Tracing the History of the Bible One Book at a Time

Bible and archaeology news

Since 1958, some of the world’s best Bible scholars have worked at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Bible Project to come up with an authoritative critical edition of the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible. Using the ninth-century C.E. Aleppo Codex,* the oldest extant version of the complete Hebrew Bible, as a baseline, these scholars are tracking how and in what ways the Biblical text has changed over the course of centuries and millennia. They compare the Aleppo Codex text with earlier Biblical manuscripts, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Samaritan Torah and early Greek and Latin translations, to identify places where the words of the Hebrew Bible have been changed, altered, omitted or simply misspelled. But it is also an agonizingly slow process. In the five and half decades since the project began, three Biblical books have been published, with a fourth set to appear in the coming year. If the pace is maintained, the complete critical edition will appear sometime after 2210.

* Harvey Minkoff, “The Aleppo Codex,” Bible Review, August 1991.

Learn more about the Bible Project.

Posted in Bible Versions and Translations, Hebrew Bible, News.

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  1. David E says

    What is the word of God? I understand it to be the past, present and future oral and written words of God. The accepted scriptures are a fallible human witness to a subset of God’s words to humans from Adam and Eve to The Christ, who was and is the living word of God. The scriptures witness to God’s oral words to Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses and God’s ten written instructions written directly on two stone tablets. We do not have audio/video recordings of God’s interaction with humans or the stone tablets. We do have human testimony which is usually a mix of truth and error. The Christ peeled away the many layers of traditional human laws painted over God’s Torah since Moses. He said God’s torah way was light and not a burden and He demonstrated it by walking the walk and living them perfectly. The self-righteous ascetics called Him a glutton and a wine bibber and then they had Him killed.
    For many believers, it seems that if the accepted canonical scriptures are not completely and perfectly composed of God’s words and judgments, then they are next to worthless for learning about God and determining His will and torah. I believe that God is perfectly capable of using fallible human servants to accomplish His work. If four human witnesses to an event all have slightly different descriptions about the event, it does not mean there is no truth in their testimony, to be ferreted out by you the investigator, or that the event did not really happen. Many people, in order to have faith, seem to want to replace the living God with the canonical scriptures. For me it is a form of idolatry. If you try, you will find the Creator and His way and torah, in the witness found in the creation and the scriptures.

  2. Bill says

    WOW! David certainly has a well-thought out position statement. A life long Christian, I never before understood the meaning of the phrase, “who was and is the living word of God.”
    Just roll this over in your mind and became truly appreciative of the depth of the words.

  3. Sara says

    Isn’t there some room in between “the accepted canonical scriptures [being] completely and perfectly composed of God’s words and judgments” and them being “next to worthless for learning about God”? Isn’t there a whole middle ground in there open for investigation and learning? Why does it have to be just one extreme or the other?

  4. Christopher says

    “Many people, in order to have faith, seem to want to replace the living God with the canonical scriptures. For me it is a form of idolatry. If you try, you will find the Creator and His way and torah, in the witness found in the creation and the scriptures.”

    Indeed, and once some of them study the text and learn about minor discrepancies, their faith is threatened and sometimes destroyed (see, Ehrman, Bart and Crossan, John Dominic).

    Ehrman likes to tell a story in his classes about how in grad school he wrote a 30 page paper of complex grammatical arguments on why Mark 2:26 (where Jesus says “In the days of Abiathar the high priest, [David] entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread”) does not contradict 1 Samuel 21:1 (where the high priest is named Ahimilech). He says he got an A on the paper, but his professor (Bruce Metzger IIRC) wrote at the end “Maybe Mark just made a mistake?”

    Ehrman credits this as the beginning of his realization that Biblical authors could, in fact, make mistakes. And this, he says, led to him finding more and more apparent contradictions. And we know where that ended up.

    Point being, if you hold to the modern Bible as dictated by God in the same way that Muslims hold the Qur’an was dictated by Gabriel to Muhammad, you are, as David says, creating an idol of scripture in place of God, and are setting yourself up for failure.

  5. Ed says

    No journalist or scholar has elaborated on the specific methodology being used by these scholars. It is unclear why it is taking so long to do the study. Yes I know that they are comparing manuscripts, but the letters, language(s), syntax, and documents have been at their disposal for many years and they don’t have to invent anything. There is no good reason that I can think of for a team to take this long, not unless they are making things up and are having a hard time reconciling their “new” approach.

    How do we know the Aleppo Codex was in fact a good copy versus a near perfect copy that a scribe or rich person kept?

    Did they go back and change their conclusions after the DSS were available?

    Did any of these scholars also work on the DSS project?

  6. Ron says

    The Bible as idoltry…interesting, much like Orthodox relics..and popes..and a refudiation of Lutherism..the mind is the key to all understanding, once you limit the ego and open up your reality…maybe some truth will seap out.

  7. Judi says

    One of the stumbling blocks to fully translating the earliest texts into a form that modern people understand is the changes in the language. Ancient Hebrew and Aramaic had height as well as breadth and depth. Each letter is a picture and meaning unto themselves. Add to that the ever changing language we deal with today, the task becomes ever more complex. I have to agree with David above, I believe in a God that was able to use fallible humans to accomplish the task he set for them.

  8. Jana says

    Jana says
    I too, wonder why it has taken so long, and is taking so long, to make sense of the DDS, most likely it has become a big business. And I agree that there must be a middle ground between the canonical scriptures and the-next-to-worthless-for-learning-about-god, if the meaning, of the bible, for our lives, and our current civilization is to make any sense.

  9. David says

    Re: Ron’s statement… Your words “limit your ego and open up your reality” comprise a beautiful guideline. I will remember & use this quote. Thank you.

  10. joseph says

    i am an unshakeable believer in God. however, i have found that the mainstream “christian” theologies make christianity, its own worst enemy. just take a few minutes to explore the rituals, etc, practised today and find out what the bible says about them. you will find many surprises!!! they have no biblical foundation. when you read your bible, ask God to reveal his word to you and you will receive revelations that you never thought possible. i have done it and it works. you do not need and intermediary to access the power of god’s being. he has promised us that we can come to him anytime, one on one, and he will attend to us.


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