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dergone an infinite number of alterations by successive transcriptions, during the lapse of ages, whence various readings had arisen, the Jews had recourse to a canon, which they judged to be infallible, in order to fix and ascertain the reading of the Hebrew text, and this rule they called masora or tradition, as if this critique were nothing but a tradition which they had received from their ancestors. Accordingly, they pretend, that, when God gave the law to Moses on Mount Sinai, he taught him, first, its true reading, and, secondly, its true interpretation; and that both these were handed down by oral tradition, from generation to generation, until at length they were committed to writing. The former of these, viz. the true reading, is the subject of the Masora; the latter or true interpretation is that of the Mishna and Gemara, of which an account is given in a subsequent chapter of the present volume.
The Masoretic notes and criticisms relate to the books, verses, words, letters, vowel points and accents. The Masorites or Massorets, as the inventors of this system were called, were the first who distinguished the books and sections of books into verses. They marked the number of all the verses of each book and section, and placed the amount at the end of each in numeral letters, or in some symbolical word formed out of them; and they also marked the middle verse of each book. Further, they noted the verses where something was supposed to be forgotten; the words which they believed to be changed; the letters which they deemed to be superfluous; the repetitions of the same verses; the different reading of the words which are redundant or defective; the number of times that the same word is found at the beginning, middle, or end of a verse; the different significations of the same word; the agreement or conjunction of one word with another; what letters are pronounced, and what are inverted, together with such as hang perpendicular, and they took the number of each, for the Jews cherish the sacred books with such reverence, that they make a scruple of changing the situation of a letter which is evidently misplaced; supposing that some mystery has occasioned the alteration. They have likewise reckoned which is the middle letter of the Pentateuch, which is the middle clause of each book, and how many times each letter of the alphabet occurs in all the Hebrew Scriptures. The following table from Bishop Walton will give an idea of their laborious minuteness in these researches.
Bishop Walton's Prolegom. c. viii. § 8. p. 275, edit. Dathii. In the last cen
Such is the celebrated Masora of the Jews. At first, it did not accompany the text; afterwards, the greatest part of it was written in the margin. In order to bring it within the margin, it became necessary to abridge the work itself. This abridgment was called the little Masora, Masora parva; but, being found too short, a more copious abridgment was inserted, which was distinguished by the appellation of the great Masora, Masora magna. The omitted parts were added at the end of the text, and called the final Masora, Masora finalis.1
Lastly, in Jewish manuscripts and printed editions of the Old Testament, a word is often found with a small circle annexed to it, or with an asterisk over it, and a word written in the margin of the same line. The former is called the Ketib, that is, written, and the latter, Keri, that is, read, or reading, as if to intimate, write in this manner, but read in that manner. For instance, when they meet with certain words, they substitute others: thus, instead of the sacred name Jehovah, they substitute Adonai or Elohim; and in
tury, an anonymous writer published the following calculation similar to that of the Masorites, for the ENGLISH VERSION of the Bible, under the title of the Old and New Testament Dissected. It is said to have occupied three years of the compiler's life, and is a singular instance of the trifling employments to which superstition has led mankind.
The middle Chapter, and the least in the Bible, is Psalm 117.
The middle Time 2d of Chronicles, 4th Chapter, 16th Verse.
The middle Book is Proverbs.
The middle Chapter is Job 29th.
The middle verse is 2d Chronicles, 20th Chapter, between the 17th and
The least verse is 1st Chronicles, 1st Chapter and 25th Verse.
The middle Book is Thessalonians 2d.
The middle Chapter is between the 13th and 14th Romans.
The least Verse is 11th Chapter of John, Verse 35.
The 21st Verse of the 7th Chapter of Ezra has all the Letters in the Alphabet except j.
The 19th Chapter of the 2d of Kings and the 37th of Isaiah are alike.
1 Butler's Horæ Biblicæ, vol. i. p. 61.
lieu of terms not strictly consistent with decency, they pronounce others less indelicate or more agreeable to our ideas of propriety.' The invention of these marginal corrections has been ascribed to the Masorites.
The age when the Masorites lived has been much controverted. Some ascribe the Masoretic notes to Moses; others attribute them to Ezra and the members of the great synagogue, and their successors after the restoration of the temple worship, on the death of Antiochus Epiphanes. Archbishop Usher places the Masorites before the time of Jerome; Cappel, at the end of the fifth century; Bishop Marsh is of opinion, that they cannot be dated higher than the fourth or fifth century; Bishop Walton, Basnage, Jahn, and others, refer them to the rabbins of Tiberias in the sixth century, and suppose that they commenced the Masora, which was augmented and continued at different times by various authors; so that it was not the work of one man, or of one age. In proof of this opinion, which we think the most probable, we may remark, that the notes which relate to the variations in the pointing of particular words, must have been made after the introduction of the points, and consequently after the Talmud; other notes must have been made before the Talmud was finished, because it is from these notes that it speaks of the points over the letters, and of the variations in their size and position. Hence it is evident, that the whole was not the work of the Masorites of Tiberias; further, no good reason can be assigned to prove the Masora the work of Ezra, or his contemporaries; much appears to show it was not for, in the first place, most of the notes relate to the vowel points, which, we have seen,2 were not introduced until upwards of fifteen hundred years after his time, and the remarks made about the shape and position of the letters are unworthy of an inspired writer, being more adapted to the superstition of the Rabbins, than to the gravity of a divine teacher. Secondly, No one can suppose that the prophets collected various readings of their own prophecies, though we find this has been done, and makes part of what is called the Masora. Thirdly, The Rabbins have never scrupled to abridge, alter, or reject any part of these notes, and to intermix their own observations, or those of others, which is a proof that they did not believe them to be the work of the prophets; for in that case they would possess equal authority with the text, and should be treated with the same regard. Lastly, Since all that is useful in the Masora appears to have been written since Ezra's time, it is impossible to ascribe to him what is useless and trifling; and from these different reasons it may be concluded, that no part of the Masora was written by Ezra. And even though we were to admit that he began it, that would not lead us to receive the present system in the manner the Jews do, because, since we cannot now distinguish
The reader will find a learned and elaborate elucidation of the Keri in the Rev. John Whittaker's Historical and Critical Inquiry into the Interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures, pp. 114-178. 2 See pp. 6-9. of the present volume.
what he wrote, and since we find many things in it plainly unworthy of an inspired writer, we may justly refuse it the credit due to inspiration, unless his part were actually separated from what is the work of others. On the whole then it appears, that what is called the Masora is entitled to no greater reverence or attention than may be claimed by any other human compilation.1
Concerning the value of the Masoretic system of notation, the learned are greatly divided in opinion. Some have highly commended the undertaking, and have considered the work of the Masorites as a monument of stupendous labour and unwearied assiduity, and as an admirable invention for delivering the sacred text from a multitude of equivocations and perplexities to which it was liable, and for putting a stop to the unbounded licentiousness and rashness of transcribers and critics, who often made alterations in the text on their own private authority. Others however, have altogether censured the design, suspecting that the Masorites corrupted the purity of the text by substituting, for the antient and true reading of their forefathers, another reading more favourable to their prejudices, and more opposite to Christianity, whose testimonies and proofs they were desirous of weakening as much as possible.
• Without adopting either of these extremes, Bishop Marsh observes, that "the text itself, as regulated by the learned Jews of Tiberias, was probably the result of a collation of manuscripts. But as those Hebrew critics were cautious of introducing too many corrections into the text, they noted in the margins of their manuscripts, or in their critical collections, such various readings, derived from other manuscripts, either by themselves or by their predecessors, as appeared to be worthy of attention. This is the real origin of those marginal or Masoretic readings which we find in many editions of the Hebrew Bible. But the propensity of the later Jews to seek mystical meanings in the plainest facts gradually induced the belief, that both textual and marginal readings proceeded from the sacred writers themselves; and that the latter were transmitted to posterity by oral tradition, as conveying some mysterious application of the written words. They were regarded therefore, as materials, not of criticism, but of interpretation." The same eminent critic elsewhere remarks, that notwithstanding all the care of the Masorites to preserve the sacred text without variations, "if their success has not been complete, either in establishing or preserving the Hebrew text, they have been guilty of the only fault which is common to every human effort."3
V. The divisions of the Old Testament, which now generally obtain, are four in number: namely, 1. The Pentateuch, or five books of Moses;-2. The Historical Books, comprising Joshua to Esther inclusive;-3. The Doctrinal or Poetical Books of Job, Psalms, the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon;- and 4. The Prophetic Books of Isaiah, Jeremiah with his Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, and the Twelve Minor Prophets. These are seve
1 Waehner's Antiquitates Hebræorum, vol. i. pp. 93-137.
3 Ibid. p. 98.
rally divided into chapters and verses, to facilitate reference, and not primarily with a view to any natural division of the multifarious subjects which they embrace: but by whom these divisions were originally made is a question, concerning which there exists a considerable difference of opinion.
That it is comparatively a modern invention is evident from its being utterly unknown to the antient Christians, whose Greek Bibles, indeed, had then Tλo and Kepaλaia (Titles and Heads); but the intent of these was, rather to point out the sum or contents of the text, than to divide the various books. They also differed greatly from the present chapters, many of them containing only a few verses, and some of them not more than one. The invention of chapters has by some been ascribed to Lanfranc, who was Archbishop of Canterbury in the reigns of William the Conqueror and William II.; while others attribute it to Stephen Langton, who was Archbishop of the same see in the reigns of John and Henry III. But the real author of this very useful division was Cardinal Hugo de Sancto Caro, who flourished about the middle of the 13th century, and wrote a celebrated commentary on the Scriptures. Having projected a concordance to the Latin Vulgate version, by which any passage might be found, he divided both the Old and New Testaments into chapters, which are the same we now have: these chapters he subdivided into smaller portions, which he distinguished by the letters A, B, C, D, E, F and G, which are placed in the margin at equal distances from each other, according to the length of the chapters.' The facility of reference thus afforded by Hugo's divisions, having become known to Rabbi Mordecai Nathan (or Isaac Nathan, as he is sometimes called), a celebrated Jewish teacher in the fifteenth century, he undertook a similar concordance for the Hebrew Scriptures; but instead of adopting the marginal letters of Hugo, he marked every fifth verse with a Hebrew numeral, thus, I. 5., &c., retaining, however, the cardinal's divisions into chapters. This concordance of Rabbi Nathan was commenced A. D. 1438, and finished in 1445. The introduction of verses into the Hebrew Bible, was made by Athias, a Jew of Amsterdam, in his celebrated edition of the Hebrew Bible, printed in 1661, and reprinted in 1667. He marked every verse with the figures in common use, except those which had been previously marked by Nathan with Hebrew letters, in the manner in which they at present appear in Hebrew Bibles. By rejecting these Hebrew numerals, and substituting for them the corresponding figures, all the copies of the Bible in other
1 These Divisions of Cardinal Hugo may be seen in any of the older editions of the Vulgate, and in the earlier English translations of the Bible, which were made from that version, particularly in that usually called Taverner's Bible, folio, London, 1539. The precise year, in which Hugo divided the text of the Latin Vulgate into its present chapters, is not known. But as it appears from the preface to the Cologne edition of his works, that he composed his Concordance about the year 1248, and as his division of the Vulgate into its present chapters was connected with that Concordance, it could not have been done many years before the middle of the thirteenth century. Bp. Marsh's Lectures, Part V. p. 25. note 15.