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
- 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
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
- 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:
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:
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
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
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
- 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
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
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
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
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
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 !
||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’ , extensive Accede! / Hallelu-YaH! study, July 2009.
||For more on the early Bible time script as referred to
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’ , Hallelu-YaH
Draft Research Report, 1st English version: 18 April
2011 (1st Dutch original:
||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.|
Scriptures, that leaves the glorious Name in Hebrew square script,
indeed also has יהוה in
all these instances, as far as I see.
||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.|
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Another very special day!’.