John 17:17 "Sanctify them by Your Word. Your word is truth."
We study history to help us learn from the past. But what literary sources give us that knowledge of ancient cultures? The web page for University of Missouriís Ancient History department says " Ancient history has always been one of the departmentís strengths, and the program is a pioneer in preserving traditional classical history and connecting it with comparative cultural studies." MU also boasts about its main library, Ellis Library, which "holds an exceptionally fine collection of scholarly and rare books."
Now, I have no doubt that MU scholarship, as most scholars in Ancient History around the world, believe their literary material provides excellent sources into understanding the ancient civilizations of the Greeks and Romans. Iím certain professors teaching these courses are confident the ancient source material used in educating young minds is completely trustworthy. We would hope so, since obtaining a Masters, or a PhD, at MU or KU will run somewhere between $85,000 - $100,000 by the time youíre done.
So Iím sure these schools include the Bible, and especially the New Testament, in their core set of historical literature for teaching ancient history of the Greeks and Romans? MUís website lists the writings of Demosthenes, a prominent Greek statesman who lived between 384-322 BC, as a source for their Ancient History program. I wonder if students are told the earliest manuscript existing today for any writing of Demosthenes is around 1100 AD, which is 1,300 years after he wrote. But, take heart, we do have about 200 manuscript copies of Demosthenes writings, so we can compare them to see if his writings have been corrupted as they have passed along from copy to copy. But, I guess 200 copies is good enough, isnít it?
Well, Iím sure there are other excellent sources for Greek ancient literature also. The KU site mentions Plato. We all trust Platoís ĎTetralogiesí (recorded series of dialogues) right? Well, Plato lived between 427-347 BC, and the earliest manuscripts we have are around 900 AD. Thatís a time gap of 1,200 years after he wrote. We only have 7 manuscript copies. Well, at least Demosthenes has more. And Iím sure there are other reliable Greek, and Roman, historians we can include to help us get a more confident grasp on ancient Greek and Roman culture. Letís take a look.
Sophocles (wrote from 496-406 BC, earliest manuscript is 1,000 AD, we have 193 copies. Not so good).
Herodotus (wrote 480-425 BC, earliest manuscript is 900 AD, we have 8 copies. Not good).
Thucydides (wrote 460-400 BC, earliest manuscript is 900 AD, we have 8 copies. Not good).
Euripides (wrote 480-406 BC, earliest manuscript is 1,100 AD, we have 9 copies. Not good).
Aristophanes (wrote 450-385 BC, earliest manuscript is 900 AD, we have 10 copies. Not good).
Aristotle (wrote 384-322 BC, earliest manuscript is 1,000 AD, we have 49 copies. Not good).
Caesarís ĎGallic Warsí (wrote 100-44 BC, earliest manuscript 900 AD, we have 10 copies. Not good).
So, if Iím investing $85,000 - $100,000 in an advanced degree, and my study material on ancient Greek and Roman civilizations is based on manuscripts dating around 1,000 years after the recorded events, and in most cases I only have about 10 manuscripts to try and check the source material hasnít been corrupted over time, do I feel great about the return on my investment?
What about the New Testament as a source for history of Greek and Roman culture? Itís a religious book, right? Surely it canít hold any scholarly significance to understand these civilizations? Letís see. We have over 24,000 hand-written manuscripts, with the earliest fragment dating 100 AD, which is conservatively within 50 years from when the New Testament books were written (approx.. 50-100 AD).
The New Testament stands alone in its richness of manuscript evidence. There isnít even a close second. And not only that, since we have so many copies we can examine if itís been changed through time. We canít do that with any other ancient writer. And guess what? The New Testament has been calculated at 98.33% pure in its transmission through time.
If youíre a Christian reading this, you have no excuse for not reading your bible every day. Itís the most reliable ancient book in existence to learn history of that time, not to mention you can absolutely trust what the main character in the Bible, Jesus Christ, has to say to you and about you. Make 2014 the year of the Bible. Start reading.
Ed Croteau is a resident of Leeís Summit and hosts a weekly study in Lees Summit called "Faith: Substance and Evidence." He can be reached with your questions through the Leeís Summit Tribune at Editor@lstribune.net.