Thursday, September 03, 2009

Still Learning About the Bible, Imagine That

"Almost all modern English translations of the Old Testament are based on a single manuscript - the Leningrad, or St. Petersburg Codex . . . Copied in 1008 or 1009 CE, this is our earliest complete example of the traditional Hebrew Bible, or Masoretic Text.

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"Since all ancient biblical texts consisted only of Hebrew consonants without vowels, many words could be read in more than one way, leading to different readings of the same verse. Compare the letters dg in English, which could be dig, dog, or dug, depending on which vowel is used. In order to standardize the biblical text, the Masoretes added vowel signs and other components. The effect was to fix the meaning of each group of consonants (e.g., only dig, not dog or dug) . . . "

VanderKam & Flint, The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls (2002), pp. 87-89.

2 comments:

robert austell said...

Paul - I know - that was a 'wow' to realize for me. Forgive me if you already know this, but if not, I think you will find it related.

What you posted about the date of the Hebrew/Masoretic Text is one reason the Septuagint is so important. It is a translation (Greek) of the Old Testament, so is one step removed from the original... BUT it is from the 1st century, so is 1000 years older than the Masoretic Text. It is very helpful, then, in deciding how to translate uncertain passages in the OT. Often, English Bibles will note the "LXX reading" in the footnotes... that's worth paying attention to.

Paul said...

Yes, Robert, this is very important according to VanderKam and Flint as well! In addition V&K cite the Samaritan Pentateuch, of all things. So three "main texts," according to V&K, the most ancient until the Dead Sea Scrolls: The Masoretic Text (written in Hebrew and Aramaic), the Samaritan Pentateuch (in Hebrew), and the Septuagint (in Greek). They note that the NT quotations of the OT often track the Septuagint and sometimes even the Samaritan Pentateuch or at least the sources of the Samaritan Pentatuech. They say that the earliest extant writings of the SP are medieval.