in the text.

I am afraid it will be hard to respond to this, because I see very few specifics. Mr Tov mentions one non-aligned manuscript and his big deal of difference is one extra verse in one Psalm. The difference between the Masoretic Text, the Septuagint and the DSS Isaiah is really quite small. No important doctrine is affected by the small changes of single words, spelling and the like. I am prepared to believe that these non-aligned manuscript types have relatively small differences unless I have evidence to the contrary. Besides, we can assume that the Masoretic text which was created by the Jews was created using some good textual criticism. It is true that they standardized the text, which is a disadvantage for scholars, but we can assume that they considered what was the most reliable text carefully. The Jews had an almost insane respect for Scripture. The Masoretes were the most extreme example of this.  Therefore we can assume that they chose the most reliable textual types.  So…. unless I see specific evidence to the contrary I am going to assume that the textual differences represented by these alternative textual types do not present a significant problem for the question of biblical reliability.

John Oakes

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