I found The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict Fully Updated To Answer The Questions Challenging Christians Today, by Josh McDowell, very useful, as well as The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? by F. F. Bruce. The latter documents how The New Testament is remarkably unlike any book of ancient origin as its text is testified to by the survival of thousands of documents within a few years of the original autographs, and these documents all agree with one another to a remarkable degree. It is remarkable because this level of evidence is unmatched by *any* other ancient document.
I like this passage:
“The evidence for our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence for many writings of classical authors, the authenticity of which noone dreams of questioning. And if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt. It is a curious fact that historians have often been much readier to trust the New Testament records than have many theologians. Somehow or other, there are people who regard a ’sacred book’ as ipso facto under suspicion, and demand much more corroborative evidence for such a work than they would for an ordinary secular or pagan writing. From the viewpoint of the historian, the same standards must be applied to both. But we do not quarrel with those who want more evidence for the New Testament than for other writings; firstly, because the universal claims which the New Testament makes upon mankind are so absolute, and the character and works of its chief Figure so unparalleled, that we want to be as sure of its truth as we possibly can; and secondly, because in point of fact there is much more evidence for the New Testament than for other ancient writings of comparable date.
There are in existence about 5,000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament in whole or in part. The best and most important of these go back to somewhere about AD 350, the two most important being the Codex Vaticanus, the chief treasure of the Vatican Library in Rome, and the wellknown Codex Sinaiticus, which the British Government purchased from the Soviet Government for £100,000 on Christmas Day, 1933, and which is now the chief treasure of the British Museum. Two other important early MSS in this country are the Codex Alexandrinus, also in the British Museum, written in the fifth century, and the Codex Bezae:, in Cambridge University Library, written in the fifth or sixth century, and containing the Gospels and Acts in both Greek and Latin.
Perhaps we can appreciate how wealthy the New Testament is in manuscript attestation if we compare the textual material for other ancient historical works. For Caesar’s Gallic War (composed between 58 and 50 BC) there are several extant MSS, but only nine or ten are good, and the oldest is some g00 [note: this online text has many typos. I think this is supposed to be 900] years later than Caesar’s day. Of the 142 books of the Roman History of Livy (59 BC-AD 17) only thirty five survive; these are known to us from not more than twenty MSS of any consequence, only one of which, and that containing fragments of Books iii-vi, is as old as the fourth century. Of the fourteen books of the Histories of Tacitus (c. AD 100) only four and a half survive; of the sixteen books of his Annals, ten survive in full and two in part. The text of these extant portions of has two great historical works depends entirely on two MSS, one of the ninth century and one of the eleventh. The extant MSS of his minor works (Dialogue dc Oratoribus, Agricola, Gcrmania) all descend from a codex of the tenth century The History of Thucydides (c. 460-400 BC) is known to us from eight MSS, the earliest belonging to c. AD 900, and a few papyrus scraps, belonging to about the beginning of the Christian era The same is true of the History of Herodotus (c. 488-428 BC). Yet no classical scholar would listen to an argument that the authenticity of Herodotus or Thucydides is in doubt because the earliest MSS of their works which are of any use to us are over 1,300 years later than the originals.”
To those interested in ancient literature, the book of Isaiah is particularly fascinating. The Old Testament is less well documented than the New, and in some cases the oldest surviving manuscript of the OT was 980 years after the time of Christ. That is a fairly large gap, though not much different from that of other ancient manuscripts which historians accept as authentic.
But then the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Included in that treasure trove of documents was a copy of Isaiah that was one thousand years older than our previous oldest copy- it was from a hundred years before the birth of Christ. If the transmission of the book of Isaiah had been corrupted by outsiders or just by the passage of time as multiple copies were transmitted, comparing these documents would prove that. Instead, the thousand year gap between the two manuscripts indicated that very little had been changed. There were differences, but they were differences in such things as spelling and variations in word order.
And in the book if Isaiah is one of my favorite books of the entire Bible, is chapter 40- where we read the beautiful passage about those who wait for the Lord being lifted up as on the wings of an eagle. In fact, the Book of Isaiah, supported by that Dead Sea Scroll text which was hidden away from any outside influences for two thousand years, has several of my favorite passages:
Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: That ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he; before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me (Isa. 43:10)
Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of host; I am the first, I am the last; and beside me there is no God (Isa. 44:6)
Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know of not any (Isa. 44:8;)
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he [was] wounded for our transgressions, [he was] bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace [was] upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. …(Is. 53:4-7)
The book of Isaiah also contains the greatest number of Messianic prophecies.