The system of breaking up the Biblical text into verses may seem, both in the original and in the versions, to go hand in hand with its division into chapters. In truth, however, the chapter-division and the verse-division are of different origin. The division into chapters was employed first in the Vulgate, perhaps by Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury (d. 1228). It was adopted by Jewish scholars for purposes of reference — not only by Isaac Nathan ben Kalonymus in his great concordance, "Meïr Netib" (Venice, 1523), but, not long after its introduction into the Vulgate,by Solomon b. Ishmael (see "Theologisch Tijdschrift," 1878, p. 104)—and was introduced into the printed editions of the Hebrew text, from the Bomberg Bible of 1521 downward. On the other hand, verse-division, with the elaborate systems of accentuation resting upon it, is in itself essentially a part of the Masoretic tradition, although notation by means of figures in the text, or on the margin, was employed first in the Latin Bibles of 1528 and 1555, and somewhat later (1571) by Arias Montanus in the Antwerp Bible: a figure on the margin corresponded to a cross in the text at the beginning of each verse. The Athias Bible (1659-61) was the first edition with verse-notation that could be used by Jews.Number Fixed.
In all the manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible, except the scrolls used for the public lessons (see below), the end of a verse ("pasuḳ") is marked by the double point (:), which is called "sof pasuḳ." The next higher unit in the Pentateuch is the hebdomadal lesson ("parashah"), which is thus "treated as a chapter for the purpose of numbering the verses." At the end of each parashah the number of verses contained in it is given, together with a mnemonic sign. Thus at the end of the first pericope (Gen. i. 1-vi. 8) occurs (i.e., 146), followed by , either of which words has the numerical value 146. Sometimes two pericopes which, in certain years, are read on one Sabbath, are computed together, in addition to the separate computation of the component parts (so , Deut. xxix. 9-xxx. 20, xxxi. 1-30, in one MS., Ginsburg, No. 84; for the detailed items see Ginsburg, "Introduction," pp. 72-85; Blau, in "J. Q. R." 1897, pp. 479-482). Discrepancies occur in the various Masoretic sources available; according to Ginsburg, they point to different Masoretic schools, hence to a lack of fixity concerning the method of verse-division, while Blau holds that they are "for the most part errors in copying or in reading which are easily recognized and explained" (see also Baer, "Die Verszählung des Pentateuch," in "Orient, Lit." 1851, pp. 200 et seq.). There is complete agreement in the Masoretic sources as to the total number of verses in the Pentateuch, given as 5,845. In the other books of the Bible no subdivisions are marked as in the Pentateuch; while the separate figures given for the single books vary (see Ginsburg, l.c. pp. 87-105; Blau, l.c. pp. 486-487). The correct total figure for the verses in the prophetical books is proved by Blau to be 9,294; in the Hagiographa, 8,064. The total number of verses in the entire Scriptures is thus 23,203. With this computation agree the lists in a Yemen manuscript (Ginsburg, l.c. pp. 105 et seq.) and in "Diḳduḳe ha-Ṭe'amim" (ed. Baer-Strack, p. 55). Blau adduces a variety of proofs for the correctness of these totals. He proves also from a sufficient number of tests obtained from various Masoretic notes that the Masoretic verses were identical with those of the editions now used; i.e., they began and ended with the same words (l.c. pp. 471-474).Breaks in Middle of Verses.
While the hebdomadal lessons are treated as "chapters" in the Masoretic computations of verses, the "chapters" of the traditional text are really the much shorter "open" and "closed" sections (Ginsburg, l.c. ch. ii.), which are necessarily coterminal with their concluding verses. The exceptions are the so-called "breaks in the middle of verses" ("pisḳa be-'emẓa' pasuḳ"; comp. Buhl, "Canon and Text of the Old Testament," 1892, p. 35, and the literature there noted). These exceptions, however, are only apparent. In Gen. xxxv. 22, for example, the portions before the break and after it are really separate verses, but are joined in reading for the purpose of slurring over the story concerning the misconduct of Reuben, or in order to suggest that, in spite of his misconduct, he was still counted with the other sons of Jacob (see Rashi, ad loc., and sources). The breaks are particularly numerous in the books of Samuel; in the majority of cases in the place of the break there seems to have been originally a reference to the priest's manipulation of the ephod.Talmud Versus Masorah.
With the Masoretic computation as given above that of an anonymous baraita in Ḳid. 30a is apparently at variance, which assigns to the Pentateuch 5,888 verses, to the Psalter 5,896, and to Chronicles 5,880. The repetition of the figure 8 and the divisibility of each number by 8 are not necessarily an evidence of artificiality. The frequently quoted statement of the amora Aḥa bar Ada (in the Talmudic passage referred to), that the Palestinians divided Ex. xix. 9 into three verses, and the avowal of another amora, Rab Joseph, in a discussion with Abaye, that "we are no experts in the counting of the verses," have been adduced by various scholars as a proof of the existence of different systems of verse-division in Talmudic times, and at all events of the absence of fixity in the pre-Masoretic period (comp. Frankel, "Vorstudien zu der Septuaginta," 1843, p. 217; Grätz, "Monatsschrift," 1885, pp. 97-100). It is true, of course, that the Eastern and Western schools varied from each other in the verse-division as in other matters (comp. the geonic statement, Blau, l.c. p. 141); such variation, however, it is contended by Blau, was only occasional, and was confined to a small number of places, which he enumerates. The contradiction between the Talmud and the Masorah is harmonized in a geonic responsum (Harkavy, "Responsa der Geonim," No. 3a) by the assertion that "the baraita refers to a Bible found in Jerusalem, which differed from other Bibles in respect to writing and number of verses." On the basis of an exhaustive induction from the Talmudic-Midrashic data tending to show that in the centuries immediately preceding the Masoretic period the verses began and ended practically in the same places as nowadays, Blau believes himself justified in minimizing the difficulty and in harmonizing the contradictory statements (l.c. pp. 471-474, 476, 483 et seq.). According to the Yalḳuṭ on the Pentateuch, section 855, the Pentateuch contains 5,842 verses. The Talmud is equally at variance with the Masorah in counting Lev. xiii. 33, instead of Lev. viii. 8, as the middle verse of the Pentateuch, while Soferim ix. 3 gives Lev. viii. 23 as the middle verse.
The Talmud credits the work of the verse-division to the scribes. This means that it antedates the Talmud. In medieval times Judah ha-Levi, Ibn Ezra, and Profiat Duran considered Ezra or the men of the Great Synagogue as the author or authors of this division (Bacher, "Ibn Ezra als Grammatiker," 1881, p. 38); but although an element of ancient tradition, the verse-division was not permitted to enter the scroll (Soferim iii. 7). It is clear that the verse-division occupies in the history of the Hebrew text a place posterior to the separation of words and the introduction of vowel-letters; with the verse-division there went hand in hand the accentuation which presupposes it; both antedated the vocalization. While on the Phenician monuments there is found continuous script, with no space to mark even the division of words, the Moabite Stone makes use of a single point for word-separation, and of a vertical stroke for the purpose of marking the end of a sense-unit corresponding somewhat to a Scriptural verse.Stichoi of Verse.
The beginnings of Scriptural verse-division must be sought in the poetical books. As can be seen from the Ecclesiasticus fragments as well as from certain poetical passages in the canon (e.g., Deut. xxxii.; see Harris in "J. Q. R." 1889, p. 225), it was customary to write each metrical (?) unit on a short line corresponding to what the Greeks called στίχος (in Latin, "versus"). In Hebrew poetry, two metrical units, or stichs, usually go to make one complete and rounded thought. The two stichs were therefore written opposite each other on one line, and together constituted a pasuḳ, a verse in the accepted sense. From the poetic passages the custom of verse-division spread to the other parts of Scripture. If Sievers may be believed ("Studien zur Hebräischen Metrik," p. 382, Leipsic, 1901), Gen. ii. 4-14 is metrical. Economy of space, of course, prevented the employment of broken lines even in the poetic passages. It was expensive to write "per cola et commata" (on the meaning of the phrase comp. Swete, "Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek," 1900, pp. 345 et seq.; the whole of ch. vi. will prove useful reading in connection with the present subject). Even in the scrolls many poetic pieces are written as prose. The manuscripts from which the Masoretic archetype immediately descends, as well as those from which the Greek translation was made, appear not to have been written in broken lines where one would expect such writing —e.g., in the Psalter (note the error in Ps. xlii. 6, 7, for ), or in the alphabetical chapters of Lamentations (comp. Lam. i. 16, LXX.; Frankel, l.c. p. 218).
Saadia is criticized by Ibn Ezra for disregarding the traditional verse-division in ten Scriptural passages (Bacher, l.c. p. 39, note 14). More frequently this expedient is resorted to by modern commentators and editors. Examples may be found on the pages of Haupt's Bible, where a special sign (׀) indicates the transposition of the Masoretic sof pasuḳ.
- C. D. Ginsburg, Introduction to the Massoretico-Critical Edition of the Hebrew Bible, 1897, ch. vi.;
- L. Blau, Massoretic Studies, in J. Q. R. 1897, pp. 122-144, 471-490. Older literature and special articles are enumerated by these two scholars.