A biblical manuscript is any handwritten copy of a portion of the text of the Bible. The word Bible comes from the Greek biblia (books); manuscript comes from Latin manu (hand) and scriptum (written). Biblical manuscripts vary in size from tiny scrolls containing individual verses of the Jewish scriptures (see Tefillin) to huge polyglot codices (multi-lingual books) containing both the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) and the New Testament, as well as extracanonical works.
The study of biblical manuscripts is important because handwritten copies of books can contain errors. The science of textual criticism attempts to reconstruct the original text of books, especially those published prior to the invention of the printing press.
Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia team
Codex, manuscript book, especially of Scripture, early literature, or ancient mythological or historical annals. The earliest type of manuscript in the form of a modern book (i.e., a collection of written pages stitched together along one side or a published work of literature or scholarship; the term has been defined by UNESCO for statistical purposes as a “non-periodical printed publication of at least 49 pages excluding covers,” but no strict definition satisfactorily covers the variety of publications so identified), the codex replaced the earlier rolls of papyrus and wax tablets. The codex had several advantages over the roll, or scroll. It could be opened at once to any point in the text, it enabled one to write on both sides of the leaf, and it could contain long texts. The difference can be illustrated with copies of the Bible.
The substitution of the codex for the roll was a revolutionary change in the form of the book. Instead of having leaves fastened together to extend in a long strip, the codex was constructed from folded leaves bound together on one side—either the right or the left.
The Leningrad Codex and the Aleppo Codex are from the same period, so which is superior?
Although there are many ancient Biblical manuscripts, the importance of the Leningrad Codex and the Aleppo Codex, codices created by the Masoretic scholars, lies in the annotations that the texts contain.
Ancient Biblical manuscripts written in Hebrew are largely without vowels, so even if there is no question regarding the letters of a given text, there still may be a question as to how a particular word should be pronounced and what it means.
Codices such as the Leningrad Codex and the Aleppo Codex contain vowel markings (nekkudot) in the form of subscripts and superscripts. They also contain other markings (te’amim) indicating pitch relationships (neumes or pneumes, in Greek) to guide the cantor in chanting the prescribed Torah or prophetic (haftara) portion. Most importantly, they contain massive marginal notations (masora) concerning cruxes in the text that are crucial to interpretation.
Until it was damaged and partially lost, the Aleppo Codex was considered to be the “crown” of ancient Biblical manuscripts, and was the version of the Hebrew Bible that was ultimately considered the most authoritative text in Judaism. Its loss was an enormous blow to Jewish scholarship. However, another complete codex still exists: The Leningrad Codex. How does it compare to its more distinguished cousin?
The only complete copy of the Hebrew Bible from the same period as the Aleppo Codex is the Leningrad Codex in St. Petersburg. It is similar to the Aleppo Codex in many respects—in both date (to within a few decades at most) and in distinction. Like the Aleppo Codex, the Leningrad Codex includes vowel markings, cantillation signs and extensive textual notes (masora).
In the minds of many scholars, however, the Aleppo Codex is superior in its accuracy and masora scholarship.
For much of the world today, however, the standard scholarly text of the Hebrew Bible is the Biblia Hebraica, which now uses the Leningrad Codex, rather than the Aleppo Codex, as its base text. The first two editions of the Biblia Hebraica used the Rabbinic Bible of 1524 printed in Venice. The third edition, prepared by two great German Biblical scholars, Paul Kahle and Rudolf Kittel, used the Leningrad Codex. However, in his preface to this edition Paul Kahle notes his preference for the Aleppo Codex:
“Rudolf Kittel and I had hoped to be able to replace the Leningrad Ms., L, which was used as the basis of the Biblia Hebraica in the course of our work, with the model codex of ben Asher himself [the Aleppo Codex], which is kept in the Synagogue of the Sephardim in Aleppo. That had not been possible since the owners of the codex would not hear of a photographic copy. Moreover, the personal representations made by Gotthold Weil and Hellmut Ritter in Aleppo have had no success.”
It is for this reason that the Biblia Hebraica editions have traditionally been based upon the Leningrad Codex, and this applies also to the new fifth edition, Biblia Hebraica Quinta, which began to appear in 2004.
Since the destruction of the Aleppo Codex after Israel’s declaration of independence, the Leningrad Codex has had another advantage. It alone is complete. Editions of the Hebrew Bible based on the Aleppo Codex now have to look to other sources to complete the missing parts.
Based on “Leningrad vs. Aleppo,” Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2008.
More on the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex in the BAS Library:
Yosef Ofer, “The Mystery of the Missing Pages of the Aleppo Codex,” Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 2015.
Yosef Ofer, “The Shattered Crown: The Aleppo Codex, 60 Years After the Riots,” Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2008.
James A. Sanders and Astrid Beck, “The Leningrad Codex,” Bible Review, August 1997.
Paul Sanders, “Missing Link in Hebrew Bible Formation,” Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2015.
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