Copying

By Admin | Jeremiah

Jan 26

Copying

Last year I started to write out sections of scripture, and today, reading over what I had written, I came across a mistake that highlighted one sort of error that can very easily be made by copyists.

Jeremiah 6:21-23 reads like this:

21 Therefore thus says the Lord:
‘Behold, I will lay before this people
stumbling blocks against which they shall stumble;
fathers and sons together,
neighbor and friend shall perish.’ ”
22 Thus says the Lord:
“Behold, a people is coming from the north country,
a great nation is stirring from the farthest parts of the earth.
23 They lay hold on bow and javelin;
they are cruel and have no mercy;
the sound of them is like the roaring sea;
they ride on horses,
set in array as a man for battle,
against you, O daughter of Zion!”

I intended to faithfully copy out these words, but unfortunately, my copying was not very good.  My copy read:

21 Therefore thus says the Lord:
‘Behold, a people is coming from the north country,
a great nation is stirring from the farthest parts of the earth.
23 They lay hold on bow and javelin;
they are cruel and have no mercy;
the sound of them is like the roaring sea;
they ride on horses,
set in array as a man for battle,
against you, O daughter of Zion!”

Did you notice what I did there?  My copy completely left out a chunk of the text from early in verse 21 to a similar place in verse 22.  I correctly copied the starting single quote followed by “Behold” in verse 21, but after the trailing comma, I started copying the text from the next verse where the words and construction were almost identical.

I always read over my copied text, comparing it with the original text to make sure it is correct, and that was when I found this very simple error.

Do you believe you would ever make such a simple mistake?  I don’t think anyone really does until they try copying a large amount of text themselves.  If you have ever done this, you will appreciate the incredible accuracy with which the Bible has been copied over thousands of years.

Now let’s imagine that you had two scrolls of Jeremiah 6, one correct and one like the copy I made.  Which would you think was right?  Would you be able to guess what had gone wrong?  Scholars now have thousands of scrolls which may contain errors made in copying and accumulated over hundreds or thousands of years and hundreds or thousands of copying operations.  Mine is a typical sort of error and very easy to make.  Is it easy to recognise?

Next, imagine that I actually had a motive in creating my reduced copy.  Imagine that I did not believe that God could ever put a stumbling block in anybody’s way, and so I had carefully dropped out the text I didn’t like in a way that would not be obvious to most people.  No-one would ever notice unless they compared my version with a correct version.  And if my version was copied and became the more common version over time, people might think the longer version contained an addition, something added to the original text for some reason, maybe even taken from Ezekiel 3:20 to give more consistency to the text written from God at a similar time.  Critics could spend countless satisfying hours mulling over the motives of the copyists for adding to or subtracting from the text!

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