Thursday, July 19, 2012

A new Mikraot Gedolot

Reconstructing the Bible
Project to correct thousands of biblical mistakes discovered over the years nears completion.

By Nir Hasson | Jul.18, 2012 | 3:09 AM | 1 (Haaretz)

Prof. Menachem Cohen of the Bible department at Bar-Ilan University has no doubt that all Hebrew Bibles sitting on bookshelves in Jewish homes around the world contain errors. Sometimes scores of errors can be found in a Bible, sometimes they number in the hundreds. For the most part these are not dramatic mistakes: perhaps the absence of the letter yod, an incorrect diacritical mark, a mistaken cantillation note, and other such small inaccuracies.

But Cohen says he and his colleagues have produced the most accurate version of the Old Testament published in at least the past 1,000 years, or maybe, ever. Cohen has been working on this Bible for the past 40 years, as the director of the Mikraot Gedolot-HaKeter project. He hopes it will become the agreed-upon standard version of the Scripture that will usher the ancient text from the "age of books" into the digital age.

The last man to take upon himself a similar task was a Spanish Jew named Jacob ben Hayyim who lived in Venice circa the early 16th century, less than 100 years after the Gutenberg Bible was first printed. Like Cohen, ben Hayyim lived in an era of a technological revolution with regard to texts. Handwritten scrolls were being replaced by modern printed and bound volumes. Thus, ben Hayyim thought it necessary to preserve the ancient text.


The first volume of the Bar-Ilan "Mikraot Gedolot-HaKeter" came out 20 years ago. To date, 16 volumes have been published in all; only four volumes remain to be completed.

There is also a lot about the Aleppo Codex, which forms the basis for the new edition.

This is an important project, but it should be clarified that its goal is to reconstruct the Masoretic Text, which is not necessarily the same thing as the original text of the Hebrew Bible. The MT is a vocalized edition produced in the early Middle Ages. It is based on a generally very good text that probably goes back to one or a very few manuscripts from around the first century. But the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint show us that the textual basis of the Hebrew Bible was far wider than the manuscript(s) behind the MT, and these other resources must be used if we want to get closer to the original text of the individual books. How close we can get depends on how corrupt the text of the original book remains after we apply textual criticism to it using all our manuscript resources.

Background on the Aleppo Codex is here and here with many links.

UPDATE: Dead link at top now fixed. Sorry about that!