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    • Fascinating article on the Washington Pentateuch, a Hebrew Bible from around 1000. Curious as to what impact it has on current studies of the Bible.

      Here’s an interesting excerpt on how it differs from the Torah:

      The Pentateuch may seem unremarkable initially to Hebrew readers, to whom it may look like any Hebrew Bible they would buy at a bookstore. Marginal notes flank biblical passages, which form the center of the page and have trop (cantillation marks) and nekudot (vowels). But those two additions that biblical readers so take for granted today were innovations of sixth- to 10th-century Babylonian and Palestinian Jewish scribes, known as Masoretes. Before this Masoretic Pentateuch, and a few others like it, biblical texts looked more like today’s Torah scrolls, which lack notes and vowels.

      Everyone who has read the Torah at age 12 or 13 for a bat or bar mitzvah knows how difficult it is to chant a text without those symbols, said David Stern, professor and director of Harvard’s Center for Jewish Studies and content adviser for the exhibit. Today’s young Jews often memorize difficult Hebrew passages, because the Torah must remain, per rabbinical law, stripped of the useful symbols the Masoretes pioneered in Pentateuchs like this one. Since a book like a Pentateuch isn’t a valid ritual object to use for a Torah reading in traditional services, it needn’t conform to the same standards as a Torah.

    • Stephen,

      There is nothing new in this article as far as I saw. I admit that I ended up skimming some of it.

      One of the main reasons that the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls in the 1940s was so important was that there were texts from the Tanakh that predated the Masoretes. Prior to that discovery, the only Hebrew texts (as far as I know) were those which had been collected together by the Masoretes. They had copied older texts and had come up with the modern pronunciation system. (See the Wikipedia article at the bottom of this reply for more information on the product of the Masoretes.

      The so-called Washington Pentateuch (which was already known before it was acquired by this museum) does not predate the Masoretes.

      The Septuagint does predate the Masoretes but it was a translation and not a Aramaic/Chaledean manuscript.

      Addition: Since writing this, I've been reminded that there are other questionable texts such as the Samaritan text but their provenance is not relied upon. The Qumran (Dead Sea scrolls) are more reliable because of there having been undiscovered and in a cave for most of their existence.