In your scholarship in matters surrounding the handling of scripture, how likely is it that religious powers have subverted, dictated and distorted of our present understanding of original texts? - Not a Captive
There is a recent thread on the topic of the amount of time that the Israelites spent in Egypt. Leolaia made several posts in it which indirectly answer your question. Imo, her posts also indirectly question your premise: that there are or have been original texts containing some sort of divine truth, as it were, that have been subverted, dictated, and distorted.
The Witnesses claim authority on "the truth" because they believe that they somehow have bypassed centuries of Church "tradition" and "apostasy" from the "original" teachings of Jesus and the Apostles, or so they say. Yet, like other Fundamentalists they staunchly refuse to take their criticism further than the Church and into the texts themselves.
Some believers begin to recognize that all is not well even within the Bible itself and go on a search for the "original" texts and meanings. Where does that lead? If you question the words, do you also begin to question the principles? Whose words and principles are "more original" and therefore "more trustworthy" or of "divine inspiration"? Here is a quote from one of the blogs that Leolaia recommended (thanks! ):
...All the ethics taught in the Bible are meant to keep people at the level of children. One can even suggest, as Nietzsche did, that the ethical teachings of the Bible function to instill a mentality of subservience. But slaves are not part of our society and most of us can relate more easily to the immaturity of children.
I see nothing noble in the teachings of Jesus. They are all predicated on the threat of damnation if you don’t obey, and nice happy big fat rewards if you do. What sort of ethic is that? But even if we reflect on the noblest principles of Jesus quite apart from their reward-punishment matrix, they don’t ring an unambiguous clarion call for the ethical progress of humanity.
His most famous “love one another” passages in the Gospel of John are all about the importance of loving those in your own circle of like-minded subservients to the exclusion of others. Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. Love one another.
It seems that the Gospel of John is an attack on the sentiments put into the mouth of Jesus by the Gospel of Matthew. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
But Jesus’ command to “love your enemies” is justified on some quite inhuman precepts. Jesus is appealing to his followers here to prove themselves to be “more righteous” than others in their community. His command is presented as a challenge, or more accurately a threat, to win the contest of showing themselves to be superior ethically to Pharisees and such. And to do this, they must set their minds to become as impersonal and perfect as an impersonal and perfect agent that sends rain and sunshine on the just and unjust alike.
Would not humanity be better off — more relaxed and “naturally” good for goodness’ sake — if it ever can eventually leave behind the immaturity of the extrinsic reward and punishment ethics that religion generally spawns?
Do the religious powers that be actually subvert or distort the texts, or do they simply find precedents for their own behavior?
I find it interesting how much of the Bible is like a back-and-forth argument between different writers at different times. It's like a "greatest hits" compilation of ancient writings, some of which have been reworked many times over the centuries. To carry the metaphor a bit further, if you enjoy the "music" you might not look too deeply at the lyrics themselves. Some authors of texts found within the Bible intentionally contradicted others. The lack of "harmony" provides interest. It gives apologists (who enjoy the "music") reasons to play their own interpretations. It gives Scholars (who look for meaning in the "lyrics") a fascinating puzzle to figure out, not so much in search of divine meaning but to learn more about the composers themselves.