Should the Septuagint and the Samaritan Pentateuch be used? Is the Masoretic the only inspired Hebrew text?
Sorry to add another question to my previous question, but I was wondering how do you feel about the use of the Septuagint and the pre-Samaritan text in the New Testament? I know that these two versions of the Old Testament sometimes differ and have on older Hebrew reading from the Masoretic text. Would you say that the Masoretic text is the only Old Testament text-type to accept as Holy Scripture? I know I’ve asked you about the septuagint and the mt before but I wanted to see your perspective on this question.
To begin with, I assume that the original autograph manuscripts were inspired and, with a sufficiently nuanced definition, inerrant. We know for a fact that all ancient manuscripts have copying errors. Very likely there were also attempts at “corrections” and “improvements” by scribes which are, in fact, not improvements. For this reason, there is no perfect Old Testament text. This clearly includes the Masoretic Text, which was put in its present form in the second half of the first millennium by Jewish scribes. My thought on this is that all ancient texts have the potential to help scholars reproduce the most accurate possible Hebrew text. This would definitely include the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Septuagint. The two provide snapshots of the text from about the 6th and the late 3rd century BC. The evidence is that the Masoretes made a good faith attempt to reconstruct a Hebrew text. I assume they did something akin to what modern scholars do, which is to look at textual variants and apply a few common sense rules to create the best possible standard text. Surely some of their biases entered the final text as well. I suppose that if we absolutely had to choose any single ancient text of the Hebrew Old Testament, nearly all experts (I am not among them!) would choose the Masoretic. However, this is not the case. We have a LOT of sources, including Hebrew Targums, the Talmud and many other sources in addition to the Septuagint, the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Masoretic text. All of these should be consulted in attempting to produce as accurate a Hebrew text as possible.
I have served on more than one jury. Having a multitude of witnesses to a single event can be confusing, but, in the end, having more than one witness helps to produce a more accurate picture of what actually happened. This is an useful analogy to the questions of ancient texts. Some are more reliable than others, but all have at least something to offer to reproduce an accurate picture of the original.
You are probably aware that there is a significant faction of believers who claim that the Masoretic text is somehow an inspired one. Such people typically claim that the Greek text used by Erasmus and the English Authorized Version (KJV) are also inspired. The evidence proves without the slightest doubt that this view is overblown. Even if the Masoretic or the Byzantine text is the best, there is no evidence, biblical or otherwise that those who produced these texts were miraculously inspired. This view is also divisive, as it is used as a weapon to divide churches. I have seen this first hand. This philosophy should be opposed vigorously for this reason.