The Massoretic Text And The Versions -- By: Herbert W. Magoun

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 085:337 (Jan 1928)
Article: The Massoretic Text And The Versions
Author: Herbert W. Magoun


The Massoretic Text And The Versions

Herbert W. Magoun, Ph.D.

The present Hebrew Bible is known as the Massoretic Text. Our extent manuscripts, with the exception of a minute papyrus placed at about 150 A. D., do not antedate the tenth century; but the text, so far as its consonants are concerned, is regarded as essentially what it was in the first century A. D. It has no variant readings such as are found in the Greek New Testament, because such readings, if they existed, were early eliminated.

The oldest complete manuscript of the Old Testament is dated 1010 A. D. The vowel points now used do not appear to antedate the year 700 A. D., which is accordingly assigned to them as the most probable date. They were gradually introduced to settle the pronunciation of the words and fix it permanently, and, according to the evidence Aaron Ben-Moses Ben-Asher, who died about 989 A. D., made the first complete Hebrew pointed text for regular use. It religiously preserved even the grammatical blunders of an earlier day.

That, at least, may be inferred from the conditions found, and the higher critics therefore proceeded to rely upon it as absolutely trustworthy. The known conservatism of the Jews seemed to make that a perfectly safe thing to do, and they prepared their publications on that basis.

They therefore proposed various sources, or original documents, which they designated by such letters as J. E. P, and R. The J stood for a document that employed the name Jehovah for God. The E represented one that used Elohim. The P implied that priestly authors had been at work. And the R supplied the imaginary gentleman, called” a redactor, who made the patchwork.

Even these did not suffice; for D had to be added for Deuteronomy, and it soon appeared that things got mixed in some fashion. More gentlemen were then added, al-

though not a shred of evidence, except what they manufactured out of whole cloth, was to be found anywhere.

It somehow escaped their critical acumen that if the Massoretic Text had been so carefully preserved by Hebrew conservatism, a similar fate must have attended any more ancient sacred documents so that any attempt to tamper with any part of them would have produced something resembling a riot. Even if it had been possible to suppress manifestations of that sort, it never would have been possible to cover up the desecration so completely that no particle of evidence of it could survive. Slight changes would be possible; but wholesale editing would not.

This delicious bit of inconsistency on their part has never received as much attention as it deserves; for it amounts in the end to a ca...

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