The Irony of our Earliest Manuscripts

                It’s a little hard to get one’s mind around the irony of our early manuscripts, as I was alluding to in my earlier post.   To reconstruct the “original” text of the New Testament – by which, for my purposes here, I mean the text that the author himself produced and put into the public sphere by “publishing” (or sending) it – we would love to have lots of early manuscripts to look at.  Unfortunately, we don’t have lots of early manuscripts.  94% of our manuscripts are 800 years after the fact.  We have only a handful of manuscripts, at best, that can plausibly be dated to the second century.   These are all *highly* fragmentary (the oldest is just a scrap with a few verses on it).  And even these are decades after the authors were all dead and buried. The problem is that every time a manuscript gets copied, mistakes – either intentional or accidental – are introduced.   And then when that manuscript serves as an exemplar for the next scribe, its mistakes are [...]