THE TEXT OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
WE CONTINUE HERE WITH CHAPTER 8 FROM THE BOOK "HOW WE
GOT THE BIBLE" BY NEIL LIGHTFOOT.
.......Our next task is to focus attention upon the text of
the Old Testament(OT)......Text-data for the OT is not vast as
compared with the multitude of witnesses on the Greek text, nor
does the available data appear as impressive.......The EARLIEST
Hebrew manuscripts are known as the CAIRO CODEX and the LENINGRAD
CODEX of the Prophets. The Cairo codex includes the FORMER and
LATER Prophets and is DATED at A.D. 895. The Leningrad Codex of
the Prophets is slightly later, DATING from A.D. 916. Another
early Hebrew manuscript is the British Museum Codex of the
PENTATEUCH. It has proved to be a VERY IMPORTANT WITNESS to the
OT text, yet it comes from the TENTH or ELEVENTH century.
THE OLDEST KNOWN MANUSCRIPT OF THE ENTIRE OT IS THE
LENINGRAD CODEX WHICH WAS COMPLETED IN 1008 A.D........
One may wonder WHY copies of the Hebrew Bible are LATE in
comparison with the NT materials and especially so when it is
recalled that the OT was completed several centuries before the
NT book was written. The answer is not difficult to find.
The Jewish scribes look upon their copies of the Scriptures
with an almost SUPERSTITIOUS RESPECT, which LED THEM to give a
CEREMONIAL BURIAL to any copy which was OLD or became WORN. Their
MOTIVE was to PREVENT the IMPROPER USE of the material on which
the sacred name of God had been inscribed. But however noble
their intentions, this ANCIENT CUSTOM has deprived us of the
early Hebrew manuscripts which we might otherwise have, and thus
has lengthened the gap between the available copies of the text
of the OT autographs.
(Note: So this explains as to why we today do not have OT
Hebrew texts dating back to the beginning of A.D. times or
before. But this by itself DOES NOT mean the Hebrew text that we
do have is CORRUPT or somehow less accurate than if we did have
Hebrew texts dating back to B.C. times. The subject of
accurately preserving the OT text is what we shall now begin to
investigate - Keith Hunt).
Before considering the PRESENT status of the OT text, it
will be necessary to say a little about its background.
Until the invention of printing, the OT Scriptures were
handed down to us by COPYING. This process makes it inevitable
for scribal variations to appear. Especially is the case with the
Hebrew manuscripts, because of the difficulty of the language
involved. Not a few letters of the hebrew alphabet look very much
alike, which sometimes led to the confusion of the small details
of the text. A good illustration of this is the familiar name
Nebuchadrezzar, a form which is TECHNICALLY more accurate than
the more familiar Nebuchadnezzar. The two name obviously refer to
the SAME PERSON, but a mix-up of the similar Hebrew letters r and
n occasioned this difference.
(Note: So some letters may get mixed up now and again as in
the above illustration, but that amounts to SPELLING, we all know
it is the same man. No huge DOCTRINE disagreement here or blatant
contradiction in teaching - Keith Hunt).
RECOGNIZING the ever present possibility of scribal
MISTAKES, and possessed with an almost INHERENT OBSESSION to
GUARD the LETTER of the LAW, there sprang up at an EARLY DATE
various circles of Jewish scholars DEDICATED to the
PRESERVATION of the OT text. At the head of this list was a
group of scribes centered at TIBERIAS, who are generally known as
THEIR school was not by any means the EARLIEST, since it did
not come into being until 500 A.D., but it is the most important
one for the history of the Hebrew text.
(Note: Remember what Lightfoot said here. This school of
500 A.D. was NOT THE EARLIEST ONE! The meticulous, and extremely
fanatical we may say, order of the copyist to preserve the Hebrew
OT did NOT START in A.D.500 - it had already been in process for
centuries before - Keith Hunt).
The Massoretes are so named because of their acknowledged
dependence on the AUTHORITATIVE TRADITIONS (Massorah) concerning
the text. Their labors are spread out over a period of four or
five centuries and their contributions are many. They are
perhaps best known for their system of VOWELS and ACCENTS which
they devised for the Hebrew text. It will be remembered that all
the letters in the Hebrew alphabet are CONSONANTS. Thus the OT
was FIRST written WITHOUT VOWELS.......the Massoretes, on the
basis of their well kept traditions, INSERTED vowel points ABOVE
and BELOW the lines of the text. It must be EMPHASIZED, however,
that they DID NOT BOTHER THE TEXT ITSELF - they only added a
means by which to insure the correct PRONUNCIATION of the text.
(Note: A very important point here. The text itself was not
changed or messed about with. The vowel and accent points were
added ABOVE or BELOW the text, which was still preserved in their
meticulous way as we shall proceed to see - Keith Hunt).
The Massoretes were not concerned only with such things as
details of proper pronunciation. MORE THAN THIS, they sought
WAYS and METHODS by which they could ELIMINATE scribal SLIPS of
addition or omission. THIS THEY ACHIEVED through INTRICATE
PROCEDURES OF COUNTING.
They numbered the verses, words and letters of each book.
They counted the number of times each letter was used in each
book. They noted verses which contained all the letters of the
alphabet, or a certain number of them, etc. They calculated the
middle verse, the middle word, and the middle letter of each
book. (The middle verse of the Pentateuch is Lev.8:7, while the
middle verse of the Hebrew Bible is Jeremiah 6:7)......With these
SAFEGUARDS , and OTHERS, when a scribe finished making a copy of
a book he could then CHECK the accuracy of his work before using
(Note: Now, read those last two paragraphs AGAIN! Read
them SLOWLY! Let what these Jewish copy scholars DID in order to
preserve ACCURATELY every letter, every dot and tittle of the
Hebrew OT, sink into your mind fully and completely. See the
hand of the Almighty Eternal God in all of this, so His WORD
would never be lost, become full of errors and mistakes so His
truth of DOCTRINE would be confused or not understandable. As
Jesus, who was the God of the OT, the preserver of the OT, said:
"not one jot or tittle shall pass from the law, until all be
fulfilled" and "heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words
shall never pass away." The Eternal is able to preserve His word
so nothing has been lost, even through the agents of human hands
- Keith Hunt).
This BRIEFLY illustrates why the work of the Massoretes is
SO IMPORTANT. The Massoretes were TEXTUAL CRITICS of the FIRST
They examined and appraised carefully all the textual
materials available to them, and on the basis of their abundant
evidence set down in writing the form of the text which had been
received at LEAST SEVERAL CENTURIES BEFORE their time.
Indeed, their labours were so productive and their
contributions so large that our Hebrew text today is often
referred to as "the Massoretic text." The extant Hebrew
manuscripts noted above are outstanding specimens of the
Other Materials on the Text
The most important materials in the establishing of a text
are those that are found in the ORIGINAL LANGUAGE of the text.
The BASIC source then of the OT text will always remain the
HEBREW manuscripts. Nevertheless ADDITIONAL materials are often
in a position to throw much light on the TRADITIONAL text...these
additional textual authorities will now be noted.
1. SAMARITAN PENTATEUCH......is not a translation, but is a
form of the Hebrew text itself. It's BEGINNING is to be traced
back to about 400 B.C. when the Samaritans .......built their
sanctuary on Mt. Gerizim, near Shechem. As a result the
Samaritans adopted their own form of the Hebrew Scriptures and
counted as authoritative ONLY the FIVE books of Moses.
In one sense the Samaritan Pentateuch presents a PROBLEM,
for it bears some 6,000 variants from the Massoretic text. BUT ON
EXAMINATION the problem is NOT AS GREAT as it might appear. MOST
of the variants have to do with SPELLING and GRAMMATICAL
differences which DO NOT EFFECT the MESSAGE of the text, while a
number of others UNMISTAKABLY have been INSERTED to SUPPORT the
PECULIAR beliefs of the Samaritan community. OVER ALL THERE ARE
FEW MAJOR DIFFERENCES between the Hebrew and the Samaritan
Pentateuch, which MEANS that to a high degree the Samaritan
Pentateuch CONFIRMS the traditional Hebrew text.
2. SEPTUAGINT. The word "Septuagint" is derived from the
Latin Septuaginta, meaning "Seventy," and is the common name
given to the Greek translation of the OT.
.......about 70 men took part in the translation of the
Pentateuch. As the tradition goes.....Jewish scholars from
Jerusalem were summoned to Alexandria by the Egyptian king to
make a translation from the hebrew to the Greek.......Little of
the story is accepted as factual.......The time of the Egyptian
king, Ptolemy 2 Philadelphus, is probably right, making the
origin of the Septuagint approximately 250 B.C. At a later date,
time and circumstances unknown, the remaining books of the OT
were translated into Greek.
(Note: The introduction to the Septuagint in the volume
that I have is VERY REVEALING. It is too long to quote here. The
reader may want to read it for themselves. Most larger cities
will carry the Septuagint translation in their religious
department of their public libraries - Keith Hunt).
Whatever MYSTERIES may surround it, the Septuagint
translation will always hold interest among Christians.......It
was......often quoted by the apostles and inspired writers
of the NT.......It is true that it has its DEFICIENCIES; it has
its MISTAKES of translation and its differences from the
Massoretic text; but it still plays a SIGNIFICANT role in
supporting the text of the OT. While the Samaritan Pentateuch
covers only the first FIVE books, the Septuagint witness spans
the remainder of the OT as well.
3. ARAMAIC TARGUMS. After the period of the Jewish exile,
Aramaic began to be the spoken language of the Jews. In order for
the people to understand the reading of the Scriptures in public
worship, it was necessary that they be translated or paraphrased
in aramaic. The translation was called TARGUM. By the time of
the FIFTH CENTURY A.D. two official Targums had emerged....both
are deliberately literal in their efforts of translation.
4. SYRIAC PESHITTA. The Syriac translation was begun very
early, perhaps as early as the middle of the FIRST century A.D.
In its EARLIEST FORM the Peshitta is in CLOSE AGREEMENT with the
Massoretic text. LATER, there is CONSIDERABLE EVIDENCE where it
has been unduly INFLUENCED by readings from the Septuagint.......
5. LATIN VERSIONS and OTHERS. There are two main types of
the Latin translations, the OLD Latin and the VULGATE. The Old
Latin dates back to A.D. 150, but it has definite limitations
because it was a translation based on the Septuagint. The
latin VULGATE, on the other hand, even though later, is a
VALUABLE text-authority. It was the work of the knowledgeable
JEROME, who spent the years of 390-405 translating DIRECTLY from
the Hebrew in to the Latin. At a time when all other
translations of the Church resorted to the Septuagint, it was an
unheard of thing to do! Jerome's work indeed has its
SHORT-COMINGS, but even so it throws much light on the early
Additional materials on the OT text are available. There
are such sources as the Biblical quotations found in the Tamuld
(200-500 A.D.), along with other Jewish materials........still
other versions such as the Coptic, the Ethiopic, the Armenian,
and the Arabic......they serve to illustrate the abundance of
text-materials accessible OUTSIDE the Hebrew manuscripts.
(Note: I want you to pay CLOSE ATTENTION to the next
section from Lightfoot, for it serves to bring out the workings
of the Lord as He put within the Jewish scribal copyists what we
would call FANATICAL-ISM today, as they copied and preserved the
text of the Hebrew Old Testament - Keith Hunt).
Present Status of Our Text
We have seen that our earliest Hebrew manuscripts date no
further back than the NINTH century, which leaves a rather wide
separation of centuries between the original OT autographs and
the materials available to us today. This might give occasion
for alarm WERE IT NOT FOR THE EXTREME CARE TAKEN BY JEWISH
SCRIBES AS THEY MADE THEIR COPIES OF THE SCRIPTURES.
CENTURIES PRIOR to the Massoretes, Jewish scribes were
CONSCIENTIOUSLY SEEKING PERFECTION in the transcription of the
text. EVIDENCE of this is found in the TALMUD (Jewish civil and
religious law) where RIGID REGULATIONS are laid down for the
preparation of COPIES of the Pentateuch to be used in the
" A synagogue roll must be written on the skins of clean
animals, prepared for the particular use of the synagogue by a
Jew. These must be fastened together with strings taken from
clean animals. Every skin must contain a certain number
of columns, equal throughout the entire codex. The length of each
column must not extend over less than forty-eight, or more than
sixty lines; and the breadth must consist of thirty letters. The
whole copy must be first lined; and if THREE WORDS be written in
it without a line, it is WORTHLESS. The ink should be black,
neither red, green, nor any other color and be prepared
accordingly to a definite recipe. An AUTHENTIC copy must be the
exemplar, from which the transcriber ought not in the least to
No WORD or LETTER, NOT EVEN A YOD, MUST BE WRITTEN FROM
MEMORY, the scribe not having looked at the codex before
him......Between every consonant the space of a hair or thread
must intervene; between every word the breath of a narrow
consonant; between every new parashah, or section, the breadth
of nine consonants; between every book, three lines. The fifth
book of Moses must terminate exactly with a line; but the rest
need not do so. Beside this, the copyist must sit in full Jewish
dress, wash his whole body, not begin to write the name of
God with a pen newly dipped in ink, and should a king address him
while writing that name, he must take no notice of him.....
The ROLLS in which THESE REGULATIONS are NOT observed are
CONDEMNED to be BURIED in the ground or burned; or they are
banished to the schools, to be used as reading books" (Cited by
Sir Frederic Kenyon. OUR BIBLE and the ANCIENT MANUSCRIPTS.
Revised by A.W. Adams - NY: Harper and Brothers, 1958, pp.
THIS STRICT SET OF REGULATIONS which governed the EARLY
JEWISH SCRIBE is a chief factor which GUARANTEES the ACCURATE
TRANS MISSION of the OT text. There are also all the meticulous
precautions observed by the Massoretes in their vigorous effort
to detect scribal errors.......ALL AVAILABLE EVIDENCE on the
question shows that the type of text made permanent by the
Massoretes WAS EXTANT in the CENTURIES which ANTEDATE the coming
End of quote from Lightfoot for this fourth section of our
(Note: During the life of Jesus on this earth, He made NOT
ONE comment about the OT Hebrew Scriptures having been lost,
corrupted, miss-placed, or in any way, large or small, messed up
or perverted. I guess not, because He as the God of the OT was
making sure they were preserved accurately. Jesus also moved
about mainly within the main-stream Judaism of His time, and
attending their Sabbath synagogue services, reading from the
Scriptures THEY preserved and copied. Sure, there may have been
some small cults and sects here and there with their Hebrew or
Aramaic or Greek translations of the OT, but Jesus mainly ignored
them. He said "salvation is of the Jews" and that it was the
"scribes and Pharisees who sit in Moses' seat." He told the
woman at the well that the Samaritans "worship you know not
what." Paul was inspired to say there was an advantage in being
a Jew, for unto them were committed the oracles of God
[Rom.3:1,2]. The main stream Jewish scholars of Judaism, that
also regulate the Hebrew perpetual calendar, who have the
authority over the calendar, the descendants of the
Jewish Sanhedrin of Christ's time [which did continue after
A.D.70 as history proves] have a standard text, the received
text, of the Hebrew OT. They have over the years published a few
translations of this text into English. One of the very first,
if not the first, by the Jewish Publication Society was called
THE HOLY SCRIPTURES, and was published in 1917.
The most recent translation of the OT into English by the
Jewish Publication Society is the translation called TANAKH,
which is a Hebrew word derived from the THREE sections of the OT
- the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. The beginning of
the Preface to this translation says: " This translation of
Tanakh, the Holy Scriptures......was made directly from the
TRADITIONAL HEBREW TEXT......."
They do go on to show that in certain respects the
translations of 1917 and 1985 are somewhat DIFFERENT, for various
reasons. The reader is asked to see what they say on this for
themselves, and come to their own conclusion as to which of the
two translations they deem the more faithful to the original
traditional Hebrew text - Keith Hunt).
The Dead Sea Scrolls
(Note: Much new insight and research has developed in the
last number of years concerning the Dead Sea Scrolls. Many more
scholars from around the world have been busy trying to fit them
all together. The work of the past, often done by only a few
scholars[they wanted to hang on to them like a winning lottery
ticket] has been showed to be full of errors and mistakes.
Interesting as this many be, all of that does not really
concern us in this study of the Hebrew OT manuscripts. What
Lightfoot brings out is of importance as it pertains to the
Isaiah scrolls found among the so called Dead Sea Scrolls - Keith
To be continued
Written December 1997