Skip to main content

Full text of "A Contribution to the History of the Term "Massorah""

See other formats


STOP 



Early Journal Content on JSTOR, Free to Anyone in the World 

This article is one of nearly 500,000 scholarly works digitized and made freely available to everyone in 
the world by JSTOR. 

Known as the Early Journal Content, this set of works include research articles, news, letters, and other 
writings published in more than 200 of the oldest leading academic journals. The works date from the 
mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries. 

We encourage people to read and share the Early Journal Content openly and to tell others that this 
resource exists. People may post this content online or redistribute in any way for non-commercial 
purposes. 

Read more about Early Journal Content at http://about.jstor.org/participate-jstor/individuals/early- 
journal-content . 



JSTOR is a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary source objects. JSTOR helps people 
discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content through a powerful research and teaching 
platform, and preserves this content for future generations. JSTOR is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit 
organization that also includes Ithaka S+R and Portico. For more information about JSTOR, please 
contact support@jstor.org. 



Notes and Discussion. 78c 



A Contribution to the History of the Term "Massorah." 
— In the first chapter of his Commentarius Massoive Ilistoriens 
(Tiberias, Part I.), Buxtorf says that the pronunciation now 
generally in use among the Jews of the name of the Tradition 
that dealt with the biblical text is miDO (after the form of 
JTT133 Jer. iii. 7), and as sarnech has a sharp sound, the word is 
written with a double s, Massorah. This manner of spelling the 
word, although it was not adopted by Buxtorf himself, is still every- 
where in vogue ; at the same time, however, one generally recalls the 
possibility referred to by Buxtorf that the form of the word may be 
TTV)DJ? (with a dagesh in the D). Buxtorf also mentions that the 
word was by many read iTTDa or rHBtt and even rnpS? (by Pag- 
ninus), while he himself adduces the form TTTlDft (compare rn'lt£72 
n"^n;S7) as possible. This remarkable fluctuation in the pronuncia- 
tion of a word of such frequent use, as well as in the grammatical 
explanation of its form, still prevails. Compare F. Buhl, Kaiion uiul 
Text des alten Testaments (Leipzig, 1891), page 95 seq. The very 
foundation upon which the use of the word itself rests is extremely 
uncertain. In the oldest sources (Talmud and Midrash) it is not to be 
found at all, as in these only its equivalent miDQ is to be met with. 
Similarly, later authorities speak only of the miDO, which expression 
is very often employed to indicate the Massorah in its written form> 
as, for example, by Abulwalid (see quotations in my Life and Works 
of Abulwalid, Herman Ilm Q'anah, etc., p. 52). Elias Levita speaks 
onstantly of the JTllDO not of the miDH, both in the title and in 
he body of his great work dealing with the subject ; the Massorites 
are with him, as with Ibn Ezra, miDan ''tMM. I am not in pos- 
session of the requisite data to be able to explain how, in spite of all 
this, the expression miDQ; for which alone there is foundation in 
ancient usage and literature, has been displaced by the other terms. 
Elias Levita himself makes use of the other expression, miDDi 
(mostly written defective, mDO), in order to indicate both the 
Massorah as " written down by the sages of the city of Tiberias," as 
well as the written Massorah which is to be found in Bible MSS. (see 
beginning of the Third Introduction ed. Ginsburg, p. 103, d/lSl 
mDa rh lNHpl rTDrD -)t£N m-Ofc >a2nb, and towards the end 
of the same Introduction, p. 138, nbmn mD»n and TOttp (TIDE 
■icq.y. lie thus appears to recognise the name rnDO as applicable 

' Instead of Ginsburg's riDSian fVYlDOn ^3 p. 138. the edition 1538, 

p. 28, line 4, has nDSian rniDDn b. 



780 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

only to the concrete form of the written Massorah, not to the Mas- 
sorah in general. 1 Jacob ben Chayim, the first editor of the Massorah 
(in Bomberg's Bible, 1518), speaks in the Preface as well as in the 
prefatory remarks to the Massorah finalis, mostly of HIDJS (always 
without 1 ), but also of miDQ, while he calls the written Massorah 
consistently /"DDE, defective. His example will certainly have been 
of the greatest influence in the further use and general adoption of 
the word mDIQ. As regards its pronunciation, the word m"lDB, 
resting, as it did, upon better testimony, was decisive, both words 
being considered as similar substantive forms, distinguished only by 
the feminine endings D„ and 71 t ; and, as Buxtorf asserts, the word 
was pronounced JTVlDB. The question, however, arises whether this 
was the original pronunciation of the form of the word written with 
n. This may be doubted, since both Jacob ben Chayim and Elias 
Levita, unquestionably relying upon MS. sources, always write the 
word without a 1 ; while /"DID 73 is always written with a 1. This 
doubt is strengthened by several very significant facts in the cognate 
literature. I have already pointed out {Life and Works of AbulwalM) 
that one of the two Oxford MSS. of Kilab-al'-Luma (No. 1,462) very 
often instead of mDJ3 (or miDD) writes mDIQ, which spelling is 
also found in an exegete of the fourteenth century. Since then I 
have discovered that this variant spelling of such a well-attested 
word as miDS can be explained by the influence of the form rnp'lE. 
This form of the word is used almost exclusively to indicate the 
Massorah in the so-called " Massorah from Teman," which Grinsburg 
has edited in the third volume of his great work on the Massorah 
(p. 53 scq.). Here JTTlDQ is only now and then to be met with (in 
Gen. xliv. 6 ; Exod. xxix. 15), elsewhere, mD1»!"T, also Ni""D"l mDltt 
and natOp mDID. This pronunciation is attested from very ancient 
times. The Karaite exegete, Japheth ben Ali (end of the tenth 
century) says in his commentary on Daniel ix. 29 (ed. Margoliouth, 

p. 101, line 3), riDDIM nt3±n "it is fixed in the M." ; and the same 
plural form of the word is also to be found in the renowned St. 
Petersburg Biolccodex of the year 1010, where in the superscription of 
a Massoretic section, the expression occurs m b*ra nilDHSl "1J3S3 N 7>1 
maftp /Tnpba Nbl, the vocalisation being as here given, where, 
however, strange to say, the word is written once with cholem and 
once with kometz (see Baer and Strack, Dikduke Ha-Teamim, p. xxvi.j. 

1 In Tishbi sub voc. "IDD he does not mention the form n"lDO at all, but 
only says in reference to Aboth iii. 13, '"I3D 2'3D Hainan miDDn X^Hl 

Nnpran. 



Notes and Discussion. 787 

A further proof of the age of the form of spelling STlD'na is fur- 
nished by the circumstance that the Karaite lexicographer David ben 
Abraham 1 calls the Massorah in Arabic jfnDN?2> HIDNObs ( see m Y 
treatise : The Grammatical Terminology of Jehudah ben David ibn 
Chajjag, p. 36) ; he thus forms the participle of the first conjuga- 
tion of the verb "1DD after the Arabic manner, corresponding to the 
Hebrew construction mDID as Kal participle. The Massora Magna 

he also calls in Arabic rtTODbs niDMJibs ( see Pinsker, SU/kute 
Kadmonijoth, p. 140 of the text). It is therefore proved that the 
word TTIDE has been pronounced PHDO since the tenth century, and 
one may assume that this is not an arbitrary pronunciation, but that 
it was the original pronunciation of the form HIDD, which grew up 
in addition to the older form miDB. The above-mentioned lexico- 
grapher, David ben Abraham, also uses the Hebrew form mDJD (bN) 
without 1 (see Neubauer : Notice sur la Lexicographie Hebraique, 
p. 100, 1. 13), as in the St. Petersburg Bibleeodex. 

It follows from the preceding that the form HIDB is not a later 
invention of the Massorah- scribes, but is to be regarded as an 
ancient term of the Massorites. I believe that the employment of 
this ending was determined by the fact that one of the encampments 
of Israel in the wilderness was called TTTOiO (Deut. x. 6), and 
ni~lDb (Numb, xxxiii. 30 and 31). Nothing was more natural than 
that this name should be used as a synonym for nTlDJD, whose plural 
nVHDO also occurs. 2 It is, however, remarkable, that mDD is 
written defective, -while n~lD1Q in Deut. x. 6 is -plene ; but perhaps 
this is owing to DTlDZD being defective in Numb, xxxiii. 3 

1 Formerly regarded as belonging to the tenth century. A later date 
has, however, been assigned to him. (See P. F. Frankl, Article "Karaer ' 
in Erseh wild Orubem Allgemeino Encydopccdie, 2 Section, xxxiii. 17.) 

' 2 Ibn Ezra in one place calls Ben Asher and Ben Naphtali S ~W ^W 
nniDDH (see my Ibn Ezra al-t Grainmatihcr, p. 38, note 13), and his con- 
temporary, the Karaite, Jehudah Hadassi, likewise speaks, referring to 
Ben Asher, of the niTlDJO (see Baer und Strack, Dihdtike Ila-Teamim, 
p. xiii., note 14 ; comp. Ibid., p. xxviii., line <> from the end ; Ibid, page 
79, line 8). In llidraxh Timclimna, pnnXl, Jin., R. Jonathan (third 
century) says • • • • nCJ'DD nt03nn JIITlDO 'PtS'O, for which passage the 
Midrash Petirath Mosheh (Jellinek's Biib-fTamtdrasdi, vol. L, p. 127) has 
HD^nn nilVlX l^D^, perhaps a mistake in transcription from niTDIO 
nonnn. See also Bab. Megillak, 3a ; Nedarim, 37b ; nVTlDBn l"?«, for 
which Jens. Megillali, 7iA,fn. has miDDD nt. 

3 It should also be observed that ("HPTO JTnp'lKl in the sense of 
rineulum, band (comp. Psalm ii. 3 ; cvii 14 ; cxvi. 16), was a very general 



788 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

The pronunciation of miDft is likewise not free from doubt. True, 
Buxtorf (Tiberias, loe. tit.), referring to the spelling rniDQ, says, 
" Qum pronunciatio itidem communis est," and at the present day also 
this mode of spelling is almost universally adopted as the correct one. 
Levy (Neuheb. Worterbueh, iii. 178) adopts this punctuation, so also 
Strack in the Dictum of Akiba, Aboth, iii. 13 (die Spriiche der Vater, 
2, Auflage, p. 38). But in reality the spelling JTTtoip which has been 
emphasized by Buxtorf, and which is based upon the expression 
/man n~\piS2. (Ezek. xx. 37), appears to be more accurate. For 
although the word in Ezekiel is not exactly derived from ">DO, but 
from "IDM, to bind to fetter (=TVlDNO), as Abulwalfd already per- 
ceived (Kilah-al'-Luma, p. 244, line 17 ; Bikma, p. 146), and as, fol- 
lowing him, David Kimchi explains, yet the traditional rendering of 
the word seems to have assigned to it the meaning " Tradition, 
Handing down," in agreement with which Rashi explains iTH22 
DjP TIDJ32X As a fact, the Targum retains the Hebrew word, 
together with the corresponding Aramaic term (SWp miDKO), and 
Theodotion translates, iv rrj n-apaooo-ei tj)s bia.6r]Kqs (see Field, 
Hexapla II., 820a). Aquila, it is true, translates iv Sea-pois rrjs 
diuBrjKTjs, and, following him, Hieronymus in Vinculis Foederis. Still, 
for the dominant conception of the word in the time of the Tanaim 
and Amoraim, the Targum, when it is unopposed by any other 
explanation in the literature of tradition, is sufficiently convincing) 
especially as its translation is supported by Theodotion, and as Rashi 
gives evidence for the maintenance of the traditional view. 

It is now more than probable that if the Tanaim employed the 
expression miDH, not only for the text of the Scripture but also for 
the traditions relating to it, they did not introduce a newly-formed 
word into the terminology of the schools, but adopted the word from 
the Book of Ezekiel as a welcome substantive to the verb "IDE, 
which latter occurs only twice in the Bible (Numb. xxxi. 5 and 16), 
but has passed from Aramaic into New-Hebrew, and which became, in 
constructio pregnans, an expression in common use in the schools (see 
Mishnah, Aboth, i. 1). For it is difficult to see why, for the purpose 
of expressing the idea of " Tradition," a word of such rare occur- 
rence, even in biblical Hebrew, as J"H.D9 (after the model of fTl'S?, 
rn.Q3Y should have been formed from the verb 1DJS 1 instead of 



expression in the language of the Mishnah (see Levy, iii., 53b), and was 
even brought into connection with *)DD by the Babylonian Amorah Raba 
(see Saba Meziah, 8b.) 

1 In New-Hebrew there is no substantive of this form so far as I know, 
and Siegfried, in his Lehrbuch der Newhebraisehen Spraohe (1884) is only 



Notes and Discussion. 789 

rrv»pa or rrjiD»; even rnpa (comp. rrpj), tttid» (comp. 

iT]WD) } and rnpa (comp. nifTl?), -would have been more con- 
formable to analogy. The linguistic process probably took the fol- 
lowing course : on the one hand ~1DD, having become a familiar 
verb, led to Ezekiel's word rnpZp being used in the sense of 
Tradition. 1 On the other hand, the word was admitted into the 
terminology of the schools in order to form a substantive corre- 
sponding to the verb "1DS2. Had the word in Ezekiel not reached 
us with the Massoretic punctuation, it could certainly have been 
read rnblj quite as well as fPlfalJ, after the aaalogy of 

tr^STS (from v3M), 1 Kings v. 25, as indeed Abulwalid also remarks 
(Joe. cit.) that in DIDD the N of the root has become softened, 
quiescent, but has not assimilated with the D. As, however, we must 
assume that the word in Ezekiel was already read in the manner in 
which We find it punctuated in the earliest periods of the transmission 
of the text, it follows that the New-Hebrew expression based upon 
the word in Ezekiel must also be so pronounced, viz., /TliDB. He 
who speaks and writes rniDB is therefore guilty of no inaccuracy, 
as the word in Ezekiel might also sound thus, but he has against him 
the facts as above presented in their historical development. Under 
no circumstances may finiBB be regarded as a direct noun-form 
derived from "1DJ3, and independent of the biblical word . 

I wish further to draw attention to the interesting fact that Elias 
Levita, in the explanation of the word n"HDO, at the beginning of 
the third introduction to his Masoreth Hamasoreth, points only to the 
verb "IDE, but makes no mention whatever of the passage in Ezekiel, 2 
no doubt because he explained the biblical word according to its right 
meaning of fetter, band, and he therefore saw in it no connection with 
the end-form miDti. 

The following may serve as a brief summary of the results of the 
above investigations into the history of the name of the Massorah : — 

1. From Ezek. xx. 37 the noun JTYlDB, as if it was derived from 

able to adduce as examples of the ground-form qatt&l the " Fern. fTnlSD. 
rniDJ? " (p. 44.) The form had long lost its propagative power, and even 
among the Payetanim, who had the courage to revive many a rare form, 
it is not represented by a single example. See the register of noun-forms 
in Zunz, Die Synag. Poesie des Mittelalters, pp. 383-409. 

1 Comp. opinion of Eaba referred to above, p. 787 note 3. 

2 What Levy (Worterbuoh, iii. 179 b) cites in the name of Levita 
appears to rest upon some confusion with another author. 



790 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

the verb "ID 12, was adopted as the expression to designate oral tradi- 
tion, 1 but especially the tradition fixing the pronunciation of the bibli- 
cal text. (Compare specially the expression JTTlDfiib DM Sipab OS.) 
The term is also used in the plural. 

2. In post-Talmudic times another substantive, also a biblical word, 
was applied with a similar meaning to the verb "1DJ3, viz., i"HD/D, pi. 
niipb. It was regarded as participle Ital, and accordingly was cast 
in Arabic form. Under the influence of this word arose also the 
form mDia instead of miDS. 

3. The form miDJi remained until modern times, and even with 
Elias Levita, as the usual term to designate the Massorah. The form 
!"HDD or miDD, its pronunciation rt"jiDD being copied from miDJi, 
gradually became the customary designation of the Massoretic dis- 
cussions (first edited by Jacob ben Chayim), and displaced the 
expression M&sSreth. 

4. The pronunciation rniDD has no historical justification. 

5. Fox n~lDD the pronunciation rnplH alone is attested from 
ancient times ; the forms of spelling /"HiDS and /TTiBZJ rest only 
upon the analogy of the two styles of spelling iTODD. 

6. The transliteration Massorah or Masorah owes its right to further 
existence only through its having been long naturalised in scientific 
literature. 2 

W. Backer. 

1 It is to be observed that halachic tradition is never indicated by this 
expression. See the examples in Levy, iii. 178 seq. 

2 So also one may continue to write " Agadah " as the transcription 
based upon long and general usage for mJX=mJi1 (Haggadah, Aggadah) 
just as foreign proper names are retained in the transliteration in which 
they have become usual, although they be not scientifically correct. Zunz, 
in his great work on the history of the A-ggadah [Die Gottexdienslichcn 
Vortrage) writes Hagada (with one g), and similarly in his later works 
which is even less correct than Agada, as one may suppose a root UN for 
(TUN, and may punctuate the word TTTSfc?,