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If a definitive text

by JPS / Varda Books
If a definitive text of the Hebrew Bible does not exist, the best a publisher can do is produce a defensible text that is sufficiently accurate for the edition’s intended purpose. Therefore I shall now explain our text’s history and our approach to editing it—and let the reader judge its soundness. THE HISTORY OF OUR HEBREW TEXT Since ancient times, Jews have traced the chain of transmission of Scripture: Moses received Torah at Sinai and handed it on to Joshua, Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the prophets. And the prophets handed it on to the Great Assembly… ( Mishnah Avot 1: 1). For the present volume, the textual transmission history is as follows. Aaron ben Moses Ben-Asher (Tiberias, c. 930 C. E.) An industrious family of masoretes once lived in the Galilean town of Tiberias (an ancient center of Jewish scholarship). The last in their line of scholars was Aaron ben Moses Ben-Asher, who flourished circa 930 C. E. He authored a classic masoretic treatise. He is the first known scribe to complete a manuscript of the entire Bible (whose books had been preserved somewhat independently). An important part of his work included the proofreading of others’ manuscripts, which is how he enters into our picture. 2 Samuel ben Jacob (Egypt, 1010 C. E.) Two generations later, a scribe in Fostat (Egypt’s thriving center of trade and learning) spent years composing a Bible codex. 3 Noting its completion in 4770 A. M. ( 1010 C. E.), he recorded that he copied from several manuscripts into this one volume: Samuel ben Jacob wrote out the consonants, vowels, punctuation, accents, and annotations of this codex of Scripture from the texts checked and corrected by the late master Aaron ben Moses Ben-Asher; it has been checked and corrected per tradition. 4 2 Two centuries after Aaron Ben-Asher’s death, mastery of the masorah vanished (except in the isolated community of Yemen), probably degraded by continual invasions and war in the Land of Israel. Scribes blended different textual traditions and copied the masorah without understanding it, multiplying inconsistencies and errors. Ironically, while Ben-Asher’s authority was then invoked to the exclusion of other masoretes, manuscripts that consistently reflected his teaching became rare. 3 For about eight hundred years before the invention of printing, Jewish books were written on parchment in two formats, scroll or codex. A codex was made of bound folios; it was easier to use for study, and it could hold far more information. In manuscripts, the entire Bible has appeared only as a codex, never as a scroll. Classical Hebrew terms for a codex are mah. zor, mitzh. af, and keter. 4 A local teacher and jurisconsult (a public servant of high standing among rabbinic Jews in Egypt) had ordered this codex for his own study. Samuel ben Jacob produced it singlehandedly— a rare feat; usually, a masoretic Bible’s three facets (consonants, vowels/accents, and masoretic notes) were each written by a specialist. xi

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If a definitive text of the Hebrew Bible does not exist, the best a publisher can do is produce a defensible text that is sufficiently accurate for the edition’s intended purpose. Therefore I shall now explain our text’s history and our approach to editing it—and let the reader judge its soundness. THE HISTORY OF OUR HEBREW TEXT Since ancient times, Jews have traced the chain of transmission of Scripture: \\"Moses received Torah at Sinai and handed it on to Joshua, Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the prophets. And the prophets handed it on to the Great Assembly…\\" ( Mishnah Avot 1: 1). For the present volume, the textual transmission history is as follows. Aaron ben Moses Ben-Asher (Tiberias, c. 930 C. E.) An industrious family of masoretes once lived in the Galilean town of Tiberias (an ancient center of Jewish scholarship). The last in their line of scholars was Aaron ben Moses Ben-Asher, who flourished circa 930 C. E. He authored a classic masoretic treatise. He is the first known scribe to complete a manuscript of the entire Bible (whose books had been preserved somewhat independently). An important part of his work included the proofreading of others’ manuscripts, which is how he enters into our picture. 2 Samuel ben Jacob (Egypt, 1010 C. E.) Two generations later, a scribe in Fostat (Egypt’s thriving center of trade and learning) spent years composing a Bible codex. 3 Noting its completion in 4770 A. M. ( 1010 C. E.), he recorded that he copied from several manuscripts into this one volume: \\"Samuel ben Jacob wrote out the consonants, vowels, punctuation, accents, and annotations of this codex of Scripture from the texts checked and corrected by the late master Aaron ben Moses Ben-Asher; it has been checked and corrected per tradition.\\" 4 2 Two centuries after Aaron Ben-Asher’s death, mastery of the masorah vanished (except in the isolated community of Yemen), probably degraded by continual invasions and war in the Land of Israel. Scribes blended different textual traditions and copied the masorah without understanding it, multiplying inconsistencies and errors. Ironically, while Ben-Asher’s authority was then invoked to the exclusion of other masoretes, manuscripts that consistently reflected his teaching became rare. 3 For about eight hundred years before the invention of printing, Jewish books were written on parchment in two formats, scroll or codex. A codex was made of bound folios; it was easier to use for study, and it could hold far more information. In manuscripts, the entire Bible has appeared only as a codex, never as a scroll. Classical Hebrew terms for a codex are mah. zor, mitzh. af, and keter. 4 A local teacher and jurisconsult (a public servant of high standing among rabbinic Jews in Egypt) had ordered this codex for his own study. Samuel ben Jacob produced it singlehandedly— a rare feat; usually, a masoretic Bible’s three facets (consonants, vowels/accents, and masoretic notes) were each written by a specialist. xi
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Varda Books - 1-59045-077-9


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