Biblical Literature: Hebrew Scriptures

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The terms Hebrew scriptures and Hebrew Bible are synonyms here restricted to that received, definitive corpus of ancient literature, written in Hebrew except for some sections in Aramaic (Genesis 31:47, Jeremiah 10:11, and parts of Daniel and Ezra ), that has been traditionally accepted by Jews and Christians alike as having been divinely inspired and, as such, authoritative in shaping their respective faiths and practices.

The word Bible is ultimately of Greek derivation and passed into many languages of the world through the medium of Latin. It meant simply "the Books" par excellence, the way in which the Jews of the Hellenistic world referred to their sacred scriptures, apparently in literal translation into Greek of the earliest known Hebrew designation current in Palestine. This latter is already reflected in Daniel 9:2.

Other names for the corpus that were current in ancient times are "Holy Books" and "Holy Writings." More specific to Jews is the Hebrew term miqraʾ, widely used in the Middle Ages, but most likely going back to Nehemiah 8:8. Literally meaning "reading," this name underscores the fact that the public reading of the scriptures constituted the core of the Jewish liturgy. Another term commonly used among Jews is tanakh, the acronym (TaNaKh) composed of the initial consonants of the names of the three parts into which the Hebrew Bible is customarily divided: the Torah (Pentateuch), the Nevi'im (Prophets), and the Ketuvim (Writings, Hagiographa).

Among Christians, the Hebrew Bible has traditionally been referred to as the Old Testament (i.e., Covenant), in contradistinction to the New Testamenttheological appellations based upon a Christological interpretation of Jeremiah 31:3034. In recognition of the partisan nature of this title, and under the impact of the ecumenical movement of recent times, many scholars have increasingly preferred instead to refer to the Hebrew Bible or Hebrew scriptures.


As generally used in scholarly parlance, the term canon relates particularly to the received and definitively closed nature of the sacred corpus. The noun derives from the Greek kanōn, itself borrowed from a Semitic word meaning "cane" or "measuring rod." The word was employed figuratively in Classical Greek, a usage adopted by the church fathers in the fourth century for a norm of faith or doctrine and applied by them to the collection of sacred scriptures.

The completed canon of the Hebrew Bible exerted a profound influence, first upon the Jewish people that produced it, and then upon a large section of the rest of humanity. It was the major factor in the preservation of the unity of the Jews at a time of desperate national crisis after the destruction of their state in the year 70 (or 68) ce and their subsequent wide dispersion. The wholly new and unique experience of Judaism as a book-centered religion became the direct inspiration for Christianity and its New Testament, while both religions served as the acknowledged analogue for the rise and development of Islam, based upon its own sacred book, the kanōn.


The tripartite division of the Hebrew Bible roughly describes its variegated contents, although, admittedly, some of the books of the third part would not be out of place in the second.

The Torah

More fully called the Torah of Moses, the Torah comprises the first five books of the biblical canon, usually known in English as the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These names, derived from the Greek, may translate Hebrew titles that were current among the Jews of Palestine. They more or less epitomize the subject matter of the books. Another system of designation, long in popular use among Jews, and probably earlier than the foregoing, is based upon the opening words of each book, a practice characteristic of ancient Mesopotamian literature: Bereʾshit, Shemot, Va-yiqraʾ, Be-midbar, and Devarim.

The Hebrew term torah, usually, but inaccurately, rendered "law," means "instruction, teaching." In the present context, the Pentateuch comprises a continuous narrative from the creation of the world to the death of Moses in which is embedded a considerable amount of legal and ritual prescription. Genesis constitutes a distinct work within the Torah corpus in that its first eleven chapters deal with universal history up to the birth of Abraham, and the rest of the book is devoted to the fortunes of a family, the ancestors of the people of Israel. Deuteronomy, too, forms a discrete entity, in that it is largely the summarizing discourses of Moses and is marked by its own characteristic style and theological tendency. The intervening three books deal with two generations of the people of Israel from the period of the Egyptian oppression and the Exodus through the wanderings in the wilderness. This section makes up the bulk of the Torah literature and comprises the record of the Egyptian oppression, the liberation, and the arrival at Mount Sinai (Ex. 118), God's self-revelation to Israel at this site with the divine legislation mediated there through Moses (Ex. 19Nm. 10:10), and the events of the people's wanderings in the wilderness until they arrive at the plains of Moab ready to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land (Nm. 10:11chap. 36).

It is not certain how this corpus was materially preserved in early times. Two separate systems have survived. For convenience of study, the material was written on five separate scrolls, but for ideological reasons, in order both to delimit the Torah as a closed corpus and to emphasize its being a distinct unified composition, the Torah was also written on a single scroll. It is solely in this form that it has played a role in the Jewish synagogal liturgy.

The Neviʾim

The prophetic corpus naturally divides into two parts. What has come to be known as the Former Prophets continues the historical narrative of the Torah, beginning with Joshua's succession to leadership of Israel after the death of Moses and the conquest of Canaan, and closing with the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem, the end of the monarchy, and the Babylonian exile of the Judeans up to the year 560 bce. This material is contained in the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. They are incorporated into the prophetic corpus because they contain much information about the activities of prophets, and particularly because they constitute, in reality, a theological interpretation of the fortunes of the people of Israel presented from the perspective of prophetic teaching and judgment.

The second part of the Nevi'im, the Latter Prophets, comprises the works of the literary prophets in Israel and Judah from the eighth to the fifth centuries bce. These are Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and "the Book of the Twelve," known in English as the Minor Prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. It should be noted that the adjective minor characterizes only the relative brevity of these works, and is by no means intended to be a judgment on their degree of importance.

The Ketuvim

The Writings, often also called Hagiographa in English, are actually a miscellany of sacred writings of several genres of literature, as the nonspecific nature of the name indicates. There is religious poetry (Psalms and Lamentations ); love poetry (the Song of Songs ); wisdom or reflective compositions (Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes ); historical works (Ruth, Esther, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles ); and apocalypse (Daniel ).

Tripartite canon

It is widely held that the tripartite nature of the canon represents three successive stages of canonization of the separate corpora. Repeated reference to this threefold division comes from the literature of the period of the Second Temple. Ben Sira 39:1, probably written around 180 bce, mentions the "law of the Most High, the wisdom of all the ancients , and prophecies." About fifty years later, Ben Sira's grandson, who translated the work into Greek, writes in his prologue about "the law and the prophets and the others that came after them," which last are also called "the other books of our fathers" and "the rest of the books," while 2 Maccabees (2:23, 2:13) has reference to "the law, the kings and prophets and the writings of David." In Alexandria, Egypt, the Jewish philosopher Philo Judaeus (d. 4550 ce) mentions, besides "the law," also "the prophets and the psalms and other writings" (De vita contemplativa 3.25). The Jewish historian Josephus Flavius (37c. 100 ce) tells of the Pentateuch of Moses, the "prophets" and "the remaining books" (Against Apion 1.3941). Similarly, in the New Testament, the Gospel of Luke speaks of "the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms" (24:4). This persistent allusion to the threefold division of the Hebrew scriptures, and the lack of any uniform title for the third collection of writings, in addition to the heterogeneous nature of that corpus, all argue in favor of two closed collectionsthe Torah and the Prophetswith a third being somewhat amorphous and having no uniform name, undoubtedly a sign of its late corporate canonicity.

Of course, the closing of a corpus tells nothing about the canonical history of the individual books within it. Some parts of the Ketuvim, such as the Psalms, for instance, would most likely have achieved canonical status before some of those included within the Nevi'im.

Samaritan canon

The religious community centered on Nablus (ancient Shechem) that calls itself Benei Yisraʾel ("children of Israel") or Shomrim ("keepers," i.e., of the truth), and that is known by outsiders as Samaritans, claims to be directly descended from the Israelites of the Northern Kingdom who escaped deportation at the hands of the Assyrian kings who destroyed it in 722/1 bce (2 Kgs. 17:56, 17:2434, 17:41). Their canon consists solely of the Pentateuch, excluding the Prophets and the Writings. This fact has not been satisfactorily explained. The older view, that the final breach between the Samaritans and the Jews occurred in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah (fifth century bce), before the canonization of the rest of the Hebrew Bible, is no longer tenable because both documentary and archaeological evidence leads to the conclusion that the schism was the culmination of a gradual process of increasing estrangement. A major step was the construction of a Samaritan shrine on Mount Gerizim early in the Hellenistic period; the destruction of the temple on that site by John Hyrcanus in 128 bce completed the rupture.

Canon at Qumran

The discovery of a hoard of more than five hundred manuscripts in the region of the sectarian settlement at Khirbat Qumran, northwest of the Dead Sea, has raised the question of the nature of the biblical canon recognized by that community, which came to an end about 70 ce. The question is legitimate both in light of the variant canon preserved by the Greek Septuagint, as discussed below, and because copies of extrabiblical books, apocryphal and pseudepigraphical works such as Tobit, Ben Sira, the Letter of Jeremiah, 1 Enoch, and Jubilees, not to mention the sect's own productions, were included among the finds.

A variety of factors combine to render a decisive conclusion all but impossible in the absence of a list that would determine contents and sequence. This lack is aggravated by the practice at that time of writing each biblical book on a separate scroll, and by the very fragmentary form of the overwhelming majority of extant scrolls. Furthermore, since the manuscripts had generally been hidden in the caves in great disorder, we cannot be sure whether we are dealing with a living library or a genizah, a storeroom of discarded works.

The following items of evidence are pertinent to the discussion: (1) With the exception of Esther, fragments of all the books of the Hebrew Bible have turned up; hence the Qumran canon would have included at least almost every book of the Hebrew Bible. (2) The category of Qumran literature known as the pesharim, or contemporizing interpretations of prophetic texts, is, so far, exclusively restricted to the books of the standard Hebrew canon. (3) The Manual of Discipline (Serekh ha-yaad, 1QS IX:11) expresses the hope for the renewal of prophecy, the same as is found in 1 Maccabees 4:46. This suggests that the Qumran community recognized a closed corpus of prophetic literature. (4) The great psalms scroll (11QPsa), on the other hand, exhibits not only a deviant order of the standard psalms, but also contains other compositions, largely deriving from Hellenistic times. This scroll circulated in more than one copy, and several other Qumran manuscripts of psalms also vary in sequence and contents. At first glance it would seem that this phenomenon proves that the Qumran community could not have had a concept of a closed canon. However, it may be pointed out that the compiler of 11QPsa certainly was dependent on a Hebrew book of psalms much the same as that of the Hebrew Bible, and he may simply have been putting together a liturgical collection, not creating or copying a canonical work. Moreover, the caves of Qumran have yielded numerous psalters that contain only known canonical psalms, apparently without any deviation from the standard sequence. (5) As to the presence of noncanonical works, we have no means of knowing whether these had authority for the community equal with that of the standard Hebrew canonical books. (6) In sum, the evidence so far at hand does not justify the assumption that Qumran sectarians had a concept of canon different from that of their Palestinian Jewish brethren, although the opposite too cannot be proven.

Alexandrian canon (Septuagint)

To meet the needs of worship and study, the populous Hellenized Jewish community of Alexandria produced a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible known as the Septuagint, begun in the third century bce and completed before about 132 bce. As it has come down to us, it differs from the traditional Hebrew Bible (the canonized books of the Masoretic text) both in content and form, and often textually (see "Greek Translations," below). It includes works that rabbinic Judaism rejected as noncanonical, and in it the books of the Prophets and Writings are not maintained as separate corpora but are distributed and arranged according to subject matter: historical books, poetry and wisdom, and prophetic literature. This situation has given rise to a widely held hypothesis of an Alexandrian or Hellenistic canon; that is to say, the Septuagint is said to represent a variant, independent concept of canon held by Diaspora Jewry. Alternatively, it is suggested that it derives from a rival canon that circulated in Jewish Palestine itself.

The evidence for either view is indecisive. First of all, it must be remembered that all extant complete manuscripts of the Septuagintthe Sinaiticus, the Alexandrinus, and the Vaticanusare Christian in origin and are not earlier than the fourth century ce. There is a gap of at least four hundred years in our knowledge, which fact raises the possibility that the divergencies in content and arrangement from the traditional Hebrew Bible may have originated with the church. Moreover, there is no uniformity in the Greek manuscripts themselves in respect to the additional books included. Furthermore, the separate collections of the Torah and the Prophets were definitely known in Alexandria in the second century bce, as is clear from the prologue to Ben Sira (which even speaks of their translation into Greek), as well as from 2 Maccabees 2:13 and 15:9. At the same time, Ben Sira, his grandson who wrote the prologue, and Philo clearly distinguish between the books that make up the Hebrew Bible and other works of Jewish origin. In short, the problem of the origin of the contents and sequence in the Greek Bible cannot be solved in the present state of our knowledge.

Christian canon

The Christian canon of the Jewish scriptures differs in three ways from the Bible of the Jews. First, its text is not that of the received Hebrew, usually called the Masoretic text, but is based on the Greek and Latin versions. This fact is grounded in historical, not theological considerations. The early church functioned and missionized in a Greek-speaking environment, and thereafter took over the Jewish scriptures in their most readily available and convenient form, namely the (Greek) Septuagint version. Later, the Latin translation became authoritative. Second, although all the books officially recognized as canonical by the Jews were also accepted by the Christian church, many segments of the latter also included within its canon additional Jewish works that date from the days of the Second Temple. These, generally termed "deuterocanonical" by theologians of the Roman Catholic Church, are books of historical and didactic content, composed in Hebrew or Aramaic. They were not sectarian in origin, and they circulated widely in both Palestine and the Greek-speaking Jewish Diaspora in their original language and in Greek translation long after the close of the Hebrew canon. Such books were often included in early manuscripts of the Septuagint, not as a separate group but appropriately interspersed among the undoubtedly canonical works. The books in question are 2 Ezra (called 3 Esdras in the Vulgate), Tobit, Judith, additions to Esther, the Wisdom of Solomon, Ben Sira, 1 Baruch, together with the Letter of Jeremiah, additions to Daniel, and Maccabees. It is to be noted that Esther, Judith, Wisdom, 1 and 2 Maccabees, 1 Baruch, chapters 15, and the Septuagint additions to Daniel and Esther have not yet turned up among the Dead Sea finds.

The presence of the extra compositions in the manuscripts of the Septuagint long engendered controversy, and their status remained ambivalent. The authors of the New Testament books were certainly familiar with them and used them, but it remains a fact that New Testament citations from them are minimal. Further, the early lists of the Fathers emphasize a twenty-two-book canon identical with that of the Jews. In general, the Western church held the deuterocanonical books in high esteem, while the Eastern church downgraded them. The synods of the North African church held at Hippo (393 ce) and Carthage (397, 419 ce) confirmed the practice of the Western church. The powerful influence of the church theologian Augustine (354430) weighed heavily in according the entire Septuagint equal and identical divine inspiration with the Hebrew Bible. The additional books remained in the Latin Vulgate, which became the official version of the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent (15451563).

On the other hand, the Latin father Jerome (347420) did not recognize them as authoritative scripture, although he did concede them to be "ecclesiastical" or spiritually edifying, and he did translate them into Latin. The Syrian church utilized only the Jewish canon. It later succumbed to the influence of the Septuagint, a move resisted by the Nestorian (Chaldean or East Syrian) branch. In the Greek Orthodox church, the question remains unresolved to the present day, while it was not until the nineteenth century that the theologians of the Russian Orthodox Church unanimously excluded the extra books from the canon.

The period of the Reformation and the Protestant appeal to the authority of the Hebrew Bible generated a renewed attack on their canonicity. John Wyclif (c. 13301384), forerunner of the Reformation, who initiated the first English translation of the Bible, omitted them entirely. Martin Luther, in his debates with Johann Maier of Eck (1519), denied their canonical status. His translation of the Bible (1534) included them as a group between the two Testaments, with the following rubric: "Apocrypha: these are books which are not held equal to the sacred Scriptures and yet are useful and good for reading." Luther's view became standard Protestant doctrine. The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England (1563) asserted their worth for private study and edification but denied them any doctrinal value; and the Westminster Confession (1647), which established the confession of faith of English-speaking Presbyterians, definitively decreed that they were not divinely inspired, are to be excluded from the canon of scripture, and are devoid of authority. The King James Bible of 1611 had grouped the apocryphal books together before the New Testament, but in 1827 the British and Foreign Bible Society decided not to circulate the Apocrypha in whole or part.

The third way in which the Christian canon diverges from the Jewish canon relates to the order of the books. The Hebrew tripartite division, clearly attested in Luke 28:44, was disregarded, and the contents were regrouped, as in the manuscripts of the Septuagint, according to literary categorieslegal, historical, poetic-didactic, and prophetic. It is possible that the church selected one of the pre-Christian rival traditions already current in Palestine and the Diaspora. At any rate, the variant sequence was best suited to express the claim of the church that the New Testament is the fulfillment of the Hebrew scriptures of the Jews. The closing of the canon with Malachi's prophecy of the "day of the Lord" to be heralded by the return of Elijah provides a transition to the New Testament with John the Baptist as the new Elijah acclaiming his Messiah.

Number of books

Until the sixth century ce, it was customary among Jews for the scribes to copy each biblical work onto a separate scroll. The number of books in the biblical canon therefore relates to the number of scrolls onto which the completed Hebrew Bible was transcribed, and which were physically kept together as a unit. Josephus (Against Apion 1. 3941, ed. Loeb, p. 179) is emphatic that there were no more than twenty-two such. What is not clear is whether this figure was arrived at by conjoining books, such as Judges and Ruth, and Jeremiah and Lamentations, or whether two books were not yet included in his canon, perhaps the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes. The former suggestion seems more likely because this figure of twenty-two biblical books represents a widespread tradition in Palestine to which there are many Christian witnesses for several hundred years. It appears in a Hebrew-Aramaic list of titles that derives from the first half of the second century ce, and is repeated by several church fathers, such as Melito, bishop of Sardis in western Asia Minor (d. 190), Origen, theologian of Caesarea in southern Palestine (c. 185c. 254), Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea (c. 260339), who equates it with the number of letters of the Hebrew alphabet, Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem (d. 386), and the celebrated scholar Jerome. All of the aforementioned either visited Palestine or lived there for many years, and there can be no doubt that they reflect contemporary local Jewish practice. They all include the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes in the canon.

A variant tradition counting twenty-four books eventually prevailed among Jews. This is first found in 2 Esdras 14:45, written circa 100 bce. The books are listed by name in a text that antedates 200 bce cited in the Babylonian Talmud (B.B. 14b). Thereafter, this figure is explicitly given, and it becomes standard in rabbinic literature (cf. B.T., Taʿan. 5a). Whether the number has any significance is uncertain. In the case of Homer's Odyssey and Iliad, which are also each divided into twenty-four books, the division came about in the third century bce because a scroll of more than a thousand verses was found to be too cumbersome to handle, and twenty-four is the number of letters in the Greek alphabet. It is of interest that the Old Babylonian bilingual lexical series known as Har-ra-Hubullu is inscribed on twenty-four tablets, the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh on twelve tablets, the Greek Theogony of Hesiod comes in twelve parts, and the old Roman law code was eventually codified as the Twelve Tablets (of wood). At any rate, in Jewish tradition, the biblical books become twenty-four by treating all the twelve Minor Prophets as one, since they were written on a single scroll, and by regarding Ezra and Nehemiah as a single work.

English Bibles (English version) have thirty-nine books because Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles are divided into two books each for reading convenience, and Ezra and Nehemiah are counted as separate works, as is each of the twelve Minor Prophets.

Canonizing Process

The available sources are silent about the nature and identity of the validating authorities, about the criteria of selectivity adopted in respect of the books included and excluded, and about the individual crucial stages in the history of the growth of the Hebrew biblical canon. This deficiency is aggravated by the fact that the literature that has survived represents at least six hundred years of literary creativity, in the course of which Israelite society underwent far-reaching, indeed metamorphic, change, much of it convulsive. Such a state of affairs militates against the likelihood of uniformity in the processes involved or of unbroken consistency in the considerations that swayed decisionmaking about individual works and collections of works. For these reasons, any reconstruction of the history of the phenomenon of the canonization of biblical literature must of necessity remain hypothetical.

Nonetheless, it should be noted that well before the year 1000 bce, the libraries of the temples and palaces of Mesopotamia had organized the classical literature into a standardized corpus in some kind of uniform order and with a more or less official text. In similar manner, by order of Peisistratus, tyrant of Athens, the Homeric epics were codified in the sixth century and endowed with canonical authority. The idea of a canon was thus well based in the ancient world. There is every reason to assume that in Israel, too, temples served as the repositories of sacred texts from early times, and that the priests and scribes played an important role in the preservation and organization of literature. Hence, the formation of the biblical canon should not be viewed as a late development in Israel but as an ongoing process that is coextensive with the biblical period itself.

The definition of canon should, furthermore, be extended beyond the purely historical, external, formal aspects relating just to the end result of a process, to which it is usually restricted. In Israel, the conviction that the texts record the word of God or were divinely inspired, however these concepts were understood, would have been a decisive factor in their preservation. For the same reason, they would have been periodically read or recited, and the very force of repetition would inevitably and powerfully have informed the collective mind and self-consciousness of the community. This, in turn, would have subtly shaped and reshaped both the existing literature and new compositions in a continual process of interaction between the community and its traditions. A text that appears to be directed to a specific situation in time and space acquires a contemporizing validity and relevance that is independent of such restrictive dimensions and develops a life of its own.

The earliest testimony to the canonizing process of the Torah literature comes from Exodus 24:111, which describes how Moses mediated the divine commands to the entire people assembled, how the people orally bound themselves to obedience, how Moses then put the stipulations into writing, and how a cultic ceremony was held at which the written record of the covenant just made was given a public reading. This was followed by a collective pledge of loyalty to its stipulations.

Another important text is Deuteronomy, chapter 31 (verses 913, 2426). Here, too, Moses writes down the Teaching (Torah), this time entrusting the document to the ecclesiastical authorities for safekeeping, with provision for its septennial national public reading in the future. What is then called "this book of the Torah" is placed beside the ark of the covenant. In this case, the sanctity of the book is taken for granted, as is its permanent validity and authority, independent of the person of Moses.

The only other record of a preexilic public reading of Torah literature comes from near the end of the period of the monarchy. 2 Kings 2223 (cf. 2 Chr. 34) recounts the chance discovery of "the book of the Torah" in 622 in the course of the renovations being carried out at the Temple in Jerusalem at the initiative of Josiah, then king. The scope of this work cannot be determined from the narrative, but the royal measures taken as a consequence of the find prove beyond cavil that it at least contained Deuteronomy. What is of particular significance is that it had long been stored in the Temple, that its antiquity, authenticity, and authority were recognized at once, and that its binding nature was confirmed at a national assembly. The ceremony centered upon a document that had already achieved normative status, but the impact of the eventthe thoroughgoing religious reformation that it generated and sustained ideologicallyleft an indelible imprint on the subsequent literature and religion of Israel and constituted a powerful stimulus to the elevation of the Torah literature as the organizing principle in the life of the people. In this sense, the developments of 622 are an important milestone in the history of canonization. Between this year and 444 the process gathered apace. It is reasonable to assume that it was consummated in the Babylonian exile after 587/6, for it is impossible to explain the extraordinary survival of the small, defeated, fragmented community of Israelites, bereft of the organs of statecraft, deprived of its national territory, living on alien soil amid a victorious, prestigious civilization, other than through the vehicle of the book of the Torah, which preserved the national identity.

In the period of the return to Zion (the Land of Israel) and beyond, after 538 bce, the convention of attributing the entire Torah to Moses is frequently attestedin Malachi, Ezra-Nehemiah, Daniel, and Chronicles. It also appears in Joshua (8:32, 23:6) and in 1 Kings (2:3) and 2 Kings (14:6, 23:25), but many scholars maintain that these references result from a later revision of these works. At any rate, by the year 444 the "Torah of Moses" had received popular acceptance. Nehemiah 810 records that in that year a public, national assembly took place in Jerusalem at which the people requested that "the scroll of the Torah of Moses with which the Lord had charged Israel" be read to them. This was done by Ezra, who is himself described as "a scribe, expert in the Torah of Moses," "a scholar in matters concerning the commandments of the Lord and his laws to Israel a scholar in the law of the God of heaven" (Ezr. 7:6, 7:1112, 7:21). It is quite evident that the stress is on the teaching, dissemination, interpretation, and reaffirmation of the Torah, long popularly recognized and accepted, not on its promulgation anew. Ezra had been commissioned by the Persian king Artaxerxes I "to regulate Judah and Jerusalem according to the law of God," which was in his care (Ezr. 7:14). True, the texts do not define the scope of this literature, but it can be safely assumed that it was little different from the Pentateuch that has come down to us, for the author of Chronicles who composed his history about 400 repeatedly refers to the "Torah of Moses," and it can be shown that this phrase in context applies comprehensively to the entire Pentateuch.

In the Pentateuch itself, however, there is no statement unambiguously asserting Mosaic authorship of the entire work, nor can the use of the term torah be shown to refer comprehensively to the complete Pentateuch. Rather, its applicability changes considerably, being variously restricted to an individual law, to a specific and limited collection of traditions, or to a large literary unit. The background to the tradition ascribing the authorship of the Pentateuch to Moses lies in the fact that, in biblical literature, Moses is the divinely chosen individual through whose instrumentality a social-religious revolution is effectuated. He is the leader par excellence, preeminent beyond compare; his is the only name associated with the term torah; he is the sole mediator of the word of God to the people; all laws are presented as divine communications to Moses; there are no collections of binding laws outside of the Torah. He is also the first person to whom the act of writing is ascribed. There can be no doubt that in a very real sense the Pentateuch would have been unthinkable were it not for his activity.

Compilation and Redaction

The composite nature of the biblical, especially the Pentateuchal, literature has long been recognized (see Nm. 21:14, Jos. 10:13). By the application of analytical criteria of consistent variations in style, phraseology, and theological viewpoint, of doublets and inconsistencies, of breaks in continuity with the obvious presence of connectives that conjoin separate homogeneous sections, critical research has concentrated on the disentanglement and isolation of the constituent literary strands.

The early founders of modern biblical criticism were Barukh Spinoza (16321677) and Jean Astruc (16841766). In the course of the nineteenth century, several important contributions were made by Wilhelm M. L. De Wette, Wilhelm Vatke, and Heinrich Ewald. It was Julius Wellhausen, however, who popularized what is known as the Documentary Hypothesis. He systematized and developed the work of his predecessors in several influential treatises: Die Composition des Hexateuchs (Berlin, 1876), Geschichte Israels (Berlin, 1878), and Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels (Berlin, 1883).

The Documentary Hypothesis isolated four primary collections of traditions (sources) that it labeled J (because it employs the divine name Jehovah, in Hebrew, YHVH ), E (because it uses Elohim for God), D (Deuteronomy), and P (Priestly). The isolation of the D and P sources, each with its distinctive content, style, and perspective, was less complicated than determining the literary parameters of J and E, on which there has been much difference of opinion. It became clear that the provenance, historical setting, and chronological sequence of these sources would yield the materials for reconstructing the history of the religion of Israel in biblical times. Accordingly, J, which was believed to have originally constituted the skeleton of the continuous narrative of Genesis through 1 Kings, chapter 2, was assigned to the period of the united Israelite kingdom of David and Solomon in the tenth century and was thought to have derived from Judea. E was considered to be northern Israelite or Ephraimite from the ninth to eighth centuries. It was fused with J to become JE. D was regarded as the product of the reformation of Josiah in 622, and P as having been compiled in the Babylonian exile, between 587 and 560. The entire Pentateuch was taken to have reached its final form before Ezra's journey to Jerusalem in 458.

This hypothesis, with its evolutionary presuppositions, has been considerably modified since its systematic presentation in the nineteenth century. The major sources have themselves been dissected, and serious challenge has been posed to the dating and sequence of the reconstructed documents. Furthermore, it has been recognized that a distinction must be made between the age of the traditions, which may be of great antiquity, and the time of their assemblage and final editing. It has been noted that literary strands become interwoven, and sources tend to interact one with another, thus making the identification of the original documents far less secure. In addition, the creative work of the redactor(s) has come to be increasingly appreciated as an important factor in the development of biblical literature by scholars engaging in "redaction criticism."

Scholars of the school of "tradition criticism" have also paid attention to the process by which traditions were preserved and transmitted. It has been pointed out that much of the written material may well have had an oral prehistory. Traditions would have been recited in a cultic context at local and regional shrines, such as Bethel, Shiloh, Shechem, and Jerusalem (cf. Dt. 27:110). A series of major themes, like the divine promises to the patriarchs, the Exodus, the covenant of Sinai, and the wanderings in the wilderness would have been given public expression on sacral occasions to form the core of the Israelite religion. These units of tradition would become the focus of expansive tendencies, would be written down, assembled, and serve as the building blocks of extensive and complex narratives presented in a continuous form. The nature and characteristic properties of oral tradition, poetic or prose, its antiquity, reliability, and tenacity, its vicissitudes in the course of transmission, and the kinds of transformation it undergoes when reduced to writing have all been the subjects of intensive study, for they have direct bearing on the understanding of the development of biblical literature.

Finally, it has been acknowledged that any analysis that ignores the primary nature and function of the material must be incomplete. The formation of the scriptures was not motivated by literary, aesthetic considerations, or by the desire to write objective history. Rather, the literature is essentially religious, its purposes being theological interpretation and didactic function. This fact imposes considerable restraint on the simple application to it of the accepted literary-critical method.

The Bible and the Ancient Near East

The recovery of the languages and cultures of the lands of the ancient Near Eastern world demonstrate that the people of Israel arrived on the scene of history rather late, long after the great civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Hittite area had already passed their prime and produced a classical literature. Moreover, it is clear that this region, often referred to as the Fertile Crescent, constituted a cultural continuum, although, to be sure, each constituent, local entity possessed its own distinctive features. It is not surprising, therefore, that there exist numerous, close affinities in subject matter and form between the biblical writings and the literatures of the ancient Near East. This phenomenon is not necessarily to be explained in terms of dependency or borrowing, but more likely as a result of the sharing of a common cultural heritage. Furthermore, correspondences and parallels are not the same as identity. Contrast is as important a dimension as similarity, and it is the former that accords the Israelite productions their claim to singularity.

This point is illustrated by the fact that whereas all the diverse literary genres of the Bible are to be found in the neighboring cultures, the reverse is not the case, and the omissions are highly instructive. The huge literature belonging to the worlds of astrology and magic, omens, divination, and the like, and the considerable body of mythical texts, have no counterpart in the Hebrew scriptures (although the texts preserve evidence of these customs) because they are incompatible with Israel's fundamental monotheism. Moreover, it is apparent that what was drawn upon from the common Near Eastern stock was thoroughly refined and reshaped to bring it into conformity with the national religious ideology.

The primeval history in Genesis, chapters 111, well exemplifies this situation. The genealogies, for instance, belong to the same type of document as the Sumerian king-list, but they are used both as connectives to bridge the gap between narrative blocks and for theological purposes. Thus, ten generations are delineated to span the period between Adam and Noah, and another ten between Noah and Abraham, the symmetry being intended to convey the idea that history is the unfolding of God's predetermined plan for humankind. The Flood story has manifold and detailed points of contact with the corresponding episode in the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh and with its parent version, the Atrahasis epic. But the biblical version has a singularly didactic function and is uniquely placed within a spiritual and moral framework.

The law collection in the Pentateuch is another case in point. No less than six law codes have survived from the ancient Near East, the earliest probably deriving from about seven hundred years before Moses. All these, plus innumerable documents of law-court proceedings, leave no doubt of the existence of a common legal culture in the area that found expression in a similarity of content, legal phraseology, and literary form that Israel shared. Nevertheless, the scriptural exemplar features some fundamental and original departures from the general norm. The source and sanction of law are conceived in Israel to be entirely the revelation of divine will. The law is taken to be the expression of the covenant between God and Israel. There is no dichotomy, as elsewhere, between the secular and the religious. Social, moral, ethical, and cultic precepts are all equally and indiscriminately encompassed within the realm of the law. Also, there is an overwhelming preoccupation with the human person and with human life, and a lesser concern with matters of property, which is the reverse of the situation in the traditional codes. Finally, the biblical laws are encased within a narrative framework and are not isolated documents.

The genre that was truly an international phenomenon is that of biblical wisdom literature. It deals with observations on human behavior and the world order, drawn from experience. One such category has the individual as its focus of interest and is essentially pragmatic and utilitarian, containing precepts for success in living. Its artistic forms are mainly the maxim, the proverb, the pithy question, and the riddle. The other is reflective in nature and is more concerned with the human condition, and with the wider issues of divine-human relationships. Here the literary unit is much longer. Both Egypt and Mesopotamia produced an extensive body of literature of this type, and the analogues with Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes are striking. Yet here, again, although these latter are mostly devoid of national or special Israelite content, they are distinctive in their uncompromising monotheism, in the absence of dream interpretation as an attribute of the sage, and in their insistence on the fear of the Lord as being the quintessence of wisdom.

The Book of Psalms and the rich psalmody of Egypt and Babylon are closely related in both style and motifs. Both can be categorized under the more or less same limited number of literary genres. Although no Canaanite psalm has yet been recovered, the abundance of affinities with the poetry from ancient Ugarit (modern Ras Shamra) by way of poetic form, fixed pairs of words, the use of stereotyped phrases and of parallelism, is impressive. It is clear that biblical psalmody did not arise in cultural isolation from the neighboring civilizations. However, unlike the Mesopotamian psalms, the Hebrew scriptural compositions do not contain any cult-functional information, nor do they feature spells and incantations. Moreover, their conspicuous citation of history is unique, as are the spiritual experience and the soul-life of the Israelites that they mirror.

Historical Complexity of the Text

The model for printed editions of the Hebrew Bible was the second "Great Rabbinic Bible" published at Venice by Daniel Bomberg, 15241525, and edited by Yaʾaqov ben Hayyim ibn Adoniyyah. All printed editions, as well as all extant medieval Hebrew manuscripts of the Biblethe earliest deriving from the ninth century cerepresent a single textual tradition, known as the Masoretic ("received") text (MT). This standard text comprises three distinct elements: the Hebrew consonants, vocalization signs, and accentuation marks. The last two components are relatively late additions. Their purpose is to preserve the proper traditional pronunciation and cantillation of the text for purposes of study and synagogue lectionary.

This normative uniformity notwithstanding, there is abundant evidence for a far more complex history of the Hebrew consonantal text than is suggested by the aforementioned manuscripts and the printed editions. Several different categories of testimony bear witness to an earlier era of textual transmission that was characterized by much diversity.

  1. Internal evidence is represented by the duplication of several passages within the scriptures. These duplicates may display differences in content and arrangement, linguistic or grammatical variants, and orthographic diversity, testifying to the existence of divergent texts of one and the same composition as early as the period of the formation of biblical literature itself.
  2. Citations from the scriptures are found in the Jewish literature of Second Temple times, such as the extracanonical books, the works of Philo Judaeus and the writings of Josephus, as well as in the New Testament. In all these sources, there can be no doubt that the citations, though in translation, often present genuine variant readings from an underlying Hebrew text that is independent of the Masoretic text and of the Septuagint.
  3. The Samaritan Pentateuch exhibits many variants from the Masoretic text, the great majority of which relate to insignificant details, and even its manuscripts are not uniform. Although many of the disagreements are clearly the result of sectarian or dogmatic redactions and exegetical and editorial expansions, there remain several genuine variants, a goodly number of which coincide with Septuagint readings.
  4. Several ancient translations were made directly from the original texts. None of these is identical in every respect with the Masoretic Hebrew. They are important because they were made prior to the emergence of one authoritative Hebrew text. (See "Aramaic Translations" and "Greek Translations" below.)
  5. Rabbinic sources which supply rich and varied data make up the fifth type of testimony. Traditions, essentially anomalous ones, and hence of plausible credibility, have been preserved relating to the activities of the scribes in transmitting the sacred texts. These tell of "scribal corrections" and of divergent readings in different scrolls. In addition, there are reports of the existence of an official Temple model scroll from which other scrolls were corrected and of a class of "book-correctors" whose salaries were paid from Temple funds (e.g., B.T., Ned. 376, Ket. 106a; J.T., Taʿan. 4.2, 5.1; J.T., Suk. 3.2, Sheq. 4.3). A medieval source has retained a list of textual variants deriving from a Torah scroll deposited in the Severus Synagogue (or public building) in Rome and said to have been taken to Rome from Jerusalem after the destruction of the Second Temple, circa 70 ce (Midrash Bereʾshit Rabbati, ed. C. Albeck, Jerusalem, 1940, p. 209, 45.8). Rabbinic literature also contains hundreds of citations from the Hebrew Bible that feature variants from the Masoretic text. While many of these may be discounted as having been caused by lapse of memory on behalf of the tradent or by the errors of medieval scribes, many also represent genuine variants. In addition, there are several examples of rabbinic exegesis based on consonantal texts not identical with the Masoretic text (see B.T., San. 4b).
  6. The Dead Sea Scrolls are the last and most important, because the most direct, type of evidence. They consist of the Hebrew scrolls and fragments found in the Judean desert in modern-day Israel, which are now the earliest extant manuscripts of the period extending from the second half of the third century bce to the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in 70 (or 68) ce. The oldest of these antedate by about a thousand years the earliest Hebrew Bible manuscripts hitherto known. Some 180 separate manuscripts of biblical books have come to light in various states of preservation, together with thousands of fragments. Every book of the Hebrew Bible, except Esther, is represented, several in multiple copies. Some Pentateuchal books, as well as Job fragments, are written in the Paleo-Hebrew script, a derivative of the ancient Hebrew script in use prior to the Babylonian exile of 587/6 bce.

The great importance of these scrolls and fragments lies in the fact that they supply unimpeachable evidence for a degree of textual diversity that exceeds the limited three major witnesses previously known: the Masoretic text, the Septuagint, and the Samaritan Pentateuch. In fact, each biblical book displays a variety of individual texts that agree now with one of the above versions, now with another. It is to be emphasized, however, that none of the Hebrew scrolls from Qumran so far published can be seen to be actually identical in all respects with either the Septuagint or the Samaritan tradition. Particularly interesting and instructive are the direct citations from the Pentateuch found in the Qumran "Temple Scroll." These often agree with the Septuagint and occasionally with the Samaritan against the Masoretic text, but they differ from both more frequently than they agree with them.

Development of the Masoretic Text

Examination of the evidence from the Judean desert yields the general conclusion that the profusion of variants increases in proportion to the antiquity of the manuscripts and decreases with the progression of time. Further, this diminution of variants works overwhelmingly in favor of the textual tradition close to that which eventually came to be known as Masoretic. This tradition is characterized, in the main, by a very conservative approach to the consonantal text that expresses itself in a minimum of expansiveness and harmonization. Difficult readings and archaic spellings and grammatical forms are carefully preserved. Matres lectionis, that is, the use of the weak letters (alef, heʾ, vav, and yud) as vowel indicators, is sparsely employed. In the hoards of manuscripts from the Judean desert, the Masoretic-type exemplars are more numerous than the other text traditions. For instance, there are present no less than fourteen copies of Isaiah that are very close to our received Hebrew version.

These facts unmistakably point to the high prestige enjoyed by this particular tradition. Since there is no evidence for the biblical scrolls being a product of the Qumran community, this situation must reflect the text-type that eventuated in the Masoretic text, which was not only present very early at Qumran but was also already highly and widely esteemed in Palestine in Second Temple times. This implies its patronage by powerful and respected circles that could only have been located in the Temple at Jerusalem.

By the end of the first century ce this text tradition became authoritative and displaced all others. The process is clearly visible in the phenomenon of a revision at this time of the Septuagint to bring it into conformity with the proto-Masoretic text (see below, "Greek Translations"). The biblical manuscripts found at Masada are all but identical with our received texts from Wadi Murabbaat, deriving from the period of Bar Kokhba Revolt (132135 ce).

The manuscript evidence for the development of a single authoritative text can be supplemented by secondary testimony. The recorded disputes between the Sadducees and the Pharisees never once center on or reflect differences in the text of scripture. Similarly, the Christians in the times of the New Testament do not claim a superior or different text from that used by the Jews. Also, early Christian-Jewish polemics frequently involved differences between Jewish and Christian citations of the Bible, but it was the Hebrew text of the Jews as against the Latin version of Jerome, not versus a different Hebrew existing text, that was the subject of dispute. This is in accord with another phenomenon of major importance. No differences of opinion regarding biblical readings appear in rabbinic literature, only varying interpretations of the same text. In fact, the above-cited rabbinic material that bears witness to the one time existence of divergent texts constitutes at the same time testimony to the tendency to reduce the plurality of readings; it communicates a desire to produce conformity to one text.

The above-mentioned existence of Temple-supported "book-correctors," of a model scroll kept in the Temple court, and of a hermeneutical derivation of a legal decision from the presence of a redundant conjunctive letter vav ("and") in the biblical text (So. 5.1) by a scholar who belonged to the generation of the destruction of the Templeall presuppose a text fixed unalterably in spelling and content. The same conclusion is to be drawn even more emphatically from the reports of the literary activity of the sofrim (official scribes). This term is interpreted to mean "tellers" by the rabbis because the sofrim kept count of the number of letters in the Torah and marked its middle consonant, its middle words, and its middle verse to ensure the exact transmission of the Hebrew text. They did the same for the Book of Psalms (B.T., ag. 15b, B.T., Kid. 30a).

Two other sources confirm that the concept of an official, fixed scriptural text was well rooted in Jewish learned circles. The Greek Letter of Aristeas (late second century bce), which purports to tell of the origin of the Septuagint, knows of inaccurate copies of the Torah and reports an official Alexandrian request of the high priest in Jerusalem to supply an accurate Hebrew copy from which a Greek translation may be made. In the same vein, Josephus boasts that the Jews have always venerated their scriptures to the degree that none would dare to add, to remove, or to alter a syllable of the text (Josephus, Against Apion, 1.6, 1.8).

The process by which the Masoretic text type achieved supremacy over all others and eventually supplanted them entirely is unclear. There is absolutely no evidence for an official promulgation on the subject by rabbinical authorities. The most plausible explanation for the phenomenon is that the very concept of a sacred canon of scripture on the basis of which Jewish communities established their identity, and the reading and studying of which formed the core of the organized public liturgy, would naturally tend toward the promotion of a stabilized, normative text. The specific text favored by scholarly and hierarchical circles in Second Temple times would acquire high prestige and serve as a model for less elitist groups. The trend toward uniformity would be hastened by the destruction of the Temple and the ever-widening Jewish Diaspora because a common text would act as a vital cohesive force. Laymen would cease to order and scribes would desist from copying any but the "official" text. All others would be discarded, and, being written on organic material, would perishexcept for chance preservation in unusually favorable environmental conditions such as obtain in the Judean desert.

Aramaic Translations

The extensive imperial campaigns of the Assyrian kings during the eighth and ninth centuries bce began the process that culminated in the Aramaization of the Jewish people. Arameans and Chaldeans came to constitute a significant and powerful segment of the population under Assyrian domination. The diffusion of Aramaic was doubtless facilitated by the convenience and efficiency of the alphabet as opposed to the cumbersome cuneiform writing. The Aramaic language finally became the language of diplomacy and international trade throughout the neo-Assyrian empire (see 2 Kings 18:26). The fall of the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 to the Assyrian armies, and the subsequent large-scale population exchanges carried out by the conquerors, brought into Samaria and the Galilee various ethnic groups that seem to have had Aramaic as a common language. The importance of Aramaic was further enhanced during the days of the neo-Babylonian empire (626539 bce). The destruction of the southern kingdom of Judah in 587, and the resultant Babylonian exile, soon caused a weakening of Hebrew and the adoption of Aramaic as the vernacular of the exiles. The return to Zion in the late sixth century bce meant an influx into Judaea of Aramaic-speaking Jews who reinforced the existing bilingual situation. Throughout the Persian empire (539333 bce), Aramaic was the official language of the administration, and by the end of the period it was most likely the vernacular of a majority of Jews. While Hebrew still enjoyed pride of place as a literary language, this situation changed with the deteriorating fortunes of the organized Jewish rebellions against Roman rule in Palestine. The center of Jewish life shifted at the end of the first century from Judaea, where Hebrew had still managed to maintain its hold, to the Galilee, where Aramaic was the dominant language. The Jewish communities of Palestine and the widespread Diaspora of the East were now thoroughly Aramaized. The emergence of Aramaic translations of the Hebrew scriptures was an inevitable development.

These Aramaic translations are known as targumim ("translations"; sg., targum ). Their origins are ascribed in rabbinic sources to the time of Ezra and Nehemiah (fifth century bce). Nehemiah 8:8 is adduced in support of this thesis (J.T., Meg. 4.1, 74d et al.). This tradition undoubtedly preserves a historical kernel, for the process certainly arose in connection with the public liturgical lectionary, most likely with the glossing in Aramaic of difficult Hebrew words and phrases. In the course of time, there arose the institution of the meturgeman, the official translator into Aramaic who stood beside the one who read the scriptural portion in Hebrew. According to rabbinic sources, the Aramaic had to be rendered extemporaneously, without the aid of a written text and without even a glance at the Torah scroll. The purpose was to ensure the exclusive authority of the original Hebrew text, and to prevent it from being superseded by a trans-lation.

The existence of established Targums for private use is attested for the period of the Second Temple. The Genesis Apocryphon from Qumran is a typical aggadic Targum, that to Job from the same locale is a literal exemplar. The Greek translation of Job, probably made during the first century bce, concludes with an addendum that seems to point to the existence of an earlier "Syriac" (probably Aramaic) Targum to that book. Another early written Targum to Job is mentioned in rabbinic sources (Tosefta, Shab. 13.23 et al.). Jesus' citation of Psalms 22:1 in Aramaic, rather than in Hebrew, at his crucifixion (Mt. 27:46, Mk. 15:34) testifies to a well-rooted tradition of Aramaic translation of Psalms, but whether it existed in oral or written form cannot be determined.

The almost total aramaization of the Jews of Palestine and the eastern Diaspora, and the unremitting retreat of Hebrew as a spoken language, made the Aramaic Targums to the scriptures a vital and effective tool of mass education. All resistance to their commitment to writing broke down. Some achieved official recognition to the extent that the private reading of the Targum together with the Hebrew text was actually prescribed (B.T., Ber. 8ab).

Pentateuchal Targums

Targums to all books of the Hebrew Bible except Daniel and Ezra-Nehemiah have survived. Three that translate the Pentateuch are particularly important.

Targum Onkelos

Targum Onkelos was the official and single universally accepted Targum to the Torah. The ascription of its authorship is based on a passage in the Babylonian Talmud that refers to "Onkelos the proselyte" (B.T., Meg. 3a). From the corresponding passage in the Palestinian Talmud (J.T., Meg. 1.11, 71c) it is clear that the original reference was to the Greek translation of Aquila, a name pronounced "Onkelos" in the dialect of Babylonia. Because nothing was known about this Greek version in the East, that translation was there confused with the one to the Torah in Aramaic.

Identifying the dialect of Targum Onkelos presents a problem. It shares features characteristic of both Eastern and Western Aramaic, and is close to Middle Aramaic (200 bce to 200 ce), whose place of origin seems to have been Palestine, which would point to a Palestinian provenance for Targum Onkelos. This conclusion is reinforced by linguistic evidence. In addition, its aggadah and halakhah, or homiletical and legal traditions, show unmistakable influence of the school of the Palestinian rabbi ʿAqivaʾ ben Yosef.

On the other hand, Targum Onkelos vanishes from Palestinian Jewish records for many hundreds of years after the end of the third century ce. It exhibits morphological features that are typical of Eastern Aramaic, and it was the official Targum of the academies of Babylon. It was transmitted with a Babylonian vocalization and a masorah, a text-critical apparatus that, written in the margins of the manuscript, reflects the Babylonian traditions regarding the form of the text, the spelling of words, directions for pronunciation, and other lexicographic details.

In light of the above data, it seems safe to assume that this Targum originated in Palestine and was brought to Babylon at the end of the second century ce. There it underwent a local, systematic redaction and was given official ecclesiastical recognition. It is a work composed of numerous and varied layers that represent a time span of hundreds of years.

Generally speaking, Targum Onkelos was executed with great care as a straightforward, literalistic rendering of the Hebrew source. It departs from this approach in the difficult poetic sections of the Pentateuch, as well as in those passages in which its pedagogic goals, namely, the Aramaic translation as an instrument for mass education, required change or expansion. Here it incorporated oral traditions, halakhic and aggadic, and it used circumlocutions and euphemisms to avoid misunderstanding on the part of the public as to the monotheistic concept of God, changing anthropomorphisms and anthropopathisms, and texts that might be misconstrued as suggesting direct physical contact between man and God.

Targum Onkelos was first printed at Bologna in 1482. The Sabbioneta text of 1557 served as the basis of Abraham Berliner's edition (Leipzig, 1877). A new edition, based on old Yemenite manuscripts and printed texts, was edited by Alexander Sperber in 1959.

Targum Jonathan

A second popular Targum to the Pentateuch was the Targum Jonathan (Heb., Yonatan). The name is a misnomer arising from a mistaken interpretation of an abbreviation, "T. Y.," which actually denotes Targum Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Targum). An earlier, widespread name for this translation was Targum of the Land of Israel. This Targum is also characterized by an aversion to anthropomorphisms, but it is free and expansive, replete with aggadic and halakhic material. Biblical toponyms are modernized. Its history is problematic. Internal evidence for its dating ranges from mention of the high priest John Hyrcanus (135104 bce) in the Targum to Deuteronomy 33:1, to mention of the "six orders of the Mishnah" (Targ. Jon., Ex. 26:9) that were edited only around 200 ce, to the presence of Khadījah, wife of Muammad (some texts read "Ayesha," another of his wives) and Faimah, his daughter (Targ. Jon., Gn. 21:21), to references to Ishmael and Esau as masters of the world (Targ. Jon., Gn. 49:26, Dt. 33:2), which can only refer to Islam and Byzantium of the seventh century ce at the earliest. A reference to Constantinople in the Targum on Numbers 24:19 seems to allude to the war of the caliph Sulaymān against the Byzantine capital in 716718 ce.

A curious feature of this Targum is the number of passages in which the exegesis contradicts normative rabbinic halakhah (e.g., Targ. Jon., Lev. 18:21, cf. Meg. 4.9), and in several cases agrees with that of Philo and the sect of Karaites (eighth century ce on). As a result it is extremely hazardous to date this version. Its language is essentially Galilean Aramaic, and its origins certainly go back to Second Temple times. Innumerable accretions and the influence of Targum Onkelos on it have vastly complicated the task of reconstructing the history of its transmission.

Targum (Pseudo-) Jonathan was first printed at Venice, 1591. A British Museum manuscript was edited by Moses Ginsburger (Berlin, 1903) and published in a corrected edition by David Rieder (Jerusalem, 1974).

Neofiti 1

An early sixteenth-century manuscript known as Neofiti 1 represents a third Galilean Aramaic Targum to the Pentateuch. Discovered in the Vatican Library in 1956 by Diez-Macho, it has since been published in five volumes (19681978). The codex is complete and well preserved. It features a large number of marginal and interlinear variants and notes written in rabbinic script by different hands, the source of which may well be parallel readings in various Targums, since they often coincide with fragments preserved in the Cairo Genizah.

The dating of this Targum presents complex problems. Linguistic and other aspects point to the early centuries ce. It undoubtedly contains valuable textual variants paralleled in other ancient versions. It differs, however, in orthography, grammar, and the extent of paraphrastic material from the other Galilean Targums, and there is good reason to believe that the original underwent later revision. Another Palestinian Aramaic translation exists that is sometimes referred to as Targum Yerushalmi or Fragmentary Targum. It was first printed in the Bomberg Rabbinic Bible of 15171518, and subsequently, with additions, by Moses Ginsburger (Berlin, 1899). These fragments cover only about 850 of the 5,845 verses of the Pentateuch, and it is not clear whether it was ever complete.

The Samaritan Targum (or Targums)

The Samaritan community produced for its own use a Targum based upon its recension of the Pentateuch. The dialect is that of the area of Shechem and the central highlands, very close to Galilean Aramaic. Linguistic criteria suggest an original date of composition sometime between the second and third centuries ce. Generally, the Samaritan Targum is characterized by extreme literalism even to the extent of reproducing anthropomorphisms.

A serious problem is the fact that the Samaritans never produced a definitive edition of their Targum, with the result that every manuscript exhibits its own peculiarities, the variants frequently reflecting changes and developments in their Aramaic dialect. Moreover, the later scribes, who did not know Aramaic, introduced numerous errors into their copies.

The first edition printed in the West was that of the Paris Polyglot (1645), but it is now clear that it was made from a decidedly inferior manuscript dating to 1514. Walton's London Polyglot of 1657 (vol. 6) reprinted this, but with numerous corrections. A version based on various manuscripts found in the Samaritan synagogue in Shechem was begun by Heinrich Petermann in 1872 and completed by Caroli Vollers in 1893, but the copies used were unre-liable.

Targum to the Prophets

Traditionally, the official Targum to the Prophets is ascribed to Jonathan son of Uzziel, based on a single Talmudic passage (B.T., Meg. 3a), which also makes him a contemporary of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi (sixth century bce). However, another rabbinic text (B.T., Suk. 28a) has him a student of Hillel the Elder (end of first century bcebeginning of first century ce). It has been noted that the name Jonathan (Yonaton ) is a Hebrew rendering of the Greek name Theodotion. One of the second-century Greek versions of the Bible was executed by a certain Theodotion, and it is conjectured that in Babylonian Jewish circles he was confused with Jonathan ben Uzziel, who was then credited with translating the Prophets into Aramaic.

The Aramaic of the Targum to the Prophets is close to biblical Aramaic and to the Palestinian Jewish dialect. Its affinities with the Pesher Habakkuk (a commentary on Habakkuk ) from Qumran and the exegetical traditions it shares in common with Josephus testify to the antiquity of some of its layers. At the same time, a definite dependence on Targum Onkelos to the Torah can be established. In assessing the date of Targum Jonathan's composition, account must also be taken of the fact that the Babylonian Talmud contains numerous citations of Aramaic renderings of passages from the Prophets, which are identical with those in Targum Jonathan, and which are given in the name of the Babylonian amora Yosef ben iyyaʾ (d. 333 ce). These indicate that they were composed at least a generation earlier (B.T., San. 94b et al.).

It is possible that Yosef ben iyyaʾ may have been connected with one of the revisions. At any rate, it is certain that the Targum is not the work of a single individual or of one period but has undergone much revision over a long period of time, until it reached its definitive form, by the seventh century ce.

The style of the Targum, especially to the Latter Prophets, is paraphrastic and expansive, probably because of the difficulties in translating the poetic oratory, which is replete with figurative language. It shares with Targum Onkelos to the Torah the general aversion to anthropomorphisms. Fragments of the Targum from Codex Reuchlinianus were edited by Paul de Lagarde as Prophetae Chaldaice (1872). A critical edition of the Targum Jonathan to the Prophets was published by A. Sperber (1959, 1962).

Citations from another Palestinian Targum to the Prophets appear in the biblical commentaries of Rashi (Shelomoh ben Yitsaq, 10401105) and David Kimi (c. 1160c. 1235) and in the rabbinic dictionary of Natan ben Yeiʾel of Rome (1035c. 1110), known as the Arukh, as well as in the above-mentioned Codex Reuchlinianus. They have been collected by Lagarde and Sperber. While the Aramaic is Palestinian, the influence of the Babylonian Talmud upon this Targum is clear.

Targums to the Ketuvim

Ever since the Venice edition of 1518, rabbinic Bibles have carried Targums to all the books of the Ketuvim (Hagiographa) except Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. Lagarde edited the series in Hagiographa Chaldaice (1873), and a critical edition was published by Sperber in 1964. These Targums are composed in the Palestinian Aramaic dialect, and presumably originate in Palestine. Each is distinctive, and there is no uniformity of style. None of them ever became authoritative or underwent formal redaction. Those to Psalms and Job share in common several distinctive features.

Rabbinic sources make clear that a Targum to Job already existed in Second Temple times (Tosefta, Shab. 13.2 et al.). The remains of such a one have been recovered from Qumran Cave 11, but whether it has any relationship to the former cannot be determined. The language of this Targum is close to biblical Aramaic and seems to go back to the late second century bce.

The Targum to Job that appears in the printed editions has no relation to the preceding and appears to be a compilation from different periods. The Targum to Proverbs is unique in that it bears strong resemblance to the Peshitta, or Syriac version, leading to the most likely conclusion that both renderings go back to a common, older, Aramaic translation or to the influence of a Jewish transliteration of the Peshitta into Hebrew characters.

There are Targums to the Five Scrolls, but these are so expansive and paraphrastic that they are more collections of midrashim than true Targums. They were edited with an introduction by Bernard Grossfeld in 1973.

Greek Translations

The history of the Jewish community in Egypt can be traced back at least to the beginning of the sixth century bce. There Jews spoke Aramaic and knew Hebrew, but the influx of Greek-speaking settlers had far-reaching effects on their cultural life. With the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great, the local Jewish population was swelled by a great wave of immigration attracted there by the opportunities afforded by the Ptolemies. The Jews concentrated mainly in Alexandria, where they formed an autonomous community with its own synagogues and sociocultural institutions, and where they came to form a significant segment of the population. They soon adopted Greek as their everyday language.

By the third century bce, both liturgical and educational considerations dictated the need for a Greek translation of the scriptures, at least of the Pentateuch. The version known as the Septuagint was revolutionary in its conception, its execution, and its impact. No lengthy Eastern religious text had previously been translated into Greek, nor had a written translation of the Jewish scriptures been made hitherto. The Septuagint was one of the great literary enterprises of the ancient world, and it served to fashion and shape a distinctively Jewish-Hellenistic culture, which attempted to synthesize Hebraic and Greek thought and values. Eventually, it became a powerful literary medium for the spread of early Christianity throughout the far-flung Greek-speaking world, thereby transforming the culture and religion of a goodly segment of humanity.

The Septuagint ("seventy") received its Latin name from a legend current among the Jews of Alexandria that it was executed by seventy-two scholars in seventy-two days. Originally applicable only to the translation of the Pentateuch, this abbreviated title was gradually extended to the complete Greek rendering of the entire Jewish scriptures. In the course of time, the origins of the Septuagint came to be embroidered in legend and enveloped in an aura of the miraculous. The Letter of Aristeas, Philo's Moses (II, vvii, 2540) and rabbinic writings (e.g., B.T., Meg. 9a; Avot de Rabbi Natan, ms. b, 37) are the principal witnesses to this development, whereby the initiative for the translation was said to have come from Ptolemy II Philadelphus (r. 285246 bce).

The fullest and most popular version of the legend is that found in the first of the above-mentioned sources. That the Letter is a fiction is apparent from internal evidence, and it has been shown to have been composed by a hellenized Jew writing in the second half of the second century bce, about a hundred years after the publication of the original Septuagint. It is certain that it was the needs of the Alexandrian Jewish community that called forth the translation in the course of the third century bce. It is not impossible, however, that the project did receive royal approval, given the known interest and activities of the Ptolemies as patrons of culture. Furthermore, it is quite likely that the translators did come from Palestine and worked in Egypt.

The Greek of the Septuagint is essentially the Koine, that form of the language commonly spoken and written from the fourth century bce until the middle of the sixth century ce by the Greek-speaking populations of the eastern Mediterranean. Hence, the Septuagint stands as a monument of Hellenistic Greek. However, it is distinctive in many ways. It abounds with lexical and syntactical Hebraisms and is often indifferent to Greek idiom. Neologisms are comparatively rare, but the translators frequently forced the meaning of common Greek words by using a standard rendering of a Hebrew term without regard to context. Further, Aramaic was still widely used, and the translators sometimes gave Aramaic rather than Hebrew meanings to certain words. On occasion, they rendered the original by Greek words that were similar in sound but quite dissimilar in meaning. Quite clearly they injected Palestinian exegetical traditions into their translations. All in all, the Septuagint was generally competently rendered. If its style is not consistent throughout, this is partly due to the multiplicity of translators and partly to the revolutionary nature of the undertaking in that the translators had neither experience nor real precedent to fall back on.

The rest of the Greek Bible displays a wide variety of styles and techniques ranging from the literal to the free and the paraphrastic. This is due to the piecemeal nature of the translations, to the long period of time it took to complete the entire scripturesseveral hundred yearsand to the fact that the books of the Prophets and Hagiographa were apparently privately executed. At least, no traditions about them have been preserved. The result was considerable fluctuations in the quality of the translations.

The Septuagint as it has come down to us often reflects readings at variance with the Masoretic Hebrew text. Two factors complicate the scholarly use of this version as a tool for biblical research. The first relates to its early external form, the second to its textual history.

With the spread of Christianity and the pursuit of missionary and polemical activity on the part of the church, the inconvenience of the traditional scroll format for the sacred books became more and more pronounced. The church, therefore, early adopted the codex or "leaf-book" format for its Bible, perhaps being additionally motivated by a conscious desire to differentiate its own from Jewish practice, which adhered to the scroll form for study purposes until at least the sixth century ce. Those who produced the early codices of the Greek Bible must have had great difficulty in assembling uniform copies of the individual scrolls that made up the scriptural canon. Accordingly, various scrolls of a heterogeneous nature were used by the copyists for their archetypes. A badly copied scroll might have been the only one available to the compiler.

The second factor concerns the tendency of later scholars to rework the original Greek translation. Scholars reworked translations because the manuscripts before them had been poorly made, or because the literary quality of the Greek rendering was deemed to be in need of improvement, or, what is most important, because the Greek reflected an underlying Hebrew text at variance with that current at the time, so that editors would attempt to bring the translation in line with the current Hebrew. As a result, multiple text traditions of the Septuagint arose, and the problem of recovering the pristine translation is a formidable one. Each book of the Septuagint must first be individually examined both in terms of its translation technique and style and of its own textual history and transmission. As a result, a rendering that appears to reflect a variant Hebrew text may turn out to be nothing of the sort and may be accounted for on quite different grounds. On the other hand, the Qumran scrolls often clearly display a Hebrew reading that the Septuagint translators must have had before them.

The problems relating to Septuagint studies are exacerbated by the large number of witnesses available, consisting of citations in the works of Philo Judaeus, Josephus, the writers of New Testament, and the Church Fathers; the manuscripts of the Septuagint itself; and the acknowledged revisions of it. Many of the variant quotations may, in fact, be independent personal renderings of the authors or not even be original to the works cited, having been tampered with by later copyists or editors. In the case of the New Testament, there is also the possibility of their having been rendered into Greek from an Aramaic version rather than the Hebrew. Nevertheless, there still remains a respectable residue of genuine Septuagint quotations that differ from the manuscripts. As to these last, the material is very extensive and stretches from the middle of the second century bce (with the Dead Sea Scrolls material) to the age of printing.

The turning point in the production of Greek Bibles comes in the fourth century ce attendant upon the conversion to Christianity of Constantine (c. 280337) and the conferring upon that religion of a privileged position in the Roman Empire. An order from Constantine in 332 for fifty vellum Bibles for use in the new churches he was erecting in Constantinople afforded an immense stimulus to the creation of the great and handsome Greek Bibles known technically as majuscules or uncials ("inch high") because of the practice of the scribes to employ capital-size letters without ligatures. The three most important codices of this type that have come down to us in a reasonably complete state are the Codex Sinaiticus (usually designated for scholarly purposes by S or by the Hebrew letter alef), the Codex Alexandrinus (given the siglum A), and the Codex Vaticanus (indicated by the initial B). The Sinaiticus, executed in the fourth century ce, is not complete and in places has been seriously damaged by the action of the metallic ink eating through the parchment. Despite the often careless orthography, the manuscript is witness to a very early text tradition. The Vaticanus, also produced in the fourth century, is nearly perfect and constitutes the oldest and most excellent extant copy of the Greek Bible, even though it is not of uniform quality throughout. It was used as the basis of the Roman edition of 1587, the commonly printed Septuagint. The Alexandrinus, containing practically the entire Bible, was probably copied in the early fifth century. Its text is frequently at variance with that of the Codex Vaticanus. It too has suffered damage from corrosive ink.

Up to the eighth century, only uncials were produced, but thereafter appear the minuscules, written in small-size cursive writing. From the eleventh century, this type completely replaces the other. The minuscules were mainly intended for private reading, and hundreds are extant. Their value for Septuagint studies is small.

The adoption of the Septuagint instead of the Hebrew as the Bible of the church was itself a source of discomfort to Greek-speaking Jews. That the Greek rendering frequently departed from the by then universally recognized Hebrew text constituted additional and decisive cause for its rejection by the synagogue. Doubtless, the conviction on the part of the Jews that Christological changes had been introduced into the original Septuagint also played a role. This reversal of attitude to the Septuagint on the part of the Jewish religious authorities is strikingly reflected in rabbinic literature. The Palestinian minor tractate Soferim (1.7) asserts, "The day that the Torah was rendered into Greek was as disastrous for Israel as the day in which the Golden Calf was made, for the Torah could not be adequately translated."

On the Christian side, the lack of uniformity and consistency within the Greek manuscripts themselves were to be an embarrassing disadvantage to Christian missionaries in their theological polemics with Jews. This situation would be exacerbated by the discrepancies between the translation used by Christian disputants and the Hebrew text, which was the only authoritative form of the scriptures recognized by Palestinian Jews. Exegetical debate could proceed only on the basis of a mutually acknowledged text, which in this case had to be the only Hebrew text tradition accepted by the Jews.

All the aforementioned factors led to conscious attempts by Jews and Christians to revise the Septuagint in order to bring it into closer harmony with the Hebrew. In the second century ce, three systematic revisions of the Greek translation took place, namely, those of Aquila, Theodotion, and Symmachus. Aquila, a Jewish proselyte from Pontus, Asia Minor, apparently worked under rabbinical supervision (J.T., Meg. 1.11, 70c). He adopted a mechanical, artificial technique of consistently using fixed Greek equivalents for Hebrew terms, and he coined words or forms to this end. This extreme literalness, to the extent of reproducing even minutiae of the original, yielded a recension that was often alien to one who knew no Hebrew. Aquila's motivation was to underline the authority of the standardized consonantal Hebrew text and to produce a Greek version that would be absolutely faithful to it. His work replaced the Septuagint in the synagogues of Greek-speaking Jews, and was used there for the lectionaries well into the sixth century ce. It has survived only in part.

It is not certain whether Theodotion was an Ebionite Christian or a Jewish proselyte. At any rate, he, too, displays excessive literalness. At times, he even transliterates Hebrew words into Greek letters, possibly for the benefit of Jews. His translation was not preserved in Jewish circles, but was highly regarded by the church. His Greek was readable, and his Daniel was incorporated into the Septuagint, displacing the inferior original Greek version of that book.

The third revision in the course of the second century ce was done by Symmachus. His origins are obscure. While he used the existing translations, his work has an independent quality about it. The style of the Greek is superior to that of the other two. He also exhibits a tendency to soften anthropomorphisms, as well as a marked influence of rabbinic exegesis. Very little of his work has survived.

The climax of a process of revision for the benefit of Christian missionaries and polemicists against the Jews was the work of the great church theologian of Caesarea, Origen (c. 185257). He attempted both to provide a textbook for the study of Hebrew and to reduce the variety of Septuagint versions to order, taking as his base the standardized Hebrew text current among the Palestinian Jewish communities of his day. This was a bold step, for it made the Hebrew text superior to, and more authoritative than, the Septuagint, which the church had officially adopted and canonized. To achieve his goal, he arranged texts in six parallel columns. This bulky work, the product of prodigious industry, has come to be known as the Hexapla ("sixfold").

The first column of the Hexapla, the consonantal text-in Hebrew characters, has wholly vanished, but the second, a Greek transliteration of the former, testifies to the fact that it was practically identical with the Masoretic Hebrew text. Origen's aim was apparently to indicate how to vocalize the consonants of the first column. Aquila's translation for the third column was the logical sequence since it was closest to the current Hebrew text, and that of Symmachus came next, apparently because it seems to have been based to a large extent upon Aquila, and it made that rendering more in-telligible.

It is in the fifth column, a revised Septuagint, that Origen invested his main energies. In attempting to produce a "corrected" Greek translation, in the sense that it would faithfully represent the Hebrew of his first column, he devised a system for indicating to the reader the substantive differences between the latter and the Septuagint, and for remedying the "defects." The codex of Origen's Hexapla vanished completely sometime in the seventh century. However, his "restored" Septuagint text had been independently published and received wide circulation. In this way it considerably influenced subsequent copies of the Septuagint. Unfortunately, future scribes either neglected or carelessly reproduced the system of critical symbols, with the result that the text became chaotic and Origen's work was ruined.

One other edition of the Greek Bible is that of the Christian theologian Lucian of Antioch (c. 240312). Lucian was heir to a still earlier Greek version that can now be shown, on the basis of Qumran readings, to have reflected an ancient Hebrew text. Where Samuel and Kings are concerned, at least, the "Proto-Lucian" was an early Jewish revision of the original Greek translation of which both Theodotion and Aquila seem to have known, if not the original itself, as some have claimed. At any rate, Lucian apparently revised this version on the basis of Origen's fifth column.

Translations Based on the Septuagint

The great prestige that the Septuagint acquired as the official, authoritative Bible of the church generated a number of secondary translations as Christianity spread to non-Greek-speaking lands and the churches had to accommodate themselves to the native language. Whereas the early translations had been the work of scholars who knew Hebrew, this was now no longer a requirement. The Greek itself served as the base for subsequent translations. Such was the case in respect to the Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Georgian, Gothic, and Old Latin versions, all of which have little bearing on the history of the Hebrew text but are of lesser or greater importance for the study of the Septuagint itself.

The most important of all the secondary renderings of the Bible is the Latin. This language advanced with the expansion of Roman power, first throughout Italy, then into southern Gaul and throughout the Mediterranean coastal regions of Africa. In Rome itself, Greek remained the cultural language of the church until the third century, but in the African communities Latin was very popular, and it is most probable that the earliest translations thereinto emanated from these circles. The needs of the liturgy and the lectionary dictated renditions into the vernacular, which at first remained oral and by way of interlinear glosses. It is not impossible but cannot be proven that the earliest such efforts were made by Jews directly from the Hebrew. At any rate, by the middle of the second century ce, an Old Latin version, in the colloquial form of the language, based on the Septuagint, was current. Whether we are speaking here of a single text or a plurality of translations is a matter of dispute because of the great variety of readings to be found in extant manuscripts and citations. These divide roughly into African and European types, but it must be remembered that the two interacted with each other.

Despite the fact that the Old Latin is a translation of a translation, and for that reason must be used with extreme caution for text-critical studies, it is nevertheless important since it was made from a pre-Hexaplaric Greek text. For example, it has much in common with the Lucianic recension and with the Vatican and Sinaitic codices. In the case of Job and Daniel, it has renderings that presuppose a Greek reading that has not otherwise been preserved and that, in turn, indicates an original Hebrew text not identical with that received. The psalms, in particular, are significant for the numerous texts available as a consequence of their having been used in the liturgy, although they were frequently reworked.

Vulgate of Jerome

By the close of the fourth century, the confused state of the Old Latin texts had become acute, a source of embarrassment to the church in the lands of the West where Latin was the language of the intelligentsia and of literature. A stable and standardized Bible in that language was a desideratum. At the papal initiative of Damasus I (c. 382), Jerome undertook to revise the Old Latin version.

The Roman Psalter (384), a limited revision of the Psalms based on the Greek, seems to have been the first fruit of Jerome's labors in the Hebrew scriptures, although his authorship has been disputed by some scholars. This version was officially adopted into the church liturgy at Rome. It was soon generally superseded by the Gallican Psalter, so called because it was first accepted by the churches of Gaul. This was Jerome's revision of the Old Latin on the basis of the fifth column of the Hexapla, a rendering therefore very close to the Hebrew text of his day. This version, produced in Bethlehem, achieved preeminent status and is the one included in editions of the Vulgate to the present time, even though the fresh translation from the Hebrew more accurately reflects the original.

Jerome's involvement with Origen's Hexapla convinced him of the superiority of the Hebrew text over the Greek, and he set about creating a fresh Latin translation of the Hebrew scriptures, directly from the Hebrew text (the Hebraica veritas, the "Hebrew truth"). Doubtless, another motivation was the recognition that Christian theological polemic with Jews could not be conducted on the basis of a text, the Septuagint in this case, which had no authority for one of the parties.

Jerome completed his translation in 405, having enjoyed the assistance of both Jewish converts to Christianity and rabbinical scholars. Indeed, elements of rabbinic tradition and exegesis are embedded in his work, and it is evident that he was also influenced by Aquila's translation. Conscious of the implications of his audacious disregard of the Septuagint that the church had canonized, Jerome was careful to employ the terms and phrases of the Old Latin that had achieved wide currency, particularly those in the New Testament that had doctrinal coloration.

The new Latin translation, known since the sixteenth century as the Vulgate, or "common" edition, met with strenuous opposition, especially on the part of Augustine, but owing to its elegance and superior intelligibility it made headway, so that by the eighth century its preeminence was undisputed. However, because the Vulgate existed for several centuries side by side with the Old Latin, the two versions interacted with each other so that the manuscripts of the Vulgate became corrupted. Various attempts in the Middle Ages to produce a corrected and revised edition are recorded, but none gained lasting success.

The invention of printing finally made possible the long-sought goal of a standardized text, but this goal was not achieved at once. Jerome's Vulgate may have the distinction of being the first book printed from movable type to issue from Gutenberg's press at Mainz (1456), but it took almost another century of sporadic attempts at revision before a definitive, official edition was achieved. The achievement of a definitive edition was an outgrowth of the decision of the Council of Trent in 1546 to proclaim Jerome's Vulgate to be the authoritative Bible of the Catholic Church. The hastily prepared three-volume edition of Sixtus V (1590), the "Sixtine Bible," proved to be unsatisfactory, and it was soon replaced by the "Clementine Bible" of 1592, promulgated by Clement VIII. This latter remained the one official text of the church until the twentieth century.

In 1907, a new critical edition of the Vulgate was commissioned by Pius X, and the task of preparation was entrusted to the Benedictine order. About eight thousand manuscripts were consulted, and it began to appear in 1926. By 1981, fourteen volumes had been published covering most of the books of the Hebrew Bible. A two-volume edition based on the foregoing was issued at Stuttgart in 1975, with a second edition in 1980.

The importance of the Vulgate as a major factor in the cultural and religious life of Western civilization cannot be overestimated. For a thousand years, it was the Bible of the churches of western Europe and served as the base at first for all translations into the respective developing vernaculars.

Syriac versions

Syriac is an Eastern Aramaic dialect within the Semitic group of languages that was current in southeastern Turkey and the Euphrates Valley. It was an important literary and liturgical language within the Christian church from the third century until the Arab Muslim invasion of the area. The Hebrew Bible was several times translated into Syriac, the many renderings necessitated by dialectic and theological considerations.

It is quite likely that there existed an early Syriac rendering that was the basis of the many later versions, most of which are extant only as fragments. The one complete translation to survive is the standard and most important recension, known since the ninth century as the Peshitta. This term means the "simple [version]," a designation it acquired either because of its popular style or, more likely, to contrast it with the more complicated renderings that were equipped with a text-critical apparatus. Ever since the third century, the Peshitta has been the official Bible of the Syrian church, common in one form or another to all its different branches.

The Peshitta is theoretically of the utmost significance for the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible, since it was executed directly from the original long before the fixing of the Hebrew masoretic system, and because it is in a language closely related to Hebrew, in contrast to the Greek versions. This importance, however, is diminished by the facts that the version possesses a long complex history as yet imperfectly reconstructed, that the hundreds of manuscripts housed in the Western libraries display a large number of variants, and that all existing printed editions are unreliable.

No early trustworthy data about the provenance and date of the Peshitta or of the identity of the translators have been handed down. Weighty evidence has been adduced to prove both a Jewish and a Christian origin. If the former, the work would have originated in a Syriac-speaking community that maintained close relationships with Jerusalem. This immediately suggests the district of Adiabene in the upper region of the Tigris, situated between the rivers Great Zab and Little Zab, where a Jewish kingdom existed in the first century ce (Josephus, Antiquities, Loeb ed. XX.1796). On the other hand, a Christian provenance can also be argued, since Christianity early took firm hold in the region of Adiabene, which already had Christian bishops by 123 ce. The ecclesiastical authorities, in preparing a version of scripture for the needs of the local Christian community, could have made use of earlier Jewish Aramaic translations and could have entrusted the task to Jewish Christians, whose presence in the area is attested. There is also the possibility that the Christian elements may be the result of the later redaction of an earlier Jewish work. It is impossible to generalize about the nature of the translation, which is the work of many hands and different periods and which lacks con-sistency.

Early in the fifth century, the Syriac church experienced a schism, dividing into Nestorians in the East and Jacobites in the West, with each group developing its own form of the Peshitta. Because of the relative isolation of the former, politically and geographically, in the area of Nisibin in southern Anatolia, the Eastern or Nestorian texts are regarded as having been less vulnerable to revisions on the basis of Hebrew or Greek sources.

The most important Peshitta manuscripts are those copied before the tenth century when the standardized Syriac biblical masorah was finally fixed.

A Syriac version that is second in importance only to the Peshitta is the Syro-Hexapla. This is a rendering of the Septuagint version of the fifth column of Origen's Hexapla. It was commissioned to serve political and theological ends, and it was most likely executed in a Syrian monastery in Egypt by Paul, bishop of Tella, together with associates, and completed in 617. It never achieved its purpose of displacing the Peshitta, but it has its own inherent worth and is most valuable as a tool for reconstructing the lost column of the Hexapla on which it was based.

Another version of the Syriac Bible is the Syro-Palestinian. This version has only partially survived. Its script is distinctive, in that it used the Estrangela ("round script") type, as is also its dialect, which is a West Palestinian Aramaic spoken by a Christian community in certain areas of the Judean hills. This is a development of the dialect spoken by Jews who converted to Christianity around the year 400, and who intermingled with the Melchite church. The version bears close affinities with Jewish Aramaic Targums. Moshe H. Goshen-Gottstein together with H. Shirun assembled all printed remnants of this version as well as some unpublished material. The Pentateuch and the Prophets in Hebrew characters appeared in 1973.

Still another Syriac version, the Philoxenian, was commissioned by the leader of the Jacobite Monophysite church, Philoxenus, bishop of Mabbug-Hierapolis, near Aleppo, Syria, in 507508. This version was not a revision of the Peshitta, but a new translation based on the Lucianic version of the Greek. Only fragments of Isaiah and Psalms have survived.

Finally, there is the attempt of Jacob (c. 640708), bishop of Edessa, to modernize and popularize the style of the Syro-Hexapla while retaining the text-form of the former. For the first time, chapter divisions were introduced, and the Syrian Masoretic apparatus was utilized.

Arabic translations

Jewish and Christian communities existed in the Arabian Peninsula many centuries before the dawn of Islam, engaging in missionary activities among the pagan Arabs, often in competition with one another. In Yemen, in southwestern Arabia, the last of the Himyarite rulers, Dhū Nuwās, even converted to Judaism (517 ce). The buffer state of Al-Hīrah was a center of Arab Christianity between the third and sixth centuries. The Jews used their Hebrew Bible, the Christians either the Syriac or Greek translations. Since both religious communities were well integrated into Arabian life and culture, while retaining their distinctiveness, it seems plausible that at least parts of the Bible had been rendered into Arabic, if only in oral form, in pre-Islamic days, much the same way as Aramaic oral renderings long antedated the first written translations in that language. It was the Muslim invasions of western Asia and the concomitant Arabization of the populace that prompted the systematic, written translation of the Bible into Arabic. The foremost Christian scholar and translator, unayn ibn Isāk (Johannitus, 808873), is said to have produced such a version, basing himself on the Septuagint, but if there was such a version, it has not survived.

The first and most celebrated translation made directly from the Hebrew was that of Saʿadyah Gaon (882942), leader of Babylonian Jewry. It has come down only in Hebrew script, and its appearance constituted a major turning point in the development of Judeo-Arabic culture. Saʿadyah tried to conform in his style to the genius of the Arabic language. He sought to eliminate anthropomorphisms and he rendered geographical names into contemporary usage.

The impact of Saʿadyah's translation was immense. It has continued to enjoy high prestige and to be read weekly by Yemenite Jews to the present day. It even influenced the Samaritan and Karaite communities, both of which produced their own Arabic versions of the Hebrew scriptures. The first Samaritan translator of the Pentateuch, Abū Saʿīd (thirteenth century), based himself on it; at the end of the tenth century, the foremost Karaite scholar, Yafet ben Eli, rendered the entire Bible anew into Arabic, which translation remained the standard text for all Karaite communities in the East. It, too, was indebted to Saʿadyah, even though its style and language were updated, more popular, and excessively literal.

Christian translations were generally not made from the Hebrew but were variously based on the Greek, Syriac, Latin, and Coptic versions, sometimes on more than one. In the sixteenth century, attempts were made to assemble a complete Bible in Arabic, but the different translators individually used different versions as their base. The resulting codex was a mixed text. The Paris Polyglot of 1629 first featured an almost complete Arabic text of the Bible, which was followed by the London Polyglot of 1657, but here again the result was a mixed text.

In the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as a result of renewed interest in the Arab world on the part of Western powers, Protestant and Catholic organizations set about producing translations into modern Arabic for missionary purposes. The most frequently used is that by the American Protestant mission in Beirut, completed in 1864, and made from the Hebrew. The most widely used Catholic translation is that in three volumes (18761880) made by the Jesuits in Beirut with the assistance of Ibrāhīm al-Yāzijt.

In sum, the Arabic translations, apart from that of Saʿadyah, are relatively late and are mostly secondary, so that they have no value for textual studies of the Hebrew original. They are, however, useful sources for the history of biblical exegesis, as well as witnesses to the earlier translations such as the Greek, the Aramaic, and the Syriac.

See Also

Biblical Exegesis, article on Jewish Views; Canon; Chanting; Dead Sea Scrolls; Israelite Law; Israelite Religion; Oral Tradition; Prophecy, article on Biblical Prophecy; Psalms; Samaritans; Wisdom Literature, article on Biblical Books.


The most reliable and comprehensive work on the Bible is The Cambridge History of the Bible, 3 vols., edited by Peter R. Ackroyd (Cambridge, 19631970). It summarizes the current state of scholarship in nontechnical language and each chapter is written by a specialist in the field. The excellent bibliographies are arranged by topic. For more concise introductions to the issues and approaches involved in the contemporary study of the Hebrew scriptures there are Herbert F. Hahn's The Old Testament in Modern Research, 2d exp. ed., with a survey of recent literature by Horace D. Hummel (Philadelphia, 1966), and John H. Hayes's An Introduction to Old Testament Study (Nashville, 1979). The latter work notes only items in English in the useful bibliographies that precede each chapter. Two most frequently used comprehensive traditional introductions to the Bible containing extensive bibliographies are Otto Eisfeldt's The Old Testament: An Introduction, translated from the third German edition by Peter R. Ackroyd (New York, 1965), and Georg Fohrer's Introduction to the Old Testament (Nashville, 1968).

Two classic works on the history of the canon are Frants Buhl's Canon and Text of the Old Testament, translated from the German by John Macpherson (Edinburgh, 1892), and H. E. Ryle's The Canon of the Old Testament: An Essay on the Gradual Growth and Formation of the Hebrew Canon of Scripture, 2d ed. (London, 1892). Both contain ample references to and quotations from rabbinic and patristic sources. The Canon and Masorah of the Hebrew Bible, edited by Sid Z. Leiman (New York, 1974), provides an indispensable collection of thirty-seven essays by as many scholars relating to various aspects of the biblical canon; all but four are in English. The work lacks an index. Leiman's original contribution to the subject is The Canonization of Hebrew Scripture: The Talmudic and Midrashic Evidence (Hamden, Conn., 1976). Extensive citations from rabbinic literature are given both in their original form and in translation. The work is enhanced by copious notes, bibliography, and indexes.

The new concept of canon as a process is explicated by James A. Sanders in his Torah and Canon (Philadelphia, 1972) and in his essay "Available for Life: The Nature and Function of Canon," in Magnalia Dei', The Mighty Acts of God: Essays on the Bible and Archaeology in Memory of G. Ernest Wright, edited by Frank Moore Cross et al. (Garden City, N.Y., 1976), pp. 531560. Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture by Brevard S. Childs (Philadelphia, 1979) seeks to describe the form and function of each book of the Hebrew Bible in its role as sacred scripture, and to understand the literature in that context. It contains detailed bibliographies. Contemporary concerns with canonical criticism are examined by James Barr in his Holy Scripture, Canon, Authority, Criticism (Philadelphia, 1983).

Ernst Würthwein's The Text of the Old Testament, translated from the German by Peter R. Ackroyd (Oxford, 1957), is a useful key to the critical apparatus of the Kittel edition of the Hebrew Bible. The text is illustrated by forty-four plates. The most detailed and readable work is that by Bleddyn J. Roberts, Old Testament Text and Versions (Cardiff, 1951). However, some of the data need to be updated in light of research into the Dead Sea Scrolls. The best all-around discussion of these last-mentioned is The Ancient Library of Qumrân and Modern Biblical Studies, rev. ed. (Garden City, N.Y., 1961), by Frank Moore Cross. This work is supplemented by a collection of scholarly essays assembled by the same author together with Shemaryahu Talmon in Qumran and the History of the Biblical Text (Cambridge, Mass., 1975). Paul E. Kahle's The Cairo Genizah, 2d ed. (New York, 1959), examines and evaluates the impact of the hoard of manuscripts found in the bibliocrypt of the synagogue in Old Cairo and in the caves of Qumran on the scholarship relating to the history of the biblical Hebrew text and the ancient translations, as well as on the ancient pronunciation of Hebrew. The history and critical evaluation of the methodology of textual criticism is given by M. H. Goshen-Gottstein in "The Textual Criticism of the Old Testament: Rise, Decline, Rebirth," Journal of Biblical Literature 102 (September 1983): 365399.

A basic introduction to the Greek versions, their history, character, and the problems they present, is provided by the collection of thirty-five essays assembled by Sidney Jellicoe, Studies into the Septuagint: Origins, Recensions, and Interpretations (New York, 1974). Another important work for nonspecialists is Bruce M. Metzger's Manuscripts of the Greek Bible: An Introduction to Greek Palaeography (Oxford, 1981). Of a more technical and advanced nature is Imanuel Tov's The Text-Critical Use of the Septuagint in Biblical Research (Jerusalem, 1981). Henry Barclay Swete's An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek, 2d ed. (Cambridge, 1902), still remains standard. Harry M. Orlinsky's essay "The Septuagint as Holy Writ and the Philosophy of the Translators," Hebrew Union College Annual 46 (1975): 89114, contributes important insights into the nature of this version. A Classified Bibliography of the Septuagint by Sebastian P. Brock, Charles T. Fritsch, and Sidney Jellicoe (Leiden, 1973) is an indispensable scholarly tool.

For Targumic studies, there is Bernard Grossfeld's A Bibliography of Targum Literature, 2 vols. (Cincinnati, 19721977).

The Bible and the Ancient Near East: Essays in Honor of William Foxwell Albright, edited by G. Ernest Wright (Garden City, N.Y., 1961), contains fifteen studies by as many different scholars summarizing the course taken by scholarly research in various areas of Near Eastern studies bearing on the Bible. J. B. Pritchard has edited a superb collection, Ancient Near Eastern Texts relating to the Old Testament, 3d ed. (Princeton, 1969), which gives translations of pertinent texts drawn from all genres of literature, together with brief introductory notes and also indexes of names and biblical references. This collection is supplemented by The Ancient Near East in Pictures relating to the Old Testament, 2d ed. (Princeton, 1969), by the same author, which is arranged by topics, and is equipped with a descriptive catalogue giving in concise notation the significant details of each picture, and an index. Near Eastern Religious Texts relating to the Old Testament, edited by Walter Beyerlin, translated from the German by John Bowden (London, 1978), is more restricted in scope, but includes several texts available only since 1969. The accompanying notes are fuller than in the preceding work. Another useful collection of this type, though far more limited in scope, and less up to date, is D. Winton Thomas's Documents from Old Testament Times (New York, 1961). Theodor H. Gaster's Myth, Legend, and Custom in the Old Testament (New York, 1969) is a comparative study based on James G. Frazer's Folk-Lore in the Old Testament, 3 vols. (London, 1919). The copious notes are especially valuable. A concise yet comprehensive introduction to the geographical and historical settings of the Hebrew Bible is provided by Martin Noth in his The Old Testament World, translated by Victor I. Gruhn (Philadelphia, 1966). Frederick G. Kenyon's Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, revised by A. W. Adams, with an introduction by Godfrey R. Driver (New York, 1965), is particularly useful for a survey of the ancient versions.

Nahum M. Sarna (1987)