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Masoretic Text (MT)

The transmission of the Bible is as old as the Bible itself, according to the ancient tradition in Ma•sëk′ ët Âv•ot′  that 'Mosh•ëh′  received the Tor•âh′  from Har Sin•ai′  and handed it on to Yәho•shu′ a and Yәho•shu′ a to the Zәqan•im′  and the Zәqan•im′  to the Nәviy•im′  and the Nәviy•im′  handed it down to the men of the —the Beit-Din hâ-Jâ•dol′  during the era of the Beit ha-Mi•qәdâsh′  ha-Shein•i′  (Ma•sëk′ ët Âv•ot′  1.1). This concept of 'Tor•âh′ ,' which is handed down from generation to generation includes all of the Bible as it developed, with all the parts that accompanied it and were added to it and which also shared in its holiness. As the form of the bible became increasingly holy and set in all its specific details, the tradition of reading the text and its exact pronunciation grew and became closely attached to it, developing together with it, and being handed down from father to son through the generations. (Masorah, Ency. Jud. Supplementary Entries, 16.1404ff).


The work of the transmission of the Bible was by its very nature destined to be in the hands of , transcribers who were skilled in the exact copying of the Bible and were therefore legally recognized as people knowledgeable in Tor•âh′ , and who were accomplished scholars of it. The term , which in the beginning was a term for scholars of the Tor•âh′  in general (Di•vәr•ei′  , Ma•sëk′ ët Sunedrion 11.3), in time became limited to those scholars who specialized in the written Tor•âh′  and in its exact transmission. (EJ, 1405).

Written Transmission

There are two types of items that penetrated into the Holy Text itself:

  1. those connected with the methods of writing the text—the pages, lines, the marking of the lines, the division into sections, the manner of setting out the songs and the order of the books

  2. irregular items in the script and in the actual writing—dots above the letters, suspended letters, isolated s, large letters, small letters, and others

all of which Christians changed in their versions.

Most of the matters connected with the writing of the Bible are closely regulated by the Ha•lâkh•âh′  and the customs of earlier generations. This applies especially to the Tor•âh′ . Since it serves for the public reading in the Beit ha-Kәnës′ ët it must comply with exact ritual conditions, without which the reader and the listener do not fulfill the mi•tzәw•âh′  of reading Tor•âh′ … These laws apply only to scrolls that are intended for public reading, not those that are not for such use… Although the term today includes all the matters connected with the writing and recitation of the Bible, it is not permitted to write them in a copy fit for public reading. These items could be written in the margins and even in the text itself only after some time, when people began to make copies of the bible which were in the form not of a scroll but of a codex () meant for the everyday study and teaching of the Bible. (EJ, 1406).

While the meticulous oral transmission of dates from the formation of its developing prototype in the times of Av•râ•hâm′ , Yi•tzәkhâq′  and the 12 Tribes of Yi•sәr•â•eil′ , it was committed to writing much later—particularly among the most pristine tradition: the Tei•mân•im′ . There is clear evidence from other sources that the was committed to writing prior to the 8th century… The proofs point to a period of 200 years within which vocalization and accentuation signs were codified: not before the 6th century nor later than the 7th. The oral tradition was so meticulously watchguarded for millennia, however, that its codification is merely the documentation of various traditions (Ash•kәnaz′ i, Sәphâ•râd•i′ , etc.). Far more significant is which tradition most pristinely preserved the tradition of Har Sin•ai′ —and scholars agree that is the Tei•mân•im′ . This, the most pristine, wasn't codified until later, the end of the 17th century by ". This was followed by the most comprehensive and authoritative work for all Tei•mân•im′ , , in the second half of the 18th century by ".

The oldest manuscript of MT is the Aleppo Codex, dating from the tenth century C.E.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, dating variously between B.C.E. 1st century and the 1st century C.E., provide an unparalleled view of the several Tor•âh′  and Ta•na"kh′  traditions (Qum•rân′  Tzәdoq•im′ , Hellenist Tzәdoq•im′  of the "Temple" and Pәrush•im′ ) of that period.

"Whereas the biblical texts from caves farther south which were occupied during the [Pәrush•i′ ] Bar-Kokh′  Revolt (132-5 C.E.) uniformly belong to the 'proto-masoretic' type…, those found in the Qum•rân′  caves reflect a variety of text-types. Between 70 C.E. and the Bar-Kokh′  Revolt the biblical text appears to have been standardized by [Rabbi—Pәrush•i′  A•qi′ ] and his colleagues; thereafter types varying from the proto-masoretic were discouraged" ("Dead Sea Scrolls," Ency. Jud., 5.1402).

Thus, the same—Mâ•sor•âh′  Pәrush•i′ —that Rib′ iPәrush•i′ Yәho•shu′ a used was standardized as authoritative and is attested by the Rabbi A•qi′ vâ (Bar-Kokh′ vâ) texts.

"The Dead Sea Scrolls include a complete copy of the Book of Isaiah, a fragmented copy of Isaiah, containing much of Isaiah 38-66, and fragments of almost every book in the Old Testament. The majority of the fragments are from Isaiah and the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). The books of Samuel, in a tattered copy, were also found and also two complete chapters of the book of Habakkuk. In addition, there were a number of non-biblical scrolls related to the commune found."

"These materials are dated around 100 B.C. The significance of the find, and particularly the copy of Isaiah, was recognized by Merrill F. Unger when he said, 'This complete document of Isaiah quite understandably created a sensation since it was the first major Biblical manuscript of great antiquity ever to be recovered. Interest in it was especially keen since it antedates by more than a thousand years the oldest Hebrew texts preserved in the Masoretic tradition.' "

"The supreme value of these Qumran documents lies in the ability of biblical scholars to compare them with the Masoretic Hebrew texts of the tenth century A.D. If, upon examination, there were little or no textual changes in those Masoretic texts where comparisons were possible, an assumption could then be made that the Masoretic Scribes had probably been just as faithful in their copying of the other biblical texts which could not be compared with the Qumran material."

"What was learned? A comparison of the Qumran manuscript of Isaiah with the Masoretic text revealed them to be extremely close in accuracy to each other: "A comparison of Isaiah 53 shows that only 17 letters differ from the Masoretic text. Ten of these are mere differences in spelling (like our "honor and the English "honour") and produce no change in the meaning at all. Four more are very minor differences, such as the presence of a conjunction (and) which are stylistic rather than substantive. The other three letters are the Hebrew word for "light". This word was added to the text by someone after "they shall see" in verse 11. Out of 166 words in this chapter, only this one word is really in question, and it does not at all change the meaning of the passage. We are told by biblical scholars that this is typical of the whole manuscript of Isaiah."

"Dead Sea Scrolls fragments found at other places in the Judean desert, there are some which differ from the MT in only about 1 letter per 1000, though some differ a bit more." (ibid.).

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