Buddhism contains more ancient preserved documents than Hinduism, thanks to a recent discovery of 76 birch bark manuscripts dating to the 1st-2nd centuries A.D. Nonetheless, that degree of evidence pales in comparison to that of the Bible.
The Bible, by contrast, contains 100,000 Dead Sea Scrolls fragments, thousands of New Testament first millennia papyri, and preservation as far back as 1,000 B.C. per Khirbet Qeiyafa pottery. The Bible has archaeological evidence backing up its exact details going all the way back before 2,000 B.C., over 5,000 years ago; e.g. "eye for an eye" appears in the Law Code of Ur-Nammu (2100-2050 B.C.) and many Biblical names are seen from the Ebla Tablets (2500-2250 B.C.). Details from Genesis concerning the Creation and Ark account can be seen from artifacts like the Ark Tablet (1900-1700 B.C.) It is certainly ironic that the same scholars who unquestioningly accept that Hindu Scriptures were preserved solely through oral tradition are the same ones who nitpick over every little detail of the Bible's preservation to falsely claim it was preserved like a game of telephone rather than constantly via writing as it claims. Were academia consistent it would likewise accept the Bible's origins could be 2,200 years older than its oldest manuscript, placing the Bible's earliest writings at 3,200 B.C.
Unlike the Bible which has been consistently preserved via writing and has over 100,000 Old Testament manuscript fragments dating from the 4th century B.C. to the first century A.D. (Dead Sea Scrolls) and thousands of New Testament manuscripts dating to the first millennia B.C., Buddhist holy texts lack, by and large, the physical evidence of historical transmission, asserting that preservation of Buddhist texts occurred for thousands of years through oral tradition.
Gandharan Buddhist Texts
In the 1990s approximately 76 Buddhist birch bark manuscripts dating from the 1st-2nd centuries A.D. were discovered in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The University of Washington established the Early Buddhist Manuscripts Project (EBMP) in 1996 to study these scrolls. Known as the Gandharan Buddhist Texts, they are the oldest Buddhist manuscripts yet discovered.
Edicts of Ashoka
The earliest reference to Buddhism is found on 3rd century B.C. archaeological artifacts known as the Edicts of Ashoka. Dating from 269 to 232 B.C., they consist of 33 inscriptions engraved on stone pillars. In its original form seen from the Edicts Buddhism prohibited harm to humans and animals, advocated respect for others, and focused on righteous living because of a life after this one.
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- Monaghan, Peter (2002, October 4). A Lost Buddhist Literary Tradition Is Found. The Chronicle of Higher Education.
The Early Buddhist Manuscripts Project. University of Washington.
Roseth, Bob (2002, August 20). One of Earliest Buddhist Manuscripts Acquired by University of Washington. University of Washington.
- Sacred Texts: Gandharan Scrolls. British Library.
Salomon, Richard (2003, January-March). The Senior Manuscripts: Another Collection of Gandharan Buddhist Scrolls. Vol. 123, No. 1. pp. 73-92. Journal of the American Oriental Society.
- Harrison, P. & Hartmann, J. (2009, June 15-19). "From Birch Bark to Digital Data: Recent Advances in Buddhist Manuscript Research." Indic Buddhist Manuscripts: The State of the Field Conference at Stanford.
- Shakya, M.B. "A Short History of Sanskrit Buddhist Manuscripts." Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon.
- Dhammika, V.S. (1993). "The Edicts of Ashoka." Buddhist Publication Society.