If Moses had a copy of today’s Hebrew Bible, he wouldn’t be able to read it.
Just imagine . . . You discover a time-machine, you travel back to the year 1425 B.C., and you meet Moses face-to-face. You excitedly tote along your favorite Hebrew/English interlinar Bible, complete with the Masoretic text and its English translation. You look forward to showing Moses his own writings in print, transported over three thousand years in time.
To your surprise and disappointment, Moses just shrugs at the text, and leers at you with an odd look on his face. You show him the Ten Commandments, yet Moses has no clue how to read it. He gladly acknowledges his encounter with God on Mt. Sinai, but he says this text looks nothing like what God wrote on those two stone tablets.
In desperation, you focus on the most important word in the entire Old Testament. The Tetragrammaton. The all-holy four-letter name of God. YHWH. Surely Moses will immediately recognize the Hebrew inscription for God’s name!
To your dismay, Moses says this word is just as foreign as everything else you have shown him. Moses writes the Lord’s name himself, hoping to teach you the proper way to write it. This word, too, is four letters. But it looks as foreign to you as your text looks to Moses.
You return home, disappointed, but wiser. The next time someone gushes with excitement about the “ancient Hebrew text”, and the ability to “read the same words Moses wrote”, you don’t share their excitement. You hold your peace, and you meditate on God’s awesome ability to preserve His Truth from generation to generation, even if He has not preserved the original text of Scripture.
Most of the Old Testament scriptures were written in Paleo-Hebrew, or a closely related derivative. Generally considered to be an offshoot of ancient Phonecian script, Paleo-Hebrew represents the pen of David, the script of Moses, and perhaps even the Finger of God on the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments.
Modern Hebrew, on the other hand, is not quite so ancient. Israelites acquired this new alphabet from Assyria (Persia), somewhere around the 6th-7th century B.C. This was the same general time period as Israel’s exile to Babylon . . . many centuries after most of the Old Testament was written.
Initially, the Old Testament Scriptures were exclusively written in Paleo-Hebrew.
Then, after borrowing the new alphabet from the Assyrians, the Jews began transliterating large portions of Scripture into the newer version.
But old habits die hard. Especially with religion. Especially in regard to the name of God. For a period of time, Jews transcribed the majority of the Old Testament using the new Hebrew alphabet, while retaining the more ancient way of writing God’s name. Thus, for a while, the Hebrew Scriptures were written with a mixture of two different alphabets. Even after the Jews began exclusively using the new Assyrian letters to copy the text of Scripture, the more ancient Paleo-Hebrew letters persisted in some corners of Jewish society. As late as the 2nd century A.D., during the Bar Kokhba revolt, Jewish coins displayed writing with the ancient Paleo-Hebrew script.
Eventually, though, the newer Assyrian alphabet won the day. No new copies were being made of the ancient text, and the earliest copies of Scripture eventually disintegrated. By the time of Christ, the only existing copies of the Old Testament had either been transliterated into modern Hebrew, or translated into Greek (in the Septuagint). One exception is the Samaritan Pentateuch, which continues to be written in the ancient form, even to this day. However, Jews and Christians both rejected the text as being of questionable accuracy.
Today, many people are under the false impression that the Masoretic Text represents
the “original Hebrew”, and that the Septuagint is less trustworthy because it is “just a translation”. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The Septuagint is actually more faithful to the original Hebrew than the Masoretic Text is.
We no longer have original copies of the Old Testament.
Nor do we have copies of the originals.
We now have copies of the Scriptures transliterated into modern Hebrew, edited by scribes, compiled by the Masoretes in the 7th-11th centuries, and embellished with modern vowel points which did not exist in the original language. This is what we now call the “Masoretic Text”.
We also have copies of the Old Testament Scriptures which were translated into Greek, over 1000 years earlier than the oldest existing Masoretic text. During New Testament times, Jesus and the Apostles quoted from this Greek translation frequently, and with full authority. They treated it as the Word of God, and as a faithful translation. This is what we now call the “Septuagint”.
Here is a sample of the differences between the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint.
While many Protestant bibles rely heavily on the Masoretic Text, the Orthodox Church has continued to use the Septuagint for the past 2000 years. The Orthodox Study Bible is an English copy of the Scriptures, and its Old Testament is translated from the Septuagint. It is very good, and comes highly recommended!