It has been suggested by a number of our Muslim brothers that the existence of the so-called Samaritan Pentateuch (SamP), because it differs in places (regardless of what those differences may be) is proof that the Hebrew Masoretic Text is at very least, unreliable, and at worst, blatantly corrupted. Is there any truth to these claims?
Simply, the Samaritan Pentateuch (SamP) is a later recension of the Hebrew Torah text, less faithfully rendered than in the Masoretic Text (MT). There have been a number of studies conducted on the various codices of the SamP since the seventeenth century, yielding a wide range of conclusions. One of the more loudly touted by those anxious to discredit the Bible is perhaps the London Polyglot of 1657, which counted some 6000 variations between the MT and the SamP. 1900 of these agreed closely with the Septuagint (LXX). However, since that time of 'limited' textual analytical technique (and archeological knowledge) many other studies have been conducted.
The essential findings, and common belief modernly held, with Qumran corpus' in hand, NT (New Testament), LXX, MT, and other Samaritan writings, is that the MT presents a more accurate renderring of an older recension, from which the LXX, proto-SamP, and other translations emerged. Visually, the flow might appear like this, with the 'straighter' the line indicating a closer recension (identical perhaps) to the original:
_________ / Qumran Material---? ---proto-Samaritan-------- / / \ / \ / -------Septuagint---------------------Samaritan Pentateuch / / proto-Mt ---------Masoretic--------------------------------------------
From, 'The Anchor Bible Dictionary', Volume 5, O-Sh (ISBN 0-385-19363-7), subject, 'Samaritan Pentateuch', here are briefly the essential results of textual criticism as evidenced in the entirety of the article.
1. The SamP has been corrupted by scribal errors.
2. The SamP text preserves a linguistic tradition which differs from that of the Tiberian grammarians (Samaritan 'Hebrew' generally represents a later stage of developement than that of the Tiberian (MT) vocalization).
3. The SamP has been 'modernized' by replacing archaic Hebrew philology with a later tradition (The SamP also frequently introduces "pseudo-cohotative" forms, an archaizing practice in late Hebrew writing).
4. The SamP presents an exegetically and liguistically more straight-forward text than the MT by removing grammatical difficulties, and replacing rare constructions with more frequently ocurring constructions.
5. The text of the Samaritan tradition has been supplemented and clarified by the insertion of additions and interpolations of glosses from parallel passages.
6. The SamP has been corrected to remove historical difficulties and objectionable passages.
7. The SamP has been interpreted as well as clarified by small changes.
8. The Samaritan text has been adapted to Samaritan theology (for example the 'centering' of the 'holy place of God' from Jerusalem to Mt. Gerazim'). The MT torah is theologically neutral on this matter, and it is likely because the prophets/writings celebrate Zion/Jerusalem that the Samaritan canon consisted of only the Torah. This canon question is strange in light of the Bible verses I present in a moment. How did the woman believe the Christ was imminent if Torah was their only scripture? Judging from the late dating of our only copies of the SamP, I think there is a piece of the redaction puzzle we haven't got yet, in terms of the recensions of the SamP.
Finally, the article goes on to close with two encapsulating statements.
1. The chief textual value of the SamP is its indirect witness that the
MT is a 'superb, disciplined text' (Cross 1964:271).
2. Second, and this has not been previously noted, the modernized SamP along with early Jewish sources suggests that the Pentateuch was begun to be modernized before the time of the Chronicler, entailing that the archaic text-type of the Pentateuch preserved in the MT must be much older.
In fact, the earliest actual manuscript of the SamP which I could find the article refer to was about AD 1100.
What then does the SamP mean to Christians, as it differs slightly from the MT? Not much more than the two statements above. In fact, in light of the purpose for which Muslims may use this 'apparent problem', it reaffirms that the Torah has not changed significantly since at least a few hundred years before Christ. The Torah to which the Qur'an refers believers to observe and adhere to, is both logically, and effectively the more common text of the period, the Masoretic text, which is the basis for the Old Testament in most if not all modern Bibles.
Jesus was aware of the difference in faith between the Samaritans and Jews in His time. How did he deal with it? John 4:7-42. The story of the woman at the well. Verse 20 reads (the woman speaking), 'Our fathers worshiped on this mountain (probably Gerazim, my comment); and you say Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.' Verse 21 'Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.'(RSV)
As Christians, we may, and indeed must depend upon what Jesus thought of the true Torah. Though the New Testament references the LXX many times in its pages, the LXX compared to the MT in those passages show simple translational adjustments, and a more literal interpretation. This same phenomena accounts for a great many of the '6000' discrepancies between the SamP and the MT. In fact, in flipping through the Torah in my NKJV bible, I found about 6 notes where the SamP diverged from the MT, and 100% of those did not alter the theology of the verses with respect to Christian doctrine.
Therefore I believe that it can be said that the Samaritan Pentateuch does not provide ample evidence for the claims that the Masoretic Text is corrupted, but rather, substantiates that the Masoretic Text is faithful to the original Torah, and also, that the 'scriptures of Moses' to which the Qur'an refers, are the very same contained in the modern Bible.
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