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Are the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Manuscripts Reliable? A Blast From the Past

A reader has perspicaciously pointed out to me that a particularly relevant post from three years ago (June 7, 2013) makes an important contribution to the topic I’ve been discussing about the Pentateuch.  This post is not about whether the events described in the Hebrew Bible are accurate, but whether we have accurate manuscripts of these accounts.  I talk a lot on the blog about manuscripts of the New Testament.  What about manuscripts of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible?  My post back then was in response to a question.  Here it is in full:

****************************************************************************************************

QUESTION:

Bart, these issues you’ve found in the New Testament, have you studied and found similar issues in the Old Testament?”

RESPONSE:

Yes indeed!   Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) was my secondary field in my PhD program, and I taught Introduction to Hebrew Bible at both Rutgers and UNC.   A few years ago when I decided to write my Introduction to the Bible I decided that to do it right I had to re-tool in Hebrew Bible.  I’m by no means an expert, but I have caught up on a good deal of scholarship and re-learned Hebrew (I hadn’t read it in years).  I try to read some Hebrew Bible every morning; I’m not great at it, but I can slog through with a dictionary…..

So, I think it’s fair to say that the problems that I have talked about in my publications about the New Testament are even more pronounced for the Hebrew Bible.   I think I will take three of the big issues (I’m happy to address others if there are any questions people have – that I can answer!) and devote a brief post to each one.

In this post: The textual situation.   My book Misquoting Jesus was about how we do not have the originals of any of the books of the New Testament, but only copies made later – in most cases many centuries later, so that there are some places where specialists cannot agree on what the text originally said, and there are some places where we’ll probably never know.   The situation is much worse for the Hebrew Bible.  Much much worse.

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The Emperor Constantine: Some Background
Suggestions for Further Reading on the Pentateuch

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    smackemyackem  July 11, 2016

    In your opinion, do the DSS confirm the accuracy of the masoretic text or the septuagent…or a little of both? Which is more reliable? Zachariah 12:10 comes to mind. Chabad.org has a very different reading than biblehub.com. ..leading to very different theological implications. Both sides say they are right (jew vs christian).

    • Bart
      Bart  July 12, 2016

      They show that some books were copied accurately for centuries (e.g. Isaiah), and other books not (e.g. Jeremiah; it is closer to the Septuagint than to the Masoretic Text, and the Septuagint is 15% shorter!!). Unfortunately, they cannot tell us how well the books were being copied in the years/centuries *before* the DSS, all the way back to the time they were originally written.

      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  July 15, 2016

        I took a class on the making of the Bible from an Eastern Orthodox teacher. He argued that, since the Greek of the Septuagint is often closer to the Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls (than to the Masoretic text) and is older than them, students must pay very serious attention to the Greek of the Septuagint as a possible guide or for clues at least as to what the Hebrew of the Hebrew Scriptures might have been even before the DDS’s. Seems to make sense up to a point. Your thoughts?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 17, 2016

          Yes, the Septuagint has to be taken very seriously, for that reason.

  2. talmoore
    talmoore  July 11, 2016

    One clue as to the copying practices pre-Masoretes is that the Masoretic text actually has intentionally copied errors that, due to the sanctity of the received text, the Masoretes are unable to “correct” them. So instead they add a parenthetical that “corrects” the text, while keeping the sacred original. (For example, in Isaiah 9:6 there is a mem sofit, which is supposed to go at the end of a word, in the middle of a word, so the scribes have left the original spelling — as it is too sacred to correct — and have added, in parentheticals, the correct spelling of the word.) This type of parenthetical correction of the received text is so common that Sofrim (Torah scribes) even have a technical term for it: Tiqqun Sofrim or a Scribal Correction. So all signs point to a lot of text tampering pre-Masoretic and pre-Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s very unlikely that the Hebrew text reached any sense of consistency before the Hasmoneans, i.e. 2nd century BCE.

  3. Avatar
    Wilusa  July 11, 2016

    “Again, suppose Amos’s book was first put in circulation in the mid 7th century BCE (he is predicting a destruction by the Assyrians – which happened in 722 BCE – so he was writing before that).”

    About assuming dates…you’ve said elsewhere that a Gospel account of Jesus’s predicting the destruction of the Temple was almost certainly written *after* that destruction. Partly because claimed “prophecies,” in general, are often faked – written after the events have taken place, and misdated. Why do you think this case is different?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 12, 2016

      Normally to determine if a prophecy is “after the fact” you look for details that could not be anticipated. But as it turns out, I’ve always thought that Jesus *did* predict the destruction of the temple. It’s multiply attested and there is nothing implausible about it — lots of prophets predicted a coming destruction (of Jerusalem, of the Temple, of the nation, etc.)

      • talmoore
        talmoore  July 12, 2016

        Amos’ prediction of the destruction of the Northern Kingdom and Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the Temple could simply be cases of the sharpshooter fallacy. That is, prophets such as Amos and Jesus may have made dozens, hundreds, even thousands of predictions that were never realized, and, therefore, those predictions were ignored and forgotten, but the minority of predictions that just so happened to occur, those were noticed and a great big bullseye was painted around them, so that followers of those prophets could say, “See, our prophet predicted this event and it came true!” That’s a classic case of the sharpshooter fallacy — remember the hits, ignore the misses. If a prophet makes enough predictions, by the law of large numbers, he’s going to get at least one right eventually.

        • Bart
          Bart  July 13, 2016

          I completely agree!

        • acircharo
          acircharo  September 21, 2016

          No where is this more evident, outside of the biblical applications, than Nostradamus! He’s written a THOUSAND quatrains however the same dozen or so are the ones that are constantly cited! The other 900-some odd are left on the editing room floor.

      • Pattycake1974
        Pattycake1974  July 12, 2016

        I just started reading Elaine Pagels’ book, Revelations. She wrote that she thought Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple before it happened as well.

        When you say lots of prophets predicted a coming destruction, do you mean they were foretelling the future through a revelation from God or that the religious tensions between the Romans and Jews was an obvious, foreseeable event?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 13, 2016

          The latter. People make all sorts of predictions. Think about the coming elections! Some predictions will prove to be true!

        • Avatar
          jrkovan  October 10, 2016

          What is more interesting is when was the ‘prophecy’ written down? Was Revelation’s written in the 90’s? It is easy to attribute a prophecy to someone after the fact… furthermore, the Jewish prophets all predicted the destruction of Jerusalem, so someone else parroting a prophecy is not a prophecy. Furthermore, Jesus allegedly predicted that not one stone would be left remaining… last time I was at the remnant of the Jewish Temple there was a large wall standing…

      • Avatar
        Kazibwe Edris  July 16, 2016

        daniel made the prediction, right? i heard many jews in jesus’ time thought that it would be destroyed, is that correct?

        i heard that one thing jesus did not predict was the main cause of destruction and that is burned down by fire.

        is this correct?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 17, 2016

          1. I don’t think we know; 2. Jesus says nothing about the temple being burned down.

        • Avatar
          SidDhartha1953  July 20, 2016

          He also said, “not one stone will be left on top of another,” which did not prove accurate, as the Wailing Wall attests.

          • SBrudney091941
            SBrudney091941  July 23, 2016

            Except he was talking about the Temple and the Wailing Wall was not part of the Temple proper but part of the Temple mount.

          • Avatar
            SidDhartha1953  July 26, 2016

            I was unaware the term “Wailing Wall” is considered derogatory by some. My apologies. However, back to my observation about Jesus’ prediction. Mk. 13:1-2 indicates he was speaking of all the structures his disciples were marvelling at as they exited the temple. Would that not include the Western Wall?

          • Bart
            Bart  July 26, 2016

            Yes, I think it would.

          • SBrudney091941
            SBrudney091941  July 26, 2016

            I have no idea what, in my words, you could be referring to that could be interpreted as taking the term “Wailing Wall” to be derogatory. Anyway, true, an invading army that would lay waste to the Temple might also dismantle the platform upon which it stands. But, if you are exiting the Temple and are walking on the “floor,” so to speak, upon which it and all adjacent buildings are built, you would not be looking at the retaining wall that surrounds and holds in the substratum upon which that floor is laid. It would be below that level–especially below the eye level of someone outside the Temple. If you walked to the edge of the “floor,” you could look down at the Wall, just like, if you were to walk to the edge of your lawn held in by a 3-4 foot retaining wall, you could see the wall. If you were standing where people now stand at what has become known as the Wailing Wall, you would not be able to see the buildings on top of the mount and if you were on top and could see the buildings, you would not be able to see the wall.

  4. Avatar
    Petter Häggholm  July 11, 2016

    I’ve often read that some Dead Sea texts are substantially different from the Masoretic, but I’ve never been able to find a summary of how. Could you give a top two or three examples of things that are significantly different? (Even being 15% shorter, while interesting, is after all not necessarily important—knowing myself, you could probably remove at least 15% of the length of anything I wrote without losing anything of import.)

    • Bart
      Bart  July 12, 2016

      I’m afraid I’m out of the country and away from my books and so can’t do it off the top of my head. Sorry! Maybe someone on the blog can help us out?

    • Avatar
      turbopro  July 12, 2016

      @PH– with due respect to your opinion, i apologise, but your claim just begs me to “quote” you, very loosely at that, with a few changes, if you don’t mind. only 10% of your original words have been changed:

      “[I read that Dead Sea texts are substantially different from the Masoretic, but I’ve never been able to summarize. How could you give two or three examples of things that are significantly different? (Events being 51% shorter, while interesting, is not at all necessarily important—knowing myself, you could probably remove at least 1% of the length of anything I wrote without losing anything of import.)]”

      “For verily I say unto you,” every letter, every word, every punctuation, every diacritical mark, every jot, every tittle, and all of it, count.

      • Avatar
        Petter Häggholm  July 13, 2016

        I think perhaps you misunderstood me. Your answer seems like an illustration intended to demonstrate that a small amount of difference in the text CAN make a huge difference in meaning. If I’d had a problem with that, it would be a good illustration, at that (except that I think 10–15% is actually pretty substantial). But that’s not the case at all. And I’m not a literalist, nor in fact a religious person at all, so I’m not terribly worried about the jots and tittles. Rather, I’m wondering about interesting examples of how the text DOES in fact differ. Are prophecies added or removed? Are some stories changed in interesting ways? Is ancient henotheism redacted? Are names fudged or corrected?

  5. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  July 11, 2016

    Hmmm? So, when scribes copied the New Testament during the fourth through the tenth centuries, they did not copy the Old Testament with it? When did scribes start putting the two testaments together and how did this come about?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 12, 2016

      Ah, they *did* often copy the OT. But in Greek, not in Hebrew.

  6. Avatar
    Lee Palo  July 11, 2016

    Do you know if the Cairo Genizah discovery was very helpful in comparing to Codex Leningradensis?

    I have to admit that in the case of Job, I couldn’t help but think that the received text has clearly been miscopied or otherwise altered at some point in the past. There is a point in the book where Job seems to suddenly take up the argument of one of his three friends. It just looks like we are missing something there.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 12, 2016

      It’s a great quesiton, but I don’t know the answer offhand. The oldest manuscripts from the GEniza date from the end of the ninth century, but I don’t know how the biblical ones stack up against Leningradensis. Does someone else on the blog know?

  7. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  July 11, 2016

    How much of the Hebrew bible, or what books, was almost word-for-word the same?

    What major differences are there between the Scrolls and Lenin. for 1&2 Samuel?

    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  July 11, 2016

      One more thing, when an author (or when an author wrote about what Jesus said, as in, when Jesus quoted scripture) quoted a scripture from the Old Testament, aren’t those scriptures exactly what we have today?

      Or, what about when Paul referenced the OT? Any discrepancies with what he was using at the time and what we have?

      • Bart
        Bart  July 12, 2016

        They are often the same. And sometimes not at all. When Matthew in 2:23 quotes scripture to say “He shall be a Nazarene,” we don’t know what in the world he’s referring to (as one example). So too with Paul: sometimes it ‘s what we have and sometimes not. One reason: they are quoting Greek editions available to them. We don’t have their editions, and our OT is translated from teh Hebrew, not the Greek

        • Avatar
          brandon284  July 12, 2016

          What would be some examples from Paul?

          • Bart
            Bart  July 13, 2016

            I don’t think there is anything that blatant; the main debates with Paul are over whether he was using a Greek text, a hebrew text, or some of both. If you want a full discussion of Paul’s citations and allusions to the OT, see Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in Paul.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 12, 2016

      1. The Isaiah scroll is very, very similar; the text of Jeremiah is more like the Greek OT verison, which is 15% shorter; 2. There are important variations in the texts of the books of Samuel. You can see some by looking at the NRSV translation and considering the footnotes, where some of the imporant differences are cited.

  8. Avatar
    HawksJ  July 11, 2016

    “so that there are some places where specialists cannot agree on what the text originally said, and there are some places where we’ll probably never know. ”

    I’ve both heard – and read – you saying the above on multiple occasions, and I’ve always wanted to ask: if we ‘don’t have the originals, or even copies of the originals, or even copies of copies of the originals’, as you often say, then why do you say ‘there are [merely] some places where we simply don’t know what the original text said’?

    If we don’t have the originals (or copies and so on), then we don’t REALLY know what ANY of the original texts said, right?

    Beyond just that basic point, can you describe what makes some places in the text significantly less certain than others and maybe a couple examples?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 12, 2016

      It depends what “know” means. If we mean “with 100% certainty,” then no, we don’t ever know. If we mean “convinced beyond any doubt” then there are places were we “know” (at that level). Lots of things create uncertainty, including, in a major way, places where our manuscripts have lots of differences.

  9. Avatar
    dragonfly  July 12, 2016

    Don’t we have indications that some of the books, especially the prophets, have been added to later? That would indicate the text was more fluid than how we think of the NT books.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 12, 2016

      Yes, indeed. Isaiah is a prime example.

      • Avatar
        Ktarlow  July 20, 2016

        Couple of things I was under the impression that the differences between the text in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the modern Jewish Bible were minor, mostly spelling.

        Also I am interesteed in your comment about the Prophets. It seems to me that many of Prophets say Daniel is linked to other prophets. The Jewish view is that Daniel is counting the years and discovering that if the Messiah doesn’t come this year his people will Have a much longer wait to return to their homeland. He is reading the text of other prophets.

        I also have read that when Ezra stood before the people after the re-construction of the Temple he started the tradition of reading from the Torah (first five books) each Saturday (Sabbath) But Ezra scrolls did not include the prophets.

        I*s this were the” Old Testament”, or the Jewish Tanakh was altered?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 23, 2016

          A lot of quesitons here! And I’m not sure I follow all of them. Maybe ask one at a time for me? For the DSS — in some places the changes from the text we know today are minor. In others (the Jeremiah scroll) the changes are substantial. (the form of text known in the DSS is 15% shorter!)

  10. Avatar
    rburos  July 12, 2016

    Koennten Sie uns empfehlen die beste (genauste?) Bibeluentersetzung in der deutschen Sprache (Ihrer Meinung nach)?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 13, 2016

      Ha! I really didn’t know. Apart from the Luther translation! My Duke colleague Laura Lieber (she does ancient Judaism but is chair of German) asked aroudn and said that Zuercher Bibel gets the most votes, esp. the 1931 versoin, though I have trouble believing it’s better than the 2010 edition

  11. Avatar
    Stephen  July 12, 2016

    Prof Ehrman

    Before this thread recedes too far into the past, let me ask a theological/philosophical question that occurs to me based on your comments and responses.

    If one were a hypothetical deity who wanted to present a revelation to humanity that could be understood and appreciated by everyone at any time, who presumably could have done it any way they wanted, why would they use the medium of text?

    thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  July 13, 2016

      I suppose it depends how intelligent and forward looking your hypothetical deity is!

  12. Avatar
    clifh  July 13, 2016

    Speaking of fluidity of the original text:
    If we had a magic time machine that allowed us to go back in time to examine ancient copies of the Pentateuch we would have to decide what constitutes the “original” version. Would it be after the final P-source and D-source edits? Or would it be before the E and J sources were combined? Or perhaps the earlier oral versions would be even more “original.”

    • Bart
      Bart  July 13, 2016

      Yes, that’s one of the very big problems. It has to do with what we might even *mean* by the term “original,” a term that could mean lots of different htings! Same problem with the writings of the NT.

  13. Avatar
    Kazibwe Edris  July 16, 2016

    dr ehrman

    is the “law of the lord ” in jeremiah 8:8 referring to the books we now know of ?

    is jeremiah having the modern torah in mind ?

    is jeremiah 8:8 saying that the torah = corrupt or the pen of the scribes is corrupt and not referring to the text at all?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 17, 2016

      Normally the “law” would refer to the laws given to Moses, or simply to the things that God demands from his people.

  14. Avatar
    Kazibwe Edris  July 31, 2016

    dr ehrman

    do you think that the name elohim is older than the name yhwh
    according to the bible yhwh was an unknown name to the patriarchs

    • Bart
      Bart  August 1, 2016

      I don’t know. In any event, I don’t think the Patriarchs were historical persons.

    • Avatar
      KathleenM  August 4, 2016

      The name El is very old – the cosmic God of the Canaanite people:

      El Elyon maker of Creation
      El Shaddai almighty one
      El Olam – Yaweh everlasting one***
      Jehovah Jireh – the providing one

      These names are all present in Gen 12 I believe. Abraham about 2000 BCE. Give or take some time. Yaweh was named such prior to Moses, but Moses “knew” (yaddah) the meaning of the name, as he spoke to Him. The word El occurs earlier in time. There were less words in ancient times than now — a word meant many different things in context. k

      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  August 4, 2016

        My studies indicate Abraham’s time would have been around 1800 BCE. Of course, some scholars do not believe he was a historical character. But we shouldn’t mistake the language and beliefs of 1800 BCE with those of the time in which his story in Genesis was composed–900 BCE earliest to around 500 or 450 BCE latest. Same goes for Moses’ time (c. 1400–conservative view– or 1225BCE or so, if he was historical at all) and the time in which the stories about him were created or a t least written down.

  15. Avatar
    jrkovan  October 8, 2016

    Hi Dr. Ehrman,

    Did you see this find that was published within the past few months http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3168514/Charred-1-500-year-old-scroll-deciphered-Scans-ancient-parchment-reveal-text-early-version-Hebrew-Bible.html):

    This charred lump of a fragment of a 1,500-year-old scroll was left untouched for decades, too brittle to open. Now, thanks to new technology what was written inside has been revealed. The right side of this picture shows the burnt clump, and on the left is the virtual unwrapping for the scroll.
    The scroll was first discovered in 1970, when archaeologists were working near Ein-Gedi, a natural spring oasis on the shore of the Dead Sea. They discovered the remains of a Jewish community dating back to the eighth century BCE.
    The scroll was in the charred remains of an ancient synagogue in Ein-Gedi that was burned down over 1400 years ago. It was found in the ashes of the synagogue’s Aron Kodesh (Torah scroll ark). This is the first time an ancient scroll has ever been found in such a way that shows it was part of a Sefer Torah (Torah Scroll) that was being used in the prayer services at that time.
    The archeologists found that the text contains the first 8 lines of the book of Leviticus and it is “100 percent absolutely identical” to the version of the Book of Leviticus that is still being used today. The text shows “In 1,500 years this text has not changed.”

    • Bart
      Bart  October 9, 2016

      It’s important to understand what the claim is. It is that these 8 lines (no others) were the same between this scroll and a later one.

      • Avatar
        jrkovan  October 9, 2016

        That is my understanding. Yes.

        I have an investigative background (I am an attorney, CPA, and also have a PI license). What I find very compelling about the 5 books of Moses and the evidence that the 5 books (Torah) we have today is exactly the same as 3,300 years ago is as follows.

        1. The Jewish nation has been spread throughout a good part of the world since at least the time of the destruction of the 1st temple. Only about 10% of the Jews heeded Ezra’s call to return to the land (if one accepts scriptural and other Jewish source accounts).

        2. To the best of my knowledge, with the exception of the Yemenite Torah scroll that has a difference of approximately 14 letters out of 304,805, which do not change any of the words / meaning, but are spelling differences.

        3. If all the Torah Scrolls (handwritten) throughout the world match the Leningrad Codex 100%, this would be strong evidence that somewhere in the training of Jewish scribes was a built in system of checks and balances that prevents purposeful or inadvertent changes being made to the text. If this system were not built into the system, then one would expect to find wide variances among Jewish Torah scrolls throughout the world – this is not the case.

        4. It is true that the Leningrad Codex only takes us back 1,000 years. However, the fact remains that there was no Internet or other means of mass communications between the destruction of the first Temple and 1,000 of the CE. Thus, how does one account for the fact that there are no variances between Torah Scrolls, from Spain to India, unless the system of preserving the text exactly works?

        Compare this the New Testament transmission, where you pointedly note that there were “copies of the copies of the copies” that had many changes, which today resulted in over 400,000 texts (granted, most of which you point out do not result in many changes)…

        5. Last, but not least, when one considers there are literally thousands of laws for a Jewish scribe to follow in order to produce a Torah scroll… we can understand how it is accurately preserved perfectly throughout the years. If a scribe makes a mistake and it cannot be corrected, the scroll must be buried. If the scribe makes a purposeful change, it must be burned.

        So in summary, I would say there is evidence to show that the Torah scroll today is the same as the original scroll – and since we do not have any variances (that I am aware of) in the original Hebrew text, it is pure speculation to say that the original 5 books of Moses in the original Hebrew has been modified throughout the centuries.

        A brief comment with respect to the ORIGINAL. Jewish sources maintain that before Moses death, he wrote 13 Torah scrolls – 1 for each tribe, and one to put in the Ark of the Covenant… so I suppose if you find the Ark of the Covenant, you can find Copy #2….

        Additionally, you find a peculiar law at the end of the Book of Deuteronomy – every 7 years, the entire nation of Israel was required to gather to hear the Torah read from beginning to end… one would think that if there were changes to the 5 books, there would have been some upheaval in history noting that people would have said “hey, this is not what was read to us 7 years ago!”.

        Last point – there is a law in the Code of Jewish Law that every man is required to write a Torah Scroll for himself, and if he is not qualified, then to pay for a qualified scribe to write one for him… so its not like the Torah Scroll was sitting in some synagogue only for the ‘Rabbis’ to read and no one else…

        Just food for thought.

        Thank you for your time.

        • Avatar
          flyboydh1  October 24, 2016

          Thank you for this post. I would agree with you completely in your assessment of the transmission of the 5 Books of Moses. I am Jewish and of course this interests me greatly and is a very important part of my faith…knowing I can trust the transmission of the Torah over the millennia. I have listened to Emmanual Tov’s lectures online, and hope to read his books at some point. I think he has changed some of his thinking since about 2000 about the reliability of the DSS in relation to the Mesoratic Texts. He seems to be mostly confident that the Tanach is an honest document. Dr. Ehrman, do you have reason to believe the Torah was not transmitted correctly over the ages? Additionally, can you comment on the use of prophecy in the NT quoted from the Hebrew Bible? If the NT contains quotations from the Hebrew Bible, they should be accurate and fall in line with that of the context of the so called prophecy it is referring too. In my studies so far, almost all of the NT quotations from “scripture/Hebrew Bible” are taken out of context, which to me lead to the conclusion that either one or two things are occurring: 1) The NT authors were not trained/educated Jews or, 2) They were not telling the truth, but rather pulling verses out of context to prove their theological point to a non-educated/non-Jewish audience not versed in the Hebrew Bible. If the preponderance of evidence leads to the conclusion that lies were being told in order to start a new religion, the entire NT canon should be questioned by every single Christian living today. Especially because the writings found in the NT about Jews has led to much Jew hatred and persecution over the last 2000 years.

  16. Avatar
    jrkovan  October 25, 2016

    Thank you for your response.

    I for one am of the opinion that faith by itself is worthless. Anyone can believe in anything – if that faith is not firmly grounded in some basis in fact or verifiable events, then it is no different from believing that Platform 9 and 3/4 is real. So, as an example, if someone were to come and show me there were 20,000 different Hebrew texts of the Pentateuch, to be quite blunt, this would shake my faith (which I would posit is grounded in MANY verifiable scientific facts) to the core. If G-d could transmit a message, couldn’t he guarantee that the same message would be transmitted and not lost forever?

    As one scientific example, the Torah Codes phenomenon is something that is firmly grounded in scientific fact. All one has to do is read the peer reviewed article http://signallake.com/innovation/TorahCodes1994.pdf to understand and ask the question – who could have put these hidden codes in the text of the Torah discussing future events? Additionally, when one understands that if you change one letter of the text in the wrong place, the Codes would disappear, this is additional strong probative evidence that the text of the Pentateuch is the same as has been for thousands of years.

    Just as a simple example – in the Book of Genesis, it discuss the two great luminaries – one to rule by day, and one to rule by night – the greater to rule by day (the sun), and the lesser to rule the night (the moon). If you look at the moon and the sun from 3,000+ years ago, how does one know that the moon is smaller than the sun? During a full moon, the moon actually appears larger than the sun… Had this been written that the moon was the larger of the luminaries… then this would prove that the Pentateuch was the product of human hands… All you need is one mistake, and any claim of divinity is out the window. There are scores of examples of information and proofs (scientific proofs) that are in traditional Jewish sources that no person could have known 3,000+ years ago (such as the earth / moon system, gravity, the earth being round, 7 continents, that the earth turns on its axis, the signs of the Kosher animals, prophecies such as the Jews being thrown out of the land, and that they would then be gathered back, etc.)…

    So for me, it is my opinion that religion can be either proven or disproven. If the religion has mistakes either geographical, historical, textual, etc., it cannot be from G-d, as it would be axiomatic that an all-knowing Creator who controls history and is all powerful can ensure that his message is disseminated and maintained perfectly throughout history.

  17. Avatar
    rap2016  December 19, 2016

    Ladies and Gentlemen
    I came to Christianity with an open mind. But very quickly discovered that from reading the Christian Bible a person needs high level of literacy, motivation, understanding, rational and intelligence to read it. This means to most people the content of the Bible is inaccessible. Most people do not have those qualities to a sufficient enough level to research whether there is any historical proof in the Bible. Therefore I am an Atheist.. When I am presented with sufficient evidence that a man called Jesus Christ and a man by the name of Mohammad walked this planet then I can change my mind.
    There is a fundamental point I feel that people are over looking. Reading and writing
    To have a system of reading and writing a society needs to be sufficiently complex and stable to be able to afford time energy and resources into that skill.
    A group of cattle herding nomads around Europe have no motivation for a reading and writing system to a level that doctrine can be transmitted.
    If you have children, or think about your own experience, think what is required to get you to the point where you are able to read and write.
    I await comments. Thank you.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 20, 2016

      I give the evidence that there really was a Jesus who walked the planet in my book Did Jesus Exist? In my view, the existence of Jesus is not relevant to the question of whether or not to be an atheist.

  18. Avatar
    rap2016  December 19, 2016

    Ladies and Gentlemen
    Following my point above we know that most people could not read or write in Europe. In fact it wasn’t until the 15th Century, the age of the Renaissance that Literacy and education of the masses began.
    My point is that we have been led to believe that there were sufficiently proficient levels of literacy during the years from 1000BC to 1500 CE. This is a great mistake.
    During the middle ages 5th to 15th Century “Europe” was intellectually poor, starving, struggling to survive and resource poor.
    But the Jews had a reading and writing system, an Alphabet a Script in place and an education system and no one noticed………………..
    I await comments

    • Bart
      Bart  December 20, 2016

      I believe massive literacy did not come to societies before the Industrial Revolution, when governments realized the economic benefits of devoting huge amounts of resources to educating the young.

  19. Avatar
    rap2016  December 20, 2016

    Ladies and Gentlemen
    Jesus Christ is a creation of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church knows the truth, but they cannot reveal this because they are a money and power devoted organisation. The Vatican is one of the richest cities in the world with its own currency and its own army. They have in their vaults the secret documents that can confirm my view.

    If you analyse the literature of the gospels, quite apart from the fact that they are not harmonised, you will see that the language, the structure, the grammar is at a very high level. The authors of these Books of the Bible were very very intelligent.
    How would ordinary, illiterate, people procure the services of a scribe, let alone know where to find one in their vicinity and commission them to write an account of this alleged man known as Jesus. Further liase with the scribes in a common language and in agreement amoungst themselves about how to descibe the events that took place about the life of Jesus.
    The passion, who was there to record what happened…………..as the disciples ran away
    Therefore who is the audience? They clearly had an agenda not to reach the lay person.
    This literature is deliberately inaccessible, confusing, contradictory and divisive.
    Given my argument, using simple logic to think through the scenario, I conclude the the Bible was probably not written before the 15th Century.
    I await comments. Thank you

    • Bart
      Bart  December 22, 2016

      Well, it’s a little hard to sustain the argument when we have authors from the second century (not just the 15th) quoting these texts, and manuscripts of them from that time.

  20. Avatar
    rap2016  December 21, 2016

    Ladies and Gentleman
    I do not wish to offend anyone or cause them distress. I understand what your religion means to you and how it supports you. I respect peoples right to follow what ever religion they chose and what ever life style provided it does no harm to anyone else or themselves. I believe people can come together with different views and positions and exchange them respectfully. This is an excellant forum to do precisely that. Thank you Bart Ehman.
    I await comments.

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