Page 84 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

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secular rulers. Thousands of them chose death or exile rather
than forced baptism, the method resorted to when persuasion by
theological arguments failed. But preachers and missionaries
gained indeed an advantage in being able to cite, with the aid of a
concordance, biblical passages which their Jewish disputants
could refute only with difficulty because they were unfamiliar
with the division of the Vulgate into chapters and verses which
differed considerably from the Jewish canonical order of the
books of the Bible as fixed by the Masoretes.
The latter, known in Hebrew as
Ba’ale hamasorah
(The masters
of the tradition) were several generations of rabbis between the
4th or 5th and the 10th century in Babylon and Palestine who
established the authoritative biblical text as to its exact wording
and vocalization by means of vowel “points.” Their work was
based on oral and written tradition (
going back to the
first century C.E. and possibly even earlier. The masoretic notes
regarding variant readings or substitution of words to be read in­
stead of those written in the text are still written or printed in the
margins of every Hebrew Bible.26 The Masoretes may also be
considered forerunners of the concordance makers, because in
addition to their work on vocalization they compiled lists of
unique words, words that appeared twice only or up to ten times,
and pairs of words written with and without the definite article in
parallel verses, 224 instances of which they found.
The difficulties experienced by Jewish scholars in answering
Christian theologians induced the learned rabbi, philosopher
and physician Yitshaq Nathan ben Kalonymos o f Arles in
Provence to compile the first Jewish concordance to the Bible, the
M e’ir nativ
(Enlightener of the path), written between 1437 and
26 The text of the Hebrew Bible accepted by virtually all Jewish communities is
the one based on the oldest extant manuscript as vocalized and annotated ac­
cording to the masorete Aharon ben Mosheh ben Asher (generally known as
Ben Asher), written in 1009, and a manuscript of the Prophets, written by the
scribe Shelomoh ben Buya’a and vocalized by Ben Asher himself in 916. Both
manuscripts are preserved in Leningrad. Another manuscript, also vocalized
according to Ben Asher, formerly kept in Aleppo, is now in the Hebrew Uni­
versity Library in Jerusalem. All printed editions of the Hebrew Bible follow
the Ben Asher vocalizations and readings as given in these sources, as does also
the definitive critical edition, the
Biblia Hebraica
edited by Rudolf Kittel and
Paul Kahle (3rd edition 1937, revised in the light of Dead Sea Scrolls variants
in 1951).