How the Anti-Missionaries Misrepresent the Text

How the Anti-Missionaries Misrepresent the Text
James Scott Trimm

Anti-missionaries such as Tovia Singer misrepresent the value of the Masoretic Text as absolutely perfect and paramount.  Any deviation from the Masroetic Text is represented by them as a “change.”  Tovia Singer routinely accuses believers in Yeshua as Messiah of having changed this or that verse.  Any time the so-called “New Testament” quotes a passage in a way that differs with the Masoretric Text, Singer accuses the authors of having changed the text.  In fact the Masoretic text did not exist until nearly 1,000 years after the NT was written, so it would actually be an evidence of forgery if the NT quotations of the Tanak DID agree with the Masoretic Text in every instance.  Copies of the books of the Tanak found among the Dead Sea Scrolls often agree with the Septuagint or other versions against the Masoretic Text, and the Tanak quotes that occur in the NT follow that same pattern, as they SHOULD.

In reality this is another case of not using equal weights and measures because the Masoretic Text itself admits in the Masorah to containing well over a hundred altered verses.

Between the years 500 and 950 C.E., a group of Rabbinic Jewish traditionalists known as “Masorites”, standardized the Hebrew text of the Tanak and added written vowels to the text (ancient Hebrew has no written vowels). This standardization of the text resulted in a single text, with little or no variant readings from manuscript to manuscript. There are slight differences between the earliest Masoretic Text manuscripts. Toward the end of the Masoretic era, the last two Masoretic families (Ben Asher and Ben Naphtali) finalized two slightly different Masoretic Texts. Most
printed editions today use the Ben Asher text as their source.

Aaron ben Asher, who produced the Ben Asher text was himself a Karaite. Saadia Gaon, who preferred the “Ben Naphtali” system, mentioned Ben-Asher in his critiques of Karaites.  In his work Sefer Dikdukei ha Te’amim, Aaron ben Asher wrote, “The prophets… complete the Torah, are as the Torah, and we decide Law from them as we do from the Torah.” This belief is known to have been held by Karaites, in contrast mainline Judaism has always maintained that the Prophets could not add to or take from the Torah, and could only be understood as elaborating on the Torah. Furthermore, Documents found in the Cairo Geniza also indicate that ben Asher was a Karaite.

The Masoretic Text is a valuable text.  However there are some readings, in which other versions and manuscripts such as the Septuagint, the Peshitta Tanak, and/or the Dead Sea Scrolls, preserve an obviously original reading which was lost from the Masoretic Text (and which the Hebraic Roots Version has restored, with an explanatory footnote). The following are just two examples:

Psalm 145 is an acrostic Psalm. This means that each section of the Psalm, begins with each of the 22 Hebrew letters, from ALEF through TAV. However in the Masoretic Text, the section that should begin with a NUN is missing from the text entirely! However in the Septuagint, the Peshitta Tanak, one Hebrew ms. from the middle ages, and the Dead Sea Scroll copy of this Psalm (11QPs(a)), the missing section appears immediately after Ps. 145:13: “YHWH is faithful to all his promises, and loving toward all he has made.” The Hebraic-Roots restores the “lost” NUN section along with an explanatory footnote.

Next let us examine Isaiah 53:11. In the Hebrew of the Masoretic Text, this verse has a serious grammatical problem. The Hebrew of the Masoretic Text reads literally:

From the travail of his soul he shall see ________
shall be satisfied in his understanding.
My Righteous servant shall justify many
and their iniquities he bears.

There is very clearly a missing word in the Hebrew, resulting in two verbs in a row “shall see” and “shall be satisfied”. What shall he see? Now the missing word “light” DOES appear in the Septuagint, and has also now turned up in two Hebrew copies of Isaiah, found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The passage SHOULD read (as it does in the HRV):

From the travail of his soul he shall see light
and shall be satisfied in his understanding.
My Righteous servant shall justify many
and their iniquities he bears.
(Is. 53:11 HRV translation)
(In the HRV the missing word “light” is restored with an explanatory footnote).

There are also intentional alterations found in the Masoretic Text.  The term “Masorah” refers to the marginal notes which were transmitted by the Masorites along with the Masoretic Text. The notes transmitted in the side margins are called the “Masorah Parva” or “Masorah Katonah”. The notes transmitted on the top and bottom margins are the “Masorah Magna”, also known as “Masorah Gedolah”. Finally the notes transmitted at the end of the text are the Masorah Finalis.

Among the notes preserved in the Masorah Gedolah, are those of the Tikkun Soferim (“Emendations of the Scribes”). Among the Tikkun Soferim, are eighteen notations which indicate that the scribes, finding the original reading irreverent, emended the reading to one less offensive. Each of these eighteen readings are indicated with
footnotes in the HRV (see notes to Gen. 18:22; Num. 11:15; 12:12; 1Sam. 3:13; 2Sam. 16:12; 20:1; 1Kn. 12:16; Jeremiah. 2:11; Ezek. 8:17; Hose 4:7; Habakkuk 1:12; Zech. 2:12; Mal. 1:13; Job 7:20; 32:3; Lam. 3:20 and 2Chron. 10:16). These footnotes also compare other textual readings from other witnesses, to these readings.

The Masorah also notes 134 places, where the Masoretic Text reads “Adonai”, but which according to the Masorah, originally read “YHWH”. In each of these locations the HRV has “YHWH” in the main text, along with a footnote explaining that the Masoretic Text reads “Adonai”, but that the Masorah indicates the original reading was “YHWH”. These footnotes also compare readings from other textual witnesses as to whether they support YHWH or Adonai, in the reading in question.

There are also several places where the Masoretic Text reads “Elohim”, but which the Masorah indicates the original reading was “YHWH”. In these verses, the HRV has “ELOHIM” in all caps.

Now since the Masoretic Text is not the perfect, end all text, we are fortunate to have other witnesses to the text of the Tanak.  Among these are the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Septuagint and the Peshitta Tanak.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of scrolls, as well as thousands of fragments of scrolls, found in several caves near the Dead Sea in the Qumran area. Among the scrolls are many biblical manuscripts dating back to a time prior to the first century. These manuscripts give us a sample of the wide variety of textual readings from the pre-Masoretic period. The Dead Sea Scroll biblical manuscripts vary widely, as to text-type. For example two copies of Isaiah found in cave one, agree very closely with the Masoretic Text, while a Hebrew copy of 1Samuel found in cave four has many important agreements with the Greek LXX (Septuagint), against the Masoretic Text.

This brings us to another misrepresentation by the anti-missionaries.

Singer, and other anti-missionaries, claim that the Greek Septuagint translation of the Tanak was created by Christians and that it supposedly contains many places where passages were altered by Christians.

In fact he origin of the Septuagint is well known. Flavious Josephus records that Ptolemy Philadelphus (around 250 B.C.E.), entered into negotiations with the Jewish High Priest, to obtain a Greek translation of the Torah for the Library of Alexandria.  Ptolemy agreed to release many Jewish prisoners in exchange for the book. The Jewish authorities chose seventy two translators, to produce a Greek translator of the Torah. (Josephus; Antiquities 12:2). Although the Greek Septuagint (named after the Greek for “seventy”) was initially only a translation of the Torah, by no later than 150 B.C.E. the rest of the Tanak had been included as well, since at that time the grandson of Ben Sirach, in his prologue to his Greek translation of his grandfather’s “Wisdom of Ben Sirach”, briefly compares the Hebrew and Greek versions of “the law itself, the prophecies, and the rest of the books”.

The Greek Septuagint is actually very important because it is the earliest known translation of the Tanak into another language, and preserves a Greek translation of a Hebrew text of the Tanak, that existed in the third century C.E. (in the case of the Torah; the second century in the case of the Prophets and the Writings).  It was not composed by Christians.

While Singer generally accuses Christians of having created the Septuagint in order to alter the text and imbed altered verses to support their arguments into it, in fact exactly the opposite is true.

As we read in Old Testament Textual Criticism: A Practical Introduction, By Ellis R Brotzman:

“In time the Septuagint came to be adopted by the Christians churches.  Since it was often used in debates between Christians and Jews, it came to be viewed with suspicion by the latter.  This led, in the course of the second century A.D., to the production of three rival Greek versions that each bore a different relationship to the original Septuagint.”
(Old Testament Textual Criticism: A Practical Introduction, By Ellis R Brotzman; pp. 74-75)

So while the anti-missionaries accuse believers in Yeshua as Messiah of having altered the text and fabricated the Septuagint as a Greek text made to agree with their claims, the truth is much to the contrary.  It was in fact the Scribes of the Masoretic Text that admittedly made over 100 alterations to the original Hebrew text, and Rabbinic Jews who fabricated revised Greek versions intentionally revised to counter Septuagint based arguments being made by believers in Yeshua in their ongoing debates with them.

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