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Jewish scribes, who kept up the Old Testament scrolls for centuries, had a nearly foolproof system for making perfect copies. First, a scribe would count the number of letters on the page to be copied. When he had finished his copy, he would count the number of letters on the new page and make sure it matched the original. Two or three other scribes would then check the copied page.

Christian scribes also took great pains in creating and proofing their pages. The gorgeous lettering and elaborate artwork in many medieval Bibles attest to hours of intense effort.

Most scholars are amazed at how well the scribes’ system worked. With the momentous discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1940s and ‘50s, some people looked forward to exposing discrepancies between the ancient Dead Sea manuscripts and the more familiar later texts. In fact, while the Dead Sea Scrolls have prompted a few shifts in biblical scholarship, they mainly served to affirm that Christians already had excellent texts.

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