Errors in the Masoretes’ “Original” Hebrew Manuscripts of the Bible?

Why critical editions of the Bible—like Biblia Hebraica Quinta—are essential

A MASTERPIECE OF THE MASORETES. The Masoretes established an astoundingly accurate tradition of Bible transmission. This carpet page from the Leningrad Codex (1008 C.E.)—of the tradition of the Masoretes—is the base text for Biblia Hebraica Quinta. The scribe of the manuscript Samuel son of Jacob, one of the Masoretes, even records his name. Photo by Bruce and Kenneth Zuckerman, West Semitic Research/With the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center/Courtesy Russian National Library.

The Hebrew Bible—or Old Testament—that we have today differs from the Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible penned in the first millennium B.C.E. When transmitting any sort of a document from generation to generation, small alterations—some intentional, others not—are made. Even the most careful scribe makes errors, which are perpetuated and often compounded by future scribes. Thus, it should not surprise us that the Hebrew Bible, which has a transmission history of several millennia, contains textual difficulties, corruptions and even mistakes. Critical editions of the Bible examine these differences by looking at varying Hebrew witnesses and try to accurately reconstruct the original Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible. In the November/December 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, David Marcus and James A. Sanders discuss why critical editions of the Bible are necessary and describe the work that goes into creating such an edition in the article “What’s Critical About a Critical Edition of the Bible?

Marcus and Sanders are both involved with the publication of Biblia Hebraica Quinta, the latest revision of Biblia Hebraica, which refers to the series of critical Bible editions published in Germany since 1905. The base for Biblia Hebraica Quinta is the Leningrad Codex, which dates to 1008 C.E. and was written by Samuel son of Jacob, who was part of a group of rabbinic scribes called the Masoretes.
 


 
The free eBook The Holy Bible: A Buyer’s Guide guides you through 33 different Bible versions and addresses their content, text, style and religious orientation. Updated Fall 2013 with brand-new reviews on six new Bible versions by Leonard J. Greenspoon.
 

 

THE MASORETES DOING WHAT THE MASORETES DO BEST. This page comes from the Aleppo Codex. Until a third of it was burned in a 1947 anti-Jewish uprising in Syria, the Aleppo Codex was considered to be the oldest, most complete, and most accurate of the Masoretes’ manuscripts. The Masoretes filled its margins with notes to safeguard against corruption. Credit: David Harris/Ben-Zvi Institute in the Shrine of the Book.

Working in Tiberias during the Middle Ages, the Masoretes recognized the possibility of human error when copying the Hebrew Bible. They tried to combat it by adding supplements to the text. In the margins of the Masoretes’ manuscripts, there are innumerable notes—masorah—to safeguard the text. The precision with which the Masoretes were able to preserve the Hebrew text beginning in the seventh century C.E. is astounding. Nevertheless, the Masoretes were not working with the original Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible. Corruptions had already crept into the versions they copied.

The Masoretes’ efforts preserved the Biblical text in the first millennium C.E. Modern scholarship, with critical editions of the Bible like Biblia Hebraica Quinta, is bringing us even closer to reconstructing the original Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible.

BAS Library Members: Read the full article “What’s Critical About a Critical Edition of the Bible?” by David Marcus and James A. Sanders as it appears in the November/December 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Sign up today.
 


 

Learn more about critical editions of the Bible and Hebrew manuscripts in the BAS Library.

James A. Sanders, “ReViews: The Art and Science of Textual Criticism,” BAR, May/June 2012.

Yosef Ofer, “The Shattered Crown: The Aleppo Codex Sixty Years After the Riots,” BAR, September/October 2008.

Marc Brettler, “The Masoretes at Work: A Tradition Preserved,” sidebar to James A. Sanders and Astrid Beck, “The Leningrad Codex: Rediscovering the Oldest Complete Hebrew Bible,” Bible Review, August 1997.

Posted in Bible Versions and Translations.

Tagged with , , , , .

Add Your Comments

16 Responses

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

  1. ROBERT says

    The public doesn’t seem to care about the content of the Bible, they care about the cover and what version their pastor reccomends. I read that there have been more changes in the New Testament than there are letters in the Old Testament. Most are minor . Maybe that’s why we have over 5000 protestant denominations in America.

  2. dr howard says

    http://www.biblebelievers.org.au/panin2.htm
    I think God is powerful enough to ultimately guard His word so that the correct Mss.will reflect His plan and will.

    We have more proof for the New Testament with over 15,00 mss.than any other ancient writings!!!

  3. Kurt says

    The Divine Name in the Hebrew Scriptures
    Heb., יהוה (YHWH)
    “Jehovah” (Heb., יהוה, YHWH), God’s personal name, first occurs in Ge 2:4. The divine name is a verb, the causative form, the imperfect state, of the Hebrew verb הוה (ha·wah′, “to become”). Therefore, the divine name means “He Causes to Become.” This reveals Jehovah as the One who, with progressive action, causes himself to become the Fulfiller of promises, the One who always brings his purposes to realization. See Ge 2:4 ftn, “Jehovah”; App 3C. Compare Ex 3:14 ftn.
    The greatest indignity that modern translators render to the Divine Author of the Holy Scriptures is the removal or the concealing of his peculiar personal name. Actually his name occurs in the Hebrew text 6,828 times as יהוה (YHWH or JHVH), generally referred to as the Tetragrammaton (literally meaning “having four letters”). By using the name “Jehovah,” we have held closely to the original-language texts and have not followed the practice of substituting titles such as “Lord,” “the Lord,” “Adonai” or “God” for the divine name, the Tetragrammaton.
    Today, apart from a few fragments of the early Greek Septuagint where the sacred name is preserved in Hebrew, only the Hebrew text has retained this most important name in its original form of four letters, יהוה (YHWH), the exact pronunciation of which has not been preserved. Current circulating texts of the Greek Septuagint (LXX), Syriac Peshitta (Sy) and Latin Vulgate (Vg) substitute the mere title “Lord” for God’s unique name.—See App 1C.
    The text located in the U.S.S.R., namely, the Codex Leningrad B 19A, used for Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS), vowel-points the Tetragrammaton to read Yehwah′, Yehwih′ and a number of times Yeho·wah′, as in Ge 3:14. The edition of the Hebrew text by Ginsburg (Gins.) vowel-points YHWH to read Yeho·wah′. While many translators favor the pronunciation “Yahweh,” the New World Translation continues to use the form “Jehovah” because of people’s familiarity with it for centuries. Moreover, it preserves, equally with other forms, the four letters of the divine name, YHWH or JHVH.—See ad under “Jehovah.”
    The practice of substituting titles for the divine name that developed among the Jews was applied in later copies of the Greek Septuagint, the Latin Vulgate, and many other translations, ancient and modern. Therefore, A Greek-English Lexicon, by Liddell and Scott (LS), p. 1013, states: “ὁ Κύριος,=Hebr. Yahweh, LXX Ge. 11.5, al.” Also, the Greek Lexicon of the Roman and Byzantine Periods, by E. A. Sophocles, Cambridge, U.S.A., and Leipzig, 1914, p. 699, says under κύριος (Ky′ri·os): “Lord, the representative of יהוה. Sept. passim [scattered throughout].” Moreover, Dictionnaire de la Bible, by F. Vigouroux, Paris, 1926, col. 223, says that “the Septuagint and the Vulgate contain Κύριος and Dominus, ‘Lord,’ where the original contains Jehovah.” Regarding the divine name, A Compendious Syriac Dictionary, edited by J. Payne Smith, Oxford, 1979 reprint, p. 298, says that Mar·yaʼ “in the [Syriac] Peshita Version of the O. T. represents the Tetragrammaton.”
    Jehovah’s name was first restored to the English Bible by William Tyndale. In 1530 he published a translation of the first five books of the Bible into English. He included Jehovah’s name once, in Ex 6:3. In a note in this edition Tyndale wrote: “Iehovah is God’s name . . . Moreover, as oft as thou seist LORD in great letters (except there be any error in the printing) it is in Hebrew Iehovah.” From this the practice arose among translators to use Jehovah’s name in just a few places, but to write “LORD” or “GOD” in most places where the Tetragrammaton occurs in Hebrew. This practice was adopted by the translators of the King James Version in 1611, where Jehovah’s name occurs only four times, namely, in Ex 6:3; Ps 83:18; Isa 12:2; 26:4.
    Further, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Vol. 1, Chicago (1980), p. 13, says: “To avoid the risk of taking God’s name (YHWH) in vain, devout Jews began to substitute the word ʼǎdōnā(y) for the proper name itself. Although the MASORETES left the four original consonants in the text, they added the vowels ē (in place of ǎ for other reasons) and ā to remind the reader to pronounce ʼǎdōnā(y) regardless of the consonants. This feature occurs more than six thousand times in the Hebrew Bible. Most translations use all capital letters to make the title ‘LORD.’ Exceptions are the ASV [American Standard Version] and New World Translation which use ‘Jehovah,’ Amplified [Bible] which uses ‘Lord,’ and JB [The Jerusalem Bible] which uses ‘Yahweh.’ . . . In those places where ʼǎdōnā(y) yhwh occurs the latter word is pointed with the vowels from ʼēlōhim, and the English renderings such as ‘Lord GOD’ arose (e.g. Amos 7:1).”
    http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1001060073?q=Masoretes&p=par
    http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/s/r1/lp-e?q=Masoretes&p=par
    http://www.jw.org/en/publications/bible/nwt/books/

  4. RH says

    Kurt’s reply is of interest but didn’t go far enough. The Hebrew language had been a dead language for 650 years by the time of the KJV in 1611. Only 2 of those knew some Hebrew, and that only a very little. It was not the thing at the time to consult Jewish scholars who would have known a bit more. Even then, it had not yet been discovered that the Hebrew letters “Y” and “W” were just that — not “J” and “V” as was thought at the time. The vowels were those of the Masoretes who were the most learned on such matters. So it is that in our time the JB translators commendably used YHWH rather than JHVH. The NWT should correct that error, as well as correct their designation as it is not a translation, seeing that none of the 5 who published it were versed in Hebrew, notably one who was found in a British court to be guilty of perjury when appearing as a witness who knew Hebrew but couldn’t satisfy the court in translating any Hebrew given or when asked to choose something on his own. “Version” would thus be more apt than “Translation”.

    On another translation matter: Would that every translation or version render all partially translated words of Hebrew or Greek into the English (or applicable) language; eg., “disciplos” not as “disciple” but as “student”. We have nothing to hide as in the KJV days when it was not customary or desirable to let believers know that women were allowed by Jesus to be among his students.

  5. Joy says

    I love His name! Period! I always loved the name Jehovah, but fell in love with Yahweh AS SOON AS I FIRST HEARD IT. I have always used the Letters YHWH and didn’t know much of anything other than they were the abbreviation for His name. I love ‘I AM’ I love HIM!

    Both of you RH and Kurt have great information! I am thankful for James Strong’s and I am not sure we will ever recover from all that’s been, “lost in translation”…but God did watch over His Word to the place that it does the work and those who choose to go on into a deeper understanding and study can do so. (I find it interesting and necessary and it enlarges my heart and mind!)

    I am so thankful for the final paragraph of RH though. I have been trying to explain to a lady on facebook that there was more ‘agenda’ concerning the KJV than translation ‘errors’ …and I love Jesus that he let’s ‘women’ be followers, students and declarers of His grace, doctrine and His love.

    Thanks guys!
    joy lynn williams
    crockett texas

  6. Joy says

    ps. touche Robert! didn’t read that at first, but yes. and Dr. Howard…He has watched over His word, but the problem is that what HAS BEEN DONE (most intentional!) has watered down the context, the power of the original words used in their original language and one of the most grievous crimes committed is using His Word to create a ‘Greek Christ’ instead of declaring, as Paul did, the Hebrew Messiah. For they are as far apart as the true truth and the true lie…
    pss. I love the Pashitta…Holy Bible translated from the Aramaic …it is really good and says things in so many places that is way better put and means so much more. Why wouldn’t it??? It’s the language Jesus spoke the most!
    Anyway…Love is the greatest of all, because God is love. Just so nice to see and know of people ‘reasoning together’ WHOO HOO

  7. Kurt says

    Born in Prison
    The short film “Born in Prison” was developed to explore the hidden name of the God of the Bible, YHWH (Yahweh), and the consequences of its concealment. I say hidden because it was systematically removed and replaced with “LORD” in most translations. The reasons are many, but tradition seems to be the main culprit. Many documentary style films exist that cover this topic, but “Born in Prison” is unique in its dramatic narrative approach. My hope is that “Born in Prison” will encourage people to think about the things they believe, why they believe them, and do some fact finding on their own.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Zv2RXvdEp6s

  8. Krzysztof says

    Hej. Who and why started to use “Lord”? I can check it but if you know already
    Jesus from Nazarth is called Lord but never God (in NT).Sure, errors in copying will occur but the main idea/paradigm/ principle is unchanchable: there is a RELATION between human acts and future events

  9. Gary says

    I read somewhere the oldest version is YWH. That would change the pronunciation.

  10. Jimmy says

    It’s all bullshit people, and it’ bad for ya !

  11. Brian says

    I find it discomforting for people to pronounce my name incorrectly, and excuse such mistakes as coming from ignorance. I think the same about God who has to put up with those who don’t really know the correct pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton, as Kurt reminds us, and God must wear the insult and excuse the ignorant with the excuse that perhaps they meant well. Far better, I think, to refer to God as Lord and avoid giving unnecessary offence. It’s nice to see the joy in Joy’s celebration of the name of God, but I don’t think God would get the same joy in a mispronunciation. And I don’t think Paul would get much joy in Joy missing out all those times Paul refers to Jesus as “Christ”.

  12. Gail says

    When baby’s first learn to say my name it sounds nothing like Gail but I know that in using my name they are refering to me, talking to me, calling to me because they recognise me, know me and mostly they love me.
    I believe the creator would feel the same way when people use his name mispronounced or not because it is an acknowledgement of recognition. He encourages us to walk with Him an be His friend afterall.
    So why would I constantly call you “Mr” or “guy” or “hey dude” instead of Brian? Do you have a desire to remain mysteriously aloof or anonymous?
    If our loving creator Jehovah who “causes to become” had the same desire to remain mysterious, aloof and anonymous why would He have bothered providing us with his word the Bible, which is essentially instructions on living a good life and a warning of what dangers may befall us and of those who willfully wish to harm and mislead us simply because they are jealous of the attention owing or due to the One, Only and true Sovereign and Creator of all things? Why would He send us a letter to let us know all of his plans and desires for us, and how he will cause His plans to become a reality?
    …….
    …..that would be the sound of my irritation at having my name mispronounced quietly fading into the background……yes the irrritation is fading ….shhhh…..what was that? Mmmmm thanks for that Brian, great conversation when we build one another up instead of all that negativity. Satan has enough negative current flowing through the world to make it seem like twilight instead of midday, almost, but not quite because I see you, I know you’re there, I know what you want because my Father warned me about you so I’m happily forewarned and forearmed and ready to meet the challenge with my Father holding my hand walking with me right by my side.

  13. phil says

    The bible simply says that that one aspect of God’s purpose for humanity is to have His name declared in all the earth, and that will be done regardless of linguistic barriers. Remember, He ” confused ” the languages of man at Babel , so evidently His name started being pronounced in many tongues early on, so that’s nothing new. Jehovah is just the most commonly understood version of the name, and if God’s purpose is for as many people as possible to come to understand His word and the fact He has a unique name, why not use it? Do you really think that a progressive God interested in the future outworking of His purposes is concerned over ” dead” languages or human scholars who insist that everyone MUST be able to speak these ancient tongues to understand the Bible?

  14. Bill says

    The letter killeth but the spirit giveth life!… Or should it be Spirit? ;-)

  15. Timothy says

    There is no corroborated evidence that a third of the Aleppo Codex was burned in the uprising in Aleppo Syria in 1947 and no current forensic evidence that the two thirds remaining was ever exposed to extreme heat. The best unbiased investigation of this issue was done by Matti Friedman. His 2013 book “The Aleppo Codex” is certainly worth reading as it raises a number of serious questions regarding the several conflicting accounts of the “missing Torah section”. The first rule of good scholarship is not to repeat and perpetuate the assertions of poor scholarship.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. “The Bible says…” linked to this post on August 11, 2014

    […] multiple Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek […]


Some HTML is OK

or, reply to this post via trackback.


Enter Your Log In Credentials

Change Password

×