If Moses had a copy
of today’s Hebrew Bible, he wouldn’t be able to read it.
Just imagine . . .
You discover a time-machine, you travel back to the year 1425 B.C.,
and you meet Moses face-to-face. You excitedly tote along your
favourite Hebrew/English interlinear Bible, complete with the
Masoretic text and its English translation. You look forward to
showing Moses his own writings in print, transported over three
thousand years in time.
To your surprise and
disappointment, Moses just shrugs at the text, and leers at you with
an odd look on his face. You show him the Ten Commandments, yet
Moses has no clue how to read it. He gladly acknowledges his
encounter with God on Mt. Sinai, but he says this text looks
nothing like what God wrote on those two stone tablets.
In desperation, you
focus on the most important word in the entire Old Testament. The
The all-holy four-letter name of God. YHWH. Surely Moses will
immediately recognize the Hebrew inscription for God’s name!
To your dismay,
Moses says this word is just as foreign as everything else you have
shown him. Moses writes the Lord’s name himself, hoping to teach you
the proper way to write it. This word, too, is four letters. But it
looks as foreign to you as your text looks to Moses.
You return home,
disappointed, but wiser. The next time someone gushes with
excitement about the “ancient Hebrew text”, and the ability to “read
the same words Moses wrote”, you don’t share their excitement. You
hold your peace, and you meditate on God’s awesome ability to
preserve His Truth from generation to generation, even
if He has not preserved the original text of Scripture.
Most of the Old
Testament scriptures were written in Paleo-Hebrew, or a closely
related derivative. Generally considered to be an offshoot of
ancient Phoenician script, Paleo-Hebrew represents the pen of David,
the script of Moses, and
perhaps even the Finger of God on the stone tablets of the Ten
Modern Hebrew, on
the other hand, is not quite so ancient. Israelites acquired this
new alphabet from Assyria (Persia), somewhere around the 6th-7th
century B.C. This was the same general time period as Israel’s
exile to Babylon . . . many centuries after most
of the Old Testament was written.
Initially, the Old
Testament Scriptures were exclusively written in Paleo-Hebrew.
Then, after borrowing the new alphabet from the Assyrians, the Jews
began transliterating large portions of Scripture into the newer
Samaritan Pentateuch uses the Samaritan alphabet, which is
closely related to Paleo-Hebrew. It is likely that much of
this text looks similar to what Moses and David saw in the
original copies of the Old Testament. The Masoretic Text
differs from the Samaritan Pentateuch in over 6,000 places.
But old habits die
hard. Especially with religion. Especially in regard to the name of
God. For a period of time, Jews transcribed the majority of the Old
Testament using the new Hebrew alphabet, while retaining the more
ancient way of writing God’s name. Thus, for a while, the Hebrew
Scriptures were written with a mixture of two different alphabets.
Even after the Jews began exclusively using the new Assyrian letters
to copy the text of Scripture, the more ancient Paleo-Hebrew letters
persisted in some corners of Jewish society. As late as the 2nd
century A.D., during the Bar
Jewish coins displayed writing with the ancient Paleo-Hebrew script.
A.D. - This coin struck during the Bar Kokhba revolt
demonstrates usage of the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet in
the early 2nd century.
the newer Assyrian alphabet won the day. No new copies were being
made of the ancient text, and the earliest copies of Scripture
eventually disintegrated. By the time of Christ, the only existing
copies of the Old Testament had either been transliterated into
modern Hebrew, or translated into Greek (in the Septuagint). One
exception is the
which continues to be written in the ancient form, even to this day.
However, Jews and Christians both rejected the text as being of
Today, many people
are under the false impression that the Masoretic Text represents
the “original Hebrew”, and that the Septuagint is less trustworthy
because it is “just a translation”. In fact, nothing could be
further from the truth. The Septuagint is actually
more faithful to the original Hebrew than the Masoretic
Text is. We no longer have
original copies of the Old Testament.
Nor do we have copies of the originals.
We now have copies
of the Scriptures transliterated into modern Hebrew, edited
compiled by the Masoretes in the 7th-11th centuries, and embellished
with modern vowel points which
did not exist in the original language. This
is what we now call the “Masoretic Text”.
We also have copies
of the Old Testament Scriptures which were translated into Greek,
over 1000 years
the oldest existing Masoretic text. During New Testament times,
Jesus and the Apostles quoted from this Greek translation
frequently, and with full authority. They treated it as the Word of
God, and as a faithful translation. This is what we now call the
Here is a sample
of the differences between
the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint.
Protestant bibles rely heavily on the Masoretic Text, the Orthodox
Church has continued to use the Septuagint for the past 2000 years.
Study Bible is
an English copy of the Scriptures, and its Old Testament is
translated from the Septuagint. It
is very good, and comes highly recommended!
I used to believe
a perfect copy of the original Old Testament. I used to believe
that the Masoretic Text was how God divinely preserved the Hebrew
Scriptures throughout the ages.
I was wrong.
The oldest copies of
the Masoretic Text only date back to the 10th century, nearly 1000
years after the
time of Christ. And these texts differ from the originals in many
specific ways. The Masoretic text is named after the
who were scribes and Torah scholars who worked in the middle-east
between the 7th and 11th centuries. The texts they received, and the
edits they provided, ensured that the modern Jewish texts would
manifest a notable departure from the original Hebrew Scriptures.
reveals five significant ways in which the Masoretic Text is
different from the original Old Testament:
The Masoretes admitted that they received
corrupted texts to begin with.
The Masoretic Text is written with a radically
different alphabet than the original.
The Masoretes added
vowel points which
did not exist in the original.
The Masoretic Text excluded
several books from the Old Testament scriptures.
The Masoretic Text includes changes
to prophecy and doctrine.
We will consider
each point in turn:
Receiving Corrupted Texts
Many people believe
that the ancient Hebrew text of Scripture was divinely preserved for
many centuries, and was ultimately recorded in what we now call the
“Masoretic Text”. But what did the Masoretes themselves believe?
Did they believe they were perfectly preserving the ancient text?
Did they even think they had received a
perfect text to begin with?
History says “no” .
Scribal emendations – Tikkune Soferim
sources, from around 200 CE, mention several passages of Scripture
in which the conclusion is inevitable that the ancient reading must
have differed from that of the present text. . . . Rabbi Simon ben
Pazzi (3rd century) calls these readings “emendations of the
Scribes” (tikkune Soferim; Midrash Genesis Rabbah xlix. 7), assuming
that the Scribes actually made the changes. This view was adopted by
the later Midrash and by the majority of Masoretes.
In other words, the
Masorites themselves felt they had received a partly corrupted text.
A stream cannot rise
higher than its source. If the texts they started with
were corrupted, then even a perfect transmission
of those texts would only serve to preserve the mistakes.
Even if the Masoretes demonstrated great care when copying the
texts, their diligence would not bring about the correction of even
In addition to these intentional changes
by Hebrew scribes, there also appear to be a number of accidental changes
which they allowed to creep into the Hebrew text. For example,
consider Psalm 145 . . .
Psalm 145 is an
acrostic poem. Each line of the Psalm starts with a successive
letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Yet in the Masoretic Text, one of the
lines is completely missing:
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).
Yet the Septuagint (LXX)
Greek translation of the Old Testament does include
the missing verse. And when that verse is translated back into
Hebrew, it starts with the Hebrew letter נ
(nun) which was missing from the Masoretic Text.
In the early 20th
century, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in caves near Qumran.
They revealed an ancient Hebrew textual tradition which differed
from the tradition preserved by the Masoretes. Written in Hebrew,
copies of Psalm 145 were found which include the missing verse:
examine Psalm 145 from the Dead Sea Scrolls, we find between
the verse beginning with the
(mem-top) and the verse beginning with the
(samech-bottom), the verse beginning with the letter
(nun-center). This verse, missing from the Aleppo Codex, and
missing from all modern Hebrew Bibles that are copied from
this codex, but found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, says:
(The Lord is faithful in His words and holy in all His
The missing verse
Lord is faithful in His words and holy in all His works.”
This verse can be found in the Orthodox
which relies on the Septuagint. But this verse is absent from the King
James Version (KJV),
King James Version
(NKJV), the Douay-Rheims,
and every other translation which is based on the Masoretic Text.
In this particular
case, it is easy to demonstrate that the Masoretic Text is in error,
for it is obvious that Psalm 145 was originally written as an
acrostic Psalm. But what are we to make of the thousands of
other locations where the Masoretic Text diverges from the
Septuagint? If the Masoretic Text could completely erase an entire
verse from one of the Psalms, how many other passages of Scripture
have been edited?
other verses have been erased?
God's name is shown here in Paleo-Hebrew (top) and
in modern Hebrew (bottom). Modern Hebrew letters
would have been unrecognizable to Abraham, Moses,
David, and most of the authors of the Old Testament.
A Radically Different Alphabet
If Moses were to see
a copy of the Masoretic Text, he wouldn’t be able to read it.
As discussed in a
the original Old Testament scriptures were written in Paleo-Hebrew,
a text closely related to the ancient Phoenician writing system.
The Masoretic Text
is written with an alphabet which was borrowed from Assyria (Persia)
around the 6th-7th century B.C., and is almost 1000 years newer than
the form of writing used by Moses, David, and most of the Old
Adding Vowel Points
For thousands of
years, ancient Hebrew was only written with consonants, no vowels.
When reading these texts, they had to supply all of the vowels from
on oral tradition.
In Hebrew, just like
modern languages, vowels can make a big difference. The change of a
single vowel can radically change the meaning of a word. An example
in English is the difference between “SLAP” and “SLIP”. These words
have very different definitions. Yet if our language was written
without vowels, both of these words would be written “SLP”. Thus the
vowels are very important.
The most extensive
change the Masoretes brought to the Hebrew text was the addition of
In an attempt to solidify for all-time the “correct” readings of all
the Hebrew Scriptures, the Masoretes added a series of dots to the
text, identifying which vowel to use in any given location.
Adam Clarke, an 18th
Century Protestant scholar, demonstrates that the vowel-point system
is actually a running commentary which was incorporated into the
In the General Preface of his biblical commentary published in 1810,
were the most extensive Jewish commentators which that nation could
ever boast. The system of punctuation, probably invented by them, is
a continual gloss on the Law and the Prophets; their vowel points,
and prosaic and metrical accents, &c., give every word to which they
are affixed a peculiar kind of meaning, which in their simple state,
multitudes of them can by no means bear. The vowel points alone add
whole conjugations to the language. This system is one of the most
artificial, particular, and extensive comments ever written on the
Word of God; for there is not one word in the Bible that is not the
subject of a particular gloss through its influence.”
scholar who investigated this matter was Louis Cappel, who wrote
during the early 17th century. An article in the 1948 edition of the
Encyclopaedia Britannica includes the following information regarding
his research of the Masoretic Text:
“As a Hebrew
scholar, he concluded that the vowel points and accents were not an
original part of Hebrew, but were inserted by the Masorete Jews of
Tiberias, not earlier then the 5th Century AD, and that the
primitive Hebrew characters are Aramaic and were substituted for the
more ancient at the time of the captivity. . . The various readings
in the Old Testament Text and the differences between the ancient
versions and the Masoretic Text convinced him that the integrity of
the Hebrew text as held by Protestants, was untenable.”
love the Masoretic Text, believing it to be a trustworthy
representation of the original Hebrew text of Scripture. Yet, at the
same time, most Protestants reject Orthodox Church Tradition as
being untrustworthy. They believe that the Church’s oral tradition
could not possibly preserve Truth over a long period of time.
Therefore, the vowel
points of the Masoretic Text put Protestants in a precarious
position. If they believe that the Masoretic vowels are not trustworthy,
then they call the Masoretic Text itself into question. But if they
believe that the Masoretic vowels are trustworthy,
then they are forced to believe that the Jews successfully preserved
the vowels of Scripture for thousands of years, through
oral tradition alone, until the Masoretes finally
invented the vowel points hundreds of years after Christ. Either
conclusion is at odds with mainstream Protestant thought.
tradition can be trusted, or it can’t. If it can be trusted, then
there is no reason to reject the Traditions of the Orthodox Church,
which have been preserved for nearly 2000 years. But if traditions
are always untrustworthy, then the Masoretic vowel points are also
untrustworthy, and should be rejected.
Excluding Books of Scripture from the Old Testament
The Masoretic Text
promotes a canon of the Old Testament which is significantly shorter
than the canon represented by the Septuagint. Meanwhile, Orthodox
Christians and Catholics have Bibles which incorporate the canon of
the Septuagint. The books of Scripture found in the Septuagint, but
not found in the Masoretic Text, are commonly called either the Deuterocanon or
While it is outside the scope of this article to perform an in-depth
study of the canon of Scripture, a few points relevant to the
Masoretic Text should be made here:
the exception of two books, the
Deuterocanon was originally written in Hebrew.
three places, the
Talmud explicitly refers to the book of Sirach as “Scripture”.
§ Jesus celebrated Hanukkah,
a feast which originates in the book of 1
Maccabees, and nowhere else in the Old Testament.
New Testament book of Hebrews recounts
the stories of multiple Old Testament saints, including a reference
to martyrs in the book of 2
book of Wisdom includes
a striking prophecy
and its fulfilment is recorded in Matthew
Numerous findings among the Dead Sea Scrolls suggest the existence
of 1st century Jewish communities which accepted many of the
Deuterocanonical books as authentic Scripture.
thousands of 1st-century Christians were converts from Judaism. The
early Church accepted the inspiration of the Deuterocanon, and
frequently quoted authoritatively from books such as Wisdom, Sirach,
and Tobit. This early Christian practice suggests that many Jews
accepted these books, even prior to their conversion to
§ Ethiopian Jews preserved
the ancient Jewish acceptance of the Septuagint, including much of
its canon of Scripture. Sirach, Judith, Baruch, and Tobit are among
the books included in the canon
of the Ethiopian Jews.
These reasons, among others, suggest the existence of a large
1st-century Jewish community which accepted the Deuterocanon as
Changes to Prophecy and Doctrine
When compiling any
given passage of Scripture, the Masoretes had to choose among
multiple versions of the ancient Hebrew texts. In some cases the
textual differences were relatively inconsequential. For example,
two texts may differ over the spelling of a person’s name.
However, in other
cases they were presented with textual variants which made a
considerable impact upon doctrine or prophecy. In cases like these,
were the Masoretes completely objective? Or did their anti-Christian
biases influence any of their editing decisions?
In the 2nd century
A.D., hundreds of years before the time of the Masoretes, Justin
Martyr investigated a number of Old Testament texts in various
He ultimately concluded that the Jews who had rejected Christ had
also rejected the Septuagint, and were now tampering with the Hebrew
“But I am far
from putting reliance in your teachers, who refuse to admit that the
interpretation made by the seventy elders who were with Ptolemy
[king] of the Egyptians is a correct one; and they attempt to frame
another. And I wish you to observe, that they have altogether taken
away many Scriptures from the [Septuagint] translations effected by
those seventy elders who were with Ptolemy, and by which this very
man who was crucified is proved to have been set forth expressly as
God, and man, and as being crucified, and as dying” (~150 A.D.,
Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, Chapter LXXI)
If Justin Martyr’s
findings are correct, then it is likely that the Masoretes inherited
a Hebrew textual tradition which had already been corrupted with an
anti-Christian bias. And if we look at some of the most significant
differences between the Septuagint and the Masoretic Text, that is
precisely what we see.
example, consider the following comparisons:
These are not
random, inconsequential differences between the texts. Rather, these
appear to be places where the Masoretes (or their forebears) had a
varied selection of texts to consider, and their decisions were
influenced by anti-Christian bias. Simply by choosing one Hebrew
text over another, they were able to subvert the Incarnation, the
virgin birth, the deity of Christ, His healing of the blind, His
crucifixion, and His salvation of the Gentiles. The Jewish scribes
were able to edit Jesus out of many important passages, simply by
rejecting one Hebrew text, and selecting (or editing) another text
Thus, the Masoretic
Text has not perfectly
preserved the original Hebrew text of Scripture. The Masoretes
received corrupted texts to begin with, they used an alphabet which
was radically different from the original Hebrew, they added
countless vowel points which did not exist in the original, they
excluded several books from the Old Testament scriptures, and they
included a number of significant changes to prophecy and doctrine.
It would seem that
the Septuagint (LXX) translation is not only far more ancient than
the Masoretic Text . . . the Septuagint is far more accurate as
well. It is a more faithful representation of the original Hebrew
Perhaps that is why
Jesus and the apostles frequently quoted from the Septuagint, and
accorded it full authority as the inspired Word of God.