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Original Autographs: Old Testament

The original words written by human authors of the Bible are referred to as autographs since they were written by the authors own hands.

In Genesis 1 and 2 the Bible records the origin of the earth and heavens. Somebody had to write this message down. Adam and Eve were the first created humans. They were probably told this information from God. They then passed the information down to their children through the spoken word, which we call “oral tradition.”1 They possibly might have written down these events too. Early writing may have existed since the time of creation. God created the human-being different from all the other living creatures. Humans are literate sapiens. These humans would use writing to communicate with their own kind. No other created creature uses a written language.

Cuneiform Tablet

Archaeologists have discovered as far back as the fifth millennium B.C. hieroglyphs or pictograms in China.2 This was a type of picture writing. Cuneiform was one of the earliest forms of writing developed by the Sumerians of Mesopotamia. This writing remained pictographic. Some sources claim the origin of Cuneiform as early as 3200 B.C.3

The ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics originated as one of the first alphabets out of a pictographic language. Although the pictures and symbols represented an alphabet, the language was like reading a picture puzzle. Recently a hieroglyphic writing sample has been found about 300 miles south of Cairo, Egypt in the city of Abydos dating from 3300 B.C.4

The Ancient Hebrew language originated out of the various languages of the Mesopotamian people. Writing was a functional way of communication when the early books of the Bible were written.

July 2008 Yossi Garfinkel an archaeologist found the oldest known Hebrew written message. This message consisted of 5 lines written in ink on a pottery shard. The location of the find was in Khirbet Qeiyafa. Khirbet Qeiyafa is near the modern Israeli city, Beit Shemesh. This is the general area where young King David killed Goliath.5

Egyptian Heiroglyphics

Although the end of the book of Genesis ends three centuries before Moses was born, Moses is credited to have written Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The Christian church attests to this fact, also so does Jesus. “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5:46-47 NKJV®) These first five books of Moses were probably written in Hebrew around 1450 to 1400 B.C.6 In chapter 34 of Deuteronomy Joshua probably wrote Moses´ obituary.

A small part of the Old Testament was written in Aramaic. In 586 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and took the Jews into captivity to Babylon. Living in Babylon the Jews began to speak Aramaic under the Medo-Persian Empire. In the book of Ezra, chapters 4:8 to 6:18; and 7:12 -26 were all written in Aramaic. Most of the prophetic book of Daniel was written in Aramaic. (2:4 to 7:28)7 To learn more about the Aramaic language and to see a sample of the alphabet,CLICK HERE

The original autographs of the Holy Bible have never been found. These ancient writings would have been written on papyrus which is very perishable. Dr. Frederick F. Bruse, author and theologian who has written a countless number of books on theology for the clergy and laity wrote, “All...autographs have been long lost since. It could not be otherwise, if they were written on papyrus, since is only in exceptional conditions that papyrus survives for any length of time.”8

Early Writing

What are the writing materials and instruments used by the early human race? Let´s look at the book of Job. Job writes, “Oh, that my words were written! Oh, that they were inscribed in a book! That they were engraved on a rock With an iron pen and lead, forever!” (Job 19:23-24 NKJV®) Yes, the iron pen and stone was used at one time for writing. This evidence has been uncovered by archaeologists.

Job is one of the oldest books in the Bible. Certain statements recorded and some not recorded in the book of Job challenge many biblical scholars to believe in a period of time between Genesis 11 and 12. For example wealth is measured in livestock. Like the Hebrew patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob) Job is the priest of his family and offers sacrifices. No references are made to Israel, the Exodus, the Mosaic law, or the tabernacle. Job used the name Shaddai for God which was a patriarchal Hebrew name for God which means “THE ALMIGHTY.”9

Other writing materials uncovered by archaeologists were clay tablets, unglazed pottery called Ostraca, and wax tablets mounted on wood. Paper-like materials used were papyrus, parchment, and vellum.10

Papyrus is a water plant. The reeds were stripped, cut length-wise into narrow slices which were beaten and pressed together forming two layers. The layers were set perpendicular to each other, dried, and polished smooth. This was the finished product for writing.

Papyrus Plant

Parchment is prepared animal skins. Sheep, goat, antelope and other animal skins were used. The skins were shaved and scraped to produce a suitable writing surface.

Vellum was animal skin from a calf. It was often dyed purple. Many biblical manuscripts have been found that are purple vellum.

The choices of writing instruments were the chisel, metal stylus, and pen. The stylus had a special head on it that was made to make the engravings in clay or wax. The pen was made from the rush plant (Juncus maritimus). A pointed reed was fashioned from this plant which was cut to a flat chisel-like shape. The chisel-like design made the instrument capable of making thick and thin stokes with ink on papyrus, parchment, and vellum.

Rush Plant (Juncus maritimus)USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database/Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. Illustrated flora of the northern states and Canada. Vol. 1: 469.

Dating of Manuscripts11

You may wonder how one dates biblical manuscripts. There are many factors that are considered when dating a manuscript.

Materials: The materials that the manuscript could be of are tablets, stone, bone, wood, leather, metals, broken pottery, papyrus, and vellum.

Form: The form of ancient books could take on the form of a scroll. The writing surface could be papyrus, leather, vellum or some other material. The pages would be glued together and rolled on a stick. Some Greek manuscripts have been as long as 35 feet which was wrapped around a stick. Some manuscripts were bound in a book form like we make books today. This book form of a manuscript is called codex.

Text Divisions: This would include how the writer made chapter divisions and even gave titles to chapters.

Punctuation: The earliest manuscripts had very little punctuation. In the sixth and seventh centuries scribes began to use punctuation much more, such as various marks for pronunciation. Also syllable division was used.

Commentary: Explanations were given for difficult words and phrases. These notes were usually written on the margin of a page. These notes were of smaller or minuscule script.

Artistic Adornment: Pictures were drawn. In these manuscripts you can see portraits of Jesus Christ and the apostles. Various scenes were drawn in pictures to illustrate an event in the Bible.

Other factors helpful in dating manuscripts were the color of the ink used and the texture and color of the writing surface.

Old Testament Manuscripts

The Old Testament does not have the quantity of manuscripts that the New Testament has. However, there are quite a few Old Testament manuscripts. Giovanni de Rossi (1776-1788) had published a listing of 731 Hebrew manuscripts.12 What and where are some of these ancient Old Testament manuscripts?

The most popular and oldest of all Hebrew manuscripts are the Dead Sea Scrolls. I have devoted a whole section on the Dead Sea Scrolls because of their importance. There is much that can and has been written about the Dead Sea Scrolls. I hope what I wrote, you will find informative. To read about the Dead Sea Scrolls CLICK HERE.

One of the best places to start looking for Old Testament manuscripts is in Leningrad. At the Saltykov-Shchedrin State Public Library you will find the Firkovitch Collection.13 This collection is probably one of the largest manuscript collections. Abraham Firkovitch found this collection at the synagogue of Chufutkaleh in the Crimea in 1839. [1839 is a very important year for me; photography was first invented in 1839] Note also in my research I have discovered more than one spelling for Firkovitch. [also Firkowitch and Firkowitsch] This collection was dated sixth to ninth century A. D. It contains 1,582 items from the Bible and Masora plus 1200 additional Hebrew fragments which belong to the Antonin Collection. These fragments and the Antonin Collection are all from Cairo Geniza.

The remaining Cairo Geniza Collection14 are scattered all over the world. Some of the better Cairo Geniza collections you can find in the United States. Check out the Enelow Memorial Collection housed at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. This Cairo Geniza Collection is named after where it was found. The collection was found in Cairo, Egypt in a storage room or geniza of an old church. The church is Saint Michael´s and has been standing since A.D. 882. In this geneza as many as 200,000 fragments were found. These biblical texts were in both Hebrew and Aramaic. These manuscripts date from A.D. 929 to 1121.

A very old manuscript from the second century B.C. would be the Nash Papyrus.15 There is a copy here of the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4-9, and also The Ten Commandments which is taken from Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21.

Very important Hebrew manuscript texts were known as the Masoretic manuscripts. These special texts were written by Jewish scribes who developed a very reverent and specialized care of the scriptures when copying. Each of these Masoretic groups put together a sophisticated system of protocol for pronunciation, paragraph and verse divisions—everything to meet approval of the Jewish community. These groups worked during the seventh to the eleventh centuries and were headquartered in Tiberias, Jerusalem, and Babylonia.

Here is what the great Bible scholar, Frederick F. Bruce stated about the Masoretes. “The Masoretes were well disciplined and treated the text ‘with the greatest imaginable reverence, and devised a complicated system of safeguards against scribal slips. They counted, for example, the number of times each letter of the alphabet occurs in each book; they pointed out the middle letter of the Pentateuch and the middle letter of the whole Hebrew Bible, and made even more detailed calculations than these.’”

—Frederick F. Bruce16

The earliest Masoretic text prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls would be Cairo Codex. This was dated A.D. 895. It also goes by the name of Codex Cairensis.17 This manuscript includes the writings of the prophets. It was produced by the Moses ben Asher family. The location of this manuscript is in a British museum. The word codex is defined simply as a manuscript in book form with pages.

The earliest complete manuscript would be Codex Leningradensis.18 Its date is A.D. 1008. It was prepared from a corrected text of Rabbi Aaron ben Moses ben Asher. It is now located in Leningrad.

The manuscript, Codex Babylonicus Petropalitanus19 contains the major prophets—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and also the twelve minor prophets. It was written with Babylonian Punctuation and is dated A.D. 916.

The British Museum Codex20 contains parts of Genesis to Deuteronomy. Its date is A.D. 950.

A very valuable manuscript and thought to be lost forever was the Masoretic Aleppo Codex.21 It was partially destroyed in the 1947 riots in Israel and was rediscovered in 1958. This manuscript is the oldest complete Masoretic manuscript of the entire Old Testament. It is dated somewhere after A.D. 900.

A couple codices here are known as lost codices. Codex Sever22 listed thirty-two variants of the Pentateuch. The Pentateuch is the first five books of the Bible written by Moses. The codex contained these variations from Genesis 18:21-24:7 and Numbers 4:3. It is named after Emperor Severus who gave this manuscript to a synagogue he had built. Codex Hillel23 was written by Rabbi Hillel ben Moses ben Hillel in A.D. 600. It was used to revise other manuscripts.

This listing of Old Testament manuscripts is not exhausted, but will give you an idea of what is available out there. Modern translations of the Bible take advantage of many of these old manuscripts.

The Septuagint24

The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Old Testament Hebrew scriptures. This translation was created over a couple hundred years before Jesus was born for the Hellenistic Jews.

This translation came about from 284 to 247 B.C. during the reign of King Ptolemy II Philadelphius of Egypt. The actual translation of the Hebrew scriptures to Greek known as the Septuagint was written around 250 B.C. During this time many Jews were scattered throughout the area and had lost their use of the traditional Hebrew and Aramaic languages. These Jews who adopted the Greek language along with the Grecian life-style were known as Hellenists. Now these Hellenistic Jews could understand the scriptures in their own language.

Often when writing about the Septuagint many writers use the Roman numerical abbreviation LXX. This is the Roman number for seventy. The name Septuagint comes from the process of this translation. This translation was written by seventy Jewish elders.

Today you can still buy the Septuagint in any Christian book store. To aid in study, the Septuagint has published dictionaries, commentaries and other study aids to help you grow in your biblical knowledge.

It is often used today in translation and scholarly commentary of the Old Testament. Bible students and pastors of biblical Greek can read and study it to make comparisons of the Old and New Testaments.

Accuracy of the Bible25

The Old Testament along with the New Testament of the Bible has more manuscript copies than any literature that ever existed on this planet.

Giovanni de Rossi published a listing of 731 Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament; this does not include the Dead Sea Scrolls. The great literary work of Homer´s Iliad written in 800 B.C. has only 643 manuscript copies.

Below is a chart that compares the manuscript coverage of non-biblical ancient literature.



AuthorDate WrittenEarliest CopiesNumber of Copies
Iliad Homer 800 B.C. 400 B.C. 643
History Herodotus 480-425 B.C. A.D. 900 8
History Thucydides 460-400 B.C. A.D. 900 8
Plato 400 B.C. A.D. 900 7
Demosthenes 300 B.C. A.D. 1100 200
Gallic Wars Caesar 100-44 B.C. A.D. 900 10
History of Rome Livy 59-B.C.- A.D.17 A.D. 300s 20
Annals Tacitus A.D. 100 A.D. 1100 20
Natural History Pliny the Younger A.D. 61-113 A.D. 850 7
Aristotle 384-322 B.C. A.D. 1100 5

Photography Prints


1.; How the Bible Came To Us.



4. Ibid.




8. John McDowell. The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict; Thomas Nelson Publishers; Nashville, TN 37214 (1999) p17.

9. Earl D. Radmache, TH.D., General Editor; The Nelson Study Bible; New King James Version; Nashville, TN 37214 (1997) p824.

10. Ibid. The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict; pp17-19.

11. Josh McDowell. Evidence That Demands A Verdict, Vol. 1; Here´s Life Publishers, Inc., San Bernardino, CA 92402 (1986) pp25-28.



14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid. The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict; p75.

17. Testament.htm;

18. Ibid.

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid.

21. Ibid.

22. Ibid.

23. Ibid.

24. Henry H. Halley. HALLEY´S BIBLE HANDBOOK; Zondervan Publishing House; Grand Rapids, MI; 24th Edition (1965); p409.

25. Ibid. The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict; p38.