Historicity of the Old Testament

The historicity of the Old Testament seeks to establish the historical trustworthiness of the Old Testament. This is based on two factors: the reliability of the Old Testament manuscripts, and the reliability of those who were involved with writing and putting the OT together.


The reliability of the OT manuscripts

To establish the reliability of the OT manuscripts one must look at three things: the amount of manuscripts, the dating of them, and their accuracy.

Their abundance

As early as the 1700s Benjamin Kennicott published 615 OT manuscripts, and a few years later Giovani de Rossi published 731 manuscripts. Furthermore, beginning around 1890 around ten thousand manuscripts were discovered in Cairo Geniza. In addition to these manuscripts, more were discovered in the caves by the Dead Sea at Qumran in 1947, also known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. The largest collection of manuscripts in the world, the Second Firkowitch Collection in Leningrad, contains 1,582 items of Bible and Masora (manuscripts from the 6th-9th century AD) text, plus twelve hundred Hebrew fragments (Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p. 439).

Their dates

Most of the OT manuscripts in our possession are dated between A.D. 800-1100 (Geisler, p. 439). However, due to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, dating as far back as the third century B.C., the accuracy of these later manuscripts has been attested.

Their accuracy

In evaluating the evidence there is both internal and external evidence. The Dead Sea Scrolls provide the best external evidence and show that the later manuscripts that we possess were in fact preserved through close to 1,000 years. We can be confident that the texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls were used to transmit the text that is found in the later documents. Comparative studies have been made and the results reveal a word-for-word identity in some 95% of the text (Geisler, p. 441). Due to the help of the Septuagint (also known as the LXX), we can also cross-check the accuracy of the transmission of the texts. Through internal evidence we can view the duplicate passages we have in the OT (i.e. Isaiah 36-39 and 2 Kings 18-20; Jeremiah 52 and 2 Kings 25, and others) and realize that they are accurate as well.

The reliability of the authors

The authors of the OT present real history, about real people, and in real locations. Much of this has been proven through the finds of biblical archaeology. World-renowned archaeologist William F. Albright states, "There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of the Old Testament tradition (Albright, Archaeology and Religion of Israel, p. 176). Nelson Glueck adds that, "As a matter of fact... it may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or exact detail statements in the Bible (Glueck, Rivers in the Desert, p. 31). The biblical authors told the truth, and biblical archaeology has confirmed this without error.

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