Here I continue on with my comments on the manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible, and the question of whether they were changed over the years.  Again, this is taken from my discussion in The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction.


The Masoretic Text

The text of the Hebrew Bible that is read today and that is at the basis of all modern translations is called the Masoretic Text.  It is called this because the Jewish scholars who devised the rules for copying scripture are known as the Masoretes.   The term “masorete” comes from the Hebrew word masorah, which means “tradition.”  The Masoretes were the scholars who worked out ways to preserve the traditions of the Hebrew Bible.   They were active between 500-1000 CE.

To understand what the Masoretes accomplished, you need to remember that ancient written Hebrew was a language that used only consonants, not vowels.  Any language that is written only in consonants is open, obviously, to serious problems of interpretation.   Imagine if you were to write English that way.  Apart from context, you would have no way of knowing whether the word “npt” was “inept” or “input” or whether “mnr” was “minor,” “manor,” “moaner,” or “manure.”

Over the centuries of their work, the Masoretes accomplished several gargantuan tasks.  For one thing, they…

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