The original manuscripts of all 39 OT books have long since been lost. This presents a crucial concern: With no original documents, not even fragments, can we reconstruct them from the oldest manuscripts available? Can we be confident that, over time and numerous copies, the original texts have not been altered, or even lost? Extensive research and close analysis of many ancient manuscript discoveries have yielded much information about the reliability of the copying of the old manuscripts.
Papyrus, Parchment and Scrolls
Failure to preserve the original texts and the very limited number of ancient OT manuscripts (a manuscript is literally “a hand-written copy”) is the result of the perishable writing materials. Most common was papyrus, a type of paper made from the papyrus reed. In a dry climate papyrus is stable, but in more humid conditions the material is easily destroyed and lost within a few centuries.
By the time of Jesus, parchment, a writing material of animal skins had become popular. The parchment was stretched, scraped and dried. Like papyrus it is vulnerable to humidity, but is a more durable alternative. Vellum was a parchment made from calf skin. By the fifth century parchment had replaced papyrus, far and wide.
Both papyrus and parchments were used as large sheets which were rolled around a stick to create a scroll. The average scroll ranged between 20 and 30 feet long, occasionally exceeding 140 feet. Usually writing was limited to one side of the sheet only.
In the second century scrolls began to be replaced by codices. To make reading easier and the scroll less bulky, the papyrus/parchment sheets were inscribed on both sides, then assembled in leaf form, forming a primitive book known as a codex. The introduction of paper in the later half of the Middle Ages, caused widespread use of parchment to be abandoned. 
How Accurate Was the Copying Process?
To preserve the integrity of the OT its text had to be copied onto new scrolls again and again through the centuries. The undertaking was assigned to devout Jews known as scribes. A scribe was considered a professional person in antiquity. In the absence of printing as known today, people were trained to copy documents. Scribes reverently believed these scrolls were the very Word of God; thus they were extremely careful in copying. They were not hasty or rapid in their work. In fact, they trained for long years, working up from an apprenticeship. Their penmanship was meticulously checked and rechecked for error. Even slight errors would cause their work to be rejected.
From generation to generation a succession of scholars and scribes were charged with preserving a standard Biblical text. During the early Middle Ages, scribes that copied the Hebrew Bible were called Masoretes. The Masoretes were charged with preserving the sacred OT texts during the period from 500 to 950 AD. These Jews were meticulous in their copying. The earliest complete copy of the Hebrew Old Testament dates from this period and is called the Masoretic Text.
The Masoretes would for example copy the book of Isaiah. When the project was completed, they would total up the number of letters of the copy and compare that to the number of letters in the original. Next they would locate the middle letter of the book and compare that to the original. If variations were found, the copy would be discarded and the copying would begin again.
A Scribe at Work
Up to this time written Hebrew had only 22 consonants and no vowels. The texts were all in capital letters, only consonants, with neither punctuation nor paragraphs. Vowels were only implicitly implied. The Masoretes are credited with devising the Hebrew vowel point system. Adding this to the original OT texts gave each word its exact pronunciation and precise grammatical form.
All present copies of the Hebrew text from this period are in remarkable agreement. Comparing the Masoretic text to the earlier Latin (Vulgate) and Greek (Septuagint) has revealed careful copying. The evidence suggests little deviation during the thousands of years previous to 900 AD. Until recently there was only scant material in Hebrew from antiquity to compare to Masoretic texts of the tenth century. This lack of older Hebrew texts persistently challenged confidence in the accuracy of the copying process until the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947.
 For a comprehensive overview see Josh McDowell , The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (1999), chapter 2.
Read on about: The Reliability of the Texts of the New Testament.
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