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  • The Masorahof the

    Hebrew BibleA Six Week introductory Course Taught

    byTim Hegg

    TORAHRESOURCE.COM

  • An Introductionto the

    Masorah of the Hebrew Bible

    byTim Hegg

  • 2003 Tim HeggAll Rights Reserved

    This material may not be copied or reproduced in any fashionwithout the express, written consent of the author.

    For information contact:thegg@torahresource.com

    or write:TorahResource.com 4105 N 25th St Tacoma WA 98406

    1-800-508-3566

  • ContentsGeneral Introduction ........................................................................................................................... 4

    The Masorah of the Leningrad Codex (L) ......................................................................................... 6

    How the Masorah Parva Works .......................................................................................................... 8

    Masorah Parva Notes with Superscript Arabic Numbers ................................................................ 12

    Qere/Ketiv Markings in the Masorah ............................................................................................... 15

    History of the Masorah...................................................................................................................... 16

    Masoretic Terminology in the Talmud .............................................................................................. 16

    The Beginning of the Masoretic Period ............................................................................................ 18

    Individual Masoretes ......................................................................................................................... 19

    The Ben Asher Family ....................................................................................................................... 19

    The Ben Naphtali Family .................................................................................................................. 21

    Independent Masoretic Treatises ...................................................................................................... 22

    The End of the Masoretic Era ........................................................................................................... 22

    Continuation of Work on the Masorah ............................................................................................. 23

    Most Important Hebrew Manuscripts of the Masoretes .................................................................. 25

    Traditions of the Scribes .................................................................................................................... 28

    Orthography (traditions relating to the actual script or writing) ..................................................... 28

    Irregularities other than Orthography.............................................................................................. 31

    Plates of various manuscripts ........................................................................................................... 36

    Examples of Masoretic Extra Marks (Puncta Extraordiaria) ......................................................... 41

    Studies in Texts .................................................................................................................................. 43

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    General Introduction

    Before we can delve into the history and use of the Masorah ofthe Hebrew Bible, and the Masoretes who created it, we need somebasic understanding of terms and issues. The word masorah comesfrom the word , to deliver, transmit. The word , masoretmeans a chain of tradition, that which is transmitted from onegeneration to the next. Thus, the Masorah of the Hebrew Bible is thefinal written record of the scribes, noting various aspects of thewritten text as they had received it, and how it therefore should becopied and passed to the next generation.

    Thus, the Masorah of the Hebrew Bible is essentially the lists ofnotes kept by scribes orally and eventually written down from around600 CE and onward, that deal with specifics of the Hebrew text. It isnot as though the scribes of this era created the lists, but only thatthey wrote down for the first time those traditions which had beenlong-standing among the guild of scribes entrusted with the transmis-sion of the Scriptures. These lists were eventually added to the mar-gins of the pages of the Tanach itself (once the Tanach was put intobook or codex form), as well as compiled at the end of books oreven at the end of the Tanach as a whole. These notes deal withvarious textual issues, matters of spelling, odd phrases, and generallythose types of things that might give rise to a correction whichwould, in fact, introduce an error into the manuscript. They alsoattempted to standardize the text, and therefore to make it useable forpublic reading in the Synagogue.

    The obvious purpose for the Masorah was to help scribesmaintain the utmost accuracy in the transmission of the biblical text,and to see that the text was passed to the next generation in exactlythe form in which it was received. It can be seen at once that for thebible exegete, these notes may be invaluable in determining thehistory of the text as well as the proper understanding of its variousparts. While often the masoretic notes deal with minutiae which mayhave relatively little relevance for exegesis, as we shall see, in somecases the Masoretic notes help a great deal in the overall understand-ing and interpretation of the sacred text.

    Secondly, we should understand that in reality we cannot speakof The Masorah. Nor is the term Masoretic text entirely accurate.This is because there is not one Masorah, but many, and likewise, thebiblical text produced by the scribes of the Masoretic period is notmonolithic but diverse. I hasten to note that this diversity is primarilyin very minute details (often in matters of spelling and accentuation).In fact, the study of the Masorah immediately highlights the fact thatwhat may seem the most insignificant detail to the modern reader was

    In order for a Scroll to be suitablefor public reading, it couldcontain only the Sacred text ofScripture (though there were afew marks put in other thanletters). Thus, Synagogue Scrollshave never contained the voweland accent markings, nor anynotes or Masorah. These wereadded to the biblical text only forthe bible written for personal useand study, and particularly whenthe codex (book form) becameprevalent.

    Masorot were attached to variousmanuscripts, and these reflect theschool of the scribes who pro-duced the manuscript. As such, thevarious masorot do not entirelyagree, and in some cases are quitedivergent.

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    a matter of great concern to the scribes. Yet even in spite of the factthat the minutiae often constitute the distinctive character of a scribaltradition, it is clear that there was more than one text type beingcirculated and copied during the Masoretic era. As such, it is techni-cally a misnomer to refer to the Masoretic text as though theMasoretes produced a monolithic text type. In reality, they did not.

    So then how did it become so common, even among scholars,to refer to the Masoretic Text (often abbreviated MT)? This was theresult of the publication of the Hebrew Bible in modern times whichbecame the standard for scholarly work. Through the selection of aprimary manuscript to serve as the basis for the modern editions, itbecame easy to refer to that text as the Masoretic Text, when in factit was actually but one representation of the work of the Masoretes(even if it was considered the work of the majority, and generallyrepresentative of the whole).

    Thirdly, we must remember that there were a number of factorswhich converged to bring about the need for a standardization of theHebrew text, and these factors had some influence on the manner inwhich the standardization process took place. There was the demiseof Hebrew as a living, spoken language within the Jewish communi-ties. Hebrew had become relegated to the Synagogue and was viewedas the language of sacred events. While surely there were those whomaintained Hebrew as a common language, the vast majority ofpeople within the Jewish communities had either the tongue of theirregion as a mother tongue, or were speaking some combination ofHebrew and the local language (e.g., note the later Yiddish andLadino). Therefore, the need to graphically represent the vowel andaccent marks, which had been developed along several schema,needed to be standardized so that the reading of the Torah in theSynagogue could remain a viable part of the communitys life. ButHebrew, like all languages, had evolved since the time of the ancientscribes, and spellings, idioms, pronunciations, and various othergrammatical matters had introduced diversity into the text as localcustoms, dialects, and traditions exerted their own individual influ-ences and nuances.

    To the linguistic factors must be added the sociological ones.The Jewish community had survived the rise of the Christian Church,but not without much persecution. In the midst of being marginalizedby the diaspora communities among whom they dwelt, the Jewishpeople were constantly fighting for self-definition and survival as adistinct people group. The Tanach, and particularly the Torah, was theanchor point for Jewish identity (as well as the Oral Torah whichdefined and interpreted the Written text of the Scriptures). One cantherefore understand why the need for standardization of the text was

  • 6

    felt to be all that much more pressing in such a sociological climate.

    The Masorah of the Leningrad Codex (L)

    Below is a page from the Leningrad Codex, showing Exodus 12:13b-12:43a. This wasscanned from the facsimile edition published by Eerdmans/Brill. The biblical text is in three columns(the first column is only partially showing), with the Masorah parva ( ) in the marginsbetween columns. The Masorah magna ( ( is at the top and bottom of the page. Note thecorresponding page from BHS and the manner in which the Masorah is represented..

    Sedarim marking,noting the begin-ning of a section inthe triennial cycle

    Masorah magna

    Masorah magna

    Masorahparva in themarginsof the columns

    Fig. 1

    Ex. 12:21

  • 7

    Ex. 12:21Masorah parva inoutside margin of thepage

    Sedarim marking,noting the begin-ning of a section inthe triennial cycle.BHS adds [],meaning 10this is the 10th ofthe sedarim inExodus.

    Cross-referenceto the Masorahmagna inMesorah Gedolah

    Critical apparatus noting variantsbetween manuscripts, etc.

    Fig. 2

    Setumah: closedsection

    Petuchah: opensection

    This is a page from Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (abbreviated BHS). Note the singlecolumn, the Masorah parva in the outside margin of the page; references to the Masorahmagna at the bottom of the page (which direct the reader to Weils Mesorah Gedolah), andthe critical apparatus at the very bottom of the page which gives details relating to variantsamong manuscripts and versions, suggested emendations, etc.

  • 8

    How the Masorah Parva Works

    The abbreviated notes of the Masorah parva are in the marginsbetween columns of L. The note itself is put adjacent to the line towhich it refers, and a small circle (circule) is placed above the wordor phrase to which the note refers.

    The with a dot over itstands for ,Unique, occurs onlyonce, indicating that theword or phrase occursonly here in exactly thisform.

    Note the raised circule ineach of the lines toindicate to which of thewords or phrases thenotes refer.

    A similar schema is employed by BHS to reference the notes inthe Masorah parva. A circule indicates the word or phrase to which thenote is attached.

    Fig. 3

    Fig. 4

    There are a number of possibilities when considering the notesof the Masorah parva and how they are reckoned with words orphrases. The note could reference a single word, or a phrase, or aword within a phrase, or a phrase within a phrase. The manner ofmarking these units can be somewhat confusing, so the reader mustpay close attention.

    1. Marking a single word: the circule will be over the word towhich the note refers. The note will be in the outside marginof the page, adjacent to the line in which the word occurs.Fig. 4 above is an example of a single word marked withcircule, with the Masoretic note, (meaning only here)adjacent to the line. Note that the has a suspended dot overit. All Hebrew letters with suspended dots indicate that it iseither an abbreviation (as in this case) or represents a number.

    .

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    2. More than one note per line of text: often there are severalnotes per line, meaning that a number of words or phrases inthat line are being commented upon. The Mp notes in themargin are separated by a period, and are in the order inwhich the circuli occur in the line. Note Gen 28:22 (p. 44 inBHS)

    Fig. 5

    In this example, the first word, is attached to the note with suspended dot, meaning 2, or this word is found only 2times in this exact form. The second word, is attachedto the second note, with suspended dot, meaning that thisexact form occurs only here.

    3. A phrase or word combination: Sometimes the note in theMp refers to a phrase or word combination within the line. Inthe case of a phrase, it is marked with a circule between eachof the words in the phrase. Thus, the number of circuli willvary depending upon how many words are in the phrase. Notethe example in Gen 29:35 (p. 46 in BHS)

    Fig. 6

    The first note of the Mp () refers to the phrase ,marked by circuli between each word of the phrase. Thesecond note () refers to the word .

    4. A word within a phrase: Sometimes there is a note in theMp for a phrase, but there is a second note referring to asingle word within this phrase. This can get a little confusingif one is not careful! But remember the basic rules: the notesin the Mp will be separated by a period. Thus, the reader isaware of how many words or phrases to look for in the par-ticular line by counting the number of notes in the margin. (Ifthere are more notes than space allows, notes will be put in

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    Note that in the first line of the page, there are three Mpnotes (the third note is on a second line since there was notsufficient room in the margin). The first note, 12 (disregardthe superscript 12 for now) relates to the first word of theline, , since the first circule is directly over this word.The second note, 13 is attached to the two wordphrase since the second circule is between the twowords, marking it as a phrase. The third Mp note, , relatesto the word since the third circule is over this word. (Wewill learn the meaning of these various Mp notes later.)

    5. A phrase or word combination within a phrase: At times,the Mp note will reference a phrase or word combinationwithin a phrase. If the phrase is a shorter component withinthe larger phrase, then the larger phrase will be marked withcirculi between the words, and the shorter phrase will bemarked by a second circule between the first two words ofthe phrase and extending to the end of the larger phrase. NoteIsaiah 3:15 (p. 680 in BHS...