Facebook YouTube
Home | Topics | Contact | Mail List | Donate | Bookstore | MT | AHLB
Topics Biblical History

Extant Manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible

By Jeff A. Benner

The original books of the Hebrew Bible, written by the original authors, are called autographs. These autographs were written on scrolls made of animal skins or papyrus (a type of paper made from reed plants). Because these writing materials deteriorate over time, it is unlikely that we will ever uncover an original autograph from the Hebrew Bible. In order to preserve the text, the text is copied over and over again. These manuscript copies are what we must rely on for the text of the Bible. The Hebrew text of the Bible has also been translated into many different languages including Greek, Latin, Aramaic as well as English. An understanding of these ancient manuscripts and translations is helpful in understanding the history of the text and how today's Bible came about.

7th C. BC - Ketef Hinnom Scroll

In a tomb at Ketef Hinnom in Israel, the oldest text of the Hebrew Bible was discovered. The text, inscribed on a silver scroll in the old Hebrew script dating to the 7th Century B.C., is the Aaronic blessing (Numbers 6:24-26), which begins, "yeverekh'kha YHWH Vayishmarekha" (May Yahweh bless you and keep you).

4th C. BC - Septuagint

The Torah (the first five books of the Bible) are believed to have been translated in the 4th C. BC and is called the Septuagint (A 2,000-year-old Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, also identified as LXX, the Roman numeral for 70). The remainder of the Hebrew Bible (the Prophets and the Writings) are believed to have been translated into Greek, and then included into the Septuagint, around the first century AD.

2nd C. BC - Nash Papyrus

Another very old fragment of the Hebrew Bible is the Nash Papyrus, discovered in Egypt in 1898. The fragment includes the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17) and the Sh'ma (Deuteronomy 5:6-21) and is dated to the 2nd Century B.C.

1st C. BC to 1st C. AD - Dead Sea Scrolls
(Hebrew, some in Aramaic and a few in Greek)

Between 1947 and 1956, ancient scrolls and fragments of the Hebrew Bible were discovered in caves near the Dead Sea dating to the 1st Century B.C. and the 1st Century A.D. The manuscripts discovered in the Dead Sea Caves include; all of the Canonical Books of the Hebrew Bible with the exception of the book of Esther, non-Canonical Books such as Enoch, Jubilees, Tobit and Sirach as well as Psalms that are not part of the 150 Psalms in the Canonical Bible, and Sectarian Books such as, the Community Rule, the War Scroll, the Damascus Document and commentaries on books of the Bible.

1st C. AD - Targum Onkelos

Targum Onkelos is an Aramaic translation of the Torah written by Onkelos, a Roman convert to Judaism. The word "targum" is Hebrew and Aramaic word meaning "translation."

1st C. AD - Targum Jonathon

Targum Jonathon is an Aramaic translation of the Prophets. It was written in the 1st Century B.C. by Jonathon Ben Uziel, a student of Hillel the Elder, the famous Jewish teacher and religious leader.

2nd C. AD - Peshitta
(Syriac Aramaic)

The Peshitta is an Aramaic translation of the entire Hebrew Bible that was written around the 2nd Century A.D. The Peshitta also includes an Aramaic New Testament that was written around the 5th Century A.D.

300 to 325 AD - Codex Vaticanus

This codex includes the Septuagint. It is believed that the Torah portion of the Septuagint was originally written around 250 BC and the prophets and the writings around the 1st century AD.

330 to 360 AD - Codex Sinaiticus

This codex includes the Septuagint. It is believed that the Torah portion of the Septuagint was originally written around 250 BC and the prophets and the writings around the 1st century AD.

3rd or 4th century CE - Coptic Bible
(Egyptian Coptic)

Old and New Testament translations translated from the Alexandrian Greek version.

4th C. AD - Cairo Geniza

Only fragments of the Hebrew Bible have survived and were discovered in a Cairo synagogue.

402 AD - Vulgate

The Latin Vulgate, consisting of the Hebrew Bible as well as the New Testament, was written by Jerome, a Christian priest and apologist, in the 5th Century A.D. This translation was commissioned by Pope Damascus in 382 and is based on Origen's Septuigant and Hebrew manuscripts.

930 AD - Aleppo Codex

One of the Ben Asher Masoretic manuscripts; Source for the Hebrew University Bible; source for Maimonides Torah Scrolls; Portions of the codex destroyed in fire in 1948. Up until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest existing complete Hebrew Bible was the Aleppo codex. For centuries, this text has been the foundation for Jewish and Christian translators.

1008 AD - Leningrad Codex

One of the Ben Asher Masoretic manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible. The Masoretic texts introduced the nikkudot (the dots and dashes above and below the Hebrew letters to represent the vowel sounds).

1380 AD - Wycliffe's Bible
(Middle English)

Considered to be the first complete bible (Old and New Testament) written in the English language (Middle English).

1455 AD - The Guttenberg Bible

The Gutenberg Bible was the first major book printed in the West and the first printed Bible using mass-produced movable type. It marked the start of the "Gutenberg Revolution" and the age of the printed book in the West. Prior to the Guttenberg Bible all Bible manuscripts were hand-written.

1516 AD - Rabbinic Bible

Considered the first Rabbinic Bible. Composed by Daniel Bomberg; second edition composed by converted Rabbi Abraham Ben Chayyim; The KJV is based on this text.

1525 AD - Tyndale's Bible
(Modern English)

The first complete Bible (Old and New Testament) printed in the modern English language and is the foundation to most English Bibles today.

17th C. AD - Samaritan Pentetuch
(Samaritan Hebrew)

According to the Samaritans, this scroll of the Torah was written by Aaron's son, Abisha. Scholars suggest a date in the 17th C. AD.

1977 AD - Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia

This Hebrew Bible is a copy of the Masoretic Text as recorded in the Leningrad Codex.

Free study pack when you join our Mail List
Free Study Pack
Sign up for our mail list and get a free study pack that includes Mr. Benner's ebook, A Mechanical Translation of Genesis.

Related Pages by Jeff A. Benner

The Ancient Hebrew Language and Alphabet Target=The Ancient Hebrew Language and Alphabet (Book)
Understanding the Ancient Hebrew language of the Bible, based on the Ancient Hebrew culture and thought.

TheThe Tower of Babel: Fact or Fiction? (Article)
When studying the origins of ancient languages, the Biblical account of the Tower of Babel must be considered. When was this Biblical account first written? Was the Tower of Babel fact or fiction?

TheThe Documentary Hypothesis: Who wrote the Torah? (Article)
Who wrote the Torah (the first five books of the Bible)? The majority of the Bible students today, within both Christianity and Judaism, will without a doubt, identify Moses as the author. Yet, nowhere within the text of the Torah is the author of the five books of Torah identified.