[b-hebrew] Is the Massoretic text reliable?

K Randolph kwrandolph at gmail.com
Mon Nov 23 14:05:57 EST 2009


On Mon, Nov 23, 2009 at 5:14 AM, James Christian
<jc.bhebrew at googlemail.com>wrote:

> Hi,
> I've seen both the Codex Alexandrinus and the major section of the Codex
> Sinaiticus in the British Library in London and the few pages that remain of
> Codex Sinaiticus in St Catherine's Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai.
> I've also seen a great deal of later manuscripts and I can say that the most
> striking visual difference is that the older manuscripts use maiuscule
> script with no spaces between words while the later use minuscule with
> punctuation, aspirations, accents and spaces between words.

That’s visual only, and not counted in textual criticism.

To give a counter example, I went to the Accordance booth at a MacWorld
convention, and asked about my dictionary. They freaked out when they saw
that I was using a paleo-Hebrew font. They thought the visual was so
different that they couldn’t handle it. What they didn’t recognize was that
under the font, the words were exactly the same.

Likewise, a textual critic ignores the font to look at the words, their
spelling, contexts and the text in general apart from the font. This applies
to all languages.

> As for the words used I'm not entirely sure what you mean. Evidently, we
> are seeing some form of standardisation in the history of the transmission
> of manuscripts where a particular tradition has gained dominance over
> another and we have a received text. This has happened both in the Hebrew
> and the Greek and yet where they intersect (the old testament) we
> nonetheless see differences.

We see differences in all manuscript traditions, and the reason is copyist
errors, mostly. Then some later copyists tried to correct errors, only
sometimes to make it further from the original.

In the case of the New Testament witnesses to readings in Tanakh, some of
the differences  can be laid to translation, some to copyist errors. How
much of which is often hard to determine.

> I would strongly suspect that there are doctrinal issues which have been a
> major force in the standardisation of texts. See for example the NT verse
> 'there are three witnesses on earth... and there are three witnesses in
> heaven...' which is not attested in any of the older Greek manuscripts.
> After hearing from an Orthodox monk that there are uncatalogued old
> manuscripts stashed away in the monasteries on Athos I spent some time
> meeting the patriarchs who live at Athos to gain access to their libraries
> and to this day nobody has been able to produce a single manuscript which
> confirms the authenticity of this verse. In fact, to the contrary, all those
> with authority I have gained access to have admitted that no such
> manuscripts exist in any of their libraries.

That verse, 1 John 5:7, comes from the Latin, later than Jerome. I think
there are one, maybe two very late Greek manuscripts that have that verse.
It got included in the Erasmus edition, which was widely used because it was
relatively cheap, hence into many translations. That Erasmus “Textus
Receptus” was not a good, critical edition. Good critical editions do not
include it.

> These factors only call into question the process which the received Greek
> text went through before it reached its final state.

You need to learn more about textual criticism. That would answer some of
your questions.

> James Christian
> Karl W. Randolph.

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