A Book to trust #23 Comparing Ancient Biblical Manuscripts

A page from the Aleppo Codex, Deuteronomy

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

Wax tablet and a Roman stylus

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.

Encyclopedia Britannica

The Leningrad Codex and the Aleppo Codex are from the same period, so which is superior?

In this photo, verses extolling the sanctity of the Biblical text run through the Leningrad Codex’s “carpet page,” a page of geometric designs often included in the illumination of ancient Biblical manuscripts. Photo: Bruce and Kenneth Zuckerman, West Semitic Research, in Collaboration with the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center, Courtesy Russian National Library.

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.

The Aleppo Codex, a tenth century Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible. Book of Joshua 1:1

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.

Likewise, ancient Biblical manuscripts — such as the Dead Sea Scrolls — may contain no indication as to how the Torah portions and the prophetic readings should be chanted in the synagogue.

Tenach Leningrad-Codex

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.

Virchow, Rudolf
Rudolf Virchow, better known as Rudolf Kittel (German biblical scholar)

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.

Biblical Archaeology Society Staff  



A Book to trust #1 Background book for debate

A Book to trust #2 Book of Truth

A Book to trust #3 Creation and Creator

A Book to trust #4 Cause of Being and Truth

A Book to trust #5 Words directed to create order

A Book to trust #6 True God and true words

A Book to trust #7 Heavenly Father not withholding knowledge

A Book to trust #8 Father of the universe wanting His creatures to know Him

A Book to trust #9 Consistency

A Book to trust #10 Archaeology confirming or denying claims of the Bible #1 Old Testament

A Book to trust #11 Archaeology confirming or denying claims of the Bible #2 New Testament

A Book to trust #12 Archaeology confirming or denying claims of the Bible #3 Material evidence to survive

A Book to trust #13 Books for education and adjustment

A Book to trust #14 Writings to show The God #1 The I Am that I Am

A Book to trust #15 Writings to show The God #2 Importance of Being

A Book to trust #16 Biblical archaeology vs Historical science or study #1 Flat or round earth

A Book to trust #17 Biblical archaeology vs Historical science or study #2 Relevance of Biblical record

A Book to trust #18 Available in many languages #1

A Book to trust #19 Available in many languages #2

A Book to trust #20 Available in many languages #3

A Book to trust #21 Biblical hermeneutics and Keys to truth

A Book to trust #22 Confirmed writings and Tampered books


A Book to trust #24 Sopherim, calligraphers and a message of love and hope


Additional reading

  1. The way of looking at the Scriptures and the people in this world
  2. The Bible and names in it
  3. Archaeological Findings the name of God YHWH
  4. Yehowah in the Leningrad Codex
  5. Archaeology and the Bible researcher 3/4
  6. Another way looking at a language #5 Aramic, Hebrew and Greek
  7. Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls for Judaism and Christianity
  8. Jewish writings and translations for our era
  9. Fragment of Nehemiah in Dead Sea Scrolls
  10. Simcha Jacobovici finding references to Jesus in Dead Sea Scrolls
  11. The Great revolt and Many stories concealed
  12. Ancient Jewish scroll now legible
  13. 1,500 to 1,700 years old Chiselled tablet with commandments sold at auction
  14. History and Archaeology sciences looked at #2 Co-operative of excavators, archaeologists, anthropologists, historians and culture morphologists
  15. Operation Scroll offering 12th cave findings
  16. Dead Sea scrolls at Drents Museum in Assen
  17. Dead Sea Scrolls on display in Denver
  18. Why think that (5) … the Bible is the word of God
  19. Old and newer King James Versions and other translations #7 Jewish versions
  20. Old and newer King James Versions and other translations #8 Selective Bibles and selective people
  21. Old and newer King James Versions and other translations #9 Restored names and Sacred Name Bibles
  22. HalleluYah Scriptures
  23. Miracles of revelation and of providence 2 Providence
  24. World’s tiniest bible to be presented at Israel Museum for 50th anniversary
  25. The wrong hero


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  3. Where does the Bible come from?
  4. How Do You Know The Bible is Actually True? (Part 1)
  5. Do we have the right Bible?
  6. Understanding the Bible: What’s it all about?
  7. Archaeology Continues to Confirm Bible Stories
  8. HaDerech: Who Penned the Dead Sea Scrolls?
  9. Some Reflections on the Intersection between Conventional and Digital Approaches to Scrolls Research
  10. Dead Sea Scroll text finally decoded by archaeologists piecing tiny fragments together
  11. One of last two unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls reveals a ‘perfect’ Jewish calendar
  12. Literary Studies and Discoveries: More Information Revealed in the Dead Sea Scrolls!
  13. Dead Sea Scrolls discovery: Obscure fragments deciphered
  14. New Dead Sea Scroll Decoded
  15. The Dead Sea Scrolls and The Bible
  16. Why the Dead Sea Scrolls Matter for Christians
  17. Bible Corrupted? Dead Sea Scrolls Prove Otherwise
  18. Presentation: “The Dynamic Textual History of the Hebrew Bible” at Fudan University, Shanghai, People’s Republic of China
  19. Israel discovers hidden script on Dead Sea Scroll fragments using NASA technology — Behold Israel
  20. Hidden Text Found on ‘Blank’ Dead Sea Scrolls
  21. Can we trust radiocarbon dating?
  22. The Amazing Dead Sea Scrolls
  23. Back to Scrolling Models of Dead Sea Scrolls
  24. Philip Davies on Dead Sea Scrolls and Historicity of Hebrew Bible
  25. Sidnie White Crawford, “The History of Qumran and its Library: A New Synthesis”
  26. Secrets That You Were Never Meant to See From The Dead Sea Scrolls
  27. The Dead Sea Scrolls
  28. Book Review: Secrets From The Lost Bible by Kenneth Hanson
  29. “The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever”…..Along with some other people’s [OT corruption]
  30. (Verses from Leningrad Codex) Subtract (Verses from Dead Sea Scrolls) Equals “Verses of the Old Testament that come After the revelation of the Qur’an”
  31. [Dead Sea Scroll Variant] Deuteronomy 32:8-9 “Sons of God”
  32. The Seals of The King of Kings
  33. Book of Iranian Roses
  34. Why 3D Print Dead Sea Scrolls? Some Initial Observations on the Benefits of 3D Printing for Manuscript Reconstruction
  35. Ancient Manuscripts, Artifacts On Display In Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit
  36. ‘Once In A Lifetime’ Display Of Dead Sea Scrolls To Be Replaced Soon
  37. 7Q5 is a fragment of Mark? Not so fast!
  38. Online LDS Bible Dictionary: Bible is Corrupt, LDS Canon Accurate
  39. Essenes in Ancient Soucres
  40. The Dead Sea Killed Me. Just Kidding, I just like how it rhymed.
  41. Hebrew Voices #62 – Reggie White and The Secret Vault

14 thoughts on “A Book to trust #23 Comparing Ancient Biblical Manuscripts

  1. Thanks for the ping.
    Is it true that the first complete codex of the Hebrew Old Testament comes more than 600 years after a complete codex of the New Testament?


    1. The great problem of so called ‘Complete codex’ or Jewish Canon is that already several years before Christ Jesus was born there were many different Jewish groups which maintained an order of a series of sacred books or maintained already what we could call a canon. But the very different Jewish groups adhered to their own canon of holy books, so that there was no uniformity in the Jewish doctrine. In the later centuries of our common era several Jewish groups diminished and other groups grew to become main groups with offering what they thought to be the strict most responsible choice of separately placed or sacred writings.


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