Masorah, Masoreth, or Massoreth
Masorah, Masoreth, or Massoreth (מִסּוֹרֶת מָסֹרֶת מָסֹרָה), the technical term given to a grammatico-critical commentary on the O. Test., the design of which is to indicate the correct reading of the text with respect to words, vowels, accents, etc., so as to preserve it from all corruption, putting an end to the exercise of unbounded individual fancy. In the Hebrew Masorah denotes traditions, from מסר, which is used in Chaldaic in the sense of to give over, to commnit (corresponding to the Hebrew חסגיר סגר נתן ביד; comp. Targ. on 1Sa 17:46; 1Sa 24:11; 1Ki 20:13; Ex 21:3; Am 6:8); and hence, by the rabbinical writers, in the sense of to deliver, with reference to the oral communication of doctrine, opinion, or fact. The derivation, from אסר), to bind, to fix within strict limits, seems to have been an afterthought, suggested by the sentiment that the Masorah is a hedge to the Torah. The Masorah, however, is not confined to what is communicated by oral tradition; in the state in which it has come down to us it embraces all that has been delivered traditionally, whether orally or in writing. Its correlate is קבלה(Kabbtsalah), reception; and as the latter denotes whatever has been received traditionally, the former embraces whatever has been delivered traditionally; though in usage Kabbalah is generally restricted to matters of theologic and mystic import, SEE CABALA, while Masorah has reference rather to matters affecting the condition of the text of Scripture. It takes account not only of various readings, but also contains notes of a grammatical and lexicographical character it descends to the most minute particulars, and is a monument of prolonged industry, fidelity, and earnest devotion to the cause of sacred learning.
I. Origin of the Masorah. — The Masorah is the work of certain Jewish critics, who from their work have received the title of בעלי המסורת (Baali Hammasoreth), masters of the Masorah, or, as they are generally designated, Masoretes. Who they were, and when or where their work was accomplished, are points involved in some uncertainty. According to Jewish tradition. the work began with Moses; from him it was committed to the wise men till Ezra and the great Synagogue, and was then transferred to the learned men at Tiberias, by whom it was transmitted to writing and called the Masorah (El. Levita, Masoreth Hammasoreth, Pref. p. 2). Some even claim Ezra as the author of the written collection (Buxtorf; Tiberias, c. 11, p. 102; Leusden, Philol. Heb. Diss. 25, sec. 4; Pfeiffer, De Masora, cap. 2, in Opp. p. 891, etc.); but the arguments which have been adduced in support of this opinion are not sufficient to sustain it. Aben-Ezra says expressly, "So was the usage of the wise men of Tiberias, for from them were the men the authors of the Masoreth, and from them have we received the whole punctuation" (Zachuth, cited by Blxtorf, Tib. c. 3, p. 9); and even Buxtorf himself unconsciously gives in to the opinion he opposes by the title he has put on his work. That various readings had been noted before this, even in pre-Talmudic times, is not to be doubted. In the Talmud itself we have not only directions given for the correct writing of the Biblical books, but references to varieties of reading as then existing (Hierosol., tr. Tacanith, f. 68, c. 1; comp. Kennicott, Diss. Genesis sec. 34; De Wette, Einleit. ins A. T. sec. 89; Hävernick, Introduct. p. 280); especial mention is made of the Ittur Sopheirn (עטור ספוים, Ablatio Scribarum; tract Nedasrim, f. 37, c. 2), of the Keri ve-lo Kethib, the Kethib ve-lo Keri, and the Keri ve-kethib (Niedarim, 1. c.; tract Sota, v. 5; Jomna, f. 21, c. 2), and of the puncta extraorldincaria, which, however, are not properly of critical import, but rather point to allegorical explanations of the passage (tr. Nasir, f. 23, c. I1; comp. Jerome, Quaest. in Genesis 18:35); and already the middle consonant, the middle word, and the middle verse of the Pentateuch are noted as in the Masorah. In the tract Sopherim, written between the Talmud and the Masorah, there are also notes of the same kind, though not exactly agreeing with those in the Masorah. But those variants had not before been formally collected and reduced to order in writing. This was the work of the Jewish scholars who, from the 6th century after Christ, flourished in Palestine. and had their principal seat at Tiberias (Zunz, Gottesdienstliche Vorträge der Juden, p. 309).
II. Contents of the Masorah. — These are partly palteographic, partly critical, partly exegetical, partly grammatical. They embrace notes concerning
1. The Consonants of the Hebrew Text. — Concerning these, the Masoretes note about thirty letters which are larger than the others, about thirty that are less, four which are suspended or placed above the line of the others in the same word, and nine which are inverted or written upside down; to these peculiarities reference is made also in the Talmud, and the use of them as merely marking the middle of a book or section indicated (tr. Kiddushin, f. 30, c. 1; Hävernick, 1. c., p. 282). The Masoretes also note a case in which the final ֹם is found in the heart of a word (לםרבה, Isa 9:6); one in which the initial in is found at the end (חמ, Ne 2:13); and one in which the initial נ occurs at the end (מנ. Job 18:1) — irregularities for which no reason can be assigned (comp. Leusden, Phil. Heb. Diss. 10). They have noted how often each letter occurs; and they signalize the middle of each book, the middle letter of the Pentateuch (the ו in גחו, Le 11:42), the middle letter of the Psalter (the ָע in מיער, Ps 130:8), the number of times each of the five letters which have final forms occurs in its final and in its initial form.
2. The Vowel-points and Accents in the Hebrew Text. — Here the Masoretes note the peculiarities or anomalies in the use of the vowel- points, of the dagesh and mappik, and of the accents in the text-a fact to which Buxtorf appeals with considerable force, as proving that the authors of the Masorah, as we have it, were not the inventors of the diacritical marks by which vowels and accents are indicated in the Hebrew text; for, had they been so, they would not have confined themselves to laboriously noting anomalies into which they themselves had fallen, but would at once have removed them. SEE VOWEL-POINTS.
3. Words. — With regard to these, the Masoretes note
(1) the cases of Scriptio plena (מלאים) and defectiva (חסרים);
(2) the number of times in which certain words occur at the beginning of a verse (as, e.g., קום, which they say is nine times the first word of a verse), or the end of a verse (as הארוֹ, which they say occurs thrice as the final word of a verse);
(3) words of which the meaning is ambiguous, and to which they affix the proper meaning in the place where they occur;
(4) words which have over t the puncta extraordinaria; and
(5) words which present anomalies in writing or grammar, and which some have thought should be altered, or peculiarities which need to be explained (סבירין).
4. Verses. — The Masoretes number the verses in each book of the O. Test.. as well as in each of the larger sections of the Pentateuch, and they note the middle verse of each book of the O.T.; they also note the number of verses in which certain expressions occur, the first and last letters of each verse, and in many cases the number of letters of which it is composed; and, in fine, they have marked twenty-five or twenty-eight places where there is a pause in the middle of a verse, or where a hiatus is supposed to be found in the meaning (as, e.g., in Ge 4:8, where, after the words ויאמר קין אלאּהבל אחיו "there is in rabbinical editions of the O. Test. a space left vacant [פסקא, piska] to indicate that something is probably omitted).
5. Tikkun Sopherim (תקין סופרים, ordinatio, sive correctio Scribarum). — On the word כבודם (Ps 106:20) the Masorah has this note: the word כבודם is one of eighteen words in Scripture which are an ordination of the Scribes. These eighteen words are also enumerated in a note at the beginning of Numbers. The passages where they occur are presented in the following table:
Tikksun Sopherlin. Erronneous Reading.
Ge 18:22, לפני יהוה.... לפני אברהם... אברהם .. יהוהNu 11:15 ברעתם ברעתיNu 12:12 בשרנו בשרו בשונו םאמו1Sa 3:13, לי להם2Sa 16:12, בעניי בעוני1Ki 12:16; 2Ch 10:16, לאלהיו לאחליוEze 8:17, אל אפי אל אפםHab 1:12. לא תמות לא נמותMal 1:13, אותי אותוZec 2:8, עיני עינוJer 2:11 כבודי כבובוHo 4:7, כבודי כבודםPaslm 106:20, כבודי כבודםJob 7:20. אלי אליJob 32:3, את דיז את איובLa 3:20, עלי עליCharges have been rashly advanced against these Sopherim of having corrupted the sacred text (Galatin, De Arcanis Cathol. Ver. lib. 1, c. 8), but for this there is no foundation (see ben-Chajim's Introduction to the Rabbinic Bible, translated by Ginsburg, p. 21). Eichhorn concludes from "the character of the readings" that "this recension took note only of certain errors which had crept into the text through transcribers, and which were corrected by collation of MSS." (Einleit. ins. A. T. sec. 116). Bleek, however, thinks that this is affirmed without evidence, and that in some cases the rejected reading is probably the original one, as, e.g., in Ge 18:22, and Hab 1:12 (Einleit. ins A. T. p. 803).
6. Ittur Sopherim (עטור סופרים, ablatio Scribarum). — The Masoretes have noted four instances in which the letter ו has been erroneously prefixed to אחר -viz. Ge 18:5; Ge 24:55; Nu 12:14; and Ps 28:9; they note also that it has been erroneously prefixed to the word משפטי in Ps 36:7. Of these passages, the only one in which the injunction of the Sopherim to remove the ו has been neglected is Nu 12:14 — a neglect at which Buxtorf expresses surprise (Lex. Talmud, s.v. עטר).
7. Keri and Kethib. — But not all the dicta of the Masoretes are of equal sterling value; they are not only sometimes utterly superfluous, but downright erroneous. Of its "countings" we may adduce that it enumerates in the Pentateuch 18 greater and 43 smaller portions, 1534 verses, 63,467 words, 70,100 letters, etc. — a calculation which is, however, to a certain degree at variance with the Talmud. SEE KERI AND KETHIM in this work.
III. Form of the Masorah: — The language of the Masorah is Chaldee; and, besides the difficulty of this idiom, the obscure abbreviations, contractions, symbolical signs, etc., with which the work abounds, render its study exceedingly difficult. In all probability it was composed out of notes that had been made from time to time on separate leaves, or in books, as occasion demanded. Afterwards they were appended as marginal notes to the text, sometimes on the upper and lower margin, sometimes in a more brief form on the space between the text and the Chaldee version, where, from scarcity of room, many abbreviations and symbols were resorted to, and considerable omissions were made. Hence arose a distinction between the מסורה גדולה, the Masora Magna, and the מ8 קטנה, the h. Parva — the former of which comprehends the entire body of critical remark on the margins, the latter the more curt and condensed notes inserted in the intermediate space. The latter has frequently been represented as an abbreviated compend of the former; but this is not strictly correct, for the lesser Masorah contains many things not found in the greater. At an early period the scribes introduced the practice of adorning their annotations with all manner of figures, and symbols, and caligraphic ingenuities; and from this, as well as from causes connected with their method of selection and arrangement, the whole came into such a state of confusion that it was rendered almost useless. In this state it remained until the publication of Bomberg's Rabbinical Bible (Venetia, 1526: the second Bomberg Biblia Rabbin., not the first, as is sometimes stated), for which the learned R. Jacob ben-Chajim, with immense labor, prepared and arranged the Masorah. SEE JACOB BEN-CHAJIM. To facilitate the use of the Greater Masorah. he placed at the end of his work what has been called the Masora maxima or finalis, and which forms a sort of Masoretic Concordance in alphabetic order.
IV. Value of the Masorah. — While there is much in the Miasorah that can be regarded in no other light than as laborious trifling, it is far from deserving the scorn which has sometimes been poured upon it. There can be no doubt that it preserves to us much valuable traditional information concerning the constitution and the meaning of the sacred text. It is the source whence materials for a critical revision of the O.-Test. text can now alone be derived. It is a pity that it is now impossible to discriminate the older from the more recent of its contents. We would earnestly reiterate the wish of Eichhorn, that some one would undertake the "bitter task" of making complete critical excerpts from the Masorah.
V. Literature. — Elilas Levita, מסורת המסורת (Ven. 1538; German transl. by Semler, Halle, 1770; English transl. by Ginsburg, Lond. 1867); Buxtorf, Tiberias, sive Comment. Masoreth. triplex histor. didact. crit. (Basle, 1620, 4to); Cappell, Crit. Sac. lib. 3; Olaus Celsius, De Masora Disput.; Leusden, Philol. Heb., Diss. 22-25; Walton, Prolegg. in Polyglott. No. 8; Carpzov, Crit. Sacr. p. 283; Wahner, Antiq. Hebs. sec. 1, c. 36; Abr. Geiger, Zur Gesch. der Masorah (in the 3d vol. of his Jiid. Zeitschr. für Wissensch. u. Leben); Frensdorff, Das Bach "Ochlach W'ochlach" (Massora) (Hamburg, 1864, 8vo); Hupfeld, Ueber eine bisher unbekalannt gebliebene lIandschrift de' iassorah (in Zeitschr. d. deutsch. morgenl. Gesellsch. 21:201 sq.); Eichhorn, Linleit. ins A. T. vol. i, sec. 140-158; De Wette, Einleit. sec. 90-92; Havernick, Introd. to the O.T. p. 279 sq.; Bleek, Einleit. ins A. T. p. 803 sq.; Ginsburg, Introduction to the Rabbinic Bible by J. ben-Chajim, transl. in the Journal of Sacred Literature for July, 1863. SEE CRITICISM, BIBLICAL.