Faith

Ask the Rabbi: Why Is the Masoretic Text Authoritative?

Question:

Why is the younger Masoretic text considered authoritative in light of the fact the Septuagint text was also transcribed by a Rabbinical council?

Let me suggest that the Septuagint text council had no implied bias against Jesus and that the gospels quote precisely the ancient text verbatim from the Septuagint text, declaring that such text was understood in its form for over a thousand years of Jewish generations.

And the complete book of Isaiah of the Dead Sea Scrolls is exact, also in the second Psalm of David where it was omitted mention of the “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry with you” — and there are many other such examples, as I’m sure you know.

Yet all the Jewish generations read Septuagint text and understood it.

I cannot help but conclude the only reason for the Masoretic text was to erase all the references to Jesus though no one was able to erase Isaiah Chapter 53. Even Rabbi Yitzak Kaduri declared meeting the Messiah, and declared his name Jesus. Looks like the third Temple is coming soon. Shalom.

 

Answer:

The Masoretic text is the authoritative text of the Hebrew Bible, which is normally termed Tanach.

Tanach is an abbreviation composed of the initial letters of the words Torah, Nëvi’im uChëthuvim, which refer to the three main divisions of its 24 books. Torah in this case refers to the five Books which were taken by Moshe at direct dictation from H-Shem atop Mt. Sinai, then completed in the Ohel Mo‘ed through continued revelation throughout the sojourn in the desert. It is the text of the séfer Torah, the Torah scroll, which is used for readings in every synagogue. These are (to use their common English titles): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

Nëvi’im or “Prophets” refers to the works of a strictly prophetic character within the corpus. These include Joshua, Judges, I-II Samuel, I-II Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hoshea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micha, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, and Malachi.

As the Talmud tells us (beginning on Bava Bathra 14b), these works were composed by various authors: Joshua by Yëhoshua‘ bin Nun, Moshe’s successor; I-II Samuel by Shëmu’él ben Elqana haLévi (i.e., “Samuel”); I-II Kings by Yirmëyahu ben Chilqiyahu (“Jeremiah”); and the rest, in the form which we have them, by the Anshei Knesseth haGëdola, the “Men of the Great Assembly.” This was a committee of 120 great scholars that included Mordechai, and the last three prophets under the leadership of Ezra the Scribe, who restored and preserved Jewish life during the Babylonian exile.

Finally, the Këthuvim or “Writings” include the books of Ruth, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Lamentations, Daniel, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, and the Books of Chronicles. The authors of these were, respectively: Shëmu’él ben Elqana haLévi (Ruth); King David (Psalms; he composed most of them and compiled them with poems composed by ten earlier authors: the first man, Malki-Tzedeq, Avraham, Moshe, Heiman, Yochanan, Assaf, and the Sons of Qorach); Moshe (Job); Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes (King Chizqiyahu or “Hezekiah,” and his advisors, the last two based on original material from King Shëlomo (“Solomon”); Lamentations (Yirmëyahu ben Chilqiyahu); Ezra, Nehemiah (Ezra); the Books of Chronicles (Ezra and Nehemiah); and the rest were composed by the Anshei Knesseth haGëdola.

All of these works are original in the languages in which they were composed: mostly Hebrew, with Aramaic passages in Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah.

The term “massoretic” is derived from one of the two Hebrew words for “tradition”: massora. This is the precious legacy that has been carefully and faithfully preserved and passed down to us to this day.

The term Septuagint, as it colloquially used, is a misnomer.

The word derives from the Latin word for “Seventy” because of the account related in the Talmud (Mëgilla 40a) of a translation performed by seventy great scholars at the behest of “Talmi” (probably Ptolemaios III Euergetes, Macedonian ruler of Egypt). This translation was of the Torah only; the Talmudic account makes no reference to any translation of the other books.

What is more, the Talmudic account lists a number of textual emendations that they made in the course of translation. These were made so that the idolatrous Greeks, who would now be able to read the text in their own language for themselves, would not fall into error or misunderstanding.

What is remarkable is that the received Greek language text of the Torah does not contain any of these emendations, and is therefore not the text which is described in the Talmudic account.

We also have, as I have intimated above, no idea of the provenance of the Greek text of the other books; it is likely that at least some of them were translated at a quite late date by Christians.

Both for the reason that the Septuagint, properly so called, is a translation in a foreign language rather that the original text, and the fact that the provenance of the entire Greek-language version, to include that of the five books of the Torah, is shrouded in mystery and unknown, they cannot be considered authoritative. They are not so considered by any serious Jewish scholar.

Based on the testimony of the Talmud, the Masoretic text is not “younger,” despite the fact that the vagaries of preservation have allowed the survival of a few parchment or papyrus copies of the Septuagint that were made before the Ben Asher Codex, the oldest surviving complete copy of Tanach. The text of the codex is undeniably older than the Greek translation.

Incidentally, your assertion about the passages from Tanach quoted in the New Testament is flatly untrue.

Far from being verbatim quotations from the received Greek text as we have it, there are numerous places in which these passages are at variance with the regular Greek text, often grossly so, and even more so with the Masoretic text. This can readily and easily be verified by laying the two texts side by side; all that is required is literacy in Greek.

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