Friday, August 26, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Masoretic stats

The question is, did Septuagint work from a recitation of Tannakh that produced the omissions, additions, transposals, and misunderstandings.
Usually a translator works from a written text; a transcriber may work from an oral recitation.  If the translator’s source text has errors in it, those errors are going to produce either errors in the translation, or footnotes that the source is not understood and there are probably errors in it because the grammar is weird or the words seem to be misspelled.
So how messy was the text that the Masoretic scholars annotated?  Here are some statistics.
There are just over 6000 verses in Torah.
About 370 verses have annotations (though some have more than one). The text of Torah that the Masoretic scholars worked from had about 94% of the verses correct.
Only 74 of the annotated verses are marked qeri, meaning that as written they deviated from the oral reading of Torah in synagogue.  The other annotated verses might have been mispronounced, but that is because the written version had the wrong vowels or has something called dagesh where it shouldn’t be or didn’t have it where it should be.  (You should have googled dagesh.)  At any rate, these vowelling/dagesh issues make up 80% of the annotated verses.
The Masoretic scholars put the qeri notes in only 74 of over 6000 verses in Torah or just over 1%, so what they received did not need a qeri mark on almost 99% of the verses.  Some of the variations ought to have affected Jewish law, primarily Deuteronomy 22 where the qeri says it should have naarah instead of naar.  Deuteronomy 22 discusses tokens of virginity and it makes sense that it would talk about a naarah, an underage girl, and not a naar, an underage boy, because there are no tokens of virginity in a male.  In all of the 74 verses marked qeri, not only does Jewish law always assume the qeri form, there are never even any discussions about the differences in Mishnah  or Gemara (the two facets of Talmud).
There are two possible conclusions: the rabbis whom Jewish law quotes had a correct written text; or they operated only on the basis of the oral recited text.  And the latter is suggested by a number of facts, including the Talmudic ruling that it is prohibited to write down Talmudic material except to help memory, such as transmitting a ruling from the Jerusalem schools to the Babylonian schools via messenger; the messenger could carry a written note.  (The whole of both Talmuds was eventually written down based on this ruling.)
In the verses with qeri markings, Septuagint always agrees with the meaning of the qeri.   There are at least two possible conclusions.  One is that, as in weekly readings, somebody read the written text and then explained it to the translators, but that should have resulted in a much better translation if the reader knew what he was talking about.  The other is that somebody read the written text word by word and that’s how the translators worked, which would explain why they don’t get any of the idioms.  It doesn’t explain the gaps and transpositions, so there has to be a third possible explanation out there.  I love third explanations.  I just don’t have one to hand to you.

So the Torah was fine -- now what about my punching bag, the Septuagint?
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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