I know I’ve asked you questions regarding to the different OT translations and transmissions (Septuagint, SP, MT), however I’ve recently been troubled by two somewhat different positions on the accuracy of the transmission. Emmanual Tov a leading scholar on the dead sea scrolls and textual critic recently came out with a book “Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible” where he states that the stabilization of hebrew scripture is a myth ( go to chapter 3 in the table of contents and a preview of this section is free for observation). In addition I listened to a lecture given by Emmanual on this very subject ( Now on the other end of the spectrum is a leading dead sea scrolls scholar in Canada by the name of Peter Flint. Peter confirms multiple times that the OT that we have in our hands is 99% accurate ( but only gives two examples psalms and Isaiah. Now I wanted to ask you two different questions. One is what are your thoughts and comments on Emmanual Tov’s statement about an “illusion” of a stabilized transmission? And two what are your thoughts and comments on Peter’s statement of 99% accuracy? I know this is a long question, but once again John thanks for input and loving heart!


I have not read the book you reference, although I read a part of the section of Chapter 3 you asked me to consider. I read enough to get a general feel for where Tov is going. I think that Tov is being truthful here. I do not see him exaggerating. I would say that if I had to come down on one side or the other, I would disagree with 99% accuracy claim of Peter Flint. I do not know how he did his calculation. Perhaps he compared one of the two main Isaiah DSS manuscripts with the standardized Masoretic Text found in, for example, the Leningrad Codex. Perhaps (and I am guessing here) he did a legitimate calculation between just two texts of just one book and came up with a 1% estimate for the “errors” in the Old Testament. Clearly, however, this would be an oversimplification and an underestimation. Even in this case, I would need to see his calculation. I believe that we can say we have a New Testament which is nearly 99% accurate (although you should be cautious: I am doing this as a gross guestimate). However, I am confident that a careful analysis of all the manuscript evidence for the Old Testament would yield significantly more than 1% of the text which is in at least some doubt.

I believe that Tov’s use of the phrase “the myth of the stabilization of the Hebrew scripture” is rhetorical. In other words, he is using a loaded word here to exaggerate the errors of those with whom he does not agree and in order to make his position look more significant than it really is. I believe a less rhetorical, and therefore less biased statement would be something like this. Scholarly theories of the past generation or two that what we call the Masoretic Text had stabilized by the end of the first century AD have been shown by more recent evidence to be overstated. Newer information has supported the idea that there were still a number of textual lines circulating among the Jews for several centuries after this arbitrary date. Although it is true that by the time of the oldest pre-DSS manuscripts in the 10th century AD (the Leningrad Codex, for example), there was a largely standardized Hebrew Text we now call the MT.  The claim that this MT had already remained stable and virtually unchanged for the eight hundred years prior to AD 900 is no longer supportable.

So, although I believe Tov is using rhetoric to make it appear as if his position is a bigger deal than it is, he is closer to the truth than Peter Flint. Please bear in mind, I am stating this based on some very unscientific in-my-head calculation.

Again, I would ask you to see the forest and not get too caught up in the trees. All the evidence I have seen so far leads me to conclude that, although there was a significant number of copying errors and even editorial changes between the time of the original autographs of the inspired OT texts, few or perhaps none at all have a significant impact on the theology or doctrine of the Bible as a whole. If I am right, then whether copying errors and editing have affected 1% or 3% of the text we now have, the result is the same. No important doctrine of Christianity is affected by such minor copying and editing problems. Unless I see evidence which could potentially overturn my statement, I intend to stick to this statement as consistent with the facts

John Oakes



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