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Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 10.djvu/58

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MASSORAH


3G


MASSORAH


I. History of Massorah. — Tluir sacroil hooks were to the Jews an inspired roiio and record, a tiod-in-- toided means to eonserve tlie political and religious unity and lidelity of the nation. It was imperative upon them to keep those books intact. So far back as the first century b. c, copyists and revisers were trained and employed to fix the Hebrew text. All hail one purpose, — to copy niDDH '3 PV, i- e. accord- ing to the faoe-value of the Massorali. To repro- duce tlieir exemplar perfectly, to hand down the Massorali. — only this and nothing more was purposed by the official copyist of the Hebrew Bible. Every- thing new was sluinned. There is evidence that false pronunciations were fixed by Massorah centuries be- fore the invention of points such as are seen in our present Massoretic text. At times such early transla- tions as those of Aquila, Theodotion, the LXX and the Peshitto give evidence of precisely the same er- roneous pronunciation as is found in the pointed He- brew text of to-day.

(1) Th( Ctinmnanlal Text. — Hebrew had no vowels in its alphabet. Vowel sounds were for the most part handed down by tradition. Certain consonants, X, 1, ' and sometimes n, were used to express some long vowels: tliese consonants were called M aires lectionis, because they determined the pronunciation. The ef- forts of copyists would seem to have become more and more minute and detailed in the perpetuation of the consonantal text. These copyists {ypaiinarett) were at first called Sopherim (from ^DD. "to count"), be- cause, as the Talmud says, "they counted all the let- ters in the Torah" (Kiddushin, 30a), It was not till later on that the name Massoretes was given to the preservers of Massorah. In the Talmudic period (c. A. D. ,300-500), the rules for perpetuating Massorah were extremely detailed. Only skins of clean animals must be used for parchment rolls and fastenings thereof. Each column must be of equal length, not more than sixty nor less than forty-eight lines. Each line must contain thirty letters, \VTitten with black ink of a prescribed make-up and in the square letters which were the ancestors of our present Hebrew text- letters. The copyist must have before him an authen- tic copy of the text ; and must not write from memory a single letter, not even a yod, — every letter must be copied from the exemplar, letter for letter. The in- terval between consonants should be the breadth of a hair; between words, the breadth of a narrow conson- ant; between sections, the breadth of nine consonants; between books, the breadth of three lines.

Such numerous and minute rules, though scrupu- loasly observed, were not enough to satisfy the zeal to perpetuate the consonantal text fixed and unchanged. Letters were omitted which had surreptitiously crept in; variants and conjectural readings were indicated in side-margins, — words, "read but not written" (Qere), "written but not read" (Kethihh), "read one way but written another". These marginal critical notes went on increasing with time. Still more was done to fix the consonantal text. The words and letters of each book and of every section of the twenty-four books of the Hebrew Bible were counted. The middle words atid middle letters of books and sections were noted. In the Talmud, we see how one rabbi was wont to pester the other with such trivial textual questions as the juxtaposition of certain letters in this or that sec- tion, the half-section in which this consonant or that was, etc. The rabbis counted the number of times certain word.s and phrases occurred in the several Ixioks and in the whole Bible; and searched for mystic meanings in that number of times. On the top and bottom margins of MS.S., they grouped various pecu- liarities of the text and drew up alphabetical lists of words which occurred eiiually often, — for instance, of those which appeare<l once with and once without VHiw. In Cod. Babylon. Petropolitanus (a. d. 916), we have many critical marginal notes of such and of other


peculiarities, v. g. a list of fourteen words written with final lie which are to be read with Waw, and of eight wonls written with final Waw, which are to be read with lie. Such were some of the painstaking means employed to preserve the consonantal text of the Mas- sorah.

(2) The Points. — Rolls that were destined for use in the synagogue were always unpointed. Rolls that were for other use came in time to receive vowel- points, and accents; these latter indicated the interre- lation of words and modulation of the voice in public cantillation. One scribe wrote the consonantal text; another put in the vowel-points and accents of Mas- sorah. The history of the vocalization of the text is utterly unknown to us. It has been suggested that dogmatic interpretation clearly led to certain punctu- ations; but it is likelier that the pronunciation was part of Massorah long before the invention of punctu- ation. The very origin of this invention is doubtful. Bleek assigns it to the eighth century (cf. "Introd. to O. T." I, 109, London, 1894). Points were cer- tainly unused in St. Jerome's time; he had no knowl- edge whatsoever of them. The punctuation of the traditional text was just as certainly complete in the ninth century; for R. Saadia Gaon (f 9-i2), of Fayum in Egypt, wrote treatises thereon. The work of punc- tuating must have gone on for years and been done by a large number of scholars who laboured conjointly and authoritatively. Strack (see "Text of O. T.", in Hastings, " Diet, of Bib.") says it is practically certain that the points came into Massorah by Syriac influ- ence. Syrians strove, by such signs, to perpetuate the correct vocalization and intonation of their Sacred text. Their efforts gave an impulse to Jewish zeal for the traditional vocalization of the Hebrew Bible. Bleek ("Introd. to O. T.;', I, 110, London, 1894) and others are equally certain that Hebrew scholars re- ceived their impulse to punctuation from the Moslem method of preserving the Arabic vocalization of the Koran. That Hebrew scholars were influenced by either Syriac or Arabic punctuation is undoubted. Both forms and names of the Massoretic points indi- cate either Syriac or Arabic origin . What surprises us is the absence of any vestige of opposition to this in- troduction into Massorah of points that were most de- cidedly not Jewish. The Karaite Jews surprise us still more, since, during a very brief period, they trans- literated the Hebrew text in Arabic characters.

At least two systems of punctuation are Massoretic: the Western and the Eastern. The Western is called Tiberian, after the far famed school of Massorah at Tiberias. It prevailed over the Eastern system and is followed in most MSS. as well as in all printed editions of the Massoretic text. By rather complicated and ingenious combinations of dots and dashes, placed either above or belovi' the consonants, the Massoretes accurately represented ten vowel sounds (long and short a, e, i, o, u) together with four half-vowels or Shewas. These latter corresponded to the very much obscured English sounds of e, a, and o. The Tiberian Massoretes also introduced a great many accents to indicate the tone-syllable of a word, the logical corre- lation of words and the voice modulation in public reading. The Eastern or Babylonian system of punc- tuation shows dependence on the Western and is found in a few MSS. — chiefest of which is Cod. Babylon. Petropolitanus (a. d. 916). It was the punctuation of Yemen till the eighteenth century. The vowel signs are all above the consonants and are formed from the Matres lectionis 8<,1,\ Disjunctive accents of thissu- pralinear punctuation have signs like the first letter of their name; 1, zaqeph; Q, tarha. A third system of punctuation has been found in two fragments of the Bible lately brought to light in Egypt and now in the Bodleian Library (cf. Kahle in " Zeitschrift fiir die Alttestam. Wissenschaft", 1901; Friedliinder, "A third system of symbols for the Hebrew vowels and