By this term are designated handwritten copies and codices of the Hebrew Bible as a whole, or of several books arranged in groups according to a certain order (see Bible Canon), or of single books. Sometimes, though not often, they contain collections of detached prophetic selections (see Hafṭarah), generally in connection with the Pentateuch (see Strack, "Zeitschrift für die Gesammte Lutherische Theologie und Kirche," 1875, p. 594). A distinction is made between manuscripts intended for use in the synagogue and in public reading and those for private purposes. Originally both the sacred or public copies and the private or profane were in the shape of scrolls, this being the only style of book-making known to antiquity. After the leaved form of books came into vogue (from the fourth century of the common era), adherence to the ancestral model was insisted on in the case of those reserved for holy uses at public worship. While demanded only for the Pentateuch and the Book of Esther, this conformity must, as the name indicates, have been at one time exacted also for the four remaining Megillot, read as lessons on certain festivals. Why they and the collections of the Hafṭarot ceased to conform to the historical model can not be ascertained.Rules for Writing.
The Pentateuch and Esther, when designated for synagogal use, are required to be written with scrupulous attention to rules laid down in the Law (see Soferim). They must be written in square characters (, also known as ; see Alphabet), without vowel-points and accents, on parchment made from the hides of "clean" animals, which, when duly prepared, are sewn together by threads of the same origin. If four mistakes are found in one column, or a single error is discovered in the "open" and "closed" sections of the Law, or in the arrangements of the metrical portions, the whole copy is rendered unfit for use () and must be buried. Great age—through long use, and exposure to climatic and other influences involving decay and other imperfections—is among the causes which render a copy unserviceable; and this circumstance explains why very old copies are not found.
The manuscripts intended for private use vary considerably in size, material, and character. They are in rolls, and in book form—folio, quarto, octavo, and duodecimo. Some are written on parchment, some on leather, others on paper; some in square characters, others in rabbinical (the latter only in modern times). They are usually provided with vowel-points, written in a different color from the consonants, which-are always in black. Initial words or letters are often in gold and silver; some, indeed, are artistically illuminated. Sometimes on the inner margins of the columns are given Masoretic notes; the outer ones are reserved for scholia and, in more modern manuscripts, for rabbinical commentaries. Yemenite manuscripts have usually no columns; and each verse is accompanied by the corresponding verse from the Targum Onkelos and the Arabic translation by Saadia. The space at the bottom of the pages is sometimes occupied by the commentary of Rashi.Colophons and Inscriptions.
Generally, the manuscripts are provided with inscriptions giving the name of the copyist and the dates of writing. Several eras are used in the computation of these dates: that of the creation of the world; that of the Seleucids; that of the destruction of the Temple; and, finally, that of the Babylonian exile (see Era). The age of undated manuscripts is approximatively determined by the ink, the quality of the parchment, the presence or absence of Masoretic notes, and by paleographic signs (See Paleography).
As indicated above, extant manuscripts are not of very great antiquity. In addition to the explanation already given, this phenomenon, all the more curious because, according to Jewish law, every Jew ought to have at least one copy in his house, is very plausibly accounted for on the theory advanced by Brian Walton; namely, that with the definitive settlement of the Masorah in the seventh century, many copies must have been discarded because of their infractions of the established Masoretic rules.
If Talmud Yerushalmi (Ta'anit lxviii. 1) is to be credited, while the Temple was still standing, standard codices of the Pentateuch were officially recognized. These were deposited in the court of the Temple and served as models for accuracy. According to the passage quoted, three were known by the following names respectively: "Sefer Me'on," so called on account of its reading instead of (Deut. xxxiii. 27); "Sefer Za'aṭuṭe," because of its reading instead of (Ex. xxiv. 5); and "Sefer Hi," because of its reading with a yod in nine passages instead of eleven. The Masorites, too, seem to have consulted standard manuscripts celebrated for their accuracy in the redaction of the text and in the compilation of the Masoretic glosses. Though none of these has been preserved, the following are referred to as authorities in almost every manuscript of importance:Codex Muggeh,
i.e., the corrected Codex: Quoted by the Masorites either by its full title () or simply as "Muggeh" ().Codex Hilleli ():
The origin of its name is not known. According to Zacuto, this codex was written by a certain Hillel at about 600 of the common era. In his Chronicle, compiled about 1500, Zacuto expresses himself as follows:
"In the year 4957, on the twenty-eighth of Ab (Aug. 14, 1197), there was a great persecution of the Jews in the kingdom of Leon at the hand of the two kingdoms that came to besiege it. At that time they removed thence the twenty-four sacred books which were written about 600 years before. They were written by R. Hillel ben Moses ben Hillel, and hence his name was given to the codex, which was called 'Hilleli.' It was exceedingly correct; and all other codices were revised after it. I saw the remaining two parts of it, containing the Former and Latter Prophets, written in large and beautiful characters; these had been brought by the exiles to Portugal and sold at Bugia in Africa, where they still are, having been written about 900 years ago. Kimḥi in his grammar on Num. x. 4 says that the Pentateuch of the Hillel Codex was extant in Toledo."
Frequently quoted in the Masorah Parva, and highly praised for its accuracy by Menahem de Lonzano in his "Or Torah." According to Christian D. Ginsburg, the name of this codex is derived from "Zambuki" on the Tigris, to which community it belonged.
As attested by Ḳimḥi ("Miklol," ed. Fürth, 1793, p. 184b), the codex was for many years in Saragossa, and was extensively used by the grammarian and lexicographer Ibn Janaḥ. It is often quoted in the Masorah as exhibiting a different orthography from that of the Codex Hilleli.Codex Jericho, also called Jericho Pentateuch ():
The name seems to imply that the manuscript embraced only the Pentateuch. It is mentioned by Elijah Levita, in "Shibre Luḥot," as most reliable for the accents.Codex Sinai ():
Many opinions exist as to the derivation of its name. The most plausible is that it was derived from "Mount Sinai," just as the codices Jericho and Yerushalmi denote the places of their origin. It is mentioned in the Masorah, and is also cited by Elijah Levita in his work quoted above.Codex Great Maḥzor ():
This probably contained the annual or triennial cycle ("Maḥzor") of lessons to be read on week-days, Sabbaths, feasts, and fasts; hence its name.Codex Ezra:
Quoted in the Masorah Parva. A manuscript professing to be a copy of this codex is in the possession of Christian D. Ginsburg.Codex Babylon ():
Differences (, "ḥillufin") existed between the Western schools (), the chief seat of which was Tiberias, and the Eastern (), the principal centers of which were Nehardea and Sura, in the reading of many passages; this codex gives the Eastern recension (see Masorah).
Another standard codex which served as a model at the time of Maimonides was that written in the tenth century by the renowned Masorite Aaron ben Moses ben Asher of Tiberias (compare Maimonides, "Yad," Sefer Torah, viii. 4). This codex was for a long time believed to be identical with that preserved in the synagogue at Aleppo (Jacob Saphir, , i. 12b; Grätz, in "Monatsschrift," 1871, p. 6; 1887, p. 30; Strack, "Prolegomena Critica," pp. 44-46). [E. N. Adler ("Kaufmann Gedenkbuch," p. 130) argues that the Aleppo Codex is a copy, not the original; but Wickes ("Hebrew Accentuation," Preface, p. vii., Oxford, 1887) makes it clear that "the statement assigning the codex to (Aaron ben Moses) Ben-Asher is a fabrication."
Two celebrated manuscripts believed to be very ancient are still extant in Syria. One of these, the Damascus Codex, which, according to the inscription on its title-page (added, however, by a later hand), was written in the third century of the common era, belongs to a Jewish family of Damascus named Parḥi, and is exhibited to the inhabitants on feast-days. The other is kept in a grotto by the inhabitants of Jobar near Damascus.Number of MSS.
The number of Hebrew Bible manuscripts found in European libraries is considerable. The oldest collection is that in the Imperial Library, St. Petersburg, formerly in the Odessa Biblical Society's library. A description of some of these manuscripts was given by Ephraim Moses Pinner in a pamphlet entitled "Prospectus der Alten Hebräischen und Rabbinischen Manuscripte," etc., Odessa, 1845. A full description by Strack and Harkavy is given in their catalogue. The oldest manuscript of this valuable collection is a Pentateuch brought from Derband (Daghestan), written before 604 of the common era. It consists of forty-five skins having 226 columns, and is composed of six pieces: (1) Gen. i.-xlvi. 25, end (9 skins, 52 columns, 51 lines;
The oldest manuscript in book form at the library of St. Petersburg dates from 916. It consists of 225 folios, each folio divided lengthwise into two columns with 21 lines to the column, with the exception of folio 1a and folio 224a-b, which exhibit epigraphs. It contains the Latter Prophets. Two lines of Masorah Magna appear in the lower margin of each page; while the Masorah Parva occupies the center space between the columns. The vowel-points are superlinear in the so-called Babylonian system. The total number of the Bible manuscripts in the St. Petersburg library is 146.In Libraries.
The British Museum possesses 165 Bible manuscripts, the oldest of which is the Masoretic Bible written about 820-850. This contains the Pentateuch and consists of 186 folios, 55 of which were at one time missing, but have been added by a later hand. The Bodleian Library, Oxford, possesses 146 Bible manuscripts, the oldest of which dates from 1104. Cambridge counts 32, the oldest believed to be of the tenth century. Bible manuscripts in goodly numbers are also to be found in private libraries in England, the most important collection being that of E. N. Adler. This contains about 100 codices, the oldest dating from the ninth century. The Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, has 132 Bible manuscripts, the oldest with the date 1286. The number of Bible manuscripts in the Vienna Library is 24. The oldest (given by Kennicott under No. 126) contains the Latter Prophets and the Hagiographa, written in the tenth century. Steinschneider describes 14 Bible manuscripts in the Royal library of Berlin; none of them is very old. De Rossi describes 848 manuscripts (now at Parma), the oldest of which is No. 634, containing Lev. xxi. 19-Num. i. 50, written in the eighth century. The Vatican Library possesses 39 Bible manuscripts, which have been described by Joseph Simon Assemani and Stephen Ephodius Assemani. Several Bible manuscripts are in the libraries of Leipsic, Munich, and Leyden.
Some Bible manuscripts have been brought from China. They are partly synagogue rolls, partly private copies, whose text does not differ from the Masoretic Bibles. A Pentateuch of the Malabar Jews is now in England. It resembles, on the whole, the usual synagogue rolls, except that it is written on red skin.
Samaritan manuscripts of the Pentateuch are to be found in the British Museum, the Bodleian, St. Petersburg, Parma, and the Vatican libraries; for a description of them, the respective catalogues may be consulted.
As curiosities may be mentioned a Hebrew Pentateuch in Arabic characters, now in the British Museum; the Pentateuch in Latin characters in the Bodleian Library; and, finally, the fragments of the Pentateuch written in inverted alphabet discovered lately in the Cairo genizah.
- Kennicott, Dissertatio Generalis;
- Walton, Prolegomena to the Polyglot;
- S. Davidson, Treatise on Biblical Criticism;
- Strack, Prolegomena Critica in Vetus Testamentum Hebraicum;
- Christian D. Ginsburg, Introduction to the Masoretico-Critical Edition of the Hebrew Bible, pp. 421 et seq.