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The Damascus Pentateuch, also known as the Codex Sassoon 507, is a 10th-century Hebrew Bible codex that is regarded as one of the most important and valuable manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible. This manuscript is so significant due to its rarity and its unique features. It is written on parchment and contains the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, known as the Torah, in the Hebrew language. This manuscript is named after the Syrian city of Damascus because it was found in a synagogue in the old Jewish quarter of Damascus in Syria. This manuscript is considered an important resource for scholars and historians of Jewish and biblical studies as it provides a window into the history of the development of the Hebrew Bible.
History of the Codex Sassoon 507:
The Codex Sassoon 507 has a rich history. It was found in a synagogue in the old Jewish quarter of Damascus in Syria, in the 19th century. At that time, the Jewish community in Syria was facing persecution, and they were forced to sell some of their most valuable possessions to flee the country. It is believed that the manuscript was part of a collection of Hebrew manuscripts that were sold by the Jewish community in Damascus. In 1891, the manuscript was acquired by the British collector David Sassoon, who was a prominent member of the Jewish community in Bombay, India. He added the manuscript to his collection, and it was named the Codex Sassoon 507. In 1947, after David Sassoon’s death, the manuscript was bequeathed to the British Museum, which is now the British Library.
Physical Characteristics of the Codex Sassoon 507:
The Codex Sassoon 507 is a large manuscript measuring 48 cm by 36 cm and containing 274 folios. It is written on parchment, with two columns per page, and has a total of 40 lines per column. The manuscript is written in square Hebrew script, which was a popular style of writing in the 10th century. The parchment is of high quality, and the writing is clear and legible, with very few errors or corrections. The manuscript is illuminated with decorative motifs in red and blue ink, which are used to mark the beginning of new sections and books. The cover of the manuscript is made of dark brown leather, and it has metal corners and clasps.
Contents of the Codex Sassoon 507:
The Codex Sassoon 507 contains the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, known as the Torah. These books are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The text of the manuscript is the standard Masoretic Text,* which is the traditional Hebrew text of the Hebrew Bible. This text is considered to be the most authoritative and accurate version of the Hebrew Bible. The manuscript also contains a set of Targumim, which are Aramaic translations of the Hebrew text. These Targumim are written in a different hand, and they are believed to have been added to the manuscript at a later date.
* The Masoretic Text is the traditional Hebrew text of the Hebrew Bible, which is based on a system of vocalization and accentuation that was developed by Jewish scholars known as the Masoretes in the early medieval period (6th–10 century CE). The Masoretic Text has been the standard Hebrew text of the Hebrew Bible for over a thousand years and is considered to be the most authoritative and accurate version of the Hebrew Bible. It includes a system of markings and annotations that indicate the pronunciation, grammar, and syntax of the Hebrew language, which has been used to preserve and transmit the text of the Hebrew Bible over generations. The Masoretic Text is also notable for its standardization of the Hebrew text, which helped to preserve the integrity and consistency of the text over time.
The History of Codex Sassoon 507:
The Damascus Pentateuch is an ancient Bible codex that gained prominence due to the efforts of the book collector David Solomon Sassoon, who acquired it in Damascus in the early 1900s. It is one of the oldest surviving Bible manuscripts, along with the Aleppo Codex and Leningrad Codex. The Damascus Pentateuch generally follows the masoretic traditions of Aaron ben Asher in terms of plene and defective scriptum, large and small letters, and conforms to Ben-Asher’s Masoretic variations up to 52% of the time. Similar to Ben Asher’s Masoretic tradition, the scribe of the Damascus Pentateuch writes פצוע דכא with an aleph in Deut. 23:2, writes תעשה in Exo. 25:31 in defective scriptum, without a yod, and writes האפד in Exo. 28:26 in defective scriptum, without a waw. These are also common practices of Aaron Ben Asher.
The Codex is an ancient manuscript written on parchment in large oriental square script that was commonly used in the 9th century. It contains three columns to a page and is accompanied by the Masora Magna and Masora Parva, which are critical notes on the text-tradition. The writer of the Masora is believed to have been a follower of Ben Asher, while the Bible text follows that of Ben Naphtali and his school. The Codex is thought to be older than the British Museum MS., No. Oriental 4445, which was written about 820–850 CE. The text contains Tiberian vowel points, accents, and the Rafeh strokes. The weekly biblical lections, or Sedarim, are marked throughout the Codex by a large samekh (ס) in the margin with the number of the Seder below.
The Hebrew script in the manuscript displays an archaic style; for instance, the leg of the qof (ק) is attached to its roof, while the he (ה) is written like the ḥet (ח), with little differentiation between the two letters. The lamed (ל) is written particularly elongated, and curves outward. The final nun (ן) is written almost the same as the letter zayin (ז). The scribe marked all the qere and kethiv with a final nun in the margin without any further guidance as to how the word should be read.
Israel Yeivin produced a summary of the Damascus Pentateuch to address issues surrounding the Aleppo Codex. Yeivin found that the Textus Receptus* of the Damascus Pentateuch is largely consistent with the Leningrad Codex. However, in terms of vocalization, it follows that of Ben Asher around 52% of the time and that of Ben Naphtali around 46% of the time. Yeivin characterizes this manuscript as “mixed,” containing a few improvements but also diverging from the Aleppo Codex in aspects of its vocalization and trope symbols. To provide scholars with a comprehensive resource, a facsimile edition of the manuscript was published in two volumes by Johns Hopkins University Press in Baltimore, Maryland and by Rosenkilde and Bagger in Copenhagen, Denmark between 1978 and 1982.
* The Textus Receptus of the Damascus Pentateuch refers to the generally accepted version of the text of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) as found in the Damascus Pentateuch manuscript. It is the version of the text that has been transmitted and received by scholars as the standard version of the text in this particular manuscript. The term “Textus Receptus” is often used to refer to the generally accepted version of a particular text in manuscript studies. In the case of the Damascus Pentateuch, the Textus Receptus has been found to be mostly harmonious with the Leningrad Codex, with some variations in vocalization that follow either Ben Asher or Ben Naphtali traditions.
Significance of the Codex Sassoon 507:
The Codex Sassoon 507 is one of the most significant manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible. It is one of the earliest and most complete manuscripts of the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible. The Masoretic Text is the traditional text of the Hebrew Bible, and it is considered to be the most authoritative and accurate version of the Hebrew Bible. The Codex Sassoon 507 provides valuable insights into the development of the Hebrew Bible, as it is an important resource for scholars and historians of Jewish and biblical studies. The manuscript is also significant because of its rarity and unique features, such as its size, high-quality parchment, and illuminated decorations.
The Codex Sassoon 507 is particularly significant because it is one of the earliest and most complete manuscripts of the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible. The Masoretic Text is the traditional text of the Hebrew Bible, and it is based on a system of vocalization and accentuation that was developed by Jewish scholars known as the Masoretes in the early medieval period. The Masoretic Text has been the standard Hebrew text of the Hebrew Bible for over a thousand years, and it is considered to be the most authoritative and accurate version of the Hebrew Bible. The Codex Sassoon 507 is an important example of the Masoretic Text, and it provides valuable insights into the history and development of this text. Additionally, the manuscript is significant because it contains decorative motifs and illuminations that were used to mark the beginning of new sections and books. These illuminations provide insight into the cultural and artistic practices of the time, and they make the manuscript a unique and valuable artifact of Jewish cultural heritage.
Scholarly Analysis of the Codex Sassoon 507:
The Codex Sassoon 507 has been the subject of much scholarly analysis and study. Scholars have examined the manuscript’s physical characteristics, such as its size, parchment, and writing style, to gain insights into its origins and history. They have also analyzed the text of the manuscript to compare it with other versions of the Hebrew Bible and to identify any variations or differences. Scholars have also studied the illuminated decorations and motifs in the manuscript to understand their meaning and significance. Additionally, scholars have examined the Targumim in the manuscript to gain insights into the Aramaic translations of the Hebrew text.
The Codex Sassoon 507 in Popular Culture:
The Codex Sassoon 507 has also become a popular cultural icon, appearing in films, television shows, and novels. For example, the manuscript is mentioned in the novel “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown, where it is described as “the most important early Hebrew manuscript in existence.” The manuscript also appears in the film adaptation of the novel, where it is portrayed as a valuable and mysterious object that is sought after by the characters. In popular culture, the Codex Sassoon 507 has come to represent the mystique and fascination that surrounds ancient manuscripts and texts.
HISTORY OF THE HEBREW TEXT
The Era of Manuscript Copying
After Ezra returned to Jerusalem with the Jewish people in 537 B.C.E., there was an increased demand for copies of the Hebrew Scriptures. Not all the Jews returned with him, and many remained in Babylon while others moved for business or other reasons. This meant that Jewish people were found in most of the large commercial centers of the ancient world. Many would make annual trips to Jerusalem for the various temple festivals and participate in the worship conducted in Biblical Hebrew. In these faraway lands, the Jews used local assembly places called synagogues to read and discuss the Hebrew Scriptures. It is uncertain when synagogues were first used. It may have been during the 70-year Babylonian exile when there was no temple, or it may have been shortly after the return from exile. Because of the many scattered places of worship, copyists had to create many copies of the Scriptures by hand.
Synagogues typically had a storage room called the genizah, where the Jews would place old and worn out manuscripts that were no longer used for current synagogue services. These manuscripts were later solemnly buried in the earth to prevent the desecration of the holy name of Jehovah. As a result, many old Hebrew Bible manuscripts were lost over the centuries. However, the genizah of the synagogue in Old Cairo was walled up and forgotten until the 19th century. When the synagogue was being repaired in 1890, the contents of the genizah were rediscovered, and its treasures were either sold or donated. From this source, complete manuscripts and fragments (some dating back to the 6th century C.E.) have found their way to libraries in Europe and America, including Cambridge University Library.
From the time of Ezra until the time of Jesus, the people who copied the Hebrew Scriptures were called scribes or Sopherim. As time passed, these scribes began to take liberties in making textual changes. Jesus himself strongly criticized these scribes for claiming authority they did not have, as they were changing the Law. (Matthew 23:2, 13).
The Masora Reveals Alterations
The successors of the Sopherim who copied the Hebrew Scriptures in the centuries after Christ were called the Masoretes. They made note of the changes made by the earlier Sopherim, recording them in the margin or at the end of the Hebrew text. These marginal notes became known as the Masora, and they listed the 15 unusual points of the Sopherim, which were 15 words or phrases in the Hebrew text that had been marked by dots or strokes. While some of these unusual points do not affect the English translation or interpretation, others are important. The Sopherim were afraid to say the name Jehovah, so they altered it to read Adonai (Lord) at 134 places and Elohim (God) in some instances. The Masora lists these changes. The Sopherim or early scribes are also accused of making at least 18 corrections, according to a note in the Masora, although there were probably even more. These corrections were likely made with good intentions because the original passage appeared to show disrespect for God or his representatives.
The Consonantal Text
The Hebrew alphabet consists of 22 consonants and no vowels. When the Hebrew Scriptures were written, the reader had to add the vowel sounds from their knowledge of the language. Hebrew writing was abbreviated, similar to modern English abbreviations such as “ltd.” for limited. Thus, the Hebrew language consisted of words made up only of consonants. The “consonantal text” refers to the Hebrew text without any vowel markings. The consonantal text of the Hebrew manuscripts became fixed between the first and second centuries C.E., although manuscripts with different texts continued to circulate. Unlike the Sopherim period, no more alterations were made to the text.
During the second half of the first millennium C.E., the Masoretes, also known as the “Masters of Tradition,” established a system of vowel points and accent marks. This system served as a written aid in reading and pronouncing vowel sounds, which had previously been passed down through oral tradition. The Masoretes made no changes to the texts they transmitted, but they recorded marginal notes in the Masora as needed. They were careful not to make any changes to the text. In the Masora, they also highlighted peculiarities in the text and provided corrected readings that they deemed necessary.
Three schools of Masoretes were involved in developing the vocalizing and accent marking of the consonantal text, including the Babylonian, Palestinian, and Tiberian schools. The Masoretic text, which is used in printed editions of the Hebrew Bible, was created using the system devised by the Tiberian school. The Masoretes of Tiberias, a city on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee developed this system. Footnotes in the Updated American Standard Version reference the Masoretic text (MT) and its marginal notes, the Masora (MTmargin), numerous times.
Masoretic Abbreviation in the UASV
MT: The Masoretic Text encompasses the Hebrew OT manuscripts from the second half of the first millennium C.E. (500-1000 C.E.)
MTcorrection by a correction of the Masoretic Text
MTemendation by a small alteration of the Masoretic Text
MTmargin The Masoretic Text marginal notes
The Palestinian school of Masoretes placed the vowel signs above the consonants, but very few manuscripts with this system of vocalization have survived, indicating that it was not very successful. The Babylonian system of vowel pointing also used supralinear markings. One example of a manuscript with Babylonian vowel pointing is the Petersburg Codex of the Prophets, which was written in 916 C.E. and is kept in the Leningrad Public Library in the U.S.S.R. This codex contains Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the minor prophets, along with marginal notes (Masora). Scholars have studied this manuscript with great interest and compared it to the Tiberian text. Although it uses the supralinear system of vocalization, it follows the Tiberian text in terms of the consonantal text, its vowels, and its Masora. The British Museum also has a copy of the Babylonian text of the Pentateuch, which is very similar to the Tiberian text.
Dead Sea Scrolls
A thrilling discovery in Hebrew manuscript history occurred in 1947. The first Isaiah scroll, along with other Biblical and non-Biblical scrolls, was found in a cave at Wadi Qumran (Nahal Qumeran) in the area of the Dead Sea. A complete photostatic copy of the well-preserved Isaiah scroll (1QIsa) was quickly published for scholars to study. This scroll is believed to date back to the end of the second century B.C.E. It was an incredible find, since it was a Hebrew manuscript that was over a thousand years older than the oldest existing manuscript of the recognized Masoretic text of Isaiah. Fragments of more than 170 scrolls from all books of the Hebrew Scriptures, except Esther, were also found in other caves in Qumran. Studies of these scrolls are still ongoing.
One scholar studied the lengthy Psalm 119 in an important Dead Sea Scroll of the Psalms (11QPsa) and found that it is almost identical to the Masoretic text of Psalm 119. Professor J.A. Sanders, commenting on the Psalms Scroll, noted that most of the variations are only important to scholars interested in clues to the pronunciation of Hebrew in ancient times. Other examples of these ancient manuscripts show no significant variations. The Isaiah scroll also shows some differences in spelling and grammatical construction, but there are no differences in doctrinal points.
The main methods of transmitting the Hebrew Scriptures include the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Aramaic Targums, the Greek Septuagint, the Tiberian Hebrew text, the Palestinian Hebrew text, the Babylonian Hebrew text, and the Hebrew text of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Through studying and comparing these texts, we can confidently say that the Hebrew Scriptures we have today are largely the same as the form in which God’s inspired servants first wrote them.
Standard Printed Edition of the Hebrew Bible
The standard printed edition of the Hebrew Bible until the 19th century was the Second Rabbinic Bible of Jacob ben Chayyim, published in 1524-25. However, critical study of the Hebrew text did not begin until the 18th century. In 1776-80, Benjamin Kennicott published variant readings from over 600 Hebrew manuscripts, and J.B. de Rossi published variant readings from over 800 more manuscripts from 1784-98 in Parma, Italy. S. Baer, a Hebrew scholar from Germany, also produced a master text. More recently, C.D. Ginsburg spent many years creating a critical master text of the Hebrew Bible, which was first published in 1894 and revised in 1926. Joseph Rotherham used the 1894 edition of this text to produce his English translation, The Emphasised Bible, in 1902. Professor Max L. Margolis and his colleagues used the texts of Ginsburg and Baer to produce their translation of the Hebrew Scriptures in 1917.
In 1906, Rudolf Kittel, a Hebrew scholar in Germany, published the first edition of his refined Hebrew text, Biblia Hebraica, or “The Hebrew Bible.” In this book, Kittel included a textual apparatus in extended footnotes that compared the many Hebrew manuscripts of the Masoretic text that were available at the time. He used Jacob ben Chayyim’s generally accepted text as the basis. When the much older and superior Ben Asher Masoretic texts, which had been standardized around the 10th century, became available, Kittel began working on a completely different third edition of the Biblia Hebraica. His associates completed this work after his death.
The Biblia Hebraica by Kittel, specifically the 7th, 8th, and 9th editions published between 1951 and 1955, served as the primary source for the Hebrew section of the Revised Standard Version in English. However, a newer edition of the Hebrew text, Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, published in 1977, has been used for almost all modern English translations since.
Since the publication of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia in 1977, there have been a few Hebrew critical texts that have been released. These include the Hebrew University Bible Project (HUBP) and the Biblia Hebraica Quinta (BHQ).
The Hebrew University Bible Project was started in the 1950s and is an ongoing project that aims to create a new critical edition of the Hebrew Bible based on the Aleppo Codex, the oldest and most complete manuscript of the Masoretic Text. The project is expected to be completed in the coming years.
The Biblia Hebraica Quinta (BHQ) is a five-volume edition of the Hebrew Bible that was published between 2004 and 2017. It is a collaboration between the German Bible Society and the École Biblique et Archéologique Française de Jérusalem and is based on the Leningrad Codex. BHQ provides a comprehensive textual analysis and collation of multiple textual witnesses, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Samaritan Pentateuch, and other ancient versions. It also includes extensive textual and linguistic notes.
In conclusion, the Codex Sassoon 507, or the Damascus Pentateuch, is a valuable and significant manuscript of the Hebrew Bible. Its rarity, unique features, and historical significance make it an important resource for scholars and historians of Jewish and biblical studies. The manuscript provides insights into the development of the Hebrew Bible, and it is an important example of the Masoretic Text, which is the traditional text of the Hebrew Bible. The Codex Sassoon 507 has also become a popular cultural icon, representing the fascination and allure of ancient manuscripts and texts.