Bible text, manuscripts (OT)
For the Old Testament, the traditional text is what is known
as the Masoretic. The Masoretes were Jewish scholars who worked diligently
between the 6th and 10th centuries AD in Babylonia and Palestine to reproduce,
as far as possible, the original text of the OT. Their intention was not to
interpret the Bible, but to transmit to future generations what they regarded as
the authentic text. Therefore, to this end, they gathered manuscripts and
whatever oral traditions were available to them.
They were careful to draw attention to any peculiarities they
found in the spellings of words or the grammar of sentences in the OT, and since
Hebrew in their day was a dying language, they introduced a series of vowel
signs to insure the correct pronunciation of the text, since traditionally, the
text was written with consonants only. Among the various systems developed to
represent the vowel sounds, the system developed in the city of Tiberias, on the
shore of the Sea of Galilee, gained the ascendancy.
The earliest complete copy of the Masoretic text of the OT is
located in the St Petersburg (formerly Leningrad) Public Library; it was written
about 1008 AD.
The Masoretic text is not a single, unbroken thread, but
rather a river of manuscripts, with both a western and eastern branch; within
the texts labeled "Masoretic" there is a certain amount of variation, and the
Masoretes carefully noted the differences in the texts that they used as their
sources. Therefore, it must be stressed that the so-called "Textus Receptus"
that one may hear of occasionally (especially from those who believe that the
King James Version is the only acceptable translation) is mostly a fiction; it
is a concept that has little basis in reality beyond wishful thinking.
Remember, too, that English is not the only language into
which the Bible has been translated. It has been translated into over 2,000
languages by scholars using the original Greek and Hebrew texts.
The earliest copies of OT books are called the Dead Sea
Scrolls, a body of Biblical manuscripts discovered since 1947 inside caves near
a place called Qumran, right next to the Dead Sea in Israel. The texts all date
prior to 70 AD, the period when the community at Qumran was destroyed by the
Romans following the Jewish revolt. Some texts date as far back as 150- 200 BC,
based on epigraphic dating and Carbon 14 dating.
Other manuscripts useful for establishing the text of the OT
are as follows:
- The Septuagint -- a translation of the OT into
Greek, made in Alexandria, Egypt about 250 BC. There are several versions, with
minor variations among them. They are: the Codex Sinaiticus, which dates to the
fourth century AD, the Codex Alexandrinus, which dates to the fifth century AD,
and the Codex Vaticanus, also of the fourth century
- The Samaritan Pentateuch. A copy of the first
five books of Moses kept by the Samaritans in Samaritan characters. It is
notorious for some deliberate alterations designed to legitimize the Samaritan
place of worship on Mt Gerizim (cf Joh 4:20).
- Peshitta. The Syriac translation of the OT and
the NT. Syriac is an Aramaic dialect. The translation was done sometime between
75 and 200 AD.
- Vulgate. The Latin translation of
the OT and the NT was made by Jerome about 400