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Keri and Kethib

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(קרי וכתיב, plural וכתיבן קריין ), so frequently found in the margins and footnotes of the Hebrew Bibles, exhibit the most ancient various readings, and constitute the most important portion of the critico- exegetical apparatus bequeathed to us by the Jews of olden times. On this subject we substantially adopt Ginsburg's article in Kitto's Cyclopcedia, s.v. (See MASORAH).

I. Signification, Classification, and Mode of Indication of the Keri and Kethib.-The word קְרַי, keri', may be either the imperative or the participle passive of the Chaldee verb קְרָא, to call out, to read, and hence may signify "Read," or "It is read," i.e. the word in question is to be substituted for that in the text. כְּתַיב, kethib', is the participle passive of the Chaldee verb כְּתִב, to write, and signifies "It is written," i.e. the word in question is in the text. Those who prefer taking the word קְרַי as participle, do so on the ground that it is more consonant with its companion כְּתַיב, which is the participle passive. The two terms thus correspond substantially to the modern ones margin (Keri) and text (Kethib). We may add that the Rabbins also call the Keri מַקְרָא, mikra', scripture, and the Kethib מָסוֹרָה, masorah', tradition; but, according to our ideas, these terms should be reversed.

The different readings exhibited in the Keri and Kethib may be divided into three general classes:

a. Words to be read differently from what they are written, arising from the omission, insertion, exchanging, or transposition of a single letter (כְּתַיב וּקְרַי קְרַי וּכְתַיב );

b. Words to be read, but that are not written in the text (וְלֹא כְתַיבקְרַי ); and,

c. Words written in the text, but that are not to be read (וְלֹא קְרַיבְּתַיב ).

a. The first general class (variations) comprises the bulk of the various readings, and consists of

1. Corrections of errors arising from mistaking homonyms, e.g. לא, the negative particle, for the similarly sounding לו, the pronoun, of which we have fifteen instances (comp. Exodus 21:8; Leviticus 11:21; Leviticus 25:30; 1 Samuel 2:3; 2 Samuel 16:18; 2 Kings 8:10; Ezra 4:2; Job 13:15; Job 41:4; Psalms 100:3; Psalms 139:16; Proverbs 19:7; Proverbs 26:2; Isaiah 9:2; Isaiah 63:9), and two instances in which the reverse is the case (1 Samuel 2:16; 1 Samuel 20:2). Besides noticing them in their respective places, the Masorah also enumerates them all on Leviticus 11:15. The Talmud (Sopherim, vi) gives three additional ones, viz., 1 Chronicles 11:21; Job 6:21; Isaiah 49:5. על for אל , of which we have four instances (1 Samuel 10:24; 1 Kings 1:33; Job 7:1; Isaiah 65:7; Ezekiel 9:5).

2. Errors arising from mistaking the letters which resemble each other, e.g. ב for כ (comp. Proverbs 21:29); ג for ז (Ezekiel 25:7); ד for (ִ 1 Samuel 4:13); ד for ר, of which the Masorah on Proverbs 19:19, and Jeremiah 21:40, gives four instances (2 Samuel 13:37; 2 Kings 16:6; Jeremiah 21:40; Proverbs 19:19); ה for ת (Jeremiah 28:1; Jeremiah 32:1); ה for ם (2 Samuel 23:13); ח for ה, of which the Masorah on Proverbs 20:21 gives four instances (2 Samuel 13:37; Proverbs 20:21; Song of Solomon 1:17; Daniel 9:24); ט for ש (1 Samuel 14:32); י for ו in innumerable instances; כ for ב in eleven cases (Joshua 4:18; Joshua 6:5; Joshua 6:15; 1 Samuel 11:6; 1 Samuel 11:9; 2 Samuel 5:24; 2 Kings 3:24; Ezra 8:14; Nehemiah 3:20; Esther 3:4; Job 21:13; ם for ה (Isaiah 30:32); צ for ע (2 Kings 20:4); ר for ד twice (Jeremiah 2:20; Ezra 8:14); ת for ח (Ecclesiastes 12:6); ת for ה (2 Kings 24:14; 2 Kings 25:17; Jeremiah 52:21).

3. Errors arising from exchanging letters which be. long to the same organs of speech, e.g. ב for מ of which the Keri exhibits one instance (Joshua 22:7), and vice-versa, of which the Great Masorah, under letter ב, gives six instances (Joshua 3:16; Joshua 24:15; 2 Kings 5:12; 2 Kings 12:10; 2 Kings 23:33; Daniel 11:18); ח for א (2 Kings 17:21); ע for א (1 Samuel 20:24; 1 Kings 1:33; Job 7:1; Isaiah 65:7; Ezekiel 9:5); מ for פ (Isaiah 65:4).

4. Errors arising from the transposition of letters, which the Masorah designates מוקדם ומאוחר, and of which it gives sixty-two cases, as, for instance, the textual reading, or Kethib, is האהל , the tent, and the marginal reading, or Keri, transposing the letters ל and ה, has האלה, these (comp. Joshua 6:13; Joshua 20:8; Joshua 21:27; Judges 16:26; 1 Samuel 14:27; 1 Samuel 19:18; 1 Samuel 19:22-23 [twice]; 1 Samuel 27:8; 2 Samuel 3:25; 2 Samuel 14:30; 2 Samuel 17:16; 2 Samuel 18:8; 2 Samuel 20:14; 2 Samuel 24:16; 1 Kings 7:45; 2 Kings 11:2; 2 Kings 14:6; 1 Chronicles 1:46; 1 Chronicles 3:24; 1 Chronicles 27:29; 2 Chronicles 17:8; 2 Chronicles 29:8; Ezra 2:46; Ezra 4:4; Ezra 8:17; Nehemiah 4:7; Nehemiah 12:14; Esther 1:5; Esther 1:16; Job 26:12; Psalms 73:2; Psalms 139:6; Psalms 145:6; Proverbs 1:27; Proverbs 13:20; Proverbs 19:16; Proverbs 23:5; Proverbs 23:26; Proverbs 31:27; Ecclesiastes 9:4; Isaiah 37:30; Jeremiah 2:25; Jeremiah 8:6; Jeremiah 9:7; Jeremiah 15:4; Jeremiah 17:23; Jeremiah 24:9; Jeremiah 29:18; Jeremiah 29:23; Jeremiah 32:23; Jeremiah 42:20; Jeremiah 1:15; Ezekiel 36:14; Ezekiel 40:15; Ezekiel 42:16; Ezekiel 43:15-16; Daniel 4:9; Daniel 5:7; Daniel 5:16 [twice], 29).

5. Errors arising from the small letter י being dropped before the pronominal ו from plural nouns, and making them to be singular, of which there are a hundred and thirteen instances [it is very strange that the Masorah Magna only enumerates fifty-six of these instances] (Genesis 33:4; Exodus 27:11; Exodus 28:28; Exodus 32:19; Exodus 39:4; Exodus 39:33; Leviticus 9:22; Leviticus 16:21; Numbers 12:3; Deuteronomy 2:33; Deuteronomy 7:9; Deuteronomy 8:2; Deuteronomy 27:10; Deuteronomy 33:9; Joshua 3:4; Joshua 8:11; Joshua 16:3; Ruth 3:14; 1 Samuel 2:9-10 [twice]; 3:18; 8:3; 10:21; 22:13; 23:5; 26:7 [twice], 11, 16; 29:5 [twice]; 30:6; 2 Samuel 1:11; 2 Samuel 2:23; 2 Samuel 3:12; 2 Samuel 12:9; 2 Samuel 12:20; 2 Samuel 13:34; 2 Samuel 16:8; 2 Samuel 18:7; 2 Samuel 18:18; 2 Samuel 19:19; 2 Samuel 20:8; 2 Samuel 23:9; 2 Samuel 23:11; 2 Samuel 24:14; 2 Samuel 24:22; 1 Kings 5:17; 1 Kings 10:5; 1 Kings 18:42; 2 Kings 4:34; 2 Kings 5:9; 2 Kings 11:18; Ezra 4:7; Job 9:13; Job 14:5; Job 15:15; Job 20:11; Job 21:20; Job 24:1; Job 26:14; Job 31:20; Job 37:12; Job 38:41; Job 39:26; Job 39:30; Job 40:17; Psalms 10:5; Psalms 24:6; Psalms 58:8; Psalms 106:45; Psalms 147:19; Psalms 148:2; Proverbs 6:13 [twice]; Proverbs 22:24; Proverbs 26:24; Isaiah 52:5; Isaiah 56:10; Jeremiah 15:8; Jeremiah 17:10-11; Jeremiah 22:4; Jeremiah 32:4; Jeremiah 52:33; Lamentations 3:22; Lamentations 3:32; Lamentations 3:39; Ezekiel 3:20; Ezekiel 17:21; Ezekiel 18:23-24; Ezekiel 31:5; Ezekiel 33:13; Ezekiel 33:16; Ezekiel 37:16 [twice], Ezekiel 37:19; Ezekiel 40:6; Ezekiel 40:22 [twice], Ezekiel 40:26; Ezekiel 43:11 [thrice], Ezekiel 43:26; Ezekiel 44:5; Ezekiel 47:11; Daniel 11:10; Amos 9:6; Obadiah 1:11; Habakkuk 3:14); as well as from the insertion of י before the pronominal ו and before the pronominal in singular nouns, and making them plural; the Keri exhibits seven instances of the former.(1 Kings 16:26; Psalms 105:18; Psalms 105:28; Proverbs 16:27; Proverbs 21:29; Ecclesiastes 4:17; Daniel 9:12) and eight of the latter in the word דבוֹ (Judges 13:17; 1 Kings 8:26; 1 Kings 22:13; Psalms 119:147; Psalms 119:161; Jeremiah 15:16 [twice]; Ezra 10:12).

6. Errors of a grammatical nature, arising from dropping the article ה where it ought to be, of which the Keri exhibits fourteen instances (1 Samuel 14:32; 2 Samuel 23:9; 1 Kings 4:7; 1 Kings 7:20; 1 Kings 15:18; 2 Kings 11:20; 2 Kings 15:25; Isaiah 32:15; Jeremiah 10:13; Jeremiah 17:19; Jeremiah 40:3; Jeremiah 52:32; Lamentations 1:18; Ezekiel 18:20), or from the insertion of it where it ought not to be, of which there are ten instances (1 Samuel 26:12; 1 Kings 21:8; 2 Kings 7:12-13; 2 Kings 15:25; Ecclesiastes 6:10; Ecclesiastes 10:3; Ecclesiastes 10:20; Isaiah 29:11; Jeremiah 38:11); or from the dropping of the ה after נער, or writing הוא, instead of היא, when used as feminine.

7. Errors arising from the wrong division of words, e.g. the first word having a letter which belongs to the second, exhibited by the Keri in three instances, and stated in the Masorah on 2 Samuel 5:2' (2 Samuel 5:2; Job 38:12; Lamentations 4:16), or the second word having a letter which belongs to the first, of which there are two instances (1 Samuel 21:12; Ezra 4:12); or one word being divided into two separate words, of which the Masorah on 2 Chronicles 34 mentions eight instances (Judges 16:25; 1 Samuel 9:1; 1 Samuel 24:8; 1 Kings 18:5; 2 Chronicles 34:6; Isaiah 9:6; Lamentations 1:6; Lamentations 4:3), or two separate words being written as one, exhibited by the Ker. in fifteen instances (Genesis 30:11; Exodus 4:2; Deuteronomy 33:2; 1 Chronicles 9:4; 1 Chronicles 27:12, Nehemiah 2:23; Job 38:1; Job 40:6; Psalms 10:10; Psalms 55:16; Psalms 123:4; Isaiah 3:15; Jeremiah 6:29; Jeremiah 18:3; Ezekiel 8:6).

8. Exegetical Keris or marginal readings which substitute euphemisms for the cacophonous terms used in the text, in accordance with the injunction of the ancient sages, that " all the verses wherein indecent expressions occur are to be replaced by decent words (e.g. ישגלנה by ישכבנה [of which the Keri exhibits four instances, viz. Deuteronomy 28:30; Isaiah 13:16; Jeremiah 3:2; Zechariah 14:2]; עפולים by טחורים [of which the Keri exhibits six instances, viz. Deuteronomy 28:27; 1 Samuel 5:6; 1 Samuel 5:9; 1 Samuel 6:4-5; 1 Samuel 6:17; omitting, however, 1 Samuel 5:12]; חריונים by דביונים [of which the Keri exhibits one instance, viz. 2 Kings 6:25]; חוריהם by צואתם [of which the Keri exhibits two instances, 2 Kings 18:27; Isaiah 36:12]; מימי שיניהם by מימי רגליהם [of which the Keri exhibits two instances, 2 Kings 18:27; Isaiah 36:12]; למחראות by למוצאות [of which there is one instance, 2 Kings 10:27, comp. Megilla, 25 b])." The manner in which this general class of various readings is indicated is as follows: The variations specified under 1 and 2, not affecting the vowel points, are simply indicated by a small circle or asterisk placed over the word in the text (כתיב ), which directs to the marginal reading (קרי ), where the emendation is given, as, for instance, the Kethib in Exodus 21:8 is לֹא, in 1 Samuel 20:24 עֶל, and in Proverbs 21:29 יַָֹבין , and the marginal gloss remarks לו ק יבין ק אל ק, the ק being an abbreviation for קרי . In the variations specified under 3 and 4, where the different letters of the Kethib and the Keri require different vowel points, the abnormal textual reading, or the Kethib, has not only the small circle or asterisk, but also takes the vowel points which belong to the normal marginal reading, or the Keri, e.g. the' appropriate pointing of the textual reading, or the Kethib, in 2 Kings 17:21, is וִיֶּדֶא, but it is pointed וִיִּדִּאֹ, because these vowel signs belong to the marginal reading, or the Keri, וידח, which it is intended should accompany the vowel points in the text. The same is the case with the textual reading in 2 Samuel 14:30, which, according to the marginal reading, exhibits a transposition of letters, and which can hardly be pronounced with its textual points וְהִוצַּיתיֹּה, because these vowel signs belong to the Keri, והציתוה .

Finally, in the variations specified under 5, 6, 7, and 8, which involve an addition or diminution of letters, and which have therefore either more or fewer letters than are required by the vowel points of the Keri, a vowel sign is sometimes given without any letter at all, or two vowel signs have.to be attached to one letter, and sometimes a letter has to be without any vowel sign; the variation itself being either indicated in the margin by the exhibition of the entire word which constitutes the differerent reading, or by the simple remark that such and such a letter is wanting or is redundant. For instance, in Lamentations 5:7, which, according to the Masorah, exhibits two of the twelve instances where the ו conjunctive has been dropped from the beginning of words (comp. also 2 Kings 4:7; Job 2:7; Proverbs 23:24; Proverbs 27:24; Isaiah 55:13; Lamentations 2:2; Lamentations 4:16; Lamentations 5:3; Lamentations 5:5; Daniel 2:43), the textual reading, or Kethib, is ִאֲנַחַנוּ אֵינָם and the marginal reading, or Keri, is ואנחנו ואינם, the vowel sign of the conjunction from the margin being inserted in the text under the little circle, which, consequently, has no letter at all; in Jeremiah 42:6, again, where the textual reading is אנו, and the marginal reading אנחנו, yet the Kethib, which has only three letters, takes the vowel signs of the Keri, which has five letters, and is pointed אֲנִוּ , with. two different vowel points attached to the one ו; whilst in 2 Kings 7:15, where the reverse is the case, the marginal reading having fewer letters, and hence fewer vowels than the textual reading, which takes the vowel signs of the former, the Kethib is pointed בְּהֹחָפְזָם; and the ה has no vowel sign at all. There is a peculiarity connected with the marginal indication of those words the variations of which consist in the diminution or addition of a single letter. When a letter is dropped from a word in the text, the whole word is given in the marginal reading with the letter ii' question, and the remark "Read so;" as, for instance, 1 Samuel 14:32; Proverbs 23:24, where the ה, according to the Masorah, is dropped from השלל, and ו from ויולד, as indicated by שּׁלָל and יֹוֹלֵג; the marginal glosses are ק ויולד ק השלל; but when the reverse is the case, if a letter has crept into a word, the whole word is not given in the marginal gloss, but it is simply remarked that such and such a letter is redundant (יתיר ), or is not to be read (לא קרי ), as, for instance, in Ecclesiastes 10:20; Nehemiah 9:17, where the ה, according to the Masorah, has crept in before כנפים, and ו before חסד, the marginal gloss simply remarks יתיר ו יתיר ה . Upon this point, however, the greatest inconsistency is manifested in the Masoretic glosses; compare, for instance, the Kethib עיניו and רגלי i n Ecclesiastes 4:8, both of which, according to the Keri, have a redundant י , and are singular nouns, vet the Masoretic note upon the former is ק עינו , exhibiting the whole word, whilst on the latter it simply remarks יתיר י .

b. The second class (insertions directed), which comprises entire words that have been omitted from' the text, exhibits ten such instances which occur in the Hebrew Bible, as follows: Judges 20:13; Ruth 3:5; Ruth 3:17; 2 Samuel 8:3; 2 Samuel 16:23; 2 Samuel 18:20; 2 Kings 19:31; 2 Kings 19:37; Jeremiah 31:38; Jeremiah 1, 29. Besides being noted in the marginal glosses on the respective passages, these omissions are also given in the Masorah,on Deuteronomy 1 and Ruth 3:16. They are also enumerated in the Talmud (Tract Sopherim, 6:8, and in Nedarim, 37 b). In Nedarim, however, the passage which refers to this subject is as follows: "The insertion of words in the text (ולא כתיבן קריין ) is exhibited in פרת [2 Samuel 8:3]; איש [ibid. 2 Samuel 16:23]; באים [Jeremiah 31:38]; לה [ [Jeremiah 50:29]; את [Ruth 2:11]; אלי [Ruth 3:5; Ruth 3:17];" thus :omitting four instances, viz. Judges 20:13; 2 Samuel 18:20; 2 Kings 19:31; 2 Kings 19:37, and adding one, viz., Ruth 2:11, which is neither given by the Masorah nor in Sopherim.

This class of variations is indicated by a small circle or asterisk placed in the text with the vowel signs of the word which is wanting, referring to the margin, where the word in question is given. Thus, for instance, in Judges 20:13, where, according to the Keri, the word בְנֵי is omitted, the Kethib is ֵבַנְיָמַן וְלַֹא אָבוּ , upon which the marginal gloss remarks כתיב בני קרי ולא

c. Of the third class (omissions suggested), exhibiting entire words which have crept into the text, there are eightinstances, as follows: Ruth 3:12; 2 Samuel 13:33; 2 Samuel 15:21; 2 Kings 5:18; Jeremiah 38:16; Jeremiah 39:12; Jeremiah 51:3; Ezekiel 48:16. These variations are not only noted in the marginal glosses on the respective passages, but are also given in the Masorah on Ruth 3:12. The passage in Nedarim, 27 b, which speaks of this class of variations, remarking, "Words which are found in the text, but are not read (כתיבן ולא קריין ), are exhibited in נא [2 Kings 5:18]; ואת [Jeremiah 32:11]; ידר [ִ Jeremiah 51:3]; חמש [Ezekiel 48:16]; אם [Ruth 3:12]," omits 2 Samuel 13:33; 2 Samuel 15:21; and Jeremiah 38:16; Jeremiah 39:12; and adds Jeremiah 32:11, which dces not exist in the Masorah; whilst Sopherim, 6:9, which remarks אמנון כאשר במקום גואל ידר ִחמש, referring to 2 Samuel 13:33; Jeremiah 39:12; 2 Samuel 15:21; Ruth 3:12; Jeremiah 51:3; Ezekiel 48:16; omits 2 Kings 5:18, and Jeremiah 38:16.

This class of variations is not uniformly indicated in the different editions of the Bible. Generally the word in question has no vowel signs, but an asterisk or small circle is put over it, referring to the margin, where it is simply remarked כתיב ולא קרי, written [in the text], but not [to'be] read; in one or two instances, however, the word itself is repeated in the margin, as in 2 Kings 5:18, where we have it נא כתיב ולא קרי, [the word] נא [is] written [in the text], but [is] not [to be] read.

II. Number and Position of the Keri and Kethib.-A great difference of opinion prevails about the number and position of these various readings. The Talmud, as we have shown above, and the early commentators, mention variations which do not exist in the Keris and Kethibs of the Masorah. This, however, is beyond the aim of the present article, which is to investigate the Keri and Kethib as exhibited in the Masorah and in the editions of the Hebrew Bible. From a careful perusal and collation of the Masorah, as printed in the Rabbinic Bibles, we find the following to be the number of the Keris and Kethibs in each book, according to the order of the Hebrew Bible:































1 Samuel




2 Samuel


Song of Songs


1 Kings




2 Kings


























1 Chronicles




2 Chronicles








Total........... 1353


The disparity between Abrabanel's calculations about the number, of Keris and Kethibs, leading him to the conclusion that the Pentateuch has 65, Jeremiah 81, and 1 and 2 Samuel 138' (Introduction to Jeremiah), and the numbers which we have stated as existing in these books, is easily accounted for when it is remembered that this erudite commentator died fifteen years before the laborious Jacob b.-Chajim collated and published the Masorahs on the Hebrew Scriptures, and therefore had no opportunity of consulting them carefully. But we find it far morea difficult to account for the serious difference in the calculations of later writers and'our results, as may be seen from the table on the following page.

For the collation of Bomberg's Bible, the Plantin Bible, and the Antwerp Bible, we are indebted to the tables exhibited in Cappellus's Critica Sacra, p. 70, and Walton's Prolegomena (ed. Cantabrigiae, 1828, i, 473); and though we have been able by our arrangement to correct their blunder in representing Elias Levita as separating the Five Megilloth from the Hagiographa, and giving the number of Keris to be 329 exclusive of the Megilloth, yet we were, obliged to describe the Megilloth apart from the Hagiographa. to which they belong according to the Jewish order of the Canon. Elias Levita's own words on the numbers are as follows: "I counted the Keris and Kethibs several times, and found that they were in all 848.; of these, 65 are in the Pentateuch, 454 in the Prophets, and 329 in the Hagiographa. It is surprising that there should only be 65 in the Pentateuch, 22 of which refer to the single word נערה, which "interpretations," יתיר; "Deficiencies," חסיר is נעי il the Kethib, and נערה in the Keri; that the book of Joshua, which in quantity is about a tenth part of the Pentateuch, should have 32; and that the books of Samuel, which are merely about a fourth the size of the Pentateuch, 'should contain 133" (Massoreth HaMassoreth, ed. Sulzbach, 1771, p. 8 sq.). It will be seen from this extract that Elias Levita not only gives six Keris less in Joshua than we have given, but also differs from Abrabanel in the number of Keris to be found in the books of Samuel.



Bloomberg 1523-24

Plantin Bible 1566

Antwerp Royal Bible 1572

Elias Levita

Our Results


Variations Interpolations Deficiencies

73 1


74 1 2 77

69 1 1 71