At the this link: Manuscript Attestation For The New Testament; I found a great article that summarizes what the manuscript evidence exist for the New Testament and for Julius Caesar's work "The Gallic Wars". First, I loved the way the post summarizes the rules scholars use to measure the validity of an ancient document as historical.
QUESTIONS RAISED IN THIS TEST...
1. "How many copies of the document in question are available?"
a. In order to compare them with one another
b. The more, the better
2. "Where were the copies found?"
a. If they all came from one place, collusion is possible
b. But if they are from places far removed by time and location,
collusion is unlikely
3. "What length of time passed between the original and the
a. If the earliest copies we have were written hundreds of years
after the original, a lot of changes could have been made and
we would not know it
b. But a short interval of time would increase our assurance in
the reliability of the copies
4. "What variances exist between the copies?"
a. If the copies of a document are filled with significant
differences, then it would not be possible to know what the
original author wrote!
b. But if the variances are few and minor, then the process of
copying over the years has been faithful to the original!
The Article summarizes how the answers stack up on four ancient documents I've got a couple asides I need to mention. I will italicize them to set them apart.
A. HOW MANY COPIES OF NEW TESTAMENT MANUSCRIPTS ARE AVAILABLE? 1. Over 4,000 Greek manuscripts; 13,000 copies of portions of the New Testament in Greek! We have more than 5,000 now! 2. Compare this with other ancient historical writings: a. Caesar's "Gallic Wars" - only 10 Greek manuscripts b. "Annals" of Tacitus - 2 c. Livy - 20; Plato - 7; Sophocles - 100 B. WHERE WERE THESE COPIES FOUND? 1. Various places: Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, Greece, Italy 2. Such varied locations would make COLLUSION very difficult C. WHAT LENGTH OF TIME PASSED BETWEEN THE ORIGINAL AND THE EARLIEST COPIES? 1. We saw in the previous lesson that several PAPYRI FRAGMENTS have been dated to within 50-100 years Yeah, I know not everyone agrees with the dates but the sheer number of copies is indisputable and gives us better reliability than other ancient manuscript. 2. We have several nearly complete New Testament GREEK MANUSCRIPTS which were copied within 300-400 years, for example: a. Codex Sinaiticus, found near Mt. Sinai b. Codex Alexandrinus, found near Alexandria in Egypt c. Codex Vaticanus, located at the Vatican in Rome 3. But COMPARE THIS WITH MANUSCRIPTS OF VARIOUS CLASSICAL HISTORIES: a. "Histories of Thucydides" - earliest copy is 1300 years removed from the original b. "Histories of Herodotus" - earliest copy is 1350 years removed from the original c. Caesar's "Gallic War" - 950 years d. Roman History of Livy - 350 years (and the earliest copy is only a fragment) e. "Histories" of Tacitus - 750 years f. "Annals" of Tacitus - 950 years (and there are only two manuscripts) D. WHAT VARIANCES EXIST BETWEEN THE COPIES OF THE NEW TESTAMENT? 1. It is true that there are SOME VARIATIONS between the many thousands of manuscripts available a. But the vast majority are very minor (spelling, differences in phraseology, etc.; modern translations often note the differences in footnotes) b. Only 1/2 of one percent is in question (compared to 5 percent for the Illiad) 2. Even then, it can be stated: "No fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith rests on a disputed reading...It cannot be too strongly asserted that in substance the text of the Bible is certain: especially is this the case with the New Testament." -- SIR FREDERICK KENYON (authority in the field of New Testament textual criticism)
The point I want to stress in this article is that "The Gallic War" - which everyone seems to agree was written by Julius Caesar - has no original. It's lost. However the earliest copy is almost 1000 years after the original and we have only 10 copies in Greek. My point is that by the rule, if Julius Ceasar's campaign in ancient France is well documented as historical fact, then so is Jesus. The manuscript evidence is better in this case for the New Testament as a whole, then for the Gallic War from the first century BC.