Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, April 23rd, 2024
the Fourth Week after Easter
Tired of seeing ads while studying? Now you can enjoy an "Ads Free" version of the site for as little as 10¢ a day and support a great cause!
Click here to learn more!

Bible Encyclopedias
Text of the Old Testament

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

Search for…
Resource Toolbox
Additional Links


1. Invention of Alphabet

2. The Cuneiform

3. References to Writing in the Old Testament

4. Inscriptions after Settlement in Canaan

5. Orthography of the Period


1. The Old Hebrew Alphabet

2. Aramean Alphabets

3. The New Hebrew Script

4. New Hebrew Inscriptions

5. Summary


1. Various Theories

2. The Change in the Law

3. In the Other Books

4. Evidence of the Septuagint

5. Evidence of the Text Itself

6. Conclusion


1. Internal Conditions

2. External Circumstances

3. The Septuagint Version


1. Word Separation

2. Other Breaks in the Text

3. Final Forms of Letters

4. Their Origin

5. Conclusion

6. The Vowel-Letters

7. Anomalous Forms

8. The Dotted Words

9. Their Antiquity

10. The Inverted Nuns ("n")

11. Large and Small Letters

12. Suspended Letters and Divided Waw ("w")

13. Abbreviations

14. Conclusion


1. Yahweh and Baal

2. Euphemistic Expressions

3. "Tikkun Sopherim"


1. Misunderstanding

2. Errors of the Eye

3. Errors of the Ear

4. Errors of Memory

5. Errors of Carelessness and Ignorance


1. Changes Made in Reading

2. Preservation of Text

3. Division into Verses

4. Sections of the Law

5. Sections of the Prophets

6. Poetical Passages

7. Division into Books


1. Antiquity of the Points

2. Probable Date of Invention

3. Various Systems and Recensions


1. The Consonants

2. The Vowels

3. The Accents

4. Anomalous Pointings


1. Meaning of the Term

2. The "Kere" and "Kethibh"

3. Other: Features


1. Manuscripts

2. Early Printed Texts

3. Later Editions

4. Chapters and Verses


I. Earliest Form of Writing in Israel.

The art of writing is not referred to in the Book of Genesis, even where we might expect a reference to it, e.g. in Genesis 23 , nor anywhere in the Old Testament before the time of Moses (compare however, Genesis 38:18 , Genesis 38:25; Genesis 41:44 , which speak of "sealing" devices). See SEAL; WRITING .

1. Invention of Alphabet:

About the year 1500 BC alphabetic writing was practiced by the Phoenicians, but in Palestine the syllabic Babylonian cuneiform was in use (see ALPHABET ). The Israelites probably did not employ any form of writing in their nomadic state, and when they entered Canaan the only script they seem ever to have used was the Phoenicia. This is not disproved by the discovery there of two cuneiform contracts of the 7th century, as these probably belonged to strangers. There is only one alphabet in the world, which has taken many forms to suit the languages for which it was employed. This original alphabet was the invention of the Semites, for it has letters peculiar to the Semitic languages, and probably of the Phoenicians (so Lucan, Pharsalia iii. 220; compare Herodotus v. 58), who evolved it from the Egyptian hieroglyphics.

2. The Cuneiform:

Of the literature of Canaan before the Israelites entered it the remains consist of a number of cuneiform tablets found since 1892 at Lachish, Gezer, Taanach and Megiddo, but especially of the famous the Tell el-Amarna Letters , discovered in Egypt in 1887. Although this non-alphabetic script was in use in Canaan when the Israelites entered it, they do not seem to have adopted it.

3. References to Writing in the Old Testament:

The earliest reference to writing in the Old Testament is Exodus 17:14 . The next is Exodus 24:7 , mentioning the Book of the Covenant (Ex 20 through 23). The Book of the Wars of Yahweh is named in Numbers 21:14 . Other early references are Judges 5:14 margin; Judges 8:14 margin. By the time of the monarchy the king and nobles could write ( 2 Samuel 11:14; 2 Samuel 8:17 ), but not the common people, until the time of Amos and Hosea, when writing seems to have been common.

4. Inscriptions After Settlement in Canaan:

The Phoenician script prevailed in Palestine after the conquest as well as in the countries bordering on it. This is shown by the inscriptions which have been discovered. The chief of these are: the Baal Lebanon inscription found in Cyprus (beginning of the 9th century); the manuscript of about the year 896 of the ordinary chronology; a Hebrew agricultural calendar of the 8th century; fifteen lion-weights from Nineveh of about the year 700; the Siloam Inscription of the time of Hezekiah; about a score of seals; and, in 1911, a large number of ostraca of the time of Ahab.

5. Orthography of the Period:

In this oldest writing the vowels are rarely expressed, not even final vowels being indicated. The only mark besides the letters is a point separating the words. There are no special forms for final letters. Words are often divided at the ends of lines. The writing is from right to left. The characters of the Siloam Inscription and the ostraca show some attempt at elegant writing.

II. The Two Hebrew Scripts.

1. The Old Hebrew Alphabet:

Two distinct scripts were used by the Hebrews, an earlier and a later. The Old Hebrew alphabet contained 22 letters, all consonants. The order of these letters is known from that of the Greek, taken in order of their numerical values, and later by the alphabetic psalms, etc., and by the figure called 'at - bash (see SHESHACH ). In the acrostic passages, however, the order is not always the same; this may be due to corruption of the text. In the alphabet, letters standing together bear similar names. These are ancient, being the same in Greek as in Semitic. They were probably given from some fancied resemblance which the Phoenicians saw in the original Egyptian sign to some object.

2. Aramean Alphabets:

The development of the Phoenician alphabet called Aramaic begins about the 7th century BC. It is found inscribed as dockets on the cuneiform clay tablets of Nineveh, as the Phoenician letters were upon the lion-weights; on coins of the Persian satraps to the time of Alexander; on Egyptian inscriptions and papyri; and on the Palmyrene inscriptions. The features of this script are the following: The loops of the Hebrew letters bēth () ב , dāleth () ד , ṭēth () ט , ḳōph () כ and rēsh () ר , which are closed in the Phoenician and Old Hebrew, are open, the bars of the Hebrew letters hē () ה , wāw () ו , zāyin () ז , ḥeth () ח and tāw () ת are lost, and the tails of kaph () כ , lāmedh () ל , mēm () מ , pē () פ and cādhē () צ , which are vertical in the old Aramaic, begin in the Egyptian Aramaic to curve toward the left; words are divided, except in Palmyrene, by a space instead of a point; vowel-letters are freely used; and the use of ligatures involves a distinction of initial, medial and final forms. There are of course no vowel-marks.

3. The New Hebrew Scripture:

After the Jews returned from the exile, the Aramaic language was the lingua franca of the Seleucid empire, displacing Assyrian, Old Hebrew and Phoenician. The Phoenician script also had given place to the Aramaic in Mesopotamia, Syria and Egypt. In Syria it divided into two branches, a northern which grew into Syriac, and a southern, or Jewish, from which the New Hebrew character was produced.

4. New Hebrew Inscriptions:

What is believed to be the oldest inscription in the modern Hebrew character is that in a cave at ‛Araḳ al - ‛Amı̂r near Heshbon, which was used as a place of retreat in the year 176 BC ( Ant. , XII , iv, 11; CIH , number 1). Others are: four boundary stones found at Gezer; the inscriptions over the "Tomb of James" really of the Beni Hezir (1 Chronicles 24:15; Nehemiah 10:20 ); that of Kefr Birim, assigned to the year 300 AD (CIH , number 17), in which the transition to the New Hebrew script may be said to be accomplished; and others have been found all over the Roman empire and beyond. See ARCHAEOLOGY .

5. Summary:

The inscriptions show that the familiar Hebrew character is a branch of the Aramaic. In the 3century BC the latter script was in general use in those countries where Assyrio-Babylonian, Old Hebrew and Phoenician had been used before. The Jews, however, continued to employ the Old Hebrew for religious purposes especially, and the Samaritans still retain a form of it in their Bible (the Pentateuch).

III. The Change of Script.

It is now almost universally agreed that the script in which the Old Testament was written was at some time changed from the Phoenician to the Aramaic. But in the past many opinions have been held on the a subject.

1. Various Theories:

Rabbi Eleazar of Modin (died 135 AD), from the mention of the hooks ( wāws ) in Exodus 27:10 and from Esther 8:9 , denied any change at all. Rabbi Jehuda (died circa 210) maintained that the Law was given in the New Hebrew, which was later changed to the Old as a punishment, and then back to the New, on the people repenting in the time of Ezra. Texts bearing on the matter are 2 Kings 5:7; 2 Kings 18:26; Isaiah 8:1 , from which various deductions have been drawn. There may have been two scripts in use at the same time, as in Egypt (Herod. ii. 36).

2. The Change in the Law:

In regard to the change in the Law, the oldest authority, Eleazar ben Jacob (latter part of the 1st century AD), declared that a Prophet at the time of the Return commanded to write the Torah in the new or square character. Next Rabbi Jose (a century later) states (after Ezra 4:7 ) that Ezra introduced a new script and language. But the locus classicus is a passage in the Talmud ( Ṣanhedhrı̄n 21b ): "Originally the Law was given to Israel in the Hebrew character and in the Holy Tongue; it was given again to them in the days of Ezra in the Assyrian characters and in the Aramaic tongue. Israel chose for herself the Assyrian character and the Holy Tongue, and left the Hebrew character and the Aramaic tongue to the hedhyōṭōth ." Here Hebrew = Old Hebrew; Assyrian = the new square character, and hedhyōṭōth is the Greek idiṓtai = the Hebrew ‛am hā -'ārec , the illiterate multitude. From the 2nd century on (but not before), the Talmudic tradition is unanimous in ascribing the change of script in the Law to Ezra. The testimony of Josephus points to the Law at least being in the square character in his day (Ant. , XII , ii, 1, 4). The Samaritan Pentateuch was almost certainly drawn up in the time of Nehemiah (compare Nehemiah 13:28; also Ant. , XI, vii, 2), and points to the Old Hebrew being then in use. So Rabbi Ḥasda (died 309) refers the word hedhyōṭōth above to the Samaritans. On the other hand, the Samaritan Pentateuch may have been the original Law, common to both Israel and Judah. In any case it is written in a form of the Old Hebrew character.

3. In the Other Books:

In regard to the other books, the old script was used after Ezra's time. Esther 8:9 and Daniel 5:8 ff must refer to the unfamiliar Old Hebrew. So the Massoretic Text of Daniel 5:18 implies the New Hebrew, but only in the Law.

4. Evidence of the Septuagint:

The Greek translation known as the Septuagint was made in Alexandria, and is hardly evidence for Palestine. The Law was probably translated under Ptolemy 2 (284-247 BC), and the other books by the end of the 2nd century BC (compare Ecclesiasticus, Prologue). The variations of the Septuagint from the Massoretic Text point to an early form of the square character as being in use; but the Jews of Egypt had used Aramaic for some centuries before that.

5. Evidence of the Text Itself:

The variations between parallel passages in the Massoretic Text itself, such as Josh 21,1 Chronicles 6; 2Sam 23,1 Chronicles 11 , etc., show that the letters most frequently confused are d and r , which are similar in both the Old and New Hebrew; b and d , which are more alike in the Old Hebrew; w and y and several others, which are more alike in the New Hebrew. Such errors evidently arose from the use of the square character, and they arose subsequent to the Septuagint, for they are not, except rarely, found in it. The square character is, then, later than the Septuagint.

6. Conclusion:

The square character was ascribed to Ezra as the last person who could have made so great a change, the text after his time being considered sacred. This is disproved by the fact of the coins of the Maccabees and of Bar Cochba being in the old character. The Talmud permits Jews resident outside Palestine to possess copies of the Law in Coptic, Median, Hebrew, etc. Here Hebrew can only mean the Old Hebrew script.

IV. Preservation of the Text.

1. Internal Conditions:

Judaism has always been a book religion: it stands or falls with the Old Testament, especially with the Pentateuch. Although no manuscript of the Hebrew Old Testament is older than the 10th century AD, save for one minute papyrus, we know, from citations, translations, etc., that the consonantal text of the Old Testament was in the 1st century AD practically what it is today. The Jews transliterated as well as translated their Bible. All the most important translations - the Septuagint, Aquila, Theodotion, Symmachus - were made by Jews and aimed at a more literal rendering of the Hebrew - that of Aquila being hardly Greek. The Syriac (Peshitta) seems to be also by Jews or Jewish Christians. Great care was taken of the text itself, and the slightest variant readings of manuscripts were noted. One manuscript belonging to Rabbi Meir (2nd century) is said to have omitted the references to "Admah and Zeboiim" in Deuteronomy 29:23 and to Bethlehem in Genesis 48:7 , and to have had other lesser variations, some of which were found also in the manuscript which, among other treasures, decked the triumph of Vespasian ( BJ , VII, v, 7).

2. External Circumstances:

Religious persecution makes for the purity of the Scriptures by reducing the number of copies and increasing the care bestowed on those saved. The chief moments in which the existence of the Jewish Scriptures was threatened were the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple under Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC, in which the Book of Jashar and that of the Wars of the Lord may have been lost; the persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes, during which the possession of the sacred books was a capital offense (1 Maccabees 1:56,57; Ant. , XII , v), in which the sources used by the Chronicler may have perished; and the capture of Jerusalem by Titus in 70 AD. By this time, however, the Law at least was known by heart. Josephus says Titus made him a gift of the sacred books ( Vita , 75). It is also said that at one time only three copies of the Law were left, and that a text was obtained by taking the readings of two against one. However that may be, it is a fact that there are no variant readings in the Massoretic Text, such as there are in the New Testament.

3. The Septuagint Version:

The only ancient version which can come into competition with the Massoretic Text is the Septuagint, and that on two grounds. First, the manuscripts of the Septuagint are of the 4th century AD, those of the Massoretic Text of the 10th. Secondly, the Septuagint translation was made before a uniform Hebrew text, such as our Massoretic Text, existed. The quotations in the New Testament are mainly from the Septuagint. Only in the Book of Jeremiah, however, are the variations striking, and there they do not greatly affect the sense of individual passages. The Greek has also the Apocrypha. The Septuagint is an invaluable aid to restoring the Hebrew where the latter is corrupt.

V. The Text in the 1Century AD.

The Massoretic Text of the 1Christian century consisted solely of consonants of an early form of the square character. There was no division into chapters or, probably, verses, but words were separated by an interstice, as well as indicated by the final letters. The four vowel-letters were used most freely in the later books. A few words were marked by the scribes with dots placed over them.

1. Word Separation:

The Samaritan Pentateuch still employs the point found on the Moabite Stone to separate words. This point was probably dropped when the books came to be written in the square character. Wrong division of words was not uncommon.

Tradition mentions 15 passages noted on the margin of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis 30:11 , etc.) in which two words are written as one. One word is written as two in Judges 16:25; 1 Samuel 9:1 , etc. Other passages in which tradition and text differ as to the word-division are 2 Samuel 5:2; Ezekiel 42:9; Job 38:12; Ezra 4:12 . The Septuagint frequently groups the letters differently from the Massoretic Text, e.g. (see the commentaries) Hosea 11:2; 1 Chronicles 17:10; Psalm 73:4; Psalm 106:7 .

2. Other Breaks in the Text:

The verse-division was not shown in the prose books. The present division is frequently wrong and the Septuagint different from the Hebrew: e.g. Genesis 49:19 , Genesis 49:20; Psalm 42:6 , Psalm 42:7; Jeremiah 9:5 , Jeremiah 9:6; Psalm 90:2 , Psalm 90:3 . Neither was there any division into chapters, or even books. Hence, the number of the psalms is doubtful. The Greek counts Psalms 9 and 10 as one, and also Psalm 114:1-8 and 115, at the same time splitting Psalms 116 and 147 each into two. The Syriac follows the Greek with regard to Psalm 114:1-8 and 147. Some manuscripts make one psalm of 42 and 43. In Acts 13:33 , Codex Bezae, Psalm 2:1-12 appears as Psalm 1:1-6 .

3. Final Forms of Letters:

Final forms of letters are a result of the employment of ligatures. In the Old Hebrew they do not occur, nor apparently in the text used by the Septuagint. Ligatures begin to make their appearance in Egyptian, Aramaic, and Palmyrene. Final forms for the letters k , m , n , p , 100 , were accepted by the 1st century, and all other final forms were apparently rejected.

4. Their Origin:

The first rabbi to mention the final forms is Mathiah ben Harash (a pupil of Rabbi Eleazar who died in 117 AD), who refers them to Moses. They are often referred to in the Talmud and by Jerome. The Samaritan Chronicle (11th century) refers them to Ezra. In point of fact, they are not so old as the Septuagint translation, as is proved by its variations in such passages as 1 Samuel 1:1; 1 Samuel 20:40; Psalm 16:3; Psalm 44:5; Jeremiah 16:19; Jeremiah 23:14 , Jeremiah 23:23 , Jeremiah 23:33; Hosea 6:5; Nahum 1:12; Zechariah 11:11; Ecclesiasticus 3:7. From the fact that the final forms make up the Hebrew expression for "from thy watchers," their invention was referred in the 3rd century to the prophets (compare Isaiah 52:8; Habakkuk 2:1 ).

5. Conclusion:

After the adoption of the square character, therefore, the only breaks in the text of prose books were the spaces left between the words. Before the 1st century there was much uncertainty as to the grouping of the letters into words. After that the word-division was retained in the copies, even when it was not read (as in 2 Samuel 5:2 , etc.). At first the final form would occur at the end of the ligature, not necessarily at the end of the word. Remains of this will be found in 1 Chronicles 27:12; Isaiah 9:6; Nehemiah 2:13; Job 38:1; Job 40:6 . When the ligatures were discarded, these forms were used to mark the ends of words. The wonder is that there are not more, or even an initial, medial and final form for every letter, as in Arabic and Syriac.

6. The Vowel-Letters:

The four letters, ' , h , w , y , seem to have been used to represent vowel sounds from the first. They are found in the manuscripts, but naturally less freely on stone inscriptions than in books. The later the text the more freely they occur, though they are commoner in the Samaritan Pentateuch than in the Massoretic Text. The copies used by the Septuagint had fewer of them than the Textus Receptus, as is proved by their translations, of Amos 9:12; Ezekiel 32:29; Hosea 12:12 , and other passages, The four letters occur on Jewish coins of the 2nd century BC and AD.

7. Anomalous Forms:

In the 1st and 2nd centuries the vowel-letters were retained in the text, even when not read (Hosea 4:6; Micah 3:2 , etc.). In the Pentateuch, Deuteronomy 32:13 seems to be the sole instance. The Pentateuch is peculiar also in that in it the 3rd person singular, masculine, of the personal pronoun is used for the feminine, which occurs only 11 times; Genesis 2:12; Genesis 14:2; compare Isaiah 30:33; 1 Kings 17:15; Job 31:11 . This phenomenon probably arises from the stage in the growth of the script when wāw ()ו and yōdh ()י were identical in form; compare Psalm 73:16; Ecclesiastes 5:8 . Frequently the 1st person singular perfect of the verb is written defectively (Psalm 140:13; 2 Kings 18:20; compare Isaiah 36:5 ); similarly the h of na‛ărāh (Dt 22). All this shows there was no attempt to correct the text. It was left as it was found.

8. The Dotted Words:

When a scribe had miscopied a word he sometimes placed dots over it, without striking it out. There are 15 passages so marked in the Old Testament, and the word nāḳūdh , "pointed," is generally placed in the margin. The word may also be read nāḳōdh , "speckled" ( Genesis 30:32 ), or niḳḳūdh , "punctuation." It is also possible that these points may denote that the word is doubtful. They occur in the following places: Genesis 16:5; Genesis 18:9; Genesis 19:33; Genesis 33:4; Genesis 37:12; Numbers 3:39; Numbers 9:10; Numbers 21:30; Numbers 29:15; Deuteronomy 29:28 (29); Psalm 27:13; 2 Samuel 19:20; Isaiah 44:9; Ezekiel 41:20; Ezekiel 46:22 . For conjectures as to the meanings of the points in each passage, the reader must be referred to the commentaries.

9. Their Antiquity:

These points are found even on synagogue rolls which have, with one exception, no other marks upon them, beyond the bare consonants and vowel-letters. Only those in the Pentateuch and Psalms are mentioned in the Talmud or Midrashim, and only one, Numbers 9:10 , in the Mishna before the end of the 2nd century, by which time its meaning had been lost. The lower limit, therefore, for their origin is the end of the 1st century AD. They have been, like most things not previously annexed by Moses, assigned to Ezra; but the Septuagint shows no sign of them. They, therefore, probably were inserted at the end of the 1st century BC, or in the 1st century AD. As four only occur in the Prophets and one in the Hagiographa, most care was evidently expended on the collation of the, Law. Blau thinks the reference originally extended to the whole verse or even farther, and became restricted to one or more letters.

10. The Inverted Nuns ("N"):

In Numbers 10:35 and Numbers 10:36 are enclosed within two inverted nūns as if with brackets. In Ps 107 inverted nuns should stand before Psalm 107:23-28 and Psalm 107:40 , with a note in the foot margin. These nuns were originally dots (Ṣiphrē on Numbers) and stand for nāḳkūdh , indicating that the verses so marked are in their wrong place (Septuagint Nu 10:34-36).

11. Large and Small Letters:

Large letters were used as our capitals at the beginnings of books, etc. Thus there should be a capital nūn at the beginning of the second part of Isaiah. But they serve other purposes also. The large wāw () ו in Leviticus 11:42 is the middle letter of the Torah; so in the Israelites' Credo ( Deuteronomy 6:4 ). Other places are Deuteronomy 32:4 , Deuteronomy 32:6; Exodus 34:7 , Exodus 34:14; Leviticus 11:30; Leviticus 13:33; Isaiah 56:10 , and often. Buxtorf's Tiberias gives 31 large and 32 small letters. Examples of the latter will be found in Genesis 2:4; Genesis 23:2; Leviticus 1:1; Job 7:5 , etc. The explanations given are fanciful.

12. Suspended Letters and Divided Waw:

There are four letters suspended above the line in the Massoretic Text. They will be found in Judges 18:30; Job 38:13 , Job 38:15; Psalm 80:14 (13). The last probably indicates the middle letter of the Psalter. The first points to Manasseh being put for Moses. The two in Job are doubtful. In Numbers 25:12 will be found a waw cut in two, perhaps to indicate that the covenant was in abeyance for a time.

13. Abbreviations:

Abbreviations are found on early Jewish inscriptions and on coins. Thus the letter shı̄n stands for shānāh = "year"; yōdh sı̄n = "Israel"; 'āleph = 1; bēth = 2, etc. In the text used by the Septuagint the name Yahweh seem to have been indicated merely by a yōdh , e.g. Psalm 31:7 (6), "I hate" = Septuagint Psalm 30:7 , "Thou hatest" (compare Psalm 5:5 ), and the yōdh of the Hebrew = "O Yahweh." In Judges 19:18 the Hebrew "house of Yahweh" = Septuagint "my house"; so Jeremiah 6:11; Jeremiah 25:37 . A curious example will be found Jeremiah 3:19 . The great corruption found in the numbers in the Old Testament is probably due to letters or ciphers being employed. For wrong numbers compare 2 Samuel 10:18; 2 Samuel 24:13; 1 Kings 4:26 with parallel passages; also compare Ezr 2 with Neh 7, etc. Possible examples of letters representing numbers are: Psalm 90:12 , "so" = kēn , and kāph plus nūn = 20 plus 50 = 70; 1 Samuel 13:1 , bēn shānāh is perhaps for bēn n shānāh , "fifty years old"; in 1 Samuel 14:14 , an apparently redundant k is inserted after "twenty men"; k = 20.

14. Conclusion:

Such was the Hebrew text in the 1Christian century. It was a Received Text obtained by collating manuscripts and rejecting variant readings. Henceforward there are no variant readings. But before that date there were, for the Greek and Samaritan often differ from the Hebrew. The Book of Jubilees (middle of 1st century) also varies. The fidelity of the scribes who drew up this text is proved by the many palpable errors which it contains.

VI. Alteration of Principal Documents.

1. Yahweh and Baal:

For various reasons the original documents were altered by the scribes, chiefly from motives of taste and religion. In the earliest literary period there was no objection to the use of the divine name Yahweh ; later this was felt to be irreverent, and 'Ělohı̄m was put in its place; later still Yahweh was written, but not pronounced. Hence, is Psalm 1 through 41, Yahweh occurs 272 times; 'Ělohı̄m is hardly used as a proper name; in Psalm 42 through 83 'Ělohı̄m occurs 200 times, Yahweh , only 44 times; compare especially Psalm 14:1-7 with 53; 40:14-18 with 70; Psalm 50:7 with Exodus 20:2 . Lastly in Psalms 90 through 150 Yahweh is again used, and 'Ělohı̄m as a proper name does not occur except in citations in 108 and Psalm 144:9 . Compare also 2 Kings 22:19 with 2 Chronicles 34:27 . A precisely parallel change is that of Baal into bōsheth ("shame"). At first there was no objection to compounding names with Baal meaning Yahweh (Judges 6:32; Judges 8:35 ). Then objection was taken to it (Hosea 2:16 or 18), and it was changed into Bosheth ( Jeremiah 3:24; Hosea 9:10 ); hence, Ishbosheth (2 Sam 2 through 4), Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 4:4 ), Eliada (2 Samuel 5:16 ), Jerrubesheth (2 Samuel 11:21 ). Later still the objection lost force and the old form was restored, Eshbaal (1 Chronicles 8:33 , 1 Chronicles 9:39 ), Merribaal (1 Chronicles 8:34 ), Beeliada (1 Chronicles 14:7; compare 1 Chronicles 3:8 ). The Septuagint follows the Hebrew; it treats Baal as feminine, i.e. = Bosheth. So too Molech takes its vowels from Bosheth; it should be Melech.

2. Euphemistic Expressions:

Words have been changed from motives of taste, e.g. "bless" is put for "curse" or "blaspheme" (1 Kings 21:10 , Septuagint 1 Kings 20:10; Job 1:5; Job 2:5 , Job 2:9 , where the word "Lord" follows immediately; otherwise Exodus 22:27 , etc.). Sometimes "the enemies of" was inserted (e.g. 2 Samuel 12:14 ). Another use for the latter expression is 1 Samuel 25:22 , where it is not in the Greek Compare further, 2 Samuel 7:12 , 2 Samuel 7:14; 2 Samuel 24:1 , with the parallel passages in Ch.

3. "Tikkun Sopherim":

In some 18 places the text was slightly altered by the correction ( tiḳḳūn ) of the scribes, without any indication being inserted to show that it had been altered. The following are the passages: Genesis 18:22 , which orginally ran "Yahweh stood before Abraham"; Numbers 11:15; Numbers 12:12; 1 Samuel 3:13; 2 Samuel 16:12; 2 Samuel 20:1 : Ezekiel 8:17; Habakkuk 1:12; Malachi 1:13; Zechariah 2:8 (12); Jeremiah 2:11; Job 7:20; Hosea 4:7; Job 32:3; Lamentations 3:20; Psalm 106:20 . The remaining two, to make 18, may be accounted for either by the third containing more than one correction, or by counting the parallels to the sixth. The Septuagint ignores the supposed original forms of the text, except in the case of 1 Samuel 3:13 and Job 7:20 . The Syriac has the supposed original form of Numbers 12:12 and Ṣiphrē of Numbers 11:15 , that is, it survived till the 2nd century AD. But the rest must have been corrected very early. Like the tiḳḳūn is the ‛iṭṭūr sopherim, that is, the substraction or deletion of the conjunction "and" in five places, namely, Genesis 18:5; Genesis 24:55; Numbers 31:2 and Psalm 68:25 (26) before the word "after"; and in Psalm 36:6 (7) before "thy judgments."

VII. Scribal Errors in the Text.

The Hebrew text of the Old Testament in no way resembles a text of one of the classics which is obtained by collating many manuscripts and eliminating all errors as far as possible. It is to all intents and purposes a manuscript, and displays all the forms of error found in all manuscripts. These are the following, classifying them according to their source.

1. Misunderstanding:

Failure to understand the sense gives rise to wrong division into words, e.g. Amos 6:12 , "with oxen" (plural) should probably be "with oxen (collective) the sea"; Jeremiah 15:10; Jeremiah 22:14; Psalm 73:4 have found their way into the text, e.g. Psalm 40:8 , Psalm 40:9 , "In a volume of a book it is written 'ālay ," referring to lı̄ in Psalm 40:7; 2 Samuel 1:18 (see Wellhausen).

2. Errors of the Eye:

Due to the eye are repetitions, transpositions, omissions, mistaking one letter for another, and so forth. Repetitions will be found: 2 Samuel 6:3 , 2 Samuel 6:4 (Septuagint); 1 Kings 15:6 (= 1 Kings 14:30 ); Exodus 30:6 (Septuagint); Leviticus 20:10; 1 Chronicles 9:35-44 = 1 Chronicles 8:29-38; Isaiah 41:1 (compare Isaiah 40:31 ); Isaiah 53:7; Psalm 35:15; Psalm 37:40 , and very often. Omissions may be supplied from parallel passages or VSS , as 1 Chronicles 8:29-31 from 1 Chronicles 9:35-37; compare 1 Chronicles 9:41; Joshua 22:34 (from Syriac); Judges 16:2; Genesis 4:8 (Samaritan, Peshitta); Proverbs 10:10 Septuagint, Syriac); Proverbs 11:16 Septuagint, Syriac); 2 Samuel 17:3 (Septuagint). Transpositions of letters will be found ( Joshua 6:13; Isaiah 8:12; compare Isaiah 8:13 , Isaiah 8:14 ). Sometimes a letter slips from word into another, as in 1 Samuel 14:50 , 1 Samuel 14:51; Jeremiah 18:23; Psalm 139:20 . Other examples are Judges 10:12 , and many times. Words are transposed in Psalm 35:7; Psalm 95:7; 1 Kings 6:17 , etc. Examples of transposition of verses will be found: Genesis 24:29 follows Genesis 24:30; Isaiah 38:21 , Isaiah 38:22 follows Isaiah 38:8; compare 2 Kings 20:6-8; Isaiah 40:19 , Isaiah 40:20 should go with Isaiah 41:6 ff. Most omissions and repetitions are due to homoeoteleuton or homoearchy. Similar letters are frequently mistaken for one another. Examples are: d and r (Psalm 110:3; 2 Samuel 22:11; compare Psalm 18:11 ). Traditions mention 6 other places, as well as 154 in which wāw and yōdh are interchanged; other examples are: Joshua 9:4; Deuteronomy 14:13; compare Leviticus 11:14; 2 Chronicles 22:10; compare 2 Kings 11:1 .

3. Errors of the Ear:

Errors du to the ear would arise when one scribe was dictating to another. Such are: lō = "not," for lō = "to him," in 15 places ( Psalm 100:3 , etc.). Also Yahweh and Adonai would be sounded alike. Again we have Adoram in 1 Kings 12:18 and Hadoram in 2 Chronicles 10:18 .

4. Errors of Memory:

Failure of memory in copying would explain the occurrence of synonymous words in parallel passages without any apparent motive, as for "I call" in 2 Samuel 22:7 and Psalm 18:7 , and the interchange of Yahweh and Adonai . In Jeremiah 27:1 Jehoiakim should be Zedekiah.

5. Errors of Carelessness and Ignorance:

Many of the scribal errors in the Massoretic Text are due to carelessness and ignorance: in Genesis 36:2 , the last "daughter" should be "son"; Numbers 26:8 , "son" for son, a common error; compare 1 Chronicles 3:22; 1 Chronicles 6:13 (28), Vashnı̄ means "and the second" (wehāshēnı̄ ); compare 1 Samuel 8:2; also in 1 Samuel 13:1 (compare above V, 13), where a number has dropped out, as also perhaps Isaiah 21:16 , and 2 Samuel 3:7 , where Ishbosheth has fallen like Mephibosheth. In 2 Samuel 23:18 , 2 Samuel 23:19 the first "three" should be "thirty." Compare also Genesis 3:10 (Syr); 2 Chronicles 22:6; Ezekiel 43:13 , and often. The Books of Sirach seem to be the most carelessly copied of all the Old Testament books, though the text of Ezekiel is in some respects more unintelligible. In Jeremiah, the Septuagint is shorter by one-eighth than the Hebrew, but it is doubtful which is original.

VIII. History of the Text.

The consonantal text of the Old Testament was what it now is by the 1st or at latest the 2Christian century. During the next four centuries it was minutely studied, the number of its words and even of its letters being counted. The results of this study are found chiefly in the Talmud. All such study was oral. During this period the text remained a purely consonantal text plus the puncta extraordinaria .

1. Changes Made in Reading:

The text was not always read, however, exactly as it was written. Soon after the return from Babylon changes were made. Perhaps the earliest was that the proper name Yahweh was read Adonai, whence the Septuagint, and through it the New Testament "Lord." The reason will be found in Leviticus 24:11 , where render " pronounced the name." Sometimes the change was due to motives of taste ( Deuteronomy 28:30; 1 Samuel 6:11; 2 Kings 18:27 ); but the commonest ground was grammar or logic. Thus a word was frequently read which was not in the text at all (Judges 20:13; 2 Samuel 18:20 ); or a word was omitted in reading (2 Samuel 15:21; 2 Kings 5:18 ); or the letters of a word were transposed, as in Joshua 6:13; or one letter was put for another, especially wāw for yōdh or yōdh for wāw ; or words were divided in reading otherwise than in the text (see above V, 1). The written text is called the Kethı̄bh ("written"); what was read is called the Ḳere ("read").

2. Preservation of Text:

The scribes during these centuries, besides fixing the reading, took means to preserve the text by counting the words and letters, and finding the middle verse (Judges 10:8; Isaiah 33:21 ), and so forth. The middle verse of the Law is Leviticus 8:7 , and the middle of the words falls in Leviticus 10:16 . The middle verse of the Hebrew Bible is Jeremiah 6:7 . Note was made of words written abnormally (Hosea 10:14; Micah 1:15; Isaiah 3:8 ) and lists were made up. All such lists were retained in the mind; nothing was written.

3. Division into Verses:

When the public reading of the Law was accompanied by an Aramaic translation (Nehemiah 8:8 ), the division of the text into verses would arise spontaneously. The Mishna g

Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Text of the Old Testament'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​isb/​t/text-of-the-old-testament.html. 1915.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile