The Masoretic Text

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The Masoretic Text

The
Masoretic Text is the traditional Hebrew Old Testament text of both Judaism and
Protestantism. The Roman Catholic Church historically has used the Latin
Vulgate translated by Jerome, though this position has been revised and now the
Catholic Church uses the Hebrew text. The Orthodox Church has historically used
the Greek Septuagint. Masoretic comes from the Hebrew word masora,
referring to the marginal notes added by Jewish scribes and scholars of the
Middle Ages (known as the Masoretes).

Until
recentl
y,
the most ancient manuscripts of the Hebrew Old Testament dated to the ninth
century. This has changed with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which
date from 168 BC to about 68 AD. The scrolls provide us with Hebrew manuscripts
more ancient than the previous manuscripts by one thousand years. What is
interesting to the student of textual criticism and the believer in Biblical
preservation is that the majority of Biblical manuscripts among the Dead Sea
Scrolls agree with the Masoretic Text. This further provides evidence of
the text’s credibility and testifies to the accuracy of the Hebrew scribes in
their reproduction of biblical manuscripts throughout the ages. Consequently,
it establishes the preservation of the Old Testament text in Hebrew by God.

The
earliest Biblical fragments among the Scrolls come from the book of Leviticus
(1QLev.
a) and add support to
the antiquity of the Masoretic Text. These fragments encompass Le 19:31-34; 20:20-23.
There is but one minor variant from the Masoretic Text found in Le 20:21. The
Masoretic Text uses the Hebrew word hoo while the Dead Sea Scrolls uses
the Hebrew word he. It is the same Hebrew word and is a personal pronoun
meaning he, she, or it. The two are used interchangeably
throughout the Hebrew Old Testament.

Additional
manuscripts have also been found that supports the Masoretic Text. In the early
1960’s Biblical texts were discovered during the excavation of Masada, the
renowned rock
fortress
where Jewish zealots made a successful last stand against the Roman army after
the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. These texts were approximately nineteen
hundred years old, dating slightly before 73 AD when Masada finally fell. The
manuscripts were exclusively Masoretic. To these we can also add the Geniza
Fragments which were discovered in 1890 at Cairo, Egypt. These fragments date
to the fifth century AD. They were located in a geniza,a type of
storage room for worn or faulty manuscripts. The fragments number around
200,000 and reflect Biblical texts in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic. The Biblical
texts discovered support the Masoretic Text.

In
one sense, the Masoretic Text may be thought of as the Textus Receptus (Latin
for

received text
)
of the Old Testament. In fact, some scholars have referred to it as such. Like
the Textus Receptus of the New Testament, the Masoretic Text is based on the
majority of manuscripts and reflects the Traditional Text used. Although there
are differences found in some Masoretic Texts, these differences are minor and
usually deal with orthography, vowel points, accents, and divisions of the
text. In 1524-25, Daniel Bomberg published an edition of the Masoretic Text
based on the tradition of Jacob ben Chayyim, a Jewish refugee who later became
a Christian. It was his text that was used by the translators of the King
James Version
for their work in the Old Testament. Wurthwein notes that the
text of ben Chayyim was looked upon as almost canonical, and was considered the
authoritative Hebrew text.

For
about six generations the ben Asher family reproduced the Masoretic Text. Moses
ben Asher produced a text in 895 AD known as Codex Cairensis containing the
writings of the Prophets. Codex Leningradensis dates to 1008 AD an
d was based on the
work of Aaron ben Moses ben Asher, the son of Moses ben Asher. This codex is
the oldest manuscript containing the complete Bible. Some of the differences
found within this family of manuscripts are followed by Kittel’s Biblia
Hebraica,
third edition.Scholars in producing modern translations
of the Old Testament have used Kittel’s text.

Generally scholarship agrees that the Masoretic Text became the standard authorized Hebrew text around 100 AD in connection with the completion of the New Testament. It is obvious the Masoretic Text existed prior to the writings of the New Testament, and it was used as the official Hebrew Old Testament at the time of the establishment of the Biblical canon. It has been used since as the official representation of the Hebrew originals.

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