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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

Reasons for Variants

Variants can be of several kinds. The copyist may have misseen or misheard a word, producing a simple spelling error, or perhaps a different word. For example, in Gen. 22.13 the Hebrew text, which reads ʿayil ʿaḥar, “a ram afterwards” or “behind,” is almost certainly an error for ʿayil ʿeḥad, “one ram”; the two letters resh and dalet are nearly identical and are easily confused, and many of the ancient versions translate this phrase as “one ram” or “a ram.” Scribes may also accidentally skip a line or two, omitting a phrase from their manuscript. This was done, for example, by the scribe of the Great Isaiah Scroll from Qumran, who skipped the end of Isa. 40.7 and the beginning of 40.8; this was facilitated by the phrase “grass withers, flowers fade,” which is repeated in these two verses. Conversely, the copyist may inadvertently have written a phrase twice, producing a repetition. Both internal evidence from the Hebrew text, and comparison of that text to the versions, has suggested that many variants are of this kind.

It is also likely, as noted above, that the attitude of early copyists of biblical texts was fundamentally different from ours. They probably did not feel the need to transcribe exactly, letter for letter. This explains why many ancient manuscripts and versions reflect a range of minor variants, where, for example, synonyms are used. Thus, one manuscript might use the word ʿeretz for land, and another its synonym, ʿadamah. The order in which phrases might be copied was also somewhatflexible in this period. “Variant” traditions which the author knew might also have influenced his copying. For example, it is clear that in antiquity there were two traditions concerning the number of descendants of Jacob who went down to Egypt: 70 and 75. While the number 70 is preserved in what crystallized as the Masoretic Text to Exod. 1.5 , the variant 75 is found in the Septuagint and in two Qumran manuscripts.

Sometimes copyists seem to have tried to improve the text they were reproducing. They might have done this in several ways. They may have tried to “correct” a word or phrase that was unacceptable for one reason or another, by substituting a more acceptable word or phrase. This might be related to what the Rabbis later called Tikunei Soferim, “corrections of the scribes,” where a locution that might be read as offending God was corrected so it would not be understood as offensive. Early copyists might also have tried to make the text support a particular theological view or belief. For instance, at Deut. 32.8 , some versions and a Dead Sea Scroll fragment read “according to the number of the sons of God,” while the Masoretic Text reads “in relation to Israel's numbers.” There is general agreement that the second variant was introduced by a scribe trying to avoid a polytheistic wording. Copying a manuscript, then, was not necessarily just a mechanical process, but could involve deliberate changes.

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