By Shira Sorko-Ram
Reprinted with permission from Maoz Ministries (Newsletter May 2007)
In Israel the more ultra-rabbinical a sect, the less they read and study the Bible. Most ultra-Orthodox groups in Israel and elsewhere teach their young men the rabbinical books of the Talmud, and their average yeshiva student knows selected Biblical texts only through the pre-digested commentaries of the Talmud and other rabbinical literature.
However, there are branches among Orthodox Jews that are giving priority to the study of the Bible. One such individual was Rabbi Mordechai Breuer who recently died at the age of 86. He was born into a family of modern Orthodoxy and became a highly respected authority – although virtually unknown outside of Israel – on the Old Testament books of the Bible.
In 1958 he was asked to proofread a Hebrew edition of the Bible and suddenly found himself to be considered an expert on the subject. From then on, his life was spent examining the Hebrew Biblical texts.
The Oldest Existing Hebrew Bible
As all Biblical scholars know, there are a great number of manuscripts (mainly fragments) of the Hebrew Bible which have been preserved over the last thousand years and are used today by scholars who are studying the texts or translating them into different languages. But the Bible considered to be the oldest and most reliable in existence is the Aleppo Codex (Codex is an archaic word for the earliest form of a book. Biblical text were usually written on scrolls to be read in the synagogue. When scribes wrote the text in book form, it was only for scholarly study), copied around 920 A.D. in Tiberius by the famous scribe Aaron Ben-Asher. The priceless Bible was stolen in the 11th century and brought to Egypt, finally ending up in a synagogue in Aleppo, Syria for 600 years.
Up until the 1950’s, the complete manuscript in Aleppo was still in good condition. But with the creation of the modern state of Israel, and the ensuing Arab rioting, scholars pleaded with the Aleppo rabbis to move the Bible to a safer location.
However, for centuries the rabbis of Aleppo had fiercely guarded the codex, keeping it in almost total isolation and not even letting Jewish scholars examine the manuscript! What is worse, the rabbis would not allow the scroll to be photographed, probably out of superstition that as long as that Bible was the sole possession of the Jewish community in Aleppo, they would be safe from calamity. (http://www.bible-researcher.com/aleppo.html)
In 1948 the synagogue was set on fire; the codex disappeared and the Aleppo rabbis led the world to believe it had been destroyed by fire. But witnesses to the rescue of the manuscript informed the Israeli government, and with much behind-the-scenes pressure, worldwide, the rabbis finally allowed the Aleppo Codex to be smuggled into Israel page by page with tourists in 1958. However, to the horror of the Israeli scholars, only two-thirds of the Bible arrived; the Torah was almost completely missing along with a few other portions. Out of a total of 487 pages, only 295 arrived.
Until today, the missing leaves are a subject of fierce controversy as some scholars b elieve they are still hidden among the Jewish community of Aleppo.
A Modern Searcher for God’s Word
In 1968, Rabbi Mordechai Breuer was assigned the task of determining the Hebrew Bible’s wording, spelling, vowels and cantillation (chanting) from ancient manuscripts for a modern Bible commentary which would be faithful to the belief that the Biblical text was inspired by God.
Breuer would have given almost anything to have had access to the Aleppo Codex as the basis for his research. And by now, the Aleppo Bible was in Israel! However as scholars are prone to do, the professors at the Hebrew University studying the Bible would not allow any other researchers to share the asset! (Ha’aretz, 22Mar07)
Due to lack of choice, Breuer used five other most important Bible manuscripts (although newer than the Aleppo Codex). He began his own monumental reconstruction of the Masoretic texts (see the story below) comparing them word for word. His method of selecting the correct text each time he observed variations, was to choose the spelling and notations of what he found in the majority of the five manuscripts. For example, if manuscripts 1, 2, 3 and 5 agreed on a spelling, but 4 did not, he would use the majority spelling.
By accepting the version of the majority and discounting the deviations of the minority, Breuer was convinced he was uncovering the one authoritative original writings of the Bible preserved by Masorah (oral tradition) – the ancient version given by the inspiration of God. (Ibid)
Other scholars strongly disagreed with his methodology because they supposed that there were many oral traditions which came down through the centuries as Jews emigrated to different nations. But Breuer believed that from time immemorial there was a single universally accepted oral tradition and the variant spellings and notations in the different manuscripts were simply errors made by scribes.
Recreating the Text of a Lost Torah
Thus, Rabbi Breuer reconstructed the entire Old Testament by examining each word in the five most important ancient manuscripts. And then his wildest dream came true. Somehow, he managed to get his hands on a copy of the Aleppo Codex. He never even told his son how he came to possess the facsimiles, but the son said when he came home that day with the manuscript, “he acted like an accomplice to a crime!”
Then the next miracle happened. When Breuer began to compare his re-creation of the Biblical text from the five manuscripts to the Aleppo text, lo an behold, they were exactly the same except for two places! An incredible discovery! This comparison proved that from the time the books of the Bible were written there was one and only one universally accepted version of the Masoretic text that was handed from one generation to the next, and it proved that the Aleppo Codex faithfully recorded it.
Furthermore, this meant Breure’s method could be used authoritatively to reconstruct the missing portions of the Aleppo Codex. (Ibid)
Rabbi Breuer later issued an independent version of the entire Old Testament that was quickly accepted as the most reliable and accurate. The “Jerusalem Crown” Bible is a modern version of the Hebrew Scriptures based on the Aleppo Codex and the reconstruction work of Breuer. It is the official version of the Bible of the State of Israel and used when the President of Israel is sworn into office.
Dead Sea Scrolls 1000 years older than Aleppo Codex
With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, very few dramatic changes in the Biblical text have been found. The Dead Sea Scrolls have, in almost every case, confirmed the accuracy of the Masorah, and suggest that an ancestor of the Masoretic Text (a scroll or codex with notations) was indeed in existence at least 100 years before the birth of the Messiah.
There is one very interesting difference found in the Dead Sea Scrolls in Psalm 22:17 (English, 22:16). The Masoretic texts read “like a lion are my hands and feet” which does not make sense. But the Septuagint – a Greek translation of the Old Testament by Jewish scholars in the second century B.C., – reads, “They have pierced my hands and feet.”
Discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls confirmed the Septuagint version of this verse! Since Psalm 22 is one of the most important and clearest chapters describing the death of the Messiah, this is an important verification. Many of the latest revised translations have incorporated changes due to research done with the Dead Sea Scrolls. Nevertheless, nearly all are theologically insignificant such as minor misspellings.
The Bible went through a remarkable history to make it into this century, especially in view of the ancient methods of transmitting texts by hand, sometimes in primitive conditions, and considering that the scribes lacked photocopy machines, computers, printing presses, and similar modern inventions. (http://byubroadcasting.org/deadsea/book/chapter2/sec3.html)*
The Mesorah notations in the margins of the text show the painstaking and passionate zeal these ancient scribes possessed in their quest to safeguard the accuracy of the sacred text from generation to generation. The world owes an enormous debt to these dedicated Jewish scribes who spent their lives copying the Word of God, letter by letter, notation by notation, so that after several thousand years, we may still find salvation through the authentic Words of God as originally written down by Moses, the prophets, the kings and inspired men of God.
*url is no longer available
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