The Masoretic Text (MT) refers to the textual product elaborated by schools of scholars (Masoretes) who in the early Middle Ages integrated vowel signs, accent markings, and marginal notes (the Masorah) into the received consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible. It is the text both of rabbinic Bibles and of modern scholarship.
There are thirty‐one extant Masoretic manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible, complete or fragmentary, dating from the late ninth century to 1100 CE, and some three thousand thereafter. In the sixteenth century, Eliahu ha‐Levi noted that there were thousands of Masoretes over a long period of time, neither the beginning nor the end of which is known; their work began toward the end of the Talmudic period (ca. 600 CE) and found its crown in the work of the ben Asher family at the beginning of the tenth century.
The complete MT is included in a manuscript discovered in a synagogue in Cairo during the nineteenth century and now housed in the public library in St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad, hence called Leningradensis [L]). It dates to 1009 CE and derives from the work of Aaron ben Asher. It is the text of the third Kittel‐Kahle edition of Biblia Hebraica (1937) and of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (1976), its successor. A facsimile edition was published by Maqor Press (1970). The printed edition of the Second Rabbinic Bible of Jacob ben Hayyim ben Adoniyahu (Venice, 1524–25), which was based in large part on the ben Asher tradition, had been the text of the first two editions of the Kittel Bible.
Older than L by about three‐quarters of a century is the partially preserved Aleppensis (A), which was brought in 1948 to Jerusalem from Aleppo. It is believed that this represents the text of which Maimonides (twelfth century) approved; it is the text of the Hebrew University Bible (1975–).
The oldest manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible, from the Dead Sea Scrolls, date from the third century BCE to the beginning of the second century CE, and have only consonants; most are pre‐Masoretic; those from other caves in the same area, dating to a period after 70 CE, are proto‐Masoretic and reflect the stabilization of the consonantal text taking place at the time. It was this stabilized and exceptionally well‐preserved consonantal text to which the Masorah was later added.
James A. Sanders