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The Tanak / Old Testament, as we know it today, took shape over a long period of time. In part, scholars have traced this development by studying early manuscripts, which themselves often are archaeological artifacts.

The two most important traditions in the transmission of the Bible are the 10th and 11th century CE Masoretic Hebrew texts and the Septuagint Greek text. The Masoretic manuscripts resulted from generations of careful copying of older Hebrew manuscripts. The Septuagint is a Greek translation which originally was made in Egypt in the third century BCE and seems to reflect a different original Hebrew text than that used by the Masoretes.

The earliest extant biblical texts are two inscribed sheets of silver foil found in a 600 BCE tomb at Ketef Hinnom, outside the walls of Jerusalem. They were inscribed with identical passages, close to the "priestly benediction" in Numbers 6:24-26:

YHWH bless you
and keep you
YHWH shine his face upon you
and be gracious to you
Ketef Hinnom,
Plaque 1:14-19

The next earliest group of biblical texts are the 250 BCE-70 CE Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1947 near Khirbet Qumran in Israel. Of approximately 825 extant documents, only one was complete. They contain sections of every Old Testament book except Esther and include more than 600 non-biblical texts. The scrolls reflect both the Masoretic and the Septuagint textual traditions.

After the 7th century CE, as biblical manuscripts were preserved in scroll repositories (geniza) of synagogues and in Christian libraries, archaeological finds have less importance. After 1477 CE, the printing press revolutionized the production and dissemination of a standardized text of the Tanak/ Old Testament.

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