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.
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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.
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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.