A Giant Among Pygmies
Ancient books thrill our imaginations with vivid pictures of worlds and cultures from long ago. Beautiful poetry, accurate history, and interesting narrative are but a few of the literary devices these ancient writers employed with captivating genius. Take the writings of Homer, for instance. His epic poems the Illiad and the Odyssey rank among the most influential pieces of literature ever written. It often has been said that a person cannot know Greece without reading Homer. Or consider The Histories of Herodotus, who was said to have revolutionized the way the world recorded history. He changed it from mere folklore and yarn stringing into documentation of actual fact. Also call to mind the writings of Josephus, which shed radiating light on the relationship between the Roman Empire and the Jewish nation in the early years of the first century A.D. And we must not neglect The Annals by Tacitus, which gives us a bird’s-eye view into some of the most intricate workings of the Roman Empire during the later part of the first century and early part of the second century A.D.
But one ancient book has outshone all of these. In America alone, it generates a 200-million-dollar market every year. It is the best-selling book of all times. Translated into over 800 languages, introduced into over 200 countries, the Bible, and more specifically, the New Testament, stands as the greatest literary achievement the world has ever read.
Yet, as we look at these monumental works of literature, we might wonder how we know Homer actually wrote the Illiad, and how many copies from the past have we discovered? Or how do we know that Josephus wrote in the first century A.D.? Did we find a copy of his works with a handy title page and copyright date in the front cover? And if we did, how many of these copies have we found? And what about the New Testament? Have we found many copies of it? If so, how old are they, and how do they compare with the evidence that verifies the other ancient works? I think the following chart answers many of these questions and speaks for itself.
How Does the New Testament
Measure Up to Other Ancient Books?
|Title of Ancient Book||Date it was Written||Date of Earliest Manuscript||Number of Manuscripts|
|Homer’s Illiad||700 B.C.||Unknown||643|
|Histories of Herodotus||425 B.C.||A.D. 900||8|
|Josephus’ Jewish Wars||A.D. 70||A.D. 400||9|
|Annals of Tacitus||A.D. 100||A.D. 900||2|
|New Testament||A.D. 35-100||A.D. 125||5735|
Based solely on the actual manuscripts evidence available, the New Testament stands as the most historically documented piece of ancient literature ever written. F.F. Bruce once stated: “It is a curious fact that historians have often been much readier to trust the New Testament records than have many theologians” (1953, p. 19). Aside from any discussion as to the inspiration of these documents, simply looking at their overwhelming manuscript evidence should quickly alert even the most skeptical observer to the fact that the documents of the New Testament are “special” to say the very least.
Bruce, F.F. (1953), The New Testament Documents—Are They Reliable? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), fourth edition.
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