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PREFACE TO THE 1999 HEBREW-ENGLISH

by JPS / Varda Books
PREFACE TO THE 1999 HEBREW-ENGLISH EDITION A court of law relies on witnesses to establish the facts of a case. But for those who seek the facts of the original biblical texts, no firsthand witnesses exist. We have only the testimony of various manuscripts, produced hundreds of years after the Bible’s books were completed. And even if we had an autograph copy of, say, the Book of Ezra, it would not answer all our questions, for it was created at a time ( 2400 years ago) when writing was imprecise—even before the invention of punctuation. Through the intervening centuries, scribes have figured out how to record the oral traditions more precisely. At the same time, during each transmission of the books from person to person, uncertainty has grown. For schools have sometimes disagreed on pronunciation. Handwriting has not always been legible. And every scribe has occasionally made mistakes in copying. Witnesses testifying in court often disagree. Little surprise, then, that the Bible’s textual witnesses—farther removed from the original event—differ from each other in a wide range of small ways: spelling, punctuation, layout of poetry, and so on. Sometimes entire verses appear in only a few manuscripts. So which version is true? This was the first question we faced in preparing our Hebrew text. THE UNBROKEN CHAIN OF UNCERTAINTY Accuracy has been ensured via side documentation—part of what is called masorah. 1 This gives rise to a masoretic text—a Bible that accords with the masorah. Yet the number of details has been too vast for masorah to address all room for disagreement. And the masoretic notes have been neglected through the ages; written in shorthand, they are often vague, and their own textual witnesses sometimes disagree. 1 Masorah refers to everything transmitted with the biblical text except its consonants. It includes: vowel signs, accent signs, arrangements of poetry, marginal notes and endnotes, as well as separate treatises on the copying and use of manuscripts. Masorah exists independently of halakhah (rabbinic law). The early medieval masters of the biblical text who developed this documentation are known in English as masoretes. Many masoretic annotations seem designed to reduce loss or distortion in transmission of the text. ix

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PREFACE TO THE 1999 HEBREW-ENGLISH EDITION A court of law relies on witnesses to establish the facts of a case. But for those who seek the \\"facts\\" of the original biblical texts, no firsthand witnesses exist. We have only the testimony of various manuscripts, produced hundreds of years after the Bible’s books were completed. And even if we had an autograph copy of, say, the Book of Ezra, it would not answer all our questions, for it was created at a time ( 2400 years ago) when writing was imprecise—even before the invention of punctuation. Through the intervening centuries, scribes have figured out how to record the oral traditions more precisely. At the same time, during each transmission of the books from person to person, uncertainty has grown. For schools have sometimes disagreed on pronunciation. Handwriting has not always been legible. And every scribe has occasionally made mistakes in copying. Witnesses testifying in court often disagree. Little surprise, then, that the Bible’s textual \\"witnesses\\"—farther removed from the original \\"event\\"—differ from each other in a wide range of small ways: spelling, punctuation, layout of poetry, and so on. Sometimes entire verses appear in only a few manuscripts. So which version is true? This was the first question we faced in preparing our Hebrew text. THE UNBROKEN CHAIN OF UNCERTAINTY Accuracy has been ensured via side documentation—part of what is called masorah. 1 This gives rise to a \\"masoretic text\\"—a Bible that accords with the masorah. Yet the number of details has been too vast for masorah to address all room for disagreement. And the masoretic notes have been neglected through the ages; written in shorthand, they are often vague, and their own textual witnesses sometimes disagree. 1 Masorah refers to everything transmitted with the biblical text except its consonants. It includes: vowel signs, accent signs, arrangements of poetry, marginal notes and endnotes, as well as separate treatises on the copying and use of manuscripts. Masorah exists independently of halakhah (rabbinic law). The early medieval masters of the biblical text who developed this documentation are known in English as \\"masoretes.\\" Many masoretic annotations seem designed to reduce loss or distortion in transmission of the text. ix
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