In my last blog post, we talked about, “What Happened To These 4 Books Of The Bible” which are about Samuel and Kings. Let’s continue our detour and take just a few more moments to discuss these so-called corruptions that have enchanted so many modern scholars, most of which subscribe to the newer academic disciplines of Bible research called literary criticism and textual criticism.
It’s important that you have an understanding of these things. Otherwise, you’ll have few answers for those who question your assertion that the former Testament is as valid as the latter; or to counter accusations from those who regularly speak of biblical textual error but have little to back it up.
A fellow named David Tsumura has done a marvelous job in accurately shooting holes in the textual corruption theories aimed at various OT books (and especially the books of Samuel and Kings) that so dominates current liberal Bible scholarship.
And as with most rebuffs of this kind, common sense is at its core rather than some esoteric academic blather that is considered valid. Not because there is ample evidence but rather because the person is saying it has the proper credentials and notoriety among his peers to get attention; thus his or her new theories are considered unassailable despite the lack of any actual evidence.
Here’s the issue in a nutshell. Part of the reason when we hold up various Bible translations and compare them and see somewhat different words (and sometimes those words can be quite different in their effect) is that the translators come across words and phrases that are at times quite difficult to deal with and are out of the ordinary.
The immediate assumption is that since our modern understanding of biblical Hebrew is so advanced, that the text must have been corrupted due to misspellings, omissions, additions, and so on and so that gives the translator license to substitute what he thinks OUGHT to have been written for what is there.
And, as Dr. Tsumura writes, that is certainly the easy way out; but it also opens a very dangerous door.
In his view, these translators are so intent on applying the rules of their favored kind of research discipline that they tend to overlook the obvious and discard the simple solution.
And the obvious is that at all times when converting oral speech to written words (even within the same language), we do so phonetically; that is we use a written alphabet of letters that each indicate a particular sound as a means to record the spoken word, and then later accurately recover it.
Let me untangle that a bit. Spoken language came before written language. People didn’t first communicate with writing, and then develop speech from written form; rather it was the other way around.
Pictographs were created as the first so-called alphabets or written form of communication. In other words, if the spoken word is “house,” then the written word is a drawing of a house.
But in time some languages evolved complex alphabets that were distinct sounds assigned to distinctive characters that could be strung together to form words.
Thus pictures were replaced with a series of letters, and in time that is how the Hebrew alphabet worked (it is the same with our English alphabet).
So the goal of alphabets is to combine letters that enable us to SPEAK the word it stands for. To speak it, we have to know what it sounds like, right?
When I write the word “shema” (a Hebrew word), I am using the English alphabet to sound out a Hebrew word. I hear what the word sounds like in Hebrew and then use some appropriate English alphabet characters to try and approximate what the word sounds like in Hebrew. The academic term is that I’m expressing the Hebrew in phonetic English.
But the problem is that everyone doesn’t pronounce words the same; people from different regions and even different eras can pronounce words from the same basic language quite differently.
In modern times, where English is spoken in many countries, the same words can sound different. In America we say riv-er; in Australia they say reev-uh. In America we say Sked-u-all. In England they say Shed-yule.
If one writes these spoken words down phonetically according to how they sound they wind up being spelled somewhat differently, even though they are intended to be the same words.
Again: the original purpose of an alphabet was to have a means to write down what a word sounds like when it is spoken.
Thus Dr. Tsumura points out many places in Samuel where supposedly there is a scribal error or some other type of corruption that happened over time and says that all that has happened is that an ancient editor was writing down how the word sounded when spoken.
But of course, since pronunciation changes a bit with time, location, culture and even personal preference, whoever was the most recent editor and copyist of that passage of Scripture wrote the word or phrase down in a way that best reflected the most current pronunciation.
And it wouldn’t necessarily match a formal Hebrew dictionary spelling or the exact way it was spelled by other writers.
Thus we’ll find (for instance) that some Hebrew manuscripts will add a “p” to Samson’s name making it “Samp-son.” It’s not a misspelling per se, nor is it a corruption; it’s simply how that word was being pronounced in a particular culture or region.
Complex to explain I suppose, but very simple in concept; and we see this exact thing every single day of our lives wherever we live and in whatever language we use.
So while certainly there are some amount of actual scribal errors and real textual corruptions in the book of Samuel (and all the books of the Bible for that matter). They are far fewer than claimed, and the more glaring ones can usually be remedied by comparing a couple of old manuscripts to find a correct spelling for the intended word.
Remember; until the printing press of barely 500 years ago, multiple copies of documents were the result of individuals hand copying the example document letter-by-letter, word-by-word. And to think that in hand copying a book as enormous as the Bible there wouldn’t be a copyist error here and it is not realistic.
We will continue with the history of Samuel in my next blog post. Have a blessed day!