Can widely distributed books survive time without tampering?

Is it possible to have a book pass through 1500 years and millions of hands, and remain the same? i.e. the christian scholars say the bible has been tampered with and changed over the years, with original manuscripts lost forever. with different versions (versions, not translations) in abundance. The quran is the same the world over, the arabic text that is, and has been that way for 1500 years. is that humanly possible? I am not making an attack on the bible or quran, i just used them as examples. The question is, in human history is this normal or possible for a book, ANY book, thatg has been widely distributed, through millions of hands to remain unchanged for 1500 years or more?
virtually yours.

Well, yes, especially if no one (like King James) decides to sponsor a new translation / interpretation. With regard to the Koran in particular, translations are discouraged and all the faithful are expected to be able to read it in the original language.

If you read the Bible in Hebrew, you are getting pretty much what was originally written down (although I will not speculate on the accuracy compared to the preceding oral traditions).

Not really. After all, until the 15th century all reproduction of books depended on copying by hand, and inevitably, for a work of any length, that introduces errors. Then people start guessing at how apparent errors should be corrected, and things go downhill.

Of course, even print compositors make mistakes. There are passages in Shakespeare’s plays, for instance, where scholars argue over what may or may not be a printer’s error. We don’t really know exactly what Shakespeare intended, and he was only about four centuries ago, and some actual physical copies of his works, printed during his lifetime, still exist (although in this case much of the uncertainty is due to the fact that these are pirated copies that he was not responsible for publishing).

For that matter, there are small issues in Faulkner’s works, and in Stephen Crane’s. Probably most authors, but those are two where I happened to read editions that went back to original notes, etc., and tried to fix what they guessed were printer’s errors (Sound and the Fury and Red Badge of Courage).

There are also multiple versions of the Qur’an - I think there are two major branches, from two early different attempts to write down what the seurats were (they were originally memorized only).

If you read the bible in Hebrew, you are reading what was said in Aramaic, written down in Greek, and then re-translated to Hebrew. All by people who were sure that they had prayerfully determined what God “really” meant by it all.

It is enormously helpful to use some of the on-line sites that make multiple versions available. It is alsoa great way to Pi$$ off Bible literalists who attempt to invade and control your bible study group. :: evil grin ::

It seems that this is only true for the New Testament. It’s not the best cite, but the Wikipedia says, “The Old Testament consists of a collection of writings believed to have been composed at various times from the twelfth to the 2nd century BC. The books were written in classical Hebrew, except for brief portions (Ezra 4:8–6:18 and 7:12–26, Jeremiah 10:11, Daniel 2:4–7:28) which are in the Aramaic language, a sister language which became the lingua franca of the Semitic world.”

I admit I’m not a Bible expert, though.

Particularly with scriptures, though, the revisors try to work from the oldest available texts rather than, say, simply taking the King James Version and rewriting it in modern English.

Wouldn’t wide distribution make a book more resistant to undetected tampering?

I believe Diogenes the Cynic is such an expert, if you want more info.

Yes, that was what I was thinking. Careless changes would be detected. As far as creeping minor changes go, I am afraid the old Jewish custom of forbidding correcting errors could create a problem. Say you are copying Isaiah and are to what we know now as chapter 66 and you make a little slip. The law is you discard the whole and start over again. What if you just keep quiet? Could that be how the ox came to eat straw earlier in Isaiah?

Now if you deliberately changed a detail in say the baptism of Jesus to support your position on immersion or sprinkling, as soon as you used it as a proof text, somebody else would dig up an older copy and expose you. Also memory was more common then. It wouldn’t blow over like modern fakes.

But yes, creeping changes have occurred. Even larger changes too. This is part of the reason each generation of scholars seek out the oldest possible texts to use in their new translation.

I was facinated by an article in the National Geographic a few months ago about the desert around Timbuktu having ancient manuscripts buried all over. What might turn up some day?

But the question you are responding to is that a book with wide distribution should be more resistant. It seems clear to me that although no procedure will be totally 100% bulletproof, wide distribution would definitely increase the likelihood that errors would get discovered. And this would be true for changes both great and small, whether accidental or deliberate.

A minor change in a obscure passage might not be found very soon. But as I pointed out, any changes that were found would be compared to other copies and to peoples memories. The wider the distribution, the more likely the error would be found.

With differences in the older texts, it is obvious for one reason or another, there were changes.

So, to sum up, wide distribution has two effects on textual integrity:
It makes variants more likely to be introduced.
It makes variants more likely to be detected and busted.

I don’t understand the how wide distribution would allow errors to be discovered more readily. Wouldn’t distribution of written materials in an age where that was the primary form of long-distance communication result in different local or regional “dialects” of a work, the same way that language itself spreads and evolves? I don’t see how wide distribution would facilitate error detection when locally, people wouldn’t necessarily be able to compare it to an original that is three copy-generations back.

My assumption is that although many scholars would put a high priority on maintaining the original intent, there are also a bunch of people who would benefit from tweaking wording to suit their own agenda.

It wouldn’t necessarily be detectable immediately, but once you got copies from a variety of places together, the changes would stand out. Yes, each place is likely to have changes from the original, but they’re probably all going to be different changes.

I think because Wide distribution would tend to indicate the possibility for Overlapping distribution. If one version is available in Spain, and another in Germany, there might be a scholar somewhere in France with access to both. . .

And that is what modern scholars do when they prepare a scholarly edition of some ancient work. They check as many different manuscripts as possible against one another. They try to find the earliest ones, but the earliest ones are not always the most accurate. In the case of most ancient works, the earliest manuscript copies that survive are still many generations, even many centuries, later than the original, and already contain all sorts of corruptions. Scholars often construct elaborate family trees for their manuscripts to try and figure out at what stage a change was introduced (and which of two or more variants is more likely to be the original version. Some texts may, at some point in their history, have survived as only as single manuscript, but one that is already several generations of copying (and thus introducing of errors) removed from the original.

Printing made a big difference, because it meant that there was, for the first time, really widespread distribution of many texts, and you could be sure that all copies of the same edition were actually the same as one another (even though errors were likely to be introduced in typesetting just as in hand copying). Also, if there are thousands of printed copies of a text, as opposed to one or a handful of manuscripts, the chances that a printed copy from that time will actually survive to the present day is much better.

Before printing, though, really no books, not even the Bible, were all that widely distributed. A dark ages monastery might have counted itself lucky if it possessed just copies of the four gospels and the psalms. Not many people, even among literate churchmen, would have had the chance even to read, say, the Book of Amos, or the Book of Judges, or even Genesis or the Acts of the Apostles, much less copy them. By the later middle ages, more copies of all books of the Bible were about, but, remember, all those had had to be copied from the very few copies (or copies of those copies, perhaps through several generations of copying) that survived the dark ages (approx. 500-1000 AD) and late Roman Empire.

(Things may have been different for the Qur’an, but I rather doubt it).

The Qur’an does have two things going for it, over the Bible: First, it was canonized much earlier than the Bible was. We were centuries after the writing of most of the New Testament before it was even completely decided which books were scripture and which weren’t, but when the Qur’an was canonized, there were still contemporaries of Mohammad still around. Second, since the Qur’an was written later, it had a shorter time to wait before the invention of the printing press.

I am not sure what canonization has to do with the reliability of the copying process. Canonized or not, you are still dependent on hand-copied manuscripts (and, in the case of Biblical manuscripts, ones that the copyist probably regarded as sacred, whether or not it eventually made it into the canonical list of Biblical books).

It is true that the Qur’an did not have to wait quite so long to be printed, but it still had to wait many centuries, quite long enough for early manuscripts to be destroyed or lost, and for many generations of copies. Also, as movable-type printing was, in effect, a European invention, I do not expect anyone was printing in Arabic until quite a while after Gutenberg’s time.

For one thing, once you establish that a particular book is important, you’re going to start seeing a lot more copies of that book being made, as opposed to the ones considered less important.