What evidence do we have regarding the accuracy of the torah text? (five books of Moses)

How much if at all has it changed over time.


The Dead Sea Scrolls of Qumran (see here as well for a list of all the finds and their locations) are a good way of seeing the accuracy of the Masoretic Text of our Torah. They are important because they are currently the oldest extent manuscripts and texts of the Bible, as well as show the scrupulousness that scribes throughout the generations for thousands of years used when copying the texts. See here for an example:

After years of careful study, it has been concluded that the Dead Sea Scrolls give substantial confirmation that our Old Testament has been accurately preserved. The scrolls were found to be almost identical with the Masoretic text. Hebrew Scholar Millar Burrows writes, “It is a matter of wonder that through something like one thousand years the text underwent so little alteration. As I said in my first article on the scroll, ‘Herein lies its chief importance, supporting the fidelity of the Masoretic tradition.'” A significant comparison study was conducted with the Isaiah Scroll written around 100 B.C. that was found among the Dead Sea documents and the book of Isaiah found in the Masoretic text. After much research, scholars found that the two texts were practically identical. Most variants were minor spelling differences, and none affected the meaning of the text. One of the most respected Old Testament scholars, the late Gleason Archer, examined the two Isaiah scrolls found in Cave 1 and wrote, “Even though the two copies of Isaiah discovered in Qumran Cave 1 near the Dead Sea in 1947 were a thousand years earlier than the oldest dated manuscript previously known (A.D. 980), they proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text. The five percent of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling.”

See this wikipedia page as well:

The MT is widely used as the basis for translations of the Old Testament in Protestant Bibles, and in recent years (since 1943) also for some Catholic Bibles, although the Eastern Orthodox churches continue to use the Septuagint, as they hold it to be divinely inspired. In modern times the Dead Sea Scrolls have shown the MT to be nearly identical to some texts of the Tanakh dating from 200 BCE but different from others.

Yigael Yadin remarked:

“The great importance of the antiquity of the Dead Sea Scrolls, therefore, lies in the fact that they belong to the period in which no standardization of the holy scriptures had been effected. This is at once obvious by comparing the text of the scrolls with that of the translations on the one hand and the Masora on the other. What is astonishing is that despite their antiquity and the fact that the scrolls belong to this pre-standardization period, they are on the whole almost identical with the Masoretic text known to us

See here as well:

Most of the biblical manuscripts found at Qumran belong to the MT tradition or family. This is especially true of the Pentateuch and some of the Prophets. The well-preserved Isaiah scroll from Cave 1 illustrates the tender care with which these sacred texts were copied. Since about 1700 years separated Isaiah in the MT from its original source, textual critics assumed that centuries of copying and recopying this book must have introduced scribal errors into the document that obscured the original message of the author.

The Isaiah scrolls found at Qumran closed that gap to within 500 years of the original manuscript. Interestingly, when scholars compared the MT of Isaiah to the Isaiah scroll of Qumran, the correspondence was astounding. The texts from Qumran proved to be word-for-word identical to our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text. The 5 percent of variation consisted primarily of obvious slips of the pen and spelling alterations (Archer, 1974, p. 25). Further, there were no major doctrinal differences between the accepted and Qumran texts (see Table 1 below). This forcibly demonstrated the accuracy with which scribes copied sacred texts, and bolstered our confidence in the Bible’s textual integrity (see Yamauchi, 1972, p. 130). The Dead Sea Scrolls have increased our confidence that faithful scribal transcription substantially has preserved the original content of Isaiah.

  • did the dead sea scrolls include a copy of the five books of moses? – ray Jun 23 '15 at 20:39
  • Yes. Qumran Cave 2 (2Q) –Discovered by Bedouin in 1952. Cave 2 yielded fragments of many biblical books, including all Five Books of Moses, Jeremiah and Psalms, as well as other works such as Jubilees and the book of Enoch. – Shoel U'Meishiv Jun 23 '15 at 20:42
  • how accurate were those? i.e. how many letters differed from our scrolls. – ray Jun 23 '15 at 20:47
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    werent those were just fragments of all 5 books? see truthmagazine.com/archives/volume45/V4501040102.htm most significant find was isaiah – ray Jun 23 '15 at 21:01
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    It should be noted that the text of the Dead Sea Scrolls is not generally used (to the best of my knowledge) by Orthodox Jews, as an authoritative text of the Torah. There is no evidence that the authors were the Pharisee precursors of Rabbinic Judaism, and there is indeed evidence to the contrary (that they were sectarians). They are certainly useful to the historian (be he Orthodox, or not). Thus, regarding the historical question of the evolution of textual variation in the Torah it is useful, but I doubt that one would (e.g.) revoke a derasha of the talmud, on the basis of such texts. – mevaqesh Jun 23 '15 at 21:25

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