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By Jeff A. Benner
It is widely believed that the Torah was written by Moses. While this is the traditional origins of the Judeo-Christian religions, there is no record in the Torah of its author. Whether the Torah was written by Moses or another author, how did he know about the events of creation, the flood, and the history of the Hebrew people? Two possibilities exist to explain this knowledge. One possibility is that God had revealed the facts to him through divine inspiration. The other possibility is that the stories and events were handed down from generation to generation and the author would have been very familiar with these traditional stories and could have simply written them down.
This same Hebrew word is also used for an action or an important event.
From this we can conclude that actions were perceived as things of substance, much in the same way as physical objects. The word דבר is also used for "words" as seen in the following passages.
In our Western culture, the written word carries much more weight than the oral word and all official documents, contracts and agreements are written to record specific events. While it may seem strange, or even impossible, in our culture, the opposite was true in the ancient Hebrew cultures, the oral word carried more weight them then the written word as the oral word was considered something of substance. This concept is clearly demonstrated in the Genesis chapter 27. Isaac is about to give his blessing to his eldest son, Esau, before he dies. Esau’s younger brother, Jacob, deceives his father by impersonating Esau and Isaac gives his blessing to Jacob. When Esau comes to his father to receive his blessing Isaac tells him, "Your brother came with treachery and has taken away your blessing." Esau then begs his father for the blessing, but Isaac states that he had already given it Jacob and he will be blessed because of it. The "words" of Isaac were given Jacob and he could not take them back, no more than if he had tried to take back a stone that he had thrown into the sea.
The Original Manuscripts
Figure 37 – Hebrew manuscript, 11th C A.D. (Image courtesy of Schøyen Collection)
The original manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible, which would have been written on animal skins or papyrus, have long since deteriorated and what remains today, are copies from these original autographs.
Oldest Known Copies of Biblical Texts
Figure 38 – Silver scroll discovered in Ketef Hinnom
In a tomb at Ketef Hinnom in Israel, the oldest text of the Hebrew Bible was discovered. The text, inscribed on a silver scroll in the old Hebrew script dating to the 7th Century B.C., is the Aaronic blessing, which begins, "yeverekh'kha YHWH Vayishmarekha" (May Yahweh bless you and keep you).
Figure 39 – The Nash Papyrus
Another very old fragment of the Hebrew Bible is the Nash Papyrus, discovered in Egypt in 1898. The fragment includes the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17) and the Sh'ma (Deuteronomy 5:6-21) and is dated to the 2nd Century B.C.
The Dead Sea Scrolls
Between 1947 and 1956, ancient scrolls and fragments of the Hebrew Bible were discovered in caves near the Dead Sea dating to the 1st Century B.C. and the 1st Century A.D.
Figure 40 – Dead Sea Scroll fragment, (Photograph courtesy of Petros Koutoupis)
The manuscripts discovered in the Dead Sea Caves include; all of the Canonical Books of the Hebrew Bible with the exception of the book of Esther, non-Canonical Books such as Enoch, Jubilees, Tobit and Sirach as well as Psalms that are not part of the 150 Psalms in the Canonical Bible, and Sectarian Books such as, the Community Rule, the War Scroll, the Damascus Document and commentaries on books of the Bible.
The Isaiah Scroll
Figure 41 – A section of the Isaiah Scroll
The most famous of the scrolls found within the Dead Sea Caves is the Isaiah Scroll. While most of the scrolls are fragmented, deteriorating or incomplete, the Isaiah scroll is the only complete scroll found.
Figure 42 – Torah Scroll
The life of a scroll depends on its handling and storage, but can be in use by a community for several hundred years. Some Torah Scrolls still in use in synagogues today are over 500 years old.
The Masoretic Texts
The Masoretes were a group of Jewish scribes and scholars from the 6th to 10th centuries that compiled the entire Tanach (Old Testament) into one Codex (book). The Masoretes added the nikkud (vowel pointings) to the text in an attempt to standardize pronunciation, added paragraphs and verse divisions and added cantillation marks to the text.
The Aleppo Codex
Figure 43 – A page from the Aleppo Codex
Up until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest existing complete Hebrew Bible was the Aleppo codex, also called the Masoretic text, which was written in the 10th Century C.E., a thousand years after the Dead Sea Scrolls. For centuries, this text has been the foundation for Jewish and Christian translators.
Figure 44 – The name ישראל (Israel) in a Dead Sea Scroll (left) and the Aleppo Codex (right)
The name ישראל (yis'ra'el – Israel), is spelled in Hebrew with five letters; י (yud-Y), ש (sin-S), ר (resh-R), א (aleph) and ל (lamed-L), and can be transliterated as Y-S-R-L. Only these five letters are used in the Dead Sea Scrolls, but in the Aleppo codex, vowel pointings, in the form of dots and dashes are placed above and below each letter to represent the vowel sounds (i, a and e), providing the pronunciation YiSRa’eL.
Figure 45 – A portion of Psalm 145 from the Aleppo Codex
Psalm 145 is an acrostic psalm where each verse begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In the Aleppo Codex the first verse begins with the letter aleph, the second with the beyt, the third with the gimel, and so on. Verse 13 begins with the letter מ (mem-top highlighted letter), the 13th letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the next verse begins with the letter ס (samech-bottom highlighted letter), the 15th letter of the Hebrew alphabet. There is no verse beginning with the 14th letter נ (nun).
Figure 46 – A portion of Psalm 145 from the Dead Sea Scrolls
When we examine Psalm 145 from the Dead Sea Scrolls, we find between the verse beginning with the מ (mem-top) and the verse beginning with the ס (samech-bottom), the verse beginning with the letter נ (nun-center). This verse, missing from the Aleppo Codex, and all modern Hebrew Bibles that are copied from this codex, but found in the Dead Sea Scrolls reads,נאמן אלוהים בדבריו וחסיד בכול מעשיו (God is faithful in his words, and gracious in all his deeds).
As the Jewish people began to spread out beyond Israel, they adopted the language of their new neighbors. This necessitated the need for translations of the Bible in their new languages in order for them to continue reading the Bible. While there have been many translations of the Hebrew Bible into many different languages, the three most widely used in ancient times are the Latin, Aramaic and Greek.
Figure 47 – A portion of an Aramaic Targum (Image courtesy of Schøyen Collection)
Of the many Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible, there are three principle ones. Targum Onkelos is an Aramaic translation of the first five books of the Bible. It was written in the 1st Century A.D. by Onkelos, a Roman convert to Judaism. Targum Jonathon is an Aramaic translation of the Prophets. It was written in the 1st Century B.C. by Jonathon Ben Uziel, a student of Hillel the Elder, the famous Jewish teacher and religious leader.
Figure 48 - A portion of the Aramaic Peshitta
The Peshitta is an Aramaic translation of the entire Hebrew Bible that was written around the 2nd Century A.D. The Peshitta also includes an Aramaic New Testament that was written around the 5th Century A.D.
Figure 49 – A portion of the Greek Septuagint
The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, the Torah, written by Jewish scholars in the 3rd Century B.C. the remainder of the Hebrew Bible, the writings and the prophets were translated by unknown translators between the 2nd and 1st Centuries B.C.
Figure 50 – A portion of the Latin Vulgate
The Latin Vulgate, consisting of the Hebrew Bible as well as the New Testament, was written by Jerome, a Christian priest and apologist, in the 5th Century A.D.