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What evidence is there that the OT was accurately passed down. Muslims claim they were corrupted - what is the likelihood of this?

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    Does this answer your question? How is the historical accuracy of the Bible defended?
    – Nigel J
    Mar 18 at 12:18
  • You need to read some books to know the details of textual transmission and variants of diff versions to know the exact level of differences.
    – Michael16
    Mar 18 at 17:12
  • If Muslims claim it, then it must be true. Same as anything said on the internet! Also Islam is a late comer when it came to religions. They were definitely not around when the OT was written. They must be more trustworthy because ... Mar 20 at 12:12
  • How could anyone ever Answer a Question like that, except by demonstrating both no word had changed in the original, and no translation had ever introduced a mistake? Mar 22 at 1:01

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One highly regarded company/software for Biblical studies is logos, and it's an excellent resource. Commenting on the dead sea scrolls, they say

"Remarkably, many of these ancient scrolls closely match the medieval Masoretic Text tradition, which modern Hebrew and English Bibles are based upon, confirming the biblical text has been faithfully preserved for all these centuries."

When the dead sea scrolls were found, we then obtained Hebrew manuscripts that were about 1000 years older than the oldest Masoretic text. From this, we can see how much has changed in a 1000 year timespan. Bibles printed today often say whenever there is any significant difference between the manuscript tradition (including the dead sea scrolls, the Masoretic text, and the Septuagint). If you take a look at such a Bible, you'll find that the message doesn't change much based on which plausible variant reading you use.

Given that not a lot has changed in 1000 years of copying, that would be evidence (but not proof) that the texts were not corrupted beforehand. Yes, it appears that certain books (such as Deuteronomy) were edited after being originally penned (such as the recording of the death of Moses), but that is not the same as being corrupted.

If you want to learn about the manuscripts of the Old Testament, a standard book to read is "Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible" by Emanuel Tov.

One other thing to note is that Muhammed did not claim that the Bible in his day was corrupted. On the contrary, in the Quran, it says this:

"If you ˹O Prophet˺ are in doubt about ˹these stories˺ that We have revealed to you, then ask those who read the Scripture before you. The truth has certainly come to you from your Lord, so do not be one of those who doubt," - Surah 10:49, from quran.com

We know what the Bible said in Muhammed's day, since we have copies from that time. So the modern Muslim claim that it has been corrupted has to deal with the fact that Muhammed was told that he can check stuff by asking the people who had the Bible.

The Muslim claim that the Bible was corrupted is levied against both the Old Testament and New Testament. In the case of the New Testament, the manuscript evidence is extremely strong. We can be extraordinarily confident that we have the original wording in the New Testament. You can buy a copy of the Greek New Testament, and in almost all cases of variant readings, we can determine with high confidence what was originally written. Sometimes though, the original reading might be in a footnote instead of the main text. In fact, a standard book on textual criticism, "The Text of the New Testament" by Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland, states on page 56,

"Furthermore, even in the world of the Byzantine Imperial text it should be recognized that individual texts and text types tended to survive stubbornly, because an indomitable stubbornness is one of the basic characteristics of New Testament textual history: once a variant or a new reading enters the tradition it refuses to disappear, persisting (if only in a few manuscripts) and perpetuating itself through the centuries. One of the most striking traits of the New Testament textual tradition is its tenacity." - Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland

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    It has been a tradition for a long time that each Jewish man is expected to write out his own copy of the Torah, and to use that when reading in the synagogue. Others who have their own copies follow along. Any errors noted are checked on the spot, and whoever turns out to be wrong is expected to fix their copy (usually by excising the incorrect copy and replacing it with a fresh, accurate copy). This has enabled the OT scriptures to remain preserved for a very long time with very few changes.
    – EvilSnack
    Mar 20 at 15:03
  • "Closely match" is a kind way of saying "there are actually a lot of differences".
    – T.E.D.
    Mar 20 at 15:31
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We don't.

There are no known surviving original manuscripts of the Bible, although estimated ages of manuscripts place some of them at best within a hundred years or so of the events. Most are removed by many hundreds of years. There is no unbroken or even documented provenance for any Biblical text in the current OT, short of actual modern revelation confirming the origins, authenticity or correct translation of a given text.

As such, there is no way to corroborate the authenticity of all of the texts other than by actual further revelation from God. Textual criticism does relatively little to alleviate this problem, since it cannot definitively falsify corruption or alteration. However, the inspiration and good fruits obtained by applying the doctrines in the texts is a strong testament of their veracity broadly speaking, but is still not a strong guarantee against specific corruptions or even large-scale redactions.

The teachings, experiences and writings of Adam, of Enoch, of Noah and of Abraham are all abridged and transmitted in the OT through Moses, and the oldest manuscripts we have of the books of Moses are removed more than a thousand years from the actual events. There were doubtless much older original documents from each of these prophets and others, but what remains? It is generally unknown what became of those records.

In short there is no hard evidence that the OT texts we have inherited generally are thoroughly true, correct, complete (we know they are not altogether complete), accurate and untampered, apart from actual revelation and confirmation from God.

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    + 1 for the basic answer but I wonder what you mean by the writings of Adam, Enoch, Noah. and Abraham. Few scholars if any consider the writings attributed to them as authentic. Mar 18 at 13:58
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    The original transmission of the OT books was, in fact, through memorized chanting passed down from generation to generation. While such transmission can accumulate errors/divinely inspired modifications, there were in fact people who memorized and propagated entire books.
    – arp
    Mar 18 at 22:43
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    Your last paragraph is overly pessimistic. If by "incomplete" you mean the Bible doesn't quote the entirety of its sources (like in Kings or Chronicles), then trivially every book that quotes a part of any source is incomplete. If by "incomplete" you mean that it doesn't record all possible information, then no book ever written is complete. Further, there is solid historical evidence supporting much of the OT. If by "hard evidence" you mean mathematical proof, then you are expecting the wrong thing from history. Mar 19 at 1:23
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    OP is a Mormon. Thus he answers according to his own, and only in that light can his answer be understood. It is plausible that an argument that we simply don't know from before the return of Babylon; but he is rather arguing we don't know the NT, which is preposterous.
    – Joshua
    Mar 19 at 19:13
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    Here is the root: "there is no way to corroborate the authenticity of all of the texts other than by actual further revelation from God." That is false. The texts can proven old enough and intact enough to contain prophecies written before they could be observed which have since been fulfilled. The revelation of God is observed.
    – Joshua
    Mar 19 at 19:19
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The likeliness of pre Dead-Sea Scroll corruption is low, for reasons that would only occur to a believer.

The neglect of the scripture during the period of Judges and during the period of the divided kingdom ought to generate the hypothesis that the remaining copies are heavily corrupted, but that is not what we observe. The resilience against corruption may be checked against the oral tradition and the evidence holds with the hypothesis. The numbers are corrupted but the words are not, because the check-summing method used by the scribes covered the words but skipped over the numbers. Everything post flood may be checked.

An example before you: it was once translated "they had a file for the mattocks"; the word given as "file" was "pim" which nobody knew what it meant. The problematic word was preserved and when the coin was found stamped "pim" we were able to correct the translation. A pim is a coin that weighs two third of a shekel.

The OT does show some signs of damage; there are a few parallel passages in Chronicles that have diverged, leading to some funny debates of teaching. However the signature of fulfilled prophecy is intact, and this is what matters. By the copying and check-summing from the time of Ezra until the time of Augustus and from then on the intact copies we may be confident beyond any reasonable standard of doubt of the text as a whole; and all prophecies not fulfilled before that time and fulfilled now may be measured against.

They say Elijah must come first; and this passage may have a double meaning; but John came and fulfilled this either in part or in whole. But John gave no sign.

Balaam, Isaiah, Job, and others foretold the coming of the Messiah and the Messiah has come and we recognize this. This is the signature across the old testament; and furthermore no prophesy in the law or the prophets has ever been found false. And as though that were not enough; against all reckoning of man Israel has reappeared upon the map and resists all effort to dislodge.

The NT tells you how good of an OT is needed; and it tells you the OT we have is much better than we need. When the NT quotes the OT it does so via the Septuagint; which is a well known translation that is poor by our standards. Pay attention; it's telling you that is good enough. By the inspiration of God in the NT we can answer; the OT is intact exceeding the amount required for its purpose; and we have this answer twofold; by the prophecy fulfilled and none false, and by the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

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  1. Jesus, as God the Son, through his many quotes and allusions of the Old Testament, offers a divine endorsement of their accuracy.

  2. Structures. Literary structures in the text found by scholars in the past century place limits on the corruption of many parts. Those structures were never before recognized or commented upon by previous scholars. Thus no ancient forger could have tampered too much with the text without tripping over these structural fences.

  3. Prophecies. There are thousands of prophecies in the Old Testament. Each generation more keep coming true. False prophets could not add true prophecies to the Bible that remain consistent with the Gospel.

As an example of this, consider the Book of Job. In addition to the occasional prophecy given out of chronological order, there is a core set of prophecies in Job that proceed in chronological order, generation by generation, as the chapters of the book unfold. According to my analysis, Job chapter twenty corresponds to the time when Alexander the Great conquered Asia Minor. If you read that chapter, you will find more than fifteen metaphors that match the circumstances of Alexander's death, as compared to secular historians who preserved his disease symptoms. The chapter even mentions his distaste for honey - the man was buried in a sarcophagus filled with honey, used to preserve dead bodies from decay.

Later chapters in Job, in linear fashion, prophesy these events (and many more):

  • the death of Christ (Job 23),
  • the control of Rome (Rahab and Leviathan) by the church due to the Edict of Thessalonica (Job 26),
  • the Black Plague and Fall of Constantinople (Job 34),
  • England's massive push to build schools and teach everyone to read so that they could read the Bible for themselves (Job 36:22),
  • the exploration by Amundsen of the South Pole, "the storehouses of the snow" (Job 38:22-23),
  • and the development of modern communication technology based on electricity (Job 38:33,35)

That last one is my favorite. From Newton's Laws to Maxwell's Equations, scientists discovered the "ordinances of the heavens". Then through the development of electrical power generation and transmission, we learned to "send forth lightnings". Those lightnings can speak and say, "Here we are!" because of the telegraph and telephone. And those voices may be lifted up to the clouds via radio transmission.

33 Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?
    Can you establish their rule on the earth?
34 “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
    that a flood of waters may cover you?
35 Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go
    and say to you, ‘Here we are’?

The sheer number of prophecies and the tight way that they are packed together in chronological order is something that would be wrecked if the text were tampered with.

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  • So, the answers to the questions God asked Job in ch. 38:33-35 are, "I don't know now but eventually people will"? Mar 18 at 14:55
  • God's challenges are two: to recognize some things that only He can ever understand, but also prod people to search and eventually discover those things that we can understand. Mar 19 at 14:17
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    What on earth is this madness? I can read Job and that's a forced interpretation not a natural one.
    – Joshua
    Mar 19 at 19:10
  • @PaulChernoch. Interesting(?) I'm not going to mark you down just yet.. but you've got a bit of work to do to prove this claim. Please add a question so you can show what on earth you are talking about. And please give evidence it is exegesis rather than eisegesis Mar 20 at 12:28
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    @AndrewShanks - I am working on presenting a succinct defense of these ideas, but it will take some time. They are drawn from my published works, which build an entirely new philosophy of history and theory of eschatology from the ground up, beginning with Ecclesiastes, Job and Matthew. The core book of the work is "Peace, like Solomon Never Knew". Given that it is 430,000 words long, summarizing it is a challenge. In it I go through Ecclesiastes, Job and Matthew chapter by chapter, showing how all three share common structural patterns. Mar 20 at 13:46

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