Bible Encyclopedias
Various Readings of the Old Test.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Search for…
Prev Entry
Various Readings of the New Testament
Next Entry
Resource Toolbox

It is now universally admitted that the text of the Old Test. has not come down to us without mistakes. Like all other ancient books, the Bible has suffered from the errors of transcribers; and thus, in the course of repeated copying, many small variations crept into the text, and various readings came into existence. These varice lectiones may be assigned to two sources. They were made unintentionally or purposely.

I. Accidental Mistakes. By far the greater number of existing various readings owe their origin to accident, and may be traced back to the following sources:

1. Transcribers saw amiss, and therefore they confounded letters similar in shape. Beth and Kaph. Gimel and Nun, Daleth and Resh, He and Cheth, are so like that they were exchanged. Thus, in Nehemiah 12:3 we read שכיה, but in Nehemiah 12:14 שבניה; 1 Chronicles 9:15, זכרי, but Nehemiah 11:17, זבדי; Genesis 10:3, ריפת : but 1 Chronicles 1:6, דיפת; Genesis 10:4, דודנים, but 1 Chronicles 1:7, רודנים; 1 Chronicles 18:12, מאדם, but 2 Samuel 8:12, מארם, etc. From the same cause the copyists transposed letters, words, and sentences. Thus we read, Joshua 21:2 T, גלון, but in 1 Chronicles 6:56, גולן . 1 Samuel 1:1, בןאּתחו, but in 1 Chronicles 6:19, בןאּתוח . 2 Samuel 23:31, הברחמי, but in 1 Chronicles 11:33, הבחרומי . 1 Kings 10:11, אלמגים, but in 2 Chronicles 9:10, אלגומים . Psalm 58:46, ויחרגו, but in 2 Samuel 22:46, ויחגרו . 2 Samuel 18:5, בגוים יהוה, but in 2 Samuel 22:50, יהוה

יכחשואּלי לשמע אזן ישמעו לי בני נכר בגוים, but in 2 Samuel 22:45, נכי יכחשואּלי לשמוע אזן ישמעו לַי בני . Comp. also Psalms 96:9-11 with 1 Chronicles 16:30-32. From the same cause they omitted letters, words, and sentences, especially when two periods or clauses terminated in the same way. Thus Nehemiah 11:5, מעשיה, but 1 Chronicles 1:36; 1 Chronicles 6:15, עשיה; Psalms 18:42, ישועו, but 2 Samuel 22:42, ישעו . Words were omitted; as in 1 Samuel 1:3, where, after מעירו, probably מןאּרמתים (Sept. ἐκ πόλεως αὐτοῦ ἐξ Ἀριαθαίμ ) was left out. The omission of clauses or sentences we notice, e.g. 1 Samuel 5:3, where, after ממחרת, the words ויבאו בית דגון ויראו were omitted, for the Sept. reads καὶ εἰσῆλθον εἰς οικον Δαγὼν καὶ ειδον. The last two examples of omission bear the technical name of ὁμοιοτέλευτον .

2. Transcribers heard amiss, and fell into mistakes. Here the same observations can be made as above. Thus 1 Samuel 17:34, we find זה, as in several cod., instead of שה . "22:18, דויג, but the Kerin, דאג . 2 Kings 20:4, העיר, חצר . Psalms 96:12, יעלז, but 1 Chronicles 16:32, יעלוֹ . Isaiah 65:4, פרק, but Keri, מרק . To this cause must be ascribed the seventeen identifications of לא with לו noted in the margin of the Bible.

3. Transcribers made mistakes from memory. Where the copyist trusted too much to his memory, he confounded synonymous terms, as in Leviticus 25:36, אל with בל; in 2 Kings 1:10, וידבר with ויאמר, and יהוה with אדוני; or he altered the word, after the more frequent forms, in parallel passages. Thus, in Isaiah 63:16, some have למען שמ instead of מעולם שמ,ִ because the former is the more common.

4. Transcribers made mistakes in judgment. They misapprehended the text before them, and therefore divided words badly, misunderstood abbreviations, and blundered with regard to the letters called custodes linearum, as well as marginal notes. One word was improperly separated into two, or two combined into one. An example occurs in Psalm 48:15, where the text has על מות instead of עלמות, unto death instead of forever. The latter reading is found in many MSS. and editions; Sept. εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας; Vulg. in scecuia. On the contrary, by, 16, ישימות, the textual reading, denoting desolations, is directed by the Keri to be divided into ישי מות let death seize. This is adopted by many MSS., editions, and old translators, as. Sept., Vulg., Aquila, Symmachus, Syriac, Arabic, Jerome.

Abbreviations were usually made by writing the first letter of a word and appending a small stroke or two to indicate the omission of some letters. Hence the omission was sometimes erroneously supplied, or the abbreviated word was considered complete in itself. Thus, יהוה was shortened into י 8or י 8 8. In Isaiah 42:19, the Sept. has translated יהוה כעבד by δοῦλός μου , showing that they mistook כעבד י 8for כעבדי . So also in Jeremiah 6:11, חמת יהוה, the fury of Jehovah, is translated by the Sept. θυμόν μου, showing that they mistook חמת י 8for חמתי; Psalms 31:7, שנאתי, I hate, all ancient translators understood for שנאת יהוה, thou, Lord, hatest; and this reading is found in God. 170. It is well known that the Jews did not divide a word between two lines. When there was a vacant space at the end of a line too small to contain the next word, they added letters to fill it up and preserve the uniform appearance of the copy. These supernumerary letters were generally the initials of the following word, though it was written entire in the next line. Ignorant transcribers may have taken these superfluous letters, called custodes linearun, "keepers of the lines," into the text. Thus it is thought by some that in Isaiah 35:1, the common reading יששום מדבר arose from יששו ם מדבר by joining the superfluous מ to the end of the verb. On the other hand, transcribers suspected the existence of these custodes linearum in places where they did not occur, and omitted part of the text. So in Exodus 31:8 the word כל, "all," appears to have been omitted because of the following כליו . The omitted word is found in the oldest versions. Errors also arose from taking marginal annotations into the text. Probably Isaiah 7:17 furnishes an example, for the clause את מל ִאשור is unsuitable. To such marginal annotations must be ascribed those passages in which to one word a second or even a third translation is added. Thus in 1 Samuel 12:14 the Sept. reads, for ולא רצותנו, καὶ οὐ κατεδυά στευσας ἡμᾶς (καὶ οὐ εθλασας ἡμᾶς.

In some cases the MS. itself may have been the cause of errors, be it that it was illegible or that some letters were obliterated. After all, it must be obvious that n intentional errors were made, and the existence of various readings is purely accidental.

II. Intentional Errors. After what has been said, it would be useless to speak of intentional errors were it not for the very fact that Church fathers, Mohammed, and scholars of renown have brought such a charge against the Jews. But the charge has not been substantiated. Their veneration for the sacred books was too great to allow them to make alterations, knowing them to be wrong. Josephus (Cont. Apion. 1, 8) says, Τοσού του γὰρ αἰῶνος ἤδη παρῳχηκότος, οὔτε προσθεῖναί τις ούδέν οὔτε ἀφελεῖν αὐτῶν οὔτε μεταθεῖναι τε τόλμηκεν; and Eusebius (Prcep. Evang. 8:6) cites from Philo: Μὴ ῥῆμά γε αὐτοὺς μίνον τῶν ὑπ᾿ αὐτοῦ (Moses) γεγραμμένων κινῆσαι, ἀλλὰ κ § ν μυριάκις αὐ τοὺς ἀποθανεῖν ὑπομεῖναι θᾶττον, τιῖς ἐκείνου νό μοις καὶ ἔθεσιν ἐναντία πεισθῆναι. Like the Samaritans, the early Christians brought the accusation of corrupting the text against the Jews. But these were not competent witnesses or righteous accusers. For when the Jews quoted from the Hebrew Bible passages differing from the Sept., which some of the fathers regarded as inspired, it was very easy to say that the Jews had corrupted Scripture in such places. This was all the reply they could make, being themselves ignorant of the Hebrew original. It was different with Mohammed (see the Koran, sura 2, 73,176-178; 3, 188; 5, 17). His charge is equally directed against Christians as against Jews, because of his inability to find any support in the Scriptures for his prophetical pretensions.

The earliest among Christians who made the charge against the Jews of corrupting the text was Justin Martyr (comp. Trypho, c. 71, 72, 73), who was followed by Irenseus, Tertullian, and others. All these fathers knew nothing of Hebrew; they had to avail themselves of the Sept. Of more importance is the testimony of Origen and Jerome, because they knew Hebrew. It is true that Jerome, in his Commentary on Galatians 3, appears, indeed, to charge the Jews with erasing the word כל in Deuteronomy 27:26; for he says, "Incertum habemus utrum LXX interpretes addiderint Deuteronomy 27:26 omnis homo et in omnibus, an in veteri Hebrseo ita fuerit et postea a Judseis deletum sit.... Quam ob causam Samaritanorum Hebraea volumina relegens inveili כל scriptum esse et cum LXX interpretibus concordare. Frustra igitur illud tulerunt Judeai, utn viderentur esse sub maledicto, si tnon possehnt omnia complere quae scripta sunt cum antiquiores alterius quoque gentis literse id positum fuisse testentur." But this charge does not appear to have been his deliberate opinion, as can be seen from his Commentary on Isaiah, ch. 6 where he says, "Quodsi aliquis dixerit, Hebraeos libros postea a Judseis esse falsatos, audiat Origenem, quid in octavo volumine explanationum Esaise huic respondeat qusestiunculse quod nunquam Dominus et Apostoli, qui caetera crimina arguunt in scribis et Pharisasis, de hoc crimine, quod erat maximum, reticuissent sin autem dixerint post adventum Domini Salvatoris et prsedicationem Apostolorum libros Hebrseos fuisse falsatos, cachinnum tenere non potero, ut Salvator et Evangelistae et Apostoli ita testimonia protulerint, ut Judaei postea falsaturi erant." In spite of this important testimony, there were not wanting some who renewed the old charge. Foremost among them were Isaac Vossius, W.Whiston, J. Morinuns setc., who again were refuted by Carpzov, De Muis, Teglor, Boote, Cocceius, Grabe, Trigland, Bellarmine, R. Simon, Glassius, Capellus, and a host of others, who, examining the question sine studio et ira, were not apt to let their sober reason run astray.

There are two or three places in which the charge of intentional corruption has a plausible appearance, viz. Psalms 16:10; Psalms 22:17; and Zechariah 12:10; but, without entering upon an examination of these passages, as beyond the province of this article, we may state that a close examination proves the folly of the charge.

With regard to the other classes of alterations arising from a well-meaning desire on behalf of the text, we see no good reason to doubt that readings apparently easier or less objectionable were occasionally substituted for others; that supposed mistakes were rectified; places, where something appeared to be wanting, filled up; and passages made conformable to parallel ones. Examples of this kind are found in Genesis 2:2, where, for השביעי, the Samaritan, Sept., and Syriac have הששי; Numbers 27:7, where, instead of אביהם, various MSS. with the Samaritan read אביהן with the feminine suffix; Judges 18:30, where, for משה, was put מנשה; 1 Chronicles 2:48, where, for ילד, several MSS. read ילדה in the feminine; Psalms 36:2, where, for לבי, many MSS. and versions read לבו . In like manner ממזר, in Deuteronomy 23:2, was separated into מום זר; and עז למו, in Psalms 28:8, was changed in some MSS. into עז לעמו, the latter taken, perhaps, from 29:11.

After all, it must appear that all readings must be ascribed to purely accidental causes, such as have been enumerated above. (See KEIR AND KETHIB). (B. P.)

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Various Readings of the Old Test.'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature.​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​v/various-readings-of-the-old-test.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.