Chapter 1
The Bible and Recent Discoveries

During the last few years the Bible and questions relating to its text have been very much before the eyes of the public. The purchase of the great Codex Sinaiticus revived the romantic story of its discovery, together with various foolish rumors affecting its genuineness; while the enthusiasm shown by the general public of all classes and in all parts of the world proved once again the attachment of the English-speaking peoples to the Bible. To this has been added the discovery of the Chester Beatty papyri, a group of manuscripts of many of the books of both Testaments, imperfect, it is true, but of substantial size, and older by a century or more than the oldest manuscripts (other than very small fragments) hitherto known, and throwing new light on the conditions in which these books were originally written and circulated. And then, still more recently, has come the discovery of some fragments of a new Gospel, different from the four which we know, but unquestionably of a date in or very shortly after the Apostolic age, which remind us of a time when other records of our Lord's life were in circulation, besides those which were ultimately accepted as authoritative.

In view of all this new material, it may be of interest to make a general survey of it, and to consider what we know about the way in which the Bible has come down to us. The idea of a Bible accurately handed down without variation from the earliest times has gone. The Bible has a human history as well as a divine inspiration. It is a history full of interest, and it is one which all those who value their Bible should know at least in outline, if only that they may be able to meet the criticisms of sceptics and the ignorant. We know more about it now than any previous generation has known; and in this short history an attempt will be made to give in intelligent language the results at which scholars have been arriving in the light of the latest discoveries.

The last two generations have been as fruitful of discoveries in archaeology (in the widest sense of that term) as the period of the Renaissance was in the field of literature or the Elizabethan age in geographical exploration. Whole new civilizations have been brought to light -- the Sumerian, the Assyrian, the Mycenaean, the Cretan, the Hittite, the Mayan -- which have added new chapters to history and art; while our knowledge even of counties so familiar as Greece and Palestine, the cradles of our civilization, has been vastly extended. We can read ancient history in a new light, and with a better comprehension how men lived and thought in those remote days. Ancient traditions have in many cases been justified as against the excessive scepticism of the middle of the nineteenth century, and are being put into their proper relation to history. Criticism, instead of being merely negative, has become constructive; and by facing the new facts with an open mind we can, without any subversion of fundamental beliefs, establish our knowledge on a firmer basis, and interpret it in a fresher and living light.

Of no department of knowledge is this more true than of that which deals with the books of the Bible; and none is more interesting to Englishmen, to whom, since the sixteenth century, the Bible has been the book of books, and whose whole thought, language, and literature are deeply tinged with its words and its teaching. The discoveries of the last hundred years, and increasingly those of the last fifty, have greatly widened and deepened our knowledge of Palestine and of its relations with the neighboring countries, and have enabled us to read the Hebrew literature, not as an isolated phenomenon, but in relation to the circumstances which gave it birth, and have vastly increased our knowledge of its origins and of the manner in which it was recorded. It is of this latter branch of the subject that the present volume will treat. The Bible being to us what it is, it is of the highest importance that we should be satisfied of the authenticity of the title-deeds of our faith; that we should be able to accept them, not with a blind and unintelligent belief, but with a clear understanding of the manner in which the several books came into existence, and of the means by which they have been handed down to us. The history of the Bible text is a romance of literature, though it is a romance of which the consequences are of vital import; and thanks to the succession of discoveries which have been made of late years, we know more about it than of the history of any other ancient book in the world.

For the vast majority of English-speaking people, the Bible is the English Authorized Version, first published in 1611. But everybody knows that this is not the original language of the Bible; and as soon as one begins to think of it, various questions present themselves. From what sort of texts was the translation of 1611 made? How had these texts been handed down? Were they accurate representations of the works as originally written by the authors of the books of the Old and New Testaments? What evidence have we about it? Why was it thought necessary, in the latter part of the nineteenth century, to make a Revised Version? What is the relation of the Revised Version to the Authorized? And why are the margins of the Revised Version full of references to alternative readings which are said to be found in 'ancient authorities'? What are these ancient authorities, and what is their importance? How shall we judge which of these alternatives is to be preferred? These are the questions to which it will be attempted to provide answers in the present book, based upon the most recent discoveries and what seems to be the most reasonable interpretation of them.