One I know of were the Levitical singers reciting the Psalms. What other methods were used by the Israelites that preserved the Old Testament - whether oral or written?

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Oral tradition must have been the primary method prior to the the Israelite monarchy. This would include early narratives (sometimes poetic) of the Patriarchs, the Exodus and the Judges, as well as genealogies and songs. Examples of this type are thought to have been preserved in:

  • Exodus 15:21 - The Song of Miriam

  • Deuteronomy 32 - The Song of Moses

  • Judges 5 - The Song of Deborah

The text itself refers to secretaries and recorders in 2 Sam. 8:16-17; 20:24-25. One or more court historians was the author of the Book of Kings, apparently using earlier records combined with stories about prophets such as Nathan, Elijah/Elisha and Isaiah, among others. The "Elijah cycle" appears to be a separate saga that was woven into the historical account. In addition, the prophets were often literate themselves and preserved their own writings, although not always in the form we now have. In the case of Jeremiah, a secretary is mentioned.

According to John Reumann of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (writing in the Interpreter's Bible), the Torah, being the central text of the Jewish canon, was the first to be preserved. This was done primarily be priests at Israelite sanctuaries and later at Jerusalem. However, there are debates about whether it was compiled from various sources, when these accounts were written down, and how they were combined. (See documentary hypothesis) The Prophets (including the books of Kings and Samuel in Jewish reckoning) come next. Last come the Writings. In all cases scholars have written many volumes discussing the composition and transmission of the texts. For example, the Book of Isaiah is often understood to contain three distinct phases, not to mention one section borrowed directly from the Book of Kings. Deuteronomy, rather than being written by Moses, is thought by some to have been composed by temple priests in the time of King Josiah. The rest of the Torah, according to the documentary hypothesis, was composed earlier that Deuteronomy by various writers and later combined and redacted, finally reaching its current form after the Babylonian Exile.

The Scribes were key preservers of transmitters of the text, especially after the Babylonian exile. Ezra is the best known of these, marking the transition of Israelite tradition - in which the authority of the kings was often in tension with the priests and prophets - to a "religion of the Book" in which the Temple was the clear center of both religious and civil society. Ezra is also credited with bringing the text into its near-final form, although some claim his role to be exaggerated. In any case, during this period, the scribes were carefully trained. This tradition contrasts greatly with its Christian counterpart in the NT, where early copyists were not nearly as disciplined, resulting in many textual variants.

Here is a link that discusses the interplay or oral and written traditions.

This link provides an introduction to the role of writing in the transmission of the text.


Ancient Writing Skills From the wealth of information gleaned from the science of Archaeology in modernity, we have learned that the ability to write was known from time immemorial. Messages were written on canyon walls, on pottery, on funeral casks, on warehouse records, on Temple walls, ad infinitum.[See the many books, documentaries, and museums available, to get an appreciation for the amount of information we have discovered in archaeology.]

And certainly, during the time of the writings of the Law, Prophets, and Writings of the Israelites, written language was quite advanced. In fact ancient libraries have been unearthed throughout the Mideast empires. Archaeologists love natural disasters because earthquakes, conflagrations, and volcanos have preserved these ancient buildings filled with records and historical documents!

Biblical Transmission With this archaeological background, it is easy to deduce that biblical documents, in writing, have been transmitted down through the years of time. The Israelites took full advantage of writing legal documents (Laws), historical annals, as well as poetry and psalms. Notice how many times the Bible mentioned the keeping of records of the Kings and their Prophets:

1 Kings 10:14 recorded the amount of wealth King Solomon acquired. Along with that, the Book of the Annals of Solomon is mentioned as a resource for generations of Israelites, 1 Kings 11:41.

And then, the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah are mentioned in the Old Testament. 1 Kings 14:29, 15:23. These contained the exploits of the long line of Kings that reigned. See also 2 Kings 8:23.

Thame applied to the northern nation of Israel. the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel was kept for all the succeeding kings up there. 1 Kings 14:19, 1 Kings 22:39.

And then there were the writings that described the miraculous ministries of the prophets. *the Records of Nathan the prophet, and the prophecy of Ahijah, and the visions of Iddo the Seer. 2 Chronicles 9:29.

In Hezekiah's reign the type of worship that occurred was recorded in books prescribed by David and Gad the Seer, and Nathan the prophet. 2 Chronicles 29:25. So not only psalms were put in a hymnal, but how the musicians and instruments were to perform were also written down.

To show that there were sufficiently educated scribes throughout Israel's history, even in Josiah's era (a thousand years after Moses) the Book of the Law was found in the Temple in tact. 2 Chronicles 34:14. And at the end of Josiah's reign the Bible said that all the events from beginning to end are written in the Book of the Kings of Israel and Judah. 2 Chronicles 35:27.

After the Babylonian exile, Ezra returned to Jerusalem. He was described as a teacher well-versed in the Law of Moses. Ezra 7:6. So the class of scribes (teaching priests) was a continuous line throughout Israeli history.

Inter-testament Era When the Greek language prevailed throughout the Mediterranean, it was only natural that the Jewish literature would be translated into it, so it could maintain its influence in Jewry scattered throughout. Hence the existence of the Septuagint (LXX).

During the Inter-testament Era, there was no open vision, no prophecies, so the main emphasis of the recorders and teachers was on the Written Word. Theological schools sprung up, and dotted the Judaean landscape. By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, there was a string of dogmatic rabbis with disciples of their own, and all debating the finer details of the Law and the Prophets.

Since Jesus quoted from both the Masoretic style, and the Septuagint version, it should be considered that the Hebrew writings were reliably transmitted, even though there were several differences in the grammar, wording, etc.

Oral Law The rabbis enjoyed debating what they considered was an "Oral tradition"" alongside the written Law. But we must not be deceived into thinking that because of the Oral teaching of the rabbis, there was no continuously written transmission of the Bible. The "Law, Prophets, and Writings" were not just orally transmitted over the centuries of time.

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