– Rev José Mario O Mandía
Man longs for the infinite, and this longing is expressed in religion. But there are so many religions. Can we just choose the one we like? If so, how can we be sure it is the right one? Is there any religion that has God’s stamp of guarantee on its teachings? Did God Himself establish any religion? Or put it another way, is there any religion which claims that it was founded by God Himself?
Both the Jewish faith and the Catholic faith claim to have been established by God. The Catholic faith claims to be the fulfillment of the promise made to the Jewish people, a continuation of the journey that began with Abraham. In the New Testament, the Letter to the Hebrews (1:1-2) reads: “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.” God has spoken to us: first in an indirect way to the Jews through the prophets, then directly to the first Christians in person. The Old Testament is part of the Christian story.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 60) explains the relation between the two: “The people descended from Abraham would be the trustee of the promise made to the patriarchs, the chosen people, called to prepare for that day when God would gather all his children into the unity of the Church. They would be the root on to which the Gentiles would be grafted, once they came to believe.”
This is why, “[t]he patriarchs, prophets and certain other Old Testament figures have been and always will be honored as saints in all the Church’s liturgical traditions” (CCC 61).
Before we go on, let us examine the basis for our knowledge of the Jewish and the Christian faiths: the Bible. For our present purposes, let us examine it as a historical record. How reliable is this record? Since we do not have the original, how do we know that it has not been altered? How can we determine whether what we have now is the same as the original?
THE IMPORTANCE OF MANUSCRIPTS
In ancient times there were no scanners or photocopiers. Everything was copied by hand (thus the term “manuscript”). In the earliest times, copies were made on papyrus (made from papyrus reed), and then on parchments (made from animal skin), which were rolled into scrolls. Eventually the scrolls were replaced by codices – prototypes of modern-day books.
There are three important features of manuscripts for them to be considered helpful in authenticating our present-day texts: namely,
(1) the number of manuscripts: the more manuscripts we have, the greater the number of references we can compare our present texts with;
(2) the agreement of the manuscripts among themselves: less differences among the texts will make it easier to determine if our present texts really follow the original ones;
(3) and the dates the manuscripts were composed: the closer the dates of composition to the actual events, the more accuracy in reporting those events.
Let us compare the number and dates of three ancient works: Homer’s Iliad, Caesar’s works, the Old Testament and the New Testament.
ORIGINAL WORK. The Iliad was composed around 900 BC, Caesar’s works from 100-44 BC, the Old Testament from 1400-400 BC, the New Testament from 40-100 AD.
DATE OF EARLIEST EXISTING MANUSCRIPT. The earliest copy we have of the Iliad was made in 400 BC (500 years after the original), Caesar’s works around 900 AD (1,000 years from the original), the Old Testament 250 BC (some copies 150 years from the original), the New Testament 400 AD (complete copies – 300 years from the original).
NUMBER OF EXISTING MANUSCRIPTS. There are 653 of the Iliad, 10 of Caesar, 10,000 of the Old Testament, and 29,664 of the New Testament.
Now, sit back and think about that.