Seven Old Testament Sources

June 21, 2010

Here are a couple of Old Testament sources collected together for your browsing pleasure.

(1) Masoretic text

The Masoretic Text (MT) is regarded as the authoritative texts of the Old Testament. Most of our Bibles are based on these texts. These date back only to 7th to 11th centuries. During this time, the non-semitic “Masorites of Tiberias” created a school on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and carefully standardised and preserved copies of the Old Testament.

Particularly important was the work of the Ben Asher family, several generations of whom worked on preserving the Tanakh. The oldest surviving copy of these is Codex Cairensis, written in 895, which contains a complete set of the prophets, along with Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. The Codex can be found (as a poor quality PDF) online here.

Another ancient Masoretic text is the Aleppo Codex (Deuteronomy above, Joshua 1 below) was written in the 10th century. It contains the entire old testament – or at least it did until it was burnt during riots directed against Jewish property in Aleppo in 1947. Only 294 of the original 487 pages remain. The entire text is available online.

A third Masoretic text is the Leningrad Codex (title page shown below) was written in 1008. After the burning of the Aleppo Codex, it is now the oldest complete Masoretic text known today. It has been the basis the of Biblia Hebraica (1937) and the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (1977).

(2) Dead Sea Scrolls

The dead sea scrolls were discovered in caves near the ancient town of Qumran, 20 kilometres east of Jerusalem, between 1947 and 1956. They contain the oldest known Hebrew text of the Old Testament, written between 150 BC and 70 AD. More that 15,000 fragments and 500 manuscripts have been found from around 900 separate scrolls. They contain every book of the Old Testament with the exception of Ester, including 19 copies of Isaiah (shown below), 25 of Deuteronomy, and 30 of the Psalms (shown above).

(3) Septuagint (LXX)

The Septuagint (LXX) is the name for the Greek translation of the Old Testament. It was translated between the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC, and this is the version quoted by the New Testament and by early church fathers. It was used as the basis for Old Latin versions, Slavonic, Syriac, Old Armenian, Old Georgian and Coptic translations. Remarkably there some early fragments of the LXX dating back to the second and third centuries BC, such as this one from the Rylands Library, containing parts of Deuteronomy 23-38:

An important version of LXX is recorded by Origen, known as the “Hexapla“. Taking him 28 years, he collected together six main Old Testament texts of his time. Origen arranged his six texts side by side: Hebrew, Hebrew in Greek characters, Septuagint and the early Greek translations – Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion. His original version has now been lost, although it is quoted in early Christian literature. Fortunately however the LXX portion was preserved, transcribed by Eusebius and Pamphilus, and was widely circulated. Manuscripts of the LXX are the oldest surviving nearly-complete manuscripts of the Old Testament in any language: Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus come from the 4th century and Codex Alexandrinus from the 5th century (below).


(4) Nash Papyrus

Before the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls, the oldest known Hebrew text was in the Nash Papyrus. It dates approximately 150-100 BC and was housed at Cambridge University. It contains the text of the Ten Commandments, from Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21

(5) Cairo Geniza Fragments

A geniza is a storeroom. Although many texts were thrown out, if a piece of writing contained the name of God, they were to be treated with respect, and even given a burial. Before they were buried, they were stored, meaning that we now have almost 300,000 fragments dating from 870 through to the late 1800’s.

(6) Syriac Peshitta

The Syriac bible, the Peshitta, was translated during the second century. The Old Testament of this Bible was translated directly from the Hebrew into Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic. Peshitta means “simple” or “direct” translation. One example is manuscript 14,425, (below) dating from the fifth century and contains Genesis, Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. It is housed in the British Library, London. A complete manuscript is B. 21 inf housed in Milan, which dates from the sixth or seventh century, and a text held in Paris, Syr. 341, dates from the eighth century. A fascinating interlinear version is online here.

(7) Vulgate

Finally, the Vulgate is a Latin translation of the Bible thanks to the labour of Jerome. Jerome translation came independly from the Hebrew, with the exception of Psalms. His translation was completed in 405 AD. The Codex Amiatinus is the earliest surviving nearly complete Vulgate Bible, dating from the start of the 8th century.


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