V.7. What Is The Masoretic Text?

Question:  Can you give me some information about the Masoretic Text.

Answer:  “Masoretic” gets its name from the Hebrew word “masar,” which means to “hand down.” The Masoretes flourished from about 500 to 1,000 A.D. They were traditionalists and notable Biblical scholars, known for the purpose of fixing and preserving the pronunciation and form of the Hebrew words. This was done about 600-700 A.D., in the days when Hebrew, as a spoken language, was beginning to die out.

Since the Hebrew was written in the consonantal text, there were no vowels in the original texts. In almost every case, the context would describe the correct form of the word. For example, “bd” might stand for bad, bed, bid, bud, or bade. Therefore, in the sentence “John is a bd boy,” it could only be rendered “bad.”  In another example, if we use the English word “miter,” the vowels are “i” and “e,” which could be the official headdress of a Bishop. In the Hebrew text it would appear “mtr.” Should you put in two “e” vowels, you would have the English word “meter,” or 39.37 U.S. inches. If you put in two “o”s for vowels, you would have the word “motor.” The same with “rack” and “rock,” which would appear as “rck” in the Hebrew text; or “water” and “waiter,” which would appear as “wtr.” Therefore, to safeguard God’s word, the Masoretes inserted what was labeled “vowel-markings,”i.e., signs and accents.

The Masoretes found certain vowel sounds supplied in the reading of the consonantal text; therefore, they merely invented signs to represent these sounds.

For example, beneath the consonants you might find three dots, which denotes the sound “eh.” Two dots give the sound of “ay.” One dot is “ee.” These are called “matres lectiones,” or “mothers of reading.” This enabled Gentiles and Jews not familiar with the text to read those Hebrew words with the vowel sounds in them and know exactly what the word would be.

This standardized, or stabilized, the Hebrew language; so we would know exactly whether the word was “miter, motor, meter, or waiter or water, or rack or rock.” This text is called the Masoretic Text, abbreviated M.T. Therefore, translating the Hebrew into English can be made with less difficulty—Thanks to the Masoretes!

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