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Citation for The Era of the Sages till the Masoretic Codices

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Penkower, Jordan S. . "The Development of the Masoretic Bible." In The Jewish Study Bible. Oxford Biblical Studies Online. Apr 11, 2021. <http://www.oxfordbiblicalcstudies.com/article/book/obso-9780195297515/obso-9780195297515-div1-1185>.


Penkower, Jordan S. . "The Development of the Masoretic Bible." In The Jewish Study Bible. Oxford Biblical Studies Online, http://www.oxfordbiblicalcstudies.com/article/book/obso-9780195297515/obso-9780195297515-div1-1185 (accessed Apr 11, 2021).

The Era of the Sages till the Masoretic Codices

It is especially difficult to reconstruct this period because we lack direct witnesses to the Hebrew text; i.e., we do not have Hebrew Bible manuscripts from most of this period. (We have some evidence from the Bar‐Kokhba period, found in Wadi Murabbaʾat and Naḥal ever, and perhaps some from its end.) Instead, the vast literature of the Sages serves as a significant secondary witness to the Bible text in this period, both in its constant citations of biblical texts and its various statements about the text. For example, b. ʾEruv. 13a/Sot. 20a admonishes to be careful while copying biblical texts, for even one letter added or omitted can destroy the world. We also have many statements of R. Naπman ben Yitzḥak, noting explicitly “x ketiv,” that a word in the Bible is to be spelled in a specific way (usually defective spelling; this spelling, e.g. without a yod or a vav, serves as the basis for his midrashic re‐vocalization of the word); e.g., b. Shab. 28b; 55b.

Once we enter the era of the Sages, the quality and quantity of variants of the Bible, as known from the prior period, disappear almost entirely. This is due to the fact that the Sages rejected both the Septuagint and the Samaritan text (accepted by the Christians and the Samaritans, respectively), and accepted the proto‐Masoretic text‐type as their Bible text. So, in effect, we are now left with only one text‐type for the Bible. Although within this text‐type there still remains a range of variants, they are minor; they are almost never of the substantial type known from the earlier era.

During this period the Sages continued to develop the concept of the sanctity of the biblical text which included the details of its spelling (including whether it was plene or defective, that is, written, e.g., with a vav, or without it). This can be seen in the numerous derashot, or expositions, both halakhic (legal) and aggadic (nonlegal), that hinge on the details of the spelling, and which assume only one correct way of spelling. (For examples, see Gen. Rab. 12:6 [Theodor‐Albeck edition, Jerusalem 1965, pp. 101–102, 104], on the exact spelling of toldot in the Bible and b. Menaḥ. 34b/Zevaḥ. 37a/Sanh. 4b on the plene/defec‐tive spellings of (u)le‐totafot in Exod. 13.16; Deut. 6.8; 11.18 .)

According to the conception of the Sages there was one accurate text—in all its details. Nevertheless, a range of (minor) variants in the texts that circulated continued to exist, though these now all belonged to one text‐type. Occasionally, these variants are reflected in the literature of the Sages itself (see, e.g., the list of R. Akiva Eiger in his Gilyon Hashasto b. Shab. 55b; v. Aptowitzer, Das Schriftwort in der Rabbinischen Literatur; and the apparatus in the Hebrew University Bible).

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