After thousands of years, as The Times of Israel reports, the real Old Testament will be available (okay, I’m being a bit glib):
For the past 30 years, Israeli Judaic scholar Menachem Cohen has been on a mission of biblical proportions: Correcting all known textual errors in Jewish scripture to produce a truly definitive edition of the Old Testament.
His edits, focusing primarily on grammatical blemishes and an intricate set of biblical symbols, mark the first major overhaul of the Hebrew Bible in nearly 500 years.
Poring over thousands of medieval manuscripts, the 84-year-old professor identified 1,500 inaccuracies in the Hebrew language texts that have been corrected in his completed 21-volume set. The final chapter is set to be published next year.
The massive project highlights how Judaism venerates each tiny biblical calligraphic notation as a way of ensuring that communities around the world use precisely the same version of the holy book.
According to Jewish law, a Torah scroll is considered void if even a single letter is incorrect or misplaced. Cohen does not call for changes in the writing of the sacred Torah scrolls used in Jewish rites, which would likely set off a firestorm of objection and criticism. Instead, he is aiming for accuracy in versions used for study by the Hebrew-reading masses.
That last sentence puts this interesting news in proper perspective, along with this:
The errors have no bearing on the Bible’s stories and alter nothing in its meaning. Instead, for example, in some places the markers used to denote vowels in Hebrew are incorrect; or a letter in a word may be wrong, often the result of a centuries old transcription error. Some of the fixes are in the notations used for cantillation, the text’s ritual chants.
Most of the errors Cohen found were in the final two-thirds of the Hebrew Bible and not in the sacred Torah scrolls, since they do not include vowel markings or cantillation notations.
Cohen said unity and accuracy were of particular importance to distinguish the sacred Jewish text from that used by those sects that broke away from Judaism, namely Christians and Samaritans.
Just to be clear: I think Cohen’s work, from what I’ve read, is remarkable and should be applauded. But pursuing “truly definitive editions” of the OT or the NT, however worthwhile, will never quite answer all questions about textual issue, translation challenges, and so forth. Those will continue on, I’m fairly confident, until the eschaton.
Of course, it’s not as if Christians have no interest in accurate texts; quite the contrary, as the past couple centuries of New Testament (and Old Testament) scholarship readily indicate. Regardless, one interesting point here is how Judaism is presented (accurately, I think) as a religion “of the book”. The same might be said, in general and qualified ways, about certain Protestant groups. But the Catholic Church takes a different approach, as the Catechism explains very well:
God inspired the human authors of the sacred books. “To compose the sacred books, God chose certain men who, all the while he employed them in this task, made full use of their own faculties and powers so that, though he acted in them and by them, it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever he wanted written, and no more.”
The inspired books teach the truth. “Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.”
Still, the Christian faith is not a “religion of the book.” Christianity is the religion of the “Word” of God, a word which is “not a written and mute word, but the Word which is incarnate and living.” If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, “open [our] minds to understand the Scriptures.” (pars. 106-8).
All of this is good to keep in mind as we approach the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the promulgation of important texts such as Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation. That text states, in part:
11. Those divinely revealed realities which are contained and presented in Sacred Scripture have been committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For holy mother Church, relying on the belief of the Apostles (see John 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-20, 3:15-16), holds that the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself.(1) In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him (2) they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, (3) they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted. (4)
Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings (5) for the sake of salvation. Therefore “all Scripture is divinely inspired and has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, for reformation of manners and discipline in right living, so that the man who belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of every kind” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, Greek text). (pars. 11, 12).
Read the entire text on the Vatican website.
On a related note, see my March 2012 CWR interview, “Christian Scriptures, Jewish Commentary”, with Drs. Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler.
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