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The Oxford Illustrated History of the Bible A richly illustrated account of the story of the Bible written by leading scholars.

The Consonantal Text

The term consonantal text refers to the Hebrew letters of the biblical text without the vocalization, accents, and Masoretic notes. Although this term is widely used in biblical scholarship, it is not completely appropriate as far as the Tiberian Masoretic text is concerned since this consists not only of letters representing consonants but also many letters that represent vowels, whose use is not consistent. In the ensuing discussion the Masoretic consonantal text is referred to as MCT.

Among the early model Masoretic codices there are only sporadic differences in the consonantal text. They are all in virtually complete agreement with regard to the distribution of the vowel letters. The differences that do occur can usually be explained as an error in copying. Similarly the numerous biblical Masoretic manuscripts written after 1100 only exhibit minute variants in the consonantal text. The collation of hundreds of late medieval manuscripts by Kennicott and De Rossi in the late eighteenth century showed that the Tiberian text was accurately copied down to the period of the first printed editions. The small deviations in the consonantal text that are found in some of the later manuscripts are likely to be mistakes or intentional changes of late scribes and do not preserve an earlier text that differed from what is found in the earlier model Tiberian codices. It is, nevertheless, possible to distinguish between scribal practices in Sephardi (Spanish, Portuguese, and eastern) manuscripts and those in Ashkenazi (European) manuscripts. The Sephardi manuscripts have, in general, preserved the Tiberian Masoretic text in its minute details of orthography more accurately than the Ashkenazi ones. The accurate transmission of the standard Tiberian consonantal text is found also in the unvocalized scrolls that have been preserved from the Middle Ages.

By contrast to the late medieval manuscripts, many of the popular biblical manuscripts of the early Middle Ages which have been found in the Cairo Genizah deviate from contemporary model Tiberian codices. In general they use vowel letters far more frequently. Where the qere differs from the ketiv, popular manuscripts sometimes have the text of the qere in the consonantal text.

Early medieval manuscripts with different systems of vocalization generally exhibit the orthography of the standard Tiberian text. Some manuscripts with Palestinian vocalization have a slightly fuller orthography, with more vowel letters than the standard text. This suggests that they were popular manuscripts intended for private use. Manuscripts with Babylonian vocalization, most of which can be assumed to have been written in Iraq, correspond to the Tiberian consonantal text very closely and differ only in a few details. These differences are generally related to orthography, the division of words, or the harmonization of the ketiv with the qere. Small divergences such as these between the ‘Easterners’ and the ‘Westerners’ are mentioned in the Tiberian Masoretic notes and also in lists appended to Tiberian manuscripts.

Cambridge University Library.

With regard to the ordering of the biblical books, those of the Pentateuch and the Former Prophets were arranged in all manuscripts in a fixed order, but there was a certain amount of variation in the order of books in the Latter Prophets and Writings. The order that is customary today is the one that is used in the first printed editions. The differences from the early printed editions in the Latter Prophets are found mainly in late medieval Ashkenazi manuscripts. The order of the Writings differs from the present custom in the early Masoretic manuscripts such as the Aleppo Codex and the Firkovitch 1 B 19a. The division of the biblical books into chapters and the numbering of verses that are found in modern printed editions do not derive from Jewish tradition but were transferred from a tradition followed in manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate version that was established in the thirteenth century by Archbishop Stephen Langton in England.

Between the end of the Second Temple period (70 CE) and the time of the earliest surviving medieval Masoretic codices (ninth century) very few Bible manuscripts are extant. The codex was not used to write Bibles before the Masoretic period, which began around 700 CE. As remarked above, it was adopted by the Masoretes as an alternative to the traditional scroll to give them freedom to add vocalization, accents, and marginal notes. All extant Bible manuscripts that were written before the earliest attested Masoretic codices are, therefore, scrolls that contain only the consonantal text.

Some biblical scrolls that have been preserved in synagogue libraries and the Cairo Genizah have been dated to the eighth century or earlier. Fragments of biblical scrolls have been discovered in the Judaean desert (Nahal Hever and Wadi Murabba'at) which were written around the beginning of the second century CE. There are no biblical manuscripts that can be dated to the intervening centuries in the middle of the first millennium CE.

Israel Museum, Jerusalem, photo David Harris.

Despite the passage of hundreds of years the manuscripts from Nahal Hever and Wadi Murabba'at contain a consonantal text that is virtually identical with that of the medieval Masoretic manuscripts, including in details of orthography. It is clear that the consonantal text was copied by scribes with great accuracy from one generation to the next. This concern for precise transmission is reflected in the many rules for writing biblical scrolls that are prescribed in the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds. These were collected together shortly after the Talmudic period in the treatise Massekhet Sefer Torah and, slightly later, in the more detailed work Massekhet Soferim. Talmudic literature mentions a number of rabbis who took a close interest in the biblical text, such as R. Meir, R. Hananel, and R. Shmuel ben Shilat. There was an awareness among the Babylonian rabbis that the most accurate transmission of the text was to be found in Palestine. The careful transmission of the text at the beginning of the millennium is also reflected by the introduction of rules of biblical hermeneutics by Hillel the Elder in the first century CE and their use by the Tannaim, since these presuppose the existence of an inviolable, authoritative text. The exegetical importance attached by Rabbi Aqiva (d. 135 CE) to grammatical particles such as 'et and gam also reflected the stability of the text.

The many biblical scrolls that were discovered at Qumran provide abundant evidence for transmission of the consonantal text in the Second Temple period. These are the earliest surviving biblical manuscripts. The scrolls are datable to a period ranging from the third century BCE to the first half of the first century CE. From the first or second century BCE we also have the so-called Nash papyrus, a single sheet of papyrus discovered in Egypt in 1902 and now in the possession of the Cambridge University Library, which contains the text of the Decalogue. This, however, appears to be a liturgical rather than biblical text.

Some of the Qumran manuscripts, though not necessarily the oldest, are written in an early type of Hebrew script, close to the Phoenician form of script that is found in earlier Hebrew epigraphic texts. Most are written in the ‘Assyrian’ square script that resembles the medieval scripts in the basic forms of letters. The Qumran scrolls show us that during this period a multiplicity of consonantal texts were transmitted in manuscripts.

The majority of the scrolls, however, exhibit a text that is very close to the Masoretic consonantal text, and have been termed ‘proto-Masoretic’ manuscripts. These differ from the medieval manuscripts only in a few orthographic details and in isolated words. The tradition of the Masoretic consonantal text, therefore, can be traced back to the earliest surviving Bible manuscripts in the Second Temple period.

A number of passages in rabbinic literature refer to the concern of the Jewish authorities in the Second Temple period for the precise copying of biblical manuscripts. The temple employed professional ‘correctors’ or ‘revisers’ (magihim) to ensure that the text was copied correctly. In the temple court there were model manuscripts, which appear to have contained the standard text that was sanctioned by the Jewish authorities. It is said that once a year all the scrolls of the Pentateuch had to be taken to the temple for revision.

In Talmudic literature there are reports of three scrolls of the Pentateuch that were found in the Temple court. These differed from one another in small details. They were carefully collated and differences were corrected towards the majority reading. The purpose of this activity is not completely clear. It may have been a means of sanctioning the authorized text against other rival texts. Alternatively, the reports may reflect efforts that were made in the Second Temple period to level variants in texts belonging to the proto-Masoretic tradition. Judging by the extant proto-Masoretic manuscripts from Qumran, there was indeed a slightly higher degree of variation in the Second Temple period than is found in manuscripts from later periods. Whatever the precise interpretation may be of the Talmudic account of the three scrolls, it is clear that the Jewish authorities recognized an authorized text in the Second Temple period. It is generally thought that this authorized text is to be identified with the type of text found in the proto-Masoretic manuscripts from Qumran, which was subsequently transmitted with great precision after the destruction of the temple. Some signs of textual collation include dots written above, and in one case (Ps. 27:13 ) also below, certain letters, and inverted nuns (the Hebrew letter ‘n’), which are written before and after Numbers 10: 35–6 and Psalm 107: 23–8 . It has been argued that the insistence on scribal exactitude in handing down written records in general at this period was partly inspired by the Greek tradition of textual criticism.

Before the discovery of the Qumran scrolls, scholars were aware of the existence of texts of the Hebrew Bible that differed in places substantially from the Tiberian consonantal text. These divergent texts were identified in the Samaritan Pentateuch and the reconstructed Hebrew Vorlage of the Septuagint Greek version. It used to be thought that these texts and the Tiberian Masoretic text constituted three separate recensions.

The Samaritan Pentateuch was first made available to scholars when Morinus printed it in 1632 in the Paris Polyglot. The earliest manuscripts are datable to the Middle Ages. They are written in an early type of Hebrew script that resembles the form of script that was in use in the Hasmonean period (second–first century BCE). There is no consensus among scholars as to when the Samaritans seceded from Judaism, though a date some time in the Second Temple period is generally favoured rather than a pre-exilic date which is claimed by the Samaritans themselves. It may have been as late as the second century BCE, which would conform with the aforementioned palaeographical evidence.

The Samaritan Pentateuch differs from the Tiberian Masoretic consonantal text in a number of respects. In the majority of cases these differences are due to deliberate changes introduced by scribes, reflecting the fact that a freer attitude was taken to the transmission of the text than was the case with the proto- Masoretic and Masoretic text. These scribal interventions include various types of harmonizing alterations that remove internal inconsistencies in content, orthography, and grammar. The orthography generally exhibits a more liberal use of vowel letters than is found in the Tiberian consonantal text and the guttural letters are often interchanged, owing to their weakening in the reading tradition. Finally various ideological changes have been made, the most conspicuous of which is the substitution of ‘Mount Gerizim’, which was the centre of the Samaritan cult, for ‘Jerusalem’ in verses referring to Jerusalem as the central place of worship.

Hulton Getty.

Among the Qumran scrolls scholars have now identified biblical texts that resemble that of the Samaritan Pentateuch. These have been termed ‘pre-Samaritan’ texts. Broadly, they exhibit the same type of harmonizations in content, spelling, and grammar but not the changes motivated by Samaritan ideology. In the Second Temple period, therefore, the pre-Samaritan texts were not specifically associated with the Samaritan religious group. The Samaritans adopted this text for no particular reason, other than, perhaps, on account of it differing from the proto-Masoretic text, which was associated with the central Jewish authorities.

The Septuagint Greek translation of the Bible is an indirect witness to the Hebrew biblical text, yet since its Vorlage (i.e. the Hebrew text which it used) differs significantly from the Tiberian Masoretic text in some places, it is of great significance. The name of this translation derives from the tradition (recorded in the apocryphal composition known as the Epistle of Aristeas) that the translation of the Hebrew Pentateuch into Greek was assigned by King Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285–246 BCE) to 72 elders in Egypt. The reliability of this tradition is a matter of debate. Some scholars have held that the Septuagint was not the first attempt at translation but a standardization of previous Greek versions. It is now generally agreed, however, that the Septuagint version of the Pentateuch was a single original translation that was made in the third century BCE, as is stated in the Epistle of Aristeas. The translation of the rest of the Hebrew Bible was made in the following two centuries. A few papyrus fragments of the Septuagint have been discovered, though the main sources of the text are a number of manuscripts written in Greek uncials (capital letters) dating from the fourth to the tenth century CE.

There are major difficulties in reconstructing the Hebrew Vorlage of the Septuagint. The majority of apparent divergences between the translation and MCT are likely not to be the result of a different Hebrew Vorlage but rather due to the exegesis of the translator, a concept of etymology different from our own, or corruptions in the transmission of the Greek text. The style of the translation varies in degrees of literalness. This reflects the approaches of different translators. Some sections are very free and even paraphrases, which makes any certain reconstruction of the Hebrew Vorlage impossible. Retroversions of the Greek into Hebrew are far safer in the literal sections of the Septuagint. Some of the more certain cases of a reconstructed Vorlage that differs from the Masoretic text include translations that diverge radically from the Masoretic text but can be explained by assuming an interchange of a consonant in the word concerned. The degree of certainty is greater in the transcription of proper names that point to a form in the Hebrew Vorlage that differs from the MCT in one of its letters, for example, Genesis 10: 4 , MCT ddnym; Greek rhodioi; reconstruction rdnym. Another case where the Vorlage can safely be assumed to differ from MCT is where the translation contains a lengthy addition or omission in comparison with MCT or a different arrangement of material, none of which can reasonably be explained to have arisen by exegesis. This applies, for example, to the book of Jeremiah, the Septuagint version of which is shorter than MCT by one-sixth, and also to the books of Joshua and Ezekiel, which contain both omissions and additions relative to MCT.

At Qumran a number of biblical scrolls have been found that contain a Hebrew text that is closer to the Septuagint than the MCT. The value of these Qumran manuscripts is that they often support reconstructions of the Vorlage of the Septuagint with a text that diverges from MCT.

The Qumran scrolls that have been discussed so far include the proto-Masoretic texts, the pre-Samaritan texts, and the texts that are close to the Septuagint. In addition to these there is a group of biblical scrolls that are not closely related to any of these three types of text, but exhibit inconsistent patterns of agreement with all of them as well as significant divergences. These demonstrate that the textual transmission in the Second Temple period took place in a multiplicity of forms and had not been completely reduced to three clearly separate recensions, as used to be thought. The proto-Masoretic type of text, nevertheless, was recognized as authoritative in mainstream Judaism and appears to have been the most common one that was in use.

A final category of biblical scroll that is found at Qumran is represented by manuscripts that are written according to what E. Tov terms ‘Qumran scribal practice’. These are thought to have been produced by a school of scribes that was active at Qumran. Many of the biblical scrolls belonging to the other categories may have been brought to Qumran from elsewhere.

Israel Museum, Jerusalem, photo David Harris.

The biblical scrolls written according Qumran practice do not reflect a tradition of precise and conservative copying but rather exhibit numerous interventions of the scribe. They can be categorized as popular texts that were not bound to the preservation of a textual tradition but adapted to facilitate the reading of the text. The orthography is expanded with the abundant use of vowel letters, which often reflect a different form of morphology from what one finds in the Tiberian Masoretic tradition. The orthography reflects a weakening in the pronunciation of the guttural consonants, which no doubt was caused by the influence of the vernacular language. The scribes also adapted the text when there was a grammatical irregularity (as is found in pre-Samaritan texts).

The Qumran scrolls, therefore, attest to a multiplicity of texts that coexisted with an authoritative text that had been espoused by the central Jewish authorities. This variety of texts that is found in Qumran may well reflect the situation that was found throughout the Jewish communities of Palestine, though at present we have no way of verifying this. The sectarian community in Qumran did not pay allegiance to the mainstream Jewish authorities and so may have felt less bound by the authoritative text. It may be significant in this regard that the fragments of biblical scrolls that have been found at Masada and in the Judaean desert, which were in use by Jews who were loyal to mainstream Judaism, all contain the authoritative, proto- Masoretic text.

After the destruction of the temple in 70 CE the proto-Masoretic text was the only text tradition that continued to be transmitted in Jewish communities. This was not necessarily due to a concerted effort to eliminate all other traditions, or, as Kahle claimed, to unify the variant traditions by a process of official levelling. The description of the collation of the three manuscripts in the temple, nevertheless, suggests that some process of textual unification may have been carried out within the proto-Masoretic tradition itself during the Second Temple period. The role of a Jewish council meeting at Jamnia shortly after the destruction of the temple does not seem to have been as decisive in this matter, as Kahle had held. The exclusive transmission of the proto-Masoretic tradition in Judaism is more likely to be the consequence of historical events. The text of the Septuagint Greek translation was adopted by Christianity, the pre-Samaritan text by the Samaritans. The Qumran sectarian community was destroyed. The Pharisaic authorities who had espoused the proto-Masoretic text as authoritative constituted the only organized Jewish group that survived.

The custom of writing popular texts, however, such as the scrolls written according to Qumran practice, in which the scribes felt a degree of freedom from a precise textual tradition, no doubt continued throughout the first millennium CE. In rabbinic literature there are references to readings deviating from MCT that were found in what is known as the Severus scroll. This appears to have been a popular text. It was written in the Second Temple period, but continued to be used in the rabbinic period, having been donated to the Jews by the Roman emperor Alexander Severus (222–35). The readings cited from this manuscript reflect an imprecise copying with adaptation of orthography to pronunciation. Several biblical citations in rabbinic literature reflect slight deviations from the MCT, which may also have originated in similar popular manuscripts or have been quoted imprecisely from memory. In a few cases, the variant readings of these citations coincide with other known texts from the Second Temple period. These variant readings, however, were not officially tolerated.

As we have seen, popular biblical manuscripts are found among the early medieval manuscripts. Many of the Masoretic notes that were incorporated into the Tiberian Masoretic tradition also have the purpose of guarding against the tendencies that are reflected in popular manuscripts, implying that these tendencies must have existed among some scribes. Apart from a punctilious attention to orthography, the notes also warn against the harmonization of constructions that are irregular grammatically. The latter type of notes are introduced by the phrase ‘one may suppose’ (sevirin) or ‘one may suppose mistakenly’.

© Biblioteca Ambrosiana. All rights reserved.

In the first millennium CE revisions were made of the Septuagint Greek translation to adapt it to the Hebrew textual tradition that had become exclusive in Judaism. Three of these Greek revisions were collated by Origen in the middle of the third century CE in his Hexapla. This contained six columns containing the following texts: the consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible, the transliteration of the Hebrew into Greek, the revisions of Aquila, Symmachus, and the Septuagint, and in the final column a revision attributed to Theodotion. The Septuagint text in the fifth column was annotated, indicating where it differs from the Hebrew. A later revision of the Septuagint was made by Lucian, who died in 312 CE. Since the Greek translation of the Bible served as the official text for Christianity at the beginning of the first millennium CE, many Christian translations of the Bible were made directly from the Greek rather than the Hebrew. The most important of these is the Old Latin translation (the Vetus Latina), which preserves many readings of the original Greek translation that have been lost in the subsequent revisions. All translations that were made directly from the Hebrew in the first millennium are based on the Masoretic text tradition. These include the Jewish Aramaic Targumim (first half of the millennium), the Latin Vulgate of Jerome (346–420 CE), the Jewish Arabic translations (tenth–eleventh centuries), and also most of the Syriac Peshitta version (first half of the millennium). As was remarked with regard to the Septuagint, however, the Hebrew Vorlage of these translations is often disguised by exegetical renderings.

The consonantal text that was incorporated into the Tiberian Masoretic tradition is a textual tradition that was transmitted with precision since at least the third century BCE, the time of the earliest surviving manuscripts from the Second Temple period. The history of the consonantal text before the earliest manuscripts is theoretical. The recent discovery of two minute silver amulets from Ketef Hinnom datable to the seventh or sixth century BCE that contain fragments of the priestly blessing in Numbers 6: 24–6 do not cast any significantly new light on this issue. Several general points concerning the earlier history of the text, however, can be made here.

Cambridge University Library.

The extant proto-Masoretic manuscripts show that the text had been fixed not only in content but also in orthography by the third century CE. This orthography is broadly uniform across all biblical books, though there is a slightly greater tendency for using vowel letters in the later books. It cannot, however, have been the original orthography of all the books that was used when they were first committed to writing. The composition of the majority of the books is dated several centuries earlier in the pre-exilic period when, judging by extant inscriptions, the orthography was much more defective, with vowel letters used only rarely. It is generally believed that these were written in some form at this earlier period, though the first stages of their composition may have been oral.

Hebrew orthography gradually employed more vowel letters as time progressed. At some stage an attempt was made to impose a standard orthography on the entire text. The slight discrepancies between the early and late books reflect the fact that this editorial work did not completely eliminate the original chronological differences in orthography. By comparison with independently attested epigraphic material, scholars have dated the broad profile of the orthographic practices fixed in the proto-Masoretic text to approximately the period 500–300 BCE. Some of the later biblical books were actually composed in this period, so it is possible that the MCT orthography in these texts is close to the original.

This was a key period in the formation of the Hebrew Bible as we know it today. It coincided broadly with the canonization of the Pentateuch and the Prophets. The emergence of this concept of a clearly circumscribed canon of sacred literature no doubt was the main factor that motivated concern for the exact preservation of its text. Some time during this period a change was made in biblical manuscripts from the early Hebrew script to the square script, which was first developed for the writing of Aramaic in the Persian empire. According to rabbinic tradition it was Ezra who instigated this change of script after the return from the Babylonian exile. Some scholars attribute the fixing of the orthography of the proto-Masoretic text also to the activities of Ezra, who lived some time between the fifth and fourth centuries BCE. Some of the later biblical books may have been originally written in square script. As remarked above, however, the Qumran discoveries show that biblical manuscripts were still being copied in the old Hebrew script several centuries after this reform. Even in some manuscripts that are written in the square script the tetragrammaton (the divine name yhwh) continued to be copied in the early script, apparently reflecting a greater scribal conservatism on account of its sanctity. There are reasons to assume that the biblical text that was fixed for the proto-Masoretic tradition in the second half of the first millennium BCE did not contain the original form of the text.

The MCT contains many difficulties that appear to have arisen from scribal errors in the transmission of the text predating the time in which it was fixed. These errors, which are usually visual, include the incorrect copying of individual letters and words, the false division of words, the conflation of variants, and the omission or addition of material. The scribal corruptions must have been present in the manuscripts that were used for establishing the authoritative text. Superior readings are sometimes found in Qumran manuscripts that lie outside this authoritative tradition or in the reconstructed Vorlage of the Septuagint. In some cases, moreover, where two parallel texts from the same source are found in the MCT, one of the texts preserves a superior reading to the other (e.g. 2 Sam. 22=Ps. 18; 2 Kings 18: 13–20: 19=Isa. 36: 1–38: 22=2 Chron. 32: 1–20 ).

The MCT also exhibits various intentional scribal changes to bring the text into line with contemporary linguistic usage, theology, and exegesis. It is often difficult, however, to distinguish between changes introduced during the literary recension of the text and those that were made during its transmission after the literary growth was complete. The extensive linguistic adaptation of the biblical sources in Chronicles is no doubt attributable to the stage of literary composition, yet the Chronicler may be regarded as both a scribe and an author since he copied earlier texts as well as rewriting sections and composing new ones.

A possible case of linguistic adaptation introduced by scribes in the transmission is the interpretation of the archaic enclitic mem as a plural ending. An example of a scribal change for theological reasons is the replacement of the name ba'al in theophoric names to boshet, ‘shame’. The original text with ba'al was clearly felt at a later period to be theologically undesirable. In parallel passages between Samuel and Chronicles the original form of name with the element ba'al is often retained in the Chronicles passage whereas it has been changed to boshet in the Samuel parallel (e.g. Saul's fourth son is 'eshba'al in 1 Chron. 8: 33 and 9: 39 but 'ish boshet in 2 Sam. 2: 8ff., 3: 8ff., 4: 5ff. ). This indicates that, possibly purely by chance, the manuscripts of Chronicles used to establish the proto-Masoretic text preserved an older scribal tradition than the manuscripts of Samuel. The manuscripts used for the text of Samuel, moreover, also contained a relatively large number of unintentional scribal corruptions compared to those used for other books. A scribal change for the sake of euphemism in connection with God may be identified in 2 Samuel 12: 9 : ‘Why did you despise the word of the Lord?’, whereas the Lucianic Greek version appears to preserve the original text: ‘Why did you despise the Lord?’

There are some possible signs of intentional scribal changes that were introduced late in the Second Temple period. The text ‘city of destruction’ in Isaiah 19: 18 , for example, appears to have been changed from an original ‘city of the sun’, which referred to Heliopolis. This reading is found in a Qumran manuscript (1QIsa) and is reflected by some of the ancient versions. Heliopolis was the site of the rival temple built by Onias in the first half of the second century BCE and the change of the text to the ominous name ‘city of destruction’ was apparently instigated by the disapproving Jewish authorities of Jerusalem. By the Talmudic period a scribal change had been introduced into the text of Judges. 18: 30 by correcting the earlier text ‘Moses’ to ‘Manasseh’. The purpose of this was to avoid the ascription of the erection of an idol to one of the descendants of Moses. This was achieved by inserting a superscribed nun after the mem. Although the reading ‘Manasseh’ is referred to in Talmudic literature, some of the early versions such as the Vulgate and the Vetus Latina, read ‘Moses’. It is no doubt on account of the lateness of the change that the original text was graphically modified rather than replaced.

We should mention here the rabbinic tradition of the ‘corrections of the scribes’ (tiqqune soferim). These are places in the Bible in which, according to rabbinic tradition, the original text was changed by scribes to avoid undesirable expressions in relation to God. One such case is Genesis 18: 22 : ‘And Abraham was still standing before God.’ Here, according to tradition, the text originally read ‘And God was still standing.’ The number of tiqqune soferim differs according to the various sources. Some scholars believe that they originate in rabbinic exegesis of the passages concerned as euphemisms rather than in traditions of actual changes to the text. The earlier traditions refer to scripture using a substitute rather than scribes changing the text. Another rabbinic tradition is that of the 'iṭṭur soferim according to which the scribes removed a letter, usually a conjunctive waw. Thus Genesis 18: 5 , ‘afterwards you may pass on’, is said to have originally been ‘and afterwards you may pass on’. The background of this tradition is unclear.

After the fixing of an authoritative text in Judaism, however, the need for theological adaptations and the solution of philological difficulties was increasingly supplied by exegesis of various forms. Before the time of the fixing of the MCT the various biblical books underwent a long period of literary growth, during which several recensions were often made. The fact that some of the other textual traditions contain texts of biblical books that have a considerably different form from what is found in the MCT has been explained by the theory that these represent texts that stem from different periods of literary growth of the books. The various parallel passages in the MCT, which appear to have originated in the same source, in many cases exhibit differences from one to another. In some cases, as we have seen, this is due to scribal changes, intentional or unintentional, in the transmission of the text. In other cases it reflects the free approach to textual sources that existed during the process of composition and literary growth.

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