[b-hebrew] Is the Massoretic text reliable?

Randall Buth randallbuth at gmail.com
Wed Nov 18 11:11:15 EST 2009

>Gen 18:22
>Num 11:15
. . .
> 2 Chron 10:16

think of how wonderful this testimony is.
If a witness records testimony against themselves where they
are embarrassed, then qal vaHomer they are reliable where
they are not embarrassed.
for example,
the spelling he-vav-alef for the word [hi] "she" throughout the
torah. they would not change the text even though they all
knew that their best copies had incorporated an orthographical
[[the theory (Rendsberg) that Ancient Hebrew did not distinguish [hu]
from [hi] is linguistically next to impossible. it is clear within the
language and orthorgraphy that third person pronoun distinctions were
part of the fabric of the language [-eha vs. -ehu], as well as historical
linguistic arguments. Incidentally, I have had contact with a marginal
semitic language where the m/f pronoun distinction was neutralized,
southern sudanese 'Juba' arabic, because of the substrate language
influence of NiloSaharan languages, one of which I also speak. the
Semitic languages and Hebrew show no signs of a common-gender
language that would be necessary to produce [hu]="he/she".]]

Basically, the MT takes one back to the Second Temple in terms of
reliability and tradition. This reverses much that was written about the
text of the Hebrew Bible in pre-Qumran times.
I would recommend that one start reading with Immanuel Tov on the
Hebrew Bible. the LXX represents a slightly different textual base than
the MT, but not necessarily better. the trend in BHK2, BHK3, and BHS
has been to reject emendations and to accept the MT in the majority
of cases as the 'best recoverable text'. In Jeremiah the Greek and MT
are separate recensions.
We can't really penetrate the second century BCE on a textual basis for
the Hebrew Bible. Overall, the MT is our most conservative witness. It's
a tradition that looks back through a first century canonization and textual
process to the best recoverable text at that time. and as mentioned above
that was fastidious, preserving [h.w.'="she"] and things like the 'removal
dots' of Ps 27:13 despite accepting the vocalization for this word for the
So is it reliable? Remarkably. that's a yes, even if not absolutely

Randall Buth, PhD
randallbuth at gmail.com
Biblical Language Center
Learn Easily - Progress Further - Remember for Life

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