Hallelu-YaH - all honor to YaHUaHBekijk de NL versie hier

THE Masoretic Text does not exist
Some facts about the original Hebrew text of the First Testament

André H. Roosma
27 December 2013

To elucidate the title: the oldest manuscripts (handwritten texts) of the First Testa­ment of the Bible that we posses now, originate mainly from the late Middle Ages. The Jewish scribes copying the Hebrew original of the First Testament back then, we call the Masoretes. Fortunately, a number of their manuscripts did survive the many fires and other damages, not survived by many older ones. These Middle-Age Masoretes were also the ones who added vowel signs to the largely consonantal text.
The First Testament in our Bibles is a translation of these Hebrew manuscripts. Often people speak simply of the Masoretic Text (sometimes abbreviated to: the MT).

That Hebrew original of the First Testament of the Bible is what I will talk about here. During the early months of 2013 I received several questions and notes from readers of my Dutch Hallelu-YaH website. They said and asked things like:

  • In view of the fact that we have a clear Hebrew original text of the First Testa­ment of the Bible, why would one then devote still so much research into older letters and alternative word meanings?
  • It seems that you contend that the Hebrew text of the First Testament is not really the original, but some kind of an edited version or translation from an older form of Hebrew, or - as you name it: old Semitic. Don’t you reduce the authority of the Bible, that way?

I consider these quiet serious questions, deserving a serious answer.
Above this article I put: „THE Masoretic text does not exist”. That is not just some proposition. I will deal with the matter, point by point.

  • Firstly, it is such that there exists a very long period between the mo­ment on which the books of the First Testament were written originally, and these Middle Age documents. So, what we have at hand are handmade copies of copies of copies. Despite all precautions and precision, errors did occur in this copy work, as will appear clearly from what follows.
  • The oldest texts that we have are a number of handwritten manuscripts (MSs). Though they generally correspond with each other, they also show differences in not unimportant details. Sometimes such a difference is only one letter, but this may mean that at the word-level the text says something entirely different. In the last centuries important additional manuscripts have been discovered. This means that in some details we now have more insight into the reading of the original text, as compared to a few centuries ago. By the way, this is a reason why some newer translations may at some points probably give a better reflection of the original than older translations despite the renowned standing of trustworthiness and precision of some of those old ones.
  • Even inside each of these manuscripts there are often different versions of the text. There is the main text, and there are notes and corrections written in the margins. The way that came about is this: when a copyist copied a Bible book, he was supposed to keep strictly to the text in front of him. But often that copyist had obtained an extensive Jewish education, where he had seen and studied several older Manuscripts of that same text. Often he even had learned large portions of it by head. So he knew what each verse said. When the manuscript in front of him had a different reading, he knew that was wrong. What he did then, was to copy the main text exactly as it was written anyway, but to include a note on what he knew the verse should read in the margin. The Hebrew terms used for this are ketibh (literally: that what is written, namely in the main text) and qeréi (literally: that what is read; that what the copyist knew the text should have been, and what he noted in the margin).
    An example to clarify. In the main text of the Westminster Leningrad Codex of Psalm 100: 3 it is written: דְּעוּ כִּֽי־יְהוָה הוּא אֱלֹהִים הֽוּא־עָשָׂנוּ וְלֹא אֲנַחְנוּ עַמֹּו וְצֹאן מַרְעִיתֹֽו׃ - Know, that YaHUaH is God; He has made us - and not we -, His people and the sheep of His pasture.1 The addition and not we, in Hebrew: וְלֹא אֲנַחְנוּ - velo’ ’anachnu, is a construction not encountered anywhere else in Hebrew. This velo’ means: and not... (we [are]), and normally, what follows then is the verb or predicate of the sentence. But here, there is no verb. In Hebrew it cannot refer back to the predicate of the first part of the sentence: ‘has made’, for that is in the he-form (3rd p. sing.) and not the we-form (1st p. plural). How about this? The qeréi helps us to solve this puzzle. One letter has been put wrongly. In the margin it says that instead of וְלֹא - velo’ - and not... , it should read: וְלֹו - velo - and towards/of Him...(we [are]). The sentence then becomes: Know, that YaHUaH is God; He has made us and to Him we belong, His people and the sheep of His pasture. Immediately, the entire sentence becomes much clearer and internally more consistent. (Cf. the KJV: Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. versus the NET Bible: Acknowledge that the LORD is God! He made us and we belong to him; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.)

Concerning this last issue: many people who read the Hebrew (‘original’) text, only read the ketibh, as issued by their simplified printed Hebrew Bible or their simplified Bible-software. They then issue bold statements about supposed translation errors of others, who also took the qeréi text serious. The Wiki page on qeréi and ketibh says: „Some consider the qere and ketiv to be matters of scribal opinion, but modern translators nevertheless tend to follow the qere rather than the ketiv.”. In other words: the present day Bible translators attach more value to the qeréi text (in the margin) than to the ketibh (written in the main text). They do so on the basis of experience: the experience of the Bible translators and other scientists studying the texts, and the experience of the copyists. Concerning the first group: when finding older manuscripts, it often appeared that these supported the qeréi text from the previously found but later copied manuscripts. The qeréi text of the previously found but less old manuscripts appeared more reliable than the ketibh (main text) of them. Concerning the experience of the copyists: of course they only put a qeréi text in margin when they were pretty sure that that was the original text.

In this context, there is a remarkable note to be made about the glorious Name of God: יהוה - YaHUaH. When you have read more of my articles here, you will be familiar with the notion that most English translations have arbitrarily replaced this wonderful Name with a title such as LORD (regretfully!). The capital letters offer a distinction from the translation of the Hebrew title אֲדוֹנָי - Adonai - my Lord / my Master -, also used for God. The old Dutch StatenVertaling (State Translation, comparable to the KJV) had the Dutch equivalent of LORD in a number of places (a.o. in Nechem-yah 1: 11), where the Hebrew had אֲדוֹנָי - Adonai. Isn’t that strange? Some later translators translated here: Lord (with lower carse letters). But why then did those early Dutch translators of the State translate LORD there? That was precisely because of what I wrote above: in those instances the main text (ketibh) has indeed אֲדוֹנָי - Adonai, but there are notes (qeréi) that the original text was: יהוה - YaHUaH.
I discovered this difference in June 2010, when working on a study about the glorious Name of God, and reading an interlinear Hebrew-English version of the Q-Bible. I wrote to the makers of it and received a list with about 134 places where in all likelihood Jewish copyists have replaced the glorious Name of God by Adonai.3
In the meantime a good photo­graphic reproduction of the Yesha-yahu (Isaiah) scroll from about 100 BC (so, it is about 1000 years older than ‘the’ MT), found in Qumran, is integrally viewable on the Internet. So I had a look what it reads in those places. Indeed: in a number of the passages mentioned above, it has יהוה - the glorious Name of God, and not אדוני - Adonai as in the ketibh of ‘the’ MT.
Apart from that, even the two most prominent versions of ‘the’ MT, the Aleppo codex as cherished by the Jews, and the Westminster Leningrad codex as used most prominently by Christians, do not always agree concerning the glorious Name. The Aleppo codex has in Psalm 68: 26/27 אֲדוֹנָי - Adonai, while the Westminster Leningrad codex has יְהוָה - YeHUaH there (a Jewish variant of YaHUaH).

The above clearly illustrates the high importance of further research concerning the original text of the Bible. It also illustrates how easily people with limited knowledge and insight can come to wrong conclusions. So, I continue my research and my writing about my findings via this medium. The latter I add because no other medium makes it so easy for readers to react and correct me in case I might err or make any ignorant mistake.

Then there is still another issue, and that is the development of language. In the past 2000 years the languages of Western-Europe have changed a lot. Modern Europeans would probably not understand their predecessors of the first century in case one of them would come back to life. The period from creation (according to the shortest estimates still about 4000 years before Christ, according to others much longer ago) till the closure of the First Testament (about 400 BC) spans more than 3500 years. And from creation to ‘the’ main MT manuscripts is more than 5000 years. If there was already an enormous development in the language of the Germanic tribes living here some 2000 years ago until the language we now speak and write, how much more we can expect a vast development in Hebrew in the period just mentioned. So, a notion such as ‘Biblical Hebrew’ is fundamentally an illusion. The language of Adam or that of Abraham differed vastly from that of David and that one was still different from the one of Malachi or of Jesus.
So, when we study, e.g., the Torah, we have to do our best to reconstruct how it will have looked in the script and language of Mosheh, and take the words in the meanings they had back then, not the meaning they had in 500 BC or AD 1000. Therefore I am very glad with the old Semitic pictographic script which gives us so much insight into the meanings of the words in the second millennium BC, in particular the first half of it. I do test the things I find in this way with information from other sources, e.g. the meanings of corresponding words in Akkadian (the probable language of Abraham’s grandparents, or at least of their contemporaries in their cities or area). Often I am gladly surprised how striking the similarity is indeed, and how much can indeed be derived from the old pictographs.

Good and thorough research will never undermine the authority of the Bible. It are the badly founded theories that do such. Precisely because of that, it is important to carry out good research into the history and gradual realization of the Bible. The study of the development of the language of the Bible plays a big role in that.
In the context of the development of the Hebrew language we cannot evade the observation of the great discontinuity in it, occurring at the time of the Babylonian exile. In this period of 70 years – so 2 to 3 generations – the majority of the population of Yehudah (we also say: Juda and call the people Jews - actually: Yehudim) lived in exile in Babylon. All they had, was confiscated or burned. Even the temple of YaHUaH in Yerushalem. Their suppressors also tried to take their culture, by estranging them from their language and geographical area. In Babylon one spoke Aramaic, though a language related to Hebrew (like English and Dutch), still clearly different. It also used a different script, with different, more abstract letter signs. Furthermore, daily life in Babylon was permeated with idolatry and occultism.
So, upon return in Israel after about 70 years, they had become estranged from the old Hebrew script and their language had become strongly influenced by Aramaic. In this way there arose a big difference between the Hebrew of before the exile and the Hebrew after it.
On the basis of this difference, texts can be identified as being written originally before 600 BC or after 500 BC. In part, this is the basis for the theory that the First Testa­ment of the Bible would have been written largely after 500 BC. There are theologians who therefore contend that not Moses (Mosheh), but later scribes would have written the Torah (the first five books).
However, that is in strong contradiction with what the Bible itself mentions else­where, being that the Torah was written down by Moses. Now, who is right?
Well this is precisely one of those issues in which a deeper research gives a clear vision. Around the middle of the second millennium before Christ, Moses penned down the Torah.4 He did so in the language and signs as they were back then – the language current linguists call West-Semitic, and the script that has been called (Proto-)Canaanite and (Proto-)Sinaitic and which I call the old (West-) Semitic script, for simplicity.2
After the Babylonian exile these documents were retrieved from under the rubble of Yerushalem. There were only few who could still read them (because of the other script and partly other vocabular and grammar). Nechemyah and Ezra and their successors therefore edited the texts to the Aramaic-influenced Hebrew of their day (500-300 BC), and transliterated them into the Imperial Aramaic script, with which many more returnees were familiar. In that way, many texts received a style, grammar and vocabulary as if they were written in the period of 500-300 BC. While on the other hand the choice of words still varied with the original writer or speaker and the state of his mind at the time of writing. Concerning that state of mind, my study of the glorious Name of God1 shows, that throughout the entire First Testament, people used the glorious Name of God especially then, when they experienced themselves close to Him and supported by Him. This explains the phenomena explained by skeptic theologians with the aid of a total fictitious so called ‘sources theory’, and explains these phenomena even better.
All of this again confirms the ultimate importance of research into the culture, language and script in which the various books of the Bible were written originally. I thank God for His great light on that, as I am privileged to receive time and again, among others via studying the old culture and the old Semitic script!

Hallelu YaH !


1 Concerning the glorious Name of God see:
André H. Roosma, ‘The wonderful and lovely Name of the God Who was there, Who is there, and Who will be there.pdf document, extensive Accede! / Hallelu-YaH! study, July 2009.
2 For more on the early Bible time script as referred to here, see:
André H. Roosma, ‘The Written Language of Abraham, Moses and David – A study of the pictographic roots and basic notions in the underlying fabric of the earliest Biblical script.pdf document, Hallelu-YaH Draft Research Report, 1st English version: 18 April 2011 (1st Dutch original: January 2011).
3 Genesis 18: 3, 27, 30, 31, 32; 19: 18; 20: 4; Exodus 4: 10, 13; 5: 22; 15: 17; 34: 9, 9; Numbers 14: 17. Yoshua 7: 8; Judges 6: 15; 13: 8; 1 Kings 3: 10, 15; 22: 6; 2 Kings 7: 6; 19: 23; Ezra 10: 3; Nechem-yah 1: 11; 4: 14; Job 28: 28; Psalm 2: 4; 16: 2; 22: 19, 30; 30: 8; 35: 17, 22; 37: 13; 38: 9, 15, 22; 39: 7; 40: 17; 44: 23; 51: 15; 54: 4; 55: 9; 57: 9; 59: 11; 62: 12; 66: 18; 68: 11, 17, 19, 22, 26, 32; 73: 20; 77: 2, 7; 78: 65; 79: 12; 86: 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 12, 15; 89: 49, 50; 90: 1, 17; 110: 5; 130: 2, 3, 6; Yesha-yahu (Isaiah) 3: 17, 18; 4: 4; 6: 1, 8, 11; 7: 14, 20; 8: 7; 9: 8, 17; 10: 12; 11: 11; 21: 6, 8, 16; 28: 2; 29: 13; 30: 20; 37: 24; 38: 14, 16; 49: 14; Lamentations 1: 14, 15, 15; 2: 1, 2, 5, 7, 18, 19, 20; 3: 31, 36, 37, 58; Ezechiel 18: 25, 29; 21: 9; 33: 17, 20; Daniel 1: 2; 9: 3, 4, 7, 9, 15, 16, 17, 19, 19, 19; Amos 5: 16; 7: 7, 8; 9: 1; Zakhar-yahu 9: 4. Micha 1: 2. Malachi 1: 12, 14.
The English translation The Scriptures, that leaves the glorious Name in Hebrew square script, indeed also has יהוה in all these instances, as far as I see.
4 Already long ago the Bible-scientist P.J. Wiseman has demonstrated that it is very plausible that Moses, in writing the book of Genesis, made use of docu­ments written by a limited number of eye-witnesses. See e.g.: Damien F. Mackey, The First Book of Moses and the 'Toledoth' of Genesis (also in German), and the numerous good literature references in it, a.o. to the original works of P.J. Wiseman.


Name: *
E-mail: * (will not be revealed)
Website: (optional)
I would like my reaction to be included here yes / no.
* = mandatory

Previous articles: ‘Feast of Trumpets - Zikhron Teru‘ah – A very special day!’.
And: ‘Yom Ha-Kippurim – the great Day of Atonement – Another very special day!’.

home  home ,  news index  ,  articles index


Thanks for your interest!