Precise Transmission of Inconsistent Spelling
The scribes of the MT texts precisely copied their texts as we can see from:
- The fact that a large number of texts remained unchanged over the course of 2000 years;
- The exact copying of scribal features (see below on Scribal Marks).
At the same time, other features seem to contradict this image of precision, namely
- Frequent mistakes in MT in certain sections.
- Inconsistent spellings.
Conditions (1) and (2) apply only if the scribes of MT started applying their rigid precision in copying a text that already contained the features described as (3) and (4). This could have happened at any time before the third century BCE.
The Forerunners of Proto-MT and Inconsistent Spelling
In principle we do not know anything about the forerunners of Proto-MT, because we have no written evidence. However, from Proto-MT we can extrapolate their existence, and they tell us something about the scribes of MT.
Inconsistent Use of Matres Lectionis
The lack of internal consistency within Proto-MT pertaining to the insertion of the so-called matres lectionis (אמות קריאה), the vowel letters ,אהו”י that were inserted gradually in the Hebrew language in the course of the centuries, is visible in the following two areas:
- Differences between the relatively defective orthographic practice of the majority of the biblical books and the fuller orthography of the late books such as Chronicles, Ezra–Nehemiah, Qohelet, and Esther.
- Internal differences within the various books.
It is clear that for ancient scribes consistency in the use of these vowel letters was not as important as it was in later centuries.
Other Inconsistencies in Spelling
The lack of unity in Proto-MT is further shown by examples of inconsistency in the spelling of words appearing in the same context or belonging to the same grammatical category, and of unusual spellings. (This inconsistency also characterizes the textual traditions of Samaritan Pentateuch, the so-called Qumran Scribal Practice of many Qumran scrolls, and most individual Qumran scrolls.) The following examples bring this inconsistency to light:
◊ Feminine Plural Ending ot in the participle,
For example, הלכ(ו)ת Exod 2:5 and 1 Sam 25:42.
A computer sampling shows that these forms are written with the full spelling of the final syllable in 22.41% of all instances in the Torah, while in 100% of them in the Writings (כתובים).
◊ The spelling of words belonging to the same grammatical category appearing in one context,
Some examples: Ezek 32:29 ירדי בור as opposed to v. 30 יורדי בור; וירש in Judg 1:19 compared with ויורש in the next verse (20).
◊ Unusual spellings,
For example: מצתי (usual form: מצאתי) in Num 11:11; ההלכוא (usual form: אשר הלכו) in Josh 10:24.
These examples tell us something about the inconsistency of scribes before the creation of proto-MT, while at the same time it tells us about the care taken by the proto-MT scribes to preserve the older text.
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December 8, 2017
February 24, 2021
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Prof. Emanuel Tov is J. L. Magnes Professor of Bible (emeritus) in the Dept. of Bible at the Hebrew University, where he received his Ph.D. in Biblical Studies. He was the editor of 33 volumes of Discoveries in the Judean Desert. Among his many publications are, Scribal Practices and Approaches Reflected in the Texts Found in the Judean Desert, Textual Criticism of the Bible: An Introduction, The Biblical Encyclopaedia Library 31 and The Text-Critical Use of the Septuagint in Biblical Research.
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