93. THE ALLEGED "CORRUPTION" OF THE HEBREW TEXT.
In modern commentaries we very frequently meet with the objectionable word "corruption" used of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament.
As specimens of this feature of modernism, the following are taken at random from one of the latest commentaries :--
"probably signifies not only a new paragraph but a later hand."
2. This "leads to the conclusion that there is some original corruption of the Hebrew text."
3. "The text in this verse is extremely difficult to interpret; and no satisfactory translation can be given of it."
4. "The Hebrew of this verse seems to be so corrupt that there is no satisfactory meaning to be obtained from it."
5. "It is certain that the original text must be corrupt."
6. "It is better to regard it as being in some way a corrupted text ... but is now unintelligible."
7. "These three verses are extremely corrupt, and it is probably impossible to restore the text with any certainty."
Such remarks abound; and very few pages are free from them. There is a continual running confession of inability to understand the Hebrew text. Like the schoolboy who always thinks "the book is wrong", modern critics never seem to suspect that the difficulty lies with themselves and not with "the Book". We must accept their confession, whatever the explanation may be.
The object of this Appendix is to show that those who are so ready to speak about "corruption" can have little or no knowledge of the Massorah, or of its object.
We have explained its character somewhat in Ap. 30. We now propose to point out that its one great special aim and end was to make such "corruption" impossible.
Well knowing the frailties and infirmities of human nature, those who had charge of the Sacred Text hedged it round on all sides with regulations and information called the Massorah, because it was meant to be "a fence to the Scripture", and because it should be, thus, next to impossible for a scribe to make a mistake in copying it.
Some general facts are given in
Ap. 30 (which should here be consulted); but further particular features are now
added from Dr. C.D. Ginsburg's four large folio volumes, which contain the Massorah
so far as he has been able to collect, arrange, and transcribe the writing in
smaller characters at the top and bottom of every page of most of the accessible
manuscripts containing it.
I. All the letters of the Hebrew text were counted : not as a piece of mere curiosity, but that the number of each letter in each book being thus known to the scribe he might easily check his work, and ascertain whether one letter had escaped or got over "the fence". He was informed how many Alephs (a = A) there should be, how many Beths (b = B), &c., in each book respectively.
II. there are five consonants, which when they occur at the beginning of a word must have a dot within them, called a Dagesh. This dot in no way affects the meaning of the word.
In certain positions, other than at the beginning of a word, these five letters may, or may not, require this Dagesh. Now, each of these dots was safeguarded; for one might so easily be omitted or misplaced : hence, the scribe was assisted by an instruction that, in cases where any of these five letters should not have a Dagesh, he must make a small mark over it, called a Raphe. This again in no way affected either the sound or the sense; but it reminded the scribe that in these cases he had to do one thing or the other. he must write it (if the letter were, say a Beth (b = B) either B or b.
These ornamented letters were quite exceptional, and implied no added meaning of any kind : but, so jealously was the sacred text safeguarded, that the scribe was informed how many of each of the letters had these little ornaments : i.e. how many Alephs (a = A), and how many Beths (b = B), &c., had one, two, three, or more.
These ornaments were called Ta'agim (or Tagin), meaning little crowns. The Greek-speaking Jews called them little horns (Heb. keranoth) because they looked like "horns". The A.V. and R.V. rendering of keraia (Gr. = horn) is "tittle", which is the diminutive of "title" and denotes a small mark forming such title.
Modern commentators, and even the most recent Dictionaries of the Bible, still cling to the traditional explanation that this "tittle" is the small projection or corner by which the letter Beth (b = B) differs from Kaph (k = K); or Daleth (d = D) differs from Resh (r = R), &c.
But the Massorah informs us that this is not the case, and thus, tradition is quite wrong. We give a few examples showing how even these little ornaments were safeguarded :--
Rubric a, § 2 (Ginsburg's Massorah, vol. ii, pp. 680-701) says : "Aleph with one Tag : there are two instances in the Pentateuch (Ex. 113:5, a in 'asher ( = which), and v. 15 (*1), a in 'adam ( = man).
Rubric a, § 3, says : "There are seven Alephs (a = A) in the Pentateuch which respectively have seven Tagin".
Rubric b, § 2, notes Beth (b = B) with one Tag, as occurring only once (Ex. 13:11, yebi'aka = brings thee).
Rubric b, § 3, notes Beth (b = B), as occurring in four instances with two Tagin : viz. Gen. 27:29 (ya'aduka = may serve thee); Gen. 28:16 (bammakom = place); Ex. 7:14 (kabed = is hardened); Ex. 23:23 (vehayebusi = and the Jebusites).
Rubric b, § 4, gives four instances where Beth (b = B) has three Tagin : and so on, through all the alphabet, noting and enumerating each letter that has any Tagin : thus safeguarding the sacred text, so that not one of these little ornaments might be lost.
It was to these Tagin the
Lord referred in Matt. 5:18, and Luke 16:17; when He said that not only the
smallest letter (y = Yod = Y), but that not even the merest mark or
ornament (Tag) should pass away from the Law until all things should come
to pass. So that our Lord Himself recognized these Taagin, which
must have been in His Bible from which He quoted.
IV. In cases of spelling, where a word occurs a certain number of times, but in one or two cases with a slightly different spelling (where, for example, one was with a short vowel and another with a long or full vowel), these are noted, numbered, and thus safeguarded.
The scribe is not left to imagine
that some of these are incorrect, and so be tempted to correct the smaller
number by making them conform with the larger number of cases in which the word
is spelt differently. It is needless to give examples of such instances.
V. Where a certain word or expression occurs more or less frequently in varying forms, these are all noted, numbered, and distinguished. For example, the word bayith ( = house); its occurrences with different vowels and accents are all safeguarded.
So with its occurrences with certain prefixes and suffixes : e.g. "in the house", six occurrences, where the letter Beth has a Sheva (b=) are safeguarded against thirty-two where it has a Pathach (b~) instead.
So with its combinations with other words : two are noted as being "in this house which is called" (b, § 244); nineteen as being "into the house" (b, § 245); twice "and within the house" (b, § 246); four times "and the house of", and "and into the house of" (b, § 247); twice "the house of her husband" (b, § 249); "house of Elohim" five times without the Article : these five exceptional cases being thus safeguarded against the forty-eight occurrences where Elohim has the Article (b, § 251).
In nine instances "House of Elohim" is followed by the demonstrative pronoun "this" : but, in five cases this pronoun is the Chald. dek (Ezra 5:17; 6:7, 7, 8, 12), and in four cases it is edenah. These latter are thus safeguarded.
The occurrences of the expression "the house of Israel" are noted separately in the Pentateuch and the Prophets (b, §§ 254, 255); and in b, § 256, these are further distinguished from the expression "the sons of Israel" (the words beyth, "house of, and beney, "sons of", being much alike in Hebrew).
"Shearing house" is noted as occurring twice (b, § 258), and "house of restraint" as occurring three times (b, § 257).
"Jehovah Adonai" is noted as occurring 291 times; but the fewer occurrences of "Adonai Jehovah" are safeguarded against the more usual form (y,§ 178).
Jehovah our Adonay is safeguarded against the more usual form "Jehovah our Elohim" (y,§ 179).
In the same way, the following exceptional phrases are distinguished : "Jehovah the Elohim", "Jehovah Elohim of", "Jehovah Elohim Zeba'oth", "Jehovah Elohim of heaven", "Jehovah my Elohim", &c., &c.
The expression "the sins of Jeroboam", which occurs fifteen times, is in ten instances followed by "the son of Nebat". The shorter phrase is thus exceptional; and the scribe is warned not to make any of the five like the other ten my adding "the son of Nebat".
These examples might be enumerated by hundreds from Dr. Ginsburg's Massorah; but enough are here given to show how the Massorah was indeed "a fence to the Scriptures".
In the face of these facts one
might smile (if the case were not so serious) at the readiness of modern critics
to use the word "corruption" whenever they have to admit that they
cannot understand the text as it stands. We have no reason to doubt the
truth of their confessions; but it is better, and easier, and happier, and safer
to believe in God.
(*1) Ginsburg gives v. 13; but vol. ii shows that it is v. 15.